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.

No comments: