Monday, March 4, 2013

Fearlessness is taking over

In the two years since I began to study Fearless Performance with Jeff Nelsen, I have had many, many opportunities to perform in front of people.  I have had a lot of time to put into practice all of the great things that I learned.  Have I been diligent about this?  Well, not as much as I would like.  But I've been trying to achieve Fearlessness every time I perform.

Everyone should be able to relate to the idea of working hard at something and getting close to your goal, but having many more near-misses than bulls eyes.  Sound familiar?

Like when I run, it would be ideal to feel great for the entire duration of the run, light as a feather, without breathlessness, a tight muscle, or a cramp.  Right?  In reality, I'd say that only about 15% of my runs feel like this...

I do a lot of this type of work, as I'm sure a lot of you do.  You know, projects that require tedious practice and maintenance.  Like running, or yoga, or cooking, or playing a musical instrument.  I have consistent opportunities to improve my performance success and satisfaction.  While there is usually something about the performance that I feel 100% positive about, the performances where everything lined up and I felt great are few and far between.  Call me a perfectionist(?)

I am a firm believer that you have to have faith in the process.  If you put in enough of the right type of work, you will achieve your goal.

I am happy to say that last night, I finally had one of my ideal performances.  No, I didn't play all of the right notes, but I was mentally and emotionally in the place that I have been aspiring towards for years. I didn't need anybody's approval.  In fact, if somebody that I trust had told me the performance was poor, I wouldn't even care.  I felt great.  I didn't care who was in the audience.  I got to express music on the spot without any distractions.  Everything was happening in real time.  I felt ready to walk on the stage every time, and I celebrated when I got off stage.

These are all things that I have been practicing, but rarely to they all line up at once.  I hope this is the beginning of the next chapter for me.  It's liberating, really.

I am thankful to Jeff for giving me the tools to get here.

If you put in enough of the right type of work, you will achieve your dream.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Commencing on Reflection

...err, I mean "Reflecting on Commencement."

Well, it’s here! Graduation Season, that is.  It’s the time of year when several of our friends, students, and/or family members are graduating from high school and college.  What an exciting time! 

As a professional musician, I have already played in (at least) twenty graduation ceremonies, with plenty more to come, I’m sure.  It is always an honor to be part of the musical ensemble that provides all of the audio “entertainment” for this important ceremony.

Yesterday I joined the Bemidji State Wind Ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Erika Svanoe, in their performance at the 2012 Commencement Ceremony at Bemidji State University.  We played a 45-minute concert before the ceremony (which included sight reading parts of Carmina Burana for me!), played Pomp & Circumstance for 25 minutes, accompanied a music student on the national anthem, watched the 90-minute ceremony, and then played some fun exit music by Alfred Reed.

Commencement was held at Bemidji's new Sanford Center, which is home turf for the
Bemidji Beavers Hockey Team.  They removed the ice rink for the commencement ceremony:)

During the actual ceremony part, I was moved -almost to tears- several times.  I wish I could say that this was a first, but it always gets me!  Everybody is so happy for everyone else and some students have worked very, very hard to graduate.  This particular ceremony was special for me because it was my first as a faculty member.  Not only was I happy for the students who walked across the stage, but I also took pride in their education, because I was part of it.  I knew exactly how hard they had all worked to be able to graduate, so the smiles on their faces were that much more meaningful. 

I had a lot of time to reflect during the ceremony (in between commencement addresses, of course), and I’d like to share some of my reflections with you:

1. In most collegiate music programs (and I can only speak to music programs because I don’t teach other areas), you really do have to work hard to earn your degree.  If you are currently a high school student considering a career in music, please know this: most people have to practice, study, practice, rehearse, and practice a LOT in college in order to initiate a successful career, let alone graduate.  If you are considering a degree in music, or you already are pursuing a degree in music, make sure that you are willing to devote most of your day to your studies!  If you’re anything like me, this is a much-welcomed academic situationJ  I love what I do, so I am so happy to spend all of my day playing, learning about, or teaching about music. 

2. When I saw the proud faces of the graduates, I knew that they had been preparing for this day for a long time.  They didn’t decide to buckle down last week and secure that high GPA.  My question to those of you who are in high school or a college music program (but have not graduated with your bachelor’s yet) is: Have you committed to music at the level that you need to graduate?  These graduates achieved success because they traveled on a path over the last 4 (or more) years in which they made good choices, maintained a regular practice/study regimen, and retained a balanced lifestyle.  Have you started this yet?  If not, what are you waiting for?

3. Ok, I will get down off my soapbox.  Another thing that I noticed was that almost every one of the 1,000+ graduates had somebody in the audience cheering them on.  Isn’t that amazing?  These students come from all over the (large) state of Minnesota and several surrounding states AND even from a few other countries!  And almost all of them had family in the crowd—even the international students!  I also have very supportive parents, and sometimes I forget how far they will go just to see me and show that they are proud of me.  If you have parents like this, make sure you thank them and let them know that you appreciate their support.  I surely wouldn’t have gotten this far without my parents!

4. At one point I noticed that amongst all of the graduates lined up to approach the stage, a middle-aged woman was in line, and she didn’t have the normal black robe on.  She was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.  She was the last member of the group and the president soon illuminated who she was: in February, her son, who was a senior, had passed away in February 2012.  He would have graduated on Friday with his class.  She was there to accept his degree for him.  All of the administrators gave her a tearful hug and she dignifiedly walked off the stage with his degree. 

Well it was certainly a wake up call.

Here we are, all so very happy and celebratory, and yet it is easy to forget how privileged we are to not only graduate from college, but to be alive!  We take it for granted that many of us live safe, comfortable lifestyles.  I for one, hope that I live to see 100, and might actually get a chance to do that!  I am very fortunate to be able to live this life with freedom, and I get to pursue a career in music too!  It was a wonderful lesson about cherishing life, all of the wonderful people that I know, and all of the great opportunities that I have.  

5. Since I played euphonium at the commencement ceremony, this meant that I got to play a lot more of the melody than I usually play! And yep, I played the melody on Pomp and Circumstance (which by the way, is way more exciting than the  bum-bum-bum-bum part if you ask me….).  How many times did I play that melody?  At least 30.  With each repeat I had the choice of how I was going to play that phrase: would I simply make sure I played the right notes at the right time, or would I make each note the most beautiful sound that has ever come out of my instrument?  Let me tell you, it was a much more enjoyable experience for me if I chose the latter.  It is not easy to play perfectly, but how will you ever achieve it if you don’t try?  I owe part of this inspiration to two of my teachers: Jeff Nelsen, who has taught me a lot about Fearless Performance, and Pete Ellefson, who has always upheld a high level of excellence in his playing and teaching.  

It was a wonderful reminder that music is only boring if we decide that it is.  If we choose to make each new phrase the most beautiful musical creation possible, I promise you won’t get bored, and your audience will surely appreciate it. 

6.  Well, I think that will be enough lessons for today.  Now…go practice!

Friday, November 11, 2011

AMFS Recordings Online

Thanks to my bass trombone friend Russ Zokaites, I have discovered that a number of recordings of performances from the Aspen Music Festival have been posted on Instant Encore. I can be heard playing principal trombone in several recordings of the Chamber Symphony from this past summer!

Check out the Bartok Violin Concerto with Gil ShahamA Midsummer Night's Dream with Nicholas McGegan and Matthew Rhys, the Ravel Piano Concerto with Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Robert Spano, and Firebird.

Matthew Rhys and the ACS trombone section July 2011

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Just experienced an isolated moment of happiness amidst my tiresome evening of lesson planning; I listened to and watched Glenn Gould play Bach's fugue from his Prelude and Fugue in E Major, BWV 878.  Both Glenn and Johann are pretty incredible if you ask me.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why I do what I do

The further I get in my study of music, and coincidentally, the farther I get from the classroom, the more I am realizing my love for music.  I am experiencing more frequent affirmations that I love what I do.  And these reminders aren't casual moments in my day.  They are feelings and pictures and sounds that are imprinted upon my memory.  In fact, as I think back over the past few months, I can bring myself back to these isolated moments, and they are just as clear to me as the day they happened.

"Sarah, you are being entirely too vague"

OK. Let's go back to Aspen, CO.  June 27, 2011.  The AMFS Convocation Ceremony.  All brass players are recruited/required to play the opening fanfare for the ceremony.  Luckily, the chosen piece is a sweet fanfare for brass choir by Strauss.

As we started playing, and the dynamic grew, and I put my horn up next to my friends, and I looked out upon the big, bright tent in Aspen, Colorado, I felt an overwhelmingly warm sense of happiness.  Content.  I almost cried.  I was in the place I loved, doing what I love, and playing some of the best music in the world with some great musicians and people.  I have a perfect picture of it in my mind.

It's the same feeling I got in Cadets when we all worked our hardest and played great music together.  Or when my relay swim team worked together to beat the school record.  I was doing what I really loved with great people.

In speaking with a stressed music student this week, I recommended that she find this in her own life.  I trusted that she was in music for a reason, and perhaps it would calm her down if she reconnected with her passion for music.  As an example, I recollected a time during my junior year at Ithaca College when I fell in love with Hellen Grimaud's recording of Beethoven's 4th piano concerto.  I listened to that recording all the time!! And I told the student how I began to live that music.  I knew it so well that I could breathe it in and feel it.  I learned the final movement and played it for a competition.  As I told her about it, I got chills.  I am getting chills right now.  I love that music so much.  I hope she found a way to connect herself with the music that she loves.

Today at BSU we heard from a panel of four alumni who shared with us their varied career paths.  One of them was responding to the question, "How do you relieve stress?" He referenced the same thing-the music.  Music as a stress reliever.  Because we love it, right?  I don't know if I would say that I use it to calm my nerves, but when I hear or play good music that I love-Bach, Mahler, Brahms, etc.-I can't think of anything else.  As he talked about this effect, I got chills again.  Nearly tears.  I do love music.  I am doing the right thing with my life.  And that makes me really happy.

The funny thing is that I have been noticing moments like this more and more often lately.  I don't know if I didn't notice it before because I was so intensely involved in my studies, or maybe because I wasn't smart enough to recognize really great music, who knows.  But it's happening now.  If this is the gift of education, I don't regret a penny of those student loans that I borrowed.  I am getting the feeling that my education and experiences are enriching my life much more noticeably and at an accelerating rate-and I'm only in my 20's! I can't imagine what is in store for me down the road.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I moved to Minnesota 5 weeks ago. My mom came to Aspen and helped me drive the 1200 miles in as short a time as we could. We almost made it in one day, but common sense took over (aka my Mom talked some sense into me) and we spent the night in a hotel.

My last few concerts in Aspen were so much fun! I played Stravinsky's Pulcinella with the Chamber Orchestra, Hugh Wolf conducting. The "Duetto" movement that featured trombone and double bass was so much fun! My sound went really far in the tent. It wasn't hard to play the solo super loud, which is what Stravinsky calls for. (ff)

The final concert in August 19 was also a ton of fun. Leonard Slatkin came in and conducted an all-Shotstakovich program, concluding with the his ninth symphony. I enjoyed my sweet 2-note solo that recurs throughout the first movement of the work. What a cool piece! It's the perfect length, and it has a little bit of everything in it.

So anyway, now I live in Minnesota! The position that I interviewed for in June worked out! It is a one-year position at Bemidji State University. I teach low brass and music theory. It is certainly keeping me busy, and I love it!

And no, its not snowing yet in Minnesota. All of our friends and family could not resist telling us that Minnesota will be cold. And yes, Bill moved with me. Bill, Charlie and I are a happy little family living in a big house in Bemidji.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Back at it!

Hooray, I am back in Aspen! It is so great to be here again!

It is especially good to be here because I can finally stay in one place for a while! The past 6 weeks have been super busy!

May 9-13 touring Indiana with the commencement brass quintet
May 16-19 touring the Northeast with Mirari Brass
May 29 Memphis audition
June 5 drop off Charlie and Bill at Brownstown and South Bend:(
June 6-12 Pokorny Seminar in Redlands, CA
June 13-18 Rehearse and record with Mirari in Terre Haute and Bloomington
June 19-21 Interview in northern Minnesota
June 22 Arrive in Aspen!

Whew! I'm tired just looking at that! It was so nice to get around the country a bit, so I can't complain. I even got to visit the beach in LA! I think the last time I saw the Pacific Ocean was in 2004 when the Cadets had a free day in San Fransisco.

As soon as I arrived in Aspen, I wanted to hike Mt. Sopris. It is a 12,000+ ft. mountain that rises out of Carbondale, CO. I drove past it on my way here. Unfortunately, I don't see much hiking in my future:(

In March, I visited an orthopedic under the recommendation of my first physical therapist. He said "Huh, it's strange that your hamstring still hurts after this long (6 months)" After an x-ray and an MRI, he determined that it was indeed a strained muscle in the hamstring, and sent me to a different physical therapist. I worked with her until early June, and I have been calling her once in a while since then to check in. I'm slowly getting back into running and other activities, but I can't do much without causing soreness in my leg. ARGH! It's very difficult to be out in Aspen without being able to hike like I want to. On the other hand, maybe this is an opportunity for me to really focus on my practice and my studies. Now I certainly have the time to practice a lot. What a nice thing to be able to say!

I joined the Aspen Rec Center for a month. They have a pool, a hot tub, a weight room, a sauna, and a lawn on which to sunbathe. Oh, and free yoga classes! Instead of hiking, I will be taking advantage of this place for the next month!