Wednesday, December 13, 2017

3.25- The Tuning Slide- The Unexpected

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.
— J. R. R. Tolkein

This month’s theme is “The Journey” of being a trumpet player, musician, and human being. Last week we talked about that all important “first step” that gets us moving. This week we continue with two quotes from the board at the end of Trumpet Workshop this past summer:

✓ Be comfortable being uncomfortable [Expect the unexpected]
✓ Always have a relaxed breath. Warm, moist air

Don’t worry, they are not as disconnected as they seem. They are two more essential aspects of the journey you are on. As Bilbo used to say any journey is a dangerous business. When we truly set out on a new journey of any kind- outer or inner- we do not know what’s ahead or where it will take us. We plan and practice, gather resources and support. We step out the door and we meet a “black swan.”

What? You’ve never seen a black swan? Here’s Wikipedia talking about it. Black swan

is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The term is based on an ancient saying which presumed black swans did not exist, but the saying was rewritten after black swans were discovered in the wild.

The theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to explain:
• The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
• The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities).
• The psychological biases that blind people, both individually and collectively, to uncertainty and to a rare event's massive role in historical affairs.

In other words, black swans are the next-to-impossible-to-predict events that have HUGE impacts on life. Looking back we can rationalize them, but that never helps us predict what the next “black swan” event might be in our lives. Whether it is the 9/11 attacks, the wildfires in California, or Superstorm Sandy, the BIG events that have the greatest impact on people’s lives are often unforeseen and unpredictable. They happen and change the world. We will often look back and say “we should have known that!” but in reality if we could have we would have.

We can respond to this situation in different ways in our lives. First, we can live in terror and fear of the next black swan event. That will always be an existential, unconnected, free-floating fear that can never be pinned down or done away with. By definition we can’t know what the next big event will be. To live in that constant state of uncertainty is not any way to live.

Second, we can live with a carefree, not-give-a-crap attitude, rushing headlong into whatever is ahead. Life is a gamble for all of us. You can get the most toys, but in the end we all die. This may have a lot of adrenaline-pumping action; it may move us to do some brave and courageous or dumb and dangerous things. The result may very well be a toss-up.

Third, we can combine the two with that wonderful first quote and description. If you always expect everything to go smoothly and the way you want things to go, you will be disappointed. In spite of things like the “law of attraction” and certain ways some of us pray at times, we don’t always get what we want. That will make us uncomfortable! Can I put up with discomfort? Do I see discomfort as an enemy or a sign of what needs to be done?

I have talked a number of times about the process I continually go through as a learning, growing musician. I reach a point- usually quite unexpected- when things don’t just feel right. I may have a lousy performance where even that good old 2nd line G comes out like mud. Or I find my endurance slipping for no apparent reason. Maybe there’s a new piece that doesn’t look that hard that just doesn’t want to fall under my fingers.

I become quite uncomfortable at those times. Have I reached the end of my line? Is this as good as it gets? Was I being too comfortable with where I was and not expanding the envelope? I can easily be tempted at that point to cut back, even give in. I rationalize- well, after all, I am nearly 70 years old. I can’t expect to continue to improve like I would if I were 30 or 40. Then the picture of me with Doc Severinsen pops up on my phone and I give that idea up.

Is it okay to be uncomfortable? Sure it is. Usually it means I am at a turning or growing point. I look for adjustments I can make- perhaps work on some different exercises in my daily routine or pull back on some of my intensity to do everything right away. If I am expecting the unexpected, it shouldn’t bring me to a halt. If I have learned anything in these past 3 years of expanded trumpet playing and growth in musicianship, it is that the journey is real and is never in a straight line!

Which brings me to the second quote above about relaxed breath and warm moist air. Yes, that is how we are to play our horns. Doc calls it a balance between tension on the side muscles and relaxed on the center. If every time I pick up the horn I am tense and dry, nothing good will come out. Relax. Breathe calmly. As Bill Bergren rightly describes it- “Say ‘M’ and then breathe gently like cooling a cup of coffee.” How do we learn how to do that if we are always tense.

In a recent concert we were playing the beautiful, slow piece “Ashokan Farewell.” I realized in one of the rehearsals that I was tensed up so as not to over-blow or lose any tone by playing too loudly. Self Two caught that Self One was uptight. Self Two simply said, “I can handle this. I do it all the time in the practice room.” Self Two was right, of course. I am never tense like that in my practicing. I may lose endurance, etc. but it is not usually due to tenseness. That comes when I am afraid of—(among other things) the unexpected.

Take that relaxed, warming breath. Put the trumpet to the lips- and play.

Live with awareness of the unexpected- not in fear of what might happen but in order to go with it when it happens. Live with the breath- in and out in a simple rhythm. (Remember rhythm? It’s one of the foundations of all music.) Stay warm, stay relaxed, stay quietly focused. When we learn how to do that in our practice room, we will move closer to being able to do it in performance. When we can do it in performance, we can relax some more and learn how to do that when we are doing other things.

It is one of the secrets of our life’s journey. Go with it, as Bilbo used to say, “you don’t know where you might be swept off to.”

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Spirituality as Resistance: Love

It has always been one of the core beliefs of my faith that resistance to the world’s ways is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It may also be at the heart of other faiths, but this is the one I know best and am steeped in. Between now and Epiphany Sunday on January 7 I will take one of the traditional themes of the season and relate it to our present day resistance to some difficult and troubling things happening around us. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind.

2nd Sunday of Advent, 
December 10, 2017:
Love as Resistance

Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love,
and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I found all kinds of ways of putting “love” into this post as a form of resistance. Where do we get the idea that love is a spiritual discipline?

• Love the Lord with all that you are
• Love your neighbor as yourself.
• Love is how we turn what we say into what we do.
• To live in love is to live in God.
• Love is the embodiment of our beliefs. The only place where the beliefs can be seen.
• We learn love from God!

Love as a discipline of spiritual resistance is important because it crosses barriers and boundaries and allows for no exceptions. Love is acceptance and it’s what I meant when talking last week about our interconnectedness.

On top of all that we don’t often think of the spiritual discipline of “love” as countercultural, resistance to the ways the world deals with love and life. Stop and think about it and we realize that it is the natural extension of the basic so-called Golden Rule:

Do unto others as you would have them do to (or for) you!

Meditate on that; place it as the Golden Rule, i.e. the best rule for living. (Go ahead. Take some time to do that if you want before you read on. I have already done so.)

What did you get? What comes to mind?

First it was the awareness of how seldom I think of that let alone try to actually live it. From there it moved to asking myself another question. “What would such love look like?” Without missing much of a beat it came to a halt at Jesus’ words:
I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you… (Matthew 5:44, Young’s Literal Translation.)
Now Jesus is REALLY meddling with the ways of the world. Jesus is actually suggesting that we do the exact opposite of the ways of the world. Love my enemies? You’ve got to be kidding! That would be unheard of, even suicidal.

That isn’t just countercultural, it is downright revolutionary. If we all started practicing that this would be a far different world.

And that is exactly the point! What else would be the purpose of such spiritual resistance but to make the world a far better place? What else would be the result of living a spiritually resistant lifestyle than the overturning of the logical way of living and relating to others?

Now, with all that in mind, let me ask you another question to continue to build this discipline of love.
Do you remember being loved in such a way that it changed your life?
Two things come to mind. The first, that set the foundation for me was a remarkable quote from theologian Paul Tillich:
“You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace.
That quote has come to me a number of times over the past 45 years- always at a time and place of needing to be loved- and what is love except an awareness of being accepted as I am. Me. Just as I am!

The second thing that came to mind happened many years ago but only sunk in recently. A few years ago I was working on following my Dad’s Army unit through the last year of World War II. I called one of my Dad’s cousins to ask some questions. (I should note that my Dad died in 1964 when I was 16, 2 1/2 years after my mother had died. What I knew of both of them was therefore limited.) In the midst of our conversation she mentioned how her mother and others around our small rural town had worried about my brother and myself losing our parents at such young ages. It was an opening of light as I realized that in those years- and many since- I was loved and cared for simply because I needed it. They were worried and wanted to support us.

I have been loved - and it was a great feeling.

How could I not want to share that? How could I not be willing to live that love through my own life? I have spent my adult life in service to others in ministry, in mission, in addiction counseling, in trying to be a good husband, father, and friend. I am who I am because over these 69 years I have been loved unconditionally by many people.

The revelation that “love” has been at work in my life in countless and often unknown ways was one more reason to live in love.

To repeat, that is all quite revolutionary. Not that family or friends loved me, but the feeling of being loved is so powerful even when you don’t know it’s happening, it can change your world.

However to name someone as “enemy” and therefore not worthy of my love is dangerous. My heroes like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Have pointed that out. They attempted to live in ways that loved instead of hated. Not long after I typed these words, my friends at Mindful Christianity Today on Facebook posted a meme. Here it is:

We are in a time of great divisiveness and even angry hatred. It may be couched in either nice language or spoken with all its vitriol spewing forth. Such anger and hatred leads to violence. Such violence will always be deadly- emotionally, spiritually, or physically. As part of the counter-culture of spirituality we must remember what it means to be loved and how it works miracles in each of us. Then, in radical acceptance and revolutionary hope, we live that love, no matter what.

It may be resisted or mocked; it may be seen as weakness or illogical. It will empower us to be who we are called to be.

And I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of God and the name of that river was suffering - and I saw the boat which carries souls across the river and the name of that boat was love.
— St. John of the Cross

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

3.24 The Tuning Slide- Start the Journey

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

I decided that for the next three months I will be basing each post on one of the “quotes” from the summary of last summer’s Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop. I went back to the list (Link) and picked out three months worth that fit into three general categories. For December I will be talking about The Journey of being a trumpet player, musician, and human. A good way to end another calendar year, thinking about where we have been.


It is good to have an end to journey toward,
but it is the journey that matters in the end.
-Ursula K. Le Guin

I will start with the obvious, simplest and maybe simultaneously the most profound quote from the Trumpet Workshop 2017:
✓ The best way to go 1,000 miles is to take the first step.
Life IS a journey. It continues to be a great metaphor for what happens in these days between birth and death, or as someone once called it- the hyphen years (Born Died). At some times the journey is fairly straightforward. Other times it wanders and curves in spirals and cycles all over the place. It may even seem like the movie Groundhog Day. (Didn’t I just do that?) If you want to get anywhere, however, the simplicity of the quote is painfully obvious.

The obvious: Doh!
None of us is going anywhere if we don’t get off square one. We can talk all we want about what we want to do, our dreams and hopes, the kind of musician or person we want to be, but to do nothing to get there will be the surest way to not get there. Life isn’t a magic trick where we say “abracadabra” or “cowabunga” or anything else and we get it.

There are, of course, many things that keep us stuck on square one. Fear is probably the most powerful thing that keeps us stuck. We don’t want to fail, make a mistake, seem silly, or incompetent. So we don’t do anything, or we do the safest thing. The result is we are stuck.

Lack of self-confidence is another way we remain where we have always been. “I really cannot do that!” becomes a mantra. It ends up with “See. I couldn’t do that.” The result again is that we are stuck.

In the end many of us find ourselves doing the same things over and over and feeling dissatisfied. We forget to take the first step. In 12-Step groups it is often said that the first step is the most important one that you have to do perfectly and at a rate of about 100%. Nothing else can get done if you don’t do the first step completely. Which leads me to:

The profound: Aha!
The first step is the foundation. It isn’t just some silly saying. Of course you have to take the first step. Tell me something profound so I can do it. It’s the deep and profound and mystical and even magical that we are really looking for. We want an answer that will lead us into wherever we are going with little to no effort. The simplicity of just taking the first step hides the power of
taking the first step.
Fortunately the first step we have to take in our journey is so obvious and profound that it can be summer up in those four words! Stop arguing. Stop procrastinating. Do something! Get moving.
Make it a good first step!
The Psychology Today website ( posted seven strategies when you feel stuck. It was originally written for a post on women’s health, but it is as real and important for all of us.
1) Let go of the past. ...
2) Change your perspective. ...
3) Start with small changes. ...
4) Explore your purpose. ...
5) Believe in yourself. ...
6) Practice being hopeful. ...
7) Consider talking to a professional.
Everything we have learned from Trumpet Workshop and the Inner Game directions can be found in those seven jump starts. Let me translate those seven into a different way of seeing what these suggested first steps can be. Numbers correspond to the numbers above:

1) (Letting go…) Trust Self Two to get you where you need to go.
You are NOT the same person who missed that note last year- or even last week.

2) (Perspective…) Practice “mindfulness”
Instead of noticing the things you aren’t doing, see the things you are doing.

3) (Small changes…) Go back to the basics and practice them in your regular routine.
Record yourself and listen to what needs to be improved- then zero in on one of those

4) (Purpose…) Why am I doing this?
Always a good question to ask. The answer may simply be “because it’s fun!”

5) (Believe…) Start thinking of yourself as a “musician” moving forward.
“I am not able to do that” quickly takes on new meaning when you add the word “yet!”

6) (Hopeful…) Start keeping a journal and write down the improvements you will see
Watch for your expected improvement and don’t get discouraged when it doesn’t happen overnight.

7) (Professionals…) Take some lessons, if you aren’t already doing so!
You can’t always see other perspectives. Ask for support and guidance.

Those of you who have been around this blog for the past few years or have read the book I published from it, know that these are some of the ways I have been able to move from a mediocre 60-something trumpet player into a better 60-something trumpet musician. Last weekend, for example, the quintet I have been part of played for a church worship. As the service came to an end I noticed that among other things I was
◆ relaxed, not tense from performance anxiety
◆ comfortable with how I had played, not kicking myself for days afterward
◆ aware of my sound throughout the playing, not worried about my ability to do it
◆ able to answer the purpose question, in this case, in order to provide music for people to be touched and moved by its power.

What a change in a few years! But I had to take a step and move into uncomfortable territory and attend the first Big Band Camp at Shell Lake. No, there was the step before it of starting lessons again after 50+ years. No, there was the step before that of saying “Yes!” to the invitation to join the quintet in the first place. No,….

I think you get the idea. The best step to take next is the one that will move you in a direction you would want to go.

Then just do it.

By the way, Christmas is coming....

Here are my books available at Amazon.
They are both in Kindle and paperback.
They make really nice Christmas gifts.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Spirituality as Resistance: Hope

Advent begins today. It is the time of preparation for the coming of the Savior on Christmas. It is a time of challenge and spiritual growth. In spite of the seemingly bright and cheerful side of the holiday that Hallmark cards often present, the next six weeks are a time of wrestling with important truths about humanity, about God, and about what God has done and is doing for our release from captivity to sin.

Over the past year many of us have been facing a crisis of faith and spirit with many difficult and uncomfortable things happening around us. Last year I wrote a series on the Dark Night of the Soul in the political era we are living in. I followed it up with a series on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a time even darker than ours. We have made it through another year and the word that has come to describe what many of us are doing is “Resistance.”

It has always been one of the core beliefs of my faith that resistance to the world’s ways is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It may also be at the heart of other faiths, but this is the one I know best and am steeped in. Between now and Epiphany Sunday on January 7 I will take one of the traditional themes of the season and relate it to our present day resistance to some difficult and troubling things happening around us. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind.

1st Sunday of Advent, 
December 3, 2017
Hope as Resistance

All resistance movements have been based in a sense of hope. In recent history we have had the Resistance in France in WW II. Back in the 60s, those who opposed the Vietnam war saw themselves as a resistance movement. Non-violent resistance- has had a long history, with people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. being the most famous. In the past year a number of different groups like Indivisible have formed as grass-roots actions to overcome the extreme right-wing. Without the hope that they could be successful against evil and wrong, they would not have done what they did.

Let me start by looking at spirituality and how it is Resistance. I am not looking to get into arguments about the existence or nonexistence of “God.” I believe spirituality in general is far broader than that. Each “religious faith” adapts “spirituality” to be part of its own history and understanding of the world. In general, let me define spirituality this way:

We are connected!
  • First, we are connected to something greater than ourselves.
    • Therefore we can’t do it alone (and don’t need to) and
    • Therefore that is a challenge to narrow vision and easy acceptance of many self-centered beliefs and
    • Therefore “Me First” is not an option.
  • Second, we are connected to others interdependently.
    • Therefore we have a responsibility to others as we would want them to have responsibility for us and
    • Therefore we are to do unto others as we would want them to do unto us without exception and
    • Therefore we are to be kind to the “stranger” and “foreigner” in our midst.

Spirituality appears to be an evolved human response as a means of survival. Alone, the individual could not survive. It is in the evolution from nomad to tribe to village and city to nation-states to an interconnected world. This is the basis of Spiritual Resistance. It is standing for the many ways we can experience, live, and share the basic message of our continually evolving interrelationships. This is even more important today when all it could take is two individuals who can push each other- and all of humanity- into a world-ending war.

The survival of humanity depends on our getting along and finding ways to interrelate and accept others. Because we have had such experiences in our lives, because we can discover that in our daily lives, and because it is possible to live that way in new ways, we can have hope. Our hope is believing that we can do something to enhance the options for our survival.

That is heavy! That seems like an impossible task. But when we fell that, we go back to the definitions and calling to spirituality. We are not alone! We are connected and can work at increasing that interconnectedness! It is not- and cannot be- about me alone!
  • The spirituality of hope is to challenge the false hopes we can all fall prey to. 
    • It is resistance to the false hopes presented as variations of “Me First!” 
    • It is resistance to the call to be selfish and ignore those who have less than we do. 
    • It is resistance to myths propagated by many and varied sources in our society and other societies that seek to control rather than heal. 
    • It is resistance to anything that denigrates and kills others in body, mind, or soul. It is resistance to racism, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry, poverty. 
    • It is resistance to straw men raised by “leaders” who want to consolidate power over others.
  • Hope tells us that life is worth living. 
  • Hope tells us that if we are willing to work together we can get things done. 
  • Hope tells us that the power of “we” is always greater than the powers of “me alone.” 
  • Hope tells us that there are other like-minded people who see the world as we do. 
  • Hope says that each person is a person of value and worth and forgiveness and care is at the heart of what we are to do. 
 We will look at other ways this happens as we journey through Advent. In the Christian tradition Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Savior. It is when we take time in meditation and prayer to hear the words and follow the life of the one we Christians call The Word Become Flesh. We believe that when we watch Jesus and hear his words we are hearing the way of hope for all humanity. That is not meant to mean the exclusive, we Christians are the only ones who have the answer. It is rather from my faith and cultural perspective in a religion that has just as often ignored or turned those words upside down for their own benefit. Jesus has been called the beginning and the end. The Alpha and the Omega. Omega, the symbol of resistance can be seen as the symbol for what Jesus calls humans to do- resist the life-denying calls of the world. There are life-affirming actions and ways of the world. Jesus calls me to uphold them and keep them active.

My description of spirituality above is open to many ways of following a power greater than ourselves. Admittedly my definition is one that is based on my understandings. It comes out of my experiences of nearly 7 decades of living. I can see no other way for me that encompasses the hope, love, joy, and peace of life. I hope others can see these in their own spiritual evolution. Hope as resistance is the first step in a journey into deeper hope. It helps us to cope with what the world often throws at us and others. Resistance is an immunity against fear and hate, death and selfishness.

Focus on hope this week.

Hope can be more than wishful thinking. It is a sense of expectation that something possible is coming. We must be ready to see it when it comes. We need to be focused, not distracted, but turn toward hope and not despair.

Listen to the still small voice of hope when things seem to be falling apart.

Join with others in hope!

Friday, December 01, 2017

Overwhelmed and Procrastinating

  • I am about 60% through writing a new Christmas story.
  • I am about 30% through writing the first post on the Spirituality as Resistance series for Advent to Epiphany.
  • I have nothing written on next week's Tuning Slide.
  • I am sitting here at my computer in my coffee shop "office" scrolling Facebook and checking my calendar for the fifth time.
  • In other words- I am stuck.
At the same time:
  • The tax cut [sic] bill, a potential major step toward ending support programs like Social Security and Medicare, is aiming toward passage.
  • Trump re-tweets a British extremist right-wing anti-Muslim video.
  • Garrison Keillor is fired.
  • Roy Moore is leading the polls again.
I stare at the computer screen and see the story I'm working on and wonder how I can even continue. Is there reason for "joy to the world" at Christmas 2017? Evangelical "Christians" support hateful groups and people, ignoring the very "morality" they have said they stand for. How can I proclaim the birth of a Savior they would ostracize in a way that challenges their status quo?

So I start writing here. I get the feelings down in pixels. And I sit and stare some more.

I guess I am in the perfect place to be thinking about Advent. I was not originally planning on writing this preview of the series. But what better way to get started. This is the world before Advent. This is the world into which he was born. It is clear that I am not ready for Christmas. I am still too broken, weighed down by the sad and bad and hateful news to hear any good news. I need these next four weeks to be ready.

If I stay stuck in my procrastination, nothing will change in me. I may not be able to change the way the world is going, but I do know that God can change the way I see the world and my place in it. Is this how people of faith felt before the first Advent? Has the world really changed all that much in these 2000+ years? Have we?

Hope. Love. Joy. Peace.

They are coming.

May I be ready to hear them.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.23- Becoming a Performer

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Everything that comes out of your horn must sound like music.
It’s then that you can call yourself a musician.
-From Eric Bolvin, The Arban Manual.

Perhaps one of the least mentioned ways of practice that will get us beyond mediocre is to stop practicing and always perform. The quote above is at the bottom of one of the lesson pages in the Arban Manual Study Guide by Eric Bolvin. The result of effective and dedicated practice is not being a technically good or even excellent musician. The result of that practice is that whatever comes out of your horn must sound like music. That is not as easy as it seems when written on the computer screen. It doesn’t take much effort to remember those awful days when we could hardly make “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” sound musical. With practice, Twinkle Twinkle can be as musical as a Miles Davis solo.

Becoming a performer of music is truly what all this practice is about. It gets pretty boring to never perform. Sure we may play some wonderful pieces and become accomplished at playing the trumpet. But it is the act of performing the music that shares the wonder of music with the world.

Way back in my earliest high school years as a trumpet player, I had a number of solo-type pieces and etudes from the method books that I liked to play. There were many times in my practice that I would imagine putting together a concert- a performance- for my family. In my mind I would pick out what the program would include and in what order. I would then practice as if I was actually performing them for the family. That more than anything else may have helped move me from the techniques of playing the trumpet into the joy of being a performing musician.

Gerald Klickstein whose website The Musicians’ Way has been the source of much of this month’s posts, talks about a three-step process of moving into the performance level. He looks at the progression we all do when working toward performing a new piece of music. He says the “material” goes through three stages:
Stage 1: New Material
• Get an overview.
• Make decisions section by section.
• Slow tempo.

Stage 2: Developing Material
• Refine interpretation.
• Increase tempo and problem-solving.
• Memorize.

Stage 3: Performance Material
• Practice performing.
• Maintain memory.
• Renew and innovate.
As I have seen it in my own practice, this does work in a clear progression. The overview is when I scan the music for the first time. What’s the key, the range, the key changes, the tempo? Maybe I sing or hum through it. I look for the harder appearing sections and make note of them. I also know that just because it looks hard doesn’t mean it is hard. Play through it - keeping it slow. At this point I am looking for the way the music flows and moves. I am trying to make it sound musical. I try to be conscious of the sections and how the music changes from one to another or maybe circles back to something earlier. I am getting the music to fall under my fingers at this point.

The second stage, letting the music develop, is when I “know” the music but haven’t figured out how to interpret it musically. I might experiment with different tempos or figure out why my fingers refuse to cooperate on certain passages. As I said a couple weeks ago I am not good at memorizing so I don’t usually do that part of this stage. But the goal of “performing” the piece has to be there- even if it’s a new Goldman exercise or Clarke etude. The aim is always to make music- be a performing musician.

The third stage for me is putting it all together. It will now become performance! It cannot remain just another piece for the practice room even if I know it will never be performed anywhere else. That is the “practice as if you are performing” injunction. I sometimes react to myself “Would I want an audience to hear it that way?”

What I am talking about is simply to make sure I move beyond being just a practice room musician. The particular etude or exercise will most likely never be a public piece, unless I record it and put it on Facebook or something. But what I learn and experience in doing this with all my practice will carry into other things I do. That is why we practice things other than our performance pieces. That is why we may do the same routine with variations every day for weeks, months, or years. We are transforming everything into music so when we come to the musical pieces we will play them musically.

It’s back to Self One and Self Two and how our brains work. It is back to easing the performance anxiety of Self One trying to take the negative road and undermining what we can do. It’s about Self Two learning and showing that we can do it. It is taking charge of the music since it is the “natural” musician.

This is being a performer. It is how to live.

There is a You Tube video titled Transform Yourself Into a Performer. (Watch it below.) It is by concert pianist Alpin Hong in a TEDxLaSierraUniversity talk. In the enjoyable presentation he talks about
  • Being self-conscious and still projecting self-confidence.
  • If they’re in your audience, they want you to succeed. They are on your side!
  • Thoughts on making mistakes- yes, we all make them. He even quotes Monk. His answer is to improvise, i.e. know your piece well-enough that if you get lost, for example, you can make your way back to the right place.
That is what we are all about. Performing. We want to truly make music. It doesn’t just happen by chance, but it is certainly within our grasp.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Starting This Sunday: A Series for Advent

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. As I have often done in the past, I will be doing a seasonal series. This one will be on the themes of Advent through Epiphany. In light of what many of us have experienced and felt over the past year I am going to explore the meaning of spirituality as "resistance" to the ways of the world. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind. The ten-part series will be:

1st Sunday, Dec. 3: Hope as Resistance

2nd Sunday, Dec. 10: Love as Resistance

3rd Sunday, Dec. 17: Joy as Resistance

4th Sunday, Dec. 24: Peace as Resistance

Christmas Eve, Dec. 24: Humility as Resistance

Christmas Day, Dec. 25: Light as Resistance

Sunday after Christmas, Dec. 31: Sacrifice as Resistance

New Year’s Day, Jan 1: Sacrament as Resistance

Epiphany, Jan 6: Revelation as Resistance

Epiphany Sunday, Jan 7: Proclamation as Resistance
There will be more of an introduction on Sunday. Join me in preparing for the season as a sign of Good News for all.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.22- Gratitude and Music

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.
- Fredrich Nietzsche

It is Thanksgiving tomorrow. It is the day we single out to be grateful. In reality gratitude and thanksgiving are actually essential elements of happy and many creative lives. It can provide a sense of hope and strength in even the most difficult of times and places. It is good to take a moment this week to remember to be grateful.

Almost four years ago The Huffington Post had an article titled Music and Gratitude: The Gifts That Keep On Giving by Frank Fitzpatrick. ( The writer had attended a rare concert by composer Johnny Mandel ("The Shadow of Your Smile", the "Theme from M*A*S*H") which was on Mandel’s 88th birthday. Fitzpatrick wrote:
I felt deep gratitude for that opportunity to be there with Johnny, my good friends and the beautiful music. I enjoyed a sonic journey back through my life — reflecting on loved ones and fond memories. It was Johnny himself, however, who brought the power of gratitude into the spotlight. With an innocent pride and profound sense of humility, he turned and thanked us for sharing with him the greatest birthday gift he could ask for — a chance to make music and to relish with us in the experience as his compositions were performed by these astounding musicians. You could see the youthful sparkle of joy in his eyes.
Truly one of the great joys of music is to be in the presence of such mastery as Johnny Mandel or Doc Severinsen or whoever your musical hero might be. Those of us who had the chance this past April to meet Doc in Eau Claire, WI, are still living in the glow of that time. I wish I could have played in the band behind him, but just to be there as the music flowed in gratitude from him was a life -filling moment. Earlier in the day we heard Doc interviewed by Bob Baca and it was amazing to see and feel a sense of humility and gratitude. It was real.

That evening, after the show in the green room I had the opportunity to be with a number of the students as they waited for Doc. When he was ready he didn’t disappoint any of us! He was as truly present with each of them (and me) as he was on the stage with the music. Again, here was a musical icon, superhero, superstar, and many other things. Yet he paid attention to us. I heard from others similar stories of their interactions with Doc. He showed amazing gratitude for what he has been able to do in his now 90+ years.

Fitzpatrick expressed in his article what I had felt from Doc:
This sense of deep gratitude, and the humility that makes it possible, is one of the most inspiring qualities that I have found in other visionaries and masters of their craft whom I have had the privilege to meet in my life….
It brings me back to my opening paragraph above about the essential foundation of gratitude. It can lead us to be more present (mindful) in daily experiences. It can fill us with those moments of awe when we play an amazing piece or participate in an equally amazing concert. It can lead us to know life in new ways. Again, from Fitzpatrick’s article:
I found myself reflecting on the deeper meaning and quality of life. I thought about the values and tools that have allowed me to be more present, to feel more deeply and to continue to reconnect to the joy in life. I remembered what my mother taught me about the power of humility and what one of my teachers meant when he said gratitude was the shortest road to joy. While music has been one of the greatest connectors for me, I have come to realize how much more empowering that emotional channel can be when I surrender to it, trust in it, and honor life with humility and gratitude. Music can, in and of itself, be a great expression of gratitude.

I believe that true musical mastery, like gratitude itself, requires a kind of humility — a recognition that something far greater than us is at play, and an appreciation for the gifts and love we have received.

No matter where I find myself in my life, I can always return to the music and the gratitude and follow that path to joy.
I don’t believe I can add much more to that, other than to take the time tomorrow to reflect on what I have been blessed and present to experience since last Thanksgiving. The joy of gratitude is real as I have had the opportunities (many of them!) to be part of things that are greater than I am. In them I find joy- and home and meaning.

What does this have to do with this month’s theme of practice? Actually everything. If we do not approach our practice, our musical learning, and our musicianship as a gift to be grateful for, we will not put the energy or care into it. I really want to say, we won’t put the love into it. If I don’t love my music and my practice of it, if I am not grateful for the growth that practice can bring, I will lose interest and not go where the music can take me. I will be mediocre, or mechanical, or emotionless in my music without love and gratitude for music.

What a gift to celebrate each day. Take time to practice and play your music with gratitude this week. It will be amazing, I am sure.


Finally, a shout-out to all of you who have mentored me, played in groups with me, given me inspiration and direction since last Thanksgiving. What a gift you have all been to me. I can’t name you all for fear of forgetting someone. Fellow students, instructors, colleagues on the stage, gurus, and superstars- thank you!

Link to Huffington Post article.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sad, Afraid, Speechless, Stunned, and Hopeful

Those words present the wide-range of feelings and reactions I continue to have over the news stories that never end. Tonight it was Charlie Rose. Last weekend it was Al Franken. Add that to Roy Moore, seemingly countless entertainment celebrities, legislators on all sides, even an NPR news executive. The biggest name continues to be Donald Trump, but he is not alone.

I admit to sadness, but no surprise at the Franken disclosure. Just when many of us liberals and progressives were beginning to get out of our Trump Funk (It only took a year!), we get knocked back by the awareness that this is not a liberal or conservative issue. We have tried to do that in the past, especially since many of the conservatives being accused have been "paragons of family values." (Liberals- being liberal- have always been accused of these kinds of immoral values.) But when it comes right down to today's news, it makes no difference.

Everyone seems to have clay feet! Which should not surprise anyone who is a person of faith or spirit. If we are honest, we would be the first to admit the awareness of what Paul says in Romans 7:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (NIV)
Unfortunately too often the religious right seems to forget that this applies to them as much as anyone else. They try to hide their human failings behind the righteous life they claim to live. That does not excuse it, however. The actions are still wrong. Period! End of discussion.

But this post isn't about that side of the issue. What has struck me most powerfully over these past few weeks since the Weinstein revelations became top news is the pace at which this has happened. Think about it. Before Weinstein things were normal. White male privilege was firmly entrenched from Hollywood to the White House to Alabama. Sexual harassment was the order of the day.

And then suddenly it wasn't.

A couple years ago we were amazed at how quickly opinion about, and acceptance of, same-gender marriage changed. It was almost like whiplash. One day it was wrong. And then suddenly it wasn't.

The same thing has just been happening from a different direction. This time it's women who are taking their power and running with it. They are not backing down. They are calling sexual abuse wrong! They are standing up to power, white male privileged power, and saying, "Enough!" They are advocating for change in some very basic issues in our society.

We are even hearing more about Bill Clinton and a little about the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. These were earlier skirmishes in what has become this major move forward. In other words, these are not just things that are happening now. FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy were guilty of a number of things that we know about- and many that we don't. People are saying "No!"

The powers that be don't like it. Those who benefit by the system the way it is will fight back. They will build walls, figurative, metaphorical, and real, to keep others out. Some of the fights will be symbolic; others will be for real progress for real people. The fight over health care and the tax bill are examples of fights that will occur on many different fronts.

Perhaps this is a natural outcome of the Trump election. The dark underbelly of American culture and politics took the spotlight. Trump flaunted it, reveled in it, put it into 140 characters or less every day on Twitter. We could no longer pretend that it wasn't there. We began to realize that the system can perhaps best be described by the WW 2 acronym: SNAFU. Systems Normal, All Fucked Up. (Usually credited to the Marines. Not a surprise there.)

But it doesn't have to remain that way.

Resist. Move ahead. Become an ally. Speak up. Stand with the victims.

In spite of the stunned and fearful reactions of some, I actually find hope in the breaking down of this patriarchal system of abuse and worse. Maybe we will be able to make significant and world-changing movements.

I pray that it is so.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Looking for a Christmas Gift?

Here are my books available at Amazon. 
They are both in Kindle and paperback. 
They make really nice Christmas gifts.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.21- Beyond Mediocre (2)

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

You have to, take a deep breath
and allow the music to flow through you.

Revel in it, allow yourself to awe.
When you play allow the music to
break your heart with its beauty.

― Kelly White

What else is there about practicing (this month's theme) that can help us rise above being simply mediocre? How about memorization built on sight-reading which itself is built on listening and rhythm?

If there is a secret - and easy - way to memorize, I haven’t found it. In fact I have seldom memorized a song all the way through. The only exceptions might be When the Saints Go Marching In and several songs I learned by ear. As I write that I also know that I have just given one of the not-so-secret ideas about memory work. Some of memory work goes back to what we talked about last week, listening. I have a hunch that memorization is more than just rote recall of something. Like I have said, you have to know the language. Sure, anyone can recite something in a different language without knowing what it means. But it will be lifeless compared to knowing the real feelings behind it.

The other thing that I have found that helps is having a better feel for the rhythm and style. This starts with the basics we always talk about- scales, chromatics, arpeggios, and the like. As we get to know the feel of these basics they become natural. We don’t have to think about them with Self One and will give appropriate control to Self Two. Then, when that run comes up in a performance piece or rehearsal, it just happens. Listening and rhythm then lead to what I have found to be the next pre-memorization step- sight-reading.

Sight reading
Expertise with sight-reading belongs
at the top of your list of priorities.
–The Musician’s Way, p. 99

This was one of my greatest weaknesses for years. Way back in high school I was a mediocre sight reader- at best. Even though I was first chair I had difficulty with sight reading. Part of that may be my somewhat ADD personality, but I didn’t know how to move beyond that. I would then take the music home and woodshed it and be able to play it like a first-chair should play it the next rehearsal. (We had an excellent second-chair who could sight read and was right there to support me and the section. Something every section needs!) Without going into the many decades since then, It was not until the last five or six years that I learned you can actually practice sight-reading.

Enter Getchell’s Second Book of Practical Studies for Cornet and Trumpet. They are amazing- and fun to play! They are based, among other things, on rhythm and time. The more I worked on that, the better my sight reading got. I then learned how to deal with a new piece of music and the “steps” of sight-reading. These include the obvious mental checklist of key signature, time signature, key changes, repeats, dynamics. But they also include a quick look at what appear to be difficult passages- and then humming or singing them. All this can be done in a relatively short time. The more time, the better. By the time the conductor raises the baton to start, I found I am no longer truly reading it for the first time. It is almost not sight-reading.

But here is where a paradox shows up for me. The more I get into the printed notes on the page, the less I am able to do it from memory. I have tried for years to memorize the closing section of Stars and Stripes Forever. Trumpets always stand to play it and I can’t read the music. Put the music in front of me and I can play it flawlessly. Take the music away and I easily get lost. Last year I worked on it using a lot of the new ideas and techniques I have been gathering for the last three years and I had it almost complete. In the end it became a melding together of all that I know about playing that came from listening enough to know the song including the rhythm and progressions (from sight-reading practice).

How then do I move on to greater ability to memorize? On the Your Music Lessons website I found this: (

The steps to memorizing can be broken down as follows:
• Put information into short term memory.
• Repeat the information in your short term memory multiple times.
• Sleep. [Important to moving information from short- to long-term memory.]
• Repeat steps 1 through 3.
• Do the whole process again after some time has passed.

(I like the sleep idea!) How then do I put these steps into practice? From The Musician's Way website here are The Four Stages of Memorization

Stage 1: Perception

Deep perception makes for solid memory. When we grasp the inner workings of a composition as well as how we want to shape each phrase, those rich connections lead to steadfast recall.
  • What’s the structure, how does it flow, what are the emotions? This is the start of getting information into the short-term memory.
Stage 2: Ingraining
Ingraining is the means whereby we lay down enduring memory tracks. But beware: ingraining necessarily involves repetition, yet only mindful repetitions will do.
  • This takes us back to all the elements of mindful practice. Just practicing doesn’t do it; practicing with images and goals will do a great deal. We need to make the music part of us, ingrained in us.
Stage 3: Maintenance
Even if we ingrain deeply, unless we maintain our memory, the mental connections we form will gradually disintegrate. Here are strategies that keep memories strong.
  • Here we do things like record ourselves and listen or do mental reviews of what we have memorized. It keeps it alive.
Stage 4: Recall
  • This is performance. Be relaxed and mindful, feel the emotions and trust in your preparation. With some of the music I have been working on this means getting myself out to a jazz jam or volunteering for the improvised solo in a gig.
This is exactly what I have been trying to do with some of the jazz work I have been developing. I have seen that as I work on playing by ear it allows the music to be more than just short-term since I cannot rely on visual memory alone. That in itself is a big piece of memorizing for me.

With all that here are some final thoughts on memory and music from Your Music Lessons:

“Muscle memory” is not even memory, it’s purely habit. Habits are formed in the most primitive parts of our brains. Studies have shown that people with no ability to form new memories, because of accidents or disease, are still able to form new habits. This shows that habits are not technically memories. When musicians depend on “muscle memory” what they really are doing is repeating patterns mindlessly.

This type of “memory” is also very prone to memory slips because the music is actually not in the musicians memory at all, and any small break from the habit (like a mistake or someone in the audience coughing) can cause the habit to break down.

Real music comes from our actively engaged minds. If the musician cannot sit down and write out an entire piece of music from memory, the piece is not memorized. Never try to acquire “finger memory”. It will come naturally because of constant repetitions. You should always seek an intellectual understanding and memory of the music first.

So, memorization, connected with playing/transcribing by ear, will be one of my goals over the next six-months. I’ll see if this old dog can still learn these new tricks.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans' Day 2017

It is the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Ninety-nine years later.
Veterans' Day.
Iowa Memorial- Vicksburg National Military Park
For your bravery, hard work, 
and dedication to our country, 
we thank you

Diorama- World War 1 Museum, Kansas City, MO
Without heroes, we are all plain people, 
and don’t know how far we can go. 
– Bernard Malamud

Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers- Arlington, VA
 As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

World War II Museum, New Orleans, LA
Honoring the sacrifices many have made for our country in the name of freedom and democracy is the very foundation of Veterans' Day. 
-Charles B. Rangel

Vietnam Veteran's Memorial- Washington, D. C.
 America’s Veterans have served their country with the belief that democracy and freedom are ideals to be upheld around the world.
-John Doolittle

Harold K. Lehman, 80th Med. Battalion, 10th Armored Div., WW II
If you want to thank a soldier, 
be the kind of American worth fighting for.


If you are a Veteran in crisis or know one who is, call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to confidentially speak with a trained, caring VA responder and get connected to services that can make a difference. Chat online or text with a VA responder to receive anonymous support now. Deaf or hard of hearing individuals using TTY can call 1-800-799-4889.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.20- Beyond Mediocre (1)

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

If you need to be inspired to practice,
you should probably do something else
-Ted Nash
“You didn’t wake up today to be mediocre,” says a common meme easily found on the Internet. But many, myself included, spend way too much time avoiding the things that can help us move beyond mediocre or keep us stuck in ways that don’t move us forward. Which, in the end, keeps us mediocre.

Definition: of only moderate quality; not very good.
Synonyms: ordinary, average, middling, uninspired, undistinguished, unexceptional, unexciting, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, lackluster, forgettable;
Informal -OK, so-so, fair-to-middling, no great shakes, not up to much, bush-league

That’s why so much of the research and writing on expertise and improvement focus on “deliberate” practice, working on the things that will make us better and consciously doing things that challenge us to grow. Just playing something two hours a day every day won’t necessarily make us better. With bad habits we may just become fair at being mediocre.

Brent Vaartstra on the Learn Jazz Standards website has an article outlining the Four Ways to Stay Mediocre as a Jazz Musician.

Specifically related to jazz musicians, his thoughts are just as applicable to all musicians who want to improve. I have reversed the themes into four ways to get beyond mediocre, but the idea is still the same:

• Don’t get stuck on scales
• Get out of the practice room
• Work on rhythm and time.
• Don’t beat yourself up

Let me sum up what these mean for me.
• Don’t get stuck on scales
⁃ As Vaartstra says, scales are essential, but how are we playing them? Are they just some rote exercise that we do because we want to learn the scales and let them fall smoothly under our fingers? Good. But what about the style and sound? Can we play them smoothly, with feeling and movement? Can we play them staccato with a sense of musicality? What about the tone? Do they sound like we are just rushing through them to get on with the real stuff? Talking with one of the Shell Lake Workshop participants the other day, he said that he has been working to make part of the Routine"musical". That’s the point. Every time we play we are making music! Then when that scale comes up in a piece, we can play it musically and not just by memory.

• Get out of the practice room
⁃ There are two aspects going on here. One is to get out and listen to live music when you can. It can (and should) be just about any kind of music. It is the opportunity to hear how other people make music and inspire us to improve out own. The other aspect is to get out and play with others. In jazz that can be going to an open jam. It can also be any bands or groups you can play with. Find ways to play with others! Even the best soloist must know how to play in balance and blend with others.

• Work on rhythm and time.
⁃ We often overlook this aspect of deliberate practice. Being able to read more complex rhythm takes time. For my money the two best methods for that are the Arban exercises, especially the syncopation and dotted eighth-sixteenth sections, and Getchell’s Second Book of Practical Studies for Cornet and Trumpet. More about why this is important when we talk about sight-reading. To sum it up now though, it is the rhythm that can often through us off. Rhythm is the dialect and emphasis of the music. When we can get those in our practice, we will be able to play more music.

• Don’t beat yourself up
⁃ It seems we often get back to these underlying concerns that we have often called Self One and Self Two from the Inner Game disciplines. As we work on our pieces, our less accomplished techniques, the more difficult exercises, it is easy to be unkind to ourselves- or worse, give up. Stay steady, let Self Two do what Self Two can do and tell Self One to relax and enjoy the music.

With that in mind here are the two of four ways I have discovered that these movements beyond mediocre can be of great value. I have found some of this on The Musician’s Way website ( and reflect on them from my own experience in practice and performance.

Warm-up and basics.
Like sensuous opening ceremonies, warm-ups prepare the body, mind, and spirit for making music.
– The Musician’s Way, p. 37
I still haven’t found warm-ups and basics to be “sensuous”, but they are the obvious place to start in the movement beyond mediocre. As I mentioned above this can be a place to develop musicality and tone. To play that “simple” Arban routine with beauty and tone is always the goal. Some of the exercises are even performance etudes. They are how we learn to do it. A good warm-up routine, appropriate to your needs and growth is worth it’s weight in gold- and time. So are things like mindfulness and exercises like T’ai Chi and Qigong in getting the body into a healthy spot.

Listening and learning
“For you to perform with native inflection, you have to listen and listen until you break through to the soul of a style.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 98
The more you listen, the more you learn. On one website I read the more than obvious statement that we actually learn to speak- by listening. No one tells us how to talk. It is natural. We are designed that way. The same is true for music. But there are different types of music- just as there are different languages. They all share the same notes, though not always played the same way or in the same order. Some have different rhythms and different time frames. Some are “straight” and some “swing”. How do we know how to play it if we haven’t heard it.

I was reminded of this last weekend. One of the big bands I play with had a gig at a local dance venue. It was an amazing evening for me. I found myself moving along in time (mostly) and able to go with the rhythm. I realized that I am now truly beginning to understand and “speak” the language of jazz big band. I can more regularly look at a passage and know what it probably sounds like because it is in a pattern that is commonly used in the music. I realized I was no longer reading it “note for note” but playing it out of what was called above the “soul of the style.” It is just like when I have learned a new language and found myself thinking in the language. I was no longer translating from an English thought to a German or Spanish thought. On Friday evening I was not translating a written note from one style to another- it was more often just coming out that way.

This is actually more important than it may seem at first glance. All music is language. Music is perhaps a “generic” term for different languages. Like learning any new language we do not start with the most complex words and sentences. Trying to read War and Peace before a first-reader would be most difficult. As I was watching the John Coltrane documentary the other evening I was reminded of this truism. There is much in Coltrane’s later music that I do not understand. It was a different language than any most I have known in music. It was clearly powerful and transformative. I could feel it- but I don’t yet understand it. I want to- and have been working on that for years. I know more about it today. Someday it may all fall into place.

For that to happen I have to keep listening. The many styles and languages of music will enrich my overall understanding of the depths of music and increase my vocabulary. I will be a better musician- and a better person for it.

Which, next week, will bring me to two other aspects of practice that will help us all move beyond mediocre- sight-reading and memorization.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Keeping Faith Tonight

Friday, November 03, 2017

Post-Season Pic #14- The Last for This Year

I had to make it an even two weeks of Post-Season Pics.
Thanks to the "boys of summer" for an incredible season.
It is now officially "winter."

And football season, of course.

But, in case you were wondering, there are only
106 days
until pitchers and catchers report!

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Post-Season Pic #13- Let's Play Two

It's hard to let go of the summer game. 
So let's get two quotes for one picture today!

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.19- Endurance

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Last month we looked at attitudes and habits that lead us to self-care, respect for our colleagues, and balance in our musical lives. This month I want to dig into some of the things I have learned about practice. I never was very good at practicing. I would do it when I needed to or when I wanted to have some fun with some new piece of music I found in a music store. But I was not very disciplined or organized. Over these past few years of my growth into a musician I have been taught a great deal about what makes for practice. I have even come to enjoy it. What then are the effective, efficient, and deliberate ways we can practice that will enhance what we want to do?

So, the theme for November here on The Tuning Slide:

The joy of practice

If you’re not practicing- that’s stupid.
-Lennie Foy

How long can you play? How high can you go? How will your chops hold up? I ask myself these questions all the time. They are questions of endurance. I have had a love/hate relationship with endurance. I love it when I have it and hate it when it bugs out on me. I am not satisfied with what happens and what I’m doing. Some days it seems like I have more endurance than I need and then the next I barely make it through a 30 minute routine. As I was working on this week’s post I dug a little more intentionally into the book by Paul Baron, Trumpet Voluntarily: A Holistic Guide to Maximizing Practice Through Efficiency. In a number of different posts I have written about “deliberate practice” and I have been trying to do that. But it seems I was missing something.

Well, not missing it so much as not applying what I know to my practice. That missing something was what I talked about last week- balance. Baron, on p. 13 caught me up short when he wrote:
A chop-building routine requires stretching the boundaries of your range, endurance, and volume but with a balanced approach so as not to injure your lips.
He goes on to talk about how rest is important- you know- rest as long as you play when practicing. He talked about things I am already doing- the Clarke studies, the Bill Adam routine, and Concone etudes. But he also ended up talking about the danger we fall into, what I fall into, when I think I have found the promised land of endurance and range. I get what he calls “stupid chops”. For Baron that is when he neglects the daily maintenance of his chops in order to play a show. He ignores the stuff that balances the thing he is working on with the basics.

What does he mean?
When things are going great, we sometimes feel like we are unstoppable and do not pay attention to the proper mechanics of playing, only to pay the price later. [Then] we decided to try a new routine and push it to sheer exhaustion.
He just described what I (and obviously others) end up doing in some repetitive and self-destructive cycle. All stemming, it appears, from an inability to maintain balance.

Stupid chops.
  • My lips don’t recover enough between days of practice
  • My range falls apart.
  • My sound is mediocre to poor.
  • I feel like I am straining to just play what I used to be able to play well.
Sometimes, as I have noted before, this happens just before I am about to make another breakthrough in endurance or range. So I used to just power through it until I had to back off and go at it again. It always needed up in some way of taking a step backward to allow my chops, attitude, and ego to rebuild. Then it moves ahead- but only after I have consciously stopped to return to balance.

I am at one of those points again which is why I think I subconsciously picked this month’s topic. I get the chance to write it out and see what it might mean. After Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop in August I was working on some embouchure adjustment thanks to Bill Bergren’s mentoring. It began to fall into place. I was regularly doing things that I had not thought possible a few months earlier- like regularly being able to hit the high “C”, “D”, and at times “E” above the staff. I was able to play quite well for up to two hours a day! It felt good. It was a major breakthrough.

Until about three and half weeks ago when it became work again. It happened on a Tuesday after a Monday when I practiced an hour in the morning with my normal routine and then two Big Band rehearsals that evening, and therefore the equivalent of another two hours plus of playing. I forgot to balance and went right ahead on Tuesday to try to do it again. And I fell apart. Like Paul Baron said, I felt “unstoppable” until I stopped. I forgot the mechanics of playing (just say “M”, right Bill?) and breathing. I barreled my way into the upper register forgetting the basic middle “G” approach. Now here I am trying to recuperate and recover from my own stupidity- er, lack of balance.

Maybe I should practice what I preach.

Let me bring it together as a way of giving myself a direction if not an actual plan. My “deliberate” practice over the next month or so will focus on balance. I will work on developing an overall style of practice that will allow for the balance to be more natural and ongoing. The basics of that will be:
  • Rest as much as I play.
    • Admittedly I am not good at this. If I have an hour to practice I have difficulty only playing for 30 minutes. But that doesn’t mean I should spend the whole hour playing in order to get it all done. That IS a recipe for disaster, and it isn’t deliberate. I need to prioritize and plan the things I need to do.
  • Balance the upper and lower.
    • Doing the expanding long tones starting on middle “G”; working Clarke 2 and 4 as expanding up and down from G; playing different volumes
  • Increase slowly, not trying to get too far too fast.
    • Impatience. Dangerous. We get hurt when we are too impatient because we forget the basics. Take it easy. Grow at your pace and don’t push it. (By the way, never pray for patience. God will make you wait.)
  • Don’t forget the basics
    • I know what they are. We all know what they are. Sound, rhythm, scales, long tones. We all know where to find them- Arban’s pages 11-36. Now to be aware of playing with good sound, good rhythm, and good intonation. Balance!
So what’s good in all this? Well, the work I have done has not been lost. I just need to get back into balance. When I was practicing last evening I still have the range I had three weeks ago- and it is actually a little stronger and clearer than it was. My sound is as steady and full through the same range- and is a little stronger as well. I am aware of being more relaxed overall. It is always a movement forward even when you have to slow down or even take some time to regroup!

This is one of those topics where it almost begs me to comment on how this applies to every day life.
  • Rest and play- All work and no play makes Johnny dull. It can also make us sick and can lead to burnout. Take the time to kick back; find the direction of play; have fun.
  • Balance the extremes- Always living at the extremes will just make you more addicted to adrenaline. It may easily lead to physical repercussions. The body needs the balance.
  • Patience- Take it at a sensible pace. Life is a marathon- not a sprint. Plan for the long-haul.
  • The Basics- Breathe. Take time to renew and refresh. One Day at a time.
If we can make these who we are, we can endure more than we thought, with greater range- and for longer than we think possible.

Post-Season Pic #12- Tonight's the Night

Third base bag from last regular season game at the Metrodome.
Game 7- It will be over tonight.
 Houston Astros  vs.  Los Angeles Dodgers
The elimination game. The last day of "summer."

All Saints' Day