Watching footage of my masterclass with Burton Kaplan.
View of the Catskill Mountains from the main house at Magic Mountain Music Farm.
Setup for “Mock Audition Day” where we were able to perform for our peers in the setting of an orchestral audition.
Beautiful nature in rural New York!
My STEP Signature Project consisted of a two week “Practice Marathon Retreat” at Magic Mountain Music Farm in Morris, New York. Over the two week program I attended two workshops daily that included lectures, performances, masterclasses, group listenings, and other musically enriching activities. I also had a private lesson every other day. I worked to learn new techniques of time management and effective practicing so that I can learn music quicker and with better control, and be able to express music more effectively.
Both me and the teacher I was taking lessons with at Magic Mountain Music Farm noticed a lot of change in me over the course of this program. First, I was able to raise the standard of my playing. I was able to do that by learning and utilizing new practice strategies that allowed me to pinpoint and solve problems. In the past, I would notice problems in my performing and practice, but I was not sure of a clear method to solve these problems. Burton Kaplan (the man behind the practice marathon retreats) has a manual that outlines and gives step by step procedures on how to fix specific problems musicians encounter in practice and performance. Through my study and implementation of these strategies, I learned that I am someone who learns very well when given very clear, specific instructions. That is an important and valuable piece of information that I can utilize in my studies here at Ohio State. Now I will ask my cello professor, Mark Rudoff, to work with me in lessons to cater to the ways that I learn best so that I can get the most information from him in our private lessons.
Another thing that was very important to me was the mindset and the environment that was set up at the retreat. A lot of times, practicing is a frustrating, boring chore that musicians do not look forward to doing. At Magic Mountain Music Farm, practice was put in a positive light. It should be objective, enriching, and rewarding, and there are strategies to avoid all of the negative emotions that so many musicians feel in the practice room. The root cause of all of these negative emotions is that musicians tend to set our expectations too high, and then we feel that we fall short in our performances. This can create a grueling and negative mental/emotional cycle. The only way to break this is to change our expectations, and to “only be who we are” and “do only what we can do”. By changing our expectations and setting short term, achievable goals every day, we can make real and trackable progress in our playing and feel a sense of reward at the end of each day. As I shifted my perspective towards this positive view of working and practice, I noticed the weight of those unrealistic expectations lifting from my shoulders. Surprisingly, without that weight, I think I was able to achieve more! I focused on working to my ability, gaining control of music I was working on. Then once I had control, I experimented and pushed my limits to raise my standard of playing. In the two weeks at Music Farm I was able to learn more music at a higher level than ever before, and with less stress and anxiety.
The most instrumental thing that led to these realizations and changes was my studying of Burton Kaplan’s practice manual, Practicing for Artistic Success. I used it as a step by step manual to help me learn practice strategies and shift my perspectives. It’s written in sections so if I had a specific problem, I could read the section on that specific problem and then immediately try the strategy/strategies outlined. It was also nice to have Burton Kaplan there himself to help me implement the strategies in person and to give me and others direction. Now in my practice, when I become aware of a problem, I immediately try to think of and implement a strategy to fix said problem. If I can’t think of a strategy on my own or the one I have isn’t working, I can use the book to give me more ideas. If that still doesn’t help, the book instructs to ask for help from friends and colleagues, or to hold off on the issue until you can talk about it with your teacher. That way you don’t create negativity and frustration around the problem. You wait to work at it until you have a clear strategy or solution in mind.
Another great thing was working with a lot of like-minded, positive musicians. There have been times in my life where I have been involved in music scenes that could be described as “toxic” environments with unhealthy attitudes. I was once part of a private cello studio that was run/managed on negativity, fear, and unhealthy comparison of students. That experience made me insecure and I struggled (and still sometimes struggle) with my self worth and identity as a musician. Despite the bad aspects, this experience taught me many things, and without it I would not be here studying at Ohio State. I met Mark Rudoff and realized that there is a world of positive, caring musicians who are good at what they do and good to each other. Experiencing that juxtaposition from my past situation gave me the motivation to seek out positive work environments and to not tolerate negative ones. The environment at Magic Mountain Music Farm was friendly and compassionate. All of the musicians that attended my session were hard working, advanced and capable players, yet none were arrogant or judgmental. We all realized that we were here for a common purpose: to improve our musicianship. All of us respected that we were at different points in our journey, and that it would be silly to compare ourselves and our ability/work, since we are all individuals who have different life experiences/goals. That positive attitude made a lot of difference to me. A lot of times in my old studio and even when I started music school at Ohio State, I would get imposter syndrome. I felt like I wasn’t a real musician or that I didn’t deserve to be studying music. At Magic Mountain Music Farm, I was welcomed with open arms and accepted for who I was. It didn’t matter where I came from, it only mattered that I was willing to work towards making positive change in my life as a musician. That’s the same feeling I had when I met Mark Rudoff and decided to come to Ohio State. I’m hoping that through many positive experiences, I will be able to cultivate a positive environment in my own personal life as a musician, and when I teach in the future.
The most interesting thing about Magic Mountain Music Farm (other than the name of the place) was that it is set up as a communal living environment. I had to assist in cooking meals, cleaning, taking out compost, and other chores. They were all divided up between the eleven participants, so my chores were in no way overwhelming. We were all responsible for reading the schedule of events for the day to know what chores we had to complete. That gave me a sense of accountability and responsibility at Music Farm. It also helped me to get to know the other participants and feel like an integral part of the overall community of Magic Mountain Music Farm. I was not only fostering my own personal growth, but I was helping those around me and they were helping me too. That dependency and appreciation for others taught me to respect and to share my work/living environment, and to take responsibility and pride in it. Also it helped me to make sure that I was helping out and pulling my weight. Cooking and cleaning was also a nice break from practice that allowed me to refresh my mind. I am so happy that I had this experience, because I really think it will help my transition into off campus living. Now I have more responsibility than I did before in the dorms with a meal plan, but having this communal living experience has showed me that if the responsibility and household tasks are divided equally and shared, that they are not overwhelming.They can even prove to be calming, peaceful, and rewarding work. This experience has shown me that I share a responsibility to keep my house in order, and that I should show my roommates and myself respect in our house.
A great thing about music is it is a very similar thing to life itself. In the past, this would scare me because of how transient, universal, and ambiguous music as a whole sometimes appears to be. And I realized that a lot of times life scared and scares me for those same reasons. But something I’ve recently come to learn about both life and music is that there is a beauty in the longevity and ambiguity of them, and as long as I am willing to change and am hopeful and open to growth, then I have nothing to be afraid of. I have accepted that I will always have to do thoughtful and meaningful work to get results. I have also accepted that my life as a musician and my life in general will go through many phases, some great, and some that are unpleasant and hard. But the process to get through them is the same. Perseverance, objectivity, and a plan (with some built in flexibility) is what I need to always be equipped with. And if necessary, the ability to shift my perspective, actively trying to find the positive in a situation. Most importantly, as Burton Kaplan says, I will need the courage and bravery to confront my problems in music and life head on, instead of hiding from them. If I can do that, I think I can make significant positive change to my life.
I would definitely categorize this experience as transformative in a plethora of ways. The most important one I feel is my change of mindset and attitude. It is still early in the process, so I am going to hold myself accountable to continue to work at all of these strategies until they are solid habits that I don’t have to consciously work at. Burton Kaplan’s book says it takes about 4-6 months to really change your practice habits and solidify them, so I am going to continue my efforts into this semester, tracking my progress and feelings as I go. I will also take time to reflect at least once a week on how I’m doing, because the big picture perspective is just as important as the pinpointed perspective. I realized that if I can gather as much perspective and knowledge of myself and my situation as possible, I can make better decisions to maneuver the situation and to solve any potential issues. I am grateful to the insight that Magic Mountain Music Farm and Burton Kaplan have and continue to give me. I am also grateful to my cello professor, Mark Rudoff, for recommending this program to me as well as giving me some of the ideas that Mr. Kaplan presented to me ahead of time. It took a bit for me to digest them, but Mark definitely planted the seeds that made these groundbreaking realizations possible. I am also thankful to Ohio State and the STEP program for the support that allowed me to have this experience, and the opportunity to reflect and appreciate it.