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.

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