Thursday, May 05, 2016

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Tuning Slide: Meditating on Musicians and Music

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
Without heroes, we're all plain people 
and don't know how far we can go.
-Bernard Malamud

I am going to take a side journey away from the trumpet alone on the Tuning Slide this week. A number of times over these weeks I have talked about who we listen to and who we surround ourselves with as important parts of our lives as musicians. As a result we often develop strong emotional connections with famous musicians we have never met.

I have spent a great deal of time in the past two weeks reflecting on the role of music and top musicians in my world. It was kicked off by the sudden death of the pop superstar, Prince. But it is something that has been raised countless times over the years whenever one of our great musicians dies. We have had our share already this year of the loss of these greats, Prince being the latest and, sadly, not the last.

We often call these people like Prince "icons." A definition of icon can be:
A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something
Someone who is venerated or idolized.
For better or worse, many of these musicians we uphold as heroes and icons are people we "idolize." Many of the "greats" do also inspire us and can lead us to greater things. As musicians we have the heroes of our own instruments that we love to emulate. I still get joy as I continue to work on Al Hirt's "Java" or play Herb Alpert's "Spanish Flea" in the big band. These spur me to play my best along with transcribing or just plain listening to some of the great solos of trumpet history.

Another piece of the musicians we hold as "icons" can be our part in the greater culture around us. These are the musicians who were the soundtrack for our lives at particular times and places. The most deeply ingrained are those whose music connects with strong and emotional memories. We "grew up" to that music. It is "our music." No one can ever take that away- it is imprinted in our memory. The way memory works, it is also directly linked to people, places, feelings. The opening vamp on the Four Tops "Reach Out I'll Be There" instantly transports me back to the radio station my freshman year at college. I can see it, smell it, react to is as if I were sitting there.

Which is why the death of a Prince, Merle Haggard, or David Bowie hits so close to home. The many ways people remember Prince are as much about ourselves as they are about Prince's musicianship, though naturally he wouldn't have had the cultural impact if he wasn't so talented.

This struck me when I stopped by Paisley Park in Chanhassen last week. One of the items left as a memorial was a baseball hat from an Iraq War veteran. Perhaps Prince's music carried him through his time in Iraq. Maybe it was the only way he remained connected with home and hope at difficult times. I don't know, but just seeing it there was a powerful spiritual moment, connecting this time and place with others. I was humbled by that.

Which brings me around to you and me- musicians ourselves. Someone reading this may one day be of the stature of an important musician impacting the greater culture. Most of us will not. We will play our music to keep our lives connected to this force we call music. It will be how we maintain our balance and discover new ways to express ourselves.

But- and this is important- we may never be "icons" but we will continue to have an impact on those for whom we play. Music, overall, is a spiritual language that connects us to our audiences. It is a conduit for getting in touch with something far greater than ourselves that is at the heart of human experience. No, I don't believe I am overstating this. We have all had it happen to us when listening to music- and when playing or performing music.

One of the big bands I play with regularly plays at senior living facilities in the area. The joy on people's faces is priceless. Seeing a person who barely moves, tap a foot ever so subtly to the beat is why it is important. Our band, at that moment, is as important to that person's life as Prince was to many other lives.

That is why we do what we do as musicians. We are, in countless and unknown ways, opening the window for the possibility of the spiritual entering our presence.

When speaking of religious icons a definition I remember from a TV series many years ago was
something or someone that opens a vision of God or the spiritual.
We can be that icon for others through our music. Music, of course, is not the only way this happens, but it is one of the ways we as musicians can participate in the expansion of the spiritual in the world. It is at that point that we move beyond ourselves into the flowing of that which is greater than us and sharing it around us.

I am honored and humbled to be able to do that.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

A 72-year Memory

May 3, 1944

Happy Anniversary!

Monday, May 02, 2016

Who Would Have Believed It?

As I mentioned in May's first of the month video post yesterday, I will be "celebrating" or perhaps remembering my high school graduation later this month. It has been 50 years. Half a century!

Where has the time gone?

More to the point, for this post anyway, is the way things are happening today that we would have never thought possible in 1966. There are the obvious things.. the incredibly powerful computer I call my iPhone that I don't have to remember Fortran to get to work. The many technological advancements that have impacted our lives. There is no Soviet Union anymore. We have had our first African-American president and may have our first woman president.

But what is striking me most today is that on Wednesday of this week I am going to a concert up in the Twin Cities. My first concert was 50 years ago this summer. In these intervening years I have been to almost 100 other professional concerts of many different performers from Herb Alpert to Rosanne Cash; the Tremeloes (who?) and Lionel Hampton to Janis Joplin and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Just going to the concert is not the BIG thought about Wednesday. It is that the concert is Sir Paul McCartney.

Yes, him. The former Beatle. This summer will be 50 years (notice all the synchronicity!) since the last paid Beatles concert in San Francisco. (They did that rooftop thing in 1969, but that doesn't count.)

So, if you had told me, that dorky, high school senior in 1966 that 50 years later he would be going to a concert in Minneapolis with Paul McCartney, I wouldn't have believed you. I would have laughed and done some quick arithmetic  and said, that such an event in 2016 would be as likely as say the top acts of 1916 - Enrico Caruso or Al Jolson - being a headline concert in 1966. Go ahead. Laugh with that teenage me. Even Sinatra would have been seen as old- and he was more contemporary in 1966 than early McCartney is today!

But the music world has changed in these 50 years. Old people like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards; Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney are still out on the road drawing crowds of all ages.

"Rock music" is no longer just for kids. It has become a staple of American (and world) popular music. Music has also splintered into many types and styles, some of which some of us just don't get. But then we aren't supposed to get it anymore than we our parents "got" the Beatles and Stones.

It is a music world that would have seemed insane. No adult would ever like the Beatles. (Like "silly wabbit- Trix are for kids! Remember that?) How could adults "dig" the Stones?

Until we became adults and took the Beatles and Stones along with us. Not just on the Boomer-oriented classic rock stations but into the mainstream and in school classes. My daughter did a history project on the music of the Beatles, one of her favorite groups. This music is more than just another bit of nostalgia, although admittedly there is some of that. But McCartney is still making music. He is still one of the great talents of the music world- or any genre.

Crazy? Yep, it would have seemed that way in May 1966.

I'm glad it isn't so crazy in 2016.

P.S. I just went to a web site that posts set lists for McCartney's concerts, as well as videos of the performances. Now I am really psyched! More to come later this week.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

6th Sunday of Easter

A 50-Year Memory: Video for May

My last month of high school. May 1966.

From the truly ridiculous:

  • It's a Small World opens at Disneyland.
To the wonderfully sublime:
  • The legendary album Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys is released.
  • Bob Dylan's seminal album, Blonde on Blonde is released in the U.S.
And omens of things to come:
  • Tens of thousands of anti-war demonstrators again picket the White House, then rally at the Washington Monument.

The Mamas and Papas spent three weeks of May at the top of the Billboard Top 100. A wonderful song by a group  of talented individuals.

Monday, Monday

John Phillips (1935–2001),
Denny Doherty (1940–2007),
Mama Cass Elliot (1941–1974),
Michelle Phillips née Gilliam (b. 1944)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

In Memoriam

Father Daniel Berrigan
May 9, 1921 - April 20, 2016

A poet, 
a prophet, 
a pastoral presence 
for peace.

He challenged the status quo of the "war machine" and stood in humble strength before the powers that be.

Three quotes:
One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible.
And even more radically:
Faith is rarely where your head is at. Nor is it where your heart is at. Faith is where your ass is at!
And finally, at the heart of the matter for Bro. Dan:
If you are going to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood.
Well done, good and faithful servant.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Calendar of Saints: Catherine of Siena

Periodically I post a quote from a saint from the Episcopal Calendar of Saints that week. I connect it with a picture that I have taken as a kind of poster. These are meant to be meditative and mindful, playful and thought inducing. I hope they are helpful in your spiritual journeys.

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
Reformer and Spiritual Teacher
April 29

Catherine Benincasa was the youngest of twenty-five children of a wealthy dyer of Sienna (or Siena). At the age of six, she had a vision of Christ in glory, surrounded by His saints. From that time on, she spent most of her time in prayer and meditation, over the opposition of her parents, who wanted her to be more like the average girl of her social class. Eventually they gave in, and at the age of sixteen she joined the Third Order of St. Dominic where she became a nurse, caring for patients with leprosy and advanced cancer whom other nurses disliked to treat.

She began to acquire a reputation as a person of insight and sound judgement, and many persons from all walks of life sought her spiritual advice, both in person and by letter. She persuaded many priests who were living in luxury to give away their goods and to live simply.

Catherine is known (1) as a mystic, a contemplative who devoted herself to prayer, (2) as a humanitarian, a nurse who undertook to alleviate the suffering of the poor and the sick; (3) as an activist, a renewer of Church and society, who took a strong stand on the issues affecting society in her day, and who never hesitated (in the old Quaker phrase) "to speak truth to power"; (4) as an adviser and counselor, with a wide range of interests, who always made time for troubled and uncertain persons who told her their problems -- large and trivial, religious and secular.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Tuning Slide: The World in a Note

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The more you get into music, the more you discover that
a whole note becomes the whole world.
- Trumpet Camp 2015

The Music Lesson is a wonderful musical philosophy book by bassist Victor Wooten. Early in the book Victor's "mentor" Michael asks him if he remembers the Dr. Seuss book, Horton Hears a Who. "Do you remember what the poor elephant found inside the little speck of dust?"

"There was a whole civilization living inside it."
"Exactly," [Michael] said, pointing at me. "Notes are the same. If you listen closely, you can find a whole world living inside each one. Notes are alive, and like you and me, they need to breathe. The song will dictate how much air is needed."
At the end of trumpet camp last year we heard the same thing in our closing session as quoted above.

Months ago, as I put together the themes for this blog year, I sent Mr. Baca an email asking for an explanation, a line or two that I could riff on. He was always too busy.

Actually, I think he was doing me a favor. He was letting me figure it out on my own. I would schedule a post on the subject, then push it back. A few weeks ahead, I would say,

"Nope, Mr. Baca hasn't answered me yet."

I would push it back again. It seems I needed to discover the world in a note for myself.

To understand how the world exists in a single note is not something that can be clearly taught. It is one of those things that makes sense only when you have your "Aha!" moment. Sure I've been given clues and ideas about what it means, but, hey, I can be a little slow. The answer was right in front of me all the time. It was shown over and over on web sites and articles. It showed up every day I picked up my horn to practice.

A couple weeks ago it came to me. Clear as the bell on my trumpet. It came together when watching a video of Wynton Marsalis on the website- Arban Method. (Video at bottom of post.)

Long tones. The boring, bane of every trumpet player.

I remembered Mr. Baca at Big Band Camp telling me to take the tuning slide off and just play that single tone, basically, "G" on the staff.
  • Play it; 
  • listen to the sound;
  • center it; 
  • hold it; 
  • just let the air go through; 
  • listen to the sound;
  • keep it centered;
  • Now do it again.
In that note is the whole world of trumpet music. In that note will be every note you play.

Now, put the slide back in and do it with "G". It's still there. THAT note hasn't changed. The trumpet does the work.

Play up the scale. Every note is still that single buzzing tone- the single note of the world. Play down the scale. The same thing is happening.

With every long tone, you play that same single tone. It is, in essence, the foundation of every note on the horn. As long as you keep that in mind, and the physics and philosophy of the buzz note, you will have the whole scale.

How simple.

One of our local PBS stations is currently rerunning the Ken Burns series Jazz. It's amazing how much different the series is 16 years after first aired. I am hearing and seeing things that were irrelevant to me when I first saw it. In last week's episode one of the commentators was discussing the revolutionary genius of Louis Armstrong. (An understatement!) He was describing how Armstrong took "pop" songs and interpreted them for his jazz bands. No one else was doing that. They played them straight. Armstrong, the commentator said, went to the very essence of the songs. He would often distill it all to one note (!) playing the tempo and swinging the groove. One note! The whole song in that single note.

When I started this trumpet journey last summer I thought the purpose of doing long tones was to build chops. If I did long tones on a regular basis I would improve the embouchure, increase my range, build endurance, develop breath, and learn to center each note. All of which is true. But now I have a hunch these are the important results of finding the whole world in the single note on the horn.

Most instrumentalists face the same task. We can't make chords on our instruments like a pianist or guitarist (or even banjo player) can. We have one note at a time to work with. At first we learn the notes. We discover the ways to play each individual note. It has its place on the scale and we play it. We do our version of "chords" when we move to intervals, playing thirds and arpeggios. But it is still only one note at a time. (Ignore overtones for this discussion.)

Somewhere along the line we begin to hear differently. We begin to discover the world in our trumpet, the voice we talked about in an earlier post that is uniquely ours.

And it's all in that single note we can only play one at a time.

Let's move away from music for a moment and get philosophical. My goal in this blog is as much to "tune" our individual lives as it is to "tune" our musical chops. This is as true for who we are and what we hope to do or be each and every day.  That single, buzzing "G" is our individual core. It is our personality, our skills, our hopes and dreams. If we try to focus too much on these and seek all the answers we will quickly become unfocused. Our lives simply responding to the next "thing" or next "crisis" or even next "dream."

But what is your "G" tone? What is your world in a single note at the center of your soul? What's in your heart? How does that define what you can do and how you do it? Take the time to center on that. Meditate on it. Learn to live it and let it guide you no matter what is happening.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Brief Thought on Longevity

As yesterday's post indicated, my wife and I have been married 44 years. Quite an accomplishment, although there are many who manage that.

In any case, we were sitting reminiscing yesterday. We started with the normal stuff like Richard Nixon was President and Roberta Flack's single, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," was number 1 on the Billboard charts. We then talked about the fact that for many years we actually worked together at the same job. We were co-pastors from 1989 - 2003. Before that she was involved in the church life as a pastor's wife- and then for most of the time from 2005-2012 with me as the pastor's husband.

We spent a lot of time together. At work, at play, at rest.

Over the years many friends have commented that they could not have done that with their spouse. Working together like that would have driven them crazy.

My response is a deep gratitude that for all these years I have been able to work, day-in and day-out with my best friend. We like being together.

For us, at least, that is one of the secrets of 44 years.

Friday, April 22, 2016

44 Years and Counting

Earth Day

John Muir 
Naturalist and Preservationist

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Another Musical Loss

R. I. P. - Prince (1958 - 2016)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tuning Slide: Who Do You Hang With?

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

I want to be around people that do things. 
I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge 
or talk about what people do. 
I want to be around people that dream 
and support and do things.
― Amy Poehler

Let's be honest- trumpet players have a reputation. (Undeserved, I think. Well, maybe.... Okay, it's complicated.) The old joke:
How does one trumpet player greet another trumpet player?
Hi. I'm better than you.
The implication is very clear. Trumpet players think highly of themselves and believe that any other trumpet player they meet is obviously inferior to them. We might make an exception if we are meeting the first chair of the Chicago Symphony, Doc Severinsen, or the faculty at Shell Lake Trumpet Camp. That's our reputation- and at times- our attitude. I could go into some detail on that, but I will leave that to another week.

The problem with having that attitude is, as you might guess, that we always think we are surrounded by inferior musicians. If we are, each of us, the best around us, that means we have nothing to learn, nowhere to grow, and can become pretty damn obnoxious to be around.

Yes, there are players like that, and they aren't all trumpet players. But overall, my experience has often been that we are often more willing to be in a learning position as in a superior position. Learning takes humility which can be defined as "a willingness to learn." That does not mean that we take an inferior position any more than it means taking a superior position. It means that we enter into each other's musical presence with openness to what we have to learn- as well as share.

One of the quotable lines from Trumpet Camp last summer brought all this to mind:
Surround yourself with people who are better than you are.
I realized that this statement is as much about attitude as it is about musical ability. If you are the first chair in the top group at your school or in your community, chances are that you are a pretty good musician. It may very well be that overall you might be better than the other people in your section. But the attitude that could come with that can be downright destructive to the group making good music.

And it could get in the way of you discovering new ways of making music yourself.

If any of us project the kind of attitude that says "I'm the best!" the others will wonder what good they are to the group. If that obnoxious first chair looms over the proceedings like the great judge of the universe- I for example will hold back, play more timidly, see my part as a "small" part. Many of us have heard the comeback to that- there are no small parts, only small players. A "superior" musician among us, though, can make us feel "small." The section will never produce good music if that is the case.

In reality, thankfully, these type of trumpet players are few and far between. Oh, admittedly it might not seem that way at first when you hear them play or watch them in action. It is intimidating to many of us to play in a section, especially next to, one of these top quality players.  But once we get to know them, my experience has almost always been one of openness to assist me in growing. It's not about the other trumpet player's attitude- it's about mine! With that attitude on our part we can discover that this otherwise superior musician is weak in a certain area. They minimize the things they are not as proficient at and maximize the things they are good at.

That I can learn from!

When the better player is open to sharing and accepting a role as a leader, which they often are(!), the whole section gets better. I appreciate the section leader who suggests I take a lead that will push me. It says the leader believes I can do it. I will work harder in the group when the section leader gives us all the "Thumbs Up!" after the concert and says we did well because any of us could have played the lead- and played our parts appropriately.

For those who are at least arguably the best player in their section, to take that to heart as grandiosity will get in the way of your ability as well. You will get easily bored and move on if no one else around you has anything to teach you. You can become a prima donna- a very temperamental person with an inflated view of their own talent or importance.You will become a point of dissension in your group. You, even as good as you are, could very well contribute to your section or group being less musical.

It is interesting that so often across these months of writing this blog I have moved away from technical musical learning. I have often moved to more general ideas that, applied specifically to trumpet playing can have significant impact. One of these, over and over is summed up in "attitude." And attitudes are choices. We can be educated into good or bad attitudes; we can make certain attitudes habits. We all know the perpetual "wet blanket" who never does anything but whine. We also know the cheerleader type who is always up and perky.

These, and all attitudes in-between, will color how we see the world. There's nothing new in saying this. The wisdom is as old as humans who began observing their neighbors' behavior. They then decided they liked being around people with certain behaviors and stayed away from those who others. Or we discover that we may gravitate to those with the same attitude, you know, misery loves company, other people who are as miserable as you are and love to complain about it.

That can be more than just difficult. It can be downright unhealthy and keep us stuck.
Great minds discuss ideas;
average minds discuss events;
small minds discuss people.
-Eleanor Roosevelt
One more thought came to mind. What if you are the best player around? What if there is no one you can easily get together with that is better than you? I can think of a couple of options.
  • Find a teacher in some nearby community who might be willing to take you on as a student. It might not be able to be done weekly, but set up a schedule
  • Gather other musicians who would be willing to "jam" or even become a group and push each other. Don't be the "leader". Be just another group member as you seek to blend in with the whole group. Dream with them, have common visions, don't be satisfied for the "good" which is almost always the enemy of both the "better" and the "best" you can be.
  • Find camps, workshops, jam sessions, that you can attend.
  • Listen, listen, and then listen more to great recordings. All types of recordings. Watch videos online or on the various media. Find lessons online that may be in an area that you are less proficient. 
  • Go back to the first item and do it again.
It's not always convenient or easy, but if we are committed to being quality musicians, no matter the level of our ability (!!!), we will find the ways.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Friday, April 15, 2016

# 42/April 15 - Jackie Robinson Day

Jackie Robinson, # 42, played in his first major league game on April 15, Opening Day, 1947.

The United States was forever changed.

Integration, Civil Rights, hinted at as a burning need when the African-American soldiers came home from World War II with fewer freedoms than  the countries they helped free.

Now baseball, the American National Pastime, was integrated.
Just his playing skills would have been enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. Being the first to break the "color barrier" in MLB made it more than about baseball. His character as a human being, unwilling to bend and lower himself, yet never resorting to returning hatred for hatred, shines through these 69 years later.

If you didn't get to see the Ken Burns produced program on PBS on Mr. Robinson, do so. It's more than baseball; it shows what makes the United States who we are- for both better and worse- and calls us to be more than we have been before.

Calendar of Saints: Father Damien

Periodically I post a quote from a saint from the Episcopal Calendar of Saints that week. I connect it with a picture that I have taken as a kind of poster. These are meant to be meditative and mindful, playful and thought inducing. I hope they are helpful in your spiritual journeys.

Father Damien (1840-1889)
Priest and Leper
April 15

In the 1800's, the Hawaiian Islands suffered a severe leprosy epidemic, which was dealt with largely by isolating lepers on the island of Molokai. They were simply dumped there and left to fend for themselves. The crews of the boats carrying them there were afraid to land, so they simply came in close and forced the lepers to jump overboard and scramble through the surf as best they could. Ashore, they found no law and no organized society, simply desperate persons waiting for death.

A Belgian missionary priest, Joseph Van Veuster (Damien of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart), born in 1840, came to Hawaii in 1863, and in 1873 was sent at his own request to Molokai to work among the lepers. He organized burial details and funeral services, so that death might have some dignity. He taught the people how to grow crops and feed themselves better. He organized a choir, and got persons to sing who had not sung in years. He gave them medical attention. (Government doctors had been making regular visits, but they were afraid of contagion, and would not come close to the patients. They inspected their sores from a distance and then left medicines on a table and fled. Damien personally washed and anointed and bandaged their sores.) There was already a small chapel on the island. It proved too small, and with the aid of patients he built a larger one, which soon overflowed every Sunday.

Damien contracted leprosy himself in 1885, and continued to work there until his death on 15 April 1889.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tuning Slide: Sing Your Song

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

If you cannot teach me to fly, teach me to sing.
― J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan

After a previous post I got this from my friend and fellow trumpet player, Steve:
I began to think about the human voice either spoken or sung and I thought about the trumpet voice. I remember being taught that if one could make a good sound on the mouth piece, that sound would be even better on the trumpet itself.
This directed me toward a number of things related to music, voice, and trumpet.
  • The human voice itself is an incredible musical instrument.

    Scat singing in jazz is an excellent example. Some of Bob Dylan's greatest lyrics make no "logical" sense but are an incredible melding of the melody and the human voice singing actual words. The words form the melody as much as the notes. It does take a whole orchestra to match the range and wonder of the human voice.
  • Instrumental music often is asked to imitate the human voice.
    Cantabile- In a smooth singing style
    One could ask whose vocal style should it be imitating? Most composers are thinking lyrical music at that point, but I can imagine an instrumental sound like say folksinger John Prine's gravelly style, the rough edge of John Fogerty, or the smooth as velvet with rough feel of Jim Morrison of the Doors.
  • Many teachers suggest singing the part first before even picking up the horn.

    One said that means when you are playing it on the horn, you really aren't sight-reading it for the first time.
But even beyond the connections of voice and instrumental music Steve points us trumpet players to the trumpet voice itself and our using it in the best, most effective, and most musical way possible. Steve mentioned that if you can make a "good" sound on just the mouthpiece, the horn will only enhance it. Borrowing  a technique I discovered last summer let me add a bit to that.

Pull the tuning slide out and just play the lead pipe. Make it a solid, centered sound of "G" on the staff. Listen and keep it centered. THAT, my instructors have been telling me, is the basic on which all notes on the trumpet are based. The simple act of a solid, centered, even "G". The recommendation has been to do that every day as a start to your playing. Get that in your mind and you have the solid voice of your trumpet and trumpet playing. That brief action on Mr. Baca's part at the Big Band camp literally began a major transformation in my trumpet playing.

It isn't even about the "buzz". It's about the movement of air. All music is the movement of air. It is air vibrating at specific wavelengths, like A 440. I was reminded of this just this past Sunday when I attended (along with Steve) a concert and clinic put on by the Compass Rose Brass from Minneapolis. The trumpet clinic reminded us of this. It is one of those simple foundations of trumpet playing that we often forget. Keep the air moving at that steady pace. Learn how to move the air as needed. It isn't even all about the embouchure, although that is involved. It is about the air.

That in itself is enough to think about when talking about the voice of the trumpet- singing the song through the instrument. It is allowing the sound of the horn, the sound of the air, and the sound in your head to become music.

Which leads to your voice. We have talked about that from the outside when talking about story and song in the past month. But you and I may both have the same song and come from the same place, but our voice will be different. Like those singers mentioned above. No two have the same voice. Or take a song like Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man". A beautiful, mystical, mysterious song- when Dylan sings it. A beautiful "pop" song when even such a talented group as The Byrds sing it.

Even if you are not a good singer, you still sing through your instrument. Think about that a second. My horn becomes an extension of my voice; it is how I can sing. The Compass Rose clinic on Sunday reminded me that we need to think about the song we are playing, not just playing the notes. Think about the meaning of the music; translate that meaning into the way you play the notes; it's your voice, let it sing.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Calendar of Saints: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Periodically I post a quote from a saint from the Episcopal Calendar of Saints that week. I connect it with a picture that I have taken as a kind of poster. These are meant to be meditative and mindful, playful and thought inducing. I hope they are helpful in your spiritual journeys.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
Pastor, Theologian, and Martyr
April 9

Bonhoeffer was born in 1906, son of a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Berlin. He was an outstanding student, and at the age of 25 became a lecturer in systematic theology at the same University. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer became a leading spokesman for the Confessing Church, the center of Protestant resistance to the Nazis. He organized and for a time led the underground seminary of the Confessing Church. His book Life Together describes the life of the Christian community in that seminary, and his book The Cost of Discipleship attacks what he calls "cheap grace," meaning grace used as an excuse for moral laxity.

Bonhoeffer had been taught not to "resist the powers that be," but he came to believe that to do so was sometimes the right choice. In 1939 his brother-in-law introduced him to a group planning the overthrow of Hitler, and he made significant contributions to their work. (He was at this time an employee of the Military Intelligence Department.) He was arrested in April 1943 and imprisoned in Berlin. After the failure of the attempt on Hitler's life in April 1944, he was sent first to Buchenwald and then to Schoenberg Prison. His life was spared, because he had a relative who stood high in the government; but then this relative was himself implicated in anti-Nazi plots.

On Sunday 8 April 1945, he had just finished conducting a service of worship at Schoenberg, when two soldiers came in, saying, "Prisoner Bonhoeffer, make ready and come with us," the standard summons to a condemned prisoner. As he left, he said to another prisoner, "This is the end -- but for me, the beginning -- of life." He was hanged the next day, less than a week before the Allies reached the camp.

  • From a personal perspective: For many of us who came to Christian maturity in the late 50s to late 70s, Dietrich Bonhoeffer may be our quintessential religious "hero." His writings and actions together gave many of us a strong sense of discipleship. His understanding of grace shaped many an understanding of what we are called to live like when faced with difficult times. It was a challenge to us as we faced issues like civil rights and the Vietnam War. Admittedly many of us may describe it differently today than we did 50 years ago. But that does not change the basic power of what Bonhoeffer said and did. He will always be a challenge to what Martin Marty calls civil religion.

    When religion unquestioningly supports the powers that be- and is in turn supported by them- we are in a dangerous time. That has not changed. May Bonhoeffer for many years to come be that reminder.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Discrimination- or Freedom?


the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.
prejudice, bias, bigotry, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, unfairness, inequity, favoritism, one-sidedness, partisanship;
Now let's be clear, I have an opinion about this. It boils down very simply to:
Don't use your freedom to take away from mine.
We have been deluged recently by new laws giving a narrow freedom to a relatively small group of people. By so doing the law is giving permission to discriminate, give prejudicial treatment against others. These have been specifically aimed at allowing people to refuse service to Gay and Lesbian individuals in the name or religion.

Someone commented on Facebook that we have now defined a group of people who aren't allowed to sit at the soda fountain counter in Woolworth's. The reference is to the sit-ins in the 1950s and 60s when African Americans were not allowed to be served at those fountain counters. They were arrested because they were breaking the law.

Some will point out the obvious differences in the laws. I agree that there are some. But there are also similarities that are the root of the problem. The greatest similarity in my view is that these laws give individuals the right to decide who can utilize the services. Personally, I can think of people I would not want to serve if I were running a business. Maybe I would like to keep convicted violent offenders out of my store. Perhaps I would want to make sure that i didn't have to interact with some bigot who would not agree with me. It could even be that I wouldn't want to have any organized crime people buy in my store. After all, in all these situations, it may very well be that you are known by the company you keep.

Yes, I am stating this in an extreme. So let's change the circumstances a little. What if you are an observant Jew who follows the Kosher laws. Into your store walks a guy carrying a ham sandwich. What would that guy say if you refused to serve him because of the sandwich? Yet, you now have the right to do that.

Okay, I know very few LGBTQ people who would want to give any business to many of these places that might not want to serve them. But that proverbial slippery slope is always looming on the horizon. It is not out of the question- as we have already seen in Tennessee- that a professing Christian refuses to do their job because they have to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

In spite of legal decisions, it will not be companies like Hobby Lobby, etc. who will be doing the discrimination. It will be individuals exercising their religious freedom. When it comes to individuals expressing their freedoms, it often devolves into discrimination and prejudice.

We can argue this one all night- and many do. In general, no one should be forced to do things against their conscience. But most of what these laws are about is not that. It is a way of hitting back at the progressive and liberal ways they see as dangerous. Maybe they feel they can push back against the force of history. Maybe they want to recreate the 21st Century equivalent of the private schools that sprang up in the south after segregation was ruled illegal. Maybe it will work for them for a while. But it doesn't get rid of the issue- and doesn't do anything but set up more walls.

And hurt people when taken to their extremes.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Tuning Slide: Support

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Flatter me, and I may not believe you.
Criticize me, and I may not like you.
Ignore me, and I may not forgive you.
Encourage me, and I may not forget you.
-William Arthur

In the past four weeks I have posted on "Story" and "Song", the first two of three things that composer, arranger, and educator Stanley Curtis on his blog Trumpet Journey calls the three "S"s. These are what he sees as the three key elements all great trumpet players have in common. They are simply
  • Story
  • Song and
  • Support
Let's look at the third- Support!

Curtis wrote:
But to keep the song going, which keeps the story fresh, we all need the support of our technique, our fundamentals, our use of air, and our “chops.” For most of us, this comes down to consistent, mindful practice over many years. We are also looking for the right equipment to help us get there. Equipment and practice routines seem to be the subjects of most the trumpet chatter out there on the web and in studios. We all want to be able to play better, faster and higher. I know I do. But I think we all understand the limitations of mouthpieces, technique and high notes without a great singing style. Or without a musical story to tell. Let’s let support be what it is: help for a greater cause.
As I read Curtis' thoughts I realized that this is a good summary of much of what we have been talking about on this blog since the beginning.
  • Technique
  • Fundamentals
  • Consistent mindful practice
He also points out that without the song and the story, even the best equipment is just about mechanical things based on physics. Music is just sound vibrations hitting people's eardrums unless there's a story and a song.

That also brings us back to one of the "fundamentals" for many of us, lessons. They can be formal with a specific teacher with specific assignments and schedule. They can also be "informal" ranging from asking a fellow trumpet player to listen and evaluate what you are doing to sitting in with a group and jamming. What is important is to get the opinion of others. As I have said before I have had several such people in my trumpet playing life recently and the change has been dramatic (from my point of view, anyway.)

What can we see new today, then. In general support can be defined as:
  • give assistance to;
  • enable to function or act;
  • give approval, comfort, or encouragement to;
  • prod, spur, egg on, goad, provoke.
Here are some questions and thoughts that came to mind as I looked at that list:
  • What (or who) can give you assistance in telling your story through your trumpet playing?
    There are the obvious answers- consistent practice, developing mindfulness and all the techniques that go along with that. But you are in your own unique place. What can give that to you? What resources are there around you.

    When I realized I wanted (and needed) to do more with learning jazz improvisation I remembered that there is a jazz jam every month in town here. So I contacted the two people who organize it and asked them for some time. We haven't scheduled it yet. I'm going to send them a note when I get done with this. I have also been working on my scales which I have been told is an essential for improvisation.
  • What can enable you to function or act in a way that improves your ability to play your song?
    Again, beyond the standard answers- what might you do to improve your method of practicing? Ask someone what they do. Spend some time surfing the Internet, Googling as specific as you can. I became aware that I was not working on flexibility as much as I may need to. I simply searched on trumpet flexibility exercises. I had more than I needed. I spent some time comparing them and fond that most were similar if not exactly the same. I had my basic flexibility.
  • What is the needed balance in your life between positive criticism and encouragement?
    None of us will improve if all we ever get is praise. But we need praise and encouragement. Find the teacher, friend, musician who can give you constructive criticism as well as be able to tell you what you are doing right. I recently sent my teacher a link to some of the performances of the quintet I play in, asking for feedback. He started right out with encouragement- a positive statement. He then promised to spend some time at our next lesson going over the videos with me with a critically supportive ear. I am looking forward to it.
  • How do you find the people, places, situations that can prod and spur you, egg you on to greater width and depth in your music?
    This one follows on the previous one. Don't be afraid of finding new situations. I volunteered to take a solo in the one big band the other night. With all the songs we have I may never get the chance to play it in a performance- but hey, you never know. Now I have to work on it!
This IS what life is all about with music, work, or friendship. We sum it up, all of it, in the word support. We too often believe we need to be rugged individualists, able to take care of ourselves no matter what. That's a dangerous bunch of baloney! Musicians know that- we play in groups from duets to concert bands. Sure we solo, but we would get as bored with it as our audiences if that was all we did.

Be open to the support you need. Be honest with yourself. Then go get your support- YOUR team.