Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Luggage" for '09

You can already hear freight train 2009 barreling towards us on its fast track. Fortunately it makes one final rest stop at Holiday Station, just long enough for us to collect a few thoughts before it heads off into the New Year.

As the old year rounds third and heads for history, it might be good to think about lightening our load a bit for the journey ahead. Extra cumbersome baggage is costly these days and adds unwanted strain on the carrier. So let's take into the new year only those things that we can carry and which will still be prospering when Engine 2010 approaches. For sure there is nothing new offered here, just a couple of reminders as we prepare for our routines.

The first item to take along - a disposition that leaves others encouraged. Improve rather than disapprove. My wife reminds us when cleaning the house for company, "Always leave a room better than when you entered it." ("Fine, then I'll just leave," I say. That's not the idea.) Contribute something edifying. Remove things unhelpful. Anyone can trash and tear down. Even a few well-spoken words are powerful - no flattery, just encouragement. It is always needed.

Another idea is to begin work on projects now rather than later. This obviously avoids extra stress. Starting your work early gives you and your project simmer time. Long haul preparation is more productive than last minute cramming. Slow plugging beats fast hammering.

Those who know how to prepare well are usually self-starters. They are not dependent upon others. They take initiative and finish projects. They also have learned how to inspire themselves, to stay motivated, and to dig their way out of discouragements. People like this should be your best friends.

Also consider that your gifts and abilities are given, not a given. We really don't own anything that we did not receive. Even the ability to acquire wealth has been granted from our Maker. This perspective produces gratefulness and helps us to approach our responsibilities without the selfish focus that brings the pressures of pride and insecurity.


Have a great New Year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Cop, the Doc, and the Maestro

What is the lesson that a highway patrolman, a dentist, and a conductor can teach us? There he is, parked around the bend on the interstate with his window wide open and that obnoxious gun thing aimed straight at you. He's our friendly speed monitor. The second guy we see is peering down from behind his sanitary mask with his obnoxious sharp poking instrument aimed straight at your mouth. It's our friendly tooth monitor. Next, there he is, staring back at you from his podium with that obnoxious stick in his hand pointed directly at you. It's our friendly note monitor!

These three can be either friend or foe. The choice is yours. But there is something important to be learned from each of them. For sure we get their message, but usually it's too late and costly. Had we only known and been prepared, our encounter would have been much more pleasant, or no en counter at all. But because of our negligence, we must face a ticket, a cavity, or a musical flogging . . . or a billing, a drilling, and a grilling!

Your speed suddenly matters when it's found unacceptable. Dental hygiene matters when the painful cavities surface and must be dealt with, and the lack of right notes matters once they are publicly exposed. Neither a quick jamming of the brake pedal, nor a flurry of brushing, nor a frantic last minute practice session can make up for our woeful lack of preparation. These monitors teach us not to get too late smart.

But wait! Could it be that these three characters, the cop, the doc, and the maestro, are only ghosts of the past, and not necessarily what must be in the future? No, they need not be specters that dog us in the new year, hounding us for our wealth, our health, and musical success. Yes, we can awake from these very real nightmares to find instead that we have yet another chance to prepare to meet them, and this time with confidence and readiness and joy! MERRY CHRISTMAS, everybody! MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fire-Starting Methods

Christmas Eve will find you . . . kneeling down to fan the flames of that yuletide fire, but you quickly realize that you are working way too hard because not much flame-flickering is happening! Furthermore you are getting faint fast and your holiday company is growing impatient and not at all impressed with your fireside manner. The smoke seems to be winning the blowing contest as it poofs right back into your face which grows paler by the puff. What a wimp!

Holiday lesson: Sorry to say that this scenario is highlighting your severe embouchure and breathing problems! Your approach also reveals a serious character flaw which is totally unacceptable for a brass player. It appears that you are trying to start that fire like a woodwind player!! (Actually they have fake fires, or else they have someone start it for them.)

Let us observe three ways how not to get a fire started this Christmas. First is the oboe player's Tight Squeeze Method, subtitled A Fire in a Pinch! No Chicago fire will ever get started with such an embouchure. Windy City? Not. While they're aiming at the floor, more air actually escapes from their ears than ever reaches the smoldering wood. It takes oboes a very long time to get a little fire going, and this is definitely not the way to impress your holiday company. The fire cracklings seem to be laughing at this over-stressed effort.

Next mistaken approach: the Classic Flute Puff Method, which attempts to ignite flames without stirring any dust or soot whatsoever. You can faintly hear only slight puffings and twitterings from the would be blower as he never inhales more than a reed cup full of air. The pitiful air stream does have a nice quivery vibrato however. This method is somewhat popular because there is so little resistance.

Then there is the irritating Bottle Hoot Method. This is especially popular with bass clarinet players. Alto flute types also invariably latch onto this technique. The flute family often uses this method to suit their fast tonguing needs by using "hootalee-hootalee-hootalee's". This may help them with Bolero, but is not the greatest for fire-starting. The positive side is that The Bottle Method does provide a real hoot for observers.

Christmas break assignment: carefully observe your fire-starting technique and don't be using any of those woodwind methods. Brass players need to be studying The Three Little Pigs Method. You must huff, and you must puff, but you must blow the house down! In fact, the more dust, soot, and smoke, the better! When your flames are blazin', then you're cookin'!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Time For a New Toy

We have the results of your annual trumpet e-check. Are you ready? It calls for three valve jobs with alignment included, complete chemical flush to remove all red-rot and corrosion, compression checked, dents fixed, corks replaced, new pearls, new springs, bell straightened, plating redone, pitting to be buffed from mouthpiece as well as all areas of contact of the horn with sweaty skin, lost nut screws replaced, mouthpiece gap adjusted, loose braces soldered, lost third valve bottom cap replaced, leaky spit valve fixed, and all food to be drilled from mouthpiece back bore. And oh, your mute also needs a few corks!

We expect first-rate music to flow from equipment that is often in poor repair, and wonder why we struggle. A horn in excellent condition says something about the player. It also can make life a whole lot easier.

Forget the huge repair bill. This is the season for a shiny new toy!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Buerkle's Brass Festival a Hit

The drive to Kettering was worth it. Brian Buerkle did it again. It was the perfect venue for an Organ and Brass Festival at the Kettering Adventist Church just outside of Dayton. A total of fourteen brass players from near and as far as Colorado shared in the glory of brass and organ favorites. Some very nice playing by everyone contributed to a great concert experience. Trumpeters John Rommel, Justin Bartels, Jon Kretschmer, and Wesley Woolard joined Brian in covering C, piccolo, and flugel parts cleanly. An appreciative audience filled the large church.

Adding class to the program were nice touches of color and perfect poundings from the percussion guys. CCM's mezzo-soprano Brittany Wheeler beautifully sung the gorgeous solo part to the Urlicht by Mahler. Ravishing is the only word for that movement, and the brass shared the many solemn moments beautifully.

Bravo to maestro Buerkle for envisioning an ambitious project and seeing it through successfully! We heard not only very fine trumpet playing by him and his colleagues, but also witnessed skills in organizing, leadership, arranging, and conducting, as well as mature musicianship. There was a lot of talent on display, but that was not the focus. His humble but quite confident presence was perfect for drawing our attention to great music. Thank you for that!

Organist Jerry Taylor spoke well with humor about the French organ composers represented. His playing on the Franck Final was brilliant. His instincts for dramatic flair were perfect as he was thoroughly enjoying the music which eventually climaxed in the most grandiose ending imaginable! Total immersion by musician is always special for audience. Well done! (Brian, you have to arrange that one for antiphonal brass forces next time!)

The horns nicely finessed the many runs and flourishes with impressive sizzle and tone. The trombones were appropriately sensuous in the Shostakovich Jazz Suite and gave the trumpets a comfortable cushion for their lead moments all through the concert. They also had many fine trombone moments of their own. I thought the highlight was Wagner's Gathering of the Armies from Lohegrin with all juices flowing in sync. Off stage beltings were just as they should be - strong and confident with Brian conducting accordingly. He managed the likelihood for distance/delay problems well.

That Gabrielli Canzon has got to be about the all-time best showcase for the back of the orchestra ever. It gives reason to put us up front permanently! The competing choirs did a great job of friendly combat. The original score must have said something in the fine print about each group trying to outdo one another. Choir A keeps laying it down, only to be defiantly answered by the reply of Choir B, with each insisting on dominance. This is as it should be, and it continues until they all cross the finish line together to the cheers of those in the stands. You gotta love Gabrielli!

And then came the Finale from Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony. Who needs strings and reeds to hide in! The piece works just fine without them. Brian's arrangement was a toughy, but they got it done. This program showed what inspiring brass music is all about. Where would orchestras be without it? Nice show, Brian!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Season's Matchings


Bad Solfege _2_
Has an 18-note word _10_
Mahler 9th _7_
Scale down _5_
Bengal _1_
ESPN Theme _3_
1812 _4_
Environmentally-conscious cuffs _8_
Scale down _6_
Mahler 4th _9_


1. Snow Man
2. Deck the Halls
3. Bridge to Sleigh Ride
4. Same Old Lang Syne
5. Joy to the World
6. Away in a Manger
7. White Christmas
8. What Child is This?
9. Jingle Bells
10. Angels We Have Heard

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trumpet Works in Toronto

Andrew McCandless, principal trumpet of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, is the Professor of Trumpet at the Royal Conservatory's Glenn Gould School of Music in downtown Toronto. Not unlike Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, the G.G.S. accepts only the best talent, and takes very good care of its four trumpet majors. Proof: recent grad Adam Zinatelli is just about to land the Principal Trumpet position in the Calgary Philharmonic. School's mission accomplished!

The school is part-way through a massive building project which will include a new concert hall. There is already an impressive fusion of the old school masonry with sharp new century design. Just next door, however, an alien high rise appears to have crashed and adhered itself right onto the front of the nineteenth century fortress! The Conservatory's new music building should easily offer a more subtle, yet bold presence, reflecting traditions while implanting the new.

Professor McCandless has a lot to work with, and his students have a lot to draw upon. He brings to his studio his on-the-job experience with the orchestras of Savannah, Kansas City, Buffalo, Dallas, San Francisco, and now Toronto. His training credentials include Boston University and the Eastman School. Andrew is an excellent soloist who also has an unashamed love for teaching. The word is that he is also a sought-after speaker!

Yesterday was one of the days the school generously offers an outsider to participate. It was a day full of solos and excerpts. I was privileged to throw my deux cents into the mix. We heard nice displays of Arutunian, Hummel, Hindemith, and Honegger, (no Haydn. Without the H's, we'd lose half of our solo repertoire!) Solo class was then followed by a good look at a dozen of those pesky standard excerpts that never seem to go away. Some efficient nailing happened.

I was reminded that successful training is never painless. If it is, it isn't happening, or else we have a genius on our hands. In addition to all the normal requirements, Andrew's lesson agenda includes regular doses of transposition and sight-reading! Duets are also part of each lesson as they stimulate vital ensemble instincts. How easily these three are neglected!

For music school hunters and/or trumpet recording geeks, Toronto offers a fantastic experience. As many orchestra budgets have brought recording projects to a standstill, the Toronto Symphony is already thriving with a bunch of CD's that, along with the music school, serious trumpet students ought to check out.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

So, what'll it be, boys?

"Hi, boys! Back again? Let me take your order. Today we've got some tantalizing appetizers, tempting side dishes, and plenty of devilish desserts. Now which will it be?"

Does eating have any relationship to trumpet practicing? It may be a stretch, but maybe not if you consider the importance of discipline for improving in both areas. We make decisions every day that affect us for better or worse. Whether you're opening up the Arban book or the menu at Applebee's, you are faced with choices. We tend to order up what we want, not what we need. Do those decisions matter, and is there a relationship between good nutrition and good performance? You decide.

With life's bar 'n' grill serving up its daily specials, it is difficult to maintain a balanced diet of anything. There are lots of attractions and distractions. Keeping in mind our goals for top physical and musical health, some things have got to go. We must make decisions that will leave us in better shape at the end of the day. Suggestions:

Control over those shakes just might help us with control over our shakes. We could start substituting scales for ales. Shed the gin, and head for the gym. Do flies, not fries. Less spaghettios and more arpeggios. Tonics are for playing only. Less pizza and more pizazz. (Sorry).

Moderation, discipline, and self control are issues that affect all areas of life. Being out of balance in one area could jeopardize our success in another. Control in one area should help us with control in all the others. If our trumpet really matters, so must our discipline.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hold On!

Few have the patience for this kind of practice. It's too boring and unmusical. Besides, it takes too much time and can be embarrassing as it makes others think you must not be very advanced. The truth is that this practice is excellent therapy for what ails most of us. How so? It helps intonation, tone, breath control, endurance, and even articulation all at once. To ignore this practice is to show up for your very first rehearsal unprepared. We're talking long tones, holds, fermatas.

One very long note can be a whole lot harder than a string of fireworks. Somewhere in every piece you will hear at least one. Often Trumpet I is called upon to demonstrate to the world how it's done. For example, take Zarathustra, both Leonore calls, Mahler 2nd and 10th, Rienzi, every Brahms Symphony or Strauss tone poem. Second players are not exempt. Beethoven and Brahms made Trumpet II the king of low, long and soft. Put on your fermata or long-sustained-phrase glasses and you will discover them everywhere. This gives us new motivation for daily fermata practice. You know you're going to need it!

This week add a good dose of long ones to your practice agenda. Just think organ, sostenuto sempre, Bruckner's molto adagio movements, bagpipes, air raid sirens, swimming under water, bullfrogs, puffer fish! Whatever works for you, think it so you will do it. Come up with your own strategy. You could have a long-note lottery. Pick a note, any note - loud, soft, high, low. Time yourself. Try them with dims. Try them with crescendos. Have someone mercilessly conduct your one note until you're totally out of air. We get paid by the note. Pretend we get paid by the length of the note. Grab a good breath and hold on!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Picture This

Every day during practice sessions in the basement, I would pause to gaze at my gallery of trumpet heroes on the wall. Each day they were there, staring at me through their picture frames, watching, listening, and some smiling as I slowly proceeded to blast my brains out. If I stopped playing long enough to listen, I could hear them. They had all at one time influenced me both by their words, of course by their notes, but also by their lives. But with the passing of time, their only help was in what I could recall.

Actually that is not true. When I looked closely at their embouchure as they were playing, I could still get a free lesson. Watching can be almost as beneficial as listening. My own embouchure had been a bit dysfunctional especially in early years, and many problems had to be overcome by sheer willpower. It was my way, the only way, and the hard way. Being coaxed and advised was not as helpful as observing other players - something about a picture and a thousand words. A wiser student would have heeded instruction as well as seeing it in practice, but that is a topic for another time.

Looking at those guys on the wall, I could see that each embouchure had a natural placement of the mouthpiece on the lips. It just looked right. Corners were firm, center free to vibrate, and the rest of the face appeared to focus on the blowing process. Air was directed straight into the cup, with no detours. Both lips shared the work load with an absolute minimum of strain. At least, it looked that way. Upper body was relaxed and upright while the air made its unhampered passage directly to the audience. The mouthpiece looked like it belonged there!

We study the art of music, but we also must learn the art of controlling its vehicle, the air stream. Behind every great trumpet performance there is a well functioning embouchure whose job is to manage air flow. Call him the quarterback, the point man, the executive officer, or the busy air traffic controller of your playing. If he has been trained to handle all that passes his way, you are good to go. Don't be at odds with your embouchure. The quality of your music depends on how well he functions. I was always amazed that so much great music could travel through such a tiny aperture with such efficiency and ease!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Treadmill on the Incline

It's just what you asked for, your very own Life Style Treadmill! It comes complete with lengthy practice manuals and a lifetime guarantee. The fine print warns that you will wear out before it does! Nevertheless, you accept the challenge, and it quickly becomes the focus of your life. You're on it 24/7.

But what happens when that treadmill seems stuck in the inclined position? Instead of walking on air, your every step is a painful uphill climb. Or worse yet, that exhilarating jog has become a joyless drudgery. Soon you're thinking, "How could this have been so much fun, and now so much work? And everything hurts! Do I really want to keep doing this?" Congratulations! You have just run into your first wall.

Playing trumpet can be just as rigorous as a long uphill jog. Various degrees of burnout are quite common at music schools. In fact, it might as well be in the small print of every course description: WATCH OUT FOR THE WALL! The problem is that we didn't expect it. After only a few months you are seriously tempted to rethink your commitment to your ongoing warfare with your trumpet.

Be encouraged. You are fortunate to have just experienced a microcosm of reality. It happens after school just as much as in school. Start learning to deal with it now and prepare yourself. Those oncoming walls have their way of blindsiding you. Our job is to expect them and to learn to avoid their damaging physical and emotional effects. A wall can ruin your music making. You must tear down that wall! (or avoid running directly into it)

In my opinion there are two things that will help overcome debilitating discouragements. The first is a mindset that is committed to a daily routine of basic fundamentals regardless of how you feel. You can't wait for winds of inspiration to blow before you ever tackle your work. On the other hand, you don't beat yourself up, but you regularly develop those basics that will make you great.

The second is the most powerful. It is what got you were you are so far. It is your love for music. Without that, you cease to be an artist, only a mechanic. Go ahead and be the mechanic, but also be the musician. An intense passion for music can be the most effective weapon in sustaining you through stressful times. Your musical message must be stronger than the steep road in front of you. Use the looming walls out there to motivate you to develop your musical instincts and skills before you ever encounter the opposition.

One last thought. It's not about how great you become, but how much you love what you do. It is those who will have the most impact. Few seem to really enjoy their work. Be one of those who do. Keeping alive your love of music will sustain you and give you much to share. Keep running. You're not done yet. That wall may be the best thing that you ever ran into!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Filling Up Space

Conservatory practice rooms have their purpose and even a benefit or two, but there is a big problem with them. There just isn't enough space in there, physically or acoustically. Sometimes there is barely enough room for a mute change. If you want to switch mouthpieces, you first have to leave the room. Take a deep breath, and your shoulders are touching both walls. After a couple of long tones all of the air is stale, and in mere moments everything in there smells as bad as it sounds.

What's more, all of your notes are dead on arrival. Because there is no resonance, the only feedback you get is the slap in the face from your notes ricocheting directly off the wall, which soon describes your playing. Breathing tends to become shallow since everything is plenty loud in there. Consequently, the lips can be forced to do way more controlling than necessary. It isn't long until Frankie Fatigue and Sammy Smashmouth once again barge into the room to keep you company for the rest of your day. Assignment: find a way to get rid of them!

With that said, these cubicles do offer a great benefit. You can hear everything! All flaws are quite audible and exposed. We now have no excuse for ignoring weaknesses. Such a completely unforgiving acoustic teaches us honesty and humility, revealing that we are not as good as we imagined. That miniature stage presents us with our urgent practice agenda. It's clean up time!

Let's move to the concert hall. Look around at the space that needs to be filled up. Your sound will have to travel all the way back, all the way up, and to both sides in a split second! First lesson is to breathe accordingly. Your sound must have presence, projection, and resonance. Good air flow, and lots of it, will be the key to your survival. With a destination for your sound in mind, you will be able to shift much of the work from your chops to your air. Chops squeeze, lungs blow.

The stage also is the arena for music-making, whereas the practice room is the classroom for working. Since playing is more fun than working, and performing is more fun than practicing, your challenge is to bring the stage into your practice room. Add play to your work. It then becomes not about where you are, but how you are thinking.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Visiting Houghton College

Late October in upstate New York has got to be an artist's perfect getaway. If you never dabbled in water colors for lack of the right scenery, or ever dreamed of picturesque outdoor photography, consider camping out at Houghton College in the fall. It is a 125 year old Christian Liberal Arts College founded as a Seminary in the Wesleyan Methodist tradition.

Post card photographers must have a field day there. No photo shopping needed. Nature remains as it has always been, still unaltered by a single McDonalds, KFC, or even a Starbucks. Once over the shock of that reality, life can nicely settle down to what really matters. At Houghton, it is all about being in the ideal surroundings for lots of intense study, practice and worship. In such a place, how could you not?

The campus is pristine, and the students appear to be thriving in their distraction-free zone. The new music building is first rate, modern, classy and bright, and seems built to encourage all who enter. One is struck by the friendliness of each student as well as the school's dedication to excellence. Quality abounds.

Three trumpet students played for a brass meeting in the auditorium. First up was a lyrical study from one of the new etude books by Phil Smith. It was played with beautiful tone and expression. Wider contrasts of volume and operatic expression was the goal. Goal reached!

Next was the Lied by Bozza. Emphasis was on focus of tone quality and intonation. It's always nice when those two happen.

Finally we heard parts of the Concertino by Jolivet where there were high marks for confidence! Mr. Jolivet was our instructor that night as all that was needed he had already printed in the music. Who doesn't need to pay more attention to dynamics, tongue-finger coordination on fast notes, and centered intonation? We always get better when we observe major details. With each player, more efficient air flow made them sound better. It takes much patience, but practicing under tempo is worth the effort. Slow motion reveals our flaws. Nicely done!

Dr. Paul DeBoer, professor of brass instruments, must be doing many things right at Houghton. His students are obviously being well trained as the learning curve is fast and adjustments were made quickly. Fine people and fine musicians are being graduated from Houghton College. You get the correct impression that everything about the school matches its surroundings perfectly.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Noodling Matters

If you must noodle, you'd better make it good. Actually, it better be great! No super-fast, sloppy warming up allowed. Who wants to hear it? Especially in an audition, you want to make a great first impression. Don't broadcast your lack of attention to quality with a few careless licks. You don't want to hear those dreaded three words, "Thank you. Next", at least not so soon. So put on that gold crown, because you are about to perform on your King Trumpet, the Midas Edition. Nothing comes out of it but pure gold. That includes your noodles, all of them!

You're thinking, "I'm just stretching and bending." Well then, stretch and bend nicely. Imagine a preacher stepping to the pulpit before his sermon to test the volume level of his microphone. What would be the reaction if he were to let fly a bunch of off-color phrases unfit for the ears of his congregation? We've all heard what happens when a politician is unaware that his mike is on! Sadly, although he didn't intend for all of his words to be heard, those are often the most remembered. It all counts!

What if you went down to Great American Ball Park to see batting and infield practice before a Reds game? Immediately you are shocked at all the strikeouts and errors. One batter mistakenly lets go of his bat as it flies straight into the stands. First base is being overthrown consistently. Runners are tripping, and outfielders dropping fly balls by the bucket. "These are only warm ups" you say, "but still we paid for this!"

You've just boarded your Delta flight for Chicago (for musical reasons only). Then you hear the announcement. "Fasten your seat belts. Our pilot is going to warm up the plane first. He likes to test the runway a couple of times before taking off. Please bear with us. It may be a bit jerky before he is ready."

Our next scenario of horrors is at Bethesda Hospital in Cincinnati where you are witnessing your own heart operation! The young surgeon appears very nervous and highly unskilled as he approaches you. He quickly proceeds to make his first incision into your chest as if he were using his Black and Decker drill! The attending physician tries to calm you down. "Don't worry. He needs to warm up a bit. Once he's ready, he is really good." We get the picture.

You hold in your hand much more than an instrument. Your trumpet can preach the most eloquent and powerful sermon ever heard without you ever uttering a word. It can so speak as to mightily move hearts and minds. You are that highly talented and trained athlete who performs to the acclaim of multitudes. You are the pilot that can skillfully transport your listeners to many distant lands in an instant. And you operate with the precision of a surgeon who contributes to mankind by his invaluable life-changing ability. Your work matters.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Marshall Scott at CCM

Guest artist Marshall Scott of Western Kentucky University took the Trumpet Studio Class today at CCM. Playing really cool flugelhorn and classy intimate jazz, he and his terrific accompanying guitarist played several original tunes, spoke about the business and took questions.

Scott is accomplished in classical as well as jazz playing. If we were to take a peek at his music stand back in his home studio, we would find music the likes of Scarlatti, Beethoven, Holst, Haydn, Charlier, Arban, Sousa, as well as dozens of charts for gigs, and musicals, and everything else trumpet. Call him Professor Versatile. His hat rack surely has many pegs, and his Kentucky license plate ought to read "PLAZALL"!

Mr. Scott is an experienced and versatile musician who teaches as well as he plays. His resume includes working at Interlochen and in other positions where he gained valuable experience teaching students of other brass instruments. Commenting after a student's nice playing of a Concone study, Marshall offered good suggestions on shaping, vibrato and tone. The quick fix worked yet one more time. Buzzing the mouthpiece for clarity always yields the results of more resonance, better tone and pitch center.

Marshall is a humble, down-to-earth musician who loves what he is doing. It was a pleasure to hear him in the all-to-brief hour allotted.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Breathing for Us Dummies

Brass playing, what a profession! We spend six years of college or more learning how to put air through a piece of metal. Basically we are all just wind machines. Some blow hard, some soft, and some seek to blow the house down. And there are huffers, and there are puffers. There are squeezers and there are pinchers. There are sprayers, and there are flinchers. Sometimes we blow hard, and sometimes we can actually blow soft! We come in countless varieties and shapes, but we all share our dependency on air.

Before we can establish a reputation for a great exhale, we must learn to be comfortable with a great inhale. The exhale is going to be crucial, for hopefully it will carry a great cargo of musical goods. No one likes to see or hear them crash and burn, so fuel up well. Because the journey is usually longer than expected, the inhale will have to at least match the volume of the exhale, ie. enough fuel to get to your destination.

Assignment: No horn, no mouthpiece. Just get used to large intakes followed by fabulous exhales. Think of the music that will be supported by your awesome exhaling!

Four exercises: 1-fast intake, slow release. 2-slow intake, fast release. 3-fast intake, fast release. 4-slow intake, slow release.

Observation: Most embouchure problems suffer from a lack of enough air, rarely an over abundance. Simply, the lips become oxygen-starved. The cure is cheap! Let us not forget the key ingredient of our existence. It's O.K. to be an air-head!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bowling for Notes

What does a bowling alley have in common with a music conservatory? Hopefully not much, but consider for a moment a split screen profile of a great bowler taking his steps as he releases the ball. On the opposite side of the screen we are listening to and observing the textbook embouchure trumpet player as he makes his grand entrance on that first note. Before we consider our two pros, let's first look at our wannabes - pros in training.

You don't even have to watch a bad bowler to know he's bad. How do you know? You can hear him even at a distance. The give-away is that thud-clunk as the ball bounces a bit, loses speed, and heads for the gutter. Team mates shutter and wince. And so does he.

Next, the camera moves to our conservatory trumpet dude as he/she proceeds to smack the first note as if with a sledge hammer. The poor note never gets a chance. It sputters and immediately loses energy, volume and direction. Even with the practice room door shut, the trademark of our artist still-in-the-making is obvious. Passersby shutter and wince. And so does he.

Our hidden microphone has told us all we need to know. It says to us, "It's the attack, stupid!" Is it fair to say that those consistent smack downs by both contestants will leave many of the pins and notes uncovered? In vain we play and bowl, and wonder why we get low marks and no bucks.

Think about the approach, power, and finesse of a top bowler. There may be a good firm start as the ball meets the floor, but it is graceful and controlled as he aims for all 10 pins. Likewise the trumpeter begins with momentum, power and control. There may be a good firm start as he begins, but the sound is clean and focused as the air follows through to cover all of the notes.

By the way, what do you think a great trumpet player and a pro bowler have in common? They don't ATTACK, they RELEASE. Consider your beginnings to be releases, not attacks. You are now free to release the music inside you, rather than attacking it!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Notes on Wynton

Just as was to be expected, it was a packed Corbett Theatre for the Wynton Marsalis Masterclass at U.C. on Monday! What can one say that has not already been said about someone at the top of his game in both jazz and classical trumpet playing? His playing speaks for itself. And yesterday he spoke for himself just as articulately and warmly as he plays.

While that luscious Monette trumpet sat there all by itself on the chair, Wynton spoke of his life and his music to a huge audience who respectfully hung on every word, analogy, and bit of music history. Impressive is his broad knowledge of music, but it is his humor and humility that make him all the more admirable.

If you went to take notes, he gave you lots to consider. What to practice seems easy and clear, the way he broke it down. At the top of his list is breathing. Then comes clarity of the first note, tone and flexibility. What else is there? Good to hear him highly recommend the Fourteen Characteristics of Arban and tons of etudes. Some things never change. There are no shortcuts.

For a career like his, incredible dedication and persistence are required, probably way more than we realize. He recalled struggling with tendinitis from so much finger work on Perpetual Motion during his recording project with the Eastman Wind Ensemble. No one would have guessed. There isn't much money to be had in music, he warned. It's a lot of work, so you really have to love what you're doing.

A dominant message seemed to be his infectious drive and passion for music. As driven as he obviously is, his trademark is still that balanced, laid back and unstressed approach - perhaps a valuable secret to his longevity and success. He emphasized absorbing the best from many different artists, and not being so much about yourself that you can't learn from and appreciate others. We can thank whomever it was years ago that slipped Wynton his first recording of Maurice Andre! The rest is history.

I admire his fresh approach to music appreciation. He still gets a kick out of young kids trying to play for all they're worth. He likes to take in the sounds of a symphony orchestra tuning up, and savors the powerful belting out of confident brass music as it makes its way into a reverberant hall. He is one gifted man with awesome musical instincts. It was great to hear him speak and play. The sheer joy of the best about music is still there even after all these years. Today I was thinking during lessons, "What would Wynton say?"

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Finding Your Purpose

Making Your Marks

Which is the greatest, the one who achieves the most, or the one who has the most influence? We have become a hero-oriented society idolizing those at the very top of their profession. Our superstars have well served to motivate and inspire millions to compete for all we are worth. Drive, focus, intensity, and specialization are each the marks of greatness that separate the men from the boys. This mindset however is not without its destructive side effects.

At the core of each profession is its purpose. Does music performance edify or just serve the ego of the performer? When it is all about self the side-effects hidden in the small print begin to show themselves. The stress produced by comparison, pride and inferiority can ultimately interfere with the effectiveness of the performance and ruin the performer. When the goal is to give and to build others, the pressure and symptoms are greatly relieved and the message is more effective.

In considering your purpose consider also your odds. For instance, how many top orchestra principal positions will become available in the near future? You can count them on one hand, maybe two. To invest all of our energy on such a tiny window of "success" is beyond reason. O.K. how about section positions in a wider range of orchestras? A bigger pool for sure, but still extremely competitive. There are simply more competent brass players than there are positions to accommodate them. We have two options. We can give up and move to another profession, or we can readjust our perspective and redefine our purpose.

One one hand, there are those who will never be content unless they reach the top. Odds are, they won't. They will forever be condemning themselves and comparing themselves with perfection. That kind of life will likely be full of frustrations and self-imposed stress. In this case, a career move should happen sooner rather than later. It's a question of where one will be the happiest and most useful. Life is more than a title.

Evaluate areas that you are passionate about and pursue them. The world has a huge need for those who will challenge and inspire young people to find themselves and their purpose in life. For some being able to belt out a blistering high C is admirable. For others an equally legitimate life calling might be to inspire others to realize their potential in the many opportunities in the music field. The goal is to apply ourselves to excellence without making its pursuit an obsession.

The gifts and talents we have been given were not by chance. Our task is to go as far as possible with the tools we have, and to work diligently and see where it leads. We each run in our own lane. It's not that we might miss the mark, but that we proceed confidently preparing to make our own marks.

Monday, September 29, 2008

For as Long as These Lips Shall Last

It's not fair. Only two lips and so many notes! Boat loads of notes keep coming at us, by the page, by the concert, and by the season. It's like a video game with those evil invaders ever advancing. Faster and faster they come, seeking whom they may devour. But as long as those lips shall last, they are wonderfully victorious with the celebration of brilliant brass playing. At least, that's our goal. So it becomes a matter of survival, and a fight we must learn to keep winning for as long a time as possible.

James Chambers, former Principal Horn with the N.Y. Philharmonic, used to say that a Bruckner Symphony was like a contest between his left arm and his chops. Wasn't it Dizzy who philosophized that the trumpet player wins for a season, but in the end his horn will always have its way? We learn to conquer the horn, but eventually we find that the horn has conquered us.

We have all experienced that battle between the instrument and the embouchure. How we welcomed the challenge of owning sheer stamina, that showcase of raw power and heroism. It's lips over matter, and mind over lips! For as long as we're able, we're on top of the world. A Hero's Life was surely written for the brass. That's why they feature us on risers! Don Juan is only about us, and the heights of the Alpine Symphony are all reachable all the time. Life is King Conn from atop the Trump Towers! Whether it's The Titan or The Symphony of a Thousand, we say "bring it all on!"

Glorious as it can be, life is also short, and those Mysterious Mountain tops are eventually followed by A Quiet City. Our themes becomes less about Star Wars, and more like Trumpeter's Lullaby, the Blumine Movement, or the final verse of Send in the Clowns. Tchaikovsky's Pathetique has its triumphal third movement, but it is always followed by that slow and final journey down into its tragic depths of b minor.

Take care of the tools you have been given. Handle with care, pace yourself, and play wisely. We want to be able to finish with the final movements of Mahler 1, 2 and 3. That's the way to go.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Too Broad a Brush

Having heard some twenty-plus trumpet auditions the other day, I was left with a mental picture of an exterior paint brush! Granted, the hearing of auditions can make you fidgety and ready for a change of scenery free from excerpts. But all sanity was not lost. The task was to prepare comments and helps that would be more effective than, "you got nervous, ran out of air, your intonation was questionable, articulation was fuzzy", etc. - the usual feedback from committees whose advice you want and also don't want to hear. So setting aside the good displays of musical playing that happened, consider my paint brush vision.

Imagine looking over the shoulder of the French Impressionist painter Claude Monet. There he is all dressed with beret, stiletto cigarette, full-cut white shirt half unbuttoned, with one hand on hip, as he squints at his easel and prepares to begin his masterpiece in oil. You watch in horror and humor as he takes out his Sears $2.99 six-inch exterior house paint brush and seriously attempts to create and define those famous French subtleties!

You clear your throat and respectfully offer your suggestions about his equipment and concept. "Here", you say, "try these", as you open a bag of expensive fine-tipped brushes which you purchased from the local art and supply shop. You don't dare say it, but you're thinking, "how can you do all the refinements and details with that monster brush? What is going through your mind, monsieur?" "Ah, oui!" he exclaims. What was I thinking?"

This is not a rant on equipment that is too big, but a visual for a concept of trumpet-playing that is one-dimensional and not suited for the refinements and cutting-edge details that are required in every solo and orchestral work in the repertoire. You might suggest to Mr. Monet that he take a trip to the Louvre to study the masterpieces. Have him ask himself what his concept is that he intends to portray, and how his choice of equipment will enhance his work. Chances are, that six-inch paint brush will be used very sparingly.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What good are auditions?!

There's nothing like an audition to jump-start your playing, or to bring it to a stand-still. Those ten minutes under the gun can teach us more about ourselves and our needs than ten private lessons. Look at it as a reality check, and an incentive to organize a more productive practice routine. This business is about competition, so here's your chance to get used to it. Auditions can either make you or break you. The choice is yours.

A side note: every professional audition should not be taken just for the practice. Your goal is gaining experience, but also building confidence. No one wants to skulk home from every audition trip wearing an L. So only go if you plan on winning. In the meantime, take advantage of as many mock audition scenarios as possible. Now back to that audition room. . . .

There we stood with all of our musical strengths and deficiencies exposed. Humiliating? Well, consider that audition experience as your lesson assignment. It just handed you your agenda, or it should. One colleague used to say that it should always be obvious what to practice. So don't get discouraged, get motivated!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Matter of Conscience

"Intonation is a matter of conscience." So said Pablo Casals, the great cellist. This seems at first an unlikely connection, linking the conscience to the refining of musical skills. His point was that unpolished playing is not so much a technical matter as it is first a character issue. It is diligence and integrity on display, or the lack thereof.

Could it not also be applied to a performer's control, accuracy, dynamic range, alertness to ensemble, quality of sound, or whatever is required? We have come to tolerate and even expect too many imperfections as normal. We allow second-rate playing in the practice room, and yet we expect ravishing displays of artistry on the stage. Odds are it won't happen, and odds are you won't have fun. Learning to use one's conscience as a guide in perfecting the musical product just might bring a fresh new approach to our practicing. We realize that sloppy playing is more a reflection of our character than it is an indication of a lack of talent or ability.


Our flawed performance tells us that we were too forgiving in our preparation, not taking the demands of the music seriously enough, and not being honest with ourselves. We are used to thinking: "That part is too hard, this section never goes right anyway, and it's just a bad note on the horn." We listen to our own excuses, and therefore guarantee inconsistency when it counts.


Listening to our conscience begins by slowly breaking down the music and carefully rehearsing the required techniques so as to guarantee the highest degree of accuracy. For every one mistake, ten right responses are needed to erase the failure from our minds. We practice so that the odds will be greatly in our favor.

Our musical conscience screams at us that notes, phrases, intonation, etc. need our attention. Turning a deaf ear in the practice room results in our becoming blind to our weaknesses. So when under the pressure of performance, we rely upon our preparation, such as it wasn't. And we wonder why the concert went poorly.


Apply honesty to your trumpet practice. Listen to and obey your conscience. Remember, you only have so many notes. Don't ignore them.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Expecting the Best

Have you heard about the new teacher who was expecting to teach the most advanced students in the school? What she was not told was that hers was to be a class of only average or below average students. They wanted to see what would happen.

"These kids will be great to teach," she thought. "I'll not have to deal with bad attitudes, discipline, and poor results. These students will be glad to be there and eager to learn. This will be the ideal teaching situation. The job will be as it should be - fun, challenging and rewarding."

That semester everything went exactly according to plan. The students were responding to the enthusiasm of their teacher, and enjoying the challenge. As much was being required, much was being accomplished. By the end of the semester the grades were as high as interest and morale.

How could only average students achieve above average results? The students had confidence in the teacher because the students knew that their teacher had confidence in them and demanded results.

We have heard that we only get out what we put in, but we often only put in when we expect to get something out. The best teachers accept the challenge of getting the best out of less than the best. They consistently invest their best without prejudging the response. Whether taking or giving lessons, success depends upon attitudes and expectations. In short, you get what you expect.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why bother!

Sometimes the stack of stuff on the stand is overwhelming. We try to get a running start with intentions of covering everything, but after only a short time the give-up syndrome takes over as nothing feels right. Yesterday might have been fantastic, but it's just not working today for a bunch of reasons, or no reason at all. Was lack of motivation the problem, practice habits, or something else?

How about an adjustment of our definition of progress. Ideally every day is a day of hard, wise practice with lots of noticeable improvement and satisfaction. Real life is rarely that good however. The reality is that the biggest obstacle to improvement is not so much technical as it is mental.

On days when nothing feels right, here's the chance to remember why we're practicing. It's about improvement, not performance. Getting better is the goal. That happens at a variety of speeds, sometimes quickly, most times gradually. The important thing is to ensure that it happens every day. On those down days, just make sure there is some progress even if it only feels like maintenance.

Adjusting our expectations will help when we encounter frustrating practice sessions. Temporarily lower the bar and just keep plugging away at basic small tasks. Inspiration will come and go, but execution must be automatic. Many things can be practiced diligently apart from bursts of enthusiasm. Remember, your daily goal is improvement, not perfection.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My Student's Dad

Christopher Kiradjieff came for his first trumpet lesson when he must have been in about the fifth or sixth grade. His father, Conny, a top violinist in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, brought him for those first lessons while he sat at the far end of the room and observed. He pretended to be reading a book, but I noticed that he was doing a lot more listening than reading. I also sensed that he could have interrupted at any moment and finished teaching the trumpet lesson flawlessly with no further help from me. I loved it. This student was going to get a lesson every day at home!

Chris began improving quickly, and I could see that his dad was very proud of him. I know that Conny in his old-school way was tough on his son, the kind of toughness that produces good results. Chris inherited his father's musical instincts and had the benefit of hearing first-hand the hundreds and thousands of stories and anecdotes of life's ups and downs in his dad's world. A lifetime of invaluable lessons and information surely was available daily in their household free for the taking. Music was deeply ingrained in the man, and could not be contained. Many students and colleagues have benefited from their association with him.

As committed and talented as Conny was as a violinist, he was equally the courteous gentleman, never uttering an unkind word about anybody. I remember him being very intense, but not without that smile, laugh and down-to-earth humility that made everyone love him.

I always thought of Conny as being one of the best and most mature musicians on the stage. If he were here now, I can hear him impatiently insisting on talking instead about me and my family. "Tell me, how's your family?" I liked him particularly because he kept what he knew quiet, never advertising his opinions. Wisdom was there if one wanted to dig for it. To all he was sincere, warm, very friendly, and genuinely interested in you.

Conny passed away this past Friday, August 8th, 2008. Many are already missing his energy and friendliness. Conny's tenure with the CSO was an amazing 49 years, while he was also very busy teaching at the College-Conservatory of Music. I'm sure that one of Conny's most proud moments was when his son Chris joined him in the orchestra. And now his son, Christopher, is currently continuing the long run of having their family name in the program for many years to come.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Don't Waste Good Criticism!

The road to Carnegie Hall is paved with many annoying and unplanned irritations. Progress is never criticism-free. The problem is that we let those inevitable criticisms cause us to lose focus and confidence so that we miss seeing their benefits. Easily angered or discouraged, we then lose our motivation. The issue then becomes not control of the instrument, but a struggle for control of ourselves!

Why not consider criticisms as lesson assignments intended to improve your playing? Sometime in the near future, you will certainly be required to make adjustments on the spot. Responding well is part of what you will have to do. Get used to it.

If intonation is not refined now, you will have to face a wincing conductor pulling at his ear as he hears you add havoc to the pitch of the ensemble. If your rhythm is unsteady, you will have to deal with irritated colleagues as you add havoc to the precision of the ensemble. If you ignore dynamics you will become a nice contributor to a mediocre ensemble. You get the picture. Fix it now, or you might not even get the chance to fix it later.

Whatever the point of your irritation, be thankful that it has been brought to your attention. Our egos should never be so great that we are offended at complaints about our playing. Think of critical comments as good advice that can ultimately improve your performance. Hard-to-take comments can result in making you a much better player as well as a person. So welcome them, get to work, and don't react. Your road to success will be a lot less painful for you and for your colleagues.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Staying After School

Today is the kind of day one dreams about in January - a totally clear day, perfect, warm, no allergies, no cicadas, no classes, (no students), the kind of day that pushes practice to the back burner and turns it OFF. Life is not so tough. Today the trip to CCM was only to pick up a check!

To those whom this may concern, CCM is rather empty just now. All practice rooms are pretty much silent, resting up for the Fall assault. A heads-up: today technicians began installing hidden microphones in each of the fourth and fifth floor practice rooms. I asked about that. They said that it was confidential. I pushed and shoved to eventually learn that the wiring will be routed to room #475 in Memorial. Yes, comrades, big brothers will be listening in! You have been warned.

The campus is alive with strolling middle-aged people accompanied by young kids. This must be Freshman orientation with parental accompaniment. Soon large laundry bins full of clothes will be wheeled to the dorm rooms. I always notice the expression on the parents' faces at that point. There are no words to describe that moment.

Other things also never change. The Tattoo shop still oozes with creepy-crawlies. The red-nosed clown buffoon still skulks in front of Chipotle's. The same bum still sleeps till noon under a large bush behind the parking lot that forbids parking. Very strange.

Thinking of you all, as most venture elsewhere for the summer months. Hope your activities are refreshing and beneficial. Enjoy these days. Looking forward to getting back to work and play in a few short weeks.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Trumpet Week at OU

Nestled in the gentle hills of eastern Ohio is a jewel of Americana - THEE OHIO UNIVERSITY. The city of Athens is just what one might envision for the ideal college experience - a busy university life in a quaint small town setting. Atmosphere is everything. This has to be one of the best college venues in the country. But alas. So many colleges, and only one life!

This week was the annual Trumpet Workshop led by Professor John Schlabach. Eighteen trumpet students, mainly high schoolers, were privileged to receive non stop info on all things pertaining to trumpet basics. This was THEE clinic on proper use of air. Generous samples of many top-notch trumpeters were played and discussed. Daily sessions were geared to instilling correct technique mixed with the musical mindset of past greats Arnold Jacobs and Vince Cichowicz.

Mr. Schabach is a rare gift to the teaching profession. He has the exuberance and love of music that has not lessened with time. His excellent rapport with students, communication skills and thorough knowledge of the business made for a fun week of learning. He started the week with a fine recital displaying mature musicianship and character. His grad assistant then sung through a beautifully effortless performance of the Tartini Concerto. The recital demonstrated getting it done. The next day we settled in to talk about how it's done.

Highlights of the conference: the look on the faces of many students as they heard recordings of Mahler 5, Maurice Andre, Gabrielli brass choirs, Mendez, Hardenberger, and many others for the first time. There were many other firsts: purchasing an Arban book, the Haydn Concerto, trying a flugelhorn, a C and an E flat trumpet, or piccolo. It was nice to see improvements happening in only a few days, and seeing them realize "I can do this. Now I know what I have to do." There was also a wonderful evening concert by the college community band on the green in the town square. Great music-making is in no way limited to just the top orchestras.

Motivation is crucial, but it can die without a daily how-to strategy. We need a good set of tools for the job. Skillful use of those tools facilitates great music-making. This week was profitable for both. "GOOD TEACHERS TEACH; GREAT TEACHERS INSPIRE!"

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Coaxing the Embouchure

The world tunes in for the Super Bowl, but few were there in July and August to witness those two-a-day workouts in the ninety-degree heat. Even before the first day of training camp, personal conditioning had been a priority. Millions will watch the World Series, but few see the rigors of daily batting and fielding practice. We have been conditioned to idolize the MVP for that game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer, but have not been shown his thousands of practice shots alone in the gym. Highlight clips show us only the perfect product, never the painstaking preparation. The tip of the iceberg is glamorized while the long road to the finals is forgotten.

Conditioning for a career in music is no different. Good prep is a daily and a life-long requirement. Each day it is like learning to play all over again. Picking it up exactly where we left off the night before never seems to work. The body requires gentle coaxing back to life, and the lips are not exempt.

I listened outside the door today as some high school brass players were warming up en mass in one room. Strains of concertos by Mozart, Strauss, and excerpts competed with each other. The battle was for quick control of the chops, the heroic trial-and-error approach. The mentality of beat-it-into-submission is not the best agenda for an 8:30 A.M. warm up. But then again, we've all been there. Maybe last night it was working, but something happens to chops over night, and we must begin carefully all over again the next day.

I admire Hakan Hardenberger's approach to playing. That amazing ease, endurance and control were not just planted there at birth. The talent and musicianship were, but like the rest of us, he is required to take the long tedious journey of training. The secret to musical greatness is enjoying the learning process. Anyone can enjoy playing well from time to time, but few like learning to do it. This older video of Mr. Hardenberger playing Telemann gives us quite a lesson on delicate training of the embouchure.

Many have addressed the warm up in detail. My observation is that the loudest and fastest warm-upper is rarely the best player when it comes time for the performance. The slow-and-soft approach seems to get it done for many great players when it comes to starting the day's playing. The non-stop-listen-to-me method never gives the lips time to recover and fatigue sets in quickly. The constant repetition of try-and-try-again is also tiring and annoying to colleagues. Don't waste notes. You have only a finite amount of them, so pace yourself. Easy does it. It's a long haul. Make sure your lips are ready to work for you, not against you.

Just think: you'll be getting paid for right notes that sound good, period. Prepare accordingly. Those first notes are preparing you for the ninth inning of Game Seven of the World Series. Your road to success begins right there in the practice room all by yourself.