Salsa

When I was in high school about 394 years ago, music was a huge part of my life. As in, between rehearsals, classes, lessons, etc., I would average 5 – 6 hours a day in an orchestra or choir-related activity.

Upon arriving to college and deciding to go for 2 degrees in 4 years, work and volunteer all at the same time (bad idea for maintaining sanity, BTW), there was hardly time to sleep, much less be involved in any sort of music group. To go from having music play such a significant role in my life to being more or less nonexistent was pretty terrible, to say the least. I needed an outlet but didn’t have enough time to devote to an orchestra, so I enrolled in a dance class instead – salsa! 

Post UO, I moved to Austin for work and continued dancing, branching out to many other Latin dance styles including merengue, cha cha, samba and my current favorite, Bachata! It was something I still loved and also happened to be an easy social activity to attend alone, which worked out nicely for the girl who moved across the country to a city where she knew a grand total of 0 people. (: 

While out last week, a friend took a short video of me dancing. In the 7ish years of dancing salsa, I had actually only seen 1 other video of me, so it was fun to watch and see what I was doing well and what needed a little (or a lot) of TLC. (: Slowly but surely, I’m making progress!

The 1st video is from the other night and the 2nd video is at one of my first salsa recitals – about 7 years ago!

The Ramblers

Reintroducing an “official” element of music into my life was a goal I set this year. (official meaning something I could commit to, would need to practice for & included other musicians). Joining the ACO was part of plan, but because I was waiting for an opening, I was still on the prowl, you could say.

A few weeks into 2014, a chat window from my friend Brenna popped up on Facebook, asking if I’d be interested in joining her husband’s band. My curiosity was piqued, so after wrapping up travel season, I attended one of the band’s rehearsals.

Right off the bat, I enjoyed playing with the group (and I suppose it’s safe to say they enjoyed playing with me as well (;). We started off as 3, but soon after, joined forces with a few other musicians and evolved into a full-fledged jug band. I can’t say I’ve previously played with a group comprising guitars, a washtub bass, accordion, vocals, violin and the occasional fun assortment of castanets/shakers/spoons/etc., but the variety has been fun and our sound has been coming together nicely. (:

As a classically trained musician, I’ve also really enjoyed playing with the group as it’s provided me with the opportunity to peel myself away from sheet music (mostly) and work on fine-tuning my aural skills. While “reading the map” AKA using sheet music has its obvious benefits, it also lends itself to lessening the experience of the other senses…

…such as hearing

…which is kinda important for a musician. 

I was once part of an orchestra where our conductor occasionally had us play in the dark. I think it’s safe to assume anyone walking by was at the very least perplexed, but the awareness gained by not having that visual distraction was pretty profound. During a few concerts, we weren’t allowed to bring our music to the stage, which, at the time was 100% terrifying, but in retrospect, I realize how much better we played (and sounded) during these concerts.

In additional to the technical stuff, the touchy/feely/myspace.com emo side of making music is also something I’ve really been enjoying. There’s something so special about playing with a group, whether we’re talking living room jam sesh or on-stage performance. It triggers a feeling I have a hard time putting into words… I suppose what I can say is that not much else can lead to such a profoundly euphoric sensation. 

I love the feeling of calm that comes with playing – the relaxing energy that permeates through the group and/or crowd. Especially during a time when we’re all so hyper-connected – iPhone becoming 3rd limbs (and yes, I’m the first to plead guilty) – it’s so rewarding to experience the rejuvenation and energy that builds as the music begins: smart phones disappearing, smiles growing, toes tapping and people dancing. Not sure that’ll ever get old. 

Anyway…back to the band…

It’s nearly impossible to summarize our style as it’s pretty eclectic, but if I had to describe it, I’d say we play a pretty eclectic mix comprising old-timey, Tex-Mex, string band, polka, & country.

Here’s a short clip of us playing at a recent Commerce Street Supper Club:

That’s Why We Don’t Quit

Toward the end of last year, I attended Austin Civic Orchestra‘s concert. At the concert, there was a fundraiser – attendees could buy raffle tickets and the winners would get to sit on stage with the orchestra. Before the last song, the conductor drew five winning tickets. As the winners reached the stage, the conductor placed them, one by one, in seats throughout the orchestra – one surrounded by violins, another between brass players, etc.

“Hmm. Where is this going?” I thought.

After seating the winners, the conductor picked up the mic and said something to the following effect:

Most audience members never have the chance to experience what it feels like to play in an orchestra – to know what it feels like to be surrounded by sound, to be immersed with so much energy. It’s one thing to enjoy music from the audience, but to be on stage is an entirely different experience.

Whoa.

Upon hearing this, it seemed so obvious. Being on stage IS a completely different experience, but up until that point, I had never though about it from this perspective. It never even phased me. 

The concert was fantastic – the ACO played a few pieces I’ve either played or am familiar with, which made my connection with the music that much stronger. I was not familiar with one of the pieces, but I ended up really enjoying it. Why? Because the composer, Iannaccone, was at the concert and had given a pre-concert talk about the impetus behind his piece. Context is huge and having the opportunity to hear the composer talk so passionately about his music was a real treat.

Joining the ACO is actually something I’ve had on my mind for a number of years, but for one reason or another, have never auditioned. After attending this concert and realizing (once again) how much of a positive effect classical music has on my life (and the lives of others), I realized I was missing out and quite honestly doing myself a disservice by not playing with an orchestra.

In December, I emailed the conductor about auditioning. I heard back and found out auditions would be in 10 days. As in, I had just 10 days to learn an entire piece. And not “learn a piece” in a half-ass-sight-read-through-it-a-handful-of-times type way, but in a ready-for-an-audition type of way.

dont-Panic
*enter panic mode*

My head immediately flooded with the following: “There’s no way you can prepare a piece in ten days. You should have contacted her sooner so you could have had more time to prepare. Are you kidding? Even if you had known, you would have procrastinated. This is what you get for waiting! Welp, don’t even bother…maybe you can get your act together next year and try out. Wasn’t meant to be. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah.”

 Whoa. Hold the phone. Time for a little reality check.

In my quest for heightened self-awareness, I’ve become hyper-aware of how incredibly critical we can be of ourselves. And how unaware we are of it. I myself wasn’t aware until I begin reading up on the topic, such as this really interested article and this really interesting book. (which ironically, or maybe not so ironically, was a required read prior to being allowed to join Camerata.)

I guess the point is, if positive dialog can affect rice, I think it’s safe to assume it can have an effect on people as well.

After “holding the phone” and “getting real” with myself, the following transpired:

“YOU. GOT. THIS. You know you’re good enough and you’ll be ready. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t get in. That’s it. THAT’S. IT. Instead of thinking of it as *only* 10 days, think of it as 10 WHOLE DAYS! 10 EVENINGS!  You got this!!” 

…so I replied to the conductor, letting her know I’d see her on the 14th. Signed, sealed, delivered, BOOM.

It was an intense 10 days as I was traveling for work during the majority of the time. The days were full of work and long drives and the late evenings full of focused hotel room practices, but it felt good. Really really good.

…mostly, I kept reminding myself to feel thankful that violins aren’t too difficult to carry on planes and grateful to not play the cello or bass. 

Praise the lord for hotel mutes. Now if only they could make these for babies & drunkies...
Praise the lord for hotel mutes. Now if only they could make these for babies & drunkies…

I’ll be honest. I was SO NERVOUS at my first audition. You’d think that after having played 30,598,235 auditions over the years, I’d be ok with them, but alas…I’m not. While there are a number of factors that can be attributed to causing nerves, there is one factor that absolutely has a significant effect on me…

With something like an orchestra audition, you can put, say, 20 hours into a piece, but have just one shot, maybe 5 minutes, to prove yourself.  That’s it. This is significantly different from, for example, developing a website. If I put 20 hours into developing a website, the outcome is consistent and the end result will, 99% of the time, reflect those 20 hours of “behind the scenes” work.  

Basically, what I’m saying is that results of certain activities (auditions) are much higher crap shoots than others (web. dev.).

Those 10 days flew by and before I knew it, my audition was 15 minutes away and I was sitting in my car trying to get my focus on. My friend, Hilary, had sent me the following and I’ve always really liked it. I  read it over a few times before getting out of my car, attempting to convince myself that it was true. (:  It might sound silly, but I actually think it helped give me the confidence and focus I needed:

Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 10.08.21 AM

While I’m not outwardly competitive, I am, without a doubt, passively competitive. (Let’s make sure to not confuse this with “passive aggressive.” (:) I’ve always liked being the best, the fastest, the most accomplished. Call it overachiever status, call it a “typical” Jewish/first generation American mentality, or call it typical Kim Karalekas. (: 

Growing up, my orchestra teacher/mentor, Mr. Nelson, always said: “If you’re here to win, you’re here for the wrong reason. However, if you’re going to compete, compete to win.”  I’m not sure I was totally on board with this in high school (I think I just wanted to win), but as I’ve grown older, I’ve really taken his words to heart and try to live by them as best as I can.

I walked into the audition, tuned my violin and took a few deep breaths. Before playing the first note, the words “Play the sound you love to hear . . .” echoed through my head – another Mr. Nelson-ism.

I honestly don’t remember much of the audition. The first thing I can remember after finishing playing was the conductor saying she was pleased with my performance – intonation, pitch, tone, musicality, etc. – and asking me to prepare another piece and return for a second audition. 

“Yay! She didn’t say no! She liked my playing!” …followed by “Wait…another audition?? FML.” 

We decided on a new piece I was to prepare and I was on my way. As I was walking to my car, I felt a weird mix of emotions. I felt relief and accomplishment, but I also felt a sense of “here we go again.” Regardless, I told myself, “You’ve already made it this far, no turning back now.”

…I then proceeded to get insanely lost. What should have been a 25 minute drive evolved (or better – devolved) into an involuntary 1 1/2 hour tour de Austin. (:

I’ll spare you the play-by-play of my second audition as it was almost identical to the first: more work travel, lots of hotel room practice, lots of worrying and lots of trying to convince myself I was going to do an awesome job, followed by an audition I can’t remember.

The main different was that this time, I did not get lost on the way home.

The second audition was with an orchestral member. After I finished playing, he told me he would chat with the conductor and I would hear back in the next few days. GAH. Nerve wracking galore.

A few days later, an email from the conductor popped up. “OMG. Should I open it now? Should I wait? I wish I already knew what it said! Ahhhhhh!!” (Completely acceptable reaction for an adult, I think?)

I opened the email and found out…

I got in!!!

ptl

Man oh man…the anticipation! After reading the good word, I felt like a 20 pound brick had been lifted off my shoulders. A wave of emotion that honestly, I couldn’t even define, surged through my body. As I was attempting to process everything (slash, calm the eff down), this moment from Survivor popped into my head (Watch between 9:25 – 10:07):

In this clip, Marissa was fighting her way through a duel to remain in the game. The battle was intense and although she was ready to quit, she didn’t, ended up winning & remained in the game. Upon Jeff announcing her win, Gervase screamed, “THAT’S. WHY. WE. DON’T. QUIT.!!!”

…and all of a sudden, everything came full circle.

“That’s why we don’t quit.”

Big Band at the Arthouse

This past weekend I checked out Graham Hudson’s “Rehearsal at the Astoria” exhibit at the Arthouse Museum. I would write about the experience in my own words…but since it’s already been described so beautifully on the Arthouse website, I pulled snippets of the description that resonated w me most…

Hudson brings the Astoria back to life by reconstructing a portion of its historic architectural plan in ghost-like scaffolding. . . Hudson’s Astoria is offered up to musicians from Austin and beyond to use as a free rehearsal space during its ten-week reincarnation.

Hudson’s installation is essentially a living, breathing sculpture.

Hudson’s caveat . . . this Astoria’s stage only be used for rehearsals, not formal concerts or performances. Furthermore, all rehearsals are open to the public, which allows for a new perspective on the creative process

For Hudson, the rehearsal is infinitely more interesting than the finished performance

Hudson’s aim is to reveal how all artistic disciplines—from sculpture to music—share a common creative process characterized by experimentation, trial and error, and practice. The environment he has created is a space where mistakes—the unexpected and the beautiful—can be transformed into art, both literally and figuratively.”

LOVE. IT.

The group I went to watch rehearse this past Sunday was The Vendetta Big Band and they were wonderful.

Some Austin Music

Here are a few videos of some music I came across the first few weeks of December – the first two groups at the Holiday Stroll down Congress street and the third at the Saturday market downtown on 4th. Enjoy:

Quite an eclectic group:

Oh man, this one makes me want to get up and go salsa dance, stat!

Love all the unique instruments & style:

We Jammed

Awhile back I mentioned enjoying the Austic music scene as I’ve had the opportunity to learn / make music in a whole different way than how I was trained.

Rather than learning by reading music that someone has already composed (i.e. what you see in the previous post!), here in Austin, I’ve put the sheet music aside and am working on playing by ear as well as collaborating with fellow musicians to create our own musical ventures. (;

Neither method is better nor worse, but I know that I have been growing tremendously as a musician down here, which is lovely.

So last night Eddie came over for a last time, as he is about to leave for grad. school. (of course, this is the year of goodbyes afterall! ]: ) ANYWAY, we wanted to get in one last jam and record a few tracks. Hence the rando. cords and mics all over my apt. in this video.

Enjoy:

I Miss This

My mom sent me this video of my orchestra from back in 2007.

The group was made up of Sprague Camerata orchestra memebers, Camerata alum + some W. Salem students. We rehearsed 1x a week in Salem, so those of us attending UO would drive up together on Fridays for the 1 1/2 rehearsal and then head back down to Eugene where we lived. Yeah, of course we were tired each Friday afternoon that rolled around, but the benefits we got out of being part of this group made the commute more than worth it. (=

This video is of us, Salem String Academy, performing Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 for Orchestra + piano, right before we left for our Washington / Canada in 2007.

I will never forget these amazing orchestra memories, and hope that there are more to come, hopefully someday. I freaking miss this stuff.

Here we are:

As Of Late

Maybe it’s because people think they’ve “been to Salem” by driving through it on I-5. However, the Salem you see on I-5 is not a good representation of Salem, Oregon as a whole. NE Salem is also not S. Salem which is not central Salem which is not West Salem. Not one of those areas is Salem, they are all Salem as one unit.

So I realized I’ve been getting caught up in the S. Austin / Westlake part of Austin which, just like Salem, is not Austin, just part of Austin. And p.s. on that note, can I just say how funny it is that each HEB totally is tailored to the neighborhood it’s in. Like how the HEB on the east side is totally crappy and the one in Westlake has drive-up grocery service? Just saying…

Anyway, I decided to explore the east side of Austin a bit this weekend. Got in my car and drove around a bit – not sure what I was going to find, but it was a really awesome experience. Def. saw a part of Austin I’ve never really seen before. There are some up and coming areas of the east side, lots of hispanic sections, lots of areas that would be considered lower on the socio-economic level…however, a TON of personality.

This side of town actually reminds me alot of some of my favorite parts of Portland – NoPo, Alberta Street, SE Portland kinda near Burnside, etc. Check it out:

Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Restaurant. If any business deserves to succeed, this is it. Lola Stephens, the woman who runs this restaurant, has worked ridiculously hard to get her restaurant going. She had no money going in and was actually homeless for a part of her life, after she had lost her job. She was lucky to get enough money to get things together and with a combo of hard work, passion and good cooking, got the restaurant going.

The one day the restaurant isn’t open is Sunday. Why? Well, it’s because she feeds the homeless for free out of the back of the restaurant on Sundays. What a saint, is she not?

Church:

School:

Love this. Almost reminds me a bit of kid robot:

Tats. Neat sign – I like the typeface:

Nom nom nom:

Yup. Pretty neat morning I had. My suggestion to you: try something out of your normal routine today. Whether it’s how you get to work, where you get your coffee, what you do after work…whatever it is…switch it up. And pay attention to the things and people around you in the process…it’s amazing how easy it is to get caught up in the daily routine and how much we’re missing because of it!

In other news, my life is going well. Tonight I jammed with Chris Kelly for a few hours. Recording some tracks for him in the near future, which I am very excited about. There’s something so soothing about spending an evening just jamming with other musicians who are in it for the right reasons.

And P.S. I accidentally wrote “35” (Austin freeway) instead of “I-5” (Oregon freeway) when I was talking about the freeway in the first paragraph. Almost as weird as I when I said “y’all” that one time without realizing it until afterward. Weird, weird, weird.

Jam Sesh

I love going out to explore all the amazing things Austin has to offer. However, one of my all-time favorite things to do is to spend a night in, jamming. There’s something so calming / refreshing about busting out some music and not having to worry about anything else, at least temporarily.Here’s a small bit of a jam sesh I had with Eddie a few weeks back!

Process, Learning, Music

When I first started taking private violin lessons way back when, my teacher, Mr. Nelson, had me read a book before I began: The Inner Game of Tennis.

“WTF? I am here for violin lessons, not tennis tips” I thought to myself.

However, I read the book and honestly, the ideas in the book have really changed my way of thinking. My brief summary will do no justice to this book; however, to give you a brief background, the book is basically about this:

In every human endeavor there are two arenas of engagement: the outer and the inner. The outer game is played on an external arena to overcome external obstacles to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions. The inner game is played to overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent an individual or team from accessing their full potential.

So basically, it’s about the psychology of learning. And how we all have a ‘self 1’ and a ‘self 2’. Self 1 is the name that is given to the conscious ego-mind which likes the tell Self 2, you and your potential, how to hit the ball and play the game. (or how to play the music in my case…). According to the Inner Game theory, to achieve peak performance, the key is to resolve any lack of harmony between the two selves, as it is the contrary thinking of Self 1 which causes interference with the natural abilities of Self 2. This requires the learning of several inner skills, such as the art of letting go of self-judgements, letting Self 2 do the hitting, recognizing and trusting the natural learning process.

Pretty wild, right? For me this was a huge learning lesson because I realized how much my “self 1” was affecting my playing. I always caught myself thinking, ‘oh shoot, you are going to be flat on this note’ or, ‘wow, your intonation and pitch is really off today’. When the reality of playing an instrument is this: it’s all about muscle memory and hearing the sound you want to hear before playing it.

I remember in orchestra, we’d always do these exercises where we’d put down our instruments and Mr. Nelson would take out a ball and throw it to us and we’d have to catch without looking. He said: you should never miss the ball because you know how to catch a ball. You know how to anticipate where it is going to land based on the speed and distance for which it was thrown. It’s all very systematic actually. There’s no excuse for missing catching the ball because nothing changes the process. The only thing that changes is ‘self 1’ telling ‘self 2’ that you are going to miss the ball.

Pretty crazy how psychological success can be sometimes, right?

So that indirectly segues into the following videos. There are a few different ways to learn music. One is by ear – many young children use a method called the Suzuki method to learn an instrument, which is basically learning by playing by ear rather than reading music. My opinion is that this is used on many of the children who are started on instruments at a very young age, where their small motor / reading skills aren’t developed enough to read music. The other way to music is by reading the map, i.e. the music.  I personally don’t think one method is better than the other and personally think a balance between the two is ideal.

Now here’s the problem with learning w the first method: these musicians can’t read music. However, because they aren’t buried in the music and aren’t READING notes, they are rather HEARING the notes, which in my opinion is far more organic sounding. It’s like the different between learning Spanish from a book, rather than from a native speaker. The end result is that the spoke Spanish sounds WAY different. Well, it’s the same for musicians.

Here’s the problem w learning from the 2nd method: musicians are great at reading music, but tend to lack a musicality within their playing as their sound is very mechanical.

So this leads me to me. (= I would say I mainly learned to play (violin) with the second method. I did a bit of Suzuki; however, I mainly learned music from reading rather than hearing the music. So at this point in my life, I have a few goals in music. For violin, I am trying to put the music aside and learn more by ear, as I can read music well, but have found myself forgetting to learn by listening, which affects the end result. On piano…I’m doing the opposite. I can mess around on the piano without music; however, I really could use some practice with following the map and learning to just pick up any piece of piano music and going to town. (= I need to learn improv. too, but that’ll come in time.

So…it almost pains me to post the following videos because I am a perfectionist and clearly the songs I’m playing are nowhere near perfection. However, for me, I am all about process (moreso than end result)…I am a planner / strategist after all, so the creative process for me is more interesting than the final product. (=

Last year in Deb’s class, she assigned us to create something (ANYTHING – digital, movie, book, song, interpretive dance, puzzle, WHATEVER, didn’t matter!) that defined us. After much contemplation, I decided to make a book about how I learned process + strategy from music. I can honestly say that 95% of everything I’ve learned in life, it’s come from music…that’s pretty huge, so being able to explain that really helps me to explain my thought process.

Strategy and Music

This past week in Deb’s class, we were told to create a piece that defines us…

I have a hard time explaining two things:

#1. What planning/strategy is.

#2. How hugely orchestra/violin has influenced my overall process of thought and perspective.

With that said – I made this book to explain my cross-pollinationed thought process between strategic brand and orchestral planning.  I used a piece by Tchaik. that I played with my orchestra a few years back.

Check it out:

picture-2

Everything I learned In Life

Who knew that the most important life lessons and skills I have learned AND retained originated from my music education.  It’s funny, or possibly more ironic that all the required speeches and presentations throughout middle and high school have had little to no influence on me.  Well, unless I’m aiming to be completely unnatural and glued to 3 X 5 cards…The list of lessons I drafted is about a mile long, so I’ll periodically introduce the various categories.  

Without further adieu, the lucky number 1 is appropriately: 1st impressions.

Regardless of anything – preparation, connections, experience, etc. – 1st impressions are powerful and permanent.  In preparation for choir state competitions, we practiced for literally hours stage entrances and exits.  We knew we began our performance the minute we put our robes on and even more so the minute we stepped foot on stage. We practiced countless times “walking on stage with a purpose” and of course with “yes!” faces.  We knew the exact place on the riser to stand down to the inch to prevent awkward space adjusting and we knew down to the second how much time we had to get the entire 125 person choir on and off stage.  

In anything…whether a meeting, phone call, email, or in our case a performance at a competition, anything out of the ordinary is a giant distraction.  For choirs, this means any face-touching, stole-adjusting, movement, etc.  Mr. C would hold up one finger and expect every last of the 250 eyes on that finger…if not, we wouldn’t continue until he had that focus.  I can’t tell you how many times we practiced STANDING on stage for hours at 6:30 am, running through our pieces.  Our director would stand back and at the sight of ANY distraction, would stop the song and make us start completely over – even if we had been up there for 20 minutes and were 3 measures from the end.  

I didn’t realize how much I would incorporate a high school choir experience into my daily life; however, any time when I am trying to make a good first impression,  give a speech, run a meeting, etc. the learnings from my high school choir have had an enormous influence on my behavior and habits.

Touring QRO and Classical Music

Yet another day of 8 am classes. Last night was the first night I slept through the whole tonight without waking up multiple times. About time!

After class Sam invited Alisyn and I to go on a tour of Querétaro with her class. We were to meet in the centro after class. Well, long story short, thanks to the wonderful Mexican bus system, none of the buses we needed to take came. Finally, we got in a cab but don’t worry, he got lost on the way. Bah.

After the tour, Sam and I were STARVING. We had the best pesto. Oh my gosh I am getting hungry now just thinking about it. We got ice cream on the way home and finally arrived back home (completely sweaty and gross) at around 6. I cleaned up, called mom and dad, then I called Tia for the first time and talked to her for a bit.

centro

At 7, we headed back to town for a concert that night. This concert was at el teatro de la republica. We got a quick snack beforehand…it was a little peanutbutter cookie thing…umm it was just quite crumbly and not exactly peanutbutter-y, but it’s all good.

The concert began at 7:30 and it was awesome. The group consisted of a violin, cello, piano, oboe and flute. The type of music this group is modern and abstract but it was amazing. The flautist had a solo with the piano which was just phenomenal. I closed my eyes and the images were so vivid. I felt like I was in a desert, a rainforest…everything was so different than anything I’ve ever seen at a classical concert, and trust me, I have been to my fair share! The music was abstract and eclectic, but it was awesome and painted an amazing image in my mind. Querétaro has so many cultural opportunities and they are reasonable! This concert only cost 30 pesos. I absolutely am loving this city!!!