My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Kapwing - the online desktop app that's a lifesaver for musicians

When Sandra and I started the Piano Music She Wrote project in 2020 we knew that we’d be constantly looking for ways to improve the different aspects of our social media output. It wasn’t long after we launched our YouTube channel that we noticed that links in our social media posts to videos on our channel often seemed to disappear into a blackhole. Sometimes a preview of the video would appear in the post but more often than not just the link would show. It seemed that there were some posts that hardly anyone clicked on and our videos on YouTube weren’t being viewed as much as we’d hoped they would be.

These days, it’s all about the visual. A text-only post is more often than not overlooked. We quickly realized we needed to be presenting and promoting our videos in a different way. Gabriella di Laccio, the founder of the fantastic website, Donne - Women in Music, suggested that we post short clips of our videos along with the link to the full video on our YouTube channel. She had found this small addition was crucial in insuring that Donne’s videos were seen by more people. With the frequency and number of videos we post, I wanted to find a way to make these clips that was easy, fast, dependable, and usable by both Sandra and myself. An internet search thankfully led me to Kapwing, an online desktop app that has quickly become one of the most important tools in our toolbox.

Besides having an adorable cat icon as their logo, Kapwing is all of those things we were looking for. I now use it on an almost daily basis. Here are some examples of how I’ve used it so far. It’ll give you a taste of how you can use it. 


Basic video clipping and branding for social media
To produce our teasers for use on Twitter and Instagram all we have to do is copy the url of our YouTube video into the Kapwing upload page, press return and then presto! We are taken to the editing screen with the video ready to edit. We trim off what we want, add in our logo and then export. From there I usually download the file to my computer but you could also share a link, or share to social media without having to take up space on your computer. These days it takes me about 3-5 minutes from start to finish to prepare one of these clips. Gone are the days of waiting an hour to export a video file! I think it’s important to add here that Kapwing makes it easy to crop any video to work best for any given social media platform and it also works with Canva, which is an online graphics app that I also highly recommend. You can plop you're clip into a graphic post your putting together there and you’ve got something even fancier!




More extensive editing options - combining multiple clips and text

After I had used the platform a bit I started looking into some of their other editing options. My next project was to string together several shorter videos into one longer one, overlaying text on top of the video to clearly label the pieces I was performing. This was also easy to do and the end result was really fantastic. 

Next I tried my hand at making a promo video for my Sightreading Maverick show to post on social media. I added text and images along with the video this time. Again, really straight-forward and I’ve used it every week since. I think it’s been instrumental in spreading the word about my show. People seem more likely to retweet it than had I just posted a text only or a text and image post. 


In conclusion…

Kapwing has been such a lifesaver for us! I’m convinced that the video clips we’ve produced through their app has significantly increased our visibility on social media. It’s easy to use, full of handy tools that enable us to produce high quality output, it can also be used for free, although there are some limitations regarding file size and length of video that you can originally upload into Kapwing. To have more flexibility you can upgrade to a paid level or you can look into their various programs to help out with the cost. From our interactions with them I can assure you there are actual people running the app and they clearly believe in the service they are offering. Yet another reason to support this great app! Don't hesitate to reach out to them.


You can find their webpage at:




Saturday, May 8, 2021

Celebrating one year of my sightreading show!



A year ago, in the spring of 2020, as we were all adjusting to being confined to our homes more, I kept trying to figure out how I was going to personally deal with this new scenario, especially since the majority of my income from musical jobs was cut off and I had a lot more free time on my hands. I was also struggling with not getting the regular bursts of adrenalin that come with being a performer and having the interactions with my audience that I so love and feed off of. 

One of the crazy ideas I came up with was to live-stream myself sightreading piano music for one hour. Why do that, one might ask? My answer?  I love sightreading, I'm pretty good at it and I figured I could use this time to explore solo piano repertoire. The only down-side I could think of was that I would be also be setting myself up for falling on my face publicly on a regular basis. But since I have a bit of a reputation for being stubborn and for wanting to be transparent as a musician, I decided the down-side could possibly be turned into an up-side. I wanted other musicians, pianists especially, to discover the joys that can come from being a good sight-reader:
  • moments of struggle can actually be pretty amusing
  • we can sightread musically if we approach it with skill and the right mindset
  • there's a lot we can learn about ourselves as musicians from doing it on a regular basis
  • that there are things we can do as musicians to help ourselves be set up for more success prior to jumping in
  • oftentimes what we think was a disaster in the moment really wasn't so bad



A year after live-streaming the first episode it's safe to say that Sightreading Maverick is now one of the things I look forward to most in my week. I don't have a lot of regular viewers, at least not that I know of, but I have a faithful crew that regularly watches live and chats via messaging during the show. There's also one viewer who routinely watches at night, after the show is done, messaging me his reactions the whole time. That is always hilarious. I also have several who regularly send in requests. I'm very grateful for their suggestions. 

Every now and then I'll get feedback from people who have watched that they've added pieces to their repertoire that they discovered through the show - that brings me such joy to hear that. At times I  sightread works by composers who are friends or acquaintances of mine on Twitter - that's also been wonderfully rewarding. For me that gives me a completely different glimpse into who they are as people, artists, and friends. I should add here that I'm grateful that they've all been willing to let me subject their music to the risks that a part of sight-reading. They too are brave! 

So almost a year later, with 47 episodes in the books, 2 guest appearances (thanks to Tracy Cowden and the Ivory Duo Piano Ensemble), almost 300 different piano pieces sightread, I'm going to keep at it until I run out of music. If you've never watched before, please do check it out and pass on the word about the show. The easiest way to be reminded about it is to subscribe to my YouTube channel

You can also watch episodes whenever you wish. Here's the playlist of everything that's on YouTube.


Sunday, May 2, 2021

Standing on my soapbox on another blog


A few weeks ago on Twitter I shared a story about an interesting conversation I had with a colleague where I teach. The conversation that ensued after I posted that story was a brief but important one that led to the wonderful composer, piano pedagogue, and writer Melanie Spanswick asking if I'd write up a post based on the topic. How could I say no?
The thoughts I wrote about in this blog post, "Flipping Musical Misperceptions on their Heads," are near and dear to my heart in many ways so please do take a read and contribute your own experiences and thoughts if you wish.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Being productive and creative while severely stressed

Last week I had one of those days where I felt there were tornado sirens and tornadoes going off in my head. 

It was ceaseless. 

All...day...

Even practicing the piano, which usually works to refocus me, did nothing for me. In fact, trying to practice brought my frustration to an even more unbearable level since that's usually my safe haven. 

By the end of the day I was frustrated and exhausted from trying to accomplish something...anything.

The next morning I work up with my head and heart still in a state. I couldn't endure another day like the previous one so I knew I had to do something different. As I was getting breakfast around I was struck with inspiration in the form of a bag of chocolate chips. Yep, chocolate chips. Not fancy ones. Semi-sweet chocolate chips. (Thank goodness I have a family that feels they are a must-have pantry item!)

I pulled the bag of chocolate chips out, found a small, clear, glass bowl and ceremoniously poured about 25 of them into it. 

Then I grabbed a large post-it note and was struck yet again with a bit of inspiration. I am by nature a list person. I have to-do apps on every device, armfuls of notebooks, and an office supply store-worthy stock of sticky notes so I have to-do lists everywhere but this time a different little voice than I'm used to inside my head clearly said
 "Erica, no to-do list today. What you need is a possibility list."

A POSSIBILITY LIST?!

Yes, a possibility list. That different little voice went on to explain. 
"Maybe the problem with being a busy body and having tons of ideas is that your to-do list will never, ever end. And if you judge the success of your day by whether or not you got through your to-do list you'll only feel like you failed. So write a possibilities list instead and see each one you accomplish as something to celebrate."

My to-do list habit may be fine a lot of the time but perhaps it's not always the ideal motivator. Which is why I decided to listen to that different little voice to try something a bit different and to get myself back on track. There was one more thing the voice kept telling me.
"Put blinders on."

Usually I'm pretty good about focusing on the task at hand. I also tend to be a multi-tasker even though I realize that's not the ideal way to be. But in my previous day's state, the danger of having too many things on my to-do list and of relying on multi-tasking became painfully obvious. So I decided that during this experiment I was going to go through my day one "possibility" at a time. I would pick one and then put blinders on and focus on that one thing until it was done or until I had done a good amount of work on it and felt comfortable setting it aside. When I had successfully worked on a possibility I celebrated with a chocolate chip. One...chocolate...chip. I was quite amazed at how well this worked! By the end of the day I felt that I was back on track and that maybe I could even go back to my to-doist self. Or maybe I should just stick with the possibilities method/chocolate chip/blinders method?

It is rather tasty.



Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Art of Using a Mirror as a Musician

I'm sure I'm not alone in this scenario...

You're doing your morning routine, sitting in front of a mirror, and all you can manage to see is every pore, every new wrinkle, and those dark spots under your eyes. No matter what product you apply or thing you tweak, all you see is what you don't want to see. At that point, hopefully it dawns on you to do one simple thing...

Flip...the...mirror! 

I think so often, especially when I'm engaged in practicing or performing I forget that many mirrors have two sides. There's one side that does the job of reflecting what is there and there's the other, whose job is to magnify everything, to a slightly absurd degree.

There are good uses for both sides, both in everyday life, which I'll leave for someone else to cogitate on, and also in the daily life of the musician. It's usually in the practice room and in lessons where that magnifying side can be useful. It's looking into that side that we can see things we may have not noticed before - the small discrepancies in tempo, the slight unevenness in our fast passages, our tendency to be sharp on a certain note. That side of the mirror provides us with endless things to fix and problems to solve. 

But staring only into that side can start to play with our minds. It can frustrate us. It can make us question why we even try. It can prevent us from seeing the larger picture. It can sour us from what it is we love. That's why it's imperative that we learn two simple things...

When to flip the mirror and when to take the mirror away completely.

I'm still in the process of learning about these two options myself. Recently I've had a bit of a change of heart about how to deal with my practice room mirror. I used to follow up my high magnification practice sessions with an immediate flip, allowing myself to run through sections I had just micro-practiced to see where things stood. What I'm realizing now is that for me, more often than not, these reflections disappoint me. I want to see immediate results and to know that the hard work is going to pay off. But the fact is, things take time to settle. The brain needs time to let things sort themselves out. Or maybe the issue is that the brain isn't as easily flipped as that mirror is. Now, after a good practice on a section, I'm trying instead to turn off my childish need for instant gratification (that usually isn't gratified), and switching to something else. So far I'm feeling much better about my practice sessions. There's a lot more intrigue when you take away the mirror after a magnified session since you're not quite sure what you're going to find the next time, but is certainly less angst-filled. 

When do I use the simple reflection side of a mirror? I'm actually struggling to know how to answer that at the moment so perhaps that will need to be in another blog post. What I will say, however, is that I think music-making in general places a mirror in our hands, whether it's in the practice room or on the stage. It's unavoidable. As long as we don't stare too long and hard, and as long as we stick to that side, I think we're more likely to keep smiling as we pursue this art that is a reflection of so much more than just ourselves.