Saturday, July 31, 2010

What I've Learned The Past Few Days

Marion, South Dakota is a very mysterious place. As it seems to me, the town is a place where innocent people are trapped until either they fade away into oblivion (like mom’s grandma, who got a sailor's mouth in her old age, according to my uncle), serve some sort of purpose (like ‘grandpa Charlie’ who was ‘the saint to guide her’ and lived to be almost a hundred), or the town decides to dispose of on it’s own (all the people who’ve died in various explosions and mysterious deaths). The town seems to attract the sort of occurrences that one would only expect in the Bermuda triangle, like the entire sewage line exploding, an entire farm being sucked up in a tornado, and how all the old records burned in the newspaper fire. My cousin and I discussed how much fun it would be to send the whole pack of cousins down next summer to investigate the town as a whole. The whole expedition could become a movie that is sort of Paper Heart meets Letters to Juliet with a hint of Ghost Hunters.

I have created yet another definition for art; anything man-made that upon observation takes you somewhere. So music is the most obvious example; duh, listening to a Strauss waltz makes you feel like you’re in Vienna three hundred years ago. Art can work the same way; you look at a Monet and you can just imagine the sound of the water rippling as goldfish swish through it. Fashion is an art in that you judge people based on what they’re wearing; I see a vintage dress and I can imagine both the hipster lifestyle of the emaciated trendsetter wearing it and Audrey Hepburn as it’s original owner. When you take this definition at its full value, one could also consider sports an art because of the emotion spectators get from watching their favorite team win the World Cup.

Engineers are on such a different wavelength that they make jazz boys look more like cellists. Math/Science-minded people (lets call them M/Sers for the sake of shorthand) are all of the mindset that there is one right answer (and most of the time it is theirs). These people are impossible to argue (or sometimes even converse with) because of their inability to empathize or even begin to hear out any other perspectives or ideas. My brother will be an M/S major someday. That was snotty, I'm having a hard time empathizing today...

I don’t care what people say or think, I love vintage clothes. I have always loved to wear things that other people might not exactly want to wear themselves. I mean there were the cowboy boots and leggings in ninth grade (wayyy before you could find leggings in stores…I had to buy long underwear!), the toothpaste tights and matching sweater in tenth grade (for those of you that didn’t have the pleasure of witnessing this fashion masterpiece, let’s just say the ensemble, which is somewhere between aquamarine and teal, was recycled for a Halloween costume (toothpaste, of course) two years later…), the solid-sequins dresses in eleventh grade (which my mother gave to the thrift store while I was away at orchestra camp), and finally wearing brightly colored patterned tank tops under plaid lumberjack shirts my senior year (which is quite the style nowadays, don’tcha know?)…I’m really just ahead of my time! Just wait until you see the new frocks I bought this week, I expect more than a few keyboards will need to be de-drool-ed.

There is no such thing as ‘normal’. The ‘N’ word is relative to individuals. I’d say I’m a pretty normal person, but how many 19-year-olds can honestly say that they expect to release a CD in their lifetimes? How many kids my age get paid to do what was usually their free time in high school? How many kids can actually say that they are more excited for their career than they are for Christmas? Me. Also it’s not like I spend twelve hours a day locked up alone in a practice room…I probably have more fun than you, too…just sayin'. On another note, my family is from the aforementioned Marion, South Dakota, where slavery may or may not exist and children are named after zoo animals...

On that note...happy August everyone! Enjoy the last moments of summer!

(All photos from Google)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Top 10 Things I am Excited About [Right Now]

1. Going back to Cincinnati: I miss my friends, I miss my school, and I can't wait to move into my pink apartment building with the coolest roommate ever!

2. The vintage Jessica McClintock Gunne Sax dress I just bought: I mean, mine is way cooler, but I don't want a surprise reveal until I perform a recital in it!

3. Getting better at playing the flute: I'm still plugging away. And usually having fun with it! ...though not as much fun as I had taking this (and other) senior pictures!

4. Thrifting more this summer: my current favorite places are Unique Thrift (on Rice & Larpenter), Valu Thrift (in Sunray), and the Goodwill (across from Harmar, behind the Outback Steakhouse).

5. Dairy Queen now makes Blizzards in a mini size: I wouldn't call it 'healthy', but at least we can satisfy our cravings for less!

6. Coupons in the mail: All throughout high school I felt left out because all my friends got free Victoria's Secret underwear coupons in the mail and I didn't. Last week I got not one, but two. It was like Christmas in July.

7. Furniture (mostly bookshelves): How AMAZING would it be to have this gem in my apartment???

8. A CCM orchestra is performing Mahler 6 next year: Whether I'm playing it or hearing it, I. Can't. Wait.

9. The boyfriend is visiting in less than two weeks: A whole summer is too long.

10. Another year of SAI: Get ready, CCM. Here we come!

(photos from Google...and my Facebook!)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How to Play Louder Than a Boy

I've always had a thing against guy flute players. They always win, they're always sitting first chair, they're usually prettier than me...bad news all around. If you think of the top five most famous flute players of all time, chances are you'll come up with James Galway, Emmanuel Pahud, Julius Baker, Marcel Moyse, and Jean-Pierre Rampal with maybe Taffanel and Gaubert as runners-up. All guys. MN orchestra? Adam Kuenzel, guy. Cincinnati Symphony? Randy Bowman, guy. New York Phil? Robert Langevin, guy. Guys, guys, guys! They're everywhere! Eventually that has to change, right? I mean we just elected the first black president, why stop there?
A few years ago in a lesson with Mr. Kuenzel, I was complimented on my breath capacity. Not too shabby coming from a guy who's known as one of the more athletic members of the orchestra! It was true, I could pretty much hold a note forever, but my dynamic range was pretty minimal. This year I've been working on changing that. I can now play approximately sixty times as loud as I could a year ago, and I'm working on extending my air capacity even further just by seeing how long I can go on one breath (yet another Dr. G quote: 'scientific fact: your body can hold 30% more air than you think it can'), but playing loudly is only part of what sets these guys apart.
So what is it about male flute players that makes them so much better than the womenfolk? When my mom asked me the same question earlier, I said 'they're bigger and they're sparklier'. I recently compared three recordings of the same piece, two by somewhat well-known women flute players and one by Sir Jimmy. There is just something about Galway's sound that puts him light-years ahead of the others; every note is beautiful, every sound glitters, and he can play the snot out of those septuplet runs!
So I went back to practicing, attempting to sound one quarter as good as him. I was kicking some French composer butt, until my thumb started to cramp...which I can only assume is a result of my accidental 16+ mile bike ride yesterday and not because of practicing too hard or tensely. So there I will leave you, folks...with the idea that to outshine the boys I'll just have to get bigger and sparklier.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Accompanists: The Good, The Bad, and the...Confusing...

I've played with so many accompanists over the years, I couldn't name them all even if I tried with every ounce of brainpower I've got. I'm sure most musicians have a few stand-out accompanist memories that they'd gladly share with you because even without trying I've found myself in situations that...wouldn't happen to most people. Names have been changed to protect the innocent (maybe oblivious would be a more fitting word).
Sometimes (especially in the music world) you'll come across people who are so talented that you let them get away with excessive tardiness and occasional absenteeism. Probably the first piano player I ever played with was one such case. We loved him very much. In fact he could sightread anything from the Galway pop books (flute players out there know all about them...mmm! love me some 'In the Pink' and 'Legends') without so much as batting an eye. But 'Dave' didn't always show up when you needed him. Sure, he raced in just in time to help me win the 7th and 8th grade division of the Upper Midwest Flute Association competition, but one time we weren't so lucky...
...The summer before 7th grade I made an appearance at the MN state fair talent show. I won second place on my night, no thanks to Dave. He didn't show. Ten minutes before the show started, I handed my music to the house piano player. He said he could play it. I was somewhat comforted. I got up onstage and started playing, but I was a little distracted by the piano player, who repeatedly appeared to be saying 'shh!'. I, of course, was offended. It was my solo, I was supposed to play as loudly as I wanted. 'ssh!' Oh wait...'shh' was only the first half of what he was saying. And so my ears were opened up to the wonderful world of vulgarities, which up until this point in my life were only uttered in PG-13 movies.
Sometimes you find yourself in a pinch, where for example you need someone to play Schubert's Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen, or Carl Nielsen's Concerto (both of which are incredibly demanding for the pianist) on two days notice. That's how I found some of the more talented collaborative pianists in the Twin Cities. Seriously, you'd be surprised how difficult it is to find people on such short notice! Luckily I discovered that the Schubert Club has a list of local accompanists on their website, but it took at least ten phone calls to find what you're looking for.
At college this year I learned that your collaborator plays a crucial role in your performance. One pianist who is a favorite in the flute studio, 'Robert' will play your recital or long as you are ok with not being able to hear the soloist. I went to far too many recitals this year where I thought I must have been listening to Chant de Linos for solo piano with flute accompaniment. Likewise, it is very frustrating to play a competition only to see that the judges' comments were mostly 'the piano was a bit loud for my taste'.
Most recently, I've been struggling with a piano player who isn't a huge follower of the school of practice. Whoops. Seriously, for all of you pianists out there, I know that you're usually doing us a favor just by agreeing to play, but please hold up your end of the bargain. Just run through it once or twice before rehearsal. It'll be easier for the both of us.
I love getting comments from readers, so if you have an interesting (or frustrating) collaborative pianist stories, I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Project Stepford Hannah

Summer is kind of a grueling time for me. Sure it's nice to not have to worry about school every day, but when you have a regular job and a mile long list of things that need to get done before leaving for school in a month and a half, it just feels...stressful.
I've finished my nannying job for the summer, and I have just over a month before my job at the state fair begins. Today I began the laborious task of organizing all my stuff. This is particularly difficult because I don't really know where to put things since I'll be moving again in less than two months. I've commandeered the family coat-rack to serve as a temporary closet and most of my remaining belongings are sitting in big blue plastic bins from Menards. As a result, my room looks more like a garage. A messy one. Today, however, I made huge strides in my wardrobe's health. Mom and I spent about an hour each sorting through out closets and trading pieces that we knew were never going to get worn. I've gone through my dresser three times since finals week and each time I've been able to get rid of more clothes. Even if its just a few t-shirts, every piece makes a difference when you have limited space. My method? I imagine perfect Hannah in my mind who is fashionable beyond belief and ask myself if perfect Hannah would wear (this shirt, that jacket, these pants). No? Throw it into the Goodwill pile.
The idea of this perfect Hannah really began when I was in late elementary school. I remember I was looking through one of the last American Girl catalogues that came to my house. I came across what I considered to be the perfect outfit; a nautically striped t-shirt, white pants, and wedge espadrilles. I imagined myself as a young adult (I mean early twenties) wearing the outfit with long dark wavy hair. Of course in this fantasy I was also dating Daniel Radcliff, an endeavor that has since found its way off my to-do list...I don't think I was actually doing anything in this fantasy, I just knew that 'this girl has got herself together'. I was pretty, successful, talented, well-liked, basically everything anyone could dream of being.
Since then I haven't forgotten my lofty aspirations of perfection. In fact for the last three years, my new years' resolution has been 'to be perfect'. Don't get me wrong here; I know that no one is perfect and I know that I never will be perfect. However, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with aiming for perfection. I guess this is just my way of saying 'why settle?'
Finally, at the beginning of Spring Quarter I decided to raise the stakes in my apprehension of perfection; hence Project Stepford Hannah. The project really isn't that much of a change from my every day life, but committing to practicing at least three hours every day and not wearing sweatpants to school have actually made a difference. They are little things, but when I actually follow through on both I feel so much more productive and ready to take on the world! Now I think I have to push myself to see if I can commit to keeping my apartment clean...

Thursday, July 15, 2010


We learned from The O.C. that Californians spend their summers on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean. Gossip Girl taught us that on the East coast, people spend their summers in the Hamptons. So what are the Midwesterners supposed to do to beat the heat of these scorching summer days? Friends, allow me to introduce you to The Lake. If this had been around four years ago my life in high school would have seemed so much more glamorous! Not that I have a fantastic summer home on a lake, but there is just something about modeling your life, wardrobe, speech patterns, and music tastes after a television show that gives the impression of glamour. (Who knows, now that Glee takes place in Ohio maybe we'll be the next hip place to be?)
So why all this sudden talk about the great northerners' haven? I'm headed up towards Canada myself this weekend with some girlfriends for a little R & R! Today I'm leaving you with some pictures of one of my favorite lake homes, the Glensheen Mansion in Duluth!

All photos from Google.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sex Appeal and the Sonata?

I never had cable as a kid. I never had cable as a teenager. When ABC started showing Lizzie McGuire on Saturday mornings, I made sure to wake up early enough to be in on the action that all the other kids my age were exposed to daily through the mystic marvels of Disney Channel. Last year we got basic cable in the dorms (alas, no Disney Channel or Bravo...the two I was most looking forward to seeing) but really that just meant Lifetime, since that was pretty much the only channel that was ever on in my room. (Blame R, it's her TV!)
With my nanny job, I occasionally catch a glimpse of the automated TV guide that comes with their dish. Good Lord, there are some really interesting shows out there! The problem is that when I actually see clips of them, they appear to sound better than they look...
First of all, I am so in love with the idea of Ovation. For years I've thought 'wouldn't it be great if there was a channel dedicated to showing live orchestral performances and biographies of great composers, conductors, and performers?' I guess there is, but nobody ever watches it. What a shame. I think that classical music just needs to add a little sex appeal and people will eat it up! I mean there are a few such examples; Chris Botti = yum, a lot of people think Bond is kind of a joke but I still have a burning desire to be them when I grow up, every brass player-mostly of the male gender knows Alison Balsom, and of course who can forget the classic edgy 'good boy' Joshua Bell? Even the few moments I've been able to catch on this television channel have shown classical music to be a scene full of middle aged or older men and women wearing suits and speaking in stuffy accents. At the risk of condoning the objectification of women, I have to say that I was thrilled to see that Playboy made a list of today's hottest classical musicians! Although I couldn't help but notice that they are almost all violinists or opera singers...looks like I'm just going to have to work extra hard to make the list next time!
This reminds me of a project I did in fourth grade. Our elementary school had a symposium called 'Project Showcase' where each kid did a project (anything they wanted to do; a posterboard, a movie, baking cookies...) about anything (pets, volcanos, ...classical music?) that interested them. I of course decided to do my project about music, but I had no idea what sort of project would interest people. So I made a sort of music video. I picked about fifteen short pieces (I mean really short, like the snippets you get in elementary music books) and researched both the composers and the pieces themselves. In the movie, (standing in front of a table-cloth background in my American Girl Christmas dress) I introduced each piece with that information then I played them. Granted, this video was in no way sexy, but it just shows how from an early age (even before I knew that music was what I wanted to do with my life) I wanted to make this music that I loved accessible to my peers. I will save the consequent elementary music education soapbox for another day. I will instead leave you with photos of my favorite orchestral hotties out there today!

Ok, so he's not around today, but how could I make this list without mentioning Leonard Bernstein? (composer and conductor)

Bond (crossover electro-string quartet)

Esperanza Spalding (jazz bassist)

Chris Botti (jazz trumpet)

Gustavo Dudamel (conductor)

All photos from Google.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Making Lists

I've started every year since my freshman year of high school by making a list of about 10 questions. These questions are about school, my social life, musical goals...really everything that is making me feel apprehensive at that moment. Making these lists has become almost therapeutic for me; obviously there is no way I could possibly know the outcome of any of these situations, but condensing my uncertainties into a few simple and manageable questions makes it much easier to relax...and to imagine how much fun I could be having! Obviously after my first year of high school (and now my first year of college) I can make far more educated guesses and even know some of the answers in advance, but it has become a ritual of mine that I can't imagine giving up any time soon!
Looking back on my questions and answers is pretty hilarious too. The answers to my questions a year ago (entering my first year of college) changed dramatically from my first attempt at answering them (just after orientation) to the way I would answer them today with an entire year behind me...I guess that's just one of the many charms of life; it will always keep us guessing! Now, I'm still fairly self-conscious about my questions from more recent years, but I feel like enough time has passed that I can reveal what was making me nervous four years ago as a rising high school freshman...
  1. Is Central [High School] any fun?
  2. Do you have awesome friends?
  3. What is band like?
  4. Who do you sit with at lunch?
  5. How long did it take you to find your way around?
  6. Do you have a date for Homecoming?
  7. Are IB (International Baccalaureate) classes hard?
  8. How much work is math?
I've kept these lists in a series of notebooks (I don't know that I'd call them 'journals'...that sounds too Disney Channel for my life) where I comment privately about the world around me, what makes me happy, and of course the trials and tribulations of a teenage girl. Having just rediscovered my notebook from freshman year of high school, I also rediscovered a list of 10 band-related feats I wanted to accomplish before I die...
  1. Kiss a [french] horn player
  2. Date a drummer
  3. Wave a lighter at a band concert
  4. Go to a lunch party (the upperclassmen band geeks used to eat lunch in the music department seemed really cool at the time)
  5. Play every instrument in the ensemble
  6. Conduct the ensemble I perform in
  7. Start a band-wide inside joke
  8. Be band president
  9. Wear cork grease as chapstick
  10. Kiss someone on a band trip
Well that's embarrassing...what's even more embarrassing is the number of those I have accomplished in the last five years. I'll leave that to your imagination in an attempt to retain some semblance of integrity!

Monday, July 12, 2010

If Taylor Swift Had Been A 'Band Kid'...

It has been far too long since my last entry, which I swear won't happen again without good reason. It's been a busy two weeks; I went to the masterclass in Malibu and last week I got back to the cycle of work, practice, eat, repeat. Today I taught another beginning flute lesson, which was less inspiring than a Dr. G masterclass, but still made me reflect on my life as a flute player. It's been my life for the last eight years, and even before then it was something I took relatively seriously. In sixth grade I played in the entry-level Minnesota Youth Symphony orchestra. The following year I won my division of the Upper Midwest Flute Association's annual competition. I took these (along with my growing appreciation for the orchestral repertoire) as signs that this was what I was meant to do. Obviously these successes were in part due to my work and practice, but (I realize this sounds cliche, but I swear it's true!) I wouldn't have come close without the people around me who (whether they knew it or not at the time) inspired, encouraged, and pushed me to practice harder, better, faster...stronger?
My most obvious helper was my mother, who until about eighth grade sat in on all of my lessons and practice sessions. She knew I wanted to be the best I could be, and I think that she wants my dreams to come true just as much as she would had it been her dream. Today, she couldn't sit in on my lessons even if she wanted to and her practice-time comments have waned into friendly reminders rather than [what I considered] harsh, persistent critique. Without this second pair of ears, though, I don't know where I'd be.
My teachers and conductors (ALL OF THEM) taught me what music really means. Not only did each and every person I've worked with give everything they had for the sake of the music, but they painted a picture or a scene or a story to make every piece of music come alive. It was these fabulous musicians who really inspired me to get inside the music, to go beyond the notes, and to give the audience something to really chew on. They also taught their entire ensemble how to manage teamwork. Teamwork is especially difficult in a situation like an orchestra where every single person has such a strong personality...
...but it was these personalities that I found amongst my peers that really gave me a sense of competition and drive. When I got placed in an ensemble with better musicians than myself I'd practice extra hard so that I'd know I was pulling my own weight. When I knew my friends were practicing hours every day, I'd see if I could practice that much to keep up with them. And finally when I just knew that 'all the cool kids' were going to be in the best ensemble, I'd put on my game face and do whatever I needed to do to ensure a spot amongst the elite. The personalities found in an orchestra are not unlike high school cliques...
(Keep in mind, the following is not inteded to be offensive, nor is it what I believe. These stereotypes are merely cumulative generalizations based on stories, experiences, and individual incidents. They are not in any way directed at any individuals.)
  • violins-(the student council kids) these hard-working yet soft-spoken folks carry along the orchestra, though usually only the concertmaster really gets to shine as an individual.
  • violas-(the geeks) no other section in the orchestra is this tight-knit, has this many inside jokes, or for that matter is the butt of as many jokes...
  • cellos-(the bookworms) generally well-liked, the cello section is where you go to find those guys who weren't hot until you took off their glasses a la Clark Kent...
  • stringed bass-(the artsy kids) they don't care what you play or what you think about them. They just want to play some music.
  • flutes-(the cheerleaders) they won't say or do anything mean to your face, they'll just give you 'the look' then tell all their friends that you play out of tune.
  • oboes-(the NHS kids) similar to the violins, the oboes are the well-dressed nerds; earnest and friendly once you get to know them.
  • clarinets-(the gossip girls) remember that kid who told you every dirty detail of everyone's lives (and was probably telling everyone the details about yours)? He played clarinet.
  • bassoons-(the dorks) you might love them, you might hate them...but when push comes to shove you can't play Stravinsky without them.
  • trumpets-(the preppy jocks) they can play higher than you, they can play louder than you, they can also probably get the girl quicker than you.
  • trombones-(the dumb jocks) sometimes you just have to sit back and wonder what's going through their heads...oh's nothing...
  • french horns- (this guy) everybody knows them, nobody can label them, everybody in some way wants to be like them.
  • tubas-(that guy)-you know that redhead kid who seems to be on every Disney Channel show at some point and is always named Bob? He'd make a great tuba player.
  • percussion-(the space case) the kid who is always late, never does his homework, asks ten questions every class, and the teacher still loves them...
It is a combination of these personalities that make my life as a musician so much fun. Whether I love them or hate them, life is never boring. Gosh, now I only have to wait two months to get back to the land of Milk and Honey where I'll be living in this saga every day!