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Milo Nieves

**Morgan:** [00:00:00] Milo, welcome to Zeitgeist Radio. Thank you.

**Milo:** I'm very

**Morgan:** excited to

**Milo:** have you here. I, I'm also very excited mostly just to talk with you cuz we don't get to talk very much anymore, but I know, but also

**Morgan:** I know, so Milo and I met, uh, at a school, I used to run a music school where he was one of the teachers, one of the most amazing teachers, obviously.

Oh. And, um, then is going on, now is going on to do bigger and better things. So .

**Milo:** Arguably we'll see. So

**Morgan:** let's start at the beginning where, so you play cello? Yes. How the heck did you get into cello and why did you get into cello?

**Milo:** I mean, I come from a family of musicians, so that's, you know that. But my parents are singers.

Interestingly enough though I didn't start on the cello. What did you start on? I started on Viola.

**Morgan:** Viola. Man, you just, I know. Was it just cuz you were. [00:01:00] Grew out of the viola and were like, this is awkwardly small. Now , I need another big awkward thing, .

**Milo:** Oh, I, okay. You have to understand, I was going through a bit of a rebellious phase.

I was nine, and so there were actually a couple times that school year where, Like similar situations happened where everybody was like, I'm gonna do this. And I was like, well that sounds dumb and I'm gonna pick something completely opposite. Not realizing that maybe there's a reason that nobody's picking the thing, you know.

Um, and so it was, it was totally a rebellious thing. We, I was actually really lucky my elementary school. A string program, which is insane. That like was unheard of then and I'm sure it's unheard of now. Yeah. Um, particularly in public school. Yeah. Um, but yeah, so I chose Viola out of rebellious. Um, my older brother played the [00:02:00] cello at the time and I didn't want to be like him, of course, and everybody was picking violin and I was like, well, that's just dumb.

I'm not gonna choose that. So I picked the viola and I played it for a year and then I kind of hated it. Um, it's really. , it's awkward to play and I wasn't even playing on a viola. It was a violin that was strung as a viola. Cuz when you're little that's pretty much what they do. But, uh, yeah, so I hated it.

and after a year I was like, well, I need to switch. I'm gonna do something else. And I kind of chose the cello for all the wrong reasons. Again, my brother was playing at the time and I knew that if I switched to the cello, I could probably get private lessons because he was getting private lessons. And, uh, and I had this idea, I was like, if I pick any other instrument, it's probably not gonna happen.

Like my parents aren't gonna drive [00:03:00] me, you know, to a completely different place for a different set of private lessons. So I. Decided to go with, uh, the cello and,

**Morgan:** uh, so that's awfully logistics focused for a nine year old or a 10 year old . I, yeah, I

**Milo:** know. Thank you. Like,

**Morgan:** oh, that would be an extra trip for Mom

**Milo:** I know. Oh, it was like kind of a pragmatic child and, um, so I chose it for all the wrong reasons and then I ended up obviously falling in love with it and. It's funny, you know, when you first start an instrument, and you know this as an educator as well, you have a kid and they really like it in the beginning and then they hit like the plateau, the hard part.

Yes. And that's kind of like the telling point of whether or not they're gonna continue that first plateau. And yes, a lot of kids don't make it past that. Um, and some do and it's fine. I don't remember ever having that moment with the cello. [00:04:00] Wow. Like as a young beginning person, I'm sure it happened, but I, I literally, I have no memory of ever thinking like, wow, this is really hard and I don't know if I want to do this.

I just played and I liked it.

**Morgan:** I definitely had those moments with piano. Where it would just, yeah, several times it would just, I don't know if it was because it was hard, but I would hit a plateau and then feel that frustration, and there were many times when I. Was convinced I was gonna quit, but then I didn't wanna hurt my teacher's feelings cause I really

**Milo:** liked her

Laura can ,

**Morgan:** so I couldn't like muster up the courage to tell her. And so , I just was like, okay, well I'll do one more year. . Wow, that happened. I remember at least two times that that happened.

**Milo:** pleaser, I guess so. Oh, oh. I had that moment with piano as well. and I definitely quit. . . I was [00:05:00] like seven or eight or something.

Yeah. And it was hard. It was so hard. And like in retrospect, I'm like, I, I don't have. Coordination, which sounds ridiculous, but like, yes, as a cellist it sounds ridiculous, but I remember I got to the donkey, that was the song and, and it like, you actually had to do like two different things in your two hands and I couldn't play it and I couldn't figure out like how to get the coordination thing.

And my teacher, whoever she was, I mean, I don't remember sh, I'm sure she did try to teach me like how to do it, but I was just like not in it. And that was it. No piano. Aww. I hated it until , until college and then, you know, you have to. Yeah, you already played piano, so that was probably nothing for you. I

**Morgan:** was upset in college cuz I had to take piano proficiency.

was it a like I'm a music major, but you know what? I will be [00:06:00] honest. Even just yesterday I was playing and I was like, I'm so glad they made me take piano proficiency because of all of the things I had to do with piano. Most of my lessons were like learning technique learning. Mm-hmm. , these complex pieces.

Piano proficiency was like play 1, 4, 5, 1. Yeah. In every key. Yeah, major and minor. And that wasn't at the time. Like I could play scales in arpeggios and all this kind of flashy stuff, but simple chord progressions. 1, 4, 5, 1. And then there were other ones too, but. Oh my gosh. After college, that is what I actually use in the

**Milo:** real world.

I don't exactly remember the moment where I was like, I'm gonna study music in college. Like I don't remember having that. I think it was one of those things that I was waffling about. Yeah. And I went to. . It was either Gonzaga or a Puget Sound for an audition, and I was telling him like, yeah, [00:07:00] I don't know if I'm gonna major in music.

He's like, why are you lying to yourself, ? You know that you're gonna do this? So just. Just own it and do it. Wow, okay. I was like, oh, all right, . And so when I, uh, when I did actually get into college and I did not go to Gonzaga, but still those words stuck with me. Yeah. And so I, I, I think at the time I, I declared myself as a music major, but kind of thinking like, Well, I'm, you know, maybe I'll like minor in music, but I'm gonna just like take these classes cuz mm-hmm.

if later you decide to be a music major, it's so much harder to catch up. You know how all those, I, I

**Morgan:** completely know. I didn't declare I was not gonna be a music major and then I just kept taking classes. .

**Milo:** Yeah. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I remember you told me that. And then all of a sudden, Yeah, a music

**Morgan:** degree.

So I had my real advisor [00:08:00] in anthropology, and then I had. You know, actual advisor as in like the person, my, my, my mentor who was my piano teacher and the chair of the music department. And, um, yeah, senior year, spring semester. Senior year. Oh my gosh. Like I, I had done all like, He just, he looks at me and he's like, Morgan, you have a lot of credits,

**Milo:** You just do it and then all of a

**Morgan:** sudden, no, you just do it. And it's so funny when I talk to musicians, like so many of us, just like, it's the, it's a lifestyle. , you know, it's not, you know, anthropology was an interest, but music was a lifestyle. I just always was in choir. So I joined the choir. I just always took piano lessons.

Kept taking piano lessons,

**Milo:** you know? What was your excuse for theory three and four? Geez.

**Morgan:** Oh, I know. There was no, all my friends were in it at that. It was just what the whole group was doing. There was no excuse for theory three and [00:09:00] four.

**Milo:** You got peer pressured into taking

**Morgan:** theory three and four. I honestly didn't even think about it.

I just signed up for it. . Oh my gosh. Cause that's what you did .

**Milo:** That is a sign of a musician for sure.

**Morgan:** So I imagine your college journey was a little bit different than that. It,

**Milo:** it was a little different, but it was similar in that I just sort of signed up for things and I, like, I took the musicianship class and the theory class cuz, cuz I thought, well if I decide to be a, like a minor or whatever, like, great, then I'll have it and if I decide to do a major thing, whatever.

And then it was sort of similar like, Kind of kept taking classes. And then the turning point was, you, you have to understand I was gonna be a chemistry major. Oh yeah. And uh, and my orchestra director had a rule. If you had to miss orchestra because you had a class conflict of any kind, you automatically [00:10:00] had to sit in the back of the section.

Didn't matter who you were, how good you were. How dedicated you were. That was the rule, because it wasn't fair to the people who were showing up every day. So spring semester, I had a lab conflict with my chemistry lab, and I had to miss one day a cycle. . And so I had to sit in the back of the section. And now first of all, my cello teacher was pissed because we were playing, um, Rini, uh, William Tell Overture, which starts with five solo cellos and I would've been one of the five.

But I was sitting in the back of the section and it was honestly kind of a blow to my ego, which sounds really terrible cuz I. I don't ever think of myself as like having a huge ego, but, uh, apparently I had enough of an ego that I knew that like, well, it, I mean,

**Morgan:** it makes sense. It's, [00:11:00] it's your self-concept.

You're not the person who sits back there. It's not an E. Yes. I don't know, know, knowing you the little bit that I do, like, that's not an ego thing, that's just a self-concept thing. You sit in the front, you sit up, you don't sit back.

**Milo:** I understand that, at least at the ti like, you know, professional world is different.

Sure. It doesn't matter. Like e everyone's a little bit more on equal footing when you're Yes. You know, getting paid for whatever, versus like a school orchestra where some of the people might be majors. Some of them are there for the credits. Yeah. Some of them are made like, whatever. Then it's a little bit different and you don't, it.

It feels terrible to be sitting behind somebody who you can tell. Has never practiced the music once in their life. Aw. Yeah. You know, like, that's kind of not so fun. Um, so that was like the turning point for me where I realized, oh man, I can't do this every semester and like have to miss orchestra and then sit in the back of the section where I know [00:12:00] I don't belong.

Like that's. Yes, that's it. And so I, I, it was really, it was a crossroads. I was like, what do I do? Mm-hmm. . And my chemistry teacher was like, well, you can just, you know, I mean, talk to Dr. Jones, who was one of the faculty members. He was a horn player and, uh, he got his chemistry degree and just sort of played music on the side.

He's like, see, you can do that. And then I was, No, I can't. I can't do that. I can't. And I dropped my chem major and that was it. . ,

**Morgan:** when I met you, you were teaching at the school and we had both been out, we were fairly similar years graduating undergrad. Mm-hmm. , uh, and we had both been out of school for several years.

And then you made the decision to go back to school for Masters. . I wanna hear all about that. What led you to go back to school

**Milo:** at such a, because it's stage in

**Morgan:** life. I feel like Mo Well, yeah, it's, it's cool. Like, [00:13:00] People I know when they graduated undergrad, if they got a master's, they just went right on.

Yeah. And I was so done. I was so burnt out. I did not want any more school. Yep. Yeah. Um, so describe that part of things for you, like your, uh, your little mini crisis with music . Oh

**Milo:** my gosh. Well, it was not a miniature crisis. It was like a crisis of. Epic proportions, really. And like you, by the time I graduated, you know, from undergrad, I was to say burnt out is a huge understatement.

And part of it, a huge chunk of it was just the amount of pressure that I was putting on myself. Um, having not studied. private lessons at all in high school and then like just hitting the ground running in a performance program, even in a, a liberal arts setting. It was a lot. And I, I thought I knew what to expect, but I [00:14:00] really didn't.

And um, especially I was really behind in my mm-hmm. technical skills. Mm-hmm. , sure I'd been playing in high school, but anytime I didn't know how to do something, I. Made it up and consequently my technique was pretty garbage in a lot of ways. And I'm not saying that like. You know, to be hard on myself, just legitimately like I did what I had to do to get by.

So I had a lot of things to unlearn and I'm actually still unlearning them now. So learn your technique the right way, the first time to avoid that. But um, so, you know, it just, it felt like a lot of pressure. Yeah. Yeah. Um, self-imposed. I have to be very clear about that cuz I don't think there was anybody in my.

Uh, program or my teachers or anybody saying like, oh my gosh, you're really behind and you need to do better. And like, that was not, you know, it was totally in my head, but, but that's a very powerful thing. Yes, [00:15:00] it is. So I, by the time I graduated, I was very burnt out. I was dealing with pretty severe performance anxiety as a result.

And, um, I remember. Saying to my sister, like, I don't think I can ever play my cello ever again. Oh, so sad. Which, yeah, I mean, you don't ever want to get that to that place with your instrument. So I was really done. Yeah. I left, I, I left the country for a year, , um, which actually ended up being really good. , I taught English abroad and um, and just having distance was good.

I was going through a lot of other things as well, other mental health things, um, which were kind of put into perspective as I was abroad. And um, and then I came [00:16:00] home and it was sort of the reality. Oh crap. I have student loans. I need to get like a job and pay them off. And I kind of got stuck, you know, just working whatever job I could find and paying money for my education that I was kind of, but hurt about at that point.

Um, but. When I like going back to probably my freshman or sophomore year in undergrad, I'd had this idea in my mind that I was going to go to grad school. Like it was always in the back of my mind as my plan, and obviously that plan went out the window when I graduated. But it, you know, the, the idea of it.

Always there. And, um, it was really, I didn't start to really consider it until actually right after I met you and I started taking cello lessons again. [00:17:00] Um, and I met my wonderful teacher who's now. A very, very good friend of mine, uh, who I adore entirely. He's an amazing man and I don't think he fully appreciates everything that he's done for me.

But, um, he was the one who really helped me. I mean, not only kind of work. On like how I see myself as a cellist and all of that, and like really dealing with the performance anxiety and all of that. Um, but he was also the one who really inspired me to think bigger than like, oh, I'm just gonna, you know, play cello again.

Like yeah. He really wanted me to consider like, well, no, what do you really wanna do? And it, it didn't have to. Go back to school, but like, well, maybe you should give a recital. Well, maybe you should, you know, try to audition for some professional groups. You should [00:18:00] think bigger. Like he saw potential in me that I kind of didn't see in myself.

And, um, and that was huge. It was really like the real turning point was covid like, I think it was for a lot of people, like, and their existential crises, you had a lot more time on your hands to think about, what am I doing? Mm-hmm. . And so that was, that was, uh, yeah, that was the moment. I, I was not in lockdown as you.

I work Essential employee, yes. A retail job, which I shall not disclose explicitly , but, uh, very stressful. Uh, very stressful. Very stressful. And it, yeah, and the stress of it, I was like, I just, I can't. See myself in this job for another 20 years or whatever, [00:19:00] or more, which is what happens with mm-hmm. , my employer.

And so I remember I went to my lesson one day and I told Steve, I was like, I think, I think I wanna do this. I think I'm gonna apply for grad school. And that made it real. Yeah. Gary as crap, but he was, uh, obviously very supportive. And, um,

**Morgan:** here I am. This is so fun for me to hear the, like, kind of the full story behind this.

Like I, you saw the pieces, I came in and I've seen, I've seen the pieces, but like it's really funny for me to see like where in that Yeah, your time at the school fit in.

**Milo:** Yeah, I just, I don't remember why exactly I decided to apply. I think I really just needed an excuse to get back into music and that was it.

**Morgan:** Yeah. So what is grad school like [00:20:00] being someone who left and are there many of you who did that, or is it mostly people who just went straight in?

**Milo:** It's interesting. It's a good mix. Good. And I think part of that is the Utah influence because out here, obviously big Mormon culture and it's not uncommon for people to go on missions and, and then come back and so, There definitely are people who like that was their experience.

They, you know, finished their degree, whatever they did their mission, they've come back and then there's this gap or maybe, uh, or sometimes they do a mission like during their undergrad. I've seen that as well. Anyway, so there are some people who are like closer to my age, and then you do have as well, Uh, you know, quite a few people who go straight from undergrad into graduate school, and I have a feeling that's probably more common.[00:21:00]

Mm-hmm. , um, and probably more common in other schools. Mm-hmm. this. Mm-hmm. is not a huge school. There's like, I'm trying to think. There's only five graduate string students. That's pretty

**Morgan:** small. That seems small. Yeah.

**Milo:** Yeah. It's, it's small and at least that I know of it. Maybe strings total, not just cell. No, there's two cellos and three violins that are graduate students.

One's a D M A student, and, and again, maybe there's more who are like, I don't know, just like not an orchestra cuz they don't need to be or, and their focus is like theory or musicology or something. Yeah. But in terms of performance, People. There's five. It's kind of weird. I feel like an old grandpa a lot of the time,

**Morgan:** So I would love to hear. I have not heard a ton. Only just some like text messages. What, tell me about your thesis project. We were all about it .

**Milo:** I'm actually really, I don't think [00:22:00] I explained this to you as a performance major. I technically don't have to write a formal thesis. I was gonna ask about. Um, but that doesn't mean that I don't have a lot of opportunities to write papers In literally every single academic class, there's always a final paper and I'm like, can we just, not , I don't have time for this, but, um, As long as they're gonna make me write papers, then I'm gonna write about things that interest me.

Yeah. Uh, I'm, I'm really interested in, uh, diversity in music, uh, particularly because I'm sure this, this is probably similar for you, but in my undergrad, you know, you learn about. Old dead white guys and their music's great, don't get me wrong. But I can name like three female composers that we studied.


**Morgan:** Schumann.

**Milo:** Mm-hmm. . Hildegard Von Bingham. Hildegard v Von Bingham. Yep. And, uh, I think we mentioned, [00:23:00] I remember Amy Beach being mentioned. It was Uhhuh. Mm-hmm. and, and I think actually the Ang sisters. And that's about it.

**Morgan:** And I think this is so important because what I took out of that was, oh, women just weren't writing music.

Yeah, exactly. It was, which is, it was a cultural thing. It's just the guys wrote the music and the women, they played it. They'd perform, they could reproduce and there was a whole thing on that. Yeah. I remember in one lesson, but that is, I am sure unintentionally the, the takeaway that I had from. Classes.

Turns out that's not

**Milo:** true. not true at all, and I think that's the problem. Yeah, that's pretty much everybody's takeaway, either. It's one of two things. Either A, women were not writing music, or B, their music's not good enough to get.

**Morgan:** You and I have talked, we've had hours of conversation about just the mental journey of a classical musician. It's pretty wild. Yes. Like there's, [00:24:00] I think classical music is generally just, it's so. It's so deep, and I'm sure many others, uh, I know many other genres are deep, but classical music has a very specific way of being deep and complex and embracing like insane complexity.

Like you look at a symphony and it's kind of bonkers everything that goes into it, and that that's canon, that that form is what it is. Um, and so the, along with that, there's a level of, okay. Well, with the, your instrument can also be very complex. Mm-hmm. , and it's the more you study it, um, and the more you realize, at least for me as I was studying piano, the more I realized what the instrument was capable of and what I was capable of bringing out of it.

It got to be kind of like, it's just exhilarating. , but, but also terrifying cuz then mm-hmm. , you know, it's the, those [00:25:00] hills, plateaus, hills, plateaus, you know? Yes. Where you, you'll climb a hill, you'll learn something, you'll be so pleased and then you'll kind of plateau where you're like, okay, I can do this thing now.

And then you just kind of see the, the worst is that moment you see the next hill and you're like, I thought I knew something, but I know nothing . There's so many layers. And I think as I've gotten older, and the key for me is, actively. It has to be active, actively working to just enjoy that and be like, oh my gosh, there's more

Yeah, but wait, there's more like in a good way rather than There's more rather than, um, oh, fuck yeah. . Yeah. Yeah. Oh, there's those moments too, but yeah. It's music. Yeah, it's music. Like we do it, we say we do it because we love it. .

**Milo:** Yeah. Do we? So

**Morgan:** let's make it a healthy [00:26:00] kind of love rather than a like toxic kind of love.

Which, uh, both you and I kind of fall into that mindset sometimes.

**Milo:** Yeah. It's. . It's hard.

**Morgan:** It's, yeah, mind games, it's really hard. That's definitely personal growth happening. When you learn

**Milo:** music. It is, yeah. At least. Okay. Social media is kind of like, mm. Good and bad and it's, and again, there's a lot of like areas where it would be very easy to compare yourself.

You know, you have all the, the like Julliard kids, like, look at this great thing I'm playing. Yeah. But there are also people who are. Trying to bring awareness to these kinds of issues. Yeah. And like I know there's one person I follow on Instagram, I think the account's called Classical Wellness. If you haven't found it, look it up cuz she's amazing.

And, uh, like talks a lot about like how to have a healthy mindset in practice, [00:27:00] in performance, in like doing mental preparation when you're having performances, how to approach auditions, like all these things. I really wish would've been. Mm-hmm. said to me when I was in undergrad, and, and I don't mean that like in a disparaging way, you know, against the people who, who were my teachers and all of that.

I think it just, we weren't at a place where people were really talking about these things, and even now it's not discussed enough. Mm-hmm. . But we're starting to get there and at least, you know, There's room for growth, but we're, we're starting. So that's, you know, good-ish . Yeah.

**Morgan:** Yeah. Um, so your baby's in the hospital right now?

Yes. . Yeah. What happened and how did it happen? And what hap like how, what

**Milo:** Yeah. My poor baby. Um, what happened? [00:28:00] It's a very good question. Uhhuh , I'm not a hundred percent sure. , I think it got dinged, but I don't have. A memory of like hitting my cello on something or anything like that. But, uh, my, my cello has a crack, so that's the, that's the thing.

And it's a crack in a bad spot. It's like, so, you know, the, the cello's got like the upper round part. These are the upper bouts, and then you've got the lower bouts, and then the part that goes. The Scoopy side. The scoopy side, yeah. Those are called the sea belts cuz they're shaped by sea belts. Seas. Yeah.

Um, and so I have like, it's an almost three inch crack on one of the sea belts, which is a terrible spot for a crack. Um, just in terms of like how it has to be repaired, you can't just repair it from the outside. Like sometimes if it's, uh, if it. Depending on where it is, they can just, they don't have to go inside to fix it, whatever, just, but it [00:29:00] depends, you know, for a crack on the sea out, there's really no way to repair that from the outside.

It has to be braced from the inside. They'll take, it looks like a, like a spatula, almost like a metal spatula. And they'll insert it, uh, underneath the top plate. Yeah. Like that front, you know, the, the, what you would consider the front and they just, Kind of separated and take the top off. It's Oh, and, and the sound is terrible,

Cause it's just the wood is cracking. Um, and so that's what they have to do to repair this. They have to take the top plate off. And then, um, I didn't know this, but apparently they use linen. To brace it on the inside? Um, what? Well, it depends. Okay, so I have to be clear. It depends where the crack is.

Course, because sometimes they'll brace, uh, they'll use wood, little pieces of wood for braces. Mm-hmm. . But for the sea bouts and, and the upper bouts and lower bouts [00:30:00] as well. I think they tend to use linen. Man, that seems

**Morgan:** like it would mess up your acoustics though.

**Milo:** It's thin. I don't Yeah, you're right. You probably, I think there.

Probably a chance of that disrupting the sound. If it's too much, like you wouldn't probably want

**Morgan:** it over, you're not just stuffing linen in, obviously . Yeah. You've got a bed sheet in here, ?

**Milo:** Yeah, just, just shove it on in. Oh my gosh. I just, this is really random . Um, okay, so they're taking the top plate off, right?

Uh, I don't know if you know this, but dust tends to collect inside your instrument over the years. Makes sense. Makes sense. But you probably, I never thought about it until I was looking, I never thought about it. Yeah. I was looking in my cello one day, I was like, there's like a dust bunny in there, . Like a, like a legit like, like oohs, good size, like maybe a marble or a little bigger.

Like it was big. And now I just got sad because my dust bunny's gonna be [00:31:00] gone.

It's, it's been there for years. , what am I gonna do? Make a new one? ? Well, I mean, yeah. I'll just have to practice really hard and, and generate some more dust. , how does that happen? Because like, it's not like a guitar where you have like a big open. Right. No,

**Morgan:** they're very thin. Little, little, little assholes.

Yeah. So what's, what's next? You're gonna major in performance. Do you have plans after that?

**Milo:** It's kind of, uh, I'm having an existential crisis right now, , because, love those. Yeah. I mean, well, you know how it is with music. It's like there's no guarantee. I mean, there's no guarantees in life, but there's no guarantees with music.

And uh, so I'm kind of freaking out about that a little bit and I feel like I need [00:32:00] more. I need more instruction before I'm ready. The reality is I'll probably never feel ready alike. You'll never

**Morgan:** feel ready No. To take auditions. I can promise you. Because the minute you feel ready, you'll catch a glimpse of that next hill.

Yes. And then you'll be like, oh my God, I know nothing.

**Milo:** Yes. Yeah. So I really need to have a candid conversation with my teacher about what the heck do I do? She's just my current teacher's, just very intense. She has very high standards as she should. . But yeah, she doesn't sugarcoat anything. And if you sound terrible, she.

Pretty much gonna say it exactly like that to your face. Having her as a teacher has kind of forced me to find like acceptance within myself, I guess. Like I'm not gonna get external validation. Right. Necessarily. Um, so I need to find that. Inside, which sounds cheesy, but it's It is. No, it's so real. Yeah.

It's really important. Yeah. I've kind of been forced to grapple with that, which [00:33:00] has been really hard cuz I'm How do you do it? I don't . It legitimate. It's like a, it's every single day. I feel like every hour of every day is a challenge because, you know, imposter syndrome and all of that, and it's legitimately challenging every single negative thought that comes in my head about my playing.

And there are a lot. So it just starts with awareness and then, and then reframing, and I have to talk. This

**Morgan:** actually sounds like really amazing practice for life.

**Milo:** It, it is. I highly recommend it. I think. , particularly our generation, probably other generations too. But I think like we really struggle with like things like anxiety in that, you know?

And yeah, so challenging those thoughts is a huge, an important part of, of moving beyond that, recognizing that, oh, actually my brain's just [00:34:00] lying to me right now, uh, is huge. It's hard. It is not easy, but it is really important. Mm-hmm. , that's actually another kind of tool in the toolbox to help with things like performance, anxiety, how you're thinking of yourself and you're playing, you're being gentle about it.

Yeah. You have to have that kind of gentleness about your own. Yeah,

**Morgan:** it's, it's huge. And I can be more gentle. It's way easier for me cuz I'm not actively performing on piano right now. Mm, mm-hmm. . Um, and I'm not taking lessons. I'm just, I'm playing for me because I like to play and I want to get better.

Yeah. So it's a very easy place for me to, you know, oh, I'm gonna shut down my negative thoughts. You know, I don't have someone yelling at me and telling me that I sound terrible. It sounds

**Milo:** terrible. Play the correct notes this time. Okay. Right,

**Morgan:** right. Um, so that sounds way more difficult. Yeah. Um, But you're [00:35:00] right about the performance anxiety thing.

Like I, um, I do, I do perform just less with piano. I do a lot of vocal performance. Right. Um, and it is a whole game when you are performing, it is a whole game. You've got to get into a certain frame of mind, and there's a level of. Of focus and in the momentness, that is really important. And if you miss it, for me, I kind of have this like, like, like my brain kind of goes click, click, click into place , and if I am rushed or something and I miss any of those little click, click clicks.

Yeah. Uh, ooh. It's, it makes for a very hard performance. Yeah. Um, either nerves come up and. Overwhelm you or um, or intrusive thoughts. You can't focus as well. Like it's a whole mental performance as a whole mental game. It

**Milo:** really do you have like a. I guess a routine or like how do you get into, um, a performance headspace I guess that works for you?

What does that look like for [00:36:00] you?

**Morgan:** I do actually have a routine and it starts a week before the performance. Um, yeah. And I have a self-care calendar that I have, uh, for myself because typically for, um, orchestral or symphonic music, most of my performances are with a symphonic corral. Yeah. There's this thing called Tech Week, which is, comes from theater, but it's not tech.

The same way with theater, but it basically, tech Week is the week of the concert. There's a lot of rehearsals and I found that, that what I have to start with is the weekend before. Typically most places I've sung with you have like, if you have a concert maybe Saturday night with a Sunday matinee, um, you'll have rehearsals.

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Monday, Thursday, Friday, or generally about three times that week plus a Saturday morning. Yeah. Right. So it's a lot in that one week. So, [00:37:00] um, and they're all evenings and most people Workday jobs, including myself. So for me, the week before that, I make sure to schedule time with friends, time with, um, my partner any time to just kind of hold special with people because I know I'm absolutely not going to see anybody that week.

Yeah. The week, the nights I have off, I will be very tired and I will be resting. Yeah. So, but I, and I realized like before I was not doing that and, and, um, you know, my. , my partner would be like, I miss you . You know, , it would be like, you know, I'd, uh, my friends would be like, where are you? No, I need to schedule that social time.

For me, I'm, I am fairly social and, and I need that time with my friends, um, in order to feel recharged. So then I feel like, okay, I'm good with my week. So that's, that's a, a part of it. Mm-hmm. . Um, and then, oh my gosh. So as a singer, you hold your folder [00:38:00] and there's this thing called folder shoulder where you're, I mean, these rehearsals are three hours.

Oh, I cannot imagine playing cello how much that must hurt your upper back for these long rehearsals. Oh my gosh. Do you just have like the Hulk shoulders? ?

**Milo:** I will say every time they, that's big traps. Oh, I wish they were stronger. Every time I go to the chiropractor or I go get a massage, they're like, what do you do

Cause my neck and, yeah. Yeah. Like my traps are, Messed up always. There's always so much tension and part of that is just me. Because I'm a tense, anxious person, , but uh, but some of it is, yeah, just from playing all the time, I could probably do more stretching. Mm-hmm. , I would probably be helpful.

**Morgan:** Yeah. So first of all, in just to sustain, I do go, I do work out regularly.

Yeah. And I do specifically, , uh, [00:39:00] traps and like upper body and back exercises because it really, it just hurts. I've, and, and you're standing in your tents if you're, again, if you don't do all your click, click clicks. Mendel game. Yeah. You can get really, really tense. And it's physically like the, there was one concert recently where I didn't follow this whole routine and I, um, I was like messed up for like a week.

Like it was a solid two weeks. I was in so much pain afterwards. So, yeah. So physically just what. Whatever taking care of yourself means. So for me, it's working out on a regular basic level. I do weightlifting, um, but anything that, that does some kind of strength. Um, and, and then on the off nights, so I'll, but I don't work out if I, if there's a rehearsal, but on the days that there's not a rehearsal, I do work out even just some basic cardio.

Something to just get your body moving, your blood pumping, and get all of those tight little things relaxed and then, The day of the concert, especially if [00:40:00] there's. Morning rehearsal Saturday and with an evening concert, I absolutely, I schedule myself a massage in between during the break. Ooh, I like that.

Most instruments rely on a relaxed body. Yes. Um, to get your, your best sound and as a vocalist, that's. Definitely true. So if you can afford it and you have, you know, the availability to get it. I know that not everybody can but it, it has, that has made a huge difference for me is to get a massage in between the dress rehearsal and the first and the concert, and also to eat protein about two hours before the concert have a very protein rich meal.

Protein provides. Sustained energy. Um, and you don't want to eat too much bright before a concert. That's no good. But, um, about two hours before to have a good protein rich and then also to drink water, um, throughout the day again. Two hours for vocalists. You know, again, your, your voice is your muscles.[00:41:00]

Yeah. And it takes about two hours for water to work its way into your muscles. So drinking water right before you go on is helpful in other ways. Yeah. Um, but it's not going to hydrate your, your muscles. So that entire week again, that all like drinking tons and tons and tons and tons and like probably def double my normal amount.

I try to drink. a good amount of water anyway, but double that amount for concert week and concert day, you know, making sure I'm very well hydrated, uh, prior to, so that's a lot of physical thing. . Yeah, you asked .

**Milo:** No, I am very curious.

**Morgan:** Um, and then once I, once I get there, so I am by nature, kind of a fly by the seat of my pants person and I've had to learn.

Just get there early . Ah. Um, which can even be, you know, there's a call time when everyone's required to be there. Yeah. And typically a choir will warm up together, so I don't always have [00:42:00] to, uh, do that. I know that you would as an instrumentalist probably warm up on your own. Yeah. Um, but even just 10 minutes before call time, have a.

Stock of cough drops. Like I have a whole setup in my folder where I know where everything is. If I need a cough drop, it's in one and it's, it's one with a quiet wrapper. , , like, I'm very particular about this. I've got tissues in my folder. I've got, you know, because I've been, and all of this comes from having a coughing fit on stage or having like, to sneeze or, or, or just my nose starts running for no reason on stage.

Like it all comes from stuff. So, and then, , by this point, I'm physically prepped to handle the anxiety, right, which we all know is coming to get in the, the mental game. I, I set a focus for technique. Typically, I'm like, okay, I am going to be glued to the baton and rhythmically. Perfect. Or like super precise or I am going to focus on getting the most lyrical sound possible.

Or, you know, some kind [00:43:00] of depends on the piece and what right the music is calling for. But if I let myself just focus and live too much in the moment, then I get nerves really, really bad. Oh, yeah. Yeah. So I, I need something my brain is, is too active. Yes. It needs something to focus on. Yes. And so if it, if I focus.

Sounding good. Not, not, not sounding bad. , right. . It has to be a positive focus. Yes. That's huge. You know, that's what got me through some really rough performances. Uh, just emotionally rough performances was yeah, that mental game supported by my physical body being mm-hmm. as supported as possible. That was a long answer to your question.

No, no, but

**Milo:** I think it's, it's an important question because these are things that people don't talk about. Mm-hmm. and, and I think you. Really hit the nail in the head though, that there's, there's two parts. There's the physical, you have to take care of the physical. Yeah. Because if your physical body is not well, [00:44:00] you can't expect the mental faculties to be able to do what you need them to do as well, which is kind of kind of what happened to me in this last Trust Coch concert.

Like I was so exhausted. I went back,

**Morgan:** well, sleep is the other thing. That whole week I go to. An hour early. Yeah. Possibly more, um, than what I normally do. And sleep. And sleep and sleep. And sleep as much

**Milo:** as you should. You, you need to have the physical, you need to Yeah. Yeah. Recharge your physical body.

Yeah. And I, well, you know me, I'm very busy and I did not have that opportunity for this last concert, I think, oh God. It was a terrible. I worked from 5:00 AM till 1:00 PM. Then I had orchestra rehearsal, which typically on concert days, they try to let us out early. We do like. Sections and we whatever run things and we're usually outta there.

Mm-hmm. from, we rehearse just from two to three and that's it. And we don't [00:45:00] go till four. Well, this concert was kind of crazy and we needed the whole two hours. Oh, that's brutal. For rehearsal, for Shasta Coic, which if you've ever played Shas, Covich, anything. Is intense. Yes. Physically, mentally, emotionally, it's very intense.

So we rehearsed the entire time and then I, I knew that I couldn't go home because I had another rehearsal at six o'clock.

**Morgan:** Oh my gosh, that's too much playing.

**Milo:** It was way too much Playing and concert was at seven 30 by the way. So I like, by the time we got done with rehearsal at four, I knew if I drove home by the time I got there, I'd have to drive right back with traffic and everything.

So I just stayed at school. and I was exhausted. I took kind of like a power nap, but it was not enough. And so I was on stage and I was just like, I just, my focus just was not there. Mm-hmm. . [00:46:00] Mm-hmm. . I was too tired and, and on top of it, all of the musicians around me were very anxious. Mm-hmm. , like I could feel the anxious energy because it was shots to Coic and all that.

We, there were. Mistakes that happened that have never happened before. Mm-hmm. solos coming in, in the wrong place. People miscounting things, whatever it is. Just stuff, you know, it was an interesting concert, but the, I mean, these are moments to learn from. Mm-hmm. , um, From a performance perspective, so I can look back and say, okay, well I, there are definitely things that I could have done to physically prepare myself much better for the concert than I did.

Um, but also like those learning experiences of like, well, what do you do when something goes wrong in a concert? Yeah. Cause guess what? It's gonna happen.

**Morgan:** It is absolutely gonna happen. What do you do? I'm

**Milo:** curious what you do. Oh my [00:47:00] gosh. Panic. Um, . . No, it depends. It really depends. As a section leader though, you kind of have to be on top of things.

Yeah. And I mean, it just helps if you really know the music Yeah. To the best of your ability. You, there are times there's nothing you can do and stuff's just gonna be what it is. But, um, I had. Actually, the very last concert I played in my undergrad was Beethoven's fifth, and I was, was sitting principal and there's a solo in I think the third movement.

Anyway, whatever the wind player was, could not come in properly for this solo. Ever poor kid, freshman, never been in orchestra before. It was a lot of pressure. Like I don't blame him. Um, got to the concert. I can't remember if he came in early or if he came in late, but he didn't come in correctly. And the cellos are supposed to be marking the beat, like in [00:48:00] relation to that solo.

And everybody around me panicked. , like it was just palpable. I had a rare moment of clarity, which never happens, and I was like, I know what to do. Like I know where this fits, and I just like gave the biggest cue of my life and we like got back on. Awesome. That hardly ever happens to me. Usually I'm like, oh no, where are we?

And , and then eventually somehow find our way back together. But you just, yeah. Yeah. It's hard. You don't ever know what you can't like really prepare for it. No,

**Morgan:** you can't. And I think that's another like mental head space I've had to build for myself to step into is we are all here together and we have already done everything we can.

Yeah, we like. , by the time you're at concert, it doesn't matter if you should have practiced more or whatever it is. Yeah. Like you, there's just this palpable reality [00:49:00] of where you're at and whatever happens, and all you can do is stay glued to the conductor and just really focus in on like, we are here to make music for people and that's what we're doing and we are gonna make the best music possible.

And sometimes things fall. Yeah. And that's just sometimes things fall apart and Totally. We're just here to, to share this with people

**Milo:** who wanna hear it. I think sometimes it's really easy to get so focused on what you are doing in your part. Yeah. It like even in rehearsals that you don't really take any time to listen to what's happening around you and.

Even just taking a brief second and like expanding your awareness to what's going on prepares you for stuff like that. So much better than, yes. Than like just knowing what you are playing at this part. If it doesn't matter, if you don't know how it goes with everything else, like yeah. We're so focused on what, what am I [00:50:00] doing right now?

But it's not about me.

**Morgan:** It's not No, and that's the whole point of it, is the music. You are one piece in this huge thing. Yeah. It's so many people making it happen. It's amazing. Exactly.

**Milo:** Music's amazing. It's, that's exa, it's the best part of music is that you're not alone. It's like about connecting with people.

The p the audience of course, but also the people Yeah. That you're playing with. It's. Huge.

**Morgan:** So I have a question for you. Do you know what zeitgeist

**Milo:** means? I don't know if I could give you a formal definition. Sure. I've definitely heard the word. So

**Morgan:** zeitgeist means spirit of the times. Hmm. Um, and it makes sense, kind like the collection of forces.

Yeah. It's like all contribute to what it like feels like to be in an era and. That kind of ties in nicely with what we were just talking about, that feeling of like, you know, of sharing and being part of something. But you know, when you get like really into a music history class or you're really into, you know, some [00:51:00] era, uh, for you and me, it's when we listen to Beethoven, always Beethoven.

So there's something I call a zeitgeist moment, which is like that moment where music just comes alive for you. Yeah. Um, and you're just kind of consumed. So what was a recent zeitgeist moment that you

**Milo:** have had? I would say, I mean there's definitely a couple as as like imperfect as that sha Kovich was.

There were still moments where it, just like the energy was there and it like it felt good to just. Be playing and be part of that. That fourth movement is killer. This is shas Kovich fifth Symphony. Fantastic. We rushed like crazy, but um, , but man, it, it just felt so good to, like, it's sort of like, uh, like when you're riding a bike and, and you're like [00:52:00] kind of pedaling slow and then all of a sudden you just like let yourself go and like you really just start cruising and it like, it's just really freeing and it kind of felt like that where just it felt right and good.

It was amazing. and I was really a little bit scared for that concert cuz Shasta Kovich. But it, yeah, turned out good. It turned out pretty, pretty well for a first, uh, you know, encounter, I guess. Um, and it like from a different perspective. I was at a chamber music concert a couple weeks ago. The Quarteto Casals came to to play and, uh, they did selections from box, uh, art of Fugue, which never gets performed by string Quartet.

Well, at least not live. It's pretty rare. and there were just moments where they were really like relying on the resonance of their instruments, like very [00:53:00] little vibrato. And so the chords just like overwhelmed everything. You know, you get that, that really satisfying sense of perfect intonation when everything like really resonates well.

And uh, there were a bunch of those moments where it just. It was really cool to be on the audience side of that and to be surrounded by that. And not to mention there were like a million picky thirds, which I'm kind of a . I'm kind of a

**Morgan:** sucker for . Milo moment is a picky third. It really what that is. Go look it up.

**Milo:** Oh my gosh. It like legitimately. Most of the selections they chose, I think were in D Minor, and so most of them had a picky third at the end and the like. It was just like the sound. Everywhere and it was the coolest thing, . But I think you're right. That does sum up my zeitgeist moment. It is a pty third.

I'm a sucker like, love it. That's it. [00:54:00] How? How you make me happy. a picky third.

**Morgan:** See, you're not so grumpy after all. Not

**Milo:** all the time, . No, not a third's third.

**Morgan:** Anyway. Well Milo, thank you for being on my podcast. Thank I've had such an amazing time.

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