2018 Recap + How I'm Approaching 2019 Differently

Welcome to 2019!

Welcome to 2019, happy to be here!

Before I get into planning the new year, it’s really important to look back on the year we’re finishing, and acknowledge all that was learned and accomplished (even if you feel like you didn’t do that much, I bet that it’s a lot more than you thought!) I’m posting my highlights, not as a brag or an encouragement for comparison, but to set an example that we all deserve to recognize our accomplishments and be proud of ourselves!

2018 was a really big year for me, crazy and challenging, but overall a good one. Here’s some of what I did:

WORK

PERSONAL / TRAVEL

  • Celebrated my 35th birthday + Tom’s graduation (after 4.5 years in school) on the same day!

  • Denver to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday

  • New York City to see the installation at MoMA PS1 that Tom helped with

  • Cabin weekend in Northern Minnesota

  • New Orleans to attend Being Boss NOLA

  • Door County, Wisconsin for a wedding during the peak of fall color

  • San Francisco Bay Area for a gig and to visit family

  • Celebrated my 12th anniversary w/Tom!

  • Purged a lot of stuff from the apartment, which was years overdue and felt amazing!

LOW MOMENTS

(I share these in the name of keeping it real - it’s definitely not all highlights around here)

  • Being on my own for almost the entire Kickstarter - Tom was gone in NYC, working on the aforementioned MoMA PS1 installation

  • Sick with the worst cold I’ve had in years while recording my album

  • Felt burnout / “post-partum depression” after album release, which coincided with the sudden onset of winter and seasonal affective disorder

  • Tons of moments of “can I do this?”, “how am I going to do this?”, and other self-doubting thoughts (they’re not very Instagrammable, but we all have them!)

FIRSTS

  • First time feeling positive about winter, by getting outside for a walk most days (it made me happier than going to the gym)

  • Started writing my first piano trio

  • First in-person breathwork experience - I participated in a circle at Constellation Acupuncture with Amy Kuretsky on New Year’s Day

  • First craniosacral therapy (I’ve never been more relaxed - my friend Sara is made of magic!)

  • First time being a podcast guest (on the Essential Omnivore podcast, hosted by my awesome nutritionist Lucia Hawley)

  • First time getting cupping

  • Finally got comfortable with talking at performances

  • First sheet music sale

  • First time dying my hair - purple highlights!

  • First Kickstarter

  • First radio interview (on Jazz88, to talk about my album)

  • First album

  • First Facebook Live video that was entirely spoken (on holiday self-care)

CONNECT (My 2018 word of the year)

I really embraced this word of the year by collaborating with and meeting lots of other cool musicians and artists, some of whom even became good friends! I also attended some great events such as the Minnesota Music Coalition Summit, New Music Gathering, Giant Steps, and Dissonance’s Unhappy Holidays.

Looking back on this list, it’s really clear to me that I did too much in 2018 - I don’t regret having done any of this stuff, but I worked too hard! I am feeling pulled toward being more present/intuition-focused, and away from tying my worth to achievement (oof, that's going to be a process.)⠀

So what’s in store for 2019?

I’m approaching this year very differently than past years.

After all that I did last year, I have a strong desire to simplify, in terms of things I’m doing, and in the material and digital realms. In the past, I have often treated new year planning and goal setting like arriving hangry at a delicious buffet - I always overdo it!

I don’t normally plan for a whole year at once, but this year I am being very choosy, so only things that truly feel good and right will make my list. (And permission to change our minds whenever we want is implied!)

In support of these goals, I also joined Mara Glatzel’s yearlong circle called Cycle, “conscious planning for women who want to get shit done without sacrificing their self-care” - rest is not optional! The first retreat was last weekend, and I’m already really excited about being part of this community. (This is not an ad, I just really love Mara’s work and have found it so helpful.)

So, appropriately...

This year my word of the year is JOY.

  • Joy as a goal instead of a byproduct.

  • Doing things that feel good just for the sake of feeling good (something that I often ignore in favor of getting the next thing done, and the next, and the next…)

  • Making music that brings me joy, which I can then spread to others

  • Helping others find their own joy

Feeling good is not frivolous - it helps us show up for the important people in our lives, and do work that impacts others positively.

I do have a short list of things I’m excited about doing this year:

TASKS

HABITS (small changes work!)

  • Re-starting a daily practice and/or composing habit that feels good

  • Reducing my mental input (consuming too much information on the internet is like the mental equivalent of eating too much) by utilizing the Screen Time feature on my phone, and not picking it up immediately in the morning

  • Setting aside time in the morning for journaling and meditation - I know that I need more space in my life for thinking and processing

But, I also plan to check in with myself regularly to make sure that my goals still feel aligned with what I want and need - no “shoulds” allowed, unless they’re practical things in service of goals I’m excited about.

If all of this new year talk doesn’t resonate with you, that’s okay, you do you. I fully believe that the new year can be a fresh start, but shouldn’t elicit pressure or frustration. If you’re feeling a fresh start next week, or on a random Thursday in March, go for it - I’m wishing you an inspiring start to 2019!

If you chose a word of the year, share it in the comments, or share something you’re excited about doing in 2019!

End-of-Summer Update + Navigating Transition

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Hey everyone! I know, long time no blog (except for sheet music releases and Kickstarter stuff) - all summer, in fact!

If you’ve missed the style of writing from my usual blog posts, you can still hear from me every week in my newsletter that’s chock-full of supportive real talk about staying well while doing creative work. Sign up at the bottom of the page!

Now that we’re past the ceremonial beginning of fall, I thought I’d pop in to let you know what I’ve been up to.

If you follow me on social media, I know you couldn’t have missed the Kickstarter for my upcoming album Florescer.

(Spoiler: we did it! The project was funded, which I am SO grateful for - thanks very much to everyone who contributed!) I also did a really fun online concert to celebrate the last hour, which you can watch here:

If you did miss the Kickstarter, don’t worry, because the official album release date is coming up soon on October 24, and you’ll be able to buy and stream it through all of the usual places - stay tuned for more details on that.

And, if you’re in Minneapolis/St. Paul, you’re invited to my album release show on October 18, featuring all of the guest musicians on the album (Tim O’Keefe, percussion, Jenny Klukken, marimba, and Laura Harada, violin). I’m also planning on live-streaming it. More details here.

If you want to stay in the loop on the album and upcoming gigs, be sure to hop on my gig mailing list here!

So, what else did I do all summer?

A lot, it turns out! No wonder this summer seemed to go faster than ever. Workwise, I:

(NON-WORK) FUN STUFF

  • traveled to Denver to celebrate a good friend’s 40th birthday

  • traveled to New York to see Dream the Combine’s installation at MoMA PS1, which Tom spent most of June helping install, saw some college friends, and got to have a lesson with my teacher Vitor Gonçalves.

  • visited Tom’s family cabin in Hackensack, MN

  • drove to Iowa for a friend’s wedding

  • spent as much time with family and friends as possible

  • saw some great music: Ivan Lins, Bobby McFerrin, Matra, Hamilton de Holanda + Roberta Sá, and the Twin Cities Jazz Composers Workshop premiere concert

September is always a pretty crazy month, with the beginning of the school year, but this year promises to be even more so, as I wrap up Kickstarter rewards and prepare for my album release. I’m also going to New Orleans to attend the Being Boss Vacation at the end of the month, which is coming up fast! I’m really excited to connect with more fellow creative entrepreneurs, and keep living out my word of the year (CONNECT!)

NAVIGATING TRANSITION

All in all, it feels like a really big transition time right now:

  • I’m adjusting to a new school year, in a new teaching space

  • The seasons are changing (yet teasing us with warm weather, right when I was ready to be cool and cozy)

  • Tom is a few weeks into a new job

  • Etc.

I’m reminding myself:

  • That transitions of various sizes are constantly happening and take mental energy

  • That bigger and/or simultaneous transitions take even more energy

  • Even “good” transitions can be hard, and that’s fine

  • I need to cut myself some slack, generally, and especially during these times

  • I don’t need to start anything else new during a transition time, unless it’s something I really need

  • I can (and should!) do extra nice things for myself when I’m feeling out of sorts

  • I don’t need anyone’s permission for that...and neither do you!

If you need permission to go a little easier on yourself, here it is!

Are you going through any challenging transitions right now, school year, seasonal, or otherwise? How do you deal with it? Let me know in the comments. (You got this.)

Album Title Reveal!

I am so excited that my album finally has a title: 

Florescer (Bloom)

A few nights ago, I was really tired, had just gone to bed, and of course, that moment was when my overactive brain chose to prevent me from sleeping! (Don’t you love that?) Unlike most times this has happened, however, it was actually productive! I couldn’t get the word “bloom” out of my head, and images of hand-drawn flower art kept popping in.

The next morning, it still sounded like a good idea, and also sounded cool when translated to Portuguese, which feels appropriate for an album of Brazilian music. Then, I read that May 29 (this Kickstarter’s launch day) was the Full Flower Moon, the usual name for a full moon in May. The deal was sealed.

Though I might be a little biased because I was born in May, it’s my favorite month, because of the arrival of greenery and beautiful blooming trees. The Hasses also tend to be botanically gifted people (which I strive to be) - my dad has even co-authored a book about roses - so flowers seem baked into my DNA.

I also find myself using metaphors about planting seeds and growing things all of the time, and, of course, this quote is one of my favorites, which regularly inspires me to get moving on my goals:

If you haven’t already, please back this Kickstarter to help it grow and bloom, and make the album a reality!

Thanks in advance for your support - if you can't support financially, sharing on social media is great, too!

If you want to stay in the loop on the album and upcoming gigs, be sure to hop on my mailing list here!

How I Became A Composer

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My path to becoming a composer has been roundabout, but I thought I’d share a bit about how I got to the work I’m doing today - and it’s not through a whole lot of training specifically in composition!

Much to my regret, I don’t remember many opportunities to be creative in my piano lessons as a child - improvisation and composition weren’t part of my experience. (That’s why I have all of my students do both, and even improvise at the very first lesson!) Looking back, I remember more of a perspective of right notes vs. wrong notes. I can’t remember my early piano education fully, but I know that I was a very shy kid, and could have used more encouragement to create my own music, instead of just playing others’ music (although, that is great, too).

My first experience was an elective music theory/composition class in high school, in which we were given very little guidance - the class was basically spent going through modules of music theory software (most of which I’d learned already in piano lessons), and working independently on our pieces. I don’t remember any criticism that I received on my writing, constructive or otherwise (and I would remember that, since I was such a perfectionist back then), so I assume that we just got a few comments on our final projects. I learned something from trying to write, but didn’t get to develop my skills like I would have if there were feedback throughout the whole semester.

My path to becoming a professional musician had some fits and starts, too - I actually quit piano lessons with my longtime teacher after 11th grade, with the idea that I was going to switch to a jazz piano teacher, but I never followed through on that, and when it came time to apply to colleges, I didn’t consider majoring in music because I didn’t believe that I could do it. Back then I had a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset (read Mindset by Carol Dweck!) - despite years of practice and learning on the piano, I didn’t have confidence in my abilities to grow. I eventually decided to audition to be a music minor at Ithaca College, started with the required theory, sightsinging, and lessons, while trying out other types of classes, too. Toward the end of my freshman year, my advisor had commented to me that she thought I had too many classes in my minor, which then solidified my feeling that music was indeed supposed to be my focus. I decided to audition to be a music major soon afterward, was officially admitted into the program, and still managed to graduate in 4 years! So, even though I didn’t initially choose music, it kind of chose me.

My lack of confidence about my playing abilities at that time also extended to my composing abilities. I didn’t do much more writing, if any, after that high school class because I still didn’t feel “qualified” - I hadn’t yet gotten comfortable with the idea that you have to do something more (and more!) to become better at it and gain confidence. During my last semester of college in 2005, I decided to sign up for another composition class, which was (unsurprisingly) much more helpful, since we wrote weekly assignments, and got useful feedback. (I was going to show an example here, but sadly, I think that those files are lost, and my office closet is too scary to dig through and maybe find a paper copy!) I do remember that my style back then was to overcomplicate things because I didn’t want it to be TOO EASY - I used some interesting rhythms and melodies, but things often got too clunky because I tried to cram too many ideas in - I was using my brain too much, and not trusting my ears enough.

I still didn’t continue the habit of composing after college, but every so often, I would write down a snippet of something. I was pretty intimidated by the thought of writing something for real, so this felt like a safe way to collect ideas.

Then, about 5 years ago, I applied to play at a faculty recital at one of the schools where I teach, with the proposal that I would write a couple solo piano arrangements of Brazilian choros. Before that, I’d written many arrangements for my students (mostly simplifications), but it was the biggest arranging project I’d taken on thus far, with a deadline to motivate me to finish (let’s be real)! Over the next few years, I wrote more arrangements of Brazilian songs for these recitals - this felt like a safe entry point because arranging gives you a sort of template - and began to take on other arranging projects. Each year I got more and more adventurous with my writing, while in the meantime, I would still write down original snippets of things occasionally, but rarely do anything more with them.

In October 2015, I was tired of not taking myself seriously enough, and decided to give myself a personal challenge to write a little bit every day in the month. Although I wasn’t brave enough to share my work at the time, one of these snippets eventually turned into my Brazilian choro Anelante!

That December, my trio played a composition by our cellist Aaron Kerr at the New Ruckus Composer Night, a monthly event for sharing original music (of any kind) here in St. Paul. I thought to myself, “Hmm, I don’t have anything written, but I should get in line anyway - a deadline will be motivating.” (Are you seeing a theme here?) I eventually got programmed on a July 2016 date, and had finished the first section of what is now Anelante to perform, as well as another contrapuntal mini-piece for piano. Performing my music was really scary at first, since I didn’t quite believe that I was officially a composer, but it was a great experience, and to my delight, I got lots of positive feedback.

Showing up in public to share my work was the push I needed to write more - I began to actually feel like a composer, and decided to start calling myself one, which felt like a big deal. I also started to notice my self-critical brain’s grip loosening - less often asking “is this good?” than “do I like how this sounds?” (Still a work in progress, but I do believe in growth mindset - anything can improve if we give it our attention.) I had finished the B section of Anelante over the winter (Brazilian choros typically have 3 major sections), and signed up for another New Ruckus date in April 2017 to force myself to finish it.

The real turning point that increased my output and commitment to the creative process of composing was signing up for the 100 Day Project in 2017 (which I wrote about a lot here), a global art project in which people do a project of their choice for 100 days in a row, and post it to Instagram. I decided that I would write 8 measures of music each day, of any type - the main point was to show up every day and do it.

Showing my work daily was also scary at first, but I quickly became desensitized to it, so it became much more fun. After the 100 days ended in mid-July, I found that I actually missed this daily habit of writing music, so I did another 100 days at the end of 2018, too! (Thoughts on that here.) 

I’ve now shared a lot about how I became a composer, but not yet why - I’ve known for a while that it’s not enough for me just to interpret others’ music (which I also have great respect for). Also, as a recovering perfectionist, I was most often in a right vs. wrong mindset when playing classical music, which felt unhealthy for me. I remember moments of practicing for a concert or audition, playing a “wrong” note or chord, thinking, “Ooh, that sounded cool,” then shutting down that creative spark because I was supposed to be learning that piece, not making up my own stuff (which sounds super sad to me now!) All aspects of solving the creative puzzle that is writing a piece of music are engaging for my brain, and most importantly, it just feels like fulfilling a deep need (that maybe I can’t exactly explain - how do you explain anything that you fall in love with?)

Even though I did go to music school, a traditional path, my path to composing was not academically traditional at all - when I was in school, it didn’t even occur to me that majoring in composition was something that I could have done. Sometimes I wish that I had done it back then, but all I can do is accept where I am right now, and go from there, which is actually kind of liberating - just move forward, whatever that looks like.

It’s a little scary for me to admit that I don’t have a long history with being a composer, but I don’t really think that matters. What matters is that I like the work I’m producing (and hopefully others do too), and that I’m committed to continuing to work on it, and to the experience of the creative process. The way that we build skills is to keep composing, keep improving, look for feedback from trusted sources, and get people to play our music. Anyone can do this - you just have to decide that you will.

If you're a musician who has thought about writing but didn't know where to start, if you're looking for some idea generation, or camaraderie with other creative musicians, I have just the thing - if you're interested, sign up below and join us! Don't wait for years, like I did!

If you're a composer, musician, or creator of any kind, when did you feel like you could call yourself that title? How did it feel when you did? 

7 Ways to Get Inspired to Compose When You're Not Feeling It

The consensus around here (I live in Minnesota) is that we've had enough winter. Too bad it's still early February, and the malaise has already set in, which might be making it hard to create. If you’ve been reading the blog for any length of time, you know I love this quote from Chuck Close:

You also probably know that I’m a big believer in forming daily habits instead of just waiting around for inspiration (which may never come), but the fact remains: some days we’re just not feeling it. Hopefully you have some kind of daily habit that you’re committed to, so you work through the resistance on those days, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Here are some quick tricks for getting started, even when you’re not in the mood to create:

1) Try a change of scenery

Although we pianists can’t take our instruments with us (but maybe you can), that doesn’t really matter. Taking a walk or a short jaunt to the coffee shop can get your mind in a different place so you have new ideas when you return.

2) Play music that feels good

On Monday I was in a tired/anxious mood and I fully turned it around by chugging a little Natural Calm and heading to the piano (away from a screen!) to play some deeply-grooving samba while standing and kind of dancing around (full disclosure: I’m glad no one was watching). It totally changed my mindset and got me excited to write!

3) Do something else that feels good (then get back to writing) 

Figure out a small action that would feel good - maybe it’s eating a square of chocolate, taking a minute to stretch, or petting your dog or cat. Anything to get you in a more positive vibe can only help.

4) Give yourself permission to write whatever

If you’re freaking out about not having any good ideas, just gently try to let that idea go, and remember that we always have to create lots of less-good stuff in order to get to the good stuff. Ira Glass sums this problem up pretty well: 

[vimeo 85040589 w=480 h=270]

So that means creating anything, regardless of its quality, is still a critical part of your creative process and evolution as a creative person. In other words, tell your inner judge to pipe down (at least temporarily), and just write.

5) Write something bad on purpose

You can take that idea one step further, and just decide to write something "bad". Odds are, it won’t be that bad, and it’ll help you release any pressure you might be putting on yourself to create something great.

6) Close your eyes and listen to whatever pops into your head

What you hear in your head might be a sound, a few notes, or it might be an existing song of someone else’s, but no matter, it’s a starting point. That familiar song could be something that you create variations on, or the sound might evoke an interval or rhythmic motive, enough to get you started!

7) Get random!

Sometimes you just need an unexpected idea to get you started. Here are a bunch of random generators:

I hope these ideas can help you get started when you’re feeling stuck or resistant - it happens to all of us!

What’s your favorite way to get yourself going when inspiration is lacking? Feel free to share in the comments!

What I Learned From My 2nd 100 Day Project

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If you follow me on Instagram or my Facebook page, you couldn’t miss my 2nd 100 Day Project while it was happening, but I didn’t write about it on the blog as much as the first one. Although I finished it right at the end of 2017, I haven’t taken the time to reflect on it until now. My observations about the 1st 100 Day Project are here

Both projects had the same parameters: write 8 measures of music each day, of any kind, for any instrument. Some ended up continuing from day to day, some were picked back up later, and some never went anywhere (but were still equally important to do!) My favorite pieces that I finished during the 2nd 100 Days were: an as-of-yet untitled maxixe/samba; Centimonk, a 100th birthday tribute to Thelonious Monk; an autumn-inspired waltz, a funky ostinato about a crime-fighting manatee; a Bartok-esque piece for solo violin; and another piece about Rusty the Cat (his superhero identity).

HOW THE 2ND PROJECT WAS DIFFERENT FROM THE 1ST

  • 21 days of the 2nd project were spent doing a different piece every day, so that I could test out some composition prompts that I wrote (along with a small group). Many of these didn’t develop into anything more, but the manatee one and one designed to accompany this piece of art definitely will!

  • I stretched my comfort zone a bit with these prompts, by trying out some different styles, and also, by writing a piece for solo violin toward the end of the year.

  • Toward the end of the challenge, I started to get tired of having to post something every day, and I felt a little boxed in my 8-measure requirement (even though there was nothing stopping me from writing more.)

SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THE 2 PROJECTS

  • Every day is not going to be profound (as in music, as in life), but accepting this fact makes it so much easier to show up and do the work every day

  • It was still hard to think about form (something I want to try focusing on more), especially without feeling like I was boxed in by groups of 8 measures.

  • I ended up with tons of ideas, and many finished pieces - lots of material to work with.

  • Editing pieces and finishing them is the hardest part of the process for me, probably because the perfectionist part of my brain wants a flawless finished project. I thought that easing the requirement of having to generate something every day would help with this, but I still need to create some structure around it, both through scheduled work time and having a list of pieces that I definitely want to finish, then dedicating my writing time to those.

OTHER INTERESTING OBSERVATIONS

  • Even though finishing pieces is still the hardest part for me, I am now really comfortable with generating ideas and starting things, from doing it so many times over the course of these projects. Oddly, I don’t worry about running out of ideas (which definitely surprised me) - I proved that I could show up on 200+ days last year and come up with something. Running out of good ideas, on the other hand, might be another story, but I’ve developed a lot of trust in the process.

  • Even though I did need a little break by the end of the project, my daily habit has lapsed since then. Although for good reason - I have other projects I’m trying to launch, on top of my normal teaching and rehearsal schedule, I don’t like that. I want to have a mostly-daily habit (I am always pro-days off when needed) without the hassle of posting something every day. But, committing to a daily habit is part of the motivation for me, and public accountability certainly helped, too. I’m still figuring out how to re-structure my practice habit this year, and writing should be easy to roll in with that.

  • Looking back now, choosing to do the first 100 Day Project was an amazing decision because it has totally shaped the direction of my work and my decision to focus on composition and sharing composition resources with other musicians, which has been SO FUN!

You can also listen to all of the pieces from my 1st 100 Day Project here, and many from the 2nd project here - other projects like launching my 5-day composition prompt course (which you can sign up for below), and my sheet music store (coming soon!) have eclipsed it lately, but I will finish soon!

Have you ever embarked on a daily creative project or challenge (of any length)? If so, I want to hear about it - the good stuff, the bad stuff, anything!

2017 Recap + Welcome 2018!

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Welcome to 2018!

And, congratulations, we made it through 2017! (Phew.)

I certainly am happy to turn the page on the calendar - 2017 was a difficult yet rewarding year of growth, in which I did lots of cool things but also dealt with burnout and a lot of anxiety. After trying everything holistic that I could think of to help, I finally decided to try going on meds, and after some extra rest and big lifestyle changes, by the end of summer, I was feeling a lot better - I had to actually listen to my body when it told me what it needed, again and again. I think this stuff is important to mention (#endthestigma), because we all struggle behind our highlight reels that we show to the world on social media - you’re not alone! And, every time we go through a big period of struggle, it brings us to the next, more evolved version of ourselves, which I’m always grateful for afterward.

Some firsts from this year:

  • Getting a studio to teach private lessons at MacPhail (a long time coming!)

  • Seeing Hermeto Pascoal and his band at SFJazz in April

  • Creating and facilitating a set of composition prompts for creative musicians, which is now a free 5 day-course (more about that below!)

  • Starting a regular networking happy hour for women musicians in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area with my friend Lauren Husting

  • Receiving my certification from MTNA and became a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music

  • Attending the Giant Steps conference here in Minneapolis - so inspiring!

  • Prioritizing rest and self-care for real (instead of just talking about it a lot and not giving myself what I need)

  • Trying breathwork as a way to turn my mind off (it works) and connect to myself

  • Going back to eating meat again after 14 years without it (with some excellent help from Lucia of Essential Omnivore!)

  • Getting really into drawing, so much that I decided to get one printed!

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Other highlights:

  • Performing 3 sambas that I arranged for solo piano at a MacPhail faculty recital (what I learned from that process: here and here)

  • Choro rodas with local and visiting friends

  • Playing more Brazilian gigs on piano, especially at the National Flute Association Convention with Jane Lenoir and Tim O’Keefe

  • Finishing 2 100 Day Projects of writing 8 measures of music per day

  • Performing my own music several times

  • My 6th time at California Brazil Camp - ensembles with Hermeto Pascoal, Jovino Santos Neto, Vitor Gonçalves, and Alessandro Penezzi!

  • Seeing Anat Cohen and Choro Aventuroso (including my teacher Vitor) at the Twin Cities Jazz Fest in June

  • My 11th anniversary with Tom (celebrated with sushi and sculptures)

  • Growing new friendships with a few awesome women musician/artists

  • To my surprise, I also somehow managed to read 54+ books this year (and I didn’t start tracking my reading until March, so it was probably more like 60!)

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Also, in 2017 I picked two words to focus on for the year, guided by Susannah Conway’s workbook Find Your Word: LISTEN and INTENT (see last year's recap post for explanation). Those words kind of worked for me last year, but they didn’t really stay at the forefront of my mind, although I think that I still made some changes in those areas.

New Year’s resolutions get a lot of flak, but as long as they’re specific and actionable (actual goals), I’m into it - I’ll take any fresh-start energy I can get. All of the reflection that I did in 2017 has enabled me to have more clarity about what I want from 2018, and to feel more ready to begin (or really, continue).

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Ways that I want to CONNECT this year:

  • To my own intuition and purpose

  • To the expansive feeling I get when I’m doing things that bring me joy (in work and in life)

  • To a sense of ease and lightness

  • Being mindful and present in my interactions with others

  • Forming meaningful connections with other musicians and composers (especially women)

  • Showing my work as fearlessly as possible

  • Letting go of things that don’t give me meaningful connection or help me get closer to how I want to feel (hello, mindless scrolling!)

I’m not the type to plan out my whole year at once, but here are some of my big goals for 2018:

  • Revamp my morning routine to always include meditation and journaling (probably 10 minutes of each) before I exercise

  • Record an album of my Brazilian arrangements and compositions (finally) and crowdfund it

  • Collaborate with more women musicians (already talking with a few people)

  • Launch a sheet music store of my compositions and arrangements (this one I’m committed to doing by the end of January!)

  • Publish 1 piece per month for the rest of the year

  • Start writing more pieces for instruments other than my own (and start writing a trio for my trio)

  • Start using my voice more (literally) - starting with Instagram Stories

  • Leave time for fun and hobbies (reading more fiction and graphic novels, drawing, crafting, etc.)

And one I already completed this week:

Launch my free 5-day course of bite-size composition prompts

If you're a musician who has thought about writing but didn't know where to start, if you're looking for some idea generation, or camaraderie with other creative musicians, this is for you. If you're interested, sign up below and join us!

I have a good feeling about this year - I’m wishing you an inspiring start to 2018! 

If you chose a word for the year or have music-related goals you're excited about, share them in the comments!

Currently: December 2017

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I’m currently out of town in Raleigh, NC for a concert with my friend James Newcomb on cornet, so it’s time for another Currently post!

  • Feeling a mix of disbelief and relief that this year is over (I always love a fresh start, new year or not).

  • Getting excited about having only 3 teaching days left before winter break.

  • Thinking about the projects I want to finish before the end of the year - launching my sheet music store and a free 5-day course with bite-size composition prompts for busy musicians.

  • Trying to finish up the Braid Branding E-Course so that I can revamp my website and business cards a bit.

  • Refusing to get swept up in holiday madness - I have a few more gifts to buy and wrap, but nothing else is obligatory.

  • Soaking up the energy of my friend’s adorable and goofy 3-year-old son (who would play with me nonstop if it were possible).

  • Bringing winter with me wherever I go (apparently) - it’s supposed to snow here in Raleigh today.

  • (Wishing I had brought a winter coat.)

  • Drinking massive quantities of tea (what else is new!)

  • Loving having my drawing habit as a way to unwind, and proud that I finished a drawing and sent it to print (look for those in my sheet music store, launching soon!)

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  • Listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast - I forgot that I hadn’t finished all of the episodes! It’s great flight listening.

  • Feeling triumphant to be finishing Brass Week - on Monday I accompanied my friend Lauren Husting on a concert of low brass works by women composers, on Friday James Newcomb and I presented a concert/workshop at an area high school, and tonight we will perform a program of music by Jewish composers at a synagogue in Cary, NC, all great collaboration experiences.

  • Enjoying a break from the normal routine while I’m out of town, but also…

  • Looking forward to being home with Tom and Rusty (this damp rainy weather is really making me feel the lack of a cat on my lap!)

  • Reading Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor and about to start Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, probably on my flights home tomorrow.

  • Still pondering my plans for 2018 as it gets even closer - look for a 2017 recap and 2018 goals post at the beginning of January.

  • Celebrating the awesomeness of others, and telling them about it (seriously, do this, it’s great).

  • Reminding myself to rest. Whatever holidays you’re celebrating (or not celebrating), don’t forget that you’re allowed to take time for yourself, as much as you need.

Tell me what you’re celebrating right now, big or small - write it in the comments below!

How to Trust in the Creative Process

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Today I’m going to solve all of your problems with trusting the creative process! 

JUST KIDDING, no one can do that, trusting the creative process is also a process! But this post will still help.

Apologies for the radio silence, but November got carried away and temporarily pushed blogging to the back burner - I’ve been doing too many things! Luckily some of them are pretty cool: planning and attending an educational field trip for APPI to the Guthrie Theater to take a backstage tour, performing 5 new piano pieces at the New Ruckus Composer Night, rehearsing new music with my trio (our cellist Aaron Kerr just wrote us a new piano trio whose influences include minimalism and grindcore(!)), 2 back-to-back studio recitals, some string and vocal accompanying, and prepping for the two concerts I have coming up in November. Note to self - stop letting yourself get this busy, it’s not sustainable!

This month I’m also doing a really fun new project - testing out a set of composition prompts with a small group of people. I created 21 days of bite-size prompts for musicians who have been curious about composing, but maybe need some direction, accountability, or just permission to try it!

This idea has been in the back of my head for over a year now, and the brainstorming really ramped up last month, when my brain had a flood of information for me (though I’d planned on relaxing all day), so I had to capture it, and that’s when I knew it was time to get this thing started.

Overall, I am having so much fun with it, in all phases of the process - brainstorming ideas, editing them and putting them into sequence, writing the daily emails, trying the prompts myself (my favorite so far is an ostinato about a crime-fighting manatee), seeing what others are writing, providing encouragement, and just chatting about the process.

After we finish, and I get some feedback from the people who participated, I’m going to develop it into a helpful resource for getting started with composing - stay tuned for that in early 2018!

Expect discomfort

I had the typical beginning excitement when starting to write the creative prompts, but of course, once I reached the messy middle phase, I started to feel unsure. I started to avoid working on it, even though it’s something I’m really excited about. This is The Resistance (see The War of Art by Steven Pressfield), and I had to simply tell myself that, though it was slightly uncomfortable to forge onward, this is 100% normal, and I could indeed still work on it even if I didn’t know exactly how it would turn out or if anyone would like it. (I don’t want to pretend that this is easy, I’m still working on it!)

I’ve seen this humorous account of the steps of the creative process in a meme (I don’t know the origin, if you do, please let me know.)

  1. This is amazing

  2. This is tricky

  3. This is terrible

  4. I am terrible

  5. This might be okay

  6. This is awesome!

I think that most of us totally relate to this! It does take a lot of trust and faith to see yourself through #2-4 (especially #4!)

One of the main things that’s kept me from starting creative projects is thinking that I don’t know how to do it, which induces fear because I want to do it right! (Recovering perfectionist here.) And that’s always true - we never really know how to do each project until we’re doing it. So, if you can take the leap to start something, and commit to figuring it out (however you make that happen), you can finish it!

Releasing expectations

Another thing that has helped me finish projects is letting go of my pre-existing expectations of greatness. Most of the time I have really high expectations, and sometimes they’re even pretty specific. This can be helpful in terms of goal-setting and getting the project done, but it can also hold me back from looking at things in a new way (which is critical in the creative process). 

Trusting the process seems scary at first, since it has an element of surrender (especially for those of us who are kind of control freaks...), but once you get used to it, it actually becomes comforting, because it releases some of the responsibility that was previously all on you. The first time I performed at The New Ruckus composer night, someone commented to me, “You obviously have a lot of trust in the process.” I was surprised, because I didn’t realize how much I actually was trusting in the creative process, but also surprised at how relieved I felt that he was right!

Also, if you’ve ever said, “I’m too old to ____”, stop it right now! There are so many people who have started wildly successful habits (and careers) later in life. Ask yourself, “Would I rather be starting at age [your age + 10]?” (I’m guessing not.) Just start, take a tiny step first!

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

- Chinese proverb

Showing up

By showing up every day, you’re telling the universe/creative forces/whatever-it-is that you’re committed and that you trust that ideas will come to you. We all have days where we feel stuck, but most days when I show up at the piano, something good happens. Those other days are still valuable - even an idea that seems bad at first can often be sculpted into something useful, but if not, oh well, you’re reinforcing your creative habit. Then, on a really good day, you might get into a flow state where you have no idea what time it is or if you missed lunch! If you don’t keep up the daily habit, you might miss out!

Are you sick of this quote yet? I will never stop repeating it, because it’s so true!

Are you sick of this quote yet? I will never stop repeating it, because it’s so true!

Giving your creativity a personality

This one might sound a little weird, but it’s way easier to trust a person than an amorphous concept, so, give your creativity a name! I’m not sure what form I view my creativity as being, but I have taken to talking about it like it’s a separate entity, because it kind of is! New ideas don’t usually come from my logical brain, they pop up, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. Oftentimes when I’m sitting at the piano composing, I stop and “play back” what I’ve written in my head, to see what I hear / what my ears tell me to write next, and it might be weird, but I usually think, “Okay, ears, I don’t know where you’re taking me, but I’m on board. Lead me to the next spot.” I don’t think that my creativity just comes from my ears (it’s a bit more mystical than that), but I like thinking of it as a certain personality.

On the podcast The Type A Creative (it’s great, check it out), Jenni Brown now likes to ask each guest what they’d name their right brain, inspired by the episode with Elle Luna (who runs the 100 Day Project that I participated in earlier this year). Elle's right brain is named Firecracker Princess, BTW. I have to work on finding a name for mine!

Creativity begets creativity

If you can create more space for thinking (walks, long showers, drawing without extraneous noise, etc.), you’re supporting your creative habit, too. I’m not talking about a lot of time - you could start with 10 minutes and it’ll expand from there. Even though I feel really busy lately, when I have a project going that I’m really excited about, it’s so much easier to get through and ENJOY every day. Consider the overall ratio of projects in your life that take more energy vs. those that give energy back to you (for me, that’s creative projects). I think that ratio being off is what led me to burnout earlier this year, and letting my own vision guide me makes me much happier.

Also, the more creative projects I do, the more different kinds of creative projects I want to do, and the more it spills over into other aspects of my life. For instance, in the last month, I’ve gotten really into drawing, just out of personal interest and the desire for a screen-less activity to do later in the evenings, and I find that while I’m drawing, ideas come to me easily, because my brain is not so distracted and can wander around more. Universe, I’m getting your message - I need to do more of this!

You can do it too

Pep talk time: If starting a creative habit or trusting the creative process seems scary or unattainable to you, that’s 100% normal, but you can still move forward with those projects you’ve been putting off. (For some actionable tips on keeping up a creative habit, see this post.) You’re in great company; this struggle to birth creative work has been undertaken by so many great artists over thousands of years. Committing to regularly engaging in the creative process is difficult, but ultimately rewarding; that's what keeps me coming back for more! 

If you have a creative struggle that you want to share, I’m all ears, and I'll help if I can - feel free to share it in the comments below!

How To Keep Up A Creative Habit When Life Gets in the Way

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Keeping up creative habits (or any habits) is not easy, but it can be done!

I’m almost always super busy, but I'm managing to do two 100 Day composing challenges this year (almost halfway through the second one now!)

How?

Mainly, I kept it to a manageable amount of writing (only required myself to write 8 measures a day), and chose a format to my challenge that included public accountability (more about that later).

Why?

Some of us have this idyllic, Pinterest-fueled idea of creative habits (sitting down to write in a picturesque place with a hot beverage and a smile), but really, daily life has lots of obstacles, there's resistance, distractions, the list goes on.

If you’re like me, on the positive side, your creative habit makes you feel more like yourself, connected to the universe, excited about life, curious, interested in things, etc. This is how I strive to feel (although I have no magical unicorns flying around)!

Despite all of these good feelings that come from creating, there’s the negative side, too - feelings of self-doubt, uncertainty, all of the feelings! (seriously, read The War of Art).

When it comes down to it, you have to know your why for your creative habit. For me, part of it is knowing that I want to amass a body of work that will make me proud when I get old. In the muck of the everyday, that’s not always easy to remember, but I don’t like to make Future Me mad at Past Me (that’s the worst).

How do we make this happen?

  • Make it easier to do the habit - remove barriers (distractions like social media, Internet, pick a time when you’re less tired, etc.)

  • Make sure you don’t just plain forget to do it (especially early in the habit-forming process).

  • Reminders of your why - visual reminders in your workspace, on your bathroom mirror, even paper that you’ll trip over on the way to door. There will always be obstacles, so a commitment to yourself and your habit is crucial.

  • Figure out a trigger for your habit (for example, you could always do it first thing in the morning or after another activity).

  • Make yourself feel successful, with realistic, or even ridiculously small goals (floss 1 tooth) - do it daily no matter the outcome.

  • Expect resistance - it won’t feel easy or inspiring every day, and this is totally normal.

  • Check in with yourself regularly to see how/if your habit is working, and tweak your commitment as needed - this is okay!

  • Get more comfortable with uncertainty - the blank page can bring up so many other uncertainties that we feel, especially when creating is our work (am I any good at this?, etc.) So, you have to know yourself and know your excuses. Leo Babauta addresses this really well in a recent Zen Habits post.

  • Public accountability (if that motivates you) - I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book The Four Tendencies, which sorts people into 4 types based on how they respond to inner and outer expectations. I’m an Obliger (tends to meet outer expectations, and resist inner expectations) with a lean towards Upholder (tends to meet both inner and outer expectations). This book is more fascinating to me than most other “personality type” books because it really addresses different ways that people are suited to forming habits (super useful to me as a teacher).

  • DON’T GIVE UP! The process of forming habits is also a learning process. So, give yourself some grace. If you miss a day, this is not a failure - just start back up the next day. People who miss two days in a row of a habit are way more likely to give up entirely.

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You can do this, too!

If you’re a musician who wants to compose more, and is also motivated by external accountability, you can join the Creative Musician Club to form some community around your habit! I’m taking a small group of people this fall to test out some prompts, starting Monday, November 6.

You’ll get 21 daily emails, each with a prompt to get you started writing a piece of music. These prompts aren't intended to make you finish each piece, but just to plant a seed, so, if you participate for a week, you'll already have 7 new ideas! You’ll also get an invite to join a Facebook group where we’ll share successes and struggles - a great place for encouragement and accountability. I'm going to be doing the prompts right alongside you, too, as part of my 100 More Days of Writing Music challenge - you can follow along on Instagram here.

EDIT: This 21-day challenge is over, but I'm formulating a free course that includes daily prompts and access to the Facebook group - to be notified when it opens, sign up below!

And, if you need more help deciding on and keeping healthy habits to support your creativity, I have just the thing: 

What are your struggles with keeping habits, creative or otherwise? Let me know in the comments!