One month into my freshman year in college in 1966 and I was finding my way to the college radio station which, along with band, would take up a great deal of my college time. (Sure, grades suffered, but none of it was wasted!)
The last week of September and the first two weeks of October a group called The Association
took over the airwaves with Cherish, their first #1 hit, but not as good, in my opinion as the earlier Along Comes Mary. They would perform at my college in another year or so when I had an opportunity to interview them for the radio station.
But the song of the month on campus took #1 nationally for two weeks in the month. It was our top song since they would be the headliner at the Houseparty concert. THAT was a big deal. No, as a poor, shy naive frosh I didn't go to the concert. But the first chords of this song transport me back those 50 years like few songs do.
Saturday, October 01, 2016
One month into my freshman year in college in 1966 and I was finding my way to the college radio station which, along with band, would take up a great deal of my college time. (Sure, grades suffered, but none of it was wasted!)
Friday, September 30, 2016
I have been procrastinating on writing posts on the election we are being bombarded with. Some of it was I didn't know where to start. Some of it was sheer exhaustion at the length of this election cycle: Four **$%* years! The "unlike any election in modern history" title has fit it from the beginning. I kept hoping that somewhere along the line a sense of history and sanity would find its way into the process. As hard as some have tried to do that- the level of success has been nearly non-existent. Polarization increases with each passing moment.
I have finally decided I better do some writing now. Election Day is but 39 days away. To coin a phrase:
OMG! orWith the day that close and the polls generally showing a close election my level of anxiety and downright fear continues to grow. I am scared to death at the possible results of this election- and the repercussions of this downright awful election rhetoric. So, in some posts over the next few weeks I want to talk about my fear. I am not trying to convince anyone of the correctness of my opinion.
1) I shudder when any American politician of any stripe holds a dictator as a role model of efficient governing. How in the world can anyone think that this is okay? How can anyone hear tirades against "socialism" as a form of dictatorship and then hear the same understanding turned around to support a dictator? Vladimir Putin is not an ally. To raise him to the level of an exemplary leader is downright foolish and very, very dangerous. None of his followers seem to ask a significant question: If the Russians are trying to be influential in our election, why are they seeming to support Mr. Trump? Why would he be a better president for their agenda than Hillary?
2) I fear for who we are as a country when any American politician fans flames of hatred through stereotyping whole groups of people and suggests some kind of religious test for admission to the United States. The all too easy way that ethnic and religious stereotyping and fears have been instigated, even against his opponents. His off-handed, casual hints at violence against others are irresponsible. Yes, he has been using satire in some ways, but those ways are demeaning and offensive.
3) I am appalled at the bullying language and tactics that demean others. His language and attitude toward women is beyond sexist. It is middle-school-ish language. He may respect women, as his daughter tries to tell us, but I have a hunch he only does so when they do what he wants. I would not stand for anyone saying those things to a woman I knew or cared about. This is political discourse?
4) I shiver in barely controlled alarm when any American politician can make outrageous claims as truth then never admit wrong when proven so. Such playing footloose and fancy free with truth is not what any free country needs from its leader. The number of lies and misstatements of fact are almost countless. Yet no one calls him on them.
5) I am in shock when any questioning of the politicians views and ideas is seen as a personal attack on him- and he is willing to shut-out any news organization that questions him.
6) And none of these has anything to do with an isolationist, century-old world-view that would bankrupt our nation in a world of trade and economic relationships. His views on NAFTA and TPP aside, his trade policies make no sense in the 21st Century.
7) And above all I react in horror to the unquestioning way of so many of his followers or those who ran against him, pointing out all these reasons- and then saying, but vote for him anyway. The religious right's support makes no sense from their moral standpoint. Morals be damned when it is their candidate. The almost unanimous support he receives from white supremacist groups, KKK, etc. are just as disturbing as his support of Putin.
I have never liked using the specter of Nazi Germany in any political discussion about the United States. Having been raised in the success and joy of our democratic system, I often wondered at how the people of Germany could have been so fooled to blindly follow someone like Hitler. It was an intellectually exciting country, a country of great culture and science. Until it wasn't anymore thanks to one very sick man. Here in the United States our system has always worked to marginalize, then finally leave such people behind. It couldn't happen here.
I still want to believe that's true. I still want to believe that in the next six weeks the truth of Donald Trump will become so crystal clear that he will lose in a landslide, repudiating a style of hatred that turns against any and everything that has made the United States an exceptional country.
My fears of Donald Trump may be exaggerated. I hope they are, but the reasons above are so powerful and clear to me that my greatest (!) fear is that I am under-reacting- that it will be worse than I fear- that democracy as we have understood it in the United States may very well be at risk. THAT is how important I feel this election is! I have seen no reason, unfortunately, to change that opinion. Does Trump present some good ideas? I don't know because he hasn't been clear about what he is going to do. I believe he may very well have some ideas and policies that are not as bad as they seem to be. I wish he would talk about them. That wouldn't get me to vote for him, but it would decrease my fears.
When I go into the voting booth in November I will not be voting for a candidate who is the lesser of two evils. Hillary Clinton will get my vote for other reasons than those listed here. I will talk about that (and my view of her real and imagined shortcomings) in another post.
In many ways I hope I am a Chicken Little crying that the sky is falling. I also hope I never have to find out whether I am right.
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
|Weekly Reflections on Life and Music|
Why do we do what we do as musicians?
Somewhere at some time in the past- distant for some, more recent for others- music made us stop and pay attention. Most likely it happened when we heard something in music and our world changed.
Mine was in junior high music class. The teacher told us to listen to his piece of music and tell what we hear. The needle dropped and I heard cars and people and the noise of a city through a series of notes and instrumentation that I later learned were iconic. When a few moments passed she stopped and asked us what we heard. I tended to be shy and didn’t raise my hand in class very much at that point so I remained silent.
She looked around the room. I don’t remember if anyone else said anything. I do remember her telling us the name of the piece.
An American in Paris by George Gershwin. I had heard correctly. The music was alive and real.
Several years earlier I had taken piano lessons for a year but had never stayed with it. I liked making music, or at least trying to. But I wasn’t hooked. Around the same time as the American in Paris experience I started playing trumpet after much badgering of parents who expected it would be a repeat of the piano. Fortunately it wasn’t. Again because something happened. I don’t know what it was in this instance. I do know that music became a central part of my life. It was September 1961, 55 years ago. Music is even more central today than it ever was- both listening and playing.
As a performing musician of various skill levels and involvement over these 55 years I can honestly say I have never wanted to quit. There were fallow periods when I didn’t play much if at all. But it was never far away. My brain kept yearning, even if it was just at Christmas and Easter, or singing along with the radio.
Music is always number one!
Maria Popova wrote about this aspect of music for performing musicians on her web site, Brain Pickings.
“Each note rubs the others just right, and the instrument shivers with delight. The feeling is unmistakable, intoxicating,” musician Glenn Kurtz wrote in his sublime meditation on the pleasures of practicing, adding: “My attention warms and sharpens… Making music changes my body.” Kurtz’s experience, it turns out, is more than mere lyricism — music does change the body’s most important organ, and changes it more profoundly than any other intellectual, creative, or physical endeavor. (Kurtz, Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music)Then, quoting TED-Ed author Anita Collins, Popova leads us to an insight about how powerful music playing is:
Playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout… Playing an instrument engages practically every area of the brain at once — especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices. And, as in any other workout, disciplined, structured practice in playing music strengthens those brain functions, allowing us to apply that strength to other activities… Playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity in the brain’s corpus callosum — the bridge between the two hemispheres — allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes. This may allow musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively, in both academic and social settings.My guess is that at that somewhere moment in time our brains were filled with neurotransmitters and emotions and our mid-brain knew that it was good! Even when it got boring, we kept at it because it has been good and we knew it. The more we worked at it, the more we practiced, the stronger our brains became (that full-body workout of the brain!). It is dangerous to say, but in that our brain was hijacked. We can never be the same again.
That’s what got us going- and even keeps us going. It sounds like making music, then is all about us- the musician. And not anyone else. Just us. We do it to please ourselves. Which will get us nowhere. One of those seemingly insignificant statements that float about the room at the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop points this out.
No matter what:
• The music is number one. It is first and foremost,
• Fellow musicians are second,
• The audience is third, and
• You are fourth.
Let’s take a quick look at each and see how this falls into place.
✓ The music is first.
The music has to be there and, let’s be honest, it has to sound good. It has to have that element of the notes rubbing together that Kurtz is quoted as writing above. The instrument shivers with delight when all those things come together. We strive for that moment. We want that moment to happen every time we pick up our instrument, even when playing those seemingly endless long tones and scales. If Clarke #2 has never done that for you, try it next time you play it. That’s what hooked us in the first place- the music.
Unlike a substance addiction where you can never get back to that first “high”, with continuing practice and dedication you can go beyond that first musical hook to even greater heights and depths. The first time I played Clarke #2 starting on the high G at the top of the staff was a moment as fulfilling and exciting as when I first played “The Saints” 55 years ago. It is the music that perpetuates itself in us, fulfills us, and helps us move to the next stage of our performance ability. We want to make the music and we want to make better music.
✓ Fellow musicians are second.
But we can’t do it alone all the time. Music is a communal act. It is done with others. Even the greatest soloists in any musical genre cannot maintain a solo act with no supporting musicians. In saying that our fellow musicians we play with are second means that we are building a community of people working together to make music. The music lives when it involves others. The music lives when we make the music WITH others. The tone and color change; the rhythm can be different. Even if we are playing in unison, it is more than one person. Plus, as we have no doubt discovered many times, our part sounds different when played with the rest of the parts. Hitting that top of the staff F is a lot easier when it is in a major chord than when it is rubbing against some minor dis-chord.
✓ The audience is third.
And yes, we have to play FOR someone else. I think I knew that way back in my early days. I would dream of planning and performing a concert for my family. What would be the order? What do I need to work on? What will please them? Some of that may have been a way of atoning for all the “bad” sounds they had to endure, but it was also a natural extension of the music’s communal aspect. The music had a long way to go, but they seemed to enjoy what I did, if only because I was doing it for them. That group sitting out there in the auditorium or concert hall wants the music we have to offer. Bruce Springsteen was talking on TV the other night about the magic that happens in concert. The interaction between us and our audience is critical for good music. Sure, we can play exceptionally well without that feedback, but the chemistry of performers and audience is exciting and energizing.
✓ I am fourth.
In other words, in the end it is not about me.
Yes, playing music moves us. Yes, playing music does all kinds of healthy things for us, the musicians. Yes, music makes us better people. But in the end it is not about us. It is about #1- the music. The music does not primarily serve us and our needs as the musician.
- We serve the music.
- We support our fellow musicians.
- We present our offering of music to the audience.
- We are moved, filled, energized, and carried to further service.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
I come from a line of railroaders. My grandfather and many of his male siblings worked for the railroad, either on the road or in the shops near their northern Pennsylvania homestead. Those were the shops of the New York Central Railroad. It was one of the iconic eastern railroads founded in the mid-1800s by men with the names Vanderbilt and Corning. In 1968 it merged with the other iconic road- the Pennsylvania RR- to form the Penn Central and then in 1972 they melded with others into Conrail. (His oldest son, my uncle, worked on the Erie Railroad.) I have always been a train lover. It takes me back to my grandfather's backyard where, but a quarter-mile away ran the New York Central tracks. If he was outside he always stopped and watched. I learned to do the same.
The New York Central has been gone for nearly half a century. It's status as one of the original great railroads (robber barons and all) has not diminished. Fortunately the city of Elkhart, Indiana, has kept that history alive in the National New York Central Museum. They located it there since the largest selection yard on the system was there in Elkhart, and it is still the site of over a hundred trains a day passing by.
We had the joy of going through the museum the other week. It was a step into a different world when riding trains- and their economic essential importance- was well-acknowledged.
Among all the memorabilia was a model train layout, Lionel gauge. Here is a short video I put together of the trains making their way from the steam era to modern Amtrak.
But there was more. Here are some of my pictures of the rolling stock, sitting, gathering years, and still sharing memories.
Sunday, September 25, 2016
We have had a lot of rain around here recently so I dug back a couple weeks to when we were in the sunshine of northern Indiana Amish country. It was still late summer on the calendar and the flowers were doing well. Just to add some sunshine, here are some of those pictures. Enjoy.
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Monday is the next installment of the zoo, circus, and sideshow that this year's presidential election has become. I have been watching- and avoiding watching; I have been pondering what to write here and what to ignore. Overall I am in a state of numbness over the whole insanity. It has been going on for so long that I think we are all just going to either throw our hands up in surrender and do nothing- or vote in anger.
Neither of which is helpful!
But I also know that most people already have their minds made up. Very few will change their opinions between now and election day. That means the ones who will decide the election are the
- protest voters
What will make a difference in this year of illogic?
What will ease the sense of anger and powerlessness that appears to be driving many voters?
When will facts replace innuendo and policy replace finger pointing?
I have been hoping that something would bring about some type of breakthrough. So far nothing has. Will the debate on Monday? Will any of the others?
But we can never give up on hope.
I will be writing on some of this in October. I know I won't change anyone's opinion. But at least I will feel a little less powerless to at least get my opinion out there.
Friday, September 23, 2016
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
|Weekly Reflections on Life and Music|
Many of us have no doubt made the statement:
It’s only a small part. It’s just the 4th trumpet.As a result, many of us have no doubt also heard a director make the statement:
There are no small parts; only small players.That’s a hard thing to keep in mind sometimes when you have been an almost professional 3rd or 4th trumpet. You play your part and wonder longingly at the soaring lines of the first or the intricate solos the second develops. Every now and then your part has some interesting counterpoint or even a kind of fun note in a chord. But most of the time it’s just that “small” part. Historically, in many high school and even college bands, the less talented players are often placed at 3rd and 4th. The parts didn’t go too high, they weren’t all that technically difficult. As one progressed through high school, the older students would move up to 2nd and 1st places. It was as much seniority as skill at times. It could at times be overcome by a truly gifted musician. But, overall, people would covet those upper parts. So, in essence, they gave the seemingly “small” musicians the 3rd and 4th.
I used to say that I enjoyed playing 3rd or 4th since it meant that I didn’t have to practice as much or develop the embouchure. I could just show up and play (sort of) and go home. But it also meant that I didn’t have to practice anything difficult or challenging. Sure, you have to know how to count rests and syncopated notes from time to time. In general, though, it was an easy way out of getting better.
If you don’t practice, if you don’t challenge yourself, nothing happens.
In the past year of working through this Tuning Slide and my personal skill development, a couple of different things have happened.
First was when a local orchestra contacted me because they needed a 4th trumpet for one piece at the spring concert. Did I say that loudly enough? They NEEDED a 4th trumpet! No smart remarks, please, about why would anyone need a 4th trumpet? There is a very clear answer to that:
Because the composer wrote a 4th trumpet part! The composer/arranger wanted a 4th part.I felt good about being able to do it, especially since the piece was a concert piece of selections from the great musical, Les Miserables. Overall, it was a typical 4th trumpet part. But it wasn’t my typical 4th trumpet part. It had sections in all kinds of keys that we don’t normally play very often- you know- 5 and 6 sharps (B major and F# major). I was glad that I had spent hours working on the 12 major scales last winter. It took some concentration, but the 5 and 6 sharps didn’t send me into panic- although it did send me to the woodshed. It wasn’t an “easy” or “small” part. Sometimes it doubled the 3rd, which is what the composer/arranger wanted. That note was obviously important. It needed a little more emphasis in tone, color, and location in the chord.
I think I am being clear about what I am trying to say:
That’s the first thing that happened. It was an important lesson. The next thing was hearing the comment again at Shell Lake: All parts are important.
We had a trumpet choir of 50 musicians - and some of the arrangements had four, five, six parts. Wait a minute? Why all those extra parts? What is so important about those “lower” parts? Well, at first it was simple to say that it was because we only had trumpets and someone had to play those “lower” notes of the chords. With no horns, or trombones, or tuba- where was that foundation to come from. Other trumpets, obviously. Again, 4th, 5th, and 6th parts were needed. But it also brought to mind that when there are six parts, there is a reason that there are six parts. All the parts are pieces of the whole. Hmmmm.
“Pay attention, Barry,” was the message I was getting from all of this. As my skills and range have increased, that does not mean I can - or should - leave the 3rd and 4th behind.
So I decided to try something in the big band I have played in for the past 8 years- the big band where I am the eternal 4th trumpet. When I started in the group my admitted skills for the group were more important in the range of being the announcer than of being a trumpet player. I needed to learn the language of the big band and playing jazz. Years of listening needed to be translated into being able to speak the language and not just listen. Playing 4th allowed me a lot of leeway to do that- and it allowed me to develop the announcing for the band as a part of the entertainment. But after all these years now, it was feeling boring. (A dangerous thing. It can lead to stupid decisions and bad actions. Stay away from boredom!) But wait a minute. I was now playing with more confidence, better tone, and (mostly) able to speak the language.
If there are no small parts, why not see what it feels like to play the 4th part as if it is important and not just added on to give me, the announcer, something to do between announcements?
The first evening I really had the chance to try that out in any serious way in rehearsal was this past week. We were working on some more difficult pieces- both in intensity and sound. Chords were all over the place giving different tone and color to the piece. There was one point where over several measures a tension was built and released through a series of half and whole notes in the trumpet section. The first time we played it, something didn’t feel right. My ear said that we were off somehow or another. I glanced at the person who was “leading” us at the time and it looked like he heard it, too. It was not a dissonance that was written into the score. It just was off.
Without saying anything about it we tried it again. This time as we came to that section I consciously paid closer attention to what I was playing, hitting each of the notes more clearly- solid and centered. It sounded right. It fit. When we were done the leader made the comment that the difference he heard was that I played that 4th part with the strength it needed in order to be the foundation for the total sound of the section. I don’t know if anyone else did anything different that time. I just know I did- and it made a difference.
Now, would anyone in an audience ever have noticed that there was something out of sync the first time we played it? Probably few if any would have. Would they have noticed the difference the second time? On some level, perhaps. My guess is that there would have been some emotional reaction they had that was more positive the second time. That’s often the level at which these things make a difference. So why worry? Why make a big deal about it?
For one, because in the long run it is the accumulation of those seemingly small things that make the difference for better or worse. Playing a whole number where there are a series of “off” moments will certainly reduce the positive impact on the audience- and, of course, vice versa. We want the audience to have the best experience possible. That’s the issue of “sound” and “tone” that is essential to music which we will talk about in coming posts.
Just as importantly, though, we make a big deal about it because it helps make us better musicians and keeps us connected to the integrity of the song itself. We are being true to the music and to who we are as musicians and people. That intentionality then expands in our lives to other things we do. We become more conscious of the way we treat others, the way we do our job, the way we respond to issues and concerns.
In life, as in music, there are no small parts!
(Sidenotes: 1) The orchestra called me again for the fall concert as 4th parts were again needed. 2) I am looking forward to the next year of more intentionally being the 4th trumpet in the big bands. Let’s see what else I can learn.)
Monday, September 19, 2016
In last Saturday's news from Lake Wobegon in a repeat Prairie Home Companion show from twelve years ago, Garrison Keillor challenged "old people" about looking back to find their story. Instead he said,
Look to your children for your story!It was one of those profound Keillor moments. s I listened I found myself smiling gently and nodding in agreement. Keillor went on to describe sitting and watching his little girl during a trip they took together and how it was the perfect description of what he was talking about.
My wife and I had just left having supper with our adult daughter and her boyfriend. It was, as always, a wonderful time. It was an hour and a half of talking, getting caught up, kidding each other, and generally sharing our family's love.
I understood what Garrison was saying.
Look to your children for your story. They are the ones who write what has been important.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Two posts on Facebook earlier in the week caught my attention.
First was a church sign that said something like:
Jesus is coming again...Then the big baseball news:
Hopefully before the election.
The Cubs clinched the Division championship and could be on their way to the World Series.Long time friends of these wanderings will recognize the connection that might indicate the church sign's wish will come true. My scenario for the hapless, World Series Championship-less Chicago Cubs.
It's the bottom of the ninth in game 7 of the World Series.The fact that the World Series ends before election day only adds to the possibilities.
The Cubs are leading and on the verge of their first championship in over a century.
It's two outs, no one on base for the American League opponent.
Then, as the Cubs pitcher winds up for the final strike-
Just saying- you heard it here first.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
|Weekly Reflections on Life and Music|
In one of our discussions at the trumpet workshop it was pointed out that many of us would not be making a living as a musician. As much as we love playing trumpet, that will not be our “day job.” In the different bands I play in a majority of the members are not professional musicians. Health care and computers have both been a major part of the community’s economic base. As a result there are many different health care professionals and computer engineers in the groups. Sure, there are also a sizable number of band and music teachers as well as some who make their living performing music.
As we thought about this we were reminded of something that we should not forget.
Things you learn playing the trumpet will make you a better… surgeon, teacher, worker, friend, spouse, etc.We all have various skills and personalities. What we discover in playing music- the discipline, the ability to work with others- are also essential to our vocations. What music teaches us is very much what is essential in our lives.
It’s also a two way street: If you have developed into a good (fill in the blank), you can become a good musician. It takes the same commitment, discipline, and work. The things you learn in life or career will make you a better trumpet player.
This brought to mind a comment a friend made to me back in July. He was talking about some of the wisdom he has been given by others and quoted this tidbit. It boggled my mind and twisted my life like very few things do:
The way you do anything is the way you do everything.Looking it up on Google I found that there are a number of apparent “sources” for it. In any case, it is one of those statements that is so profound as to shift one’s world view.
• Do you find shortcuts at work in order to get done faster, although not necessarily more effectively? That may very well be how you do a lot of other things?
• Do you treat people with condescension and not really care about them? Chances are that’s how you treat your family and friends as well as strangers.
• Are you careless in how you take care of things you own? Are you taking care of even important things in the same way?
• Are you satisfied with “good enough” in projects you work on? Maybe “good enough” is all that you will ever be able to achieve.
This is not meant as a judgement but an observation. If we don’t pay attention to how we do some things, chances are we may find it hard to pay attention to other things. This has to do with style and habit as much as with a conscious attempt on our part. It has to do with what we want to get out of our day-to-day lives and how much we put into it. It does not mean suddenly becoming a Type-A workaholic. It does not mean that we change our entire way of doing things. Some of us are more intuitive and introverted while others of us are far more cautious about making sure we plan well. Some of us would die if our entire day was closely scheduled while others would die if it wasn’t. It is rather about how we utilize who we are, our personalities, skills, etc. in order to reach our goals.
Two weeks ago I was talking with this friend again and told him about how he had thrown me into a mental wrestling match. He agreed that the same had happened to him. It was then I realized that his statement along with the discussion at camp had been at work for me in this past year. For over 18 months I have been working on what it means to be retired. Yes, I am still working part-time, but I have been wandering around being retired. That has given me to be able to develop what I have called my “third-career.” While I did expand my music into a nearly full-time avocation, I knew there was more to it.
Then a year ago, the events that started this Tuning Slide blog and threw me into a completely new way of working on my music. Within a few months I went from a person who worked on whatever needed working on to a systematic trumpet player. After nine months of increased practice at a 7 out of 10 day pattern I made it to the daily practice level. Since mid-April, for example, I have missed two days of playing my trumpet- both long travel days. My trumpet playing is probably the best it’s ever been.
But the real surprise I realized two weeks ago, after a year of a whole new regimen of music practice, discipline, and growth, a number of things came together in June and July. It was a true “A-Ha” moment as it all made sense. Some of my retirement questions seemed to disappear and I found the direction I have been waiting for. In other words the way I was doing music in new ways, was the way I was now doing some new things with my retirement.
The way you do anything, is the way you do everything. It can go from the music to other things- or from other things to the music. In reality it is not an either-or idea. It is a both-and action. It doesn’t even have to be conscious. When you discover a new path, a new idea, a new discipline, a new reason for getting out of bed in the morning- that will interact with everything you have been doing.
How then do we do that? How do we work at making sure we are doing our “everything” the right way to be healthy and helpful to us? How can we aim at living a life that is consistent, starting with our musicianship?
- First is passion. What excites you? What are you willing to take extra time to accomplish?
- Second is focus. Are you ready to bear down and discover what living out that passion means? Are you honest with yourself about what that will mean- what sacrifices you will have to make, what changes you will have to work on- in order to be successful?
- Third is action. If what you say you are passionate about doesn’t move you to do, can you really say it is a passion? This takes dedication and determination. It takes a commitment to do- not just talk.
Now, how does this apply to the every day things that you do- simple things like how you follow through with promises, how you treat your family and friends, your simple actions? Do these fall in line with what you have written- or do they show that you need to do some changing in order to get where you are going?
It takes that kind of commitment. In the Twelve-Step recovery programs there is an often used question based on a phrase from the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book:
If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it….If you have decided you want to move into the area of your passion- or even just to be better at being who you are as a person, are you willing to go to whatever lengths are needed to get there?
Don’t worry. We don’t have to do it overnight.
So get out that horn and keep working.
The way you do your music is the way you do everything.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Coming up out of the New York City subway can be very disorienting. Which way is what? How do I get to where I want to be?
Even more to the point- how did we ever manage before GPS and Smartphones with Google Maps?
I was thinking this the other week when I spent a day in NYC with a friend. Then he- a mere young thirty-something- asked me that very question. "How did anyone ever get around the city before these things?"
My admittedly smart alack answer was- "An m. a. p."
But he was right. Smartphones and related technology have made it easier to get around a place like NYC. Need to know what subways go where? Google it. How about the bus schedule back out of Port Authority? Google it? Need an Uber ride? Use the Smartphone app.
People in those prehistoric days probably did have a better understanding of where to go in their home areas. They probably had a map in their head that helped simply because they followed the same routes on a regular basis. Tourists? Well they had to figure it out.
I have seen some thoughts that the use of Google Maps, Siri, etc. have made us too dependent on the technology. We don't know how to read maps like we used to. But it has allowed us to travel new routes, in new places, even in our home towns.
Somehow or another we managed. We are adaptable.
And often got lost.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
It is not about looking back and fanning fires of hatred and anger.
It is not about revenge any more, if it ever should have been.
It is about hope
and being Americans together.
If we keep looking back we will never move forward.
If we only remember what happened we will leave those who died stuck in a world of no hope.
To look at what we can do and be - Americans of all colors and faith, all ethnic and cultural varieties...
that is the ongoing legacy of 9/11
a spur to move into a world where freedom is possible for all
and an incentive to sing our own individual hymns to freedom.
The video I produced last year after my visit to Freedom Tower, One World Trade Center holds up that hope with the inspiration of Oscar Peterson's moving Hymn to Freedom. Never Forget- and keep moving forward.
Friday, September 09, 2016
I have always had a strong interest in science and its relationship to life. When I started college some decades (!) ago, I started out as an engineer. In the mid-1960s any student who showed any aptitude at all was directed that way. Well, it didn't work out so well for me, but I never lost my interest in science. In these past 50 years the world of science- and particularly physics- has exploded in all kinds of directions and insights that are nothing more than mind-twisting. Quantum physics and everything related to in has made the universe so much more complicated and interesting.
Sometimes things come together to pique my interest even more.
- This particular tweaking of my thoughts started about a month ago when I came across the book, The Jazz of Physics by Stephon Alexander. I had just finished the "biography" of physicist extraordinaire, Richard Feynman by James Gleick. When you begin combine jazz and physics I knew it had to be interesting, even if it did look a little more in-depth than I could begin to understand at times.
- I hadn't had a chance to start it when I was visiting with an old friend. We were talking about all kinds of topics, including religion when he said, "Try this one on for size. What if Einstein's theory of relativity was a way of describing creation?" I no direct answer and kind of filed it away since supper was ready anyway. (Eating and heavy thinking don't often go together. Something about doing two important things at once.) With this question in mind, I picked up the Jazz of Physics book that evening where I found out that Alexander was using jazz as an analogy for physics as a way of coming to an understanding of how the structure of our universe was created. Alexander wrote:
It had never occurred to me, he wrote, that galaxies and superclusters of galaxies were organized structures, let alone that they could tell us something profound about the nature of the universe, including what it is made of and how it came into being.
- Next came the fun day in New York City last week with a young friend we have known since he was a young child. One of the things he is working on in his own mind has to do with music, physics, and how humans have "musical sounds." Which is exactly what Alexander does in his book.
very unscientific way like this:
We are all made of music! And music made us all.Way back at the beginning of creation when all was infinitely small and of an infinite mass it was the very quantum vibrations of the smallest of particles and anti-particles that began the movement into the universe beginning. Sound, music, is simply vibrations and that early vibrating energy had a tone, a type of "music." Photons and electrons and positrons and whatever else I don't understand, kept the vibrations moving at that quantum level. Somehow or other the building blocks of modern physics including Einstein's work on relativity and Heisenberg's Uncertainty play into this.
Beyond that, I am lost. In fact all I wrote in and of itself is probably so wrong as to be an embarrassment to anyone who knows physics. But that's okay for me. I'm just learning. I may take some time to do some digging into the physics Alexander writes about. In some mystical and marvelous way this relates to improvisation and an understanding of how knowing your next note in a line opens up the possibility for ALL notes.
Underneath it all for me is the idea that we are music. We are energy vibrating, perhaps at our own unique wavelengths. Who knows but that we are finely tuned instruments who respond at our quantum level to the music and vibrations, the energy and pulsing rhythm always surrounding us.
Or, I may be all wet. But I feel the music, I hear the sounds, and something in me responds. Whatever it is, I am grateful.
Wednesday, September 07, 2016
|Weekly Reflections on Life and Music|
Over this past year I have found myself moving from an okay amateur trumpet player into a somewhat more accomplished amateur. I have spent more time practicing and playing than I ever would have thought possible. As the year progressed I found it more and more difficult to MISS a day of practice. Since mid-April, I have only missed one day- a long day of travel and meetings. As a result I have discovered that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
In some of my reading I came across a fun and insightful description of trumpet players. It came from pianist and composer Jonny King's An Insider’s Guide to Understanding and Listening to Jazz (1997, Walker). After talking about other of the jazz instruments, on pages 61-62 he tackles the trumpet. Here is part of what he had to say.
The Egomaniacal Trumpet PlayerWell, yes. That is our reputation, but at least he has the insight to see where some of it comes from- a pint-sized horn that powers a whole band. He goes on to give us some pretty heavy support:
Among musicians, trumpet players are reputed to have the biggest egos. As the other musicians see it, they’re the cockiest guys on the bandstand. They… try to take over every tune and every gig and musical situation. Of course, such sweeping generalizations couldn’t possibly be true for all trumpet players, but the trumpeter’s reputation might be justified to a certain extent. You probably have to be somewhat brash to think that you can lead a quintet or power a big band’s brass section with a pint-sized horn with only three valves….
The technique of playing the trumpet is bewildering to the rest of us. The horn is a small curved piece of brass (or other, more exotic metal finishes) with a mouthpiece the musician blows into and a “bell” that fans out from the horn and projects notes and sounds. The mouthpiece is a small metal cylinder into which the trumpeter must blow his tightened, purse lips. … The trumpet is an extremely physically demanding instrument, and you can’t lay off for more than a few days without seriously compromising your chops.I had never thought about it that way. I started playing in 1961 at age 13. I don't remember any of the early fights with learning or how awful it must have sounded to my parents. And that bit about compromising your "chops" is one of the more famous issues to a trumpet player. Yeah. Wow. He understands.
Once you get a full head of steam and force air into the horn to create notes, how do you determine the pitches of those tones? By combining different amounts of air pressure, changing lip positions, and pressing down different combinations of the three valves, the trumpet is able to sound about three octaves worth of pitches. Most people are fairly blown away by the prospect of trying to control dozens of different notes with barely perceptible changes in lip positions and valve alterations.As I was writing this, I was listening to Lee Morgan do everything described in that last paragraph- and then some- on the amazing "Just One of Those Things". He made it sound so smooth and easy- using only those barely perceptible lip changes and valve combinations.
When I initially read that description, I did react with surprise. After a while you just pick up the horn and start playing. It becomes second nature. It is natural and you don't think about why and how you do what you do. To describe it as King does gives a whole new dimension to what we do.
But, and this is important, I think, when we get that nonchalant or even carefree about our playing, we can find ourselves at a loss. That may have been the underlying secret insight I got a year ago at Shell Lake. In a brief moment of instruction from Bob Baca my whole way of looking at what I was doing as a musician changed. I know now that part of what happened was to take what had become natural and allow it to grow and change. When we are satisfied with how we are playing, we can get stuck and not move on.
For years I had been somewhat satisfied. I believed that perhaps this was as far as I could ever get. I was wrong. I am grateful I was wrong. I also found that it takes patience and persistence to move on to new levels. The suggestion that I could have a daily routine of long tones, chromatics, and scales brought me back to basics. In playing those long tones I have to listen, not just blow them. I have to hear the chromatics move. I have to be aware of the steps and half-steps of the scales. Yes, I am memorizing the scales; I am become familiar with the shape and movement of the sounds. But I don't just rattle them off so I can get on to something else.
THAT was a whole new understanding of practice and the road to improvement. It has worked- and for that I am grateful. And, yes, it does lead to second-nature playing because these routines and exercises become deeply ingrained in my brain and neural wiring. It is my whole musical self learning, melding, and growing together.
That's how we learn and grow in anything important. But we can never be lackadaisical about it. All these are gifts. Yet if we don't use them and improve them, we can get stuck. I like where music has taken me. I can hardly wait to see what's next.
Tuesday, September 06, 2016
I have been doing some traveling again, back on the east coast. Had a great time the other day as I did something I never thought about doing before: I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. Like the Golden Gate, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of those iconic places. A few months ago I heard about the possibility of walking across the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn. So I planned it. Here are some of the pictures I took. A fun day with good memories.
Saturday, September 03, 2016
I came across this quote a few weeks ago in the book, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick. It made me stop and think:
I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.In reflecting on it I thought also of another somewhat related and quite famous bit of philosophy known as Pascal's Wager:
― Richard Feynman
a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas they stand to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. It all has to do with mystery and wonder and awe. When you make a wager like Pascal's you are potentially closing the possibility to finding new ways to relate to the spiritual. One of the reasons I often have problems with the fundamentalist mindset is that it is so rigid, so fixed, as if all the answers are right there in front of you. All you have to do is believe the right way and it will all fall into place.
In some ways that is what Pascal's wager leads us to. You just have to stick with the rigid and clear beliefs. Of course, whose explanation of those beliefs do you stick with? In Pascal's time- even more so than ours- it would have been The Belief as explained by The Church. Today we would have to ask which church or even which branch of which church in which country?
I like Feynman's insight. He is not looking to make sure he gets to heaven or stays out of hell. He is, in essence, taking the second part of Pascal's wager- and betting that will be okay. As an intuitive person of amazing depth and insight, Feynman could look at what was happening around him- and be okay with what he didn't know.
So here's that closing piece from Feynman, one more time. It might be fun to ponder and meditate on this one for a while.
Thursday, September 01, 2016
The summer of 1966 came to an end. I was a college freshman.
On the Billboard Top 10, September began with a week of Scottish psychedelic- arguably the first of the "psychedelic" style.
Donovan was the star, but on the recording, two who would be BIG with Led Zeppelin- Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones along with jazz drummer, Bobby Orr.
The rest of the month belonged to Motown! The Supremes were #1 for three weeks.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Good music, and the other kind.
Back in week one I wondered where to begin with this series on jazz. I am still wondering and asking that question. Eight weeks is nothing in the great flow of this music. In it’s past century, jazz has transformed American life and been transformed by it. Yet its power has never diminished. Hearing a Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, or Buddy Bolden recording today is just as transformative as ever. The music lives! I could explore all the ideas and sidelights of jazz for the rest of my life and probably only scratch the surface.
I turned to Wynton Marsalis for some insight, then, as I came to this incomplete ending to the series. I have mentioned his book, written with Geoffrey Ward, Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life (2008, Random House). It is a good introduction to jazz on a popular level. In his opening chapter he describes his experience in learning and experiencing jazz:
This is some of what I found:Marsalis clearly understands the inner power of music to make each of us who play it more than we are without it. Each of those paragraphs speaks to us as musicians. First he talks about us finding our “sound.” On one level this means he skills and development of our technique. Because it is “jazz” we find a freedom to develop and express that. While there may be variations, it is very difficult for a musician to express those sounds in a “classical” piece.
The most prized possession in this music is your own unique sound. Through sound, jazz leads you to the core of yourself and says “Express that.” Through jazz, we learn that people are never all one way. Each musician has strengths and weaknesses.
Jazz also reminds you that you can work things out with other people. It’s hard, but it can be done. … Jazz urges you to accept the decisions of others. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow- but you can’t give up, no matter what….
On a basic level, this music led me to a deeper respect for myself. In order to improvise something meaningful, I had to find and express whatever I had inside me worth sharing with other people. But at the same time it led me to a new awareness of others, because my freedom of expression was directly linked to the freedom of others on the bandstand.
Second Marsalis sees the interpersonal musical interactions in jazz as a great paradigm for getting along with others. You can’t take your horn and go home in the middle of a gig because you didn’t like the way the tenor player took the theme. Instead you have to pay attention to the tenor’s message and expressions and see where it fits into your experience. Maybe that will mean developing a contrasting style or building the theme on a different chord. But you can’t deny the tenor player the right to his freedom of expression. It could start an interesting dialogue- musically on the bandstand, afterward while relaxing, or as a metaphor for how you can learn to interact with others day in and day out.
Third, Marsalis makes the obvious- and essential connection. In order for these first two to happen, we have to dig into ourselves. And we must respect ourselves. We must believe that in our solos, duets, or even just section work, we have something worth sharing. Maybe my section work as a fourth trumpet doesn’t get out into the crowd like the solos do. But how can I make that chord sound out when I have the one “blue note” in the section? How do I play that note so it enhances the sound of the section and the band? Do I believe I have a right to make that simple statement in that single note? Next it leads me to pay attention to the rest of the section and the group and give them the same freedom I want for myself and the same respect I would hope to get from them.
Marsalis then adds:
The value of jazz is the same for listeners and players alike because the music, in its connection to feelings, personal uniqueness, and improvising together, provides solutions to basic problems of living. -p. 13Couldn’t say it any better! So I won’t.
One more thought comes out of Marsalis’s reflections. First, though, to introduce it, here is a quote, again, from Duke Ellington:
In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom
and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved,
and the music is so free that many people say it is the only
unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom
yet produced in this country.
Here’s where Marsalis takes the same thought. He puts jazz into the flow of American life, not just in the past 115 years, but representative of the flow of our overall evolution as a nation:
Knowing jazz music adds another dimension to your historical perspective…. Jazz music is America’s past and its potential, summed up and sanctified and accessible to anybody who learns to listen to, feel, and understand it. The music can connect us to our earlier selves and to our better selves to come. It can remind us of where we fit on the time line of human achievement, an ultimate value of art.The melding of musical styles, melodies, and history may be nowhere more clear than in jazz’s development. European folk styles from the colonies and songs from Africa laid foundations of rhythm and emotion. The Black Church added the preaching style of call and response. Ethnic roots of Irish music and New Orleans parades gave movement to the musicians. Listen closely to jazz and these will echo from the past and into our collective subconscious imagination. Feel it move YOU.
But even more to the point may be the role jazz itself played in the 20th Century in creating a revolution in racial acceptance. When the music began, and for decades after that, it was impossible for white and black musicians to play together. Even when they could it was impossible for the black musicians to stay in the hotels where white musicians did. Movies were edited so they could edit OUT for southern audiences of the black musicians scenes showed them playing with their white colleagues. Jazz music’s influence on the civil rights movement is an essential part of its long-term success. Miles Davis saw this when he said:
Jazz is the big brother of Revolution. Revolution follows it around.
We have covered a lot of ground very superficially in these eight posts. Any one of them could be the start of a series on its own connecting music as a whole and jazz in particular, musicians and listeners, and finally, music and life. Jazz plays an important part in my life and will continue to do so. I keep learning and experimenting. It is a never-ending joy and experience. There will be more jazz posts as part of the regular weekly writing here on The Tuning Slide. I hope it will continue to open new paths for you as it has for me.