Chicago to San Francisco Road Trip!

After two weeks, 2600 miles, and countless cups of coffee, my brother and I got me all moved into my San Francisco pad.  I spent the last few weeks of May scheduling blog and podcast content to post while I was traveling, so these are the first actual words I’ve written since getting set up on the West Coast.

Here’s a recap (in photo form) of the last few weeks:

It was bittersweet to say goodbye to all the wonderful students I’ve worked with these past few years. I was so fortunate to find myself teaching in this amazing school for the last several years, and I will miss these great and talented kids for sure!


CBC 222: Lucy and the Count: Love Dreams from Transylvania

Midsummer's Music Festival members Jason Heath, Walter Preucil, and Elizandro Garcia-Montoya

Midsummer’s Music Festival members Jason Heath, Walter Preucil, and Elizandro Garcia-Montoya

Today’s episode is a live performance of Jon Deak’s quirky quintet Lucy and the Count: Love Dreams from Transylvania.  Written in 1981, this is a theater piece divided into three scenes featuring the solo bass in a dramatic, virtuoso role.  In the first scene, you can hear the creaking of the ship morph into a dramatic first theme.  The second scene is a dinner party and features each instrument “talking” during a dinner party.  The words that the instrumentalists are intended to imitate are written in the parts along with the contours of the speech, making for some crazy sonic effects.  The third scene portrays a ruined chapel with a coffin containing the Count.  The Count turns into a bat and visits Lucy in a particularly twisted finale.

This performance was recorded live at the Midsummer’s Music Festival for their Big Top Door County 25th Anniversary concert.  I’ve had the pleasure of playing with this fine ensemble for the past decade, and it was a real treat to get to perform this soloistic work with them!

Lucy and the Count: Love Dreams from Transylvania

Live Performance: July 12, 2015
David Perry and Stephanie Preucil, violins
Allyson Fleck, viola
Walter Preucil, cello
Jason Heath, bass
Alan Kopischke, narrator

Purchase parts through J.W. Pepper
Recording by Steve Lewis

Eight Ways Running Makes Me a Better Person

There’s nothing more annoying than a smug runner preaching about how the benefits of running, but here goes…

How Running Helps Me

I’m a fair-weather runner for sure.  I would watch with admiration and horror as the truly hardcore donned their winter gear and hit the streets in the icy, subzero Chicago winter to get in a morning run.  Doing that always felt like some form of torture to me, and I could never bring myself to get up before work in the freaking dark and head outside for some exercise.  I’d resign myself to weekend walks and that was pretty much it until the snow finally melted and the days got longer.

My new California life has eliminated snow and ice as an obstacle to running (yay!), and I’ve been doing it  consistently for quite some time now.  For me, it’s perhaps the most important key to productivity and overall well-being.  Here’s why:

#1 – Running Helps with Mental Clarity and Focus

For me, the mental benefits of running kick in about 10 minutes into my workout.  I start to feel that blood pumping and those voices flowing, and it feels like my brain moves up a couple of levels in clarity.  The colors outside seem brighter, and all those little to-do list items that had been gnawing at the edge of my consciousness fade into he background.

I know that I am calmer, make better decisions, and think better when I run.  This effect lasts both during and for hours after my run, and when I’m in a consistent groove of daily running, it basically lasts all day.

#2 – Running Connects Me with the Outdoors

I love being outdoors, and I love doing long walks.  Running outside for me connects me with nature and the elements.  I don’t mind if it’s raining or windy (just no snow please!).  I feel more rooted on planet Earth when I get out and go for a run.  I know that sounds hippy-dippy, but hey, I’m living in San Francisco now!  What do you expect?

I get super antsy when cooped up inside.  I’ve always been that way.  Looking out the window is a mild form of torture for me.  Getting out in the elements soothes that restless part of my soul.

#3 – Running Leads to Better Sleep

My sleep is deeper and more rejuvenating when I get regular physical exercise.  It’s another one of those things that I don’t necessarily notice all the time, but when I’m running consistently I fall asleep earlier and sleep more soundly.

#4 – I Make Better Food Choices When I Run

I crave junk food less when I’m working out.  Isn’t that strange?  That regular physical activity makes me more in tune with what food will really sustain me.  I’m much less likely to pig out on pizza when I know that I’ll be running later.  That “healthy food” switch in my brain gets flipped off if I’m not working out regularly, and I find myself eating without thinking, noshing on bags of chips and cookies.  I’m much less likely to do that when regularly running.

#5 – Running Promotes Idea Synthesis

I love working on some project for a few hours in the morning and then heading out for a run.  About ten minutes in, I start to feel ideas click together in interesting ways.  Some of my most creative moments in life come about halfway into a run.  While I typically listen to music when running, I’ve actually started to turn the music off about halfway through and let my mind wander.  At least half of the time, I come home with the solution to a problem on which I’ve been gnawing.

#6 – Running Contributes to My Overall Well-Being

When I quit running of ran extended period of time, I forget just how much better I feel overall when I’m doing it.  Those Chicago winters were a great example—it was so stupidly painful to go outside, and after a few days of not running I’d slide back into non-workout life.

When I’m regularly running, my joints feel better, my mood is lighter, problems in my life seem more manageable, and I’m more likely to smile.  It one heck of a mood balancer for me.  My energy level is higher overall and lasts throughout the day.

#7 – Running Gives Me Big-Picture Perspective

I tend to be more of a Type A personality, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Running is great for helping me to ease off on the emotional gas pedal and put things in perspective.  I see a few extra miles down the road after a good run.

#8 – Running Promotes a Feeling of Being in Control

I put myself in the driver’s seat of my life when running.  It feels good to do something proactive, and it gets me making more proactive decisions in general.  It helps to keep me from feeling overwhelmed when life gets insane.

Final Thoughts

Do you run?  If so, does this resonate with you? If not, is here something that works in a similar way to keep you sharp and focused?  Let me know!

CBC 221: Brandon McLean on audition strategies

Pittsburgh Symphony associate principal bassist Brandon McLean

Pittsburgh Symphony associate principal bassist Brandon McLean

Today’s show features Brandon McLean, who just won the associate principal bass position for the Pittsburgh Symphony.  Brandon has most recently served as principal bass of the Colorado Symphony, and prior to that he held positions in the Vancouver Symphony and the Florida Orchestra.  Originally from Seattle, Brandon did his undergrad at the University of North Texas, his masters at the Boston Conservatory, and studied at Carnegie Mellon after that with Pittsburgh Symphony principal bassist Jeff Turner.  He played in the New World Symphony before landing his first gig with the Florida Orchestra.

We dig into the details of the audition process, like how Brandon starts preparing long-term for the audition and how that preparation changes as the audition approaches, Brandon’s technique routine, which he keeps up throughout the audition process, the benefits of getting to practice in a large space like a concert hall, and routines in the days prior to the audition.  We also feature excerpts of Brandon performing the Dave Anderson Duets with Brendan Kane.

Books mentioned:

Interview Highlights

Audition Preparation Strategies

  • the process starts right after finding out what the list is
  • looks at what are the more problematic excerpts for him and begins by spending time on those
  • about 5 weeks out, he starts to get more disciplined
  • for a long time did the system of ranking what the more difficult excerpts are and spending the most time on those, but he found that then the audition would come up and they’d ask for the excerpts that he didn’t spend as much time on
  • breaks up practice session into 10 minute increments; practices for an hour or an hour-and-a-half in a couple of different segments in the day
  • keeps himself disciplined to no more than 10 minutes on a specific excerpt
  • breaks up the last as many ways as possible:
    • top to bottom
    • bottom to top
    • skip and do every 3rd excerpt
  • 2-3 weeks out, he shortens that 10 minutes per excerpt to 3-4 minutes per except so that he’s hitting everything briefly just about every day
  • Brandon generally runs things at 75% tempo most of the time
  • he can generally play this under tempo—it’s getting them up to tempo that’s the real issue
  • there’s some point between that 75% and 100% tempo that he can usually solve most of the technical problems
  • problems associated with fast excerpts were dealt with away from those excerpts – dealing with technical studies that helped
  • during audition prep, Brandon still spends at least 30-45 minutes still doing scales and technical exercises
  • he cuts that down when getting really close to the audition

Brandon’s Technique Routine

  • pick a scale
  • slow bow practice (whole notes) using Intonia software
  • then does a different scale with half notes, quarter notes, etc – gets himself playing pretty quickly
  • do something similar with arpeggios after that
  • right hand practice
    • string crossings
    • spiccato
    • exercises to get his right hand moving a little quicker

Playing in a Large Space and Recording

  • the benefits of getting to practice in a large space (concert hall) – he didn’t get this until later in life
  • getting over the idea that he doesn’t really know what he sounds like objectively (similar to getting over the way your voice sounds when you play back a recording)
  • the angle that you play the bass – no one else will ever hear your bass playing from that angle—it’s such a specific thing
  • things started to turn on the audition front for Brandon when he started to get really serious about recording himself
  • Brandon had a pretty steady path of progress in auditioning – not advancing, then getting to semis, then making finals, then runner-up for a bunch of auditions
  • Brandon realized at a certain point that he just wasn’t a very natural audition taker
    • had to start treat audition taking as his job
    • dealing with the mental discipline of audition taking was something that took him a while to get a grasp of
  • Don Greene books helpful in terms of centering, etc.
  • Brandon has gotten away from thinking that he just needed to have a really good day to win an audition
  • after teaching students and observing them nervous and not nervous, he has concluded that there isn’t nearly as much difference in the two states as the students think
  • When he wasn’t doing well in auditions, he had actually lost those auditions months in advance

Routines as the Audition Approaches

  • usually flies in the day before – flying in too early usually psyched him out
  • it’s amazing what tiny things can seep into your mind during an audition
  • when he goes, he generally doesn’t talk to people at the audition
  • running is helpful
  • doesn’t try to change anything lifestyle-wise coming up to the audition – changes only cause problems

Links from Listener Feedback:

My Reading, Watching, Scheming, and Dreaming for 6/10/16

Chicago's Green Mill is one of the city's classic joints for jazz.  Capone used to hang out here, and there are still underground bootlegging tunnels beneath the bar.  A place I'll miss for sure!

Chicago’s Green Mill is one of the city’s classic joints for jazz. Capone used to hang out here, and there are still underground bootlegging tunnels beneath the bar. A place I’ll miss for sure!

The big event of the week for me is, unsurprisingly, my move to San Francisco.  I’m on the road at present and should be arriving by Sunday afternoon.  I can’t wait!

Book I’m reading: Platform by Michael Hyatt – A modern classic of a business book about how to stand out in this overly saturated world.

Trip I’m planning: Monterrey with the wife.  I’ve never been and everyone raves about it.  The first of many weekend trips around California, no doubt.

Netflix show I’m watching: Dexter… for the millionth time.  Plus the great Ken Burns series The West.

Hike I’m planning: Mount Tamalpais in Marin.

Current dream vacation: Southeast Asia—Thailand, Laos, Vietnam.

Current frustration: Driving across the Great Plains.  Why so boring?

Blog post to check out:Unemployment Never Sounded So Sweet – it’s my manifesto for my new life in California

Articles I’m reading:

Podcasts I’m enjoying:

Quote I’m pondering: “The simple willingness to improvise is more vital, in the long run, than research.” – Rolf Potts

Person I’m admiring: Alexander Hamilton (yes, I too have been listening obsessively to the Hamilton soundtrack—I know I’m not the only one)

Secret I don’t want anyone to know about: I’m worried that I’ll be a total failure outside of my Chicago safety bubble.

Goal for next week: Spend some much-needed quality time with my wife in my new San Francisco home!