Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mahler 5 Alert!

The CCM Philharmonia will perform Mahler 5 on Friday evening October 10.  Auditions for the trumpet section will be held next week.

As we enter these exciting days, here are a few inspiring quotes from the great Arnold Jacobs:

"The big thing about music—or any other art form—is that you can enjoy what you are doing, but others must also enjoy what you are doing. It should be like painting a beautiful picture on canvas for others to appreciate. When you are playing a solo, you are not playing for yourself, but for the people who are listening."

"In your thoughts, be a musician not a mechanic." 

"One should have a great sound in the brain to imitate."

"It doesn't have to feel good, it just has to sound great!"

Guys, remember: drama, power, finesse, and beauty.  And one more: pacing!


Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Second Most Obvious Audition Issue

The second most obvious issue at the auditions: 

There was some cause for pause this week in evaluating the CCM trumpet placement auditions. No worries and no cause for alarm however!  The fix does not involve brutal sessions of chop pounding, hyper ventilation, or great displays of monumental exuberance!  It is a simple matter that can be remedied rather quickly and without pain, and will greatly benefit players and listeners. It was present at the auditions, but since it did not abound, no one did astound.

I'm talking not about accuracy, intonation, volume, or style.  The given in any audition ought to be a steady sense of RHYTHM.  This means no rushing, no dragging, or anything short of incredibly precise rhythm.  The right tempo with a reliable beat is always impressive.  It must be so noticed that it rekindles a pulse in the committee.

Good rhythm is more than mathematical perfection.  It must be instinctive and infectious. After all, rhythm matters.  It is the basic structure of music.  It must be clearly felt.  With unstable rhythm, we have unimpressive music.

The best way to perfect rhythm is to put the horn down, and sing or tap out the notes in perfect time.  We tend to be better rhythm keepers without the instrument.  So, first internalize it, and sing it at all speeds accurately.  Then copy that with the trumpet.  If it's solid within, it'll be solid without.  If it isn't, it isn't.

A great player with average rhythm will only be an average player.  We'll likely miss a note or two, but we have no excuse for playing constantly with bad rhythm.  Do the work.  It will show.

(There was a more noticeable issue at the auditions than rhythmic problems, but we'll leave that for later.  Let's start with the easiest.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

One Word Matters

A wonderful break through happened the other day during the lesson of a tenth grade trumpet student!  As a result of just one word, his sound suddenly opened up. The room lit up, and it was easier for him to play! My rants on air, tongue, and coordination were ineffective.  Finally I told him to just BLAT it out!  Voila!

I wonder if the magic word needed for each student could be determined by some questionnaire!  The student answers all the questions and then receives his/her personal word for the week.  No teacher needed!  Sadly, it took me months to figure out that BLAT was what was needed. 

WIND GUSTS was another successful word picture that worked nicely.  But, one word at a time.  No wonder Proverbs speaks of the beauty of a well place word at the precise moment. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Trumpet Lesson with Professor Mahler

Professor: Come on in, you're next!  

Student: Hi, Professor Mahler.

Professor: I hope you're warmed up, because I've got a lot of stuff I am expecting you to play well for me today.

Student: What kind of stuff, Professor Mahler? 

Professor:  Contained in my scores is enough stuff to keep trumpet players at the peak of their game, and audiences coming back for more for a long time to come.  Now, let's take a look at your daily agenda.  Make sure to cover as many of these items as possible every day!

  • soft as possible
  • loud as possible
  • lyric sweetness not expected of trumpet players
  • long fluid chorales in all registers
  • gnarly fanfares, fast and slow, soft and loud
  • sudden rude pokes and jabs
  • the mean and the ugly (the spirit, not the tone)
  • high note diminuendos to nothing
  • the mother of all offstage solos!
  • shocking and unexpected entrances
  • huge leaps in a single bound, soft and loud, fast and slow
  • highest note, lowest note
  • the longest note ever
  • very quiet triplets on a low C sharp
  • offstage screech part
  • transposition always required 
  • complete accuracy always expected

Student: Gee, professor, I'm not sure I am ready to do all of that stuff!  You see, I have many issues and problems that must be solved.  What can you suggest for all of my ailments?  

Professor Mahler:  What I have written is all you will ever need. 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Makings of a Great Student, Part 2

Rather than another long and familiar list of the usual must-haves for success, here are some obvious must-not-haves to consider. These are job-killers that quickly cripple growth.

The enemies of success are not a lack of talent or an uninspiring environment. The real inhibitors of success are laziness, stubbornness, lack of taking initiative, and an unwillingness to address weaknesses.  These habits will quickly render one's talent and love of music of no effect.

Confronting weaknesses is a given for the successful. Great students learn to face their vulnerabilities on a daily basis.  Even token attention to difficult issues is better than none.  Regular and wise chipping away on those nasty problems will make them less nasty the next time. A lot of polishing will produce a nice shine. No buffing, no shine!

Part 2 of The Great Student is simple.  Organize a plan for staying with difficult tasks.  Say no to the couch naps.  Endurance isn't only about embouchure strength.  Mental discipline is the greater challenge, for it yields greater results.  A wise strategy beats an untamed talent.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Makings of a Great Student, Part 1

A great student is not necessarily the best player, the most talented, or the most intelligent.  Successful students at any level are able to turn instruction into production quickly. Call it rapid turn around time.  This kind of student "gets it" and does it.  An important mark of a great student is in his or her response to instruction.

A violin professor was somewhat surprised to learn of the success of two of his students whose playing had been less than stellar all during their time in school.  What accounted for their turn around?

He learned that two key components to their improvement was their consistent use of the metronome and the recording of their practice sessions on a daily basis. Rather than wait until the music was totally prepared, they listened to their practice room labors every day and made a habit of turning on the metronome!

Significant progress need not take four years or longer.  Diligent attention to rhythm and listening will drastically improve performance in just a short time!  Really, how much talent is needed to dust off the metronome and click on the recording device? 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Glory and Grit

The road to the stage goes through the trenches.  Because the journey of grunt work never ends, we might as well learn to treasure the grit of preparing as much as the glory of performing.  After all, most of our playing time will be off stage. 

A few thoughts on rethinking the practice session in order to make it a pathway to glory:

  • Don't jump into the trenches without a plan. Organized digging only! No wild flailing permitted. 
  • Don't practice like a student. 
  • Pretend someone important is listening.
  • Don't waste your notes. You have precious few.
  • Dig slowly and carefully on the hard stuff.
  • Set time limits. Don't dig for hours on end, lest you exhaust brains and chops and get yourself nowhere.
  • Record your sessions. See if there's madness to your method.
  • Consider your practice sessions as snippets of quality playing rather than large chunks of rubble.  
  • Avoid making brainless mistakes. Try to make the trenches your error-free zone.
  • Practice musical risk-taking.  Don't just play it safe.  
  • The more agony in the trenches, the more ecstasy on the stage!  Sweat the practice, not the performance.
  • Practice enjoying the frustrations of your grit and grunt work.  Don't avoid your weaknesses. Let difficulties improve you, and the glory will take care of itself.