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/ 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.


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.

*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!!!


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.”

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.


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:

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: