Thursday, June 09, 2016

Taming the Bear

An audition can be like a snarling bear who seeks to maul each contestant daring to step onto the stage.  All it takes to get him provoked are a few timid and unconvincing excerpts.  Dare to squeeze out one more excerpt played like that and that great bear ferociously charges the stage, chewing up the sorry contestant, and spitting out his bones on the spot. "Growl. Get outta here! Who's Next?"

That bear however is very tamable! Two things will not only keep his rage at bay, but can also turn him into a friendly pet (more or less). Those weapons are preparation and communication.

It's been said, "You don't have to play perfectly but you do have to play accurately."  The goal of perfection puts great pressure and extra fear of failure on the performer. Whereas accuracy (of styles, tempos, dynamics, drama and overall musicianship) communicates better, and rescues the performer from himself.  Perfection is about the performer; communication is about the audience.

Prepare daily to defeat the audition monster with accuracy and dramatic communication. Poor preparation is followed by fear of the bear.  So slave wisely over the details, but slay the bear with your practiced noticeable dramatic skills as well.  Be sure to practice the message at least as much as the mechanics.

At the next audition the bear may threaten, but you have assured his defeat with your mighty weapons: singing, expression, rhythmic precision, dynamic contrasts, beautiful phrasing, excellent quality of sound, drama, and game-changing standout musicianship! 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Instincts on High Alert

What does this little guy have in common with a principal trumpet player getting ready for rehearsal number #18 in Zarathustra? Or how about our prominent first entrance in Ravel's Piano Concerto in G?  Or, getting ready to kick start Pictures all by ourselves? Of course there's Mahler 5 to boot up as well.  So many starting assignments! So many opportunities to belt that 90-mile-an-hour fast ball out of the park! It's like the composer said, "Here, kid, see if you can catch this one!"

So what is this boy doing that so many neglect?  Answer: he doesn't know, he's just catching the ball. Similarly, we should think music, not muscles; message, not mechanics. Catch the ball, hit the ball.  No time to analyze.  Instincts matter. Training them to work for you on very short notice is a fun project. Focus quickly, play great. Don't give yourself time to get nervous.

Suggestions on a quicker response.
  • Sing it.
  • Valve it.
  • Sing it and valve it precisely together.
  • Eliminate extraneous prep time. Pick up the horn and make your statement without hesitation.
  • The way you react when someone suddenly tosses something at you is your model.
  • Think: catch and shoot!
  • Play your absolute best at the drop of a hat. 
  • Q Q (Quick Quality)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Wardrobe Functions

Musicians must have an impressive wardrobe ready for all occasions.  Their back stage lockers are crammed with all manor of snazzy outfits perfectly suited for every show. Audiences expect entertainment, not boredom, so we dress appropriately. When we walk onto the stage, we're ready and dressed to kill!

We are actors of a thousand emotions and expressions, made up and outfitted with beautifully detailed costumes.  Colorful decorations matter. This is the entertainment conceived by composers, encouraged by conductors, and delivered by the musicians. What a thrill, what an honor to play a part!

The richness of the music, the colors of the instrument groups, and the passions of the players all contribute to make concertizing an art.  More than a job, it's a mission, a commission.  We get to translate all those little black dots on the printed page into sound, magically bringing them to life, and then singing out that message to the people.

What room is there for fear or pride?  This "business" is far greater than the performer.  We are just the somewhat lowly messengers of the music.  This is exhilarating yet humbling. It is also a tremendous antidote for stage fright. We are consumed by the beauty of the product we deliver.  Honing that product is our life's work, our passion, our frustration, and our satisfaction, however imperfectly we may do it. We don't shoot for perfection, we shoot for excellence in communication.

The great Mel Broiles had his blunt way of getting his students fired up about practicing. "You're not going to deliver any pizzazz in the show if you haven't ever done it in the practice room." 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Clogged pipes? Call ROTO-ROOTER! Clogged arteries? Call for an angioplasty! Clogged notes? Same strategy.  Clear out the pipes, and fill up the notes.

Are your notes all shriveled up and your air stream restricted? Is a superhuman effort required to force anything through the horn and into the audience?  If the answer is yes, you may have a serious case of the dreaded constrictivitis. You need to call NOTO-ROOTER.

Students will clean the horn, but ignore the notes.  Even your shortest notes must be slices of your top quality whole note.  The Promenade from Pictures at an Exhibition puts our focus on tone and freedom of delivery.  Likewise all notes must be "Pictures" notes. The beauty of the whole depends upon the beauty of all the parts.

Try putting a fermata on at least one note per measure to check for quality.  Learn to listen for and expect a great sound on every note, even in difficult technical passages.

To remind you of your cleaning mission, NOTO-ROOTER will include a free ball cap with a beautifully stitched toilet plunger on the front when you call 1-800-MAX-TONE today!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Avoiding the B Word!

"So, how did your audition go?"  

"Pretty well, in my opinion. I hardly missed a note, but the committee wasn't impressed.  I don't know what they were looking for!" 

Even if your solo and excerpts were flawless, there must have been something that they didn't like. Maybe it's not what you did, but what you didn't do that got you eliminated.  Did you infect the committee with a deadly dose of the B word?  BORING!  Be careful, even perfect playing can come across as uninspired. Spraying the hall with the pungent aroma of mediocrity usually yields the response, "Thank you, next!" 

News flash: the perfect audition never happened! And there is no perfect musician. Squeaky clean is always the goal, but so is bold, assertive, standout playing. Shooting for splendid, ravishing playing frees us from the nerve-wracking pressure of having to be note-perfect.

An Eastman violin professor once warned, "if you are going to play like that (lacking depth of emotion), you'd better play perfectly."  Accuracy matters, but so does style, energy, and great overall musicianship.  Having to be note-perfect puts tremendous pressure on you, but there is great freedom in immersing yourself totally in the drama of the music.  So be encouraged. Don't try to be perfect. Try to make an impression. You're on stage to give, not to measure up.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Daily Slices

What does a pizza have in common with a practice session?  Both should be cut up into many manageable slices, and gorging should be avoided.

Overeating has its uncomfortable results, and so does under eating.  Anticipate the satisfaction of enjoying a well-planned practice session.  Think of a carefully selected daily smorgasbord of trumpet requirements.  Be sure to serve yourself appropriate portions of all ingredients, not just your favorite toppings.

Don't let uneaten slices get moldy either.  Each helping has a shelf life.  Be sure not to waste anything. Here are a few toppings for your daily pizza order:

  • Scales - major and minor
  • Arpeggios - major, minor, augmented and diminished
  • Chromatic scales
  • Flexibility exercises
  • Solos
  • Excerpts
  • Sight reading
  • Multiple tonguing
  • Lyric/expressive melodies (sweet stuff)
  • Technical etudes (fast stuff)
  • Range extension work
  • Very soft playing
  • Very loud playing
  • Transposition
  • Fun play time with no music!

Remember to pause frequently and to eat responsibly!


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Passing the Pencil Test

There they sit, that great and powerful audition committee lurking behind that huge screen.  Each judge wields with great authority his or her pencil which serves as note-taker and timekeeper.  They wait patiently for someone, anyone, to save the day and play in time!  But no. Contestant after mediocre contestant fails to correctly match the notes with the tapping pencils. And so comes that dreaded response, "Thank you. Next!"  

Sound, accuracy, intonation all matter on audition day, but so does rhythm. No one wins without passing the pencil test! Fail that and you go home with no cigars. Few contestants are rhythmic standouts. But if you play precisely in sync with the pulsing pencils of the committee, you will win great favor!

Why not eliminate that problem?  Which is more annoying, practicing with a metronome, or going home because of poor rhythm? Solos and excerpts played with rhythmic precision is fun work.  Playing can be challenging, but great rhythm should not.  It must be a given. So if your playing is good but your timing is bad, what's the point?