Category Archives: Strings

Preparing for your Music Career in the New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that your holiday break was one of rest and good company. Classes are now underway, and it will be another busy semester of teaching, concerts, and auditions.

So much is written about resolutions for the new year, but we all know that sticking to them is a challenge.There was an excellent blog posting on Angela Myles Beeching’s website (she is pictured above) that has a great way to plan for 2017 by focusing on your accomplishments from last year, and how to better plan for this year. I went through all the items, and I discovered that I accomplished quite a bit in 2016. Check out her site, “The Professional Musician’s Roadmap,” and sign up for her weekly postings!

This semester there will be a shift in focus for this blog, along the lines of what Ms. Beeching does. Whether you are a high school student, undergraduate, graduate student, or professional, as musicians we always need to be looking ahead to what we would like our lives to be. Very few careers are a straight line, and a music career is no exception. It’s never too early to begin to plan for your musical life once you are a professional, so why not take half an hour to sit with a cup of coffee, tea or water, and write down how you see yourself as a professional musician. I’ll tell you my story in the next posting.

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.

Until next time,
Margaret Miller

That light at the end of the tunnel…

Is not necessarily an oncoming train, just the last two weeks of the semester. I hope that everyone was able to recharge over the Thanksgiving break, as juries and finals are coming up very soon.

My advice to you all? Take care of yourself first. I realize that there are projects to complete, finals and juries, plus recitals, orchestra concerts, etc., but you need to take care of yourself above all else. Stress levels are very high now, so be aware of your triggers, and what you can do to minimize the stress. Breathing is always a very good thing to do!

As for juries, play for as many colleagues as you can. Play for your roommates, play for other instrumentalists. Remember why you chose a life in music-because music said something to you, and you want to make sure you say something through your playing. Yes, there will always be details to work on, but save time in your practice sessions to perform.

Until next time,
Margaret Miller
Assistant Professor of Viola


Accuracy Is Everything In Practice

“Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” ~ Wyatt Earp

An interesting person to quote for today’s post, but very applicable to our lives as musicians because it relates to how we practice. How do we become accurate and consistent? It’s by practicing slower. Our brains and our muscles need time to process an activity, and time to build up speed and accuracy.

My recital is in a few weeks, and while my program feels secure, I still take one practice session a week to go through the repertoire at three quarters of my performance speed. There is always something that needs attention-a shift, a phrasing that can be clearer, an articulation that needs attention.

Now that everyone’s semester is in an established routine, take a moment to think about your practicing. Are you in a rut? Are you practicing carefully and being a mindful listener?

Until next time,
Margaret Miller
Professor of Viola

Welcome Back!

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

Happy Labor Day to you all! I hope that you have had a restful weekend. As I told my studio this past week, starting tomorrow, it is a long haul until fall break, meaning Thanksgiving. Remember to take care of yourself during this fall semester. Tension issues can creep in without us realizing it, so if something hurts, tell someone! There is no need to suffer in silence.

Now, about today’s quote. Whether you are a freshman in high school or college, or a graduate student, or a working professional, we are always learners. Take advantage of attending concerts, lectures, workshops, anything that interests you. You may discover a passion for something related to music that can be advantageous to your career. One never knows…

For me, being a life-long learner means learning new repertoire, reading about topics that interest me, such as funding in the arts and what it means to have a successful career in the arts. There are many creative people in the world doing amazing things, search out a topic that interests you!

As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts for future postings.

Until next time,
Margaret Miller

Welcome back, everyone!

I hope that you have all had a great summer; I’m sure you’ve returned to school with energy, enthusiasm, and possibly a little bit of anxiety. My summer involved coaching at the Lamont Academy, Just Chamber Music in Ft. Collins, and PlayWeek West at the University of Denver. I did enjoy some down time getting caught up on projects, gardening, and reading. Oh, yes, and starting to practice for my recital in Oct.

What are your goals for the fall semester? I’m sure that one of those is better time management. Speaking from my own experience, it’s a life-long process! We all change and have priorities that change as well. Number one on your list-and mine-is to take care of yourself. I find having a weekly and a daily list of items helps me plan my personal time, what I want to get done for my practicing, and what to plan for my students. Be thinking now of how you can best use your time so you can avoid as many all-nighters as possible!

Like last year, this posting will occur twice a month. I enjoy hearing from you, so if you have a topic that you would like to hear about, do let me know.

Until next time,
Margaret Miller
Assistant Professor of Viola; Coordinator, Graduate Quartet Program
School of Music, Theatre and Dance

End of the year, the start of summer!

This is finals week at CSU, the end of the semester, and the end of the academic year. I hope it was a good year for all of you!

At CSU, it was a busy year of teaching, performing, and planning for next year. I am very proud of the work that our students have done this year, from orchestra concerts to opera to chamber music and recitals. Both graduate quartets gave outstanding concerts, and I look forward to next year’s ensembles.

So what are your plans for the summer? Classes, summer festivals, time with family? Make sure that you take time for yourself this summer, as the fall will be here before we know it. I will be coaching for a two-week program in Ft. Collins called Just Chamber Music, teaching at the Lamont Academy at the University of Denver, coaching at PlayWeek West, and playing for the Summer Conducting Masters Seminar at CSU. Oh yes, and starting work on my recital in early Oct.

I am looking forward to welcoming new students to the viola studio this year, and helping them grow as musicians and people. I hope your summer is relaxing and productive! See you all in Aug.

Margaret Miller

Why we do what we do…

Why do we spend countless hours in a small practice room, chamber music rehearsal, or orchestra or opera rehearsal? Is it for the grade, the approval, the sense of understanding a technical/musical issue that has been bothering us for weeks?

All of that is part of the answer, but is it all of the answer?

Why did we choose to become musicians? I did because I loved to play the viola, although I didn’t always like to practice when I was younger. The variety of music that we get to perform is enormous, and it speaks to us in many different ways. All of the technical issues that are part of learning our craft can be frustrating, to be sure, but the bottom line is still creating the best music we can with the tools we have right now. We need to have a solid foundation on our instrument, yet we also need to think about the music that goes with that solid foundation. Practicing musically as well as technically helps us better understand the composers we play and then we can communicate that to our audiences.

Something to remember as the end of the semester draws closer. Remember that you love music and that you love to learn!

Until next time,
Margaret Miller

Post Break

“It’s pretty far, but it doesn’t seem like it”  ~ Yogi Berra

For me, that quote relates to the upcoming end of the semester. If you’ve had Spring Break, I hope it was one of rest and rejuvenation; if yours is still to come, I wish the same for you!

Seven weeks left of the semester before juries. For the CSU students, there is Marriage of Figaro coming up and a final orchestra concert, plus chamber music concerts. It’s also a big chamber music time for me, with faculty recitals, plus colleagues from Montana State are coming in April, and then I go there to repeat the program. The Borromeo String Quartet is coming in mid-April for a performance and our annual High School Chamber Music Festival. It is always a high point of the year for me.

So how do we all keep our health, both mental and physical, with such a demanding schedule? We all have our methods of dealing with stress, but do we see the warning signs soon enough? For me, that means enough sleep. As musicians, we all have a lot going on, whether you are a student or a professional, and finding the balance at times like these is vital to our well-being, both in the short term as well as down the road.

Yes, then end of the semester seems pretty far, but it will be here in a hurry.

Until next time,
Margaret Miller

What Are You Doing With Your Extra Day?

leap dayIt’s a LEAP YEAR, and I have been thinking about time and time management of late. Feb. is always a very busy month, with Colorado All State Orchestra on campus for three days, and then the whirlwind that is audition season for the next academic year. I am very pleased with the quality of viola applicants, next year looks to be really exciting.

But back to the time issue. What am I doing with my extra day? The big item is playing a very interesting work for flute, viola, and piano by a Soviet woman composer on my colleague, Dr. Grape’s, recital tonight. I always enjoy discovering new repertoire, and this is a keeper. I also have a rehearsal for a concert on Saturday with the CSU Concert Orchestra, playing Trauermusik of Paul Hindemith, one of my favorites.

So it is like any other day, but I hope I can get ahead on some projects, and start practicing for several concerts in April.

How are you spending your extra day? I hope it is a productive one for all of you!

Until next time,
Margaret Miller

On to the next event…

Margaret Miller and viola alumni web

Margaret Miller and viola alumni at CMEA.

The annual Colorado Music Educators Association Conference is always a wonderful, busy week of interesting sessions, seeing old friends and meeting new ones, hearing terrific orchestras from around the state, all in the beautiful setting of the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. I had three sessions, one for Tri-M, the high school music honor society, and two with a colleague that involved viola sections and chamber music. Additionally, the University Symphony Orchestra performed a unique concert of American composers.

So now it is on to the rest of the semester. All-State Orchestra is coming up Valentine’s Day weekend, then it’s time for auditions.

Somewhere in all of that is practicing!  There is quite a bit of chamber music on my plate this semester, so I had better get going!

Until next time,
Margaret Miller