Practising on the Road (or anywhere that they will let you)

3 concerts this week with Violons du Roy (accompanying superstar Alexandre Tharaud)
and recitals coming up February 17 in Gananoque and February 28 in Richmond Hill.

Once you have a life as a professional musician, practising on the road is a constant reality, along with making reeds and paying bills and trying to be a complete human being.  In the last two weeks, I have practised in 7 different locations in 4 different cities in 3 provinces.

I constantly battle to improve the repertoire and fragile abilities that I already possess and to expand into unconquered territory.  OK, put another way, I try to yank myself off FaceBook and practise/make reeds every day.

I accept almost any bassoon-related challenge that is sent my way under the guise of making a living but really, I am going it to see if I can quickly rally the delicate skills to jump between playing second bassoon in a demanding, precise, exquisitely expressive and refined orchestra (Violons du Roy) scheduled between major solo recitals with my full-out demanding, athletic and expansively expressive trumpeter/pianist stage partner, Guy Few.  Two very different situations with nonetheless common values that make me a better player.

And I schedule my teaching around this so that the students learn to be involved in the planning of their careers from the get-go, making them see the necessity for advance planning.

All of them have responded this year to my insistence on creating a time-line that outlines their important concerts, auditions, deadlines and planning their lessons to support these goals.  And they all know my tour dates.  Some of them are even taking the time to look at my website and FaceBook to get an idea of where I will be in the coming months!  During the weeks that I am away, they book lessons with any of the four incredible bassoonists in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra… not a bad back up plan!

Students have always asked about how to practise more efficiently.  We always talk about this and yet it only takes hold as reality when they take charge of their own organization.  Some of my keenest inquisitors become my most organized students… another reminder that self-doubt often indicates higher standards and, eventually, an ability to develop skills (see chart below).

It begins with identifying goals, making a list, then some kind of timeline (calendar, chart, whatever works for you) and then making specific charts.  The timeline includes all of the info about the important events of the year (concerts/auditions/juries/competitions) and beyond (orchestras you want to play with/concertos and recitals that you want to create/ recordings etc)  These charts can be as fancy as you want (computer generated spread sheets) or as simple as you need (backs of envelopes or napkins) or a combination of both.  I show them my  basic practise chart that identifies my current priorities (date/location/time/repertoire/techniques including circular breathing/memorization/reed #).  I like to record everything in narrative detail, partly because it amuses me to count the number of locations where I have practised in the past weeks and partly because it makes me more conscious to write about my work.  Often I realize that I am doing more than I thought, or that there are glaring gaps in my process.   And when students (and self) stares at timeline, gradually the details emerge of the foundation of extra work that is required to make things happen, e.g. getting recommendation letters from me BEFORE I leave on tour (grumble)!!

The process is basic:  advance planning (including deciding your schedule the night before); writing down goals and doing something concrete towards these goals every day; recording the actual practising.

I can’t say it enough:  write down your goals in some form and they will happen.  Organize your process by whatever means. If you are anything like me, you probably will never feel organized but believe me, structure will take place in your musician mind. Be stubborn, be brave and above all, play every day!

(Here is a fantastic chart developed by Alicia Bots, one of my students at the Glenn Gould School to help her plan for her second excerpt exam of the school year  – used with permission)…