How much does practice factor into elite performance?


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Carnegie Hall

According to a July 14, 2014 article in The New York Times, practice may contribute only 20-25% of the edge needed to reach an elite level of performance.  A 1993 study, by contrast, places that factor at 80%.

I have to say that I still think 20-25% is a significant percentage.

Read the article and see how you react.  

The last paragraph, in my opinion, says it all:

But in the end, the most important factor over which people have control — whether juggling, jogging or memorizing a script — may be not how much they practice, but how effectively they use that time.

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New position!


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G PR USH July 1 2014Photo credits:  John Gaines, edited by USH webmaster David Newton

I am delighted to begin a new appointment as Music Director at the Unitarian Society of Hartford as of July 1, 2014.  

The following article is from a recent USH newsletter.

Music Director Selected – The search for a new Music Director is over.  We are pleased to announce that Ms. Gretchen Saathoff has accepted the offer to be the next music director at the Unitarian Meeting House of Hartford.  Ms. Saathoff currently holds a position at the Hartt School as an accompanist. She brings over twenty five years of experience both as a concert accompanist and as a church musician.  She plays the organ, the piano, Bach and Broadway (all with equal finesse ).  She starts July1, 2014.  Watch the newsletter for  further announcements.

Many thanks to the person who wrote this article.

Read more about the Unitarian Society of Hartford at their web site.

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My Addy and The National Holiday


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MyAddyOutside MyAddyInside Not everyone is aware of this, but June 23rd is The National Holiday.  My father made the designation in honor of his birthday one year.  From that time on, he would remind us on the 23rd of each month, beginning in January.

The significance of this, this year, is that I am hoping to pick up my new car on that day. It feels appropriate, and would make me very happy.

Let me tell you why.

Dad bought me my first car, a VW bug.  I had a church job at the time, but no car.  My college roommate drove me to choir rehearsals and church on Sunday mornings, and picked me up afterwards.  Dad wanted me to keep the job, but didn’t want my roommate to have to drive me around.

As it happened, I went shopping for a piano 11 years later.  I found a Baldwin at the Baldwin dealer when I lived in New York.  Dad knew I had been looking. Shortly after I had paid the down-payment and arranged for financing, he called.  Upon asking what the balance was, he offered to pay it!

This was in December, a year after graduate school.  He wanted the piano to be in my apartment for Christmas.  He had his heart set on it. Baldwin did the best they could, given their delivery schedule in the city.  I had the piano two days after Christmas. My dad was quite disappointed, and had trouble with the idea for the rest of his life.  I tried to make sure he knew how happy I was, and told him that I would not have practiced on Christmas Day anyway.

He lived in Iowa.  Although he attended seminary in Chicago, he just wasn’t a city person. So the demands of a New York delivery schedule at a large company didn’t make an impression.

In my hometown, the store owner would have closed early on Christmas Eve, loaded the piano onto his truck with a big red bow around it, and delivered it right on time.

“My Addy” is the name I’m giving my new car.  For 11 months, I lived in a beautiful apartment on Cabrini Blvd. in New York with a single mother and her baby, Joseph.  We traded piano noise for baby noise, and I loved every minute.

Joseph talked all the time.  He invented words.  Sometimes, when he would come out with a string of gibberish, I would just look him in the eye and repeat what he had said. The look on his face was priceless:  “Wow!  Somebody gets it!”

For one entire day, the word he repeated constantly was “addy.”  He started the minute he woke up at 5:00 or 5:30.  Around 8:30, he went to daycare.  When he came home at 5:30, it was still “addy, addy, addy,” and he kept saying it until he went to sleep around 10:00.

If it works out for me to pick up My Addy on my father’s birthday, that would feel special. He passed away in 1991, but I’d like to think I could send him some happiness in that way.

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Want calls? Introduce yourself!


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Headshift business card discussion

Headshift business card discussion (Photo credit: Lars Plougmann)

Seems obvious, doesn’t it?

This evening, I was having dinner out when the hostess informed me about a presentation that would begin in a half-hour.  There had been publicity, but the restaurant remained open for other diners as well.

I remained seated at my original table, which happened to be directly next to the presenter’s location. The presenter began showing slides of his photography.  I was doing something else, but looked over at the screen from time to time.  Being so close, I listened to the narrative as well.

Those who attended seemed to know the photographer, for the most part.  Others knew of him, as he has lived here for years.  Although I have lived here for 15 years, I had not met him.

Given that there were “outside” people in the restaurant while he was presenting, one thing about his talk, especially, surprised me.  He never said his name until the end!  There was no name indicated on the slides, nor did he introduce himself when he welcomed people at the beginning of his talk.

He was, of course, concerned about the best location for the screen, computer, projector, and microphone.  There was the amplification to consider.  In addition, he had enlargements of some of his work displayed around the room.  So there was ample opportunity for distraction on his part. However, as a free-lancer, I was reminded of the importance of getting to the reason behind the presentation.

Remember to introduce yourself!  Feel free to disagree, but I think it’s important.

Comments welcome!

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Stretches for finger and hand flexibility and range


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A stretching lion at Ouwehands Dierenpark.

A stretching lion at Ouwehands Dierenpark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Inspired by my friend Louise

A friend asked the other day how she could stretch her fingers following an automobile accident which put her hand in a splint for several weeks.  She has lost the span needed to play Beethoven on the piano. Since she plays for her own enjoyment, ways to maintain flexibility and range were something she needed to check out.  Her first thought was, “I’ll never be able to play again!”

Most people are familiar with large muscle stretches for sports, for example.  Hand stretches might be a little different.This is what I told her.  Perhaps something in this post will be helpful to you or someone you know, as well.

To stretch your fingers ~ yes, you can do that.  But you have to be careful.  The hand injury specialist who treated me said to stretch to about 80% of your max.  Small structures can’t be over-stressed, because they can be permanently injured.

With one hand cupped (imagine holding a tennis ball), turn your hand palm-side down, level w/the floor.  Support your upper arm and elbow against your body.  No gripping! You are not holding the ball, just imagining the shape.

With your opposite hand, gently stretch one finger at a time, keeping finger curved when stretching back, away from finger tips, toward back of palm.  (So your middle joint aims for the ceiling, fingernail ends up near 3rd joint.)

Next, stretch the same finger down to palm, so fingernail almost touches inside of wrist. Straighten finger, keeping it relaxed. Now stretch the same finger, using your opposite hand, to the left and then right.Stretching in all directions is important to maintain the balance in length of the tendons. Each stretch can be repeated, gently, 2 or 3 times in one session.  You could do a couple of sessions each day.

You can soak your hands in hot water for a few minutes On a cold day or in a cold room, avoid going into stretches with cold hands. And, for instance, you wouldn’t want to stretch in front of a cold blast of air from an air-conditioner, or in front of a fan.

Don’t expect instant progress… you haven’t been using your hand for a while.

Stretching both hands adds a 15% benefit!

Don’t overdo it or go too fast out of frustration.  That’s the hard part for me.  Robert Schumann, the composer, became frustrated that his 4th fingers wouldn’t lift off the keyboard as far as 2, 3, and 5.  He built a wooden machine to stretch his 4th fingers, and ruined his hands for life.

When you have finished stretching, take a break.  Any strenuous activity with your hands needs to begin no sooner than 10 minutes later.

While you are regaining your flexiblity, go ahead and play your instrument!  You can leave things out. Playing something is so much more fun than not playing at all and becoming worried that you won’t be able to.  Given a little time, your flexibility will return.  It takes attention to the situation and caring for your hands where they are right now, today.

Surgeons play finger games to maintain flnger flexibility.  So, while playing an instrument may seem like a niche activity, maintaining flexibility is also applicable to other professions.

Hope this helps!

Comments?  Please use the “Leave a Comment” link at the top of this post.

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