Monday, January 28, 2013

What they want to hear

Three things ought to be your focus as you prepare for a performance.  Your audience wants to hear a message, a line, and a pulse.

Be sure of what you want to say.  If your message is only notes, you better not miss any.  But if you can tell a story, that's what they'll hear.  A beautifully phrased line sustains interest, but static notes get stale fast.  A consistent pulse gives stability, but tempos that are all over the place are annoying and rob you of the interest you want to capture. 

So, keep your goals simple:  Say something, go somewhere, and keep it steady.

Say something.  Some sort of programmatic theme should be your focus as your music unfolds.   Bring the listeners along with you.  Exaggerate for drama.  Give yourself completely to the message of each moment.  Play confidently without being cautious.  Look for all the magic moments you can find.  Ensure that the audience receives your message clearly. That's why you're there.

Go somewhere.  Find the high points in the music, and build your performance to make each one special.  Look for the loudest moment, the highest moment, the softest and lowest moment.  Bring out the sumptuous, the bazaar, the elegant, the brutal, and the sweet.  You'll need these highlighted features to mark your performance as legendary.  Go very soft, go very loud, go very dramatic, but always go very something. Ordinary and mundane are not what you want remembered about your work.

Keep it steady.  The mark of immaturity is rushing and unsteady tempos.  Deliver a rhythmically rock solid performance, and everyone will assume you are a seasoned pro. Good rhythm doesn't require great chops.  Just be steady! There's a place for rubato and waxing rhapsodic, but usually not.  Be a metronome and you'll stand out.

Your journey will be fun when you have something to say, somewhere to go, and steadiness in your pursuit.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Avoiding the Whatever Restaurant

Imagine a fine restaurant that had no menus.  There would simply be no balanced or nutritious suggestions ever offered. You just pull up a seat and start ordering any food that comes to mind.  Who needs menus anyway?

Welcome to the Whatever Restaurant. Nibble a little here, chug a little there, and then proceed to bite off way more than is chewable for a couple of hours at a setting.  Sounds like a nasty gorge fest and a recipe for some unanticipated ailments.

The thought is disturbing and absurd of course.  Yet is that not how we often approach our daily practice sessions?  You just pull up a seat and start in on huge helpings of chop-busting gorge fest goodies.  You try a little of this and then a bit of that.  But quickly your session turns into a whole lot of unwise blasting as you shower the air with a multitude of unusable notes.  Soon the chops cry "UNCLE!" and any cringing listeners gasp "NAUSEATING!"

Suggestion:  Don't ever eat at the Whatever Restaurant!  Plan your practice agenda for the day in advance so that your mind rules your session rather than your appetite at the moment.  Do what is needed, not what is fun. Rest between courses. Sow where there are deficiencies, so you will enjoy the reaping later.  Plan your daily menu as well as your weekly menu.  Don't cram a whole bunch of asparagus down in one session.  You get the benefits when it is taken over time.  Don't shun it either.  Include the unpleasantries along with the pleasantries so that you don't gag when they appear on your plate. 

Oh yes, there can be ice cream! But it tastes best when it has been earned and is guilt-free.  PLAN AHEAD!

Thursday, January 10, 2013


The word for today is fluster-proof!  It is that skill or temperament that marks you as incapable of being flustered.  Look at you!  No one dares mess with you.  Others are flummoxed, flustered and distracted, but not you.  They quickly sense that you are not to be put into a state of nervous or agitated confusion. Congratulations! You have graduated cum laude with that coveted degree of being unflappable! 

When you are fluster-proof, you are consistently good, dependably outstanding, automatically awesome.  Sounding great is just what happens when you play.  Your whole level of playing is simply better than everyone else.  You woodshed in hard labor just like every other student, but with the difference that you work intelligently just like a pro.  You're a business pro, and there's always brains behind your blow.

So what does this thick-skinned degree mean?  It means that you will not be paranoid or hyper sensitive to others' feelings about your work.  Nerves are not an issue for you because you know exactly what you are to do.  It matters not if it's slow or fast, loud or soft, who is there, or who is not, where you are, or where you're not.  You play music on the trumpet, period. Have trumpet, will perform.

NOTE: You will need this degree for recitals, auditions, performances, interviews, and more importantly for yourself.  You will listen to yourself way more than anyone else will for the rest of your life.  So you must be consistently able to convince yourself that you know what you're doing from the first note of the day to the last encore on the recital.  Don't criticize yourself right off the stage.  Be pleased, and your listeners will be too.   Mr. Fluster has no place in our business!