Creativity: Process, Flow, and Block

Creativity: process, flow, and block

Welcome back to the EXCEL log! I hope you’re enjoying these last couple of weeks of the semester, and not spontaneously combusting. There are only 6 days of classes left- we got this! Last post we talked about burnout, and this week we’ll explore creativity. Read on to find out more about how creativity works in our brains, creative flow, and the creative processes of students on campus! 

When I think of creativity, I think a lot about when I compose – I hear ideas for pieces of music in my head and then I write them down. I get these sparks of inspiration everywhere, whether that be in class or the shower. Sometimes, I get so engrossed in a piece of music I’m working on, or a song that I’m improvising with on the oboe, that I actually live in the present when normally I’m dwelling on the past or worrying about the future ahead. I’m not thinking about the rest of the day, how I’m going to pay rent, or what I’m going to eat for dinner. I’m just living in the music. 

What is creativity

Creativity is defined by California State University Northridge as “the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.” Britannica thinks of it as “the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new, whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form.”

Scientifically, creativity is somewhat supported by the part of our brain that imagines the future – the hippocampus. Interestingly enough, the hippocampus is also the part of our brain that recalls the past. According to the National Library of Medicine, the hippocampus also plays a role in the generation of creative ideas by working with a group of regions in the brain called the default network. This network tends to activate when our mind starts to wander. When our minds wander, we are often engaging with the constructive episodic simulation hypothesis which states that memory and imagination involve constructing episodic details of people, places, and events we’ve already experienced. We reconstruct past events in our brains, and we construct possible future events based on what has occurred/or what we have seen in the past. This system is beneficial to creative thinking, which requires us to use our prior knowledge to form new ideas. 

When it comes to the arts, philosophically, Aristotle said that music, dance, and drama involve imitation and that this imitation must “transcend the mundane replication of an object or event and startle the audience.” On the other hand, Plato claims artists can create authentic and meaningful works because “the divine speaks through them.”

I think that my whole creative process comes from the divine. Not completely in a religious sense, but definitely in a spiritual sense. When I think of ideas, it feels like they’re coming from a place separate from the world we know. It sort of aligns with what Plato believed, but my brain is also definitely constructing new ideas based on prior events. The creative spirit moves through me, and then my brain works to translate it into a human way of understanding based on details from memories. I particularly feel this creative process in action when I get into a flow state. 


I’m working on a musical right now, and one of the songs, “You’ll be missing me then” randomly came to me in the shower. When I started notating it, the music just poured out of me – the chords and melody just fit together with ease and I didn’t even notice the time that went by. I was definitely in a state that many call flow. 

In an article from the journal Frontiers in Psychology, flow is described as: 

“A subjective state of psychological well-being that is strongly associated with the creative process. Flow is said to be characterized by “a challenge that is perfectly matched to the skill level of the participant, goals are clear with unambiguous feedback, concentration that is fully directed on the task, actions executed and merged with heightened awareness, and a sense of control without self-consciousness.”

Flow often alters a person’s sense of time and for performers, artists, and creatives of all kinds, flow can involve a “sense of valuing an experience for its own sake,” in creative flow, there’s a “desire to continue a creative activity for your own personal merit.”

Flow feels amazing, and fulfilling. I think it also usually means work gets done. So, is there a way to cheat flow? Make it happen on a whim? I’m not sure. Frontiers in Psychology also describes a study that measures flow in dancers, sharing that “people who often experience flow have ‘autotelic personalities’; they desire a challenge, demonstrate superior concentration skills, are intrinsically motivated, and engage in active coping strategies. They possess meta-skills such as general curiosity, persistence, and low self-centeredness. These individuals generally have higher self-esteem and lower trait anxiety” 

I don’t necessarily think you have to have all of these traits to experience flow. I am sometimes very anxious, and at times I have trouble concentrating but find myself in a flow state while composing pretty often. In an article for violinist and keynote speaker, Diane Allen says you can hack flow by first identifying the times you’ve experienced flow, examining the memories you have of that time, and then working to recreate those conditions. Allen also suggests that the next time you find yourself in flow, you should notice the activities you’re doing that activate that state. Are you on stage? Are you writing a paper? Reading a monologue or dancing? More broadly, are you engaged in acts of service? Sharing? Creating a sense of unity or community? Are you problem-solving? Immersed in deep focus or deep listening? What are ways that you can recreate this experience, in order to reap the benefits? 


The opposite of creative flow would be creative block. The website Masterclass defines it “as an overwhelming feeling of being stuck in the creative process without the ability to move forward and make anything new.” Similar to burnout, it’s a debilitating feeling that prevents creatives from imagining ideas or continuing projects. According to Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, creative block can come as a result of many different factors such as:

  • Stress: Sometimes, stress can cause creative block. You may be so overwhelmed by classes, jobs, the future, relationships, finances, family, etc that your creative ideas are stifled. 
  • Too many ideas: Believe it or not, sometimes having too many ideas can cause creative block. You can be overwhelmed by the number of options and unsure where to start.
  • Fear of imperfection: Sometimes when we create we become too invested in how “good” our projects are. We worry about what people will think of our work, and whether or not there is more we can do to better our projects. This fear of imperfection can also cause creative block, and stop the generation of ideas completely

When it comes to overcoming creative block, there are many different methods: 

  • Take a break: Linkedin suggests simply taking a step back away from creative work can help cure creative block
  • Find a sense of play: Poet, author, and musician Joy Harjo says to invite play into your creative process. She says you can experiment with different mediums, such as doodling, freely dancing to your favorite song, or even making collages out of old magazines to refresh your mind and stimulate new creative ideas. 
  • Immerse yourself in a new environment: Perhaps changing up your work environment can stimulate new ideas. If you typically create in a quiet place, try going to a public place. Stepping out of your comfort zone is a great way to stimulate creative ideas. 
  • Write about what is on your mind: Sometimes writing about your problems can yield creative inspiration. It allows you to process emotions and may clear your head or yield inspiration for other creative projects. 
  • Find inspiration in other creative projects: Sometimes listening to music by other artists, reading work/papers by new authors, exploring new choreography, or exploring plays by playwrights you haven’t seen before, etc can help stimulate creativity. SMTD is a community of artists of a variety of disciplines and hearing about our colleagues’ projects is a great way to overcome creative block and get inspired! 

If I’m feeling blocked, it helps me to embrace a “trash draft.” For example, if I’m feeling blocked while writing, or if I don’t know where to start I’ll set a timer for 15 min or so and just write. If I don’t know what to say,  I’ll just type random letters and then pick it back up again when I come up with a thought. This method comes from an upper-level writing professor at U of M and it really helps. Sometimes, what I wrote is better than I thought and I feel inspired to keep going. Other times, it’s just as bad as I thought it would be, but working to improve it yields new ideas. You can apply this method to anything, but I think dealing with block always involves embracing the difficulty and giving yourself grace because you’ll eventually be inspired again. 


Many artists within both SMTD and the broader UM community express their creativity in different ways. We all have different creative processes and for me, hearing about others’ creative processes benefits my own. I talked to some fellow composers to get their perspectives on creativity and their creative processes, which show that within the same field, creativity can look different from one person to another.

Nelson Walker, a 1st year MM student in composition says his creative process varies depending on what he’s working on. He shares: 

“I often tend towards improvisational processes or chaotic/chance-based processes as a starting point for my art, and then let my choices be guided by my intuition and what I see in that chaotic material. I also find that having the right balance of empty space and community in my life is very important for my creativity: I need that contemplative time to feel grounded and inspired in my creativity but too much empty space away from other art and other artists and I become uninspired. Having healthy deadlines tends to be a good motivator for me, and provides the small amount of external pressure needed to prioritize being creative.” 

5th year BM in composition student Sam Todd says that SMTD composition professor Evan Chambers suggested he sing to facilitate his creativity. Sam says that the physicality of singing brought lots of inspiration to his music, and allowed him to approach composition with a more embodied lens. 

Some composers listen to music to gain inspiration for future pieces. Willie Cornish, a 1st year MM student in composition says his creative process involves listening to lots of music and being kind to himself as he works:

“Listening to music is equivalent to researching before writing a 20-page paper. Depending on what I am writing/who it’s for, I will focus on listening to that particular idea. When listening/studying, I try my best to listen to things outside of just the standard Western-European classical music. By broadening your music intake, you will garner a larger appreciation for all types of music while simultaneously increasing your creative music palette! One key thing I often remind myself is to be patient with myself. If you are not being kind to yourself, it can make the process much harder than it should be. There will be obstacles during the creative process. However, you can minimize them by treating yourself with the respect and love that you deserve!”

Overall, creativity can look different for everyone. The way individuals create, both within the arts and beyond, is unique and powerful. I hope by reading this post you’ve found inspiration for your creative practice, and that you’ve learned a thing or two to help with future projects. 

Thanks for tuning into the EXCEL Log!

Enjoy the end of your semester, and have a great summer. Check out the rest of the EXCEL Log for more articles on navigating the performing arts, the happenings in the SMTD community, and beyond! 

Additional Resources: 

Creative Trance

Where in the brain does creativity come from? Evidence from Jazz musicians

Image Source:  Alpha Stock Images –

Highlighting Black Artistry: An Evening for Sarah

Happy Black History Month! This month at the EXCEL Log we are highlighting Black Artistry by featuring student projects and highlighting the contributions of Black artists to music, theatre, and dance. It’s important to always celebrate Black History, but Black History Month can be a time to intentionally reflect and educate ourselves on the ways Black people have shaped and continue to shape performance, art, and culture. We kick off this series with a brief interview with 4th-year dance major, Brooke Taylor, about her project An Evening for Sarah, a performance honoring Sarah Collins Rudolph on Friday, February 10th at 7pm. 

Mattie Levy: What was the inspiration behind creating an Evening for Sarah

Brooke Taylor: Last May, I was watching Channel 7 news and there was a story about a woman named Sarah Collins Rudolph. I quickly found out that she was the fifth little girl, who survived the 16th Street Church bombing on September 15th, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama. I was so shocked because throughout my years I was only aware of the 4 little girls, who were killed due to the bomb. This news segment was not only the telling of Sarah’s story, but it was also about Oakland University honoring Sarah Collins Rudolph with an honorary nursing degree because she wasn’t able to fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. As I continued to watch this story, my mind started to turn and I got the feeling of butterflies in my stomach. This feeling, which I am very accustomed to, means I have an idea to plan something. I thought to myself, I want to plan a concert at the University of Michigan to honor her through art and dance. 

Mattie Levy: Can you tell us about some of the performances we’ll see at an Evening for Sarah?

Brooke Taylor: You will see students from across the University of Michigan honoring her through song, dance, and poetry. 

Mattie Levy: Is there anything else you would like to share about the project? 

Brooke Taylor: This year will mark 60 years since the hate crime that was the 16th Street Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. In addition to remembering these impactful moments of history, we should also be honoring and learning from the ones who lived through them. 

Check out An Evening for Sarah on February 10th, 2023 at 7pm. The concert will take place at the Dance Building’s Performance Studio Theatre, 1000 Baits Dr, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109. Tickets will be available for free an hour before the show and are first come, first served. 

Additional Resources on Sarah Collins Rudolph:

“Birmingham’s 5th Girl” a Washington Post article that provides more information about the 16th St. Church Bombing

Sarah Collins Rudolph’s website 

Introducing the New EXCEL Log Writer, Mattie Levy!

Image description: Mattie Levy, the person writing for this blog stands in a clearing with green trees and a pond blurred in the background. She is smiling and happily waving her arms. The words Introducing the new Excel Log writer Mattie Levy are written at the bottom of the image.

Hi, I’m Mattie! I’m a first-year master’s student pursuing an MM in oboe performance AND an MA in music composition and I’m so excited to be here writing on the EXCEL Log!  I went to UM for undergrad, so I came into my master’s having already been a part of many organizations within the campus community. You can also find me working as a (now Graduate) student coordinator for the SMTD office for DEI, a poet on the arts, ink. column “Mannerisms,” and leading events as a Black Leaders in Art Collective executive committee member.  

Aside from my other activities, EXCEL has been critical to my success as a musician here at SMTD. I think the reason I was able to pursue graduate school here is that I had coachings with EXCEL staff to help bolster my career.  My resume and CV were both improved with the help of the wonderful EXCEL Program Assistant Gala Flagello, and I even was able to utilize the EXCEL Enterprise fund, to create a project last year titled No Dead White Guys that was a performance series celebrating BIPOC composers. 

In case you’re new to SMTD or did not know, this lovely website you stumbled upon is called the EXCEL Log and is an extension of the EXCEL Lab which works to provide resources for entrepreneurship, leadership, and career services in the arts.  We have A LOT of exciting things planned for the EXCEL Log this year, including posts discussing burnout, social media, the legal side of performing arts, and so much more. Through these topics, I’m hoping to showcase many resources to students on this platform that will help us navigate the challenges and roadblocks we face as performing artists. We are also expanding the reach of the EXCEL Log to include the voices of SMTD students, highlight intersectionality in the arts, and celebrate the diverse world that is the SMTD community. 

Tune in once a month as we uncover the world of resources that the EXCEL team and artists both within and outside of SMTD have to offer. By engaging with the EXCEL Log, we can broaden our mindset and think critically about innovative ways to expand the reach and impact of our artistry. We can learn new skills we need to succeed and be in community with one another as we embark on our journeys as performing artists. That said, I hope you continue to check out the EXCEL Log and I can’t wait to engage with you virtually!

How to Have More Than 10 People at Your Performance*

Hello, my pretties!!! It’s January 17, 2022, aka MLK day, aka day 2 of Mary Sue Coleman’s presidency, aka day 362 of waiting for my student loans to be forgiven, aka day 58,052 of waiting for my 40 acres and a mule. But who’s counting?

Speaking of counting, or pretending not to… Let’s have some real talk about student turnout during recital season. There’s nothing worse than stressing about your performance for months, pulling all-nighters, driving yourself to the brink of insanity in the name of art, getting to the opening night and there are 10 people there, 8 of which are from your studio and are required to be there.

Let’s leave poorly attended performances in 2021. Here is the student guide on how to have more than 10 people at your performance/recital/play/musical/installation/weird performance art thing that even you can’t explain.  

1. Give The People What They Want

I know, I know darling, you’re an artist. Your genius is constantly misunderstood, and you’re trying to give the masses culture, BUT sometimes your audience is asking for hot dogs, and you’re trying to sell caviar. It is important to make sure that the content of your performance is something that your audience is interested in. 

2. Screw Convention and Focus on Innovation

Break out of the mold! Don’t be afraid to push the expectations of your art form as far as you can get away with. Who says classical recitals have to be traditional and high brow? Sarah Best, a Michigan DMA student, just gave an INCREDIBLE recital that was less a recital and more a one-woman cooking show from the fifties. She had commercials, she had costume changes, she had fights with the pianist on stage, she baked a hilariously terrible chocolate cake right in front of our eyes, and her singing was impeccable. An icon. Let’s all be like Sarah! 

3. Talk to Your Audience

Do you really need program notes? What would it look like if you didn’t, and instead you talked to your audience in between pieces? It’s a great way to increase audience engagement and add your own personal touch.

If you HAVE to have a program, get creative with it. I mean, If we’re going to kill a tree, let’s make it worth it, am I right? Make it interactive, add QR codes. Instead of performer bios, try two truths and a lie. Pressed for space? Cut performer bios and link to their social media handles.

Whatever you decide, think about the program from your audience’s perspective rather than your own. Use that space to tell us why the piece matters to you, not just when the composer lived and died (short of your teacher, no one cares). We aren’t coming for a music history lesson; we’re coming to be entertained.

4. Market to Your Desired Audience

Posters are nice… but I’ll be honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever decided to go to something because I saw a poster for it. If you’re a crusty millennial like myself, talk to one of the youths, TikTok is where it’s at. If you need inspiration, check out UM Social, particularly @cdiamzon, for some quality TikTok ads.

5. Plan Ahead (I Know It Sounds Crazy)

Do not schedule your recital in the last possible weeks. I repeat, DO NOT schedule your recital in the last possible weeks. Perform at the beginning of the semester. You will be exhausted; your friends will be exhausted; your collaborators will be exhausted. Don’t do it to yourself. Schedule your performance at the beginning of the semester when everyone’s well-rested from break and before they’ve had time to realize that they overcommitted yet again.

6. Have Multiple Performances

Your degree may only require one performance, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop there. Find a second location and offer two days for your performance. Scheduling is a nightmare, and more options makes it more likely that people will be available to come (plus, all your opening night nerves will be gone). Performances should be like pringles — you can’t have just one.

7. And if All Else Fails….

Bribe them. Just kidding, just kidding…….

Virtual Visionaries Week 1: Artist’s Many Roles with Tara Faircloth

Unbeknownst to many of us who make our way through music school, becoming a classical musician in America means signing up to be the Chief Executive Officer of a very specialized, niche company whose sole product, work force and administration is a party of one. In addition to all the many, many important artistic skills one must acquire to even start this “company,” the positions of marketing and publicity manager, head of human resources, head of finances, research librarian, director of communications, website developer, digital content manager, and IT guy, not to mention travel agent, administrative assistant, and barista are all going to be filled (at least in the early days) by one person… you, the artist. Oh, and also, you’ll need to make incredible music with a unique flair that sets you apart from your competitors.

It is a lot. It really is.

an artist's many roles 1For a working artist in America, the idea of toiling away alone in a room (or maybe a ruggedly fashionable loft) wearing all black and eschewing the norms of regular society is just a fantasy that has very little to do with the nuts and bolts making a living in the arts. Reconciling the fantasy (whatever yours may be) and the reality does not have to be painful, and it starts with baby steps. How do you write a symphony? One note at a time.

What does not work? Doing nothing. Learning nothing. Pretending that if you close your eyes long enough, these challenges will go away. The fact is, choosing to do nothing is still a choice, and I have seen too many young artists give up on their musical dreams because they did not take the steps to make sure their physical/tangible/practical needs were addressed, either on a business OR personal level.  

I think the important thing is to start where you are, and, much like making exciting music, be willing to make a few (well-informed) mistakes at the beginning. You don’t need to have a forty-year plan for achieving financial independence laid out this afternoon, but maybe you could sketch out a realistic monthly budget. Maybe you could find a well-written financial education blog and commit to reading one post a week, on any topic that catches your eye. Open an online savings account and put a dollar in it every week. One day you will be able to increase that deposit, but for now you are working that savings muscle.

You don’t have to roll out an award-winning website tomorrow, but maybe you could start a professional page on Facebook or Instagram, or poll your friends about the best microphones to make excellent at-home recordings. You don’t have to apply to every summer program in the country this fall, but maybe you could make a list of young artist programs, what they are doing this summer, and what their application deadline and requirements are. Set a reminder on your calendar to make a firm decision about which five programs seem the most in line with your current skills and needs, and then set a reminder to make those applications.

You don’t have to be a superhero, but surround yourself with people who are interested in greatness, not just in the performance hall, but in life. You want to know people who are determined to get things done and who have skills you do not have yet. Make friends who inspire you. 

Mostly, don’t let your beautiful work go to waste. Yes, the practical challenges to working as an artist in America are great, but if you have something special to share with the world, don’t let these things stand in your way. You are perfectly poised to develop the skills needed to become the CEO of your company of one.  It is a responsibility, but it is also a privilege, and taking control of all elements of your career now means becoming a better artist, a better person, and literally making the world a better place.

-Tara Faircloth

About the Author

Director Tara Faircloth’s work has been seen widely across the nation. In recent seasons, she created new productions of The Little Prince (Utah Opera), Ariadne auf Naxos (Wolf Trap Opera), Il re pastore (Merola Opera), Agrippina (Ars Lyrica Houston), and L’incoronazione di Poppea (Boston Baroque). With a thriving career in regional houses, Faircloth also has a passion for financial education and offers a popular workshop entitled “Freelance Budget 101: What They Didn’t Teach You in Music School.” She is a drama instructor for the Houston Grand Opera Studio, and regularly coaches at Rice University. 

To hear more from Tara, join us for her presentation, “Personal Finance for Artists” on May 28th, 2020 from 5:00-6:00PM EDT! The session will take place via Zoom. Click here to join!

Virtual Visionaries is a 10-week series in partnership with several of our peer programs at institutions across the country. Starting the week of May 25 through early August, this series brings together professionals across the performing arts for weekly virtual discussions on Zoom. We’ve selected a diverse group of leaders at various stages of their careers to engage in open conversations about topics ranging from personal finance issues, to developing identity-driven work, along with a variety of entrepreneurial approaches relevant to young arts professionals. Each week our guest speakers will also author a blog post, providing a sneak peek of the virtual sessions and providing a basis for our virtual discussion.

In Conversation with Theatre & Drama Assistant Professor Nancy Uffner

Nancy Uffner is a proud longtime member of Actors’ Equity Association. Her regional theatre stage management work includes the MUNY, Weston Playhouse Theatre Company, Lythgoe Family Panto, Goodspeed Musicals, Music Theatre Wichita, the U-M Festival of New Works, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Chicago Opera Theatre, Virginia Stage Co., Baltimore’s Center Stage, Granbury Opera House, and Cherry County Playhouse. Her national tour experience includes All Shook Up, Fame, Ken Hill’s Phantom of the Opera, South Pacific with the late Robert Goulet, and Camelot with the late Richard Harris. She has worked locally with the Peter Sparling Dance Company as well as various music and corporate events, and has taught stage management classes at Eastern Michigan University. Prior to U-M, Nancy taught at Northwestern University.  She holds an MA from the University of Michigan and a BS with secondary teaching certification from Eastern Michigan University.

What inspired you to get involved in theatre?

I had a great high school theatre teacher.  I went to undergraduate school thinking I would be a high school theatre, English, and math teacher.  The summer after freshman year, I had an acting internship at the Cherry County Playhouse in Traverse City which included providing labor for production areas.  I discovered stage management and there was no turning back. Stage management utilized some of my best skills: organization, planning, systems management, attention to detail, people skills, and seeing the big picture. Foremost, I loved the storytelling aspect of the theatre, its reflection on the human condition.

How does stage managing for Theatre differ from managing for other art forms? 

I’m drawn to stage management because it’s necessary and relevant in all performance art forms, and I’ve been fortunate to work in all mediums, including business theatre and corporate events.  I’ve not been pigeonholed. I originally thought I would work primarily in new play development, yet it turns out I’ve done more established musicals than anything else. My career has been shaped by my desire to freelance and teach in balance with a marriage and raising two daughters.

That’s interesting! Is that part of your work-life balance?

For me, it’s not quite work-life balance but more about integration of the two. I don’t know what “balance” means, frankly, nor do I think I’m very good at it.  I tend to be “all in” whatever I’m doing. Prioritizing family was purposeful, and not all career choices were possible.. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunities to make a career doing what I love while raising a family with my partner and best friend.

What have you learned about the nature of the performing arts by being behind the scenes for so many performances? 

Performing arts can impact the way people think, feel, and act.  I’m drawn to stories, dances, operas, concerts, and events that spread a message of hope, change, or reflect on an issue that needs exploring. For example, three summers ago UM alum Andrés Holder, who is from Panama, directed RENT, in Spanish, in Panama. Andrés invited me to come stage manage the show. I was honored to work with him, and what unfolded during the show moved me even more. The production took place in a conservative area where people of the LGBTQ community are typically not embraced. It was three weeks of safety, joy, and celebration for a community that typically does not have a place to do that.

What advice do you have for current SMTD students as they begin to build their life in the arts?

We have so many wonderful entrepreneurial minds in SMTD.  It’s exciting and inspiring to see students making dreams happen.  One piece of advice is to thoroughly research their needs. Learn what the needs are, or might be, and fill them. Trial and error is typically part of the journey, but it doesn’t have to be the whole journey or the usual journey.  Research is useful. Even in entrepreneurship, the wheel does not have to be reinvented. The idea or the vision is core, but the Infrastructure needs to be in place to make it happen. What are the logistics? What does it cost? Where is the money coming from?  How much personnel do you need and who are they? In my experience, the most successful, sustained ventures have the right people doing the right work as a collaborative team.

Being behind the scenes all these years has taught me many things.  I love to teach and have lots of advice and opinions, but best leave it there for now.  My office door is always open.

EXCEL Prize Winning Project Resumes This Month

The SMTD & Our Own Thing Piano Partnership Program (EXCEL Prize ‘18) provides free weekly piano lessons to Ypsilanti students and was created to address the lack of diversity and representation in the field of classical piano. The EXCEL Prize allowed the program to supply students with keyboards for practice, give additional training for instructors, and support guest artist workshops.

Dr. Leah Claiborne (MM ‘15, DMA ‘18), was our 2018 EXCEL Prize Winner for her project, Our Own Thing Piano Partnership. In addition to the EXCEL Prize, Leah was also awarded the University of Michigan’s MLK Spirit Award for creating OOTPP. 

Leah said the most important aspect when forming the program was communicating that the reason for doing it was genuine. She did this by speaking to parents and the community and showing them that she was sincere, as well as making sure that all of the team facilitating the program was on the same page. Students were recruited for the program through her church in Ypsilanti, where she served as Music Director, and other affiliated churches in the area.

Leah is now the Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of the District of Columbia, where she teaches piano, coordinates Keyboard Studies, and teaches African American Music History. She is in the process of forming a new piano studies program with the same model as OOTPP at U of D.C.

Our Own Thing Piano Partnership continues to thrive at SMTD, with a new group of students beginning this month.

EXCEL Partnering with SMTD Wellness Initiative

The Eight Dimensions of Wellness
image source:

This academic year, EXCEL is partnering with the SMTD Wellness Initiative to present a series of events on Life-Work Balance. 

The Wellness Initiative was installed in Fall 2016 to provide students, faculty, and staff of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance with wellness services, education, and programming. 

So what do Wellness and Entrepreneurship have in common? “Both of our programs aim to help students be the best they can be in all areas of their life,” says Paola Savvidou, Wellness Initiative Program Manager. “We both want students to have tools for success and longevity of a life in the arts.” This mini-series was inspired by common student feedback programs received with requests for sessions on topics related to life-work balance.

The next installment of the EXCEL/Wellness Mini-Series is this Thursday, January 30th, 2020 and will discuss handling rejection. Rejection as a performer is part of the gig; it’s going to happen. How do we learn and grow without being too caught up in our reactions to “Am I not good enough?”. This session will explore self compassion, using a growth mindset and resilience, as well as discussions about how to learn from failures in a productive manner.

Emily Hyssong, SMTD’s CAPS Counselor

Facilitating will be Emily Hyssong, SMTD’s own embedded CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) Counselor. Reservations are appreciated for the event. RSVP here!

Future topics to be covered include dealing with performance anxiety and the stresses of graduate school. 

For more information on the SMTD Wellness Initiative, visit their website.

Connecticut Summerfest Seeking U-M Intern

For the second year in a row, Connecticut Summerfest is recruiting a University of Michigan student for their Arts Management Internship

The Connecticut Summerfest is a different kind of summer music experience. Co-Founders Aaron N. Price and current SMTD student Gala Flagello (DMA ‘22) met at The Hartt School in West Hartford, Connecticut where they recognized the potential for an affordable, compact summer music program right in their own backyard.

Co-founders Gala Flagello (DMA ’22) and Aaron M. Price

The structure of Connecticut Summerfest was crafted from some of the most advantageous aspects of festivals Aaron and Gala had each personally attended. It is a week-long event with three ensembles-in-residence, four composition faculty members, and a variety of guest speakers. In addition to live premieres, festival composers will benefit from a professional recording session of their new works, commissioned by the festival and the ensembles-in-residence. Resident ensembles are also invited to give a recital of their own repertoire as part of the festival’s nightly concert series. In an effort to serve a broader audience, not only are Connecticut Summerfest’s concerts free and open to the public, they are also live-streamed so that they may be enjoyed from anywhere in the world. 

Akropolis Reed Quintet, the 2018 Ensemble-in-Residence, in recording session

Connecticut Summerfest brings together talented emerging composers with some of the country’s most inventive chamber music ensembles for a week-long festival of artistic exchange culminating in nine world premieres. Now in its 5th season, the festival provides the Greater Hartford community with contemporary music concerts of the highest caliber through a nightly concert series featuring three ensembles-in-residence and brand-new pieces written by festival composition students. The 2020 ensemble-in-residence is the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)

The Arts Management Internship is filled with opportunities to learn valuable skills in arts management in the areas of Development, Operations, and Concert Production. Responsibilities include developing and executing a social media plan, assisting with fundraising events and outreach efforts, assisting with arrival and departure logistics of festival participants, and working on concert preparation, recording, and front of house management.

Not only is the internship designed to provide opportunities for learning, it is also customized to best suit the chosen student. “We allow our interns to work to their strengths and explore their own individual interests,” Flagello says. “For example, our intern last year was a great photographer. She was able to take photos at our concerts and events, and to take a larger role in our social media management.” The directors of this festival strongly value each intern, viewing them as prospective staff. Each of the past three interns are current employees of Connecticut Summerfest. 

The 2020 Connecticut Summerfest takes place June 11-17 at The Hartt School. More information on the Arts Management Internship is available here on the EXCEL web page. Applications are due Friday, January 24th, 2020.

EXCEL interviews Amy Porter

Featured in the March 2018 edition of New on NAXOS for her recording of Michael Daugherty’s Trail of Tears with the Albany Symphony Orchestra, flutist Amy Porter has been praised by critics for her exceptional musical talent and passion for scholarship. This captivating performer was described by Carl Cunningham in the Houston Post as having “succeeded in avoiding all the overdone playing styles of the most famous flutists today.” In American Record Guide, flutist Christopher Chaffee wrote, “if you have not heard her playing, you should.” Porter “played with graceful poise,” noted Allan Kozinn in The New York Times. And Geraldine Freedman, writing in the Albany Gazette, commented, “Amy Porter showed that she’s not only very versatile but that she can do everything well. She chose a program that tested every aspect of her playing from a Baroque sensibility to using the instrument as a vehicle of sound effects, and she met each challenge with passion, skill and much musicality.”