on practicing well…

Fast slow   
            
              mistakes tell us where to go and what to do
If it is worth doing, it is worth doing badly
                                                  failure is always an option

                    practice makes perfect?

deep practice                                               involved         stop

attention                                          Stop

 

 

Why are some people so good at the piano or singing, or art (fill in your field of endeavor here________) ?  Why do some people seem to get it while the rest of us struggle? Are they just born better? Are they smarter, more talented?

Perhaps, but consider this:  Some people have just figured out how to practice effectively.

There was a time in college when I practiced all the time and I just wasn’t getting any better. Why ???  This just didn’t make any sense; practice makes perfect, right?

Not necessarily. 

I wasn’t paying attention to mistakes I was making.  I sang the easy things and gave up on the hard passages.  I was so stressed at my failures, so I avoided them.  I got so upset, that I couldn’t attend to the two things that would make me better, my mistakes and zeroing in on the parts that were just on the edge of my abilities.

What I have learned ~

Mistakes are good!

  If a mistake is made, stop!  Ask yourself; (and answer) what is going on here?  Try again.  If you blunder again, instead of calling yourself stupid,  Stop!  Ask yourself, would it work better if I used a different fingering? If you make a mistake stop! try playing three long counts to each note.   Look hard at the music.   Are there any other spots that are similar?  Really take the time to figure it out.

Practicing something just out of reach of your abilities will make you better. 

This is hard because no one likes to sound terrible, but when you allow yourself to be bad something good happens.  Opera singer, Renee Fleming, has said in her master classes sometimes you have to make all sorts of sounds to get to your most beautiful voice.  She remarked once that if anyone heard her practicing they would think she was a five-year old singer and not a particularly good one at that.  And this is a world-class singer speaking!

This approach to practicing is effective because one is truly and deeply involved.

Sketching out ideas

    Sketching

              what to do?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

                                                what to draw?

          ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

       I have run out of talent                           
                                                                                 

Do you save your old sketches and rejected art work?

If you do, you are in luck.  Recently, I hit a snag and was having a hard time coming up with ideas.  Nothing seemed to come out right.

I got out my old work and was surprised at not only the good ideas I had, but at the volume of  sketches I had accumulated.  I had put aside most of the work for good reason, but in between the “good heavens, that is horrible” and “yikes”  there was a lot of good stuff.

                                                I remembered….                                 

              an idea for another a flying cupid pig

a trio of seahorses…

a pair of sleeping bunnies…

                puppies I meant to draw…

and a little mouse with a back pack.

              

Sometimes you have to sift through

the old to bring out the new.

Writing query letters

 

Query LettersIMG_9578

For all you writers out there: I wonder if you feel as I do, that sometimes writing the query letters and synopsis’ are harder than the book you labored over!

I have done a lot of research on writing query letters.  Below is an example of my adventure book , ready to go out and seek its fortune.

Sample query to an agent or publisher~

address particulars
Dear (specific agent’s name)

What Emma doesn’t know could kill her.
Everyone says that her mother is the finest costumer and seamstress of the 21st century. Such delicate work, so intricate, so old-fashioned. Why is her mother so silent on their family history? Why are there no photographs in the house?
Asking these questions has gotten Emma nowhere, but she does have her prized locket with the miniature painting of her family; an absent father, a mother with haunted eyes and a young girl who would give anything to know the mystery of her family.
Emma is about to get her wish. Emma falls headlong into 15th century Verdéa, a place full of deadly intrigue, twisted plots and feuding kingdoms.

Emma’s arrival sets off a series of irreversible events that will change her and Verdéa’s history forever.
Emma meets Nana Nature, an ageless woman banished to the islands. Emma longs to please this mysterious woman, but every request asked of her sends her deeper into danger. Emma can’t shake the feeling that there is some unseen force in the background leading her to places she doesn’t want to go. She is right. Someone wants Emma dead. Some one wants Emma’s soul.
The Book of Stone is a 97,000 word adventure story for the middle reader.
Woven throughout Emma’s story is Nana’s story as a young girl living among the plotting Wise Men and magicians of her time. Who would have thought that twelve-year-old Emma would have such an impact on the people of Verdéa?

Who indeed?

Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,
Anne Wood

Resources~

How to Write Attention Grabbing Query and Cover Letters by John Wood (no relation)

The 2014 Children’s and Illustrator’s Market

There are online sites, such as, Poetry and Writer’s Magazine that have listings.

The art of the song

Goethe                            The art of song

music           Art Song               warmth  Aria                 poetry

           sublime          passion                            music+poetry

French Chanson              German  lieder

                                                 soul                 

For those who love poetry, there is a whole other world to explore and it is

                               The art song

I love singing and listening to art songs.  They are beautiful but be warned; these are for those who like to think.

There is so much  poetry that we miss because it written in a different language than our own.

A singer must be able to sing and know their way around languages.  Most of us take diction classes and learn the International Phonetic Alphabet.  But the real work is truly understanding what the poet means and how it fits with the music.

Any of you who have been to a really good production of a play by Shakespeare know that in the hands of a good actor, audiences understand most of what is going on.  It is the same with a singer singing in a foreign language; we might not understand all the words but if the singer has done her homework we will get the gist of it.  The poem below is translated from French to English:

 Corneille, Pierre 1606-1684

Psyche

I am jealous, Psyche, of all nature:
the rays of the sun kiss you too often;
your hair allows the wind too many caresses-
when it strokes your tresses I sulk.
The very air you breathe
takes too much pleasure in passing your lips;
your garments touch you too closely.
And whenever you sigh,
I do not know what terror fills me,
fear, lest from among your sighs some may go astray.

Pretty heady stuff, n’est pas?

Imagine thousands of poems, each one richer and prettier than the last~

                                 Imagine thousands of  pieces of music, gorgeous and sublime~

                                                                                  Imagine them coming together~

If science and math is our head and art is our conscience than surely music and poetry must hold the heart and soul of humanity.

It is worth exploring, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A life’s work

music 010Life’sWork 

       frivolous?    body of work      ?                 ?

????????          ? mindful             ???      life of meaning

             life’s work         ?      body of work   ????  ???   ?????

I was listening to a talk on the radio about Benjamin Franklin’s sister. The speaker, Jill Lepore, had written a biography about this little known woman entitled: A Book of Ages, The life and Opinions of Jane Franklin.

The lecture started me thinking about the work people do and how it defines their life.  I envision someone writing the great American novel, an eccentric inventor proving everyone wrong by building something marvelous and useful, of great speakers influencing public opinion, of someone spending decades looking for cures for diseases.

Benjamin Franklin certainly had a life’s work. But had Jane? Do you? Do I?

I like those two words, life’s work. There is an implication of cohesiveness, of one not wasting time.  Yes, this is what my life is about this is what I have to show for it.                             ????            ???

What if you don’t have the tangibles that point to what your life’s work is about? I suspect the clues and evidence would be all around. Your collections of books, the notebooks, the sketches, what you spend your time dreaming about or doing.   Perhaps a life’s work is often confused with a body of work.                          ?????????  ??

Jane had twelve children and lost most of them.  She was interested in politics and read as much as she could. Her book of ages was a little handmade book of the age she was when she married, the ages of children born, of important things in her life.

I have been thinking…                  

  pondering                   wondering                   mulling over

those two words.  What if your life’s work was everything to do with cooking?  Would you be frivolous?

                        what if…             

you aren’t sure what your life’s work is?  Where would you go looking?

                                                   Sometimes …

confidence is lost, feet stumble, the way is obscured.

                                                                and some days…

it is splendid to go off the path.

 

 

 

On Blooming Late, again…gifts and gratitudes

Blooming Lateoutside again 003

wish              I wish                                                    seek

life learners                  start again                      yes
Late                 gratitude             not too late                           finding
gifts                           yes                             what if?

      yes              is it possible?        
Why do we have to be grateful for our misfortunes?  Why do we have to look on the bright side when we are down?  Why do we have to say thank you when we feel we aren’t where we should be?  Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

       I was thinking of the word gift, yesterday.  How it asks nothing from us. 

I think of the times I have failed and had set backs (believe me, there have been many!)and then I think of and all the second chances, third chances, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh chances I have been given.  I think of goals not reached and then I think of open possibilities.

I think of free air to breathe, chocolate to eat, times where I have so many choices that I don’t know what to do.  Even if life hasn’t gone exactly to plan, how could I not say thank you?  How lucky to be able to try and try again.

And there is ice cream, and the northern lights, plays to see, songs to sing, stories to write, places to go, poetry to read, wrongs to right, languages to learn, pictures to draw, mistakes to make, stars to watch, babies to coo over, losses to cry over, chances to start over.

                          It makes one positively giddy!

Blooming Late

We left it late, now we’re up to no good

on this wild, wild night in this wild, wild wood.

Night bird calls and the sun-shy follow

over moon soaked hills to our blackberry hollow.

We floundered for a while in the water-lilied waters

with the moon struck brothers and their lunar-addled daughters.

A night spell is cast through the tempest swept valley

we’re not all here ‘cause we’ve all gone doolally.

Tell me, how would it feel to take fistfuls of flowers

and fling them to the winds where they float for hours

mingling with our minds as we stand stock still

purling round our thoughts in a merry, airy rill?

Don’t doubt our veracity, our lunarian capacity.

Dance a midnight tango through the will-o-wispy fogs

to the sounds of a chorus of the crik-creaky frogs.

We improvise our dinners and our puddings are delectable

our sonnets are impure and our art not quite respectable.

If you find us you can join us but we won’t be where we should

we’ll be dawdling in the deeps of the wild, wild wood.

Still giddy!

  

Divining Water

Divining Water                                   


Soothe

         illusion                    perspective  sleep         creamy water           truth  verity

illusion  peace                      calm              look                             listen    
I came upon little black ducks filling the grass in uniformed  diagonals.  All were drinking from the puddles- tsa tsa tsa tsa tsa  it sounded like twenty kittens lapping at milk, which is a very sweet sound, let me tell you.  tsa tsa tsa tsa tsa   When the world is too busy, too much, when everything is passing you by, when you can’t catch up, when you feel overwhelmed, stuck, when you want to say wait wait for me, where is everyone going?  What about me?

 How do you soothe yourself?

I know we all want results, we want to have the tangible, material proof that we are not wasting our time, that we are worthy, that we are going somewhere.

            illusion

It is stressful when so much of success is based upon illusion for us not to feel like utter failures.

Years ago, the mother of two piano students looked around my music studio and remarked  “you seem to have it all together.”   She was going through a tough time.  I often wondered if I should have told her of my struggles.  Of not having enough money to pay my bills, of all the years where I thought-I am not going to make it financially or emotionally. Of all the close calls where I thought- that’s it- this isn’t going to work, I give up.

But that pull of having to seem successful is so strong.                         illusion

When I was a young actress, I would do anything to avoid people thinking that I wasn’t successful.  There were so many times where I let people think badly of me.  I was doing a play, A Far Country, in Los Angeles and an actor was passing the hat for someone’s birthday present.  Rather than admit that I didn’t have any money,  I said I won’t be at her party so I can’t contribute.   Oh, the look I received.

In my mind, not having money equaled not being successful.                                                            illusion

I was getting married and the cast gave me a present.   This actor gave me a long look as if to say “see, we all contributed to you, aren’t you selfish in refusing to put money in the hat. ” And yet, I still couldn’t admit I had nothing.  Plus, it didn’t help that this actor was particularly handsome and I thought- I can’t think he is handsome I am getting married!   For all my young exuberance, I was shy. If I met him on the street I wouldn’t make eye contact.   Later, he lectured me about being polite enough to say hi back to him, and I burst into tears.  He muttered something like, “you clearly you have issues,” and hurried off.

Issues indeed!                                                                                           illusion

Things only got worse; he received a bad review, I made a feeble joke, and he said, “I don’t appreciate how some people seem to be delighted in my misfortune.”  This couldn’t have been further from the truth,  but somehow,  everything I said was colored by my money=success embarrassment.                                          illusion

I was buying into the notion that being on top, having it all together, being successful was the important thing- not the journey, not the tiny victories along the way, not the intangible accomplishments.   I wanted the  illusion that I was breezy and successful.

One thing I know:  no one gets out of this world alive.

Which is my way of saying, even those that are at the top of their profession have to work hard.  No one gets out unscathed!  Go ahead, by all means hitch your wagon to a shining star, look at what people are doing and emulate your heroes, but don’t make the mistake of thinking- If you do not have what they have, if you don’t have the material accomplishments (the awards, degrees etc.)  that you have failed.

perspective                                         

Have you done anything in your life that you were proud of and no one knew about it?  Did you write a poem and it got published in a small press but you think, I am not Mary Oliver, so this poem is worth nothing?  Did you do a play that wasn’t very good but you found that you were convincing in the part?  You weren’t on Broadway so obviously it didn’t count.  Did you do a line drawing that was charming and pleasing to the eye?  It isn’t in a museum so it’s not much of an accomplishment, is it?

~slow down, if only for a while~

outside 008outside 007

These ducks didn’t ask anything of me.  Maybe the occasional breadcrumb.  The gift they give is just being.

Water is particularly soothing to me.  What soothes you? Are you divining for your version of water? Sometimes it is a matter of stopping and looking.  Or listening, or changing the way you are looking at a problem.  Seeing at a new angle can shift your world.

We are so much more than what we do.

blooming late

Blooming late
late Blooming

 night blooming water lilies

    moon flower           evening primrose              night gladiolus

 sun-shy               moon-struck           wandering at twilight

I was listening to the radio years back and heard a man say that he belonged to the Late Bloomer’s Club.  I thought, wow, what a great club! That’s for me!   My father in a rare talk to me, once told me not to worry, that we Woods are all late bloomers.   Late bloomer– I like those words.  They are comforting cream puffs–filled with such frothy, heady possibilities!

Late bloomers are the life learners, the thinkers, the ponderers, the resilient ones.

How wonderful would it be to know exactly who you are, to set out early and know where you are going?    Some of us took the Unfrequented Road by accident.  Some of us tucked our dreams away hoping to come back to them later.

Does the following seem familiar?

You are successful or you are a failure, you are a believer or you are an infidel, you are an A list actor or you are nothing.  You are a famous ballet dancer or you are an amateur, you are a famous opera singer or you are nothing, you are an artist who is recognized or you are a hack, you are a great pianist or you are mediocre.

Do you think we might be too hard on ourselves and each other?

There are miles of places to explore between all those ors.   There are bright-eyed possibilities, grand adventures waiting, unexpected discoveries…

Too late I should have I left it too late I am too old I am too

And yes, sometimes our dreams are not going to come true, at least not in the way we had hoped.  If you are forty and you are learning to play the piano then no, you are not going to be a concert pianist, but how may things are still open to you?    If you are sixty and going for your doctorate in art history, perhaps you won’t get hired by the top universities but maybe you will end up somewhere just meant for you.

When I went back to school I took a huge risk in majoring in music.  I was thirty-four, a year away from the age when all the competitions and contests would be closed to me.  I knew I wouldn’t have the grand opera career that I dearly would have loved.  I had left it too late.  It hasn’t been easy but I don’t regret my decision for a moment.  A life in music is where I am meant to be.  I get to sing art songs and oratorios and get paid for it.  It is a small career but I am happy.

Discover a Forgotten Passion

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier

by Thad Carhart

This book was charming to read.  I love how this man wandered through his Paris neighborhood trying to get the courage to go into a piano shop.  He would stand outside his neighbors doors listening to people rehearsing music.  Finally he got the nerve to knock on his neighbor’s door.  They of course thought he was going to complain but no, he wanted to listen!  The book is about his visiting and re-visiting the piano shop, asking questions and finally buying a piano and taking lessons.

The older I get the more I know that life really is a journey.  Go figure!  If we could just dare to say:

   I am

What could we be? What would we find? Where could we go? Where would we end up?

I am an artist I am learning German I am a writer I am taking tap dancing lessons I am a painter I am a singer I am a dancer I am a composer I am learning French I am a traveler I am I am I am I am I am a poet I am taking piano lessons I am I am I am I am I am

                                                           Aren’t we the lucky ones?

From memory, by heart

 

poetry by heart~sing by heart~recite by heart~play by

heart 

  What if I forget and I am up there and I make a fool 

of myself?

 
No one likes to feel like a failure or foolish. I was singing a piece by Bach with harpsichord and it happened…
I completely lost where I was in the piece, and oh yes, it was obvious.   I whispered to the accompanist to start at the b section, I smiled and went on. Was I humiliated? Of course! Did I cry afterwards? You bet I did, but sometimes these things happen.

                              ~refuse to let fear rule your life~

For a while I vowed never to sing anything again by heart.  But here is the thing- you will miss much as a performer.  Think about the words: by heart

                                     by heart

by heart by heart by heart by heart by heart by heart

It is in your heart when you know that piece of poetry or that song.  It is in your heart when you have touched it, examined it from many angles.  It is in your heart when you can remember it, take it out of its box, dust it off and look at it fondly.

As an experiment I taught myself to say the alphabet backwards.  I had seen it done on an episode of Nero Wolfe and thought- I could never do that!  But then I thought, why not?
I practiced the backwards alphabet in rhythm and with a melody.   It was quite easy, really.  (It took me about a week, I will never be able to forget it now!)
I divided it like this: ZYXWVUT SRQ P O NML KJIH GFE DCBA say your alphabet everyday, backwards is the only way! (this to twinkle, twinkle little star)

Cobbe_portrait_of_Shakespeare

I was doing outdoor theatre for a few summers, and there was an actress who would trip and stutter her way through Shakespeare.

She was able to ad lib in iambic pentameter.  It was most impressive!  She would always remember her lines at the last-minute and we would all release the breath we had been holding.

Added bonus: Memory work is good for the brain, keeping it elastic and supple.

Tips for success: try memorizing using an Italian accent.   Italian is such a musical language.  It has built-in rhythm as well.  It even works with memorizing in a foreign language: I am working on a German piece by Strauss.  Even speaking German in an Italian accent helps.
Use music to remember.  Who could forget the coach on the television show Cheers (If you are out of your 20’s!) teaching Sam geography by singing: Albania, Albania, it borders on the Adriatic– to the tune of Oh When the Saints go Marching in.  Try it with this poem.  You might be surprised how fast you can memorize it.

The spider, dropping down from twig,

Unfolds a plan of her devising,

A thin premeditated rig

To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space

In cool descent and loyal hearted,

She spins a ladder to the place

From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do

In spider’s web a truth discerning,

Attach one silken thread to you

For my returning

 by E.B. White

                          ~Do the mechanics first and the heart will follow~

Do the memorizing in accents, rhythms, and silly tunes first. 

It is the same for my piano students

I will frequently say: feel free to play this really ugly and mechanically.

Really feel it in your fingers.

Often we will change the rhythm.

When it is known to us, then we can be musical.

          We can     play              sing play

                       play       play  by             play          sing

        recite    by heart      sing      recite    by       

                    heart            heart                 heart!   


 

A case for the handwritten

Writing by Hand

How lucky and useful to have hands! A few months ago I was listening to a program on the radio about a man whose family had pressured him to become a doctor.  He hadn’t wanted to follow that path, but in the end he was glad that he did.  He became a doctor who specialized in hands.  He has actually been able to attach a human hand to an amputee with success.  He was marveling at the perfection of the hand.

If I am writing when I am not motivated, out of ideas or just plain stuck, I always write by hand.  The computer is a great tool and what an invention for a writer!    I love the computer when I am on a roll; the rapid fire of words tipping out of your fingers matches the percussive nature of the keyboard.  You are running and no one can stop you.

Where am I going? ???????????What next??????????????????

   But if I am not sure where I am going, sometimes it feels like stuttering.   That is why putting hand to paper calms and soothes.

handwritten letters

Taking time to write

There is a flow from brain to hand that feels different from the staccato finger motion of typing.
Using those small, loopy motions, free associating, trying on words like new clothes, holding them up looking at different angles; with a tilt of the head and a squint of an eye, you are seeing from a different perspective.  It is all in the rhythm, the way of using the muscles in your hands that can’t be duplicated in typing

~Not just for writers~

If you are a fan of the new Sherlock Holmes series and are familiar with his Mind Palace, that is another take on mind mapping (source: How to think like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb)

This is a great tool for sorting out problems and gaining clarity. Choose a topic (key word) then draw branches from your keyword.

Resting on the branches are associations triggered by the keyword.  Let’s say your keyword is MUSIC, some branches could be Musicians-History-Composition-Education.  You are free associating with these words, you are linking knowledge and facts that you already know, or would like to know. 

There will be more branches sprung from the original branches.  Maybe the branches are: Teaching-Literature-Choir.   More branches are connected: perhaps they are: Listening list, Further training.

From all this free associating by hand, maybe you discover that you would like to write music.

This work is more effective if you write things out, because there is not the middleman of the computer keyboard interrupting the flow of ideas as they pour from brain to hand.

 ~I know what to do~I know where I am going~