Summer Break

Time to Relax and Get Busy

​The academic year at both of the universities where I teach has come to an end, and now that the dust is settling a bit, it's time to start looking at my plans for the summer. I do, of course, realize what an incredible luxury this is. I know that most people do not get to take May through August off from their jobs every year. I'm stupid lucky, I get it. And I'm thankful.

​Not all of my jobs shut down for the summer. Actually, May is turning out to be one of the busiest months of the year for me. Between performing gigs and teaching, I have a grand total of one day off between April 24th and Memorial Day Weekend. But it is true that things are slowing down. After the middle of June, there will be only a very few gigs before the Fall season kicks off, and my summer teaching schedule at home generally works out to be about half what it is the rest of the year.

This “Summer Slowdown” has been a constant for most of my professional life, and I’ve found that it’s a great opportunity to tackle larger projects that require extended periods of concentration, or just large chunks of time. I still remember the year I discovered this potential, way back when I was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music, in Boston.

I had just completed my first year at the Conservatory. I had transferred from Wayne State (where I now teach!) and entered as a sophomore. It had been a good year, full of inspiring experiences. NEC is an amazing school, and Boston is one of the coolest cities on the planet to live in, especially as a musician.

Most of my classmates at NEC left town for the summer, many of them heading to prestigious music festivals around the world. I had no money, and I was far from the strongest trumpet player at school, so I had no festivals scheduled. I stayed in Boston and worked full-time as a temp, doing data entry for a large hospital at first, and later moving to a clerical job at the conservatory.

One would think that having a full time office job would mean there’d be no time for work, but I found the opposite to be true, possibly because the schedule was so relentlessly consistent. Every day I would work all morning at the Conservatory, then head across the street and spend lunch in a practice room (I ate in the office during work hours), then work all afternoon. After dinner I would get another couple hours of practicing in. It was not the most exciting time, but it was very productive. I was able to work through, in depth, all of the etudes and other material I’d worked on during the school year, but never felt I’d really mastered.

That Fall, as the school year began and we all got our ensemble placements and started rehearsing and practicing together, several fellow students came up to me and asked what festivals I had attended and who I’d studied with over the summer. They could hear such a huge improvement in my playing, they were all convinced I’d been somewhere amazing. Let’s just say they were pretty surprised when I told them how I’d actually spent my summer.

Now, here we are more than a few years later, and another summer is getting underway. This year I have very specific plans for my time. My main project is what I’ve been calling “SPM 2.0” for a while now. I’ve actually been working on this for some time now, but have begun spending significant time and energy on it as my other commitments have scaled back. I am really excited about what the new version will look like, and what it will be able to do.

I have a few other “projects” planned for the summer, such as continuing to practice the trumpet and spending at least some time outside every day when the weather permits. I’ve rediscovered cycling over the last couple of summers, and can’t wait to get my bike back out!

One thing I will not be doing is making regular blog posts. I’ll resume my bi-weekly posting schedule in the Fall, but over the summer I’ll post only if I find something I just have to share, and maybe make an occasional update about progress on SPM 2.0.

I hope you all have a wonderful summer! Get outside and enjoy it as much as you can, but also, if possible, see if you can carve out some time for a project that’s meaningful for YOU. Of course, if you want to share your summer plans in the comments, I’d love to hear about them!

Happy practicing!

Mark Flegg

Dr. Mark Flegg is the creator of Dr. Flegg's Structured Practice Method. He holds degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music, Arizona State University, and Michigan State University. An active free-lance performer and educator, he is the Principal Trumpet with the Flint and Saginaw Symphonies, and is on the faculty at Saginaw Valley State University and Wayne State University.

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Gail - last month Reply

Thanks for your valuable insights, Mark!! Have a wonderful summer.

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