<![CDATA[Christina Feigel - Blog]]>Mon, 28 Dec 2015 12:14:40 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[The Nutcracker, Magic: The Gathering, and tilt]]>Mon, 28 Dec 2015 19:40:22 GMThttp://www.christinafeigel.com/blog/the-nutcracker-magic-the-gathering-and-tiltHello, friends! Here is a recap of the previous year:
  • I finished my dissertation. It can be read here, if you're bored.
  • I graduated with my doctorate in bassoon performance
  • I went through post-partum dissertation. The dissertation was, more or less, my baby.
  • I filled the void with a trading card game called Magic: The Gathering.
Dr. Christina, the notorious KKM, and the lovely Libdawg.

Fast forward to current day.

I just finished ten performances of the Nutcracker in Madison yesterday and I'm still playing A LOT of Magic (the dissertation left a very big void). 
Views from the pit.
Stoked about my Omnath EDH deck. The land interaction is real.
During one of my commutes for the show, I was listening to The Girlfriend Bracket talk about Lexie Mettler's article on different types of tilt.

What is tilt?

Tilt, tilting and being on tilt are all phrases describing a negative mental state caused by error, which leads to less optimal decision making. 
Act I, Scene 1 of the Nutcracker is a tilting nightmare. Trying to recover from messing up this passage is like trying to recover from falling down a flight of stairs. After you land at the bottom of the stairs/finish the passage, you have two options: tilt or forgive. 

Examples of musical tilt

  • Tension: Grabbing the instrument like it owes you money after messing up a technical passage, leading to slower and clunkier movement
  • Make-a-point-issimo: Playing everything shockingly loud because you want to singlehandedly save the sinking ship that is your ensemble.
  • Tired embouchure: Overcompensating for pitch so far that your endurance is affected, leading to even worse pitch.
  • Lack of focus: Being so overcome with grief over missing a note that you proceed to miss every entrance to come.
  • Amnesia: You basically forget how to play your instrument/how to read music/how to do anything.

Overcoming tilt

Lexie's suggestions are absolutely applicable to playing. Her five step process is as follows (with musician commentary):
  1. Recognition: What is making me tilt?
  2. Deep breaths: Take a second (when possible) to calm yourself down. If need be, drop a note to breathe and then pick the music back up.
  3. Inject logic: What can I do? Is this something I can fix for next time?
  4. Refocus on making a good decision: Reset and forgive yourself. You've got many more notes to play that are completely unrelated to whatever garbage just came out of your instrument. 
  5. Repeat: It will probably happen again. Be prepared!

Readers, I leave you with the following things to consider: How much does it take before your performance tilts and are you ready to forgive yourself and keep playing?
Take a deep breath, turn the page, and mulligan for a better land base in the second game.
<![CDATA[Life after school]]>Wed, 15 Oct 2014 01:44:53 GMThttp://www.christinafeigel.com/blog/life-after-schoolFirst off.
I want to thank everyone who has supported me as a transitioned from being a full-time student to being a full-time adult. As some may know from social media, I have recently accepted a job at a large performing arts nonprofit in Milwaukee and I am very excited to start there soon. This would not have been possible without encouragement from family, friends, and my very fabulous partner.

Now the actual story.

I left school for Milwaukee with no concrete plans. I knew that I had a gig with an orchestra the first day I got into the city and two job interviews for some menial jobs.There were only two things I knew to be true at this point: I want to continue to practice, and I am going to finish my dissertation. With this in mind, I was looking particularly for jobs that had flexible hours so I would be able to write and practice to my heart's content. 

After being in Milwaukee for thirteen days, I started my first shift on the flow team at Target. For those of you who are not familiar with Target jargon, I will fill you in. The flow team unloads the General Merchandise and Food trucks before the store opens, sends product out to the floor, and puts all products in their place. My shifts start at 4 AM. Here are some pictures.

I am ready for work. My eyes are almost open.
I listened to loud music before my shift to get more pumped up for moving around for six hours.
Watching the sun rise during my break at 6:30.
This will sound weird, but I loved my time at Target. I met people I would have never met otherwise and worked hard. After work, I would come home and practice for an hour (after of course eating my third meal of the day at 10 AM), nap, and then write for my dissertation. As a fun thing to do in the community, I auditioned to be in the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. By some miracle, I got in. Four days ago, I had my first concert in Uihlein Hall, home of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, singing the Brahms Requiem with the MSO. 

Why am I telling you this?

I am writing about my experiences in Milwaukee as a public service announcement to people who will leave school, which is everyone. Here are the things I learned and the things I recommend.

  1. Get a job. No really. Any job. If your goal is to be an orchestral musician and you put so much pressure on yourself to practice and win the six jobs that come around each year, you will probably be miserable. You don't have to work forty hours per week, but you should work a little bit. Financial strain can take a lot out of you and all of the people around you.
  2. Structure your day. When I left school, I had a lot of trouble trying to figure out what non-students do during their day. Just come up with some sort of plan, such as a time to practice every day, a time to write every day, or even time to take a walk.
  3. Become part of your community. Previously, you were part of a school. You were given your peers and told where to go. Now it's your turn to do that yourself. Joining the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus helped me meet people who were interested in music, but not professionals. As you all may know, I play the bassoon. I do not sing particularly well. But I knew that this was an opportunity to be musical RIGHT NOW. Freelancing is all about making connections and meeting people, so expecting people to call you when you first get into town is unreasonable. Remember, when you first get into town, all gigs are good gigs. Meet people!
  4. Be flexible. I came into Milwaukee convinced I was going to work hourly until I finished my dissertation. When this job was presented to me, it was brought to my attention by my very patient partner that jobs like this that fit my skill set so well do not appear often and that I should really apply, whether or not it was part of my plan. It was very difficult to think of life after my dissertation. I assume that it will be similar to being reborn, like a phoenix. Watch out for flames.
  5. Keep in contact with friends and family. It will make you feel less isolated.
  6. If you are not able to practice every day, just do the best you can. If you feel bad about it, see number 2.

Go out into the world and show everyone what you have to offer. It is much more than you think! Adulthood is both terrifying and liberating, so please embrace both.

<![CDATA[The recital season blues]]>Thu, 20 Mar 2014 23:23:26 GMThttp://www.christinafeigel.com/blog/the-recital-season-blues'Tis the season to compare yourself to all of your peers, right? At Indiana University, we will have at least 14 student recitals this semester. I was the third recital of the semester (which you can listen to samples of on my SoundCloud page) and two of my three pieces had already been performed in the other two recitals. Here are some thoughts I legitimately thought for at least one second:

  • I'm a doctoral student, so I need to give the best recital. Ever.
  • My studio has already heard two-thirds of my recital. They will think my recital is boring.
  • My peers will be comparing my performance to the performances they have already heard this semester.
  • I'm getting too old for this.
  • I should probably buy a cuter outfit.
  • My professor is probably disappointed in me.
  • Maybe I should drop out.
  • Goodbye, cruel academia.

It was a dramatic time in my life, as you can tell.

As my recital was looming, it was time to pull it together. I pulled inspiration from a great teacher of life lessons: Say Yes to the Dress on TLC.
Courtesy of tlc.com
Say Yes to the Dress shows the strife and triumph of picking out wedding dresses. It's very profound. But watching insane women pick out wedding dresses taught me something very important about bassoon recitals - it only has to be perfect for you.

From far away, a white dress is a white dress. But when you go up to the bride and ask her about her dress, the story comes out. Details about cut, embellishment, and inspiration pour out of the blushing bride's mouth. The dress may look awful on the hanger, but when it is associated with a particular person it becomes a very unique and important article of clothing. Similarly to a bassoon recital. Please continue to follow me, I promise this will make sense.

A bassoonist will spend months selecting their repertoire for a variety of reasons: rising to the challenge, a homage to a teacher, or simply loving the piece. The combination of each individual piece paints a beautiful picture of each performer and tells a story of what they have learned through their preparation. If someone else played the exact same recital, it would be seen as another very special experience for both performer and audience member.

No matter how many times I hear Saint-Saens Sonata, I will see each performance as a glimpse into the performer's life and journey. My Mozart Concerto is not my colleague's Mozart Concerto.
Your recital is your day, so take the time to celebrate yourself and show everyone what you have to offer that day.
You are radiant. Enjoy your special day!
<![CDATA[Holiday Practicing]]>Thu, 19 Dec 2013 19:55:47 GMThttp://www.christinafeigel.com/blog/holiday-practicingI will make this short and sweet. 

People carry a lot of guilt during the holidays regarding practicing. Here are some ways to avoid these negative feelings:
  1. Be truthful. If you need a day to watch Say Yes to the Dress, do it. You're worth it. But while you are watching bridal sabotage, don't feel guilty. It is unfair to yourself to think about practicing while watching TV. Make a promise to yourself that you are comfortable with taking this time away from your instrument. If you are not comfortable with this and you are concerned you will never practice...
  2. ...Make a schedule. Write down when you plan on practicing the day before and get excited about it! Start mentally preparing for your productive time the day before it occurs. "Right now I'm watching Dawson's Creek, but at 10 AM tomorrow, I will be playing again." For those of you who still would rather do anything but play during break...
  3. ...Create a small goal. Play all of your harmonic minor scales full range. Work through one tough passage in a solo piece. Cleanly start one excerpt three times in a row. It doesn't matter what your small goal is. The purpose of this is have a focused approach to playing in a time that lacks focus. When you achieve your small goal, you can evaluate whether or not you want to continue playing or go back to baking cookies. Try making a list of small goals previous to the practice session so there is no time wasted with the instrument in hand.

These tips can be applied to any long term projects you may have: exercise, dissertation writing, building a robot, whatever. Just remember, take the time you need for yourself and make a plan of action for when you are ready to jump back into playing. Also remember, your loved ones hate it when you complain about having to practice when you are clearly enjoying a different activity. Enjoy yourself and do the best you can.

Happy holidays and happy practicing!
<![CDATA[Finding your voice, presenting the music]]>Sun, 08 Dec 2013 23:14:14 GMThttp://www.christinafeigel.com/blog/finding-your-voice-presenting-the-musicRecently, I've been thinking about comments from teachers and peers about my playing. Here are two responses I have received multiple times:

  1. Your lines are choppy because you give up on notes partway through phrases.
  2. Your melodic ideas are presented aggressively, to the point of being defiant.

The teacher side of me insists on finding solutions for how I am presenting myself. I refuse to get bogged down by the idea of constantly being told the same thing, so it is time to analyze. I thought back to a masterclass I went to during my undergraduate taught by the world-class oboist/Geico commercial actor Alex Klein.

In case you missed it, this is one of the most famous living wind musicians in a Geico commercial.
In the masterclass, Alex Klein talked about playing with your voice. He mentioned that everyone naturally plays with similar tone and cadence to their own speaking patterns because that is the most intuitive way to present oneself. As you can hear in this commercial, Alex's voice is nasal (his words, not mine), but his oboe playing is dark. This incongruity is due to his awareness of how to correct natural tendencies.

Now back to my original issue. Why do I sound choppy and defiant?


I'm choppy and defiant.

That's okay! That's just how I am. When I speak, I speak slowly and meticulously. If I lose my train of thought, I will stop speaking and wait in silence until I can jump back into my thought. My speech patterns have been identified as almost comically slow and disjointed.  Similar to William Shatner.
I blame my dad. He does it too. Love you!

Because of this natural tendency, I have to think that much harder about continuing my air through lines, almost as if I'm stringing together one coherent thought without pausing. For those of you who have heard me speak, you know that is not an easy feat. With self awareness, I can overcome this general flaw in my playing. As for my speech patterns, I promise nothing :)

Along with speaking patterns, often our personalities come out while playing. Shy people naturally play in a more demure fashion and outgoing people really reach out and go for it. In sound, you can hear fear, cockiness, and apologies. I used to be a really terrified player and you could hear sheer terror in my sound. With time and development I have trained myself to care a little less about what people think about my playing and just play the music to the best of my ability.

Unfortunately, I have developed a "come at me bro!" approach to performance, which is not necessarily a good thing. As I get judged and scrutinized for my playing, I have become defensive. Unlike the apologetic player (click on the earlier link to check out Cayla Bellamy's post about apologetic playing) I have become a defiant player. Every time I play a technical passage, my brain goes into a defensive fighting stance. Don't like what I'm putting down? Too bad, you're stuck listening to me.

This isn't a good thing, but I've identified the issue and I will work towards improvement. Bram Van Sambeek said that we don't play music to prove ourselves but to express with wishes of the composer. I don't think Hummel wanted to start any fights with his bassoon concerto. With more introspection, I will be able to overcome this downfall in my playing and I look forward to the end result.

Every player is an individual person with their own idiosyncrasies. You are in charge of how you present yourself. Make sure that it is the representation that you want.

Happy performing!
<![CDATA[I can do anything good!]]>Wed, 30 Oct 2013 04:31:53 GMThttp://www.christinafeigel.com/blog/i-can-do-anything-goodBeing a musician can be really wearing on the psyche. As we work towards improvement in our playing, the focus is often on perfection: nailing that technical passage, not being sharp in the low register, being relaxed through the tenor register. LISTEN TO ME, CAN'T YOU HEAR HOW RELAXED I AM? I WILL PLAY RELAXED OR I WILL THROW MY BASSOON ACROSS THE ROOM.

Cool out. Just take a deep breath and calm down.

It is very easy to get into a dark place with ones playing; it's part of being an observant musician. Unfortunately, it makes life close to intolerable. As a naturally snarky person, I have gone through extreme lows when practicing due to being hypercritical of my playing. Sometimes we just need to let go. Here are some steps I have started taking in order to approach the practice room with a positive mindset.

1. Set small goals
"I'm going to play Figaro perfectly" is not a small goal. There are forty notes in the first seven bars of the excerpt. Expecting perfection is both vague and not necessary. Instead, try to think of one aspect you want to fix as you run through a section. "I want to start Figaro with clear articulation" is a small goal. "I'm going to focus on my half hole use in the second bar" is a small goal. Sometimes as musicians, we need a win. Setting small goals is actually a suggestion I read in Cosmopolitan magazine (not in regards to practicing). I suggested this idea to a dear friend of mine when she was extremely stressed three years ago. She still sets small goals to this day. Small goals are a great way to boost morale and track progress. Additionally, it is conducive towards focused practicing. Thanks, Cosmo!

2. Get rid of hatred
Jeff Nelsen, professor of horn/generally fearless dude, suggests approaching each thing you work on with a similar mindset to a golden retriever. "Oh boy! I love Tchaik 6!" should replace every instance you would have thought "Ugh, Tchaik 6 sucks." Positivity and negativity can be heard in tone production and general execution during a performance. Even if this sort of reaction seems beyond fake, it works surprisingly well. The power of positivity is shocking, even when it is not a natural feeling.

If you would like another resource on faking positivity until it works, I would recommend the following Ted talk:


This video mostly addresses positive and powerful body language, but most of the principles can be applied to positive mental language. Also, it is just a great talk.

3. Take inventory of truths
Sometimes practicing is just not going well. This happens AND it's okay! More often than not, the bad things are all we can focus on, which exacerbates the issues at hand. Yeah, your reed sounds like you found it at a garbage dump, but gosh, you have great rhythm today. Maybe you missed every single note in Beethoven 4 in front of all of your peers? It's okay, because today your hair looks great.

Not quite like that, but you may get the idea. Today is today, and tomorrow happens tomorrow. Everything may seem like it is crumbling around you, but you will have tomorrow to try it again. After each performance, don't be afraid to give yourself a compliment sandwich in order to inventory you truths:
  • I was really pleased with my dynamic level after my tapered notes.
  • Next time, I want to work towards more natural sounding ornamentation so it does not stick out of the texture.
  • The timbral changes I worked on in the practice room came across (whether good or bad)
This way you can leave each performance with two things you know to be true about what you just did and one thing you can make into a small goal during your next practice session.

I leave you with a little girl who knows how to inventory truths.

I can do anything. Yeah. Happy practicing!
<![CDATA[Do you want to be a musician when you grow up?]]>Sat, 19 Oct 2013 17:41:10 GMThttp://www.christinafeigel.com/blog/do-you-want-to-be-a-musician-when-you-grow-up Over the summer, my professor and mentor, Kathy McLean, asked me to play on her faculty recital in the fall. I was honored, excited, and beyond scared. I have been fortunate enough to play in side-by-side orchestras and chamber groups with professional bassoonists before, but this was the first time that I would be directly compared to someone who has made a living from playing the bassoon.

As we rehearsed, it was difficult for me to let go of my insecurities. I didn't want to play too loud or too bright, everything had to be perfectly in tune, and I was rivaling Spiderman in hypersensitivity. I was basically playing bassoon like really boring Spiderman.

After listening back to a recording of our rehearsal, I took a personal inventory of my playing. Am I in tune? Do I have a wide range of dynamics? Does sound come out of the instrument when I want it to? The answer to all of this is, who cares.

In order to even remotely match the level of Kathy, I had to change my mindset. Yesterday, I was Christina Feigel, bland-sounding doctoral student. Today, I'm world class. It all came down to believing I had the skills to sound like a professional bassoonist. In the recital, I used the bassoon to tell a narrative rather than make sound at the correct times. HOLY COW I'M MAKING MUSIC AND I SOUND GOOD WHAT'S GOING ON.

I felt like the video below really shows and explains how I felt during the entire experience on stage:

When Ellen asks the little girl, "Do you want to be a dancer when you grow up?," she responds with, "I AM a dancer!!" You may feel like a child trying to match the pros, but trust yourself and go for it. You don't want to be a musician when you grow up; be a musician now!

Above is the end product. Of course, I still made mistakes, but that's okay! I learned a great lesson from this experience (and from a three year old dancer) - just go for it. Leave careful practice in the practice room and perform like the professional that you are.