In the first of an ongoing series highlighting the success stories of our recent alums, we recently spoke with flute & piccolo soloist Lara Deutsch. A member of the 2012 & 2013 NYO, Lara was named as one of 2015’s “Hot 30 Under 30 Canadian Classical Musicians” by CBC Music and is considered to be an in-demand soloist, orchestral and chamber musician. Most recently, Lara was appointed Assistant Principal Flute & Piccolo of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra on a one-year contract and has moved to Vancouver for the 2016-2017 season.
Lara took the time to speak with us about her beginnings playing music, her experience in the NYO, and why mastering your mental skills is just as important as mastering your instrument.
1. When and how did you first get involved with music?
I started piano when I was three years old. My Mom has always loved music and all three of my older brothers had at some point taken lessons too. I tried a whole bunch of different instruments - recorder, flute, violin - and I even studied classical voice and musical theatre at one point. The flute was a quick favourite and I’ve played it since I was 6... I was a little bit too small at the time but very determined! I took private lessons to begin with and got more into chamber music and ensemble playing around the beginning of high school. I was lucky to grow up in Ottawa, where the Ottawa Youth Orchestra Academy gave me the opportunity to discover my passion for orchestral playing early on and to start developing the skills necessary to pursue it at a professional level.
2. What are some of your memories of playing with the NYO?
There are many from my two summers of NYO, it’s pretty hard to choose! One huge highlight was playing and making the first Canadian recording of Mahler’s 9th Symphony. I love Mahler and the 9th is so complex - heartbreaking, beautiful, playful, dark and transcendent all at once. I’m a pretty big softie and usually shed a few tears in most movies (sometimes even comedies...), so waterworks and Mahler symphonies generally go together for me. That being said, after one performance at the Winspear Centre in Edmonton, I was far from alone: at least 75% of the orchestra came off of the stage in tears! I was moved by the collective sense of teamwork and emotional maturity of the orchestra. Everyone had really given all they could have in that performance to create something special.
Otherwise, I would say my favourite memories can be summed up by one word: tour. It was an incredible privilege to have the opportunity to explore my home country (pretty much for the first time!) and to share that excitement with my fellow musicians and friends. Touring is a fantastic adventure but it can also be tough at times, and I think that having the chance to learn the do’s and don’ts of touring with NYO is a huge asset for anyone aspiring to play in a professional orchestra.
3. You recently completed your Master’s at McGill in 2014. What has the transition been like for you from student to full-time musician?
I’ve spent the last two years doing a range of things and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. The transition from student to professional can be tricky, but the key is to keep your name out there by creating your own performance opportunities. After graduating, I stayed in Montreal where I had been since 2008 and where my network had developed. At the beginning, I focused my energies on a few major competitions that helped me break into the orchestral freelancing world. I spent the last two years freelancing mainly between the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, recording demos, filming music videos, and managing a graduate orchestra as well as two of my own chamber groups. There were moments where I was feeling exhausted, but I said “yes” as much as possible and was grateful to be doing what I love in a different way every day. This past spring, I was offered a one-year contract with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and am now playing full-time in Vancouver this season.
4. Along with being named as one of the “Hot 30 Under 30 Canadian Classical Musicians” by CBC Music last year, what are some of the things you’ve done thus far that you’re most proud of?
I think what I’m most proud of was winning first prize in the OSM Standard Life Competition in November 2014. It’s not so much about the win, but the fact that I was really proud of the way that I prepared. Prior to the competition, I had started working with a sports psychologist to work on my mental skills. (In fact, it was Gabe Radford who planted the seed of that idea in my head at one of the talks he gave during NYO. Thanks, Gabe!) I blocked off a huge amount of time to prepare, I developed training plans - musical, physical and mental - and I felt more ready than I had ever felt in my life. It was really rewarding to see it pay off. (More on this topic below!)
In that same vein, winning the National Arts Centre Bursary Competition meant the chance to play a concerto with the musicians of NACO in December 2014. This was a particularly special moment for me, as the NAC played a huge role in my musical education. The members of that orchestra are not only outstanding musicians, but have also been great colleagues, mentors and friends. I had a blast!
5. Based on your experience, what are some valuable tips you could give future NYO members or NYO alums that are looking to move into a career as a professional musician?
- WORK ON YOUR MENTAL SKILLS AS MUCH AS YOU WORK ON YOUR MUSICAL SKILLS!!
If there’s one thing I regret about my career so far, it’s that I didn’t figure this out years earlier: our success in performance (and practice, actually) has SO much to do with our brains and how we think, and that all starts the second we begin playing our instruments as kids. You would never go into a stressful performance without hours (well, years at this point) of practicing your instrument, so why would you ever go into it having never practiced your mental strategy? Get reading. There are a ton of blogs about music and performance psychology these days. Better yet, there are plenty of resources about excellence in sports and life, and making connections about how those strategies can apply to you is a great way to get yourself engaged in your own practice strategies tailored to your strengths and weaknesses. Also… record yourself and listen to it (that’s the other big thing I wish I had started doing much, much earlier). It makes your practice more deliberate and goal-oriented, which in turn helps you develop the focus you need to perform at your best.
- Know what your goals are and set them because they are right for you, not because it’s what other people are doing or what you think you’re “supposed to be doing.”
The music world is full of “can’t dos” and “should nots”. Brainstorm YOUR priorities and goals and write them down. On a piece of paper. Check them frequently and ask yourself what steps you're taking every day to get there. Remember that it's okay to have life goals that are not career-related and it's actually very important to have that balance. There are many paths you can take with music and the "right one" is the one that's right for you, not for the person in the practice room next to yours. (Also, avoid the contagious mentality at school that you need to be in that practice room 8 hours a day. Learn to practice deliberately and effectively instead so you can also do other things and take proper care of your body.)
- Learn to take criticism and let it drive your desire to grow and improve, always.
"Hi, my name is Lara and I am a recovering perfectionist." This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but it turns out no one is perfect and there is forever room for change and improvement. If you set your expectations at 100% perfection, you will always let yourself down. Set them at 95% excellent and everything changes for the better. Take every opportunity to learn from feedback and grow. It doesn’t mean you always have to incorporate what everyone says, but give it a try and you might even learn something entirely unexpected. Take risks and they will pay off. It’s a more exciting, engaging and healthier way to be.
- Be a good colleague.
There's no denying that our industry is very competitive. If you're freelancing, make sure you stand out of the crowd for the right reasons and most of those have to do with personality. Be friendly, be on time (read: very early), and be sensitive to the feelings and routines of other musicians in the orchestra. Think as a team player and avoid the need to "prove yourself" - you'll do that by listening, blending in and immediately incorporating feedback, not by outplaying others. Even if prompted by commiseration, if you have nothing nice to say, don't say it (especially on social media). The music world is VERY small and you want people to be smiling when your name comes up in conversation. Lastly (and this is a big one): respond to emails and phone calls quickly. In under 24 hours. Personnel managers will love you and will be infinitely more likely to call you again if they know you are reliable and trustworthy.
- Have fun and stay positive.
As my performance psychologist once very wisely told me, we don't "work" music, we "play" music. Remember that we do this because we love it. Yes, it's hard sometimes, but it's a privilege to be able to pursue a career path that you are really passionate about. Maybe there's something you can't do today, but it only means you can't do it yet. Instead of beating yourself up about it, use it as motivation to grow. Next time you find yourself in a rehearsal thinking negatively, come up with three positives for every negative. Write them down and come back to them when you need reminding. Work hard, but be kind to yourself (and to others too). Your attitude is a choice. Choose to be positive - it's a much more enjoyable way to live :)