Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Thank you. Next."

"Uh, thank you.  Next." We all know the pain of hearing those words.  For every promising day on the horn, there are seemingly countless days when we have seriously considered "why am I even doing this?" Especially discouraging is that dreaded response from the committee after a horribly played audition.  We interpret that "thank you" to be a pronouncement of "FAILURE!!" Angrily and sadly we pack up our gig bags, and trudge back home. 

Putting emotions aside, the reality is that this unpleasant weaning process does more than just produce finalists for the committee to further traumatize.  It serves to redirect or readjust the paths of those whose fulfillment is to be best found elsewhere.  It also serves to define and refine competitors for future ordeals. 

Retrace the steps of the greats.  If they all quit after their first rude dismissal, who would be left on stage?  Yesterday's lasts are often tomorrow's firsts.  Losses always precede victories.  Nobody waltzes straight to success.  Failures happen.

Consider also the adrenaline and emotions expended as a good basic training program for the toughness required for future performances.  If you can't survive one defeat, you won't do well on stage for a whole career of shows. Pressures can destroy us, redirect us, or strengthen us.  Emotions are real, but they change quickly and shouldn't be our only guide for direction.  

Ultimately failures don't define us.  You are more than a trumpet, or an excerpt, or a well or poorly played solo.  A failing performance pronouncement can be your best prodding for tomorrow.  Expect it and go on. We should learn to process "Thank you. Next" for our good. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Not Enough Ears

The problem with your practice is that there are simply not enough ears in the room.  Only two is not working out so well for you, is it. That's because they're yours. You need a few famous listeners hanging around your practice room every day.  Will they like what you're doing?  Decide whom would you like to serenade, and play for them accordingly.  Don't be wasting your notes.  Someone is listening.   

Arnold Jacobs did his warming up just down the hall from Maestro Fritz Reiner and numerous other famous visiting conductors.  Why?  Because he wanted the reminder that all of his notes mattered.  Someone important was within earshot.  Don't blow it!  As Mel Broiles used to say, you need always to be performing in the practice room, or else you might not be able to turn it on at show time. Play to impress, or don't bother.

You want the audition to be just another day at the office, don't you?  Great playing is what you do, not what you hope to do someday.  You absolutely don't have to wait four years to get some document that declares you a Bachelor, or a Doctor, or a Performer, or an Artist.  Your only creds are the notes you consistently crank out of that horn.  Are you listening?  

Playing Like a Pig

Is playing like a pig ever acceptable?  Certainly you've been challenged to approach the music as aggressively as a hungry dog with a bone, but have you ever considered unleashing all restraints and going absolutely hog wild after the music?  The results might surprise you.

There lies within each of us a killer instinct that has probably been rendered dormant or extinct, especially after a year or two of conservatory restraining, I mean training.  Too often unchecked enthusiasm has been forbidden rather than nurtured.  Instead of honing a vibrant individualistic style, trumpet players tend to share a generic musically correct monotone with almost every other trumpet player in existence.  How about a nice course in pig-feeding!  Let's begin a project of nurturing that inner pig within you! 

Audition committees prefer aggressive, confident playing to cautious, tentative tiptoeing.  A high degree of technique must be attained without losing the ability to summon instantly that dog-eat-dog, king-of-the-mountain, winner-takes-all competitive mindset.  What makes our prize-winning pig so special is its amazing skill and control, in spite of its obnoxious piggy behavior.  We must train the pig without killing it. 

Envision a thoroughbred race horse with the eating habits of swine in the slop!  You must have the brute force of a Neanderthal, yet with the skill of an Olympic athlete.  You are the elegant and the visceral in one body.  Your front license plate says "CHEETAHS", but your rear plate says "PIGSRUS"!!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Somber, Sacred, and Joyous

Somber, Sacred, and Joyous Christmas Brass Music from the Cincinnati Pops 1989.

Promoting not ourselves here, but the One who has given us all so much.  "O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord."


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Heralding Brass

A Merry Christmas Season to everyone from the Cincinnati Pops Brass, recorded in 1989.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Best Audition I Ever Took

I was walking on air, ready to conquer the world with not a single worry about failure or competitors!  It was one of those precious few windows in time when I owned it all, or so I had conveniently convinced myself.  Ever feel like that?  Nice that it does happen once or twice in a lifetime, hopefully a lot more often, like every week!

Our task is to make it appear to happen every day!  If our feelings  falter, our confidence must not.  The audience must never know that we are not totally thrilled with every single moment of the show.  Success is when you can mask those pesky competing emotions.  Success is having practiced to the point where you can convince yourself and your listeners that there is nothing at all wrong with this picture.

Now back to that marvelous audition.  The neat thing about it was that for much of my journey, my trumpet was not needed. Listening and visualizing the performance is more important than lip slurs and long tones.  Great strides can happen when there is no obstacle in hand to thwart your merry jaunt.  Of course the grunt work of rehearsing and practice had long since been my routine. There is always time to take a deep breath, however, and to enjoy the fruits of all the laboring. Now to scale the summit, nail the finals, and on to win the job!

So, what's the key after all you can do has been done?  Put the horn down and sing it perfectly.  Create all the energy, rhythm, and character of the music with your feeble voice.  Be able to drop in on the exact mood of each excerpt with no hesitation.  All musical instincts must be on high alert.  The committee calls for the piece, we deliver the music.  We are to produce the product as easily and naturally as reaching out to catch a tossed pencil.

(Way too much rambling here, but that tends to happen when the future is in the past.)  To the point: sing it to win it!  Score highly on rhythm, dynamics, and character, all with really nice intonation.  When you can dazzle without the horn, you are then free to sizzle with it.  The horn is the final piece of your musical puzzle.  If all those prior pieces are in place, the horn will fit nicely into position. 

That audition was fun, not a nerve-fest.  It was simply a special-delivery day.  It was how I had always imagined it would be in high school back in NJ sitting in my room practicing and dreaming.  Have we lost the wonderment of our profession?  Do we finish conservatory only to burn out and hate our work?

Am I still too dreamy and unrealistic?  Yes.  But why not give ourselves to recapturing the romance we once had with music?  Our jobs and our audiences depend on it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


You dutifully open your Arban Complete Conservatory Method to pages 142 through 151 to begin work on your lesson assignment.  Anticipating dazzling solo material full of triple-tonguing pyrotechnics and flourishes of cornet heroism, you instead are greatly disappointed to discover only repeated boring wallpaper designs!  Groan . . . grumble . . . close book!!

You ask, "What does great music have to do with these endless patterns of boredom?  Or vise versa? Why must I practice these same uninspired measures in every single key! I turn the page and there they are again in minor, then once again in dominant sevenths.  The next page has even more drudgery in diminished insanity! How dull is this picture!"

Quite dull indeed, if that's how you want to think of it.  You must learn to thrive on the architecture of music as well as the drama. Theory matters. Arpeggios are to music what steel girders are to skyscrapers.  Without the ability to arpeggiate in all keys, performers would be severely handicapped.

How boring if all music had to be confined to C major simply because musicians could not handle any other keys.  "Sorry, Johann, we can't publish any of your Brandenburg Concertos because of the key signatures.  Ludwig, you are not allowed to delve into any of those foreign keys.  Such extremes will only flummox, dumbfound, and bewilder the musicians."  

For peace of mind and confidence, own arpeggios in all keys.  You will not have time to read every note of those fast-approaching arps in context of solos and orchestral music.  Welcome the "worst" keys imaginable and conquer them.  Make it a game.  Vacchiano would offer money to anyone who could play the one-line g sharp diminished seventh study on page 149 of the Arban book without a mistake.  Apparently he never had to fork over any money to any challenging student!  Amazing.     

Is it wallpaper or music? 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hanging with Fred Mills

It was 1970 something, and our yearly tour to NY!  That meant that at the first free moment I was off to Giardinelli's Band Instruments to try every trumpet in the store.  My purpose was to pick a winner, (and also to impress everyone within earshot.  You know how brass players think, or don't.)

Something about that famous place invited a dangerous overload of all competitive juices.  Common sense had a way of disappearing as soon as you entered the building. There was more showing off at Giardinelli's than anything else, sadly. Anyway, it was worth all the blasting, for by the end of the day I had discovered a nice new prize to take home. 

Something else happened however that was more memorable than my new trumpet. Soon after I began trying instruments, the door to that tiny trial room opened, and in walked Fred Mills of the Canadian Brass.  He quietly said, "Hi, Phil. Mind if I listen?"   He sat in the corner for a long time observing intently as I proceeded to blow out both lips and brains.  I was pretty sure he was amazed, but not for the reasons I imagined.

After a while I began to tire, having sprayed the room with every excerpt and solo lick I knew.  He got to hear me plow through oft repeated strains of Heldenleben, Aida, Mahler 5, Don Juan, Hummel and Loeillet Concertos, and anything else I could possibly think of.

Finally I asked if he wanted to play.  He shrugged, picked up a horn and began to play soft, perfectly clean and totally controlled scales and arpeggios.  He only played briefly, but the finesse was amazing for me to hear.  Somehow I had neglected to test and practice those vital elements of music-making.

I was given a very valuable and free lesson that day.  In his own humble way Fred Mills had just taken me to school.  "Here, I think I like this one the best," he said.  He handed it back, grinned, and left.  Great playing is not so much about the boldest blaster, but about the most controlled and versatile musician.  And that was Fred to a tee.  Lesson learned.

(See other post on Fred Mills in blog dated September 8, 2009.) 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Petroushka Ballerina Dance and Waltz

Ballerina Dance and Waltz from Stravinsky's Petroushka


Solos at 2:50 through 5:45

Snare Drum: Bill Platt

Britten - Trumpets from Young Persons Guide

Young Person's Guide, Variation K - Trumpets


Snare Drum: Bill Platt 

Avoiding the Barrels

Caution: You are approaching orange barrels.  Slow down!

Following your macho instincts instead of your intellect, you disregard the highway warning signs to reduce your speed.  Instead you begin swerving recklessly between as many barrels as possible.  Impressive moves, but dangerous.  An eventual glance in the rear view mirror reveals a lot more bumped and smashed barrels in your wake than you realized.  Nevertheless with a carefree shrug, you proceed unfazed at your frantic pace.

At the end of your speedy meanderings however, a traffic ticket awaits you. Rushing carelessly on the audition or performance stage also has unpleasant consequences. In both situations the lesson is clear.  Slow down to avoid destruction, be it barrels, notes, or chops!

You can't be driving treacherously at 75 mph in busy congested areas, nor can you consistently blast your way through tough passages at great neck speeds.  The results are not good: "Here's your $75 speeding ticket!"  Even worse: "Thank you. Next."  Or, "Here's your pink slip!"

Slow down so your brain has a chance to catch up. Muscles remember well, so train them for dependability, not foolish risk-taking.  Train for drama, not trauma.   

Monday, October 29, 2012

Days Like This!

You never guessed that on that magical day when you fell in love with music and chose the trumpet to be your lawful wedded spouse, that there would actually be days like this!  Frustration is not how you envisioned your enchanted music career to be.  Admit it.

Behind every successful performance however, there are more days like this than anyone would care to admit.  Prior to success was stress.  Before cheers there were fears.  Before birth, labor.  Before courage there was none of it!  Bruising, physical and emotional, can produce a certain required toughness.  Everyone passes through the city of Anguish. Who do we think we are to expect a clear path to success? The wise learn to reap the benefits of obstacles. 

A few thoughts for all of us as we each experience our stress issues:  Frustration happens, expect it. Struggle is necessary for mastery. Recognize that points of pressure are usually the best agents of improvement.  Do you remember that familiar statement:  the harder the fight, the sweeter the victory? Both the music and the musician stand to benefit.  Days like this are not fun for sure, but necessary, and eventually profitable for you and for your audience.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Daily Doses Mandatory

So, how have your chops been doing?  "Well, they're a little beat up lately. I've had a ton of stuff to deal with."  So goes the typical appraisal of life behind the mouthpiece.  The spirit is at times quite willing, but the embouchure is too often weak.

What we need for a successful career is chops that can consistently handle brutality, and yet be able to preserve subtlety.

A teacher of mine used to give the following advice, "When you have to play Mahler, practice Haydn and Mozart.  When you have to play Haydn or Mozart, practice Mahler."   (I would have welcomed some more specifics, but his point was well taken.)  I say, how about practicing some Haydn and Mozart everyday regardless. 

Control of soft dynamics is a necessity.  Days and weeks should not go by without secure contact with pianissimo notes.  You should be able to perform a successful "soft check" at any time.    

Thankfully there is a cure for the deadly smash-mouth ailment.  Other than rest and good air flow, it is soft purity. That's it. There is no treatise-reading required, or any guru-seeking necessary.  Just practice Haydn and Mozart!

Trumpet parts simply require command and control. Flamboyant cadenzas and great soaring bravura lines are for another day.  For the health of your chops, practice clarity, security, and dependability, one note at a time.  And don't forget to play softly!  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Drilling for Bach

Getting ready for BACH at CCM!!!
Tromba I
Tromba II
Tromba III
Hi, guys!  B Minor Mass is fast approaching. Another sectional tomorrow.  Ready?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dr. Clean

One goofy picture can make more of a lasting impression than a bunch of stern lectures.  O.K. meet Professor Clean, the friendly note-scrubber. He's more thorough than any other chipped-note picker-upper out there. He is tougher than he is kind, but he gets results.  And what brings him a smile? Spik and span playing!

His mindset is CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GREATNESS. He warns us that nobody buys a flawed product.  Dirty notes don't sell.  Junk-tolerance must be zero, says the Doc. The doctor's mission: a total playing make-over by putting our whole house in order. 

Audition committees easily recognize students of Dr. Clean. They tend to advance quickly to finals and beyond.  "See," he says with a wink and a grin, "it pays to be clean." 

How about plastering a sticker of this guy on your bell?  How about using his ringtone on your phone?  How about dying your eyebrows white and shaving your head?  Anything that works on those grimy stubborn bad notes.  Hint: listening helps.

Oh no, Dr. Clean is not your teacher.  He must be you! You must let him scourge and purge your practice room of all filth and slime.  Let's start tomorrow's practice session singing his wonderful theme song:

Dr. Clean gets rid of dirt and grime
and grease in just a minute.
Dr. Clean will clean your whole house
and everything that's in it.  
Dr. Clean, Dr. Clean, Dr. Clean . . . .

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Purpose of Knuckles

Why do we have knuckles?  Multiple choice:
  • for threatening people?
  • for punching obnoxious colleagues?
  • for poking your Charlier book right off the stand?
  • for confusing your pitcher by giving no sign at all?
Answer:  all of the above plus one more.  When chops are wasted, when fatigue brings productive practice to a halt, and when you think there is absolutely nothing more to be accomplished . . . you are wrong, valve oil breath.  It's knuckle time! 

Notice that your three right hand valve fingers fit perfectly on your left hand knuckles?  Oh, the wisdom of our Creator!

Much of our lack of clarity involves sloppy right hand technique.  Valves are either slammed down way too hard causing violent jerks in the sound.  Or, valves are pressed halfheartedly in a wimpy fashion causing blips and bleeps.  And/or, the fingers have not been trained to strike precisely on command.  And likely, they are simply not coordinated with the tongue.  At any rate, sloppiness happens which is not the fault of the lips. 

Hence, an entirely new session should be included in our daily practice routine, knuckle-popping.
  • Step #1 - put horn and mouthpiece in the case and close it.  
  • Step #2 - make a fist with your left hand.  
  • Step #3 - place right hand fingers into slots on your left hand, and begin precise fingering on any passage you need perfected.  No music?  Fine.  Do scales, major, minor in all forms, chromatic, and arpeggios, major, minor, diminished, and augmented. This works for all trumpet music with the exception of bugle calls.
Our purpose here is precision without penalizing the chops.  The embouchure does way too much of the work already.  Why make it suffer as your fingers fail to perform?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Powerful Meds

"Alright, what seems to be the problem now?"  "Doc, it's happened again, another nasty case of sore and unresponsive chops.  I'm just beat up again. What do I do?"

"Not again! Well, I am prescribing a small bottle of very potent pills for you, but you must promise to take them seriously and regularly . . . . but you probably won't."  "I'm desperate, doc.  Big gigs on my plate. I'll try anything!" 

"Very well then.  Take at least one of these every day for 30 days.  Then report back to me on the results."  "Gee!  Swell, doc.  Thanks!"

We know this ailment all to well, the mild to severe panic caused by an embouchure pushed beyond its limits.  Maybe it's no longer an ailment, but a way of life.  No matter how bruised, banged, and beaten, this little therapy bottle should yield immediate results for mistreated chops. Don't skip doses however.  These meds should be taken for the rest of your life.  Consistency matters.

  • Take a day's rest. 
  • Take a modest amount of relaxed deep breaths.
  • Stand up and hang from the waist with upper body totally limp.  
  • Stand up and take a few more deep breaths.
  • Then take mouthpiece, holding it very lightly.
  • Buzz ever so quietly on pure long tones.
  • Absolutely no fuzz or pitch uncertainty is permitted.
  • Begin slow glissandi with small intervals maintaining pp dynamic.
  • Rest as much as you play.
  • Maintain a pure and very soft buzz, eliminating all extraneous noise from the sound.
  • Still on the mouthpiece, play the simplest of tunes accurately and softly with the smallest amount of pressure. 
  • Do NOT buzz or play out of tune!  (A well-trained ear will lessen the workload of the lips.)
  • Be sure all first notes are spot on and free from pressure.  
  • Gradually add the trumpet to your mouthpiece, keeping the same delicate and accurate approach.  
Note:  No danger of overdosing. No expiration.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


There's killing it loudly and then there's killing it softly. Both are feathers that must be worn proudly in every brass player's cap.  Ah the strange tools of our trade!  We must ride the jackhammer one moment, and wave a feather duster the next.  We must be able to blast away, and then dust delicately with the utmost finesse.  Does such duel-tasking even exist among brass players? 

We think of killing it as that typical trademark of the orchestra's brutal, callous, and over-confident back row jocks.  But maybe just as enviable is the opposite skill of amazing control over every treacherously difficult quiet passage we love to ignore.  So, who is able to master both skills?  Or rather, who even wants to do both? Or, who is patient enough to practice two ways to kill?

Why so loud, and why so soft?  Answer: Middle-of-the-road dynamics produce a middle-of-the-road response from the audience, or jury.  Average playing brings a ho-hum response, while exceptional offerings elicit raves.  Dynamic risk-taking is our aim.  We want to gas out the audience (as we used to say) with awesome displays of soft ravishing subtlety.  Who's ready for the challenge?  Try opening the Arban book to the Art of Phrasing, and have at it.  The simpler the better.  Our goal is to whisper as well as yell.

Just because a part is marked pp, doesn't mean the absence of beauty, sonority or phrasing. Where does it say that soft passages have to sound fearful, hard, and boring?  Quiet dynamic markings give us a chance to shine, not just with volume control but with sensitivity and flexibility.     

Make a list of very soft excerpt and solo.  Perform each as softly as possible with absolutely no loss of artistry.   Be that standout performer on your block.  We want to develop chops sensitive enough to execute the soft kill.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


For those of you with very cautious instincts who would never offend by over-blowing, this blog is for you.

Bullheadedness must be tempered by discretion and artistic sensitivities.  And so we have been taught.  But with that truth said, there still remains the need to bust out of the bag and do some serious paint-peeling.  There is a time for soothing strokes, and there is a time for blistering belligerence.  Those who fail to achieve the right balance will certainly hear "thank you, next." So who's ready for the not so delicate task of skillful paint-peeling?

During one orchestra rehearsal some years ago several small portions of the plaster ceiling decor suddenly fell to the stage and shattered in pieces.  Bored brass players instantly scampered around the floor claiming their priceless souvenirs, me being one of them.  Maybe it really happened that our belted brass bravura brought down the house, literally!  I still have my proud remembrance. 

You know the need for this mindset.  Every major brass work calls for this tendency - Zarathustra, Heldenleben, Mahler 8, Pines, you name it.  What makes paint-peeling an art is that it must take place from long range.  Anyone can fire at a target only a few inches away.  Powerful blasters must be able to do damage and penetrate the entire concert hall and reach a target way back behind the audience.  The big obstacle is not the distance however, but the embouchure. Resistance must be minimal. 

Let's be including some daily wise practice of long range firing.  This high bar should teach us to keep the embouchure as tension-free as possible.  A lot of streaming notes must be able to pass unhampered into the hall.  Flushing out the horn with blasts of unrestrained air can be just the therapy for that tense embouchure.  Try it regularly in moderation.

Remember, we want to flood the hall with inspiring blasts of quality, not mindless shootings of questionable value.  Goal:  to share the best quality playing we can muster with the audience, and that includes all of those in the last row.  Fire away! 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lighting It Up

What would this picture look like without that flash of lightning or that spectacular sunset brightening up the sky?  It would be just another boring deadpan end to another day. Yawn . . . night-night.

What distinguishes an audition winner from the other competitors?  What impresses? What is memorable?  Our goal is certainly not that dreaded response, "Yawn . . . thank you".

Each excerpt needs to be lit up.  That could mean a little more volume, a little more effort to play softly, a little more attention to intonation, a little smoother, a little crisper, a little more energy, and a lot more attention to rhythm Giving only 80% on any of these ingredients will make the cake taste bland. And no one will be asking for seconds.

Whatever message is demanded by the composer must be obvious to the listeners.  Playing it safe at the audition might work if no one else does any differently.  Attention-grabbing happens when one takes a chance and goes for everything on the printed page and then some. 

Caution:  Lightning bolts can be dangerous.  Out-of-control exuberance will draw the same annoyed response, "thank you, next".  First, we want all notes to be secure with a good sound.  Then the fun begins.  Exaggeration is needed for an outstanding performance.  Do all your grunt work, but don't forget to light it up! 

Monday, September 03, 2012

Improvement Wisdom

A noted colleague was heard to have said bluntly but honestly, "Playing an instrument doesn't take brain surgery, just practice!!"  Most issues must ultimately be solved by the student in the practice room.   Granted, information, direction, and motivation are needed, but teachers cannot simply be expected to pass on a gem of amazing wisdom to immediately solve every playing problem.  If a student is not willing to slug it out consistently on his or her own, then no teacher anywhere will be of any help.

There are great teachers, but there are also great students.  The great student is not always the best player, but the best improver. 

Sunday, September 02, 2012

American Eagle Waltz

Offenbach's American Eagle Waltz written for cornetist Jules Levy in 1876 for the centennial celebrations with John Philip Sousa serving as concertmaster.

Played on a Bach C trumpet with a Monette bell, recorded in 1993.


Saturday, September 01, 2012

Mahler 3 Posthorn

Posthorn Solo from Mahler 3. 

Solo begins at 5:40 and extends until 16:30.

Performed on Bach C Trumpet


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Buzz

Mouthpiece-buzzing, the neglected weapon. 

"Now, Phil, I need you to put your trumpet down for a while and let's play that Mahler on your mouthpiece."  The instructor was the great performer/teacher Arnold Jacobs.  My response was respectful and agreeable outwardly, but inwardly I was greatly annoyed.  I was too impatient to stop music-making and just buzz.  This was about to be a time-wasting exercise in humiliation!

Before I was permitted to attempt any Mahler, he had me buzz Christmas Carols.  And it wasn't even in season! Actually, I knew I would sound bad, and that any listeners would be unimpressed with my pitchless chirpings.  But I cooperated with the master nonetheless.

After a good 15 to 20 minutes of painstaking detail for PITCH, RHYTHM and TONE, we were both much impressed with the results.  He was absolutely determined to make me hear and experience the difference, which is one of many reasons for his fame as an instructor. 

Lesson learned:  If it's sloppy on the horn, it will be even worse on the mouthpiece.  Therefore, perfect the buzz, and the playing with the trumpet will be many times improved.  Even the best instrument cannot make up for shabby input.

Skills developed:  patience, improved listening, and the ability to focus on precision. The refinement that can be acquired by diligent mouthpiece work is amazing and well worth the time invested. 

Note:  It can be argued that there is a slight difference in mouthpiece tone production and actual trumpet playing.  Regardless, we have seen that including good mouthpiece detail always improves the final product. And that's the buzz.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Verdi - "Questa o quella"

This gutsy Act I Rigoletto aria proudly boasts of random pleasure-finding by the tenor, or in this arrangement, the trumpet player.

                                     Click here

Copland Ceremonial Fanfare

Copland's Ceremonial Fanfare was written in 1945 for the the 50th anniversary of the CSO.  It is less famous than his Fanfare for the Common Man, and sets a more solemn and introspective tone.  Whereas the first is noble, brilliant and triumphant, this one is also celebratory and grandiose, but strangely tragic at the same time. 

Click to listen


 "Act of Faith" from Bugsy by Ennio Morricone. A lament over unfulfilled dreams.


 Click here

Friday, August 10, 2012

A League of Their Own

Ah, the Pops! The quasi-sublime is followed by total craziness.  Here is "The Final Game" from A League of Their Own.

 Click here

Lonesome Dove

Theme from Lonesome Dove written by Basil Poledouris. An E flat trumpet would have been a good idea here, but no.  C size fits all.  Take a few healthy gulps, be ready for frequent high notes, and just go for it.

Listen here

Thursday, August 09, 2012

CSO Brass - Untouchables

Main Theme from The Untouchables by Ennio Morricone.  What a great piece to jump start blood and air flow!  Impossible to be bored.  Fun stuff.  At least in our own minds, the trumpets were untouchable.  This one's for us, guys!

Click here to hear

Midnight Cowboy

The Midnight Cowboy was sounding a bit tipsy that night, but whatever.  We were having fun.

                           Click to hear

Cincinnati Pops - "Goldfinger"

Vince DiMartino played lead with us on this Goldfinger clip.  Brilliant and energized trumpet work as always!  His playing is powerful, mean, and sweet all at the same time!  Love to listen.  Vince always got us pumped. Great times happened with Vinnie.

Click here to listen

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

CSO Pops Hero

                "The Hero" from The Babe
                     Cincinnati Pops Brass




Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Directions for Doldrums

What do you do when you don't want to do anything on the trumpet?  Or worse, when you feel you can't do anything! Whether it's mind-fail or chop-fail, the result is the same - discouragement and nothing to show for it.  Take away our motivation and voila, we quickly become "that guy".  Maybe there should be a mandatory college course for all guys and gals for such times as these.

Now here is the golden opportunity to see what we're made of.   Odds are we will have to face the Giant of Discouragement at the worst possible moment.  So what is a fine trumpet player to do to prepare for a gig in the city of Doldrums?

Even the best players have had to learn to deal with a lack of motivation, discouragement, and whatever similar obstacles to great music-making confront them.  We'd likely be shocked to learn how often they must put aside obstructions and simply get the job done anyway.  Think about it. What do emotions have to do with fingers, lips, and breathing?  They should be in training to function rain or shine.

A couple of suggestions for a way out, should you get stranded in the City of Doldrums:
  • Motivation Class 101.  Return to your top ten trumpet works, orchestral, solo, quintet, etc.  Immerse yourself with your favorite music.  Pour some classy classics onto those dry uninspired bones.  Music should enliven your spirit.  It's probably been starved for greatness.  Listening primarily to yourself is usually good reason to become discouraged.  You need refreshment from outside sources.  Rekindle your musical instincts not by grinding out more scales and etudes, but by careful listening to your heroes.  
  • Flugelhorn Therapy Class 101.  When all else fails, (or before it fails), pick up the flugel.  Close the study books and just play.  Turn down the lights.  Look outside.  Improvise some heart-felt music.  It must exist inside you somewhere!  Summon it to the surface.  What a shame that passionate music is ever allowed to lie dormant. There is something about a flugelhorn that is therapeutic for tired minds and chops.  Forget the thinking mind.  Feed the thirsty soul.
  • Pianissimo Class 101.  Discouragement always follows stiff and unresponsive chops.  Whoever has the patience to play music very softly wins the battle.  We're talking a quiet whisper.  Lip sensitivity is the goal.  Being able to control soft delicate passages always provides a boost to your morale. Nurture that skill daily.
  • Resting Class 101.  A couple days away from the horn can be the best mind-clearer.  Inspiration usually returns after a vacation.  Physically and emotionally, we need a break.  Muscles and mind must be given space to heal.  However if you are taking this class too often, then this advice is not for you. Rest is for the weary.
  • Exercise Class 101.  Unless you are in marching band 24/7, you are probably in need of some good physical exercise.  We just sit there and practice, and quickly get tired and bored.  Go outside. Walk, run, jog, work out, etc.  The performance must not be the only time the heart is racing.  Off the couch!
  • Good Practice Habits Class 101.  Discouragement always follows a series of pitiful practice days.  Lack of wise work yields tired chops and a weary mind.  The best thing to do for successful music-making is to get on a roll of good work days.  Moping and sloughing is the result of laziness in the practice room.  Guilt over a poor work ethic quickly produces doldrums. Fix the work, and the results will be rewarding. 
  • Diet Class 101.  Tons of sugar are of no help for doldrums.  Sugar works for a few minutes, but that's all.  Diet affects mood and strength.  Eat wisely and see if your outlook improves.  Discipline at the table might be related to discipline on the horn. 
  • Doldrums Happen 101.  Burnout and discouragement is normal.  Not to worry.  Nothing is wrong with you that cannot be remedied.  Expect days like this, but learn how to get out as quickly as possible.  
  • Parental Advice 101. After whining and moping about a variety of trumpet issues, my parents always used to say to me:     "Playing the trumpet is what you have always wanted to do.  Enjoy it and stop complaining!"  Getting out of the city of Doldrums is a matter of the will, not the emotions. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Performance Crashers

Great warm up!  Chops rock.  It's conquer-the-world day!  Next stop however is the concert hall where some strange things have been known to happen.  Stepping onto the stage you suddenly sense an onslaught of unseen and unwelcome party-crashers about to impose their music-inhibiting tactics upon you at will.  Quickly they advance and begin their merciless hounding like haunting spirits assuming all rights to the stage.

Because their inflicted wounds are unplanned for, they are quite discouraging. Just like that, your hallowed concert hall experience has turned haunted.  Laughter ensues as these phantom foes have once more triumphed over their ill-prepared victim.

Here are some of the telltale signs of their work:
  • Greatly restricted air flow
  • Loss of dynamic contrasts
  • Lack of steady rhythm
  • Frequent pitch violations
  • Inability to communicate the music
  • Only one kind of articulation possible - thuds
  • Shaky sound
  • Unimpressive stage presence
  • Loss of control 
  • Inability to conceal a defeatist mindset
There is good news!  These performance demons can indeed be exorcised, but only at an enormous cost to you!  Yes, the victory can be won, but only after a great war has been waged A few halfhearted but well-meaning practice battles will not prevail for long against these ever-present performance adversaries.  Sadly, there are very few music competitors willing to enlist for the fight or willing to endure combat for more than a few weeks.

First class performance doesn't just happen by chance.  The odds are against you.  To beat those stacked odds, you need an obsession mindset, a wise strategy and plenty of good counsel not to mention a good bit of Job-like patience.  Success will happen when these are habitual.

Daily battle agenda:
  • Basics
  • Listening
  • Recording
  • Lessons (guidance)
  • Countless run-thrus
  • Rhythm
  • Dynamics
  • Intonation
Crush the Crashers!!!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lip Woes

Have you ever felt like calling for an ambulance after valiantly trying to survive multiple rounds with your trumpet all day? You hung in there heroically only to wind up badly bloodied and knocked out by the end of the night. Your next stop, the ER followed by IR. Hate when that happens!

A wailing ambulance rushed you to the nearest emergency room. "What's this one here for, they ask?  Oh, another one for the lip ward.  Put him in triage along with all of the other brass players."

Unfortunately it's going to happen.  From time to time chops will get puffed up, split open, banged in, and bent out of shape. Our ongoing responsibility is to minimize the damage of too much lip involvement, to transfer the workload elsewhere, and to avoid ever seeing the inside of that ambulance again!

The danger zone of course is the embouchure.  Even though every teacher preaches "IT'S THE AIR, DUMMY", we get too late smart. Our mind gets the memo, but our lips and lungs don't.  Consequently the lips smart.  In the heat of battle we default to our pressure zone, the embouchure.

To the rescue - our therapeutic reset reminder and model:
  •  Nice sounds are produced by vibrating lips directing the free flow of air into the horn.  
  •  Flute players are our example of seemingly pressure-free playing.  (Do flute players ever get sore chops?  Always wondered about that.  Always appeared not.)    
  • Is your air column a stream or a strain? Does it easily get bottled up before it even enters the lead pipe? Think of an hour glass with all of the sand flowing easily through in 5 seconds!  Think of whooshes of free-flowing air entering a tuba, rather than pinches of squeezed air compressed into a tiny squeaky oboe reed shrieking out a piercing high C. 
  •  If your audience could see your air stream as it proceeds through the trumpet and out of the bell, what would it look like? Would they gasp as a huge cloud of beautiful fragrant smoke permeates the entire hall, or would they see a shriveled thread of an air column shattering on the floor right in front of you? A flood of fragrance, or something else?
  • Think of Olympic swimmers. If they breathed like we often do, they would all drown, gurgling helplessly at the bottom of the pool.  Relax the release of your air. Practice breathing comfortably with every breath, not just the first one.

There must be a natural rhythm to your inhaling and exhaling. The control of the breath must be mastered to avoid injury.  Observe those who do it well.  Copying is OK. Consider the music that wants to come forth, and don't stifle it by tension and shallow prep. 

Remember, music isn't borne from brute force or shear muscle power.  It's not about the lips but rather the efficient use of unforced air. Strength is involved but it must be under control.

Transfer the lips' 80% work load down to 20%. Anything more isn't fair to the lips. Let relaxed, musically-driven air come to the rescue.  No more wailing sirens!