Friday, April 26, 2019

It Ain't About Being in the Club..

WOW! What a week!

This week my new graduate home was host to some of my heroes; The Moanin' Frogs.

If you are in music (or even if you aren't) and haven't heard of this amazing sextet, you need to look them up.

They are a FORCE in chamber music. They are enormous talents and showmen on a level that few ever attain. They cross genres with ease....seriously, they're just bad asses.

So, what in the world does this have to do with the title?

Well, part of my grad duties included playing chauffeur to guys who I really admired. Oh darn, right? In the days spent with them, however, I was reminded that for all my years on this planet, I often still don't get it.

You see, when I returned to school and realized how the saxophone world, the music world, and the concept of promotion had changed through social media, I quickly gobbled up all things saxophone. I added tons of saxophone majors and professors on platforms like Facebook and saw their education and careers unfold in ways I would have never been able to my first time around.

From seeing all this, I panicked. How was I going to hang with these folks. How was I going to compete with their success when I was too old to do competitions like MTNA and others? I was focused, I was determined. I decided that all these folks were in some sort of club to which I was an outsider. "I have to get into that club", I decided. "It's the only way I'll succeed."

Man I was ridiculous. Sharing any perceived success, constantly humble bragging, promoting myself to the nth degree. I look back at myself and my state of mind just 3-4 years ago and shake my head. I was ridiculous.

Even when I began to get grad school offers I was worried and had to look at it from the angle of 'Is it the RIGHT grad school to get respect from these guys?'

Here, kids, is the simple answer (and one I was too caught up in everything to see).


The practice rooms in Ann Arbor, Michigan work in exactly the same fashion as the ones in Bloomington, Indiana, Memphis, Tn., and Cleveland Mississippi!

The point is that I (and hopefully, you) am doing something that I love and striving to improve at it.

So why did this week remind me of that fact?

Well, here I was, with musicians whom I held in the highest regard and we were just hanging for a few days in between lessons and rehearsals. In talking to them I heard the same dreams, desires, fears, and confidence issues that I have. They're worried about getting better. They're worried that people will enjoy what they do. They're thinking about the future and wondering what it holds.

In fact, the primary difference between these giants and yours truly?

They've had more time in the practice room.

So....if you're like I was.....if you're trying to be in some sort of mythical social media based music success 'club', just stop......practice hard, love what you do, and get out and make friends who share your interests.

I did this week. It's so much more satisfying.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Big Dreams, Small Moves: The Daily Approach to Success.

I'm currently listening a recording of a star in the making.

Lilah Senibaldi gave her junior flute recital at the University of Tennessee-Martin last night.

Remember that name. She is going to be a star.

Look, I'm not going to name drop....but I know stars. I can just tell. She's going to be one.

I've known Lilah for a few years now and saw her having one of the problems that I still struggle with at times. We both want to be GREAT musicians. We both want to be great....RIGHT NOW. Lilah was having problems the summer after her freshman year. You see, she was already 19 and not in a major symphony(yes, really). In her eyes, she wasn't at a Paula Robison or Julius Baker level so she was just a hack.

Like me she thought the path to greatness was the equivalent of a 100 yard touchdown pass in football. If it didn't happen all at once and in a very short time it wasn't going to happen at all.

This isn't logical nor is it realistic but then, musicians rarely use logic or spend much time in reality. It is part of our DNA, I think, to have unrealistic dreams and set unreachable goals.

If you're an educator please PLEASE do nothing to squash that. Instead, offer this advice:

Look at runners: Marathon runners train for years to shave a few minutes off their time. Middle distance runners do the same in seconds. For a Carl Lewis or Ussain Bolt, trimming 2 hundredths of a second in two years is a darned miracle.

That's an interesting perspective, isn't it?

The point here is to never stop chasing greatness but do so with small victories. Are you a hundredth of a percent better at your craft today than yesterday? Is the passage which was just stopping you in your tracks yesterday a little better today?


If, every day you improve a little...even an infinitesimally small will that add up?

Achieve big dreams with small moves, my friends.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Prove Them Right! Avoiding Toxicity and Embracing Your Support System

I'm a few days away from a birthday. This makes, well, more of them than I care to admit.

No, in case you were wondering, I'm not a big fan of aging. That said, one advantage of getting older is that the ability of self reflect seems to be enhanced over time. I don't know if you'd call it 'wisdom' in my case; as it seems to always take place after the fact. That being said, it does lead to some positive thoughts and a better mindset a good bit of the time. Example-

I was thinking this morning about my return to school in January of 2013 and my path since then and I have to tell you, the more I thought about it the more one sentence resonated in my skull.

I cannot believe how fortunate I am.

I shouldn't have had the opportunity to return, but I did.
Tennessee-Martin didn't have to accept me into their program, but they did.
My parents didn't have to help me afford school, but they did.
J. Berry didn't have to hire me to work at Interlochen after a quarter century absence, but she did.
Mark McArthur didn't have to let me into his studio as a graduate student at UNLV, but he did.
Following Mark leaving UNLV, Dr. Chris Beaty and the faculty at Texas A&M University-Commerce didn't have to allow me to transfer into their program mid year, but they did.
Nicolas at Marca Reeds and Tatsuro at Marmaduke Music didn't have to be as kind to me over the past year or so as they've been, but they were.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that there's a 'Team Andy'......and it has a pretty darned big roster. This is really changing my mindset about things by the minute.

In the past, I've used detractors and naysayers as motivation- "I'll show them!"

Now, the "I'll show them!" is a statement of affirmation for Mom, Dad, my teachers, my friends, and everyone in my corner. It simply means, "I'm going to bust my butt to prove you right." More than that, it means "My success is your success, too!"

So, that brings us to the second part of the title.....avoiding toxicity.

There will always be detractors. Leonard Bernstein had 'haters', Serena Williams has folks who claim she isn't that good. More than this, sometimes situations themselves just aren't healthy and one needs to be objective and learn to recognize a toxic environment when it appears.

That takes time and experience and.....listening to your support system. They can often tell a bad scene even when you can't.

So, what to do when you recognize a situation as being toxic? Well, first, try to figure out if the toxicity can be corrected. What or who is causing the issue? What steps can be taken to correct it?

Here's the big one - Don't be afraid to walk away. NO situation is permanent. NO school is worth being miserable. Yes, you can find another program (if it gets to that).

The POINT is you are studying music because you love it. Even the tough, frustrating situations are supposed to be positive and encourage growth. If they aren't, get away from them.

Your support system will understand. That's why they are your support system.

Prove them RIGHT.

Oh yeah, I have a little website that I'd be honored for you to check out. You can get there at the link below!

Andy Austin Saxophonist.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

How to Use Instant Gratification as a Tool

We do live in an instant gratification world now, don't we?

I laughed at myself this week. After a several month hiatus I started posting on here again....

....and noticed myself getting SO FRUSTRATED when the 1000 views per article became 40-60 views. I kept periodically checking and thinking 'Why did my audience abandon me?!'

Ok the massive narcissism aside (Really dude? Your 'audience'? 1000 views is hardly 'viral'!) is it that important that people provide me that instant gratification by reading my thoughts RIGHT THEN? Is what I'm writing so drenched in insight and wisdom that they must absorb it immediately? I started to realize that it isn't so much a conceit issue as it is the way we're now groomed in our society. We must have that feedback RIGHT NOW! We need that gratification NOW!

Face it, we've become the society that has drones deliver Amazon packages to us in a few hours because two days was too long to wait. We're the society that yells at the microwave after 3 minutes because whatever crappy food we're waiting on isn't ready. We want everything right now!

I think this is something that really frustrates young musicians in the practice room. "I've been practicing a month now! Why am I not a virtuoso yet?!"

So...I started thinking about that. This is, oddly enough, not an area where I have a huge problem. I don't have to have instant gratification in the practice room. Sure, it's cool on those days when my tone is particularly rich or everything is just 'clicking' technically but I've managed to get the mindset that it is indeed a process and I'll get there when I get there if I keep working. However, were I one who required such instant I would suggest this.

It's a simple trick; used as an instant gratification reward for getting your crap done in the practice room. So let's put together a scenario......

Pretend your practice schedule includes the following for a particular day..

  • Warm ups
  • Long Tones
  • Harmonic minor scales in 4ths
  • Bob's Big Book of Etudes #45
  • Movement 3 of the Big Giant Concerto measures 55-70.
Ok, add this to the end: 5-10 minutes of whatever YOU want to play IF, and only IF, you successfully put in the work on the scheduled work. 

Ok, so it isn't technically INSTANT gratification. You do have to wait an hour or so. That said, after just an hour of effort, you get that prize. It's something to look forward to on days when your motivation isn't as high.

Give it a try.....and read my blog! (Or don't....I'll keep writing them regardless...)