Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Instincts on High Alert

What does this little guy have in common with a principal trumpet player getting ready for rehearsal number #18 in Zarathustra? Or how about our prominent first entrance in Ravel's Piano Concerto in G?  Or, getting ready to kick start Pictures all by ourselves? Of course there's Mahler 5 to boot up as well.  So many starting assignments! So many opportunities to belt that 90-mile-an-hour fast ball out of the park! It's like the composer said, "Here, kid, see if you can catch this one!"

So what is this boy doing that so many neglect?  Answer: he doesn't know, he's just catching the ball. Similarly, we should think music, not muscles; message, not mechanics. Catch the ball, hit the ball.  No time to analyze.  Instincts matter. Training them to work for you on very short notice is a fun project. Focus quickly, play great. Don't give yourself time to get nervous.

Suggestions on a quicker response.
  • Sing it.
  • Valve it.
  • Sing it and valve it precisely together.
  • Eliminate extraneous prep time. Pick up the horn and make your statement without hesitation.
  • The way you react when someone suddenly tosses something at you is your model.
  • Think: catch and shoot!
  • Play your absolute best at the drop of a hat. 
  • Q Q (Quick Quality)

Benefits of the Boot

"Ladies and gentlemen: Thank you for your participation in today's orchestra audition. Unfortunately the committee informs me that none of you advanced. On your way out, be sure to help yourselves to a free FAILURE tee shirt and shorts with the BOOT on the back, compliments of our fine orchestra committee. Thank you, and have a nice day."

We've all experienced days like that. Nothing seems to alleviate the painful frustration of an audition dismissal, not even a free tee shirt! A swift kick would be less painful.

So how do you respond to those dreaded words, "NO THANK YOU! NEXT!"  Are there any positive takeaways? Three suggestions. These should impact the efficiency of your practice, maybe the direction of your career, and hopefully your perspective on life. That boot may have actually been a good thing after all.

1. Today's "boot" could be just what your practice sessions need - a total shakeup. Auditions are reality checks that reveal deficiencies that have been neglected or in need of more attention. The orchestra committee expects good intonation, pleasant sound, steady rhythm, clean articulation, accuracy, phrasing, dynamics, and dramatic impact. When these are present, you advance. When they are lacking, you go home.

So, go home and take inventory. The good news is that you now know exactly what to focus on. Organize your practice sessions so that you regularly listen for sound, rhythm, intonation, articulation, musical phrasings, etc. Cleanse your notes. Don't play so much. Make every note count. Pretend that your studio is being bugged and that the committee is listening. Use a tuner, a metronome, a decibel meter, and plan to score major points on your imaginary musical drama sensor!  Your goal is to improve and to impress. "Thank you, next!" is not a death sentence, but just what you needed to hear!

2. Today's "boot" could be the best thing to happen to you - a change in career direction. Being turned down at an audition does not mean that you should give up. However, if there is a pattern of endless struggling with little satisfaction, then a career adjustment could be a wise move. Be realistic in assessing your situation, and consider that there could be something for which you are better-suited. If defeats always defeat you, you're in the wrong business. Be encouraged. That boot could be the beginning of a new and far more rewarding direction for you. 

3. Today's "boot" could be the best thing to happen to you - a better understanding of yourself. This could be the most important takeaway of all. The manner in which you respond to "Thank you, next" reveals a lot about you.  If you're quick with the blame game, anger, bitterness, depression, or self-pity, then you're missing a major benefit of the boot.  None of those negative responses will improve you or your playing.  Life is easier without all of the critical attitudes, and so is trumpet-playing.

Who you are as a person is way more important than how well you play. An audition always shows us our weaknesses, musical and personal. The one who handles adversity with maturity is the one who is best prepared for the next step in life, whether the audition is won or lost.

Armando Ghitalla used to say, "We play the way we are." Use the defeat to step back and take stock of who you are. Life is bigger than an audition. A punch to the gut can provide the humbling that leads to a much improved player and person. Absorb the hit, learn, and go on with life.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Wardrobe Functions

Musicians must have an impressive wardrobe ready for all occasions.  Their back stage lockers are crammed with all manor of snazzy outfits perfectly suited for every show. Audiences expect entertainment, not boredom, so we dress appropriately. When we walk onto the stage, we're ready and dressed to kill!

We are actors of a thousand emotions and expressions, made up and outfitted with beautifully detailed costumes.  Colorful decorations matter. This is the entertainment conceived by composers, encouraged by conductors, and delivered by the musicians. What a thrill, what an honor to play a part!

The richness of the music, the colors of the instrument groups, and the passions of the players all contribute to make concertizing an art.  More than a job, it's a mission, a commission.  We get to translate all those little black dots on the printed page into sound, magically bringing them to life, and then singing out that message to the people.

What room is there for fear or pride?  This "business" is far greater than the performer.  We are just the somewhat lowly messengers of the music.  This is exhilarating yet humbling. It is also a tremendous antidote for stage fright. We are consumed by the beauty of the product we deliver.  Honing that product is our life's work, our passion, our frustration, and our satisfaction, however imperfectly we may do it. We don't shoot for perfection, we shoot for excellence in communication.

The great Mel Broiles had his blunt way of getting his students fired up about practicing. "You're not going to deliver any pizzazz in the show if you haven't ever done it in the practice room." 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Clogged pipes? Call ROTO-ROOTER! Clogged arteries? Call for an angioplasty! Clogged notes? Same strategy.  Clear out the pipes, and fill up the notes.

Are your notes all shriveled up and your air stream restricted? Is a superhuman effort required to force anything through the horn and into the audience?  If the answer is yes, you may have a serious case of the dreaded constrictivitis. You need to call NOTO-ROOTER.

Students will clean the horn, but ignore the notes.  Even your shortest notes must be slices of your top quality whole note.  The Promenade from Pictures at an Exhibition puts our focus on tone and freedom of delivery.  Likewise all notes must be "Pictures" notes. The beauty of the whole depends upon the beauty of all the parts.

Try putting a fermata on at least one note per measure to check for quality.  Learn to listen for and expect a great sound on every note, even in difficult technical passages.

To remind you of your cleaning mission, NOTO-ROOTER will include a free ball cap with a beautifully stitched toilet plunger on the front when you call 1-800-MAX-TONE today!