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I love to read, and I read a lot. Books I read this summer, in the order in which I read them:

John Hodgman, Vacationland

I’ve loved John Hodgman since he was a Daily Show correspondant and the PC in those old Apple Computer ads. Now I love his New York Times Magazine column and his Judge John Hodgman podcast, in which he arbitrates petty disputes (is a hot dog a sandwich?). Vacationland is an appropriately moody, self-aware/overly intellectual humorist memoir about his mother’s death and the various places in Maine and Massachusetts that he has vacationed in. As a person who appreciates a depressing beach (Oregonian), this was relatable content and at times smirk-face funny. 6/10

Lily Brooks-Dalton, Good Morning, Midnight

I usually hate apocalyptic novels but a couple of them snuck into my reading list this summer. This is a sweet novel with an ending that actually surprised me, although the secret would probably be guessed in advance by a smarter reader. The two main characters, an astronaut on her way home from a mission to Jupiter’s moons and a scientist living in a research station in the Arctic, are beautifully written. Not my usual fare, but I enjoyed this book as casual reading! 7/10

Joan Didion, The White Album

Didion is one of my favorite writers, and I crave her razor-sharp observations. This book is a collection of essays from the 1970s looking back on California and the 1960s. There are also essays about her own emotional unraveling and hospitalization, and her travels to Hawaii and Colombia to hit a restart button. It’s wonderful to read someone who has lived through the social and political upheaval of the 60s try to parse the experience only a few years later. For me, it’s helpful to see someone try to record a close reaction to a crazy time - we’re in a crazy time ourselves. What will we think about 2016-2020 ten years from now? 10/10

Amy Poehler, Yes Please

Amy Poehler is hilarious and worldly and compassionate. The best line in this book is, “Treat your career like a bad boyfriend.” Meaning, if you don’t pay attention to it and act like you could take or leave it, it will come running after you. Definitely has happened to me.

I read this in two days and it’s light and fun. 6/10

Tara Westover, Educated

Just wow - this book shook me.  A memoir of Tara’s childhood growing up in a Mormon separatist survivalist famiiy in the middle of nowhere in Idaho, it’s an incredible story of how she escaped and ended up with a Ph.D. in history from Cambridge. I had some trouble reading this book because of depictions of physical abuse, both intentional and unintentional, so maybe don’t pick this up if you have difficulty reading that stuff. Or skip some pages. What I loved was the author’s commitment to finding truth in alternate realities: her family’s alternate reality, where the Illuminati control the government and medical doctors only do you harm, is just as real to them as our reality is to us. And let’s be honest, our whole nation is living in fractured alternate realities right now, and the search for abject truth is difficult to render at the moment. I give this memoir 9/10.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

I’m reviewing these two books together because they are essentially two answers to the same question: what do we do now that we are pretty sure social media is bad for us? Cal Newport’s answer is, characteristically for the author of Deep Work, to optimize. If you have to use social media for your work, figure out how to use it as little as possible for the greatest benefit. Jaron Lanier takes a bigger view: no matter who we are, we shouldn’t use online services that sell our data or manipulate our behavior because our boycott could save the world. Lanier’s argument is way more persuasive, and in comparison Newport’s book comes across as a future classic textbook for Late Capitalism 101/”Neoliberalism and You.” However, Lanier writes like a white man with dreadlocks from Berkeley on a tangent (which he is) and Newport’s writing  is super polished and actually...well, useful. 

The Berkeley girl in me gives them both 9/10 for different reasons.

Emma Cline, The Girls

The Girls was published when Emma Cline was only 27. This novel has been on my shortlist for about a year and a half, because, well, cults and northern California. She writes about a Manson-like cult based outside Petaluma and eventual grisly murders in Sausalito, all from the vantage point of a 14-year-old girl. It is disturbing, not least of all the child sexual assault, violence, and brainwashing, but because of the assertion that any of us are capable of these things under the right circumstances. I left this novel at a friend’s apartment because I didn’t want it near me after I was done with it. Cline is a powerful writer. She got in my head. I kind of don’t appreciate it. 8/10

Richard Powers, The Overstory

This was the book of the summer, for me. It’s won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer and it’s obvious why - the writing is insanely lyrical, the characters well-drawn, the theme eternal. Basically, it’s about trees. About trees, environmental activists turned eco-terrorists, scientists studying the interconnectedness of all things. Alienation and isolation versus connection and growth. The novel affected me deeply, so deeply that I got pretty depressed while reading it. (Leander: “Maybe you should put that book down.”)

But it also delighted me, especially the storyline loosely based on real old-growth redwood tree-sitter Julia Butterfly Hill. I was obsessed with her in high school in the late 90’s during her 738-day tree sit in Humboldt County, California (just one county north of my home). The novel brings up serious questions about our environmental responsibilities and our responsibilities to each other. I loved it. 15/10

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

Oh, Rebecca Solnit, you give me hope in the dark every time I see your name in print. A brilliant writer/activist/thinker, Solnit is often the most sane and persistent voice in a field of what can feel like fearmongers. Hope in the Dark was written in 2004, in response to the re-election of George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq. It’s a loose chronicle of various activist movements that gained ground, had success, and changed the world. It’s an opportunity to look back and see what worked, what worked in an unexpected way, what partial gains were achieved, how long it took for some things to change, and what characteristics of leaders or collectives were successful in changing minds. This is a much-needed read for anyone watching the news - and I do mean anyone, even if you’re watching Fox! Such levelheadedness deserves praise. 10/10

On the list for fall - would you like more capsule reviews? Let me know. Suggestions for books? Very open!

  • Trick Mirror: Reflections on Delusion by Jia Tolentino

  • Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

New video series: What's On My Stand

Hi, everyone! I wanted to give you all a heads-up that I’ve started a new weekly series about what I’m practicing called What’s On My Stand. It’s just short videos explaining what I’m currently working on (it’s not always bombastic or amazing, sometimes we just plod along in our practice rooms…). The most recent one, above, is about practicing the flute solo from Brahms' Symphony no. 1.

I’ll always have more detailed information in the video’s description, too. For example, here is the text from the description of the video above:

Brahms wrote beautiful solos for the flute and horn in the last movement of his first symphony - but it's really quite a blow and requires projection and beauty of sound so the flute can match the horn in intensity.

I practice quite a bit with a tuner, both via long tones and individual notes in context, and practicing this excerpt with my tuner showed that I needed to lift the pinky finger on the high E natural every time except the last statement. The high F# on my flute is stable, so I used the regular fingering (with the third finger on the right hand). If the F# is in tune, you will have more power and projection with this fingering than you would if you used different ones.

Vibrato is tricky with this solo - it's all about individual taste, and not everyone agrees. To me, it's easy for things to get overwrought, and I'm not particularly in love with every note that I recorded in this practice session. I like keeping my vibrato inside the tone, not letting it get too wide or too slow. Don't wait to find great vibrato until you suddenly have to work on an excerpt that needs it. Practice finding Brahmsian vibrato every day - or Debussy vibrato, or Mozart vibrato, etc. - they should all have different qualities!

I hope you will subscribe to the channel and also let me know what YOU’RE practicing! Maybe we’re actually practicing the same things sometimes and I can make a video that relates to what you’re doing, too. See you on YouTube…

Audition prep guide: 2017-18 ETSBOA All East Flute Junior High music (9-10)

These two short excerpts for the ETSBOA All-East Tennessee Honor Band are a delight to play. Both are in compound meter, emphasizing the need for young musicians to master meters outside of 4/4, 3/4, and 2/4. Both excerpts stay within a conservative range (they don’t go too high or too low) while demanding a variety of articulations and dynamics.

Examining the lyrical excerpt, the first big hurdle for many students will be the key signature. Mark Db’s and Gb’s where it will help you but try to not mark every single one. Read your articulation accurately - be sure to tongue and slur exactly where it is written. Exaggerate the crescendos and diminuendos in measures 2-5. The first beat of measures 5 and 6 are marked forte followed quickly by piano. The one note marked forte also has an accent, so really make this come out of the texture. Follow the breath mark as suggested before measure 9. Feel free to really blow and let loose in bar 9 through 11, where it’s marked forte. Enjoy your sound and open up. The piece doesn’t end where we expect it, but make it beautiful anyway and create a tasteful ritardando.

The technical passage, in 12/8, should feel light and buoyant. In addition to staying in time, you will have to switch quickly between forte and piano several times. Dynamic shifts are good to practice slowly, too. Practice exactly where you change the dynamic - for instance, in measure 16, the last G of the first beat and the first G of the second beat are two totally different dynamics. Practice your soft G first and then practice a very loud G. Practice playing them in quick succession, and then make sure you are able to make as good of a contrast in the context of the piece.

Good luck preparing, and don’t forget to practicing sightreading!

Audition prep guide: 2017-18 ETSBOA All East Flute Senior High music (11-12)

The short pieces required to audition for ETSBOA’s All East Tennessee Honor Band are divided into a lyrical selection and a technical selection. Examining the lyrical piece first, it is essential to practice this with a slow metronome, either counting by eighth note or counting by quarter note. Depending on the student, it might be better to learn this music by counting eighth notes first and then transitioning to larger quarter beats. Keeping an accurate, steady tempo through all these rhythmic changes is challenging but essential.

Even though there is a lot of black ink on the page (32nd notes, 16th note triplets), it’s important to keep the lyrical quality throughout the piece. Play these licks accurately but do not rush. In the 32nd notes leading into measure 4, play the crescendo to the fortissimo dynamic marking but try not to sound shrill or strident. Strive for a warm and inviting sound, even in extreme registers or dynamics.

Listen for the intonation of the perfect 4th interval in the first measure, and similarly check the open fifths in measures 6 and 8. Play these intervals on a piano or keyboard to get the appropriate spacing. Playing intervals with a tuner does not always tell the whole story.

There are many opportunities to breathe in this short piece but it was difficult for me to find satisfying places that go with harmonic motion and phrasing. The above recording shows where I ended up deciding to breathe. Instead of focusing so much on where to breathe, focus instead on being convincing with the breaths that you take, taking care that breaths don’t interrupt the music or become distracting.

A challenging aspect of this selection is the fortissimo marking from measure 10 to the end. There is no diminuendo marked, so be sure that you do not make one accidentally. This takes a lot of air -- and some planning with respect to breathing.

The technical selection, marked Giocoso, is fun to play as it moves through so many key changes in such a short time. Mark these carefully so you don’t make any key-related mistakes. The articulation marking in m. 16 is a little confusing - I experimented at first with making the first two notes of each beat a single tongue legato with the second two notes of each beat a double tongue staccato. In the end, it seemed so odd that I opted for a more straightforward slur two/tongue two approach for those two beats. It’s not technically what is written, but doing it the other way seemed unmusical.

Keep your sixteenth notes even and light, and space your sixteenth note triplets well so that they don’t rush. The last note, the flute’s notorious Db, can be very sharp, so take care with pitch in that spot and use a tuner. Sometimes thinking of a darker tone on the middle Db can help with the intonation.

Good luck! Don't forget to practice sightreading.

Audition prep guide: 2017-18 WTSBOA All West Flute Senior High 11-12

The audition excerpts for WTSBOA’s All West honor band are particularly wicked for 11th-12th grades. Let’s begin with the Allegro selection.

Allegro selection

This page of music in 3/8 with four flats is a lesson in dynamic contrast, rhythmic integrity, and articulation. Be sure to start with a strong sound at the very start: to change to p in m. 8, you will need to make room for contrast. Note the accents that are in the first line of the piece - the accents are on the quarter notes. It is easy to accidentally accent the eighth notes at the end of each bar; be sure to place the emphasis on the down beats. The Db in m. 13 is commonly mistaken for a D-natural.

As we move into m. 17, it’s important to have a plan for the Bb thumb -- the plan being when exactly to use it. The high Gb will not speak if you have your thumb on the Bb side of the key - so starting after the C in m. 16, be sure to have the thumb on the natural side. You may transition back to the Bb side after the Dbs in m. 18, however, and continue to use that key until the B-natural in m. 24.

The grace notes are quite tricky here; either place them directly on the down beat or very close the down beat. Either way, they must be played quickly in order to not lose time. For the grace notes that are also large leaps, like m. 24 or m. 29, keep a very open throat and give plenty of air support for these leaps to speak cleanly. Additionally, imprecise fingerings will render these leaps non-functional. Be sure to change all the fingers at exactly the same time. This seems obvious, but imprecise fingers lead to a lot of issues here.

Continue to remember every Db dictated by the key signature.

One last note: there is no ritardando marked in this ending. If you feel you absolutely must play one, make it very subtle and in good taste.

Use a metronome to help you get up to speed, but start learning this piece very slowly and have patience. It's thorny.

Bach selection

Please note that there are two wrong notes printed in the WTSBOA-issued parts! Hopefully they will eventually release a corrected part, but in case they do not, please correct these in your music:

Measure 29: the first C should actually be a D. The measure should read G#-A-B-D-F-E.

Measure 32: the first note of the measure should be a C, not a D.

It’s important to note that Bach did not write most of the articulations, slurs, or dynamics that are printed here. Someone else has written these in as a guide for you. Traditionally, the flute player chooses how to articulate the piece and develops his or her own dynamic concept. You should endeavor to follow these printed markings for the audition, but you will see that I break a few of these rules in order to breathe with the phrase.

I suggest that you listen to my video and write down my breathing spots - they are fairly conventional, although by no means are they the absolute rule.

The little squiggle markings over the E in bar 6 and over the D in bar 8 are commonly interpreted as mordents. A mordent is one single trill. I play them as mordents in my video performance.

As far as tempo goes, I like to have a balance between a strict slow tempo and music that breathes and wanders. This is a mature concept that won’t work for every student - first you must be sure that you can play the entire movement in one steady tempo. Then you could work on finding a little bit of freedom, usually around breaths that are at the ends of phrases. A good example of a place where one could take more freedom is at the end of m. 34.

I break a few written slurs in this edition in order to breathe. The first place is in m. 10 before the sixteenths. This is a common place to breathe for phrasing and should not be slurred together. Another place is in m. 15 after the first E - I breathe here because it is unusual for me to be able to make it all the way to after the C. (It’s interesting to note here that WTSBOA has transcribed this measure as a C half note with a quarter rest when in Bach’s hand it’s actually a dotted half note without a rest.) I choose to break the slur over the E in m. 15 because I do not want to break the phrase with a breath in m. 14.

The articulations marked with staccato after m. 21 should simply be articulated - playing extra-short notes in slow movements in Bach’s time period is not stylistic. I would encourage students and teachers to throw out the slurs-into-staccato notes in m. 24 and replace these articulations with all-single tongue, medium length.

Finally, a note about vibrato: it’s conventionally agreed upon that Baroque flute music, particularly Bach, should be performed with either no vibrato or very minimal vibrato. In my video, I have used some, but that was distinctly my own choice. Consider your vibrato while you practice this piece. Be sure that it is not too heavy or wide, or too fast. If you want to use vibrato, make sure it is subtle and does not distract from the musical line.

It is with frustration that I provide a practice guide for this excerpt. This Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Partita in a minor for solo flute is one of the most important pieces in our literature. While it may just look like simple, straight-forward, pretty music, it takes years of study to play this piece well. I am not convinced that this is a good selection for high school students, but you all may prove me wrong! Consider having a few flute lessons with an experienced teacher on this piece. It will help.