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Is Talent Enough? 

Is Talent Enough?

"Eric, you're talented. But, talent is not enough"

Those words have defined who I am and how I wanted to be portrayed for the last 8 years.

Nowadays it's important to know that playing the violin very well isn't enough to have a sustainable music career. 

Here are some of the things I think about as a violinist:

Building Relationships

For musicians, building relationships are something outside the practice room that we need to get comfortable knowing how to do. We practice countless hours perfecting our craft, and it would be a shame if we don't get to share the same passion as other musicians! Building relationships allow you to collaborate with people you may never expect. 

Understanding Your Audience

As co-artistic director of the Chicago Chamber Music Project, my colleagues and I are always trying to learn the needs of our audiences. People want different things and it's up to us as artists to understand what they want! Researching trends and talking to audience members are only a couple of simple ways for your audience to attend concerts. 

Making Mistakes

This point is the most important one of all. Classical musicians work hard every day and face rejection countless times in the course of their careers. What's important is that a musician needs to be comfortable with being rejected because rejection gives room for growth. A musician's goal is to grow every time they pick up their instrument.

I hope that these quick tips give you ideas to create a fearless musical entrepreneur mindset. 

Eric Mrugala, violinist

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Finding The Special Sauce 

Finding The Special Sauce

(2 min. read)

The picture above is EXACTLY what I'm looking forward to eating when I step off the plane. Some fresh tomatoes, basil, and pasta from the town of Piobicco. Also on the to-do list, drink a quality cup of Italian espresso every morning no matter what! 

While all of this sounds amazing, my duo partner and I are working hard to make sure that we perform well at the festival in preparation for our tour to Italy,. We talk about making sure that we perform at a high level, but also making sure that our musicality isn't bland. 

I mean, how many different interpretations can you have for a Franck sonata? (I've heard hundreds) 

You play music that has traditions that go along with it and generations of violinists have said the same thing about how to make the sonata sound good, what kind of vibrato was appropriate at the time, interpretation, history, etc.

That is the case with most instrumental music out there. 

We talk about finding special qualities in a piece all the time during rehearsal, and I call this process, finding the special sauce. 

Is it vibrato? Is it your interpretation of the music? Is it your research that influence both? Communicating these to your audience verbally or through performance is important because many people in your audience are going to sit there and not know the music, the history, and the traditions that come along with it. 

Your audience will remember the special ingredients that you share with them and will want to be coming back for more for your artistry. This will take a little bit of thought as to how you're going to do it. But if you cook up an amazing dish, your voice will be heard. 

Practice Performing 

Practice Performing

Classical musicians that I've talked to recently say that the older they get, the more difficult it is to handle their nerves on stage. 

Why is that the case? Is it due to the lack of performance opportunities or the amount of pressure that we put on ourselves when we perform in front of an audience?

It may be a combination of both. 

That's why it's important to know your tendencies and learn how to control them. 

Each performer has their pre-concert rituals that help ease their sweaty palms and twitchy fingers. But there will be a performance where you won't have the luxury of your pre-concert ritual. 

What will you do then?

What it comes down to is the amount of time you practice and perform. We're so concerned as musicians to get everything perfect in the practice room that we forget that we actually need to get comfortable performing in front of people. 

If you're a conservatory student, then one of your options is to play in front of your colleagues in a studio class. Or, maybe you practice performing behind closed doors and you perform for your friends. You have the control of the venue. it doesn't have to be anything fancy! 

The only way you get better at it is by doing it more. It's also important to know that you shouldn't be thinking about perfection. You should focus on playing your absolute best in different settings. 

Performing doesn't need to be scary. Performing more gets you out of your shell and will help you improve on the bigger goal: sharing music with others. 

Music Is Not JUST A Profession 

Music Is Not JUST A Profession

The life of a musician can be tricky.

Any job someone takes in the music industry can be exhausting and even frustrating. That's why music is more than just a profession, it's a lifestyle. Vienna is arguably the classical music capital of the world. To the Viennese, music is embedded in their culture. They can't live without and breath without it. The Viennese put a hierarchy on music over sports. Can you imagine?

Of course, it would be unfair to compare sports and music. They're entirely different things. If you're reading this, you're probably a teacher, orchestra performer, quartet member, or all three. My friends, you need to know how to do everything in this field. And isn't it amazing that we have the chance to do everything? 

I'm so grateful that I have variety in my career. Music to me is much more than a profession. Taking my life into various settings and playing music continues to be a joy to me and I never get tired of it. The countless hours of practice and dedication we put if you don't love what you're doing then why bother?

You go to the practice room and I get frustrated if I'm having a bad day. I get it, it stinks. I've been there and I know you've been there too. But the feeling when you go on stage and make music with the right people at the right time, it's priceless to me. And those are the moments I live for. 

What kind of musician are you? 


When you walk around each corner of Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, you can't help but run into people with guitars, violins, cellos, and keyboards on their backs and under their arms. This is the exact thought that comes to my head while sitting at the Starbucks sitting across the street from the Berklee College of Music tower moments ago.There's a bit of nostalgia just sitting here where I used to do my music theory, and study my orchestra music with my earbuds in. Life as a student was good. 

There are SO many of us in this town. A few of you are going to graduate in the next week from universities and conservatories, and you're going to have NO IDEA what to do. 

Believe me, I was there. 

I wasn't really sure what my direction was for a couple years after I graduated.  All I knew was that if I relied on my network and connections, I'll get by. I had a full time music job working 40 hours close to minimum wage in addition to gigs. I learned a lot from this job and made friends that I still talk to, but it got to a point where I wasn't happy. 

I wasn't happy because I wasn't performing as much. If I wanted to, but my superiors wouldn't let me take the opportunities to do so.

So, I left the job. 

As a recent grad who had bills to pay, I had a car, a violin, and no full-time job. Great, right?

Thankfully, leaving the job allowed me to take some more performing opportunities and ACTUALLY enjoy what I do. 

With all that's going on in the media these days about the lack of funding for the National Endowment of the Arts, not enough full time orchestra jobs,  you would think that my argument of becoming of a musician would be torn to shreds by now. 

What if I told you that's not the case?

Being a violinist in a vibrant musical city as a student is one thing. Being a violinist in that setting as a professional is another. The struggle was real. 

I had to narrow down what my priorities in music were, what my professional goals are as a violinist, and try to envision a life in music that will make happy, and importantly, stay happy. That's when I realized that the only way to take control of my life was to create opportunities for myself and for my friends was to go all-in as a heavy freelance entrepreneur violinist. 

Becoming a musical entrepreneur gives you the opportunity to choose. It gives you freedom. Most importantly, you find purpose. You get to choose what kind of musician you want to be once you made it clear for yourself that you're not willing to accept the status quo, and create a path for yourself. The moment you become transparent about the type of musician you are and what you want to be, then congratulations! You've answered a very difficult question that musicians have trouble with. 

The life of a musician is already difficult as it is. Knowing who you are takes you one step closer to finding what your strengths are, and finding your niche. 


Like this article? Leave a comment below and share it with a friend! 

Brady vs. Beethoven 

Brady vs Beethoven, an overview of Tom Brady's Tom vs Time and a closer look at the relationship between sports and music. 


There's a certain truth when it comes to playing the violin. If you want to find success in music, there's a lot of work and sacrifice you need to make. People are going to start with you at the beginning of your journey, but there's no guarantee that everyone will make it to the end with success. 

In the spirit of this past Super Bowl, the release of Tom vs Time,  a documentary giving the world a closer look into the life of Tom Brady, a quarterback for the New England Patriots. Brady reveals to the world of his views on parenthood, a role model to the world, and the daily routines that help him become the greatest American football player of all time. 

With five NFL championships under his belt, he could've easily retired by now. Yet, he's playing well (if not better) than he did when he was in his twenties. Tom vs Time shows Brady's devotion to the sport. We learn through these episodes that he strives for greatness because of his work ethic, his mental toughness, and we learn most importantly, that he's never satisfied. He's always looking for ways to be better every day. 

Now, why on Earth would I bring a violinist's attention to Tom Brady?

Violinists and athletes share a lot of the same qualities in their careers. While violinists spend hours practicing, researching and score studying, athletes like Tom Brady are analyzing each play they made the week, and in years past. Athletes, study, practice, and need rest as violinists do. 

Would it be fair to compare Tom Brady to Beethoven?

Musicians can learn a lot from athletes because, in many ways, we are athletes.  The number of hours athletes and musicians spend training for their next event are countless. Malcolm Gladwell's theory that it takes ten thousand hours to perfect a skill is a good theory to compare to. But if you're able to watch the Facebook episodes, you see Brady spends a lot of time off the field studying defenses similarly to violinists and all classical musicians alike to prepare for an audition with an orchestra score in front of them. 

Brady, like Beethoven, is never satisfied. We know Beethoven was always trying to improve his music. He was constantly searching for the meaning of life through music.  Through five different Facebook episodes released earlier this year, while all of New England called him the Greatest of All Time, we see a man trying to find balance in his life between career and family. Something violinists can learn from this documentary is the work ethic

What can classical musicians (particularly violinists) learn from Tom Brady and his journey in Tom vs Time?

  1. Playing the violin is a physical and mental game
  2. To a part of the game, being social is
  3. Violinists work with their emotions
  4. Music, in many cases, helps us grow spiritually.  

Beethoven had many struggles along the way. That didn't stop him from composing.  Just like Tom Brady, he won't stop because of failure. It doesn't stop him from pursuing his passion. 


Liked the read? Share it with someone who you think might need this. 

 

You vs. You 

 

As classical musicians, we live in an age where we compare ourselves to others.  

When I went to school for music, there was a competitive feeling that you couldn't escape. I was trying to prove myself to the world. Now, competition is good because there's an opportunity for you to learn and 

After living in a bubble of good players in a small community for a few years, I noticed that I couldn't focus and play as well as I wanted to. 

I didn't believe in myself. 

Musicians of all genres constantly go through this cycle. 

From, "I don't know if I can do this" to, "They're better than me" to plain old, "Nope, better to save myself from embarrassment."

You're lying to yourself if you're reading this blog post and saying, "This has never happened to me and haven't experienced this at all." Everyone will see through this. 

I've been playing the violin all my life, and I still get the nerves.

I'm probably preaching to the choir to some of you. To those of you who just came across this post, I'm here to tell you that there is no competition.

That's right, zero. 

You've been given a shot to make the most out of your music career, take advantage of it. The soloists out there probably started out where you are now, unsure of where to go in music. the moment you switch your mindset as a musician/entrepreneur, creating opportunities for you, then a lot of the pressure is off your shoulders. 

It's You vs. You. 

Block the noise...You got this. 

 


Was this helpful? Leave me a comment below! 

Be Nervous, But Don't Be Afraid 

 

Performers and artists alike have to be fearless. But we constantly go through stages in our careers where we get nervous. 

Why do we get nervous? We practice our music, we know what it needs to sound like...

So what's the problem?

Is it because you care what other people think your playing? Is it because we care a lot? 

We all want to present ourselves in the best possible light.

My friends, it's because we hate this thing called failure. Not to mention, if we fail publicly, then there's a level of humiliation that might be connected to that. 

"Let that failure be a gift to you"

If you think about the reasons why we are where we are in the year 2018, it's because people before our time took risks, and they failed; sometimes, they failed spectacularly! People, I fail every day. But if you want to be successful, regardless of profession, you need to think like a marathon runner, not a sprinter. 

If you're a 100 meter sprinter, the objective is to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. A sprinter wants to get from point A to point B as fast as possible but a long distance runner's way to victory is strategy, endurance, and patience. 

These 3 things help you win your game

In a marathon, you may trip, fall, and you can give up right there, while other people run by you as you watch and stare. 

You made a mistake, but only you can make the decision to get up and finish your race. It's you against yourself. 

You're going to be nervous when you try something new, or experiment with an idea. Let that failure be a gift to you. Get back up and start running again. 

When you miss a note, don't let that be the deciding factor of you giving up. I can tell you from personal experience that I get nervous because of the same reasons as you. I want to do well and play my best. But don't let the nerves distract you from the overall goal:

Be nervous, but don't be afraid

It's you against yourself. Once you realize this, nothing will stop you. 

The Beauty Is In The Details 

Think about the last time you went to a concert.

Did you have a good time? 

If so, why was it a good time?

What was it about the venue, the musicians on stage, the people around you that made the experience memorable?

As a performer, I'm in the practice room and in rehearsals every day working on little things so that when you, the listener, drives out to see a show, I will do my very best to make the performance special

In music and in business, paying attention to the small things is important.

Because the beauty is in the details. 

Taking a step back and regrouping from the bigger picture helps you take note of the subtle nuances of your performance as an instrumentalist and as businessman. Noticing the nuances helps you stand out from the crowd. (For reference, check out my blog Standing Out in a Crowded Performance Scene)

I bet you that the performer you went to go see took the time to think about the concertgoer's experience from beginning to end. Why? So that you come back wanting more of their music! They invested the time and energy to make sure that you leave the venue saying, "Wow, that was amazing". For a performer, that's exactly what they want to hear. The details are what will get you noticed, remembered, and invited to play again.

The idea is similar in a business setting. For instance, the company you're interested in working may not want to hire you because you may not see the subtleties of the market, and what your competitors are doing. You'll achieve a greater level of success by seeing what others can't see. 

Being the person who pays attention will get you that next important gig of your career.  It will help you earn the connection you've been wanting for a while. 

There's always room for improvement in every aspect of a business, and every part of your playing. See the details, and you'll put yourself in your very own category where people want more of your knowledge, your intellect, your skill set. 

The Beauty Is In The Details!

Play As If It's The Last Time 

As a musician, I realized early on that what I do is different.

I'm thankful to have traveled the world sharing music with people and share precious memories with people who hold dear to me. 

One memorable experience I have is with the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra many years ago.

We went on tour at the end of our inaugural season to the Netherlands presenting Mahler's 2nd Symphony, and Strauss's Ein Heldenleben in towns like Maastricht, Haarlem, and Rotterdam. Our last performance, however, was in no other place than at the Royal Concertgebouw. 

Playing that concert was a surreal experience. 

We performed for a sold out crowd and in the end we were treated with a standing ovation by the audience. 

The orchestra had an encore ready to play, and our conductor, Benjamin Zander, had us perform a movement from Elgar's Enigma Variations; specifically,  "Nimrod". 

The moment the first violin section introduced the theme, I felt this indescribable feeling between my stand partner, my colleagues in the orchestra, and the people in the audience. I felt the presence of the bass section that was located on the opposite side of the stage, right next to me. I felt the woodwinds breath. Together, we made a rich, and organic orchestral sound. 

The orchestra played as one organism. We moved the same, we breathed the same, and musically, we acknowledged whoever had the leading melody to let them shine. This as all after playing an hour and a half Mahler symphony. 

All of us were focused; giving it all that we have as if there's no tomorrow.

Back then, I didn't know when would be the next time I'd play in the Concertgebouw.

None of us did.

Make the most of every moment. Make the most of the music you're performing and play it as if you won't live to play another note. Don't worry about the technique, that's stuff you can sort out in the practice room. Every single note, played with purpose, with meaning, with integrity. 

Think about the message you want to say in your performances, and do that.

Every Time

 

"To play a wrong note is insignificant, to play without passion is inexcusable"
- Ludwig van Beethoven