The Year I Read 56 Books (Not Including the Ones for Research)

By Miranda Wilson

How I want my house to look one day.
(Photo credit: Pixabay)

Like many academic types, I have to read so much for research that I often run out of time for reading for pleasure. It isn’t just that I miss reading, I also miss being informed about subjects other than music. So this year, I decided I was going to make time for reading non-music books.

I can hear you splutter “Make time?!?!”

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Eyes Off the Prize: Why Dreaming Small Makes Practice Better

By Miranda Wilson

Practice Is Easy When You Feel Inspired

On a good day, time flies by and the instrument practically plays itself. Everything goes well. It doesn’t even feel like work.

Too bad about the other 364 days.

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Looking back at the mirror

Four years ago I wrote a post about preparing Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel with a pianist friend. I was intrigued with the idea of infinity in its mirror imagery, and every time we studied the score we found more and more of these images.

I never imagined that my next performance of Spiegel im Spiegel would be in honour of that same friend’s memory after he was tragically taken from us aged 37 after a short illness.

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Katherine Mansfield, cellist

People who know me well know that I’ve been a bit obsessed with Katherine Mansfield since I was a schoolgirl. It wasn’t just that she was New Zealand’s most famous writer and I wanted to be a writer, it was also something to do with her rebelliousness. I liked to imagine that I would one day become New Zealand’s second most disobedient daughter. (Didn’t really work. KM was far more impressively disobedient.)

When I was about 15, I read in Claire Tomalin’s biography of KM that she was a cellist of near-professional standard, and this excited me a lot. No recordings of her playing were ever made, but she must have been really good when you look at some of the things she was playing — nineteenth-century showpieces by Adrien Servais and Léon Boëllmann, and pieces of greater intellectual heft like the Chopin sonata. Her love affair with the instrument appeared to coincide with that most turbulent of times, adolescence.

I was flipping through the Katherine Mansfield Notebooks today when I came across a poem she wrote to her cello during her teens. For some reason I’d never noticed it before. I was really taken with it, so I made this Canva image with a stanza from it together with a photo of Mansfield herself from her Queen’s College years.

I think she has a pretty nice set-up and bow-hold, don’t you?

The Muggle Résumé

I heard a great expression the other day on the Twitterverse. Muggle résumé. In the Harry Potter novels, a non-wizard is called a Muggle. Living costs money, so sometimes we wizards musicians have to get Muggle jobs where we apply some of our non-wizard skills. Our music résumé will be full of wizardry like species counterpoint (that’s our version of Defense Against the Dark Arts), and our Muggle résumé … won’t.

At first, the idea filled me with panic. What would happen if I ever needed to make a Muggle résumé? I can’t do a single useful thing!

Then while reading Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’s bestselling book, Designing Your Life, I was surprised to learn that only 27% of people end up in the field they majored in at university.

27. That made me feel a lot better about the statistics for music graduates.

It turns out I’d naively thought that a degree in a STEM field was a pipeline to a job in that field, but a quick conversation with some STEM faculty friends confirmed that it doesn’t. “A degree in computer science is still a liberal arts degree,” one friend told me. “You have to be really good at the subject to be considered for a good job, and having the degree certainly doesn’t guarantee anything.”

I felt very foolish. Then I resolved to store up this information for the next time I’m talking career choices with the worried parents of potential music students. (“But wouldn’t it be more sensible for Jayden to study mechanical engineering?” “Well, according to the experts, only 27%….” etc. etc.)

As I read further and further through this incredible work, I found myself wishing that it had existed when I was an undergraduate, passionate about music but a little lost in terms of career-building. By applying the principles of design to career counseling, Burnett and Evans show us how we can find new passions and unexpected pathways in our professional lives. This is a seriously exciting worldview.

Burnett and Evans helped me realize that musicians have all sorts of Muggle skills. Quite aside from the practical and theoretical aspects of music-making, a Muggle résumé could include the following:

  • Events administration (venues, schedules, equipment, personnel)
  • Business administration (all those hard sums, spreadsheets, and tax returns have made us pretty much business skills ninjas)
  • Project management (organizing your own concerts and recordings, anyone?)
  • Mediation and negotiation of all kinds (all those years of figuring out how to talk to people in rehearsals in a way that makes them not hate you forever!!)
  • Public speaking
  • Communications (we’ve all written press releases, copy for our websites, program notes….)
  • Social media management (from our years and years of relentless self-promotion that some might say bordered on narcissism, lol)
  • Technology (recording technology, video technology, all the software and hardware we have to know how to use for our jobs)

When you think about it from a different viewpoint, you realize just how many skills, both “hard” and “soft,” we all amass on our career journeys. My own career has changed a lot over the nine years I’ve been in my current position, and quite a lot of the changes happened because of my own discoveries of new interests, such as (shameless plug) coding, directing a kids’ music program, writing articles for Strings, and directing an early music festival. None of those things were in my job description when I showed up in 2010. None of them directly involve playing the cello. And I love every minute of all of them, even the part where I have to send out millions of documents and emails, because that involves nerdy software and I find that sort of thing fun.

It’s quite freeing, really, to realize how many paths and options you have, and that you aren’t stuck doing same old same old. If you haven’t read this amazing book, buy it right now. This minute. You’ll be happy you did.

Time Management for Musicians Part 3: The 15-Minute Rule

By Miranda Wilson

This post is the third in a multi-part series on time management for music professionals.

How do you want people to remember you after you die?

I hope my family and friends will talk about the music I made, the lessons I taught, the words I wrote, and the way I made them feel.

Sometimes, when day-to-day stresses distract me from my purpose, I remind myself that no one is going to stand up at my funeral and proclaim “Her house was perfectly clean, and she was perfectly thin.”

And yet, we high-achieving women of a certain age (think grown-up Hermione Grainger) put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect. It’s not enough to be at the top of our professions, we also have to be perfect mothers, run marathons, and live in houses that look like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. It’s a lot of pressure.

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Time Management for Musicians Part 2: Optimal Brain Time

By Miranda Wilson

This post is the second in a multi-part series on time management for music professionals.

Do you ever find yourself getting sucked into a necessary but boring task that takes all the time you wanted to spend doing something that means a lot to you? Did 56 new emails appear in the last five minutes, threatening to eat up your precious creative time? Does your music practice get pushed into last priority by all the other things you have to do? Are you angry and resentful about it?

So was I. Until…

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Time Management for Musicians Part 1: the Priority To-Do List

By Miranda Wilson

This post is the first in a multi-part series on time management for music professionals.

Becoming a music professor was my goal from the first magical minute I stepped on campus as an undergraduate more then 20 years ago. What could be more blissful, I thought, than living the life of the mind and making great music while you’re at it? I imagined myself delivering passionate lectures, fixing bow-holds, writing essays, and travelling all over the world for recitals and festivals.

What I pictured myself doing, in other words, was the fun part of being a music professor.

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The teacher I needed

Be the rhythmic change you want to see in the world

By Miranda Wilson

I saw a great quote the other day: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

I don’t think any of us is single-handedly capable of bringing about world peace, or an end to climate change — we’d need the systematic and institutional support of a huge number of unanimous people for that to happen — but we can all do something within our own particular skill set to improve one or two things, can’t we?

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