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!