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eighth blackbird master class wisdom

MONDAY BYTES — September 29, 2014

The terrific ensemble eighth blackbird (I’m a big fan) recently gave an excellent master class at Manhattan School of Music.

In it I was struck by how many of 8BB’s comments revolved around issues of “selling the performance” (their phrase). I was glad they spoke so directly on this aspect of musicianship.

Selling the performance is about winning your audience over by convincing and engaging them in experiencing with you the energy and emotion of the work.

It’s about fully communicating your view and message to others, so that they join you in an active artistic experience.

There’s a big difference between merely replicating on stage what we do in the practice room (problem solving and exploring) versus performing for others — communicating a story, a point of view, and a realized interpretation.

How do we know what is getting across to others? How do we help performers learn how to deliver?

8BB approached this by asking the performers about their intentions and conceptions of the repertoire. They tied the ability to “sell a performance” to key decisions that need to be made in rehearsals, asking:

What’s the character you’re after with this phrase?
What’s the direction of that line — where are you headed?
What’s the function of this passage in this section of the piece?
When you started working on this piece, what did you decide to focus on?

In some cases, the musicians had clear concepts but these weren’t coming across as demonstrably as they thought.

In other cases, the musicians had been distracted form deciding about of direction and intention by instead focusing on the logistics and mechanics of playing the piece.

The moral is that in performance, what we may think is clear and vivid may actually come across to others as bland or vague.

Selling the performance may involve what may seem like huge exaggerations of character, sound color, articulation, dynamics, and/or other features in a phrase.

It may feel exaggerated because we’ve been focused on the impact of a phrase in the practice room with ourselves as audience, rather than for an audience in a hall, with some people seated 40 or 50 feet away.

Our focus in the practice room cannot be solely inward. Learning what is really coming across takes performance experience, reflection, feedback, and the willingness to take risks.

Ultimately, selling a performance is about clarity of intentions and artistic choices.

This is the same in our career and life experience: what we communicate to others in our teaching, interviews, daily interactions — it’s all about the clarity of our intentions and our choices, and becoming sensitized to how we are coming across to others.

Question for the week: what have you found helpful for yourself and/or your students in terms of  ”Selling the performance”? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences with this!

For info on working with me: details are HERE.
Monday Bytes archived posts are HERE.

5 Reasons for Rejections

MONDAY Bytes — September 22, 2014

Studies show that employers spend 6.25 seconds per application: it only takes a few seconds to rule out most applicants.Of course, many of those rejected are well qualified for the job. So what are these folks not getting right?

Here are 5 common reasons why résumés and cover letters are rejected:

1. The cover letter is not tailored to the specifics of the job. The applicant is using a “generic” cover letter that provides an overview of their experience and interests (it’s “me, me, me”) and is not focused on the employer’s explicit needs.

2. The cover letter fails to communicate any real knowledge of and specific interest in either:
the institution with the opening, or
the particular work described in the job listing.

3. The cover letter is poorly written: with spelling or grammatical mistakes, poor organization, and/or full of the usual clichéd “hype” about being the “perfect candidate” and “exceeding the employer’s expectations.” By blindly following a template or using someone else’s wording, you are communicating that there’s nothing distinctive about you or your work.

4. The résumé is poorly organized, making it difficult for an employer to quickly find the most relevant information. Long descriptive passages are off-putting: use bullets instead.

5. The résumé does not detail specific skills and experience relevant for the position. Bullets should include examples that demonstrate your abilities, show results, and quantify the impact of your good work.

Of course all of this may sound obvious, but as an employer, once you are bombarded with 80 subpar job applications (a recent experience), you begin to realize just how often people are shooting themselves in the foot.

However, I’ve found that people who get help and do the work to overhaul their cover letters, résumés, bios, etc. typically feel stronger and more confident as a result. They gain clarity about their strengths, their goals, and the impression they are making on others.

Challenge for the week: Take a look at the latest version of your résumé. Go over it with a highlighter marking anything that is generic or vague. Substitute in relevant examples and evidence of your success and the value of your work to others.

For info on working with me: details are HERE.
Monday Bytes archived posts are HERE.

Marketing Materials and Real Estate

MONDAY BYTES — September 15, 2014

Here’s a helpful tool for evaluating the effectiveness of résumés, cover letters, and other marketing materials: it’s what I call the “So What?” test (which is akin to the Who Cares? test). It’s to test whether or not what you are communicating will matter to the reader. Put yourself in their shoes.

If the employer has a stack of 150 resumes and cover letters to weed through, they are desperately trying to find who in the pile is a great fit for the job and to do this they need to understand what separates one candidate form the next.

In the case of applying for a teaching position, the So What? test question might be applied by asking: Do your materials make you sound like all the other candidates?

For example, do the bullets under your teaching positions listed on your résumé simply tell us:

the age range of your students and that they are beginners to intermediate or advanced levels
and that you focus on things like:
basic musicianship, good tone production, solid technique, and interpretation
and that you:
tailor lessons to individual student needs and interests

If so, the only thing you’re telling the employer is that you are a “generic teacher” because everyteacher does these things (or says they do it).

The challenge is to convey what’s distinctive about you and your teaching.

For this, it can be very helpful to think back to any of your specific students who faced particular challenges. What creative solutions did you use to help them overcome the problem?

What tactics, strategies, and approaches did you use? That’s what to work into your bullets.

Each point you cover, each phrase and sentence should add real value by communicating what is distinctive about the work you do. Each line should be worth the real estate it’s taking up on the page.

If you find your résumé, teaching philosophy statement, and/or bio read as generic or that they lack impact, you need to dig deeper!

Challenge for the week: Take a close look at any piece of your marketing materials (grant application, bio, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, etc.) and try asking “So What?”

For info on working with me: details are HERE.
Monday Bytes archived posts are HERE.