Sunday, November 25, 2012

Those Page Turns Will Be the DEATH of ME!

Over a year ago, I wrote about my love for my iPad and how amazing it was to just carry around a small device that stored all my sheet music. Since then, I've had the honor to play for many dance and musical theater shows with my humble 1st Gen iPad. I've also put many "miles" on two major page-turn foot pedals that have been in the market since the iPad came out.

The PageFlip Cicada, and AirTurn. I can go into the specks and the nerdie-techie side of these two devices, but there are already some good reviews out there on these pedals. Instead, I'm simply going to write about my personal experience with these two pedals.

Last year, as I was prepping for Orange County School of the Art's Fall Production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." I purchased the PageFlip Cicada per the recommendation from the lovely people at forScore when I told them price is a factor in making a decision. My first impression of the pedal was that it was kind a flimpsy piece of plastic. Pairing the device was a little annoying, because you had to enter a code for the pairing to work.  The other downside to this pedal is, you have to turn the pedal off to be able to use your keyboard because your iPad sees it as an external keyboard. It was also noisy and made a clicking sound when you pushed on the pedal. But it did the job that I needed it to do. Turn pages.

One month into our production, the pedal started skipping pages. I contacted PageFlip asking if they have suggestions of what to do, they simply sent me a new pedal. The second pedal worked beautifully, until Day #2 of our show. In the middle of the number "Pandemonium," the pedal stopped working. (Ironic, no?) I pushed it several times, and still the page didn't turn. So I quickly touched the screen to turn the page. I must have had two fingers on it because the "search content" option came up and the screen darken. (This was how I set up the app to make finding music faster.) I looked at the top right corner of my iPad screen, and noticed that the pedal was no longer connected.  The Bluetooth symbol says it's "on" but not connected to any devices. I kept playing, and kept pushing on the pedal in hopes that it would reconnect. It did. The Bluetooth symbol flickered, and reconnected my pedal. By this point, my iPad was thinking, "Oh, you pushed the pedal 6 times while it wasn't connected so let me catch up to you!" By this point, I was completely lost in my music. I had to depend on my instincts that I know this show and can do it in my sleep and survived through Act 1 mostly from memory.

During intermission, I decided to re-pair the device by "forgetting" the device and pairing it again. There was something I noticed.  Because all these people were in the theater, I was picking up about 20 Bluetooth signals. Now, not having much knowledge of how Bluetooth technology worked, I immediately assumed the pedal was getting a Bluetooth-interference from the audience because there were simply too many devices out there. Act II wasn't any better. The pedal kept losing connection and I ended up playing the rest of the show by memory. Goes to show you, you can't always depend on technology to work, and you still have to rely on your skills.

After the run of the show, I emailed PageFlip again with videos showing him exactly what happened in the middle of a performance. The PageFlip guy was kind enough to send me yet another pedal that he personally tested himself. The 3rd pedal was fine until I had to take it somewhere. The back-pedal stopped working, and something was rattling inside. That was when I decided that perhaps I need to look into the AirTurn. Going through 3 pedals in a year isn't economical for anybody. In reality, if I had to repurchase the PageFlip Cicada 3 times, I would have just purchased the AirTurn in the first place. Lesson learned.

When I finally got the AirTurn, my first impression already was that it was a much sturdier pedal. It's made in the US of A, unlike the Cicada which was made in China. The pairing was simple. No complicated codes to enter. You simply turn on your pedal, turn on the Bluetooth on your iPad, and pair up the device. It was quick and easy. Another advantage was the ability to get your iPad keyboard to pop up if I need to respond to an email or hop on Facebook to post a snarky status. All you have to do is push the little red button, and the keyboard pops up. How fantastic is that?

The touch compared to the Cicada feels a little different. The Cicada had a medal contact that would trigger the page-turn. I know this because after the third pedal, my dear husband took the pedal apart to see how it worked. The AirTurn's pedal is shaped like a U. It takes a little bit more muscle, but only be a smidge. The AirTurn takes no time to get use to. Because of the sturdiness of the pedal, it's much more ideal for gigging musicians like myself. Let's be reasonable. I take very good care of my things. I'm not one to play frisbee or broom hockey with it. But I do work with jr highers and high schoolers half the time, and with dancers the other half of the time. This means, there is always a slight possibility that someone might accidentally kick it across the stage or studio floor. In that case, AirTurn wins by a landslide. (Kids, I do not recommend any of you doing that. It was just an example!)

I decided if I was going to do a write-up about these pedals, the AirTurn needs to survive through my high school Fall Production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie." Well, not only did this little guy survive, he passed with flying colors. I did run into a small snag, it had nothing to do with AirTurn, but everything to do with my humble 1st Gen iPad. I guess it's that time to upgrade.

At the end of the day, I need a device I can depend on. I highly recommend the AirTurn to any gigging musicians out there who is using the iPad. Not for just the durability, but also the fact that you can use your internal keyboard with the pedal connected. To me, that was a huge win in my book. The PageFlip Cicada is still a good device, however, not for a professional musician. If you were say, a private instructor and teach out of your own home, and the Cicada stays in one place, it works great. But if you are traveling on a daily basis from one location to the next, AirTurn is the way to go!

Happy Playing!

Interested in purchasing the Airturn?

Interested in purchasing the PageFlip?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Has it been 10 years?!

About a month ago, I returned to my old stomping ground at Riverside Community College to visit the dance faculty.  The moment I walked in, it was like I was home visiting my family.  The studio still looks the same, with some minor changes here and there. The teachers are still the same, sitting in their office/green room where the core dance students hang out, while the students in the studio are rehearsing for their then-upcoming student-choreographed concert.  I was quickly greeted by two enthusiastic "Hellos!" Followed by Rita, assertively ordering a dance student to get her ass off a chair so I can sit down.  Ah, still the same.  We quickly caught up, and one of the things Rita asked me was, "When are you going to write in your blog again? You have good things to say."  So...Rita and RCC Dance...this is for you!

10 years ago, Riverside Community College gave me my first Dance Accompanist job.  Here I am ten years later, and I've had the opportunity to play for major dance companies in the world, and for world renown dancers and choreographers.  I owe my success to the people who pushed me into this career.  I've written several drafts of what can I say about my job ten years later. I keep deleting it and rewriting it. Finally, I came to this.  I will write about 10 things I have learned during the 10 years I have been working as a Dance Musician.

These are in no particular order.  Just 10 thoughts that popped in my head in the last 5 months I have had to think about what I would write about 10 years of being a Dance Musician.

1) Keep it Simple

I use to think that you have to be a virtuoso 24/7 to impress the teacher.  I was wrong.  For one, I was exhausting myself. Two, I was playing the wrong music.  Then I figured out, if I keep it simple in the beginning, and slowly build up to something big towards the end of class, it was more effective.  Once I figured this works for me, I found myself not feeling drained or tired at the end of class and I was able to do it all day.     

2) Work Hard, Be Kind

This was what Conan O'Brien said before he signed off on his last Tonight Show on NBC. It's true.  Work hard, and be kind, and great things will happen to you.  (Go Team CoCo!)

3) Stay Humble

If I let things get to my head, I am only setting myself up for failure.  There's that saying, "You are only as good as your last performance." This is true for everything that anybody does in their profession.  I am as good as my last class.  I know I can always be better.  If I'm cocky about what I do, I only become bitter, and also become an unpleasant person to work with.  That's no fun for anybody. The only person I am responsible for is myself. So I have to be hard on myself. If I'm not happy with my last class, I have to try and figure out how to be better.

4) Be Professional

It's amazing to me how people get away with doing unprofessional things, and still have their jobs. Again, this is true for any profession. It's not difficult to show up on time, and report to your jobs when they are scheduled. If you don't show up repeatedly, you lose your job. It's that simple. At least that's what I tell myself. Where ever I am on the freeway at a specific time, if I know I should already be passing a specific exit, and I'm not quite there, I call and tell the teacher I may be late. I also do whatever I can to stay awake. I always have coffee. And no, you can't have a sip. 

5) Don't Dance Where You Work

Don't sleep where you eat.  Same thing.  I use to do this when I started at RCC.  Things just became a little too weird for me and for the other dance students. Am I a staff member now?  Or am I a dance student? What exactly is my role there? I'm not exactly faculty, but I'm not exactly a student anymore. It was just easier to keep dance and work separated. There is always an exception to the rule. I have taken classes where I play, but most of the students are adults who are 30 years or older. So they understand why I take class.

6) Dance Teachers are Dancers First - They Are Not Musicians

One of the common things I hear when I talk to other dance musicians, is that sometimes dancers have a hard time trying to convey what they want. So we, the musicians are trying to "translate" what they want or need.  So I always do my best to be patient when they are trying to speak my language. But I also believe that it's equally important to understand theirs. That's why it's important for me to take class. That way, I can kinetically understand the kind of music that would be appropriate for what dancers need.

7) It's Business, Not Personal

This is a sticky one. Because when you do something you love, it becomes personal. I've had a teacher tell me I need to play more like a Russian man.  That same day, I called my boss and told him I really can't deal with this teacher for 10 more weeks.  I've also had Russian teachers yell at me in Russian.  I raised my rate after that job, and they never called me back.  So sometimes when things get a little heated, I do my best to deal with it. This job is pretty stress-free.  But sometimes, teachers and students get a little ridiculous. What do I do about it?  I take it to Facebook!  I spew and quote the things teachers do and say to me, and I turn it into a joke.  My friends laugh, other dancers sympathize, and then we move on. At the end of the day, it's business. Sometimes I raise my rates to avoid working at certain places, and amazingly, people surprise you and are willing to fork up more money for you to be there.  It's Business.  Not Personal.

8) Invest Your Time in Potentials

If I see that an establishment has potential for growth, or it's already growing, I stay there as long as they allow me to. Once things become stagnant, and I start to feel like I'm in a sand-trap, I move on. If I stayed, I would become bitter, and lazy. I've been in places in the past where I felt like I wasn't going anywhere.  The teachers I was working with were burnt out.  They were either in auto-pilot, or in survival mode.  I constantly need to be inspired. In a way, I'm an opportunist. I know what I want, and I will set goals to get there.  For me to feel alive, I need to feel a pulse.

9) Be Grateful For Every Job

Ironic, after just talking about raising my rates for places I don't like, and walking away from places that are no longer growing.  But at the end of the day, I am grateful that I get to do what I love to do.  For years, my mother tried to tell me I don't have a real job. Remember? I have a Chinese mother. I didn't become a doctor.  I don't even sit at a desk, or teach anything. I just play the piano all day. It wasn't until she realized I was doing something she could gloat about, as in, I get to play for "famous people," she told me I need to thank God that I get to do what I do. You know what? I thank God every single day, that I can get up and do what I love to do and get paid for it.

10) Never Forget the People Who Helped You Get to Where You Are

Ten years ago, the faculty at RCC dance approached me and asked if I would like to play for a few of their dance classes.  Before that, I didn't even know I could make this a career and be successful at it.  They encouraged me to continue my education, and they gave me their blessing when I moved away to Orange County. From there, I played for Marie de la Palme, who got me a job at Orange County High School of the Arts. From there, I met Alaine Haubert who was teaching a master class. She got me a job at a pre-professional studio.  I can keep this chain going for pages if I wanted to. But it if wasn't for the catalyst, I wouldn't be where I am today. So thank you, for everybody who got me to where I am. Here's to another ten years, which means I have to come up with 20 new things!