Saturday, December 29, 2007

All-time Unfavorites

#1. Schubert's Half-Finished Symphony - because of its dinky themes that go nowhere and end as soon as they begin; also for the bad memories of countless student performances, all out of tune. (Not excluding some non-student performances). Sharps seem to be bad keys in which to try to play in tune in.

#2. First movement of Mozart's 40th. It lumbers, meanders, and just recalls bad memories of out of tune plundering and rushing students. Fortunately, trumpets were never required to add to the problems.

#3. Almost all of the variations of Enigma. Three are still in favor, but probably just two.

#4. The cello movement of Carnival of the Animals, along with all the rest of them.

#5. Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. All you get is B and E, and all of our B's are sharp, or else they are too flat from over-correcting. The E's are also free-for-alls. Besides, the soloist always takes it way too seriously.

#6. All works with narrators.

#7. Stravinsky's Circus Polka. (a waste of a good composer)

8. Second movement of Brandenburg.

#9. First movement of Organ Symphony.

#10. Radetsky March
with hand-clapping accompaniment. Just once, let's have a new year's concert without this piece. If absolutely necessary, prepare the audience not to drag. Percussion section should be instructed to shoot all offenders on sight.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Busy but Empty

I heard this short summary of frenetic holiday events, and thought that it could well describe much of our daily trumpet practicing: "busy but empty!" Just as an abundance of activities doesn't define Christmas, so too a frantic flurry of practicing doesn't produce great performances. We'd certainly hate to hear the assessment of our music-making that I heard years ago. "You are spraying the air with thousands of notes of highly questionable value, somewhat impressive, but not really usable. Nobody would buy them." I went home a bit deflated, but challenged at the same time.

The glitzy trimmings of Christmas celebrations can appeal outwardly, but only serve to hide the emptiness that often haunts us and even overwhelms us as soon as the last bowl game becomes history. How strange that the Lord Jesus Christ, the very center of the holiday, is often the most neglected Person in season and out. Maybe it's a stretch to link holiday festivities to poor practice habits, but musicians have been known to think in stranger ways, if at all.

Christmas is about God's intervening to claim those who were dead in trespasses and sins, completely unable to revive themselves. "For He hath made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (II Cor. 5:21) What an exchange! He has filled our emptiness with Himself. It is and always has been His work and not our own. This redemptive work of God has probably prompted our over-attention to all the externals in celebrating what He accomplished in the hearts of men.

The thought is pretty simple. Our misplaced attention on the outward has distracted us from seeing His Son, and the extent of His internal work, which lasts way beyond the lights, sales, and bowl games. My trumpet lesson back in the day was about learning to have a perspective on quality, depth, and a message to an audience. So while we can be quite busy, we are never empty, for "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." (II Cor. 4:7)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Our Forgotten Weapon

Not that this weapon is totally forgotten, but it is often neglected and not fully developed. Every profession is defined by certain necessary skills and abilities. Athletes must be athletic. Mathematicians must figure. Pilots fly. Bowlers roll. Managers manage. Politicians must know how to be vague, etc. So what about musicians that are hard of hearing? Very strange.

Take trumpeters. What do we do? Blow, finger, play high, play loud, play soft (if we must), play fast, play slow (if we must), blow, and blow some more. We take a breather, and then do it all over again. No wonder they stick us in the rear of the orchestra! We must do something to break out of our penalty box. We need more than the above to be competitive. It's a long way from the back of the stage to the solo spot up front. And it's a long way from the marching band to the recording studio. What's missing? That something is the skill of listening. Granted, a certain level of talent goes a long way.

We think of those obvious skills that identify trumpet players: confidence in those aggressive dominating passages; fearlessly blasting those fiery jolts of decibels right by the defenseless string players; and spraying the air full of rapid-fire triplet pellets over the heads of greatly annoyed woodwind players! Ah, the sheer joy of it!

But alas, necessary as all of that is, (after all, it is when we do our thing and do it well, that the audience realizes why they came) - yet those are not enough to do effective battle on the stage. Our secret weapon is sensitive listening. Like high rising antennas, it monitors all neighboring activity. Listening controls decibel levels. It governs balance. It adjusts intonation. It is tuned in to sound quality. Like sight, it operates peripherally. It makes us alert to rhythm, without which, good ensemble is guesswork. And it lets us focus during practice by allowing us to accurately copy the good, eliminate the bad and the ugly.

Discerning ears will enable us to greatly strengthen our other weapons. Without good hearing skills, we are hampered and hamstrung. Listening is our silent weapon, but when it is developed and utilized regularly, it is heard by all.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Big Question

That's a very good question! I'm so glad you asked that! I love it when students really want to know the answer, (without prompting). The question? "What is an audition committee looking for in these excerpts?" Where do we start?

Preparing to compete for a high-paying job obviously requires a lot more attention than just running through a short list of popular excerpts for a class assignment. Call it getting ready for zero mistake tolerance in front of a very discerning audience. When students come to the point of being serious about preparing for job competition, not just getting through it for experience sake, but with the expectation of nailing it, then reality is at the door. It may be that reality is facing up to the fact that another field would be a better and wiser pursuit. Often however, the question says, I think I can do this. Show me what still needs to be polished. I'm ready to work. Let's go for it!

The result is often amazing. The ears begin to open and practicing becomes much more focused. The grid of competing tends to quickly filter out student-like mistakes. Rhythm, intonation, and dynamics begin to become our weapons rather than nagging duties on a dry checklist. We simply must have these skills, and it becomes a welcome challenge to perfect them.

Running the risk of over-simplifying the needs of good audition prep, I will just pass on advice shared by some who have been very successful at this. Before the performing must come the discipline. You need your tuner, your metronome, and your decibel meter. Put them on the stand and obey them. Over ninety percent of your work can be prepared with the diligent use of these devices, especially the first two. They will insist that you perfect those basics of the music. The machines will hone rhythm, dynamics and intonation which are musicians' tools. And what good is a musician without his tools?!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Building Sky Scrapers

O.K., your piccolo has been basically a dust collector in that huge bag o' horns which you've been lugging about campus for a long time. Now it's time to take it out and get it ready for daily use. A thorough cleaning is always good starting therapy. There is something about a clean horn that is positive, sort of like the new beginning on January 1st.

Next, with valves and slides working you're ready for the laying of some good sound foundations. Nice and easy notes below and in the staff must become your automatic, secure, home territory. You will depend upon those great basic low and mid range notes as you launch slowly upwards.

Noodle around in that safe range, and don't stray! Make good friends with all of the notes in that range. Rest often, and return again to your safe haven. Stay low and don't try to get high! Blow straight into the mouthpiece, no over-biting. Keep it natural. While you're at it, play in tune. The audience doesn't care that it's a piccolo. You will have to match the organ, strings, and others who will support you. Clear tone, good intonation, and no squeezing, at least not yet.

Gradually extend the range to C or D only. Up and down with scales, Clarke patterns, little harmless melodies, NO BACH. Rest often. Your goal: easy release of air, total control of attacks, sound, entrances and intonation. Insist on all of these. A weak foundation will create problems for the upper floors.

Try to look like it's not a big deal. A deadpan approach is the plan. Great sound, very little work. The work will come later. We want to postpone the work for way up there, not down here. Support well, but don't over-support. Just flow the air through as easily as possible. Blow without the trumpet, then copy that.

Your foundation shouldn't take much time to lay. You already know how to play. Just secure the bottom of the structure. Soon your building will be noticed from afar. For now, you plug away at ground level. Add a brick at a time, a note every few days, no spikes. Put on your hard hat and get to work. Actually, think of it as your easy hat. Soon it will be your high hat.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Ultimate Trumpet Teacher

Are great trumpet players born, or do they acquire their skills? If so, where? What city, what school, and who are their teachers? What is the magic formula, the secret button, or the special equipment? How does fame happen?

Maybe it's the environment. It is said that being around greatness breeds greatness, and skills can be absorbed by osmosis. Take enough lessons, attend enough concerts, and travel to every brass conference, and then maybe it will all come together. Or, I know. It must be intense and careful listening that eventually sends fabulous notes soaring out the bell. Or is it the incredible amounts of practicing? Is it all or non of the above? Either talent is there or it isn't. Which is it?

My high school guidance counselor suggested that I ask my trumpet teacher if he thought I should go into music, and if I was good enough to pursue it. The reply from my teacher, "You go tell your guidance counselor that nobody can determine that. It is up to you how much you want to make of it. And further more, he said, it's not where you go (to college), but how inspired you are to work hard.

Wherever you go, there you are. You take your abilities, dreams, and determination with you. The best university music department cannot guarantee your success. And the loneliest uninspiring location cannot hold back one who is bent on developing great musical instincts. So the externals can prompt and stir creative juices, but it is that which lies within that determines our course.

When it comes right down to identifying the greatest influence on our musical journey, it is the player himself who must ultimately be his own best teacher. There are only so many hours of lessons one can take. Teachers can only hold our hands for so long, and then we are left to ourselves. The hours we spend alone with the trumpet far exceed all other stimuli. The successful player is the one who soon learns to instruct himself, and who is able to maintain his motivation. The training wheels are eventually removed, and we must confidently ride alone. Some learn this quickly. Others catch on in time, but some never learn.

The good news is in recalling all the instructions we've received and the wealth of how-to information available. Vacchiano used to say, "Nowadays we trumpet players know too much to make a mistake." Our job is to put to practice all we've learned, and begin to implement it into our playing.

Monday, November 12, 2007


There is some very fine playing happening with CCM trumpet students lately. Solos, orchestral work, and small ensembles can be heard, as well as the daily grind of etudes, scales, and arpeggios. With recital season starting up after the holidays, there will be plenty of must-hear performances. Breaks are never really breaks when huge requirements lurk on the other side of vacation, so no one will be straying too far from the horn.

As pieces are starting to take shape, I was reminded of the simple requirements we have as performers. You can count on one hand the elements that need to be there for a successful performance. Of course there is good pitch, sound quality, musical phrasing, dynamic interest, steady tempos, and the right sense of style. But if you could only practice one thing, what would it be? I say start with producing a bunch of clean, polished, nice-sounding notes. In fact, forget the bunch, and start with just a few great-sounding notes.

Now attach a junk-note filter to your bell so that nothing bad can get out. Actually, that filter should be clipped onto your mouthpiece so that nothing bad gets in! No, in reality it begins before that, in your brain. That's where those great notes must start. Great music begins well before it is heard. Then you have something to play.

The next step is to slow the music way down, and listen. No bumps or stuffy notes are allowed. Insist on preparing each note for recording. Get it smooth, in tune and listenable and it will sell. A bunch of junk won't.

Audition committees are looking for a few good players. If you can get used to producing quality with small assignments, you'll have a good chance at the same success with larger ones. It begins by polishing one note at a time.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

When the Sky Falls

What is it about trumpet playing that it can be so very, very good one day, and so very, very bad the next day? Or at least it feels that way. If I had the answer to that universal brass stumper, I could retire and make millions. I've got the retired part. Now for a stab at an answer, and then the millions.

When life is good behind the mouthpiece, heaven surely must be smiling too. But when the chops rebel and send up the retreat flag, it seems as if the sky is falling and there is no place to run for help. We sit staring at the music stand with a beat up embouchure while those pages of music glare back at us unsympathetically. In just one day the joy of playing can quickly turn into worry over even being able to get the notes. Because injuries happen, major and minor, learning from them is vital.

Two things to consider. One is the I-told-you-so review of what brought on the problem. Some abuse must have been going on the day(s) before. Examination should include a careful look at the warm up, adherence to basic correct playing, the hours on the face, and the general approach. Probably in the heat of the musical battles there was little or no attention paid to good fundamentals. I remember how much fun it was blasting away in our high school marching band. It was great to be able to contribute to the thrills on the field, but having swollen lips for the next three days was no fun all. All the adrenaline and inspiration in the world is no protection from injury. In fact, too much of it is most likely the problem. The tendency to overdo it when everything seems to be working is usually the main cause of injury.

Just as important as seeing what went wrong is organizing what to do to avoid repeated damage. A couple of suggestions learned the hard way: stop when it feels good; rest often; relax hands and upper body; don't give 110% so often; eliminate lip dominance by making something else take the majority of the workload; and avoid stoppage of air at the lips. Strive for less quantity, and more quality. Balance loud with lots of soft, and always play with tomorrow in mind. Supply and demand is the rule for air flow. Air is our fuel for the journey. We don't want to get stranded.

A stoic mind-over-matter approach needs to be wisely balanced with taking good care of your equipment. The lips must be able to produce not just for one big concert, but for a whole career. Fortunately, the body heals in time, and those storm clouds eventually get blown away.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Working Less

Many times it felt like we were racing past scenery at break neck speeds, muscling through Arban characteristics, plowing ahead on Sachse transpositions, and heroically taking on Haydn, Hummel, Hindemith, or whatever solo we could get our chops on. Life was fun. We played all day, went to dinner, and came back for more punishment! Youth and inspiration is a great combination.

"What do you want to hear today? I can play anything." That was the mindset for those early years as we students elbowed our way past each other out of school and into jobhood. It was mind over chops and passion over patience. I'm reminded of the famous line in that old Cagney movie? - "Look at me, Ma, I'm on top of the world!" Never mind that in the very next scene he crashed and burned.

Like young Cagney, most students could use a healthy dose of that conquering attitude. A daily purpose-driven agenda is a must for any student attempting to someday shed that label. But there soon comes a time when the student discovers that his chops can't lick the world forever. One of my teachers claimed that those Julliard trumpet heroes could sound just as good as any pro, but only on their good days. The pro understands pacing, efficiency and reliability. Trumpet playing is about sounding good tomorrow too. For survival there needs to be a transition to maturity in a hurry, and the sooner the better.

A few quick thoughts on achieving long-lived dependability: Try to stay fresh, and don't burn out every time you practice. Don't be sweating everything. There's always plenty of sweaty passages in every performance. Reduce excessive embouchure movements. Avoid chewing notes. Keep any motion minimal and internal. Upper body should be as relaxed as possible, including fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, even eyebrows. Rest more often than you want. Simulate life on the stage. Hot licks must be ready, but they are usually kept on hold for long periods of time.

Air circulation must be natural and sufficient for what's required. I have an old profile picture of Herseth playing. I call it "breathing for dummies." It has an arrow beginning deep in his lungs, proceeding up through his throat, out the embouchure and into the lead pipe. It is a simple illustration on how to blow the trumpet. You take a breath, and then you release it into the instrument! Why do we make it so difficult?! So often we compress the air and cause a bottleneck at the lips, and then we wonder why tension comes out.

Our goal: sound great and work less.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Conquering the Disease

Ever hear of that hidden disease that can thrive for years in musicians' brains? It can become well entrenched in time, and very cleverly avoids detection by its carrier. The smoke screen is, "Don't think too much or you'll come down with an acute case of paralysis-through-analysis." We soon become convinced that trying to perfect minute details is a waste of time. Too much attention to all of those tiny specifics just might kill the spirit of our performance. Don't distract me with things I don't hear. Besides, it takes time and it's fatiguing. I'm just going to breathe, blow, and try to get through it, we claim.

Some truth lies in that argument. After all, the big picture is our concept of the forest, not the leaves. Maybe the don't-bother-me-with-details approach works for the one-in-a-thousand who is so gifted and instinctive that he never needs to work out problems. But it's likely that such a cavalier nonchalant trumpet player never existed, although we are supposed to convince ourselves and the audience otherwise. Carefree playing demands a lot of careful work.

To think that great trumpet playing will just eventually happen is like thinking that skyscrapers will just appear. Every polished product was first a work in progress. The building of a Petroushka, a Pictures, or a Mahler 5 is like a construction job site. Every piece must be cut, crafted, and fitted exactly according to the blue-print. Enjoying the finished product depends upon precision. Quality control must happen at all stages en route to performance. Everywhere you turn, labor over details happened. The building of effortless, accurate trumpet playing doesn't develop over night. Each facet takes time, and requires the effort of a detail guy, you.

Assembling a nice ballerina's dance requires that each phrase be perfected. It is possible. There aren't that many notes, only 163 to be exact. We just lack the mindset to break it apart, clean it up, and begin the slow process of putting it together. If hard-hat guys in construction can do it, why can't trumpet players?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Tie-Breaker

Mock trumpet auditions today at CCM. Four competitors played Leonore 3, Pictures, Scheherazade, Academic, Mahler 5, and Petroushka, six must-haves needed to advance to round two. There was some fine playing by each one. Written and spoken critiques followed, along with the desire to get another shot at it, which is a good sign. Another couple of at-bats, odds are, will produce a hit or two, maybe even a home run. And that's the point, learning to belt out a lot of hits under pressure.

Lessons learned: need for control in spite of nerves, accuracy, steady rhythm, clarity of articulation, intonation, control of dynamic extremes, ability to make an impression, and the rest of the usual list of things that all of us always need to work on. Nobody plays perfectly, and it's nice to remember that everyone is in the same boat. However, the struggle is to see who can get out of the boat first! First one out wins!

A review in the Enquirer of last week's Chicago Symphony concert had a few phrases that caught my attention. There were some high praises for the principal cello solo as well as a comment about the oboe playing that seemed to be just what we were discussing briefly in our mock auditions today. It was said that the cello solo showed "immense sweetness of tone and warmth of expression", causing the piano soloist "to grin from ear to ear the whole time." About the oboe: "it was the most relaxed lyrical oboe solo ever heard."

Now of course, nobody expects trumpet playing to be only about lovely, relaxed lyricism. We must have our killer-instinct helmets ready for battle on a moment's notice. By the way, isn't it interesting that composers usually depend on those in the rear of the orchestra when those visceral statements are required? Maybe the demands on the brass are greater than those of our woodwind and string colleagues as far as extremes are concerned. But, even in those high decibel visceral climaxes, there must be a core of enormous quality of sound. Regardless of dynamics, that sound must be noticed by critics and be able to make headlines in concert reviews.

It's difficult to pinpoint one single quality that wins auditions. But maybe high on the list would be sound and the ability to make an impression on the listeners that distinguishes the best candidate from the rest. Most will make mistakes, but the one who is accurate and sends the best overall message has the best chance of winning. Quality is that tie-breaker.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dealing with the Monster

Whatever your career passion, be it music, business, sports, you name it . . . there can come a price to pay for total immersion. The rush of saturating ourselves in the fast lane on a one track pursuit can dead end us in a place we never saw coming. That thirst for success and recognition can become the monster that consumes us.

Witness Peanuts comic strip writer Charles Schultz. Life seemed perfect back in the early 60's, made to order. His family enjoyed an idyllic homeland with all the country surroundings one could dream of, the fruits of intoxicating success. Seeds were being sown however - seeds of his family taking last place so that the all-consuming career could continue to prosper. Success grows and has its way of demanding more and more time and energy. It never seems to retreat. How does one say no to the next grand opportunity? It becomes natural to escape family responsibilities in order to give attention to what got them there.

But fast forward 30 or 40 years and that happy home is history. To say that the business flourished is understatement. Peanuts had given him all the world could offer, but at the price of shattered relationships within his own family. Acknowledging even himself that the career never satisfied, Schultz's last days were spent with tragic questions about life, its purpose and its worth. He said he felt like he was Charlie Brown and never got to kick the football. Someone had always managed to pull the ball away at the last minute while he flew head over heels and crashed.

In our drive to do well, even to excel, it is vital to step away often, to see what and who is ultimately most important. Balance is the over-simplified answer, easy to say, hard to remember, especially in the daily pursuit of our God-given talents and abilities. How much more successful and happy would be the man who excels as much with his own family as in his work. What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and looses his own soul, and his own family?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Absorbing Great Music

Remember the most recent music that grabbed your attention and wouldn't let go for days? Was it Mahler, Strauss, a Mozart opera, or Phantom of the Opera? Everyone has his own top ten list. James Levine warned us as students before an all-star cast performance of Don Carlo, that it would be a long time before show highs would subside, if ever. He said, "Enjoy this. You'll be walking on air for days." He was right. Hearing those arias to this day still pierce like a knife. Music does that, probably better than anything else.

I can still hear Mel Broiles demonstrating Caffarelli etude #66 transposed to D trumpet, boldly echoing all over Lincoln Center from an open window at the Met. Our brains archive thousands of files of great playing. How is your library? I wonder if there are more instances of great music happening every day than we realize. Be alert for them, and file them safely. You'll be needing to recall them often.

Yesterday the majestic strains of Fanfare for the Common Man could be heard echoing down the corridors at CCM. Today I paused to hear a performance of a Brahms Violin Sonata filling the Atrium. Last week a Charlier etude was being practiced for all it is worth while overlooking Lake Michigan. Five trumpets could be heard being coached through The Rite of Spring by Charlie Geyer. Next door the Rhapsodie Espagnol trumpet section was being rehearsed by Chris Martin. So much to hear, so little time!

Great music has its way of adhering itself both to listeners and performers. Extra special musical moments always leave lasting impressions. Seek them out. They are there waiting to be discovered and to be shared. Audiences love when that happens.

Picturing Entrances

C.S.O. trumpet colleague Doug Lindsay offers a great improvement on an Arban book term that probably has contributed to the stuttering and bungling of trumpet entrances for decades! He points out that the word "attack" of the note could well be replaced with "release" of the air. Brilliant! We subconsciously picture attacking entrances rather than a timed release of air onto them, a much more natural function. Attacking notes makes us think of explosive bursts of air, while releasing air gives us greater control for a variety of articulations. Finesse is possible in "release" whereas clubbing happens with "attack".

Not that clubbing doesn't have a large place in the arsenal of brass weaponry. But the point is how to control entrances with the greatest of ease. We've got the odds stacked against us when we consider how imperceptibly the violins can sneak in, and how unnoticed the woodwind players can ooze into their notes. Trumpet entrances are not so easy. Ever notice how the violin players can float the bow quickly over the strings (flautando), and yet still play very softly? A good visual for our fluid air movement even in pianissimo. Some thoughts, or images to think on while doing nothing:

Think of heavy aircraft landing on the runway without skidding and burning too much rubber, a graceful landing without bumps. Note also the small downward drop compared to the great forward thrust. Or how about pushing a child on a swing? No jerks, just smooth in-rhythm gentle shoves. Take bowling - an athletic windup followed by the silent release of the ball on the wood floor with no thuds or bounces. Like the plane, the main direction is forward, not downward. Or for those of you seniors, think lawn bowling, or boccie - old guys slowly rolling a not-so-heavy ball only a short distance. Then there is shuffleboard. Who in his right mind would think of striking the disc instead of giving it a smooth forward push?

More sports: think about the quarterback rather than the batter. Why? One releases the ball while the other hits for a living. Trumpet players must be able to do both. I wonder if our terminology needs some adjusting, our mental pictures more focus, and our practice habits greater efficiency. We need more forward-directed air, and a less percussive tongue. The tongue focuses, but it is the air that fuels the notes regardless of speed. Let's perfect our air releases so that they match the many demands of the music. Attack the problem, not the note!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Control Freaks Wanted

Ever thought or yourself as being a control freak? Well, isn't that a good portion of our job description? The top orchestras are full of them. Audition committees covet them. Perfect control of our product is always the goal. It should be high on our priority list in daily practice, in every piece, in every phrase, and with every note. It includes pitch, rhythm and dynamics. Even spontaneity and flexibility of interpretation must be carefully disciplined.

By finals, all the out-of-control freaks are on their way home. Only the machines are left, and the most musical machine wins. And that is the next criterion: musical control freaks. The search is narrowed considerably by this point. Only a few seem to survive this rugged scrutiny, and only one gets the prize.

How did this amazing control get acquired? Did it get injected into the auditioner a week before the audition? How about that great musicianship? It obviously can't be suddenly ginned up. When did it start? Answer: long, long ago.

The good news: control is quite doable, but it must be a daily priority. In time, control becomes the norm, rather than luck. The odds increase for us when musicianship is nicely controlled and dependable. Life on the wicked stage becomes much less traumatic and natural. Great control of the basics produces freedom for the musical expression to flourish. Great playing isn't a freak of nature, but the wonderfully disciplined skill of a very valuable control freak.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Popular Mechanics

Alright class. The curriculum for this course focuses only on mechanics, physical and mental skills developed to a high level. All of you emoting romantic types need not register. (A few students quietly slink out the back door.) As I said, this quarter we want trench men, ditch diggers, and top athletes with a single focus: stamina and absolute control. Espressivo, cantabile and rubato are not part of this class description. Those will be included in other courses. If I see or hear of any of that stuff, you get expelled on the spot. Got it?

Now then, here are the tools you'll need immediately: a minidisc or the latest state-of-the-art recording devise, the loudest most obnoxious metronome in captivity, a decibel meter, and several breathing devices. You will also want to have a berp of some sort, that's a buzzing extension for you freshmen.

Once you have all of these, you will need to brush up on your algebra. I want you all thinking math. All problems solved with no errors. You get paid for right answers. You get docked for mistakes. I want the agility of football players adroitly scampering through the tires on the practice field, each with incredible footwork, wired instincts, and superhuman conditioning. Got it? Think basic training for the Marines, climbing walls, running marathons, etc. This is endurance, alertness, dependability and cat-like agility training in high gear. By the way, you'll need all parts of your brain to be actively involved. No wimps will survive.

Here is your assignment: Concone book - the easiest, slowest, softest and smoothest playing possible. Next, fermatas with dim. to pp. Then incredibly fast multiple tonguing. Impeccable rhythm is a must-have. Extreme register changes with the ability to turn on a dime. Computer-like sight-reading. Awesome extremes in dynamics all well under control. All entrances secure every time. And all of this with flawless intonation.

Our goal: incredibly clean, accurate trumpet playing. Clean players get a lot of attention in auditions. Call it control freaks, that's what we want. You will be popular mechanics. Any questions? Class dismissed. Get to work.

"We are what we practice."

The message sparkled right there at the top of the bulletin board, written with silver thumb tacks: "WE ARE WHAT WE PRACTICE". A student almost needn't unpack to play for his lesson. Just take some solemn minutes there while gazing at the writing on the wall. Think about it. What's the status of our musical health? What have we been taking in, and what kind of quality are we giving out?

I felt like the guy walking through the gallery in Pictures at an Exhibition. Everywhere you looked there was a story, a lesson, a song. You could almost hear it all. There was a pic of the Chicago brass section, complete with Phil Smith (with long hair), Charlie Geyer (with more hair), Will Scarlet (with less hair), and of course the master himself, along with all the other brass masters in Chicago for so many years. Everywhere a huge chunk of trumpet history, a quote, an historic program. If only the walls in the NU trumpet studios could talk, or play! But indeed the halls are still alive with music and brilliant teaching. No need to herald the success stories of their grads.

But I digress. The subject: practicing. At one point Barb Butler commanded a student: "When you wake up, the first thing is, When will I practice today? Organize the day for that priority, and structure the practice to cover all the items on the agenda." Not "just do it", but "you must do it". I laughed to myself, thinking: You will have fun whether you like it or not! Obviously, the students are getting the message and seem to be much enjoying the ride. That is what the audiences will pay for, and it all begins with practice.

The Value of Hate Practice

No, I'm not talking about hating to practice, or being so self-critical that we become disabled and stripped of confidence. The point of the simple comment offered at Northwestern by Charlie Geyer to a student was learning to be discerning in daily practice and not excusing a ton of bad notes. We think we are too hard on ourselves, but often the reverse is true. What we need to speed up the maturing process is to learn to recognize those same mistakes made day after day, AND then take the steps to solve them. He said, "If you hate it, you'll fix it." Before you can hate it, however, you have to hear it. (I didn't see anyone on campus without a minidisc.) That driven attitude is what I liked sensing.

Whatever the issue to be dealt with, the first step must be a fighting attitude. We need to play in tune, but first we must WANT to play in tune. We must CRAVE great intonation, and set out on a mission to get it. Or take soft attacks. We must learn to hate our own poor attack execution, AND enjoy the daily work needed to master that skill. Charlie recalled Herseth's great command of delicate entrances. What a way to learn, daily sitting within a few feet of text book examples! So many skills must be owned. The challenge is enjoying the challenge.

Let's practice being so annoyed with our high tolerance of our own unprofessional playing, that we become motivated to deal with problems effectively, one at a time, and once and for all.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Horn Player Adam Unsworth at CCM

With orchestra requirements today including ever growing amounts of pops repertoire, the skills of Adam Unsworth are treasures for any orchestra looking for someone who can do it all. As hard as it often is to get us stiff classical trumpeters to swing, even more rare is the swinging horn player. The mold was shattered, however, and the bar raised this week as Adam lectured, demonstrated and performed in concert and masterclass at CCM.

His impressive credentials include several major orchestras and now teaching responsibilities at Michigan. His double major on theory has proven practical as it forms the foundation for his jazz improv and secure technique. Scales of all kinds matter, as do arpeggios and chords of all sorts.

Most notable for me was his relaxed almost cool approach to the horn. Jazz or non jazz, it was effortless. As soon as air was released into the instrument, style emerged. Jazz is that creative, spontaneous, and freeing element that can be just the therapy we need, sort of like dessert after way too much broccoli! Someone once challenged Adam to end each day's practice with 20 minutes of fun. (Oh that we knew how to make that the agenda for the whole day!) Fun, that illusive ingredient for success and satisfaction! It's the fun part of playing that can open up sound, help flexibility, and free up one's approach. It also demands the kind of thinking and listening skills that can often be neglected by classical players.

I liked Adam's purpose-driven phrasing. Jazz has a way of demanding that of us, whereas it is easy just to plow into some excerpt or etude hoping to discover what we are supposed to do with it before we're done.

A teacher, Doug Hill, once asked Adam if he planned to "make a living or just have fun (with his jazz)." I'm thinking, "Why not both?" Obviously so was Adam.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why Practice?

Another day, another warm-up, more scales and arpeggios, another bunch of etudes and assigned solos. Oh, and range extension, attacks, soft stuff, endurance, articulation work, and then off to rehearsals. Of course you must attend to your list of weaknesses, followed by sore chops, and tomorrow more of same. Soon we conclude, "what's the point?"

That is the mindset that we battle. So cumbersome and difficult is the journey at times that the reason for playing at all is often obscured, lost, or deemed no longer unattainable. Leave it to John Madden to bring us refreshing perspective on Sunday Night Football. "This team has yet to show that it can overcome adversity. And that is the mark of greatness." The goal line often seems so far away that many become sidelined, injured, and discouraged. Yet great players find a way to win.

For young musicians in pursuit of a career in music performance, the hardest challenge is learning to enjoy and manage hard work. Being able to function efficiently is the skill that separates the dreamers from the achievers. Those who succeed are not always the most talented but the hardest workers. They have disciplined themselves to break down problems and to work them out methodically.

The goal line is not just getting the big job. That's just the beginning. Obstacles are conquerable when the pursuit of winning is strong enough. Remember why you chose to do what you do, and rekindle the excitement that got you where you are. The wise student learns how to be disciplined, how to be inspired, and how to inspire others. It is all about learning to perform and liking the process. And that is our mission. With that in mind, why not practice!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Going to See the Wizard

What does a lion, a tin man, a scarecrow and a brass player have in common? Give up? Whatever their needs, surely they will be met by a Wonderful Wizard. Even Dorothy eventually received her request, and was somewhat surprised at the simplicity of the answer.

Brass-playing students are granted entrance to The Emerald University, all in search of their needs. Busily hastening about, they search for that which is missing, those techniques and talents for which they have been deemed deficient. Surely some Wizard will eventually bestow a certificate of valor upon them, and pronounce them fit for whatever journeys lie ahead.

The four year trek through E.U. is no easy assignment. Fraught with frightening forces full of failure, the days can get quite dreary. Wicked witches of discouragement, intimidation, and fear have been known to render inept and unfit many young would-be men and women of brass (and silver). Although they usually enter valiantly, they often exit void of that which they never really lost, like the cowardly lion.

Who can take away that which lies within a man? No one. The only weapon of those wicked witches is their lies and deceptions. They scream at us in our thoughts: "That which you need, you've never received. You don't have what it takes to succeed in this business. Look at all the others. You don't compare to them. Your tonguing stinks. YOU, your range is lousy. And YOU, my pretty! You will have that stage fright for the rest of your life. NO ONE will hire you! Give up. You'll NEVER get out of Kansas! Hahahaha . . . !"

We need to see that the elements of success are internal. They are there, and they always were there. They just need feeding, the right nourishment, generous encouragement, and time to mature. You already have all you need: COURAGE, HEART, and a BRAIN. You are free to use them as much as you wish.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Warning: Pitch Police Ahead!

"Intonation, trumpets!" That dreaded comment that we have become accustomed to shrugging off as irrelevant will no doubt come back to bite us sooner or later. But who wants to work on their intonation? There you sit paralyzed playing a dead tone trying to freeze the needle on the tuner. Try as you will, it still shakes and wobbles as if to laugh at the futility of pitch perfection. It says sharp or flat, but absolutely avoids hitting dead-on in tune. So why bother.

My pitch isn't that bad, we reason. Years of training our ears to allow for faulty tuning have come to blind us to recognizing that clashes are our fault. We stumble ignorantly through solos and excerpts, all the while setting off sensors and alarms that summon the pitch police with their sirens blazing.

Sensitive woodwind players are quickly shocked and deeply offended by our proud indiscretions. "The brass are out of tune, AGAIN!" Conductors wring their ears and wince at us, but to little avail. Finally the baton angrily taps the conductor's stand, and the one-by-one tuning game begins. Faces get red, tones gets tense. And since the ailment has been untreated for so long, fixing the problem is often beyond repair. Confidence is shaken. We forget about the fun of playing great music, and a serious case of musical goo quickly sets in.

Not fun. Well, intonation unfortunately and fortunately is vital to great music-making. Learning to stay attentive to intonation without obsessing on it is the key. We have to remain alert to it on a daily basis. Correcting tuning problems doesn't have to cripple the musician inside. The challenge is to improve our performance skills, and to produce flawless tuning, as much as is possible. And it is possible.

No magic piece of advice or expensive machinery will solve the problem. But there is good news! There is hope. Good intonation is an inward skill that can improve and be developed. Slow work, more listening, and singing will do wonders for the most hideous offender. This project can be a fun journey, but that depends upon you. Great pitch is one of those abilities that separates the pro from the student. It's O.K. to be a student, but we can't stay there. The pitch police are just ahead, and their fines are severe.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

What Are You Thinking About?

Pick up the horn. Play, warm up, noodle around, get comfortable. Nothing wrong whatsoever with a wise, careful beginning to sessions. But now with that accomplished, it's time to sound like a first class player.

What's up? Charlier, Irons, Caffarelli, Mahler work, Neruda, or even scales and arpeggios. Whatever is on the stand, it doesn't matter. The days of junior high playing are history, so get over it. Filter all the junk out beginning with your first note. Listen similarly for all notes in the phrase because it's all supposed to be good.

Now here's the key: As valuable as a no-junk mindset is, you can't survive unless you add to it a monster musician. Otherwise you'll die of boredom, or your listeners will. The monster will dictate the quality of playing, and will quickly take care of the junk. We work feverishly on eliminating the junk, and still fall short because the hero of the day never gets to the stage. The hero inside must first be tamed, unleashed, and allowed to rule. This includes practice sessions, rehearsals, concerts, and valuable time spent away from the horn.

Remember the first time you heard Mahler 5? The next thing was a bee line to the practice room to imitate what you heard. The monster performer trumped the garbage man. Garbage is quickly shunned when the monster rages.

So, what are you thinking about, making no mistakes, playing perfectly clean, or about how wonderfully you are about to play? You decide. The horn will respond accordingly. Great music starts long before it is ever heard.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Doug Lindsay speaks at UC

"How many of you are seriously planning to be playing after graduating?" Getting right down to business, Doug Lindsay, acting principal trumpet with the CSO, shared generously with a group of jazz and classical brass students for nearly 2 hours. The agenda was mechanics and fundamentals, the invaluable nuts and bolts of successful playing. Many practical helps and concepts were discussed and demonstrated. Several students played for him and received his excellent critique and friendly encouragement. Each one improved amazingly after only a few comments and a couple of "do it like this" demonstrations. A well played note is worth a thousand words!

Playing a brass instrument is not rocket science, but 5 essentials, he points out, are vital to master: chops, air, tongue, reading skills (brain), and heart. Obviously a fine teacher as well as a polished performer, Doug explained his approach to what he says is the best way to earn a living imaginable, other than golf.

Some of his helpful shop talk hints: Use firm corners. Aim the air squarely at the hole in the mouthpiece with both lips sharing the work load somewhat equally. Air should be gently released to start a note, rather than "attacking" it, so as to avoid the all too familiar "thud" or sputter. Avoid being glued to the printed page, but look ahead. Even look away from the stand and into the audience. Consider the forest rather than inspecting every leaf. Learn to enjoy what you do. Nurture and bring to work the attitude of loving your work, loving the music. Like others who have presented classes in recent months, Doug stressed the importance of art of listening. Listening to all kinds of music with discerning ears.

Concerning articulation, more often than not, the tongue is over used and interferes with tone. Clean precise articulation is needed and was wonderfully demonstrated. The main topic of the day turned out to be air, and how to use it right. Playing the "air trumpet" was a great teaching and self teaching tool - blowing and articulating without the trumpet.

He had some excellent intuitive suggestions for a jazz improv solo: the use of silence, more variety of dynamics and busyness, color, and ways for maintaining the audience's interest.

I was pleasantly reminded of the ease and relaxed approach that is a mark of great brass players. After holding a high F, he was immediately able to pull the horn down and quickly resume talking as if playing was no big deal. For Mr. Lindsay it isn't. As always, Doug sounds great and makes it look easy.

Friday, September 21, 2007

It Happens Before the Notes

Great music starts long before it is ever heard. It is prepared inwardly well before any notes are sounded. It doesn't just happen if we're lucky, or materialize out of a vacuum. Something must first be brewing and stirring inside the musician, composer, performer. That is what is going to determine what kind of product will be produced. Something has to be actively wrestled with before the product is ready for performance.

The challenge that is ever before us is to maintain the quality and quantity of musical input that feeds the output. The reservoir must stay filled. Talent alone will not match the requirements over time. Talent, good instincts plus a steady diet of great music and the practice of it will work. Call it the ability to maintain motivation, the drive to express what is passionately felt, and the perseverance to refine it all for future performances.

What's happening?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Taming the Will

Recently finding my old trumpet lesson assignment books from grade school, I noticed a painful pattern. My teacher had to write down the same things week after week. Despite my cocky attitude there was much evidence of repeated stupidity! I proudly insisted on playing the way I wanted without fully submitting to the very instruction that would have helped me. I did appear to be listening, but figured I could do it my own way. Every bit of advice received had to find its way through my filter of pride and independence.

There it was week after week: "Mirror work! Fix your corners. Try to relax on the upper notes. Remember to breathe enough, and, easy on the lips! The air must come through them or we won't have a sound!" One note in all caps said "Think about what we talked about in the lesson! (dummy) Higher notes should be free and not stuffed." How patient my teacher was! Actually a good spanking might have jolted me out of my fog and been the best lesson I ever had!

All students have talent. It is the "untalented" part that must be broken, like a wild horse, and systematically trained. Unbridled talent has a short ride, and soon must yield to the more disciplined competitors. Remember the impatient jack rabbit who eventually lost to the persistent tortoise?

Another teacher drew a diagram for me. "Maybe he'll get it", he thought."GREAT PLAYING = BLOW + BRAINS". You have pretty good "BLOW" he said, in so many words, but you'll get a lot farther if you use both. I got the message: work on the BRAINS part! And that's the problem. Actually it's not a brain problem, but a will problem. Proverbs warns that it is a wise son who receives instruction, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

More than a Musician

The loss of one of the great singers of all time says it all, almost. Luciano Pavarotti dead at 71. The sound of that voice, the passion, strength and all that has been well said about him for decades, is over. If all that he left was his fabulous musical talent, that would have been enough. But what also endeared him to audiences, musical and non, was who he was.

It is hard to imagine him having enemies. Who could not like him? Even when sharing the solo stage with other singers, he seemed at ease with that. He seemed to be in a select group of musicians comfortable and likable on late night TV. Call it personality, genuineness, absence of self-absorption, interest in and love for others. He was also committed to sharing his gifts, coaching and mentoring other singers.

Long after our notes have evaporated, our reputation lingers. Life is more than the concert stage - a lesson often overlooked. It appeared that his life was bigger than his musical talent. Because of that, he is much loved, greatly admired, and will continue to be sadly missed.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

When Inspiration Runs Dry

"They should have heard me last night! I could play anything, it was so easy. Now, a day later, what happened?" Such is life in music performance. Hear me today, for tomorrow it might be gone, or so it seems. Some days the chops feel great. On others it's like nothing works. Unfortunately there seems to be more of the latter.

Many college trumpet majors on their best days could compete admirably with the best in the business. However, they are not prepared to deal with those "uninspiring times." Consistency is a mark of successful players. How good are you when you don't feel like producing? That is the test. We must earn our pay on bad days as well as good ones. The big trick is learning how to successfully manage those dog days.

How are the most successful teachers preparing their students for this? The answer seems to lie in consistent preparation of basics - executing proper mechanics whether high with inspiration, or dry with none of it. Technique is technique. If it is energy-charged, fine. If not, it still gets the job done and earns the paycheck.

Practice must be organized and consistent even when motivation levels fluctuate. We must learn to produce daily, not only when the stars are aligned for us. The best players shine all the time, obstacles or none, inspired or not. We must be able to fool the audience every night. Getting all the notes all the time is the starting point. If you're inspired, fantastic. If not, it must still sound fantastic.

Preparation for this must happen every time we pick up the trumpet. How can I efficiently produce with the highest accuracy? Nothing should be wasted. Everything counts. I should be able to sound great whether I just got back from hearing the Chicago Symphony, or attending a funeral.

Inspiration or non, is not the question. Anyone can get inspired. The answer is in the level of preparation and the commitment to discipline the daily mechanics. The better equipped we are with these basics of playing, the more successful we will be, and the less it will matter, when inspiration runs dry.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Pictures for Trumpet Players

What do each of these have in common? Bowlers, pitchers, batters, swimmers, golfers, tennis players, quarterbacks, soccer players, car drivers, and even old guys pushing grand kids on swings? The same thing that a trumpet player should have as he/(she) begins a phrase: Momentum.

Bowlers take steps before releasing ball bringing it backwards first. Pitchers wind up, swimmers jump/dive, golfers take back swings as do tennis players. Quarterbacks can do it fast. Soccer players likewise need to begin motion before contact. Drivers can't hit 60 mph in a split second. Even grand dads instinctively build momentum as the swing goes higher.

Yet how often we trumpet players start passages with virtually no prep, only a flat-footed stab in the dark. Quickly we are out of gas.

On the best of days, this is usually not an issue. It is the pressure situations that tend to freeze our natural approach to playing. Too little attention to starting mechanics, and results are predictable: a bad back from inordinate stress, notes that forget to speak, etc. You know how it goes.

Before fall classes, lessons, and ensembles start up in full swing, take time during each practice session to visualize several of these pictures. Make a habit of taking in and releasing the breaths that are needed. A putter doesn't need to wind up like a fast ball pitcher, obviously. Work on this. You don't need twenty text books. It's not rocket science, just inhale and exhale in time.

Mental concepts are great. Maybe even a room full of posters of sports heroes in their moments of glory could have a positive effect on your playing. Mental prep builds confidence.

In the CSO, some of my colleagues had pictures on the inside of their folders for inspiration. One had a sizzling picture of Maynard busting a gut on some high note. Another colleague had a mean pic of himself ready to do some serious damage to the viola section! Whatever it takes!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

More Highs

I recall the many concerts I attended when I expected to hear great trumpet playing. I paid for the ticket and was never disappointed. The artists delivered no matter what the program. Great players just do that, it's what they do. They may have had huge distractions, a bad day, or a bunch of good reasons why they could have just gotten by with a cranking out of the notes. If they did, I wasn't usually aware of it. Performers perform, they don't complain or offer excuses. I always came home inspired and determined to try to go and do likewise.

Reality would hit soon however. Being able to consistently turn out top quality playing in less than inspiring rehearsals and with a variety of other obstacles, became a much harder assignment than expected. I was usually my own worst obstacle. Encouraging myself, I would imagine the very best players sounding like themselves on any given day wherever. They wouldn't turn it on, and then allow it to be turned off. Great playing always defined them regardless of their externals.

So the challenge and measure of greatness is the ability to create as many high moments in music as possible. This does not mean being the loudest player on the stage or the most egotistical. It means being able to enjoy playing as much as possible while contributing to the success of the ensemble, and making the listeners feel they got what they paid for. In short, it means producing many more "highs" inspite of the "lows" that accompany daily routine. The audience has their own lows. They come to escape and to hear some musical highs.

I remember a great cellist resolving that his own musical fulfullment was not going to be determined by any conductor. His contribution of musical highs was going to be controlled by himself and not dependant upon favorable circumstances or the lack thereof.

How many highs are you experiencing? Or are the lows keeping you in chains? Easy to talk about, very hard to execute, but a goal worth keeping in focus.

Friday, June 22, 2007

No Music Needed

Your music stand is probably loaded with assignments, etudes, solos, excerpts, technique, etc. It all stares back at you daily and scolds you for not getting it all done. By the end of the day you're getting blasted with waves of guilt. That music stand is beating you up! How about taking a break from the visual for a change? Grab that stand, turn it around and set it in the furthest corner of your practice room. Now let's just play. You don't have to throw out playing properly, just don't be looking at any notes for a while.

Get started with scales (majors, minors, whole tones, and chromatic). Consider these more than fingering tests. Play them smoothly and musically with varied rhythms, dynamics, speeds and articulations. Can you play them in thirds. Fourths? Are you able to start at the top? Of course, you are welcome to eventually fly as fast as possible. No speed limits, just keep control.

How about noodling on arpeggios (majors, minors, augmented, diminshed 7ths). These are great for flexibility. Maneuver up and down with ease, speed, and obviously, accuracy. Leapfrogging is a nice mental and finger challenge. Include starting at the top.

Octaves seem to appear somewhere in every piece of music. Be prepared for those instant huge leaps. Be creative as you practice these in all keys, not just C. Adagio jumps are just as important as Presto changes. Efficient movement from range to range is your goal. Avoid chop-jamming. Relax that left and right hand death grip, and give your lips a chance to vibrate. Notice how easily octaves happen with the woodwind instruments? Copy that.

Now that you have both warmed up and given yourself a theory refresher, you need to play something fun. Your music stand is still banished from sight, so you'll have to use other instincts. Make a list of your top ten or twenty favorite songs, and learn to play them from memory in lots of keys. For starters, can you play Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring? The organist with no trumpet parts may ask this of you at your next church job. Don't be dependent on the music. Other songs. How about Josh Groban's You Lift Me Up, or any of his other hits? Or who else? Do I hear, In the Air Tonight? You'll be in My Heart?

Ballads, hymns, carols, sappy love songs, whatever, just play. Call this "Sunday Practice," easy stress-free playing. The flugelhorn is nice therapy for weary chops. It tends to relax tightness and makes it easier to product that rich velvety tone. These songs can help you combat burnout and down days of joyless drudgery.

Other ideas? We have the slow movements of Haydn, Hummel, Neruda, Arutunian, you name it. There are endless favorite lyrical works to choose from. Memorize and play them for those colleagues secretly listening just outside your practice room. Amaze and impress your friends! You'll also encourage yourself as you become a proficient songster able to play it without seeing it.

How are you at Here's That Rainy Day? (Sinatra, for the elderly. He's great if you don't mind his singing a bit flat. I suppose that goes with the mood of the rain.)
(Botti) (Chet Baker)

Or, I'll Be Seeing You (Linda Eder)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Vince DiMartino shares

Trumpet soloist, clinician, teacher, and long time colleague Vince DiMartino, from Centre College in Kentucky, went non-stop at CCM for over three hours yesterday sharing his wealth of experience with the brass studio. Still charged with his unstoppable energy and love for music making, Vince was quite at home commenting, demonstrating, and communicating. That's what he does.

Vince is one of those who not only knows what he's doing in jazz, but is quite comfortable playing and coaching the standard classic solo repertoire. "He knows what he is doing" is a vast understatement. Vince can penetrate and sizzle with his brilliant, gleaming sound, and follow that with beautiful soft lines. His high chops and improvising skills would always blow us off the stage when he would join us in the pops. Vince saved the day for us many times.

He heard students play a variety of solos. Each one improved quickly. Doc Di is good at the quick fix. Sometimes that was accomplished by suddenly picking up the horn and saying, "play it like this!" Repeat after me is often the best therapy for problems. Thorough explanations always accompanied each point made. He has the quick response of a google search engine. Enter in a trumpet topic, and you intantly get boat loads of info!

Home base, as he called it, is holding a high G without the tuning slide. Everything must return easily to that home note. He uses very little mouth movement at all. His embouchure looks like a well-anchored rock, yet with the ability to leap tall buildings in a nano second! Flexibility is fast and agile with his approach. Instead of the usual pencil sized aperture or larger, he recommended a pin hole sized high-pressured air stream. Thus the lips become much less an issue, as the air bears the brunt of the work.

Other topics: Confidence (the trumpet only does what it is told to do. Show it what you want it to do.) Performance (make the audience pay attention. If you don't, they won't. Be convincing, to them and to yourself.) Beginning a piece (set yourself for the highest, hardest part of the upcoming phrase. Be ready to nail it, don't just hope.) Lots o' scales (play very fast with DT and TT.) Play lots of etudes on flugelhorn. Improvise (play around in the style of any piece. Make it up. Just play music like your solo, but not those same notes.) Record yourself early, not at the last minute. Choose your weapons. (Each piece requires an arsenal of attack modes. Define them and use them effectively.)

The afternoon was fun and challenging. Vince's sense of humor and humility along with his enormous talent made the time fly by. As with each guest artist we've been privileged to hear recently, we were sent back to the practice room with fresh inspiration for our mission. Bravo, Vince!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Jay Wadenpfuhl at CCM

Leave it to the horn players to multi-task! Jay Wadenpfuhl, third hornist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra visited CCM today and shared his expertise with the brass department. Obviously in control of his instrument, a wise and experienced teacher, and a fine composer, Jay played, taught, spoke, and conducted. Two hours was just not enough time to absorb a career of wisdom, but it was good, all good.

He provided several goodies to think on. Listening to his three solos performed, I liked the starts of all of his notes, especially the very soft ones. The first note seemed to have already been in progress well before it ever sounded. It was already in motion internally, and became audible with exact precision. He demonstrated that notes must connect and have direction which can be achieved without a crescendo. It's a matter of intensity. He plays very nicely. I would love to have heard more, but there were constraints of time.

Next, his teaching hat. The prevailing theme in response to some very fine playing by Mr. Gardner's students: more air support, a reminder we all need to have refreshed. Tension is the greatest he said, when we are nearly out of air. The lips must then take on the increased demands for sound production. The most ease comes from a full tank of air. Great players survive with 98% air and 2% chops. When the air is flowing in good supply, the lips don't hurt, and artistic creativity is not stifled. Cardiovascular exercise increases blood to brain and lips. This led to his other points of greater volume contrasts, fuller tone, open throat, and relaxed, focused air right on each note. The bigs generally needed to be bigger and better. Improvement was noted quickly as he worked with each student. They were obviously used to fine teaching and were advanced enough to impliment Jay's advice.

Keep your brain involved, he said. Each player has to take charge of himself ultimately. Fix stuff now that needs attention. Don't just blow by it. Another point: find the climax and prepare it for maximum effect. Say something with the horn. Even something off the wall is better than nothing said at all!

No matter what the temperment and personality of the performer, he/she must act and project the appropriate energy intended by the composer. Our knowledge of scores and research should be reflected in the quality and color of our performance. The greater our concept, the greater our chances of entertaining an audience that has paid to hear something that is attention-getting.

Jay ended his session by conducting his composition for eight horns and percussion. No coddling of the horn players in this piece. They worked. Very impressive piece and refreshing to hear him rehearse it. The man is very gifted, and I'd love to hear more of his compositions.

Like other great players who have guested here recently, I was impressed by a quick, soft comment he uttered almost under his breath to himself. Having ever so slightly miffed one or two small notes in an impressive ritard, he smiled slightly and lamented that he could still hear Barrows in his mind, and he just couldn't do it (like that). I disagree. We were quite impressed, slight miff or not. I like that the bar was high, and he reverenced the heros that had so greatly influenced him in the past.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I Think We Have a Winner

Checklist: nice sound, clean articulation, agreeable intonation, dynamic contrasts, good phrasing, etc. Everything's O.K. All of these basics continue to be the goals and the benchmarks for winning jobs. When well executed, they are definitely impressive and win points and big bucks.

I heard something the other day, however that struck me. That music "gave me chills" was the comment. That evaluation came from more than just well-executed mechanics. (Actually there were a few flaws in the performance, but it didn't stop the chilling.) How do you teach chills? I don't remember a "Chills 101" at Eastman. Well-played basics don't necessarily move the spirit. It involves more than the sum total of all of those vital requirements of great performances. Something in the performer(s) provides that spark that penetrates right to the core of the listener and pierces the very soul. The mind can be reached, but what about the heart? It is not one or the other, but the right blend of both.

Something is missing when perfection is the only goal. Satisfaction must be deeper than the appreciation of technical mastery alone. That must be the starting point upon which the artist must then pour out his heart as intended by the composer, no more and no less.

The question is, which comes first, inspiration or perspiration? I think inspiration fuels perspiration. Very hard work has the goal of providing as many "chills" as possible. Each composition has it's thrilling and magical moments. Great performances should serve many on a regular basis. They come in many packages and will impact listeners in different ways. Communication of something that is not average, boring, or lifeless is the key. Artists are gifted to grasp that and just do it. Training needs to trend in this direction.

Fundamentals can be taught. Fantastic life-changing musical communication is rare and is much more difficult to learn. Many can hear and appreciate it, but few do it. The fun challenge in making music and in preparing to perform music, is the high calling of captivating listeners with the greatness that the masters intended. And it begins by being captivated ourselves.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Marvin Stamm

Great musicianship works anywhere, in the recording studio, in the orchestra, in jazz settings, chamber music, wherever. Any seasoned mature talent is obvious, refreshing, and knows no boundaries. It comes from within and manifests itself no matter what the venue. Marvin Stamm visited CCM this weekend, generously sharing the depth of his experience, teaching, and playing wonderfully as he has done for so many years. It was our treat and privilege.

I am always amazed at the language of jazz, the never-the-same spontaneity of it, and the specialized instincts required for this level of music-making. I feel like I am listening to another language, one which I love to hear, but cannot speak. Yet I can understand it when it is done well, and Marvin is a master of fluency and eloquence.

He is classically trained, well experienced, knowledgeable, and a deep source of information. Young players he said should absorb from the experience of older players. Learning only from peers has limitations. He spoke with reverence and respect about the great players who had influenced him from all styles of music. So much he learned from hanging with the older greats in their day. We do well to select our company wisely.

I loved hearing him hear. Several students played for him, and played well. He responded to each one directly, respectfully, and told them exactly the areas of need. Expression rules over perfection, was a standout theme to me. More important than every jot and tittle is the beauty of the phrase. Detail is trumped by musicianship. Yet the details were scrutinized so that their overall effect would enhance the music.

Referring to the splendid playing of Phil Smith, he noted that he is never cautious. Take the chance, go for the impact, jump in, and never play tentatively. Belt it out, play a real forte, he said at one point.

In the all too brief session I attended, I went away impressed by the depth of a great musician. Just to sit and listen to him talk of his music world was heaven. He loves it. It shows. The man is the music.