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)