Monday, November 19, 2012

Guest Blog Post - Surviving the Gap Year - Aliese E. Hoesel

This week's blog post is by Simpson College Music Alumna Aliese Hoesel. Ms. Hoesel graduated from Simpson College in 2011 with a Bachelor’s in Music Education. She is currently working towards her Masters in Music, Vocal Performance degree at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where she studies with Ms. Rachel Inselman. At UMD, Aliese is a member of the opera outreach program, Voyageurs where she instructs middle school students on the processes of singing, acting, and stage production and tours with the other Voyageurs members, presenting 40-minute educational musicals to elementary students.

Surviving the Gap Year
By Aliese E. Hoesel

“My future.” When I began my undergraduate career at Simpson College these two words held excitement and a promise of adventure. However, the closer I came to my graduation the heavier these words weighed upon me. Ominous, foreboding, they no longer held joyful connotations, but rather created for me an immense sense of pressure to make something of myself so that my professors and colleagues could feel pride in having played a key role in my artistic and personal formation. Despite the utterly amazing and beyond thorough education I received at Simpson, I was –and still am—keenly aware of how much I had yet to learn. (The trouble with Perfectionism is that it hinders one’s ability to accurately recognize one’s level of preparedness and competence). With the belief that I had so much knowledge yet to absorb, I did not feel ready to enter the teaching field, despite a particularly wonderful professor’s adamancy that I should “take a Valium” and trust myself. In addition, I did not feel prepared to enter graduate school either, as my voice was undergoing yet another growth period. So, that left me with a third option, take a year off. 

While I felt like a failure for moving back home after graduation and temping in a completely non-music related field, after a few months I started recognizing there were benefits to this “gap year.” It was the first time in four years that I got over 5 hours of sleep every night, and I even spent quality time with my family during holidays instead of confining myself to my room to finish research papers and projects. But, the greatest benefit of the gap year was being able to re-evaluate my future goals and determining what I needed from my career.

As an administrative assistant in the Maintenance department of a large corporation, working largely with individuals who did not relate to the world in an artistic way as I did, I learned how much music needed to be in my future. I learned just how important it was to my sanity that I be surrounded by art, collaborating with fellow musicians and actors. In addition, while it was wonderful to have a consistent paycheck to slowly tackle those student loans, the job I was doing did little to feed my soul. Yes, it was nice to leave my work at the office, but after a while, I recognized how much I missed having a career that consumed me. There is a certain intoxicating frenzy that overcomes a person when she is engulfed in her life’s passion, and I desperately required that in my life. I longed a career where I spent the day singing, deciphering poetry, enhancing my dramatic interpretation, researching history. Honestly, I even missed music theory! This perhaps prompted me to do the most important thing of my career, build my own musical environment and apply to graduate school. 

As an institution, Simpson already has a superb musical environment created for its students; we do not have to search for it there. But, outside of the ARMC, as professionals, we must build it on our own. That is the key to having a successful career, having the initiative to create musical opportunities for oneself. Below are five things I did to prepare myself for graduate school and create my own artistic environment.

Take Lessons and Practice Everyday
Continue taking lessons. A teacher will keep the technique in shape and keep you learning literature that is appropriate for your instrument. If a teacher doesn’t live close enough to you, at least try to do monthly coachings. At the very least, record your daily practices so that you can go back later to evaluate your skills. Going even further, challenge yourself to present a recital during your gap year. That way you have a tangible end goal that teaches you the necessary skills in reserving a hall, arranging for an accompanist, and advertising, in addition to preparing music and writing program notes.

Start a Private Studio
I truly standby the belief that one doesn’t fully understand her craft until she has taught it to someone else. Record these too so you can later evaluate and modify your instruction. Teaching allows you to learn literature really well, understand the development of one’s instrument, and improve accompanying skills. In addition, it’s a nice way to make some extra money, not to mention, shows graduate schools that you have not just been sitting around for a year staring at walls.

Continue to Read
The gap year is a perfect time to read all those history books you were assigned in Medieval/Renaissance or 19th/20th History, but never actually had time to read. (The Rest is Noise is actually a really interesting and incredibly informative book). Read books on pedagogy for your instrument, biographies of great singers, conductors, instrumentalists, composers, librettists, etc. Do not let the knowledge you spent four years and thousands of dollars on go to waste! Not only will it help you in preparing for entrance examinations, but will make you that must more impactful in your field. Knowledge is power, truly.

Attend Conferences and Workshops
Go to the music education workshops at Simpson. It will keep you abreast on effective educational trends and methods for if/when you do decide to teach. Also, it is a time to see your Simpson friends and colleagues and a chance to continue networking. Plus, there are donuts and cookies.

Join a Community Choir / Get a Church Job
Joining a community choir allows one to be involved in a no-stress, musical environment. In my experience, these choirs are full of encouraging people who love music. A church job, such as a cantor or choir director is another way to be involved in a community musically, and it also pays fairly well.

Each musician is different, some need to force themselves to finish advanced degrees for fear that they will never return to school, others need a year to settle into their own independence. Surviving the gap year depends entirely on how motivated a person is to form his own musical community. If taken seriously, it can be the perfect balance of “time off” from the hectic schedule one maintained at Simpson and a great stepping stone into one’s professional career. As with all things in life, the end goal is to find a path that suites your own goals, aspirations, integrity, and creative spirit.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest Blog Post - Jayson Gerth - You Are What You Read

This week's blog post is by award winning South East Polk Director of Bands, Jayson Gerth. 

You Are What You Read

by Jayson Gerth

During a walk through my neighborhood in the early spring of 2010, I was plugged into my iPod and listening to a podcast of a recent episode of “The Dave Ramsey Show.” Dave Ramsey, the host of this financial advice radio broadcast, had as a special guest author and motivational speaker Tim Sanders. I had never heard of Sanders before, but the things he spoke about on that show changed the course of my personal and professional growth to this day.

Mr. Sanders had just written a new book: Today We Are Rich. He wrote about the life lessons learned over the course of his lifetime through the example of his grandmother. As soon as I got home from that walk, I pulled out a notebook and pen and listened to the entire interview again. This time, I wrote furiously, dissecting and outlining what Sanders was saying. The ideas he espoused were simple enough, but at the same time profound. I could not recall a time that I was as moved by someone speaking so enthusiastically and passionately about self improvement. I was inspired, and I purchased a copy of his book that night.

Now, please understand, this post is not a book report, but the story of my awakening to ideas and writings of deep thinkers, master teachers, motivational minds, and business leaders. The journey has been a rewarding one thus far, and although it is a path I'm glad I am now taking, it is one that I wish I had begun a long time ago.

I had browsed books on leadership before; I own books written by well-regarded music education thinkers and motivators like Tim Lautzenheiser, Ken Raessler and Peter Boonshaft, and I had attended band leadership seminars with my students. However, up until that point, nothing really stuck.

I suppose we all have a moment in our lives when we decide that we don't know it all – that there might be thinkers and luminaries whose ideas deserve our attention – and that we might benefit from their inspiration. Perhaps this is your moment.

One of the first principles that Tim Sanders writes about in his book Today We Are Rich is that we are what we read. Sanders encourages you to ask yourself, “what is the quality of information coming into my head on a daily basis?” News reports, political propaganda, internet grazing, and gossip about Hollywood celebrities bombard us continually. None of it will make us think deeply about ourselves or help us become better at what we do or aspire to do. In other words, so much of it is “junk food reading.”

Sanders points out that, for a society that is so concerned about the health benefits of what we put in our mouths, there is a shocking lack of general concern about what we put in our heads everyday!

Sometimes musicians and teachers get wrapped up in how much time we don'thave for our own personal growth in the profession. Too often we get stuck in the business of being busy and lose sight of our own need, as professionals, to continue to feed our mind good things – the things that will make us better teachers, musicians and people.

Following the example of Sanders' grandmother, I found that using time at the beginning of the day (getting up early if need be) to read, make some notes, and reflect has been incredibly beneficial for me. Taking 30-45 minutes while the house is quiet and the sun is not quite up is the best time to feed my mind. Often, ideas that I've read about in the morning stick with me during the day and set the tone for my approach to teaching, leading, or simply interacting with others. Further, reading great stuff early in the day makes me aware of the junk that continually wants my attention later in the day.

When done consistently, I have noticed that I go to bed excited about the prospect of waking up and having that quiet reading time (and I am NOT a morning person – just ask my wife!) I encourage you to give it a try! Simply find reading material that will either help you to be better at what you do or inform your worldview. Then set a time, perhaps early in the morning to read and digest it.

In the area of human relations, it's hard to beat books by Dale Carnegie, Claude Bristol, John Maxwell, Napoleon Hill, Wayne Dyer or the Arbinger Institute (theirLeadership and Self Deception and The Anatomy of Peace are must reads!). On the subject of music and music leadership, creativity, and the arts, great books have been written by the authors I have mentioned above as well as Sir Ken Robinson (The Element, Out of Our Minds) and Benjamin Zander (The Art of Possibility).

Making the time to feed your mind good things every day is an investment in you. I have become a better teacher, father and husband by reading, digesting and applying the ideas of great thinkers. Concern yourself with what you put in your head, and you will quickly notice a wonderful, positive transformation in your life.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Guest blog post - Dr. Laura Drees - Musicians' Health

This week's blog post is about the health of musicians, written by Indianola chiropractor Dr. Laura Drees.
Musicians' Health
by Dr. Laura Drees

​You might wonder what a chiropractor with an undergraduate degree in Human Biology could possibly have to say that can help a student studying music. You’d be surprised how much health and taking care of your body can affect music, currently anddecades from now. I’m not a total science junkie; several years ago I tried out multiple musical instruments only to find out I’m not as coordinated as I’d like to be. My multiple music endeavors include piano, violin, and clarinet. Actually I was pretty skilled at the clarinet, second chair even, until I came down with pneumonia. It affected my lungs so much that it changed my tone and ultimately my ability to play. This brings me to the topic at hand; health really does relate music.

1. Keep yourself healthy and free of disease. Even catching a cold will put a damper on practicing, especially if you play a wind instrument. You don’t need me to tell you how impossible it can be to play with a stuffed up nose or sore throat. We all know we should do it, but how many of us wash our hands as long and as often as we should? Viruses and bacteria spread so easily on instruments which you touch several times a day. It’s even worse if you are handling reeds and mouth pieces.

2. Daily vitamins are another way to prevent or shorten many illnesses. A daily multiple vitamin can help to keep your body running at its optimum level, which will increase your disease fighting abilities. A good multiple will contain several antioxidants in one tablet such as Vitamin A, D, and E which all increase your immune system. If you feel a cold coming on, a great supplement to start is Zinc. By sucking on a Zinc lozenge right away, it can actually coat the throat and will not allow the cold virus to stick to your airway. It can greatly decrease the length of your cold and if taken early enough it may even prevent it. Another great preventative herb is Echinacea. It’s effective for sore throats, colds, and bacterial infections. Calcium is another important vitamin to have in your daily diet, or as a supplement. It keeps your bones and joints strong, which brings me to my next topic.

3. We will all develop arthritis in our bones and joints as we age. As a musician you need that fluid motion in your hands, arms and shoulders. Arthritis can inhibit this. It weakens and deforms your bones, also making your joints smaller and less mobile. Basically, the more arthritis you get, the harder it will be to keep playing. The best way to prevent arthritis is keeping Calcium in your diet, keeping your bones strong by exercise including weight bearing workouts, and maintaininggood posture. I recommend studying yourself while practicing your instrument in the mirror. Watch to see if you are sitting up as straight as you think you are, making sure your shoulders are held up and back. Optimal posture is when your head, spine, and pelvis are lined up. Make sure you’re not slumping forward with your shoulders rolled in. It’s important to be aware of posture and make the right changes now because arthritis isn’t just for the elderly and once the bones and joints start to change there’s no going back.

4. Another no-brainer we don’t always accomplish is getting enough sleep. It wasn’t so long ago that I was a student so I know that studying, stress, parties, and going out with friends can all hamper our sleep patterns. Our bodies actually heal while we sleep and we need an average of 8 hours of sleep to reap the benefits. Sleep actually increases your memory and concentration, increases abilities to fight illness, helps alertness, aids in weight control, and gives you energy.

Summary: It seems to me that above all, most of us just need to increase our health awareness and take better care of ourselves. Listening to your bodies, some preventative measures, and common sense will help tremendously in keeping your music career going strong, as well as keeping you healthy throughout your life.