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  • Your Hearing and You by Eric P. Swanson

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jan 25, 2023

    Eric P. SwansonI am prejudiced. I prejudge people who do not hear well. Why? Their instrument is not as good as it could be, should be, and perhaps can be. How can we as musicians trust that the people we play with can hear our ideas, process the information, and make good on the effort to make the music as good as it can be? It all starts inside the system of our own hearing. Each time I run into someone who does not hear well and is trying to get the meaning of what is happening based on partial input, I get turned off. It takes an amazing amount of time, effort, and everything I am to get to the rehearsal, the gig, the lesson, the thing where I can show my spirit; I feel cheated when the message may be cut short by an inability to hear. 

    May I ask, what have you done to ensure that you can hear and that I will not feel cheated when we play together? Did you get your hearing tested at PASIC? Did you attend the Hearing Panel discussion at PASIC? Those of us who attended the panel were happy to see many young people in the room who are interested in preserving their hearing. And, as we learned, there is no way to get your hearing loss back! Once the damage to the tiny hairs in your ears is done, the ringing (tinnitus) begins and the options become more limited. Add more practice time and playing time, and your days of listening to loud music may be limited. 

    I have been exposed to loud rock music, concerts, marching band performances, drum set teaching, rehearsals, drum circles, and private practice where I have hurt my hearing. After four decades of playing, I wear excellent ear protection 60–70% of the time I play, and I still have loud screeching in my ears day and night. Insanity! Yes, it will make you feel crazy as the signals in your head (the ringing) are telling you to STOP playing. I cannot stop; I hold the beat dear to my heart and cannot possibly stop. 

    But I must make the time to ensure that I will be able to continue playing until that final moment. I got my hearing tested for the first time in 15 years at PASIC 2022 by the wonderful volunteers from Butler University. I have lost some more of my ability to hear higher pitches, people’s voices, and my interaction with the world at large. 

    Scared yet? You should be. I heard all of us playing for four days at PASIC and it was loud.

    What else can happen to you? Well, it’s not good news. Ever heard of vertigo? Your balance is kept in check by your ear system. What about dementia? You may feel isolation as your senses dull over time and get into your own head. I recently had a bad bout with COVID; I lost my taste and smell, and it left me feeling depressed and alone. If I cannot hear, I am going to start sliding into my own mind again, and without positive reinforcement from the outside world, I may have trouble keeping myself positive and moving forward. And playing — my sanity will be affected.

    Scared yet? But not yet scarred? You will be, so it is time to get the ears tested and the earplugs updated and adjusted to the current state of things. You can get earplugs customized to your current hearing and to protect you from greater loss at different decibels. 

    Please, please, please use a search engine to find where you can get your hearing tested, and take action. You only get one shot at keeping your hearing. Be good to the future you, and get back out there, protect yourself and your hearing, and play!        

    Eric P. Swanson teaches drum set and plays in rock bands. He also facilitates drum circles and is the Treasurer of the Drum Circle Facilitators Guild. He is a member of the PAS Interactive Drumming Committee. 

  • Wellness Wednesday: Tips for Touring by Hannah Weaver

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Dec 21, 2022

    Touring can be one of the most enjoyable and inspiring parts of being a musician. Traveling to new places, meeting new people, making new friends, experiencing different food and drink, sightseeing, and getting the musical satisfaction and thrill of performing for new audiences are all notable highlights. However, we don’t talk enough about how physically, mentally, and emotionally draining a tour can be. It’s critically important to take care of yourself on tour, not only to maximize your performance potential but so that you can enjoy the best part of the job: making music!

    Over the past several years, I’ve spent a good amount of time on the road with the Heartland Marimba Quartet. This has given me some of the most rewarding performance experiences of my career. It has also been, on occasion, completely exhausting. On each tour I’ve learned better ways to make the experience a positive one, and this article is an opportunity to share some of these tips and tricks. (It is worth noting that I am not a nutritionist or medical professional; these are simply observations from personal experience and should not be extrapolated beyond that context.)

    When getting ready for a tour, it’s easy to remember to do the musical preparation. Most of us know to plan out a practice schedule that will allow for appropriate preparation of the music. However, it is equally as important to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the demands of touring. Performing is stressful and mentally demanding, so if you’re not at your best physically or mentally, it’s much more difficult to have optimal performance. You want to enter tour well-rested, energized, and organized. Make a packing list, and not just of mallets, music, and black towels. Remember to bring toothpaste, Tylenol, chargers/batteries, business cards/CDs/promotional materials, Band-Aids, prescriptions, etc. (I have personally forgotten all those things on ONE tour and have never gone without a packing list since!)

    It’s also important to have other responsibilities handled before leaving on tour. The week or two beforehand can often be packed with work to make up for obligations that will be missed while on tour. This can leave you drained before you’ve even hit the road. Be reasonable about your workload leading up to a tour. Prioritize things that cannot be handled remotely and only take work with you if absolutely necessary. It’s best to avoid dividing your attention on tour, but if you need to do other work, it helps to have specific times set aside in your itinerary. Being able to sit down and address work in a specific timeframe can help maintain boundaries and keep your mind focused.

    Leading up to a tour, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough sleep (recommended 7–9 hours for adults), but also to consider your sleep schedule. If you’re going to be traveling in a different time zone, it’s important to start training your body accordingly. It takes roughly one day for each time zone traveled for your circadian rhythm and sleep schedule to adjust. If you can get a head start on that, all the better. 

    Drastic changes in your diet will affect your focus, mood, and energy, so try to keep your food choices similar to your daily routine at home. That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy new foods and restaurants on tour — I’ve indulged in some of the best meals of my life while on tour — but moderation is key. Everyone’s needs are different, but I’ve noticed that if I have a lot of heavy, salty, or sugary food, I feel noticeably worse throughout the day.

    A bigger issue for me is consuming too much caffeine and not enough water. As someone who regularly enjoys several cups of coffee a day, I often drink even more on tour. I’ll usually try to cut down my caffeine the week or two before a tour to reset my caffeine tolerance. Always have a water bottle with you on tour, as well as some snacks; nothing can derail productivity like hunger or dehydration. When I’m on tour, my stick bag always has a pack of almonds and granola bars in the pocket.

    Percussion is a highly physical instrument, and touring brings its own physical challenges with it. Playing the instrument can be a workout, but the added exertion of moving gear, setting up gear, and performing/rehearsing can become utterly exhausting. Maintaining your physical health and well-being is important to playing and performing, but it’s also important for all the other aspects of touring. I try to keep a consistent exercise routine of strength training and stretching, and I’ve found that maintaining this routine during a tour helps me make it through the long days. 

    Perhaps the best advice I can impart is to know your personal needs and be willing to communicate them. Over the past few tours, I’ve discovered several personal idiosyncrasies that can significantly impact my success on a tour. For example, I know I need physical activity as an outlet for stress, or to recenter myself, so I try to plan time where I can go for a run, do some yoga, or hit the gym. Even a ten-minute walk is sometimes all I need to clear my head. I also know I need time away from people to recharge, so I try to balance socializing after performances with taking some time alone. There’s nothing wrong with needing time for yourself, and it’s much better to recognize this and ask for it than to run yourself ragged in the middle of a busy tour.

    I know that I am more likely to get defensive and take things personally when I’m stressed, so I try to take several deep breaths before responding to any potentially upsetting comments or requests. I also recognize that I get a little manic and fidgety prior to performances, so I’ve taken to doing a short meditation or body scan before going onstage.

    The best thing you can do for yourself is to listen to what your body needs and take the time to discover your optimal work environment. Obviously, there are numerous factors outside of your control when on the road, but self-awareness and good planning can set you up for success.

    Hannah WeaverHannah Weaver is an avid solo and chamber performer with special interests in contemporary literature and the solo literature of J.S. Bach. A founding member of the contemporary music trio Odds & Ends (clarinet/saxophone/percussion), Weaver also tours with the Heartland Marimba Quartet, recently performing in Stuttgart, Germany, and at PASIC 2022. Weaver has competed internationally, placing in the semi-finals at TROMP (2018) and Paris International Marimba Competition (2009). She has performed several concerti with the HMQ and Dubuque Symphony (April 2021) and was a featured concerto performer with the National Repertory Orchestra (2015). Weaver is Assistant Professor of Percussion at the University of Nebraska – Omaha. Orchestra credits include the Kansas City Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Omaha Symphony, and Fort Wayne Philharmonic.


  • Wellness Wednesday: Five Simple Ways to Reduce Teacher Stress by Brandon Dittgen

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Oct 26, 2022

    Teachers have above-average burnout rates compared to other professions, and the occupational stress among teachers has increased significantly over the last decade. High-pressure workdays, long commutes, changing policies, not enough sleep or exercise, and simply trying to make ends meet all contribute to increased stress in the workplace. The accumulated stresses of everyday work life can damage your health in irreversible ways and also affect your ability as an educator. 

    You can’t be an effective teacher when you’re riddled with stress. Stress brings tense, negative energy to your class space. Students can feel it the moment they enter the room. Additionally, stress will shorten your patience, skew your judgment, and weaken your ability to establish influential relationships with your students. The good news is that no matter who you are or what you teach, simple habits can help to reduce stress from your professional life and change the way you teach. 

    Focus is the difference between top performers and everyone else. You need a moment (and only a moment) before each workday to zero-in on what you need to do to be your best teaching self. Visualize your day ahead of time. Whether it be on your way to work or in the quiet moments before your students arrive, mentally rehearse your day ahead. Think through your classes or lessons. See yourself following your plan. Once the vision is in place, lock in and focus on your immediate objective. This practice will result in greater decisiveness, confidence, and joy.

    2. JUST SAY NO
    Every teacher I know could benefit from utilizing this small but mighty two-letter word. Understand, this is not suggesting one never accepts extra responsibilities or extra work. But standing your ground and maintaining your personal boundaries are healthy approaches that only you control. Saying no can be as simple as temporarily passing over an added workload. For others, saying no may look like stepping away from what's allowing you to procrastinate. It may be saying no to commiserating with negative colleagues. Saying no can feel uncomfortable at first, especially if it's not a regular part of your vocabulary. But once you take a stand, you’ll be rewarded with time to focus on what really matters.

    3. ACCEPT
    Many educators are fired up about things over which they have little to no control, such as new policies, trend curriculums, etc. The stress is very real, but to no real benefit. In the business of education, there are always news ideas coming down the pipeline. It's far less stressful to accept them and start directing your thoughts to how you can make these new things work for you. I’ve found you can take just about anything and make it your own or find a workaround. And lest we forget, if it isn’t something you absolutely have to do, ignore it altogether.

    One common trait in nearly all overworked and stressed-out teachers is the willingness to take on what could be (or should be) their students’ responsibilities. They teach a directed lesson and then fail to fully shift the responsibility of doing the work or practice to their students. This is often as simple, but as disruptive, as interrupting the learning process with additional reminders, clues, and suggestions. They rush to the aid of any student showing the slightest bit of struggle and disrupt their learning process by re-teaching what they just taught moments before. This might feel like what good teaching looks like, but it's not. Micromanaging produces learned helplessness, dissuades listening, and encourages dependence on the educator rather the student. On the teacher's end, this educational approach compiles unnecessary stress, especially when things don't go exactly as planned. The simple fix: stick with the teaching and let your students learn. 

    5. DECIDE
    One of the most powerful and effective ways to ease stress is fortunately also one of the simplest. It’s called the “decide-first method.” Before the bustle of the busy workday begins, create for yourself a moment of peace. Shut the door and give yourself just a moment of silence. Take a deep breath and clear your mind. Make the important conscious decision that, no matter what happens, you are going to remain calm, keep your cool, and pursue through. It sounds overly simple if not poetically optimistic, but it works. The first time will seem like a revelation, but if you run through the routine every day, being calm and composed will become who you are.

    Brandon DittgenBrandon Dittgen teaches instrumental music at Milford Exempted Village Schools in Cincinnati, Ohio. His duties include teaching band grades 6–12 and coordinating all percussion studies. He holds a Masters of Arts in Education degree from the University of the Cumberlands and a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Morehead State University. Brandon serves on the PAS Health and Wellness Committee.

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