Wednesday, May 24, 2006

How good are you today?

You are only as good as your worst day!

Greatness actually does strike all of us on occasion! We honestly consider that on any given day, with all circumstances in our favor, we could compete with the best in the business, and often, rightly so! The great trumpet hero somewhere inside each of us does emerge from time to time, but how often and for how long, that is the question! Why not invite your inner hero to participate in our day-to-day music routine and to hang out with you as long as possible?

Have you noticed how your Petroushka was flawless yesterday? And Mahler 5th is always awesome in the basement practice room? And your great endurance is usually a memory? We remember well that elusive affair with great chops and the I-can-play-anything mindset. If only we could recall those high moments when required, and be able to deliver with confidence like the great relief pitcher sauntering to the mound in the 9th inning to save the game night after night! Our success depends upon being able to use our skills consistently.

Two keys are vital in successful music-making over an entire career. First is the mastery and maintenance of all those seemingly boring basics: clean slurs, a beautiful focused sound, secure attacks, excellent intonation, flawless rhythm, effortless flexibility, high speed tonguing, great range, and control in all dynamics, to list just a few. Good mechanics bring job satisfaction and make you to become a highly valued team player. Constantly battling with the basics makes you a liability to your colleagues and a drainer of precious energy, theirs and yours. There is a great sense of accomplishment however, in seeking to execute all musical instructions perfectly. The concert then becomes a challenging game as you strive to play absolutely everything on the page! Instead of just getting by, you refuse to let anything get by you!

The other key to long-term survival is the ability to stay motivated with an energetic musical message that will withstand years of obstacles and discouragements. Reality is that there will be down times when inspiration seems to have run dry. Great players either have never experienced this, or else they have learned to disguise it. Certainly the latter must be the case. The spark of inspiring playing must be routinely practiced so that artistic greatness is normal and not left to chance. Simply, you have to sound enthusiastic even if you are not. Your musical vision must be stronger than any obstacles, internal or external. A very high percentage of your daily notes must be performance quality.

Here is where good basics hands over the baton to musical energy, drive, style and flair. The race is not finished with basics alone, for there are more laps left to be run. They get you into the race, but artistry finishes and wins at the end of the day. The transcending element here is the musical demands of the composer. Throwing yourself into the musical message gets you out of your doldrums. Hence you realize that you are the actor, the messenger conveying something very important to the audience. Listen often to the best for inspiration. There is no time for self-absorbed boredom. The audience is waiting, and you should be on a long term mission to deliver.

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