Monday, September 24, 2018

Tuning Slide 4.11- It's (Mostly) All in Your Head

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

• Trumpet playing is
o 90% mental
o 9% air
o 1% physical
— Attributed to a number of people, most often Bill Adam

When it comes right down to it, this is what the Inner Game of Music is truly all about. It is the mental side of playing music. It attitude. It is mindfulness. It is how we think and act out what we are thinking- or not thinking. I am not sure I like that idea. It means that things like building endurance or a perfect embouchure, the right mouthpiece or instrument, or heavy caps aren’t as important as we like to think they are. They are attempts at short-circuiting the process of becoming a musician.

Not to disregard the physical side. (More on that next week.) That is real and does impact the way we play. But it is the more effective use of our energy through the mental that in the long run as the most positive impact on what we are doing. Why might that be? Here’s a thought:

The brain consumes energy at 10 times the rate of the rest of the body per gram of tissue. The average power consumption of a typical adult is 100 Watts and the brain consumes 20% of this [energy].

We also know a great deal about the many ways the brain can impact our actions, our physical health, how our bodies function. While much of it is a mystery, the effects have been seen in many studies.

This also shows why that sometimes the tiredness we feel after a period of playing is perhaps even more mentally caused than physical. That’s a lot of energy going out when we are playing. For example, here are some things that are regular actions of the “mental” that impact what we do:

◆ How we practice- we have to think about that as we do it.
⁃ Slow, fast, articulation, slurs, etc

◆ Hearing the music and notes in our head as we play.
⁃ I am fairly sure that the best way to learn to play is to hear the notes in your head before you play. This is especially true of the upper register, but applies equally to the whole staff.

◆ What we think of our abilities and how far we believe we can go
⁃ I know I can’t play that run. I am unable to memorize. I am crappy.

◆ Self 1 criticizing or Self 2 wanting to just do it
⁃ This goes beyond the previous one. This happens in the middle of a performance and we get distracted. “I just missed the note! OMG! I’ll never get it,” Meanwhile I didn’t get the next three measures because I got lost. Self-fulfilling prophecy.

◆ Memorization
⁃ It takes concentration and mental effort to memorize. I have not been willing to spent the time or take the effort. And that does impact my playing. (I also tell myself I can’t do it.)

◆ Listening to ourselves and others.
⁃ I have to pay attention when listening. Engage the brain!

All that takes mental activity. The more difficult it is, the more we are distracted and the harder we have to work- and playing becomes more difficult. Part of it is what is the story we are telling ourselves about ourselves? What is it we believe about our abilities? But it is also about being intentional about taking care of our brains- the mental activities that can strengthen what we do with the trumpet. So I Googled (always a good place to start) “How do we train the brain to be more efficient?” and I got some interesting thoughts from an article on Entrepreneur.com. Here are their eight ways to improve brain power (the ideas are from the article. The thoughts about them are mine) (Link):

1. Exercise.
⁃ The work of endorphins and other neurotransmitters is essential. Exercise helps generate them and regenerate cell activity. Most of us (pointing at myself as well) do not get enough physical exercise. It really doesn’t take a lot- average about 30 minutes of walking a day and it will enhance brain power! That and the oxygen boosts efficiency, too.

2. Drink coffee.
⁃ It’s a stimulant and helps in learning. It is only a short-term solution, but what you learn helps build the brain connections.

3. Get some sunlight.
⁃ Yes, get outside. It is actually more than the sun- it is the vitamin D, I am told. But to me it is also the ability to take-in fresh air, see and experience the world, and discover new things all around you.

4. Build strong connections.
⁃ We are not meant to be lonely. We have been created as social creatures. Some have even theorized that what we call “spirituality” is the need to have connections with the world and others. When we are isolated unhealthy things can begin to happen to our bodies and brains. Get out, be social.

5. Meditate.
⁃ Mindfulness/meditation has become the “In-thing.” For very good reasons. Not the least of which is that it works. Ten minutes a day can make a big difference. I don’t just mean “sitting meditation. I would add T’ai Chi and Qigong or walking meditation to a meditation regimen. The increased inner balance gets us more “in tune” with ourselves and what we are doing. Maybe do some yoga as part of a weekly exercise program as well.

6. Sleep well.
⁃ I know the old dictum we have heard from some- “You can sleep when you’re dead” as a way to get us off our lazy couches and do something. But to ignore healthy sleep habits can potentially get in the way of health itself. Sleep hygiene can be a big help, even if you sometimes have to struggle to get enough. Look into it.

7. Eat well.
⁃ I read that and said, “Yep, I will love to eat a lot.” I don’t think that is what it means. To eat well is to eat healthy, to not subsist only on junk food, or high sugar content drinks. Feeding your body healthy fuel will certainly help the brain!

8. Play Tetris.
⁃ For some reason, Tetris is considered by some researchers to be one of the better video games. It works on spatial recognition (an aid to balance), hand-eye coordination (like translating all those black marks on the page into music?), and keeps brain matter alive and working. Why Tetris? I have no idea. But I remember when I played it on the old Gameboy. It was fun and probably helped. (Maybe I'll download it on the iPhone.)

I would add a couple other things:
◆ Take time for relaxation and hobbies.
◆ Journaling can be a great way to get in touch and keep in touch with what is going on in your own head.
◆ Read more than you watch TV.
◆ Listen to music more than you watch TV.

If I want to be a better trumpet player, I guess I need to take care of the mental. Losing my mental sharpness will not have a good result in my music.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Overcoming Inertia

A body in motion tends to stay in motion;
a body at rest tends to stay at rest.
-- Newton's First Law of Motion

Yep, been there, done that! In fact my life in "semi-retirement" has been a cycle that illustrates this. Take this year.

January through March was our annual trip to the Gulf coast. While there I do a great deal of, well, resting. I don't want to call it "nothing." I practice my trumpet, go to band rehearsal, take sunset (and other) pictures, edit many pictures, and read. That isn't nothing, but it's at an easy pace, relaxed, healing, renewing.

In April I came home and got into the motion routine. More band rehearsals, no longer doing the picture editing but moving around to different events. And back to work, full-time! Get up at 6:30, go to work, come home around 5:00. Trips to music camps and a great festival in North Carolina. My daughter got married. It was not the easy, relaxed, renewing pace of the first three months.

In both those parts of the cycle I was minimally focused on some things I had wanted to be doing. After going back to work, it was even more difficult. Several significant projects were placed way on the back burner.

At the end of August the full-time work came to a halt, though I am still working part-time.  In the midst of that came several unexpected concerns that distracted my attention and added tension to the situation. Now all I seem to want to do is stay at rest. Everything seems to take an extra effort. Facebook nerding became a default. But the nightly reading was the great pull of the past few weeks. (That had kept up during the full-time cycle. I am not sure I would have made it if it hadn't.)

There is a clause missing in what I put at the top of the page. The motion or rest will continue:

unless an outside force acts on it,

So here I sit at my "office/coffee shop" trying to get moving.I can't seem to find that outside force to move me. So I start writing with no goal in mind other than to write about what is in front of me. As I write I let the words flow and the fingers to respond. As I do so there is a bit of free-flow of ideas that goes on under the surface.

For some reason I feel more tired than usual. Yes, that does happen from time to time. This one, though seems a little more difficult. I have a hunch that there are a couple different factors that keep the outside force from acting.

I just passed by 70th birthday. Yes, that is one of those significant decades. There have also been a couple of times when what I call "mortality" issues have cropped up in myself and other family members. I am also coming up on the 30th anniversary of my sobriety- an almost unbelievable number.

As a result I have become more aware of the issue of aging. Which leads to the obvious question:

What now?

Well, one of the answers to that is to come back to writing. So far that has taken more energy than I expected, but at least I am doing some of it.

Another is to go with the flow. My wife and I are going to be doing a number of fun things over the next month- concerts and plays. We are taking the time to continue to enjoy each other's presence. That is precious and essential.

Maybe it is also time to slow down more and smell more roses.

Over the years, I realize, I have faced this a number of different times. Which is part of life. Which is why I am writing this. To remind myself and do it publicly to make it more difficult to ignore.

So after these words and a half hour of writing I am at least for the moment off square one. It is always about taking the first step to get away from where you are to where you can be.

Friday, September 21, 2018

THE MAYO CLINIC: FAITH - HOPE - SCIENCE
A New Documentary Executive Produced by Ken Burns
To Air on PBS Tuesday September 25, 2018 
9-11 p.m. ET on PBS
(Check your listings)
 
 

I was fortunate to be among the Mayo employees and friends who saw the premiere of this wonderful documentary. I have been working at Mayo Clinic for nearly 11 years and the history is both inspiring and still very alive. It has been an honor and a pleasure to be a small part of this amazing institution.

Ken Burns does his usual excellent work. It is not to be missed.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

World War II: May We Never Forget!

We are in danger of losing our memory of World War II. What may arguably have been the single greatest moment in US (and world) history is on the brink of losing its hold on our American psyche and soul. We seem to be losing the unique greatness of who we were and how we got there- the living (yet admittedly flawed) embodiment of our ideals and who we believed ourselves to be. We are forgetting what we fought for- and against.

This is not the first time this has happened in our history. After a generation or two, many great acts of history flow into myth and their raw facts are lost. The following generations then lose the real-life examples of what was involved. It is then that, having forgotten history, we are condemned to repeat it. In the early 20th Century the Civil War was lost as those who opposed it began to reassert control in the South, the KKK was established, and racism was legalized without slavery. In mid-Century there was a time of remembering and attempting to assert our ideals, perhaps partly due to World War II. The Civil Rights movement advanced the cause of the Civil War 100 years after Antietam, . But its reality and advances are continually up for grabs as America’s original sin never goes away. Incredibly, the story of the Civil War remains a matter of debate.

There are many things about World War II that defined us as a nation and as a world leader in the second half of the last Century. The willingness of the nation and that generation of men and women to sacrifice for the survival of democracy, western civilization, and freedom is possibly one of the most significant world-embracing actions in human history. The darkness  of that era is forgotten; the Holocaust is an academic subject; totalitarian government is seen by some as “effective”; Nazis can be good people. The catastrophic danger of forgetting is sitting on our doorstep.

I am a son of that “greatest generation”. My father was a medic in Europe during the last year of the war. I was born just three years after his return home, a Baby Boomer who was nursed and nurtured in the air of the World War II victory as were many of my generation. I grew up in a small rural community in northern Pennsylvania. There were veterans everywhere. My classmate's parents, my teachers, my neighbors were vets.

I never heard a word about it from my father. Admittedly I was too young to hear the real stories- TV newsreels and documentaries and movies were the story we heard. I was never privy to what it was like or to hear the stories- if they even shared them- from the nights at the American Legion or VFW.  Patriotism- pride in our soldiers and the courage of a nation that stood up for what it believed as right and honorable- was everywhere.

On my tenth birthday, hundreds of miles away in Philadelphia, my father had exploratory surgery to find the cause of his “spells.” They removed a non-malignant tumor. All that meant was it wouldn’t metastasize. He died six-years later, two and a half years after my mother, in a VA hospital, the final thank you from the country he served. With him went any possible access to his stories or experiences.

Death is an irrevocable divide and what wasn’t learned before the death may forever be lost; they become secrets, intentional or not. Much of what I think I know of my family is based on hearsay, rumor, gossip, and faintly remembered or overheard bits of information. “Little pitchers [may] have big ears,” but often what we hear is biased, misunderstood, misinterpreted, and colored by a lack of depth of understanding. The information becomes the stuff of myth, not unlike the “creation stories” of all native people worldwide. These are just narrower in their scope picking out a single branch or two of the human family tree. As time passes and more people die the more mythic becomes the story, potentially more enhanced by ones own experiences that are read back into the past.

All I ever learned of Dad's service was second hand from family members- mainly his sister who became my brother’s and my guardian. Not that I was all that interested at the time. What I knew about World War II was that it was big, important, and horrific. There were family stories that he had served in the 10th Armored Division under the mythic General Patton and that he was at the Battle of the Bulge. Other stories told of how he was too old to have been in the war, 39 years old and the owner of a pharmacy, when he went overseas. There was the family creation story of his meeting my mother in Georgia while in training and marrying her- a younger Jewish woman from Brooklyn- at the Jewish USO. He was, of course, not Jewish.

Then about six or seven years ago I began to do some more reading about the war as its seventieth anniversary approached and worked on family history. I opened my grandmother’s diaries for the first time in years and discovered, hidden between the everyday events were clues, bits and pieces that fit the “mythic” stories from my family. I was about to fall headlong into World War II. Four years ago I followed the 10th Armored and my father’s 80th Armored Medical Battalion in their year in Europe and wrote about it for my blog. I found things about what my Dad was involved in and learned some of his story as shaped by the events of that year. But I knew there had to be even more to the story than what I had found in a relatively cursory exploration.

We are now coming up on the 75th anniversary of the end of the war. I have been reading and researching continuing to look for more clues to what Red Lehman faced. For many this is history. For me and my generation, it is recent events. It is what made our parents' generation into what we now call the Greatest Generation. Perhaps it has taken me all these 70 years of my life to begin to understand what that means. I am humbled by it and am just here to tell a very small part of that story. As I see us forgetting the meaning and sacrifice of that era, I want to do what I can to see that it is not so easily set aside.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Tuning Slide 4.10- Mastery of Music #2: The High Road

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Success is not final, failure is not fatal:
it is the courage to continue that counts.
― Winston S. Churchill

A few weeks ago I posted the first in a series discussing the “pathways to true artistry” that Barry Green outlined in his book, The Mastery of Music, his follow-up to the groundbreaking Inner Game of Music. In each of them he looks at musicians and outlines a different pathway they embody. The first was “communication”- the silent rhythm as found in conductors and ensembles. For the second pathway he looks to the French horn and percussion for his ideas. They, he says, can teach us about

Courage: Choosing the High Road.

Music, Green tells us, has little (to no) tolerance for error. Unlike many sports where errors can win games (or lose them), music is far less flexible. Imagine if Doc Severinsen missed one of every 15 to 20 notes he played. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but we, the audience would get the feeling that it was time for him to retire. Every time we play in performance we get only one chance to get it right. We could come in early or late, loud or soft, crisp or mushy articulation, in one or out. All kinds of things can happen in the middle of the piece. Four measures before, we can’t call a time-out to make sure we are ready; we can’t ask for a do-over.

Green says it takes courage to face this performance after performance. He goes on to look at courage from the inside. Watching someone be “courageous” we may often think that they have no fear. In fact it looks like the opposite. In reality we are seeing fear that someone knows how to deal with. “Keep going,” the horn player reminds us as they play one of the trickier instruments. “Don’t stop,” says the percussionist who is almost always a soloist. This is, Green reminds us, “to go for it in spite of the fear of negative consequences should you fail.” That is “choosing the high road.”

That Green says is a “joyous choice.”

They “go for it” because of the “beauty of music and the joy of playing it.” Any musician who has played in a public performance knows that beauty and joy. Last week the director of the local community band arrived at rehearsal literally beaming. We were going to sight-read what he felt was one of the greatest wind band numbers- one that most of us have never played or even heard of. He was joyous that he could direct and we could play the piece. And no, it wasn’t a simple piece. But we played it- sight-reading the whole 15-minute piece.

Yes, it was a joy! Of course it didn’t take courage to do that in rehearsal. But it is in rehearsal that we learn the music and the beauty it has so we can play what it takes when it comes to the performance. Later in the same rehearsal we played another piece that was new to many of us. We got to the end and the three of us trumpets sitting together looked at each other. “That was hard,” one of us said with a smile. “Yes, but wow, was it fun!” another said. We all agreed.

The music goes on and the parts must be played! If we can’t deal with our fears and doubts we better decide to do something else. We will inevitably get stuck in that spot. I have told that story of my nearly 50 years of fear of a solo here before. It kept me stuck in many ways. It prevented me from taking a new leap into my musicality. I lacked the courage to fail. Again.

Let me be clear that the courage Green and I are talking about is not the courage to face those potentially life-altering events of ultimate success or failure. If I fail in a solo or play that F natural when it should be an F# the world, mine or anyone else’s is not going to fall apart. But courage is a very broad term that can have all kinds of subtle or explosive meanings. It takes my own courage to get through my fears. Even when it is “simply” playing the solo in the 2nd movement of Holst’s Second Suite.

When we come to those moments, Green calls it a fork in the road. (No Yogi Berra jokes.) One fork leads to the music in it’s beauty and power; the other leads to doubt, hesitation, or paralysis, says Green. So how do we move into the musical fork? He gives us four ways.

1. Be prepared. Practice- and then more practice- increases the familiarity with the music and reminds you that you are ready. Courage can often just be preparation. When you doubt you have the skills or haven’t prepared, Green reminds us, we are choosing to fail- to take the low road.

2. Don’t panic- keep focused. Stay with the music. Feel it, get its sense and rhythm and flow. Go with it. Know what you can do, not what you can’t.

3. Remind yourself of what brought you to this moment. Why do we do this crazy thing called music? Why do I take the time every day, day in and day out, to practice? Why did I get started in it in the first place? Play with that passion.

4. Believe in yourself. Self 2 can do this. Let it happen. When we have practiced and know the music, we can play with conviction and that will show in the music that comes out.

Channel your fear and courage. Take the adrenaline that pumps in the fear response and use it to the positive production of your music. It is extra energy that can be focused into heightened sense and increased awareness. The mindfulness that ensues will allow your self 1 to let go and trust self 2.

This is the courage to follow dreams. As we do this, we find that our soul will be enriched and skills will be strengthened that we can use to move the music into places we never thought we could go. In the end courage is not really overcoming fear, Green says, it is knowing that you are ready to give as honest a performance as possible.

And maybe even more!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Here is the piece that our director was excited about. It is Holst’s Moorside Suite. The third movement, The March, is incredible.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Short Reflection on 44 Years


September 15, 1974,
Grace Moravian Church,
Center Valley, PA

I was ordained into the ministry of the Moravian Church.

Not what would have been expected just slightly more than 13 years earlier when I had my Bar Mitzvah. (God can have an incredible sense of humor.)

For the next 30 years I served four different congregations and then took a leave of absence, then retirement, to move into the world beyond the church. I was already working very part-time as an alcohol and drug counselor, but decided it was time to make that my full-time work. As I said a few years later, I finally heard God calling me into ministry outside the church.

I am still at that ministry of addiction counseling! Back in the 1970s days I used to say that the older pastors should retire when they got to 65. They had earned the rest; they should relax and enjoy life. That kneeling 26-year old in the picture had no idea what he was talking about. I am now 70- and still working. Admittedly it is on an as-needed basis. But for the past four months that has been 40 hours per week. I have no thought of hanging it up. I like what I am doing, although admittedly the 40-hour grind can get a little much. I'm now at 20 hours/week.

But it is always and forever about being there for people. That's what ministry means to me. Over the years I have asked many non-clergy about how they "do ministry" in their daily jobs. Most were not able to answer me because they saw ministry as the work of the clergy. What I do now is not done because I am an ordained pastor (Ret.) Nor is it a job. It is an expression of who I am and what I have received and experienced from God, as I understand God.

It all officially began in that moment pictured above. After 44 years, it is no less exciting. And I still have so much to learn.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Where Have You Been, Pilgrim?

Hi All,

Yes, it's me again. The postmodern Pilgrim is back. When I posted Tuesday for 9/11 that was only the third non-Tuning Slide post since Easter. A bunch of things happened back in March and April, not the least of which was an injury my wife had which took a while to heal and then I went back to work full-time.

In addition I just decided I was more than fed up with the politics going on around me. I stopped writing about it. My wife and I also stopped watching the news way back in January and only watched the local news for the first time last week when we were facing some serious, possibly tornado-producing storms. I also rediscovered last winter the joy of lots of reading. Books galore have been devoured- 60 already this year. (No, the sidebar is not quite up-to-date.) I would sit outside most evenings, enjoying summer, and reading.

Two weeks ago I ended the full-time work schedule and have decided to see what I can do again with this blog. I will probably do some political blogging, and perhaps even find some of the videos, etc. that I used to like posting. It will not be the attempt at daily posting that I did for most of the 15 years of this blog. But I am planning more time at my various "offices" (aka- coffee shops) to write posts, the Tuning Slide, music, and get back to World War II.

That is my focus of attention for the next couple years. We are in the midst of the 75th anniversary of the events of World War II. Five years ago I wrote about my dad's journey with the 10th Armored Division in Europe in the series, Following the 10th Armored. (Link in sidebar.) Since then I have been doing more research, reading, and digging and am about ready to start writing again. The first in this new series will be posted next week. As I will expand on then, I am afraid of losing the history of the 2nd World War. I fear we must remain aware of the great sacrifice we as a nation made at that time and are in danger of having it undone.

I have been overwhelmed by the history I have been reading and I want to connect that to what my Dad faced. It will be for me a search for more connection with him, but also to bring that now-fading story to life.

In short, I am back. Let me know what you are thinking. The pilgrimage continues.

pmPilgrim

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Tuning Slide 4.9- Recreation and Playing

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Recreation’s purpose is not to kill time, but to make life,
not to keep a person occupied, but to keep them refreshed,
not to offer an escape from life, but to provide a discovery of life.
—Unknown

I have a hunch about why, at least in English we say that we “play” music.

If you are a musician you may have wondered about the word we use in English to describe what we do when we make music with an instrument. We, of course, “play” the instrument, “play” music. What a wonderful way to describe it. We “play”! We don’t work, or stress, or force music. (Well, we may do that, but that’s what we are doing to ourselves, not the music.)

It got me to thinking about the deeper meaning of this. But first I checked out what some other languages use.

In German, it is the word spielen- to play; in French, it is jouer- to play. Both these are the same meaning for playing a game, etc. as in English.

In Spanish, though, it’s a little different. The word used with music is not the same. It is tocar- to touch, be in contact with, play (as in music.) (The word for playing games, etc. is jugar.)

I love the idea that we play when we make music. It truly is why many of us were hooked by it’s magic, lured into a lifetime of developing playing skills. It is far more than the ability to turn some marks on a page into a sound that can touch souls. (Notice the word “touch”? I’ll come back to that.) To play is to take part in something or to engage in something for enjoyment and relaxation. (Google) Why else would we spend all these hours practicing and learning, running scales and long tones? It must be fun. Since most of us will never earn a living at it, there has to be some deeper and more important thing to making music.

Not that we don’t “work” at it. Of course we do. We run the routine, do our scales, learn (and relearn again and again) the basics of something we may have been doing for decades. That has to be fun, enjoyable, entertaining, purposeful in some way, or we would have quit long ago. But we haven’t quit. We may feel like it some days when we can’t do what we did so easily last week. But we don’t. We know the truth that we haven’t yet reached our best sound, no matter how good it may be today. But it is “play.” Recreation.

But, like “play”, “recreation” is not something purposeless and inane. It is to “create again,” to “renew”. That quote for this week says it so well. Recreation (and the related, relaxation) are paths into life and discovery of wonder and renewal. We are not as good at that as we could be. There is always room for improvement that leads to many positive things. When we take time to re-create, to relax and renew there are many benefits. I went to the Mayo Clinic, Healthy Lifestyles, Stress Management Web page and found a long list of the benefits. I am putting a mark at the end of each one that can be a good example of what playing music can do: (Link)
• Slowing heart rate
• Lowering blood pressure
• Slowing your breathing rate << Playing wind instruments can help us learn how to breathe more efficiently.
• Improving digestion
• Maintaining normal blood sugar levels
• Reducing activity of stress hormones
• Increasing blood flow to major muscles << Increased oxygen from more efficient breathing.
• Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
• Improving concentration and mood << The mindfulness and focus needed certainly carries into the rest of our lives.
• Improving sleep quality
• Lowering fatigue
• Reducing anger and frustration << Many things about playing music and practicing can help relive these tensions.
• Boosting confidence to handle problems << Being successful can only make us feel better about what we can do.
The Mayo Clinic site then gives some good suggestions about relaxation techniques that I know help improve our music playing- and will then help with stress and recreation- which will then help our music… and it just keeps on going. You will, in fact, find many musicians and books on music (such as Barry Green’s books based on the “inner game”) suggesting many of these.
Autogenic relaxation. Autogenic means something that comes from within you. In this relaxation technique, you use both visual imagery and body awareness to reduce stress.
You repeat words or suggestions in your mind that may help you relax and reduce muscle tension. For example, you may imagine a peaceful setting and then focus on controlled, relaxing breathing, slowing your heart rate, or feeling different physical sensations, such as relaxing each arm or leg one by one.

Progressive muscle relaxation. In this relaxation technique, you focus on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group.
This can help you focus on the difference between muscle tension and relaxation. You can become more aware of physical sensations.
In one method of progressive muscle relaxation, you start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes and progressively working your way up to your neck and head. You can also start with your head and neck and work down to your toes. Tense your muscles for about five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds, and repeat.

Visualization. In this relaxation technique, you may form mental images to take a visual journey to a peaceful, calming place or situation.
To relax using visualization, try to incorporate as many senses as you can, including smell, sight, sound and touch. If you imagine relaxing at the ocean, for instance, think about the smell of salt water, the sound of crashing waves and the warmth of the sun on your body.
You may want to close your eyes, sit in a quiet spot, loosen any tight clothing, and concentrate on your breathing. Aim to focus on the present and think positive thoughts.

Other relaxation techniques may include:
• Deep breathing
• Massage
• Meditation
• Tai chi
• Yoga
• Biofeedback
• Music and art therapy
• Aromatherapy
• Hydrotherapy
(Link)
One last thing, though, which goes back to the Spanish word used for “playing” an instrument. That word, tocar, to touch or be in contact with. It is an apt description of the two-way street of making music. It touches us, moves us, gets us in contact with something greater than ourselves. Music is certainly that! But, if we stop and think about it, that is also what we do with music. We “touch” it, make “contact” with it. I can feel that contact when the music is in the groove, or in harmony, or just plain old centered. That’s what our hours of practice can lead us toward- the contact that makes music such a central part of our lives. And from that, we learn how to do that in the rest of our lives as well.

Here is a podcast about mindfulness and self-talk as relaxation and music-playing, music-touching exercises.

9/11



Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Tuning Slide 4.8-

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
— Mark Twain

Summer is over. Yesterday was Labor Day and it’s now time to get back on track. I hope you didn’t take time off from your music for the summer. Summer can be a time of getting things together. There can actually be more time for the music. But regardless of what you did, we often look at the end of summer as a time to get going again. It probably goes back to the dangerous idea that we only have to be learning the nine months of the “school year.” It’s dangerous because it leads us to go the wrong direction and not stay focused on what is in front of us.

As we now mentally get back to whatever it is happens when summer is done, we are heading in the right direction again. We are heading into the future. For me one of the ways I have done this with my music for four years in a row now has been the Shell Lake (WI) Trumpet Workshop. I have an incredible time learning and sharing and growing in those six endurance building (!) days. Some of it is simply (!) remembering the basics that I need to be reminded of. Some of it is getting to play with other musicians or take a lesson. No matter how many things are involved there is often one thing that stands out.

This year for me it was a reminder that at the heart and soul of music is the sound. Not a new insight. Not even all that radical. But with so many trumpet players (myself included) focused on equipment and technique and “how to…”, we can lose sight of the sound and how we get it. We get it by listening to each other. We get it by working with others who have the sound we want and then we work on going that direction. To do that takes concentration and listening. Some of it may be technique, but only to the point of it helping produce the sound.

One specific for me from this year was discovering in my lesson that when doing scales, for example, I would drop the sound just before I went to the next note. That, needless to say, interrupted the sound, weakened it, and got in the way of the musicality. (Thanks, Matt!) I wasn’t playing through the sound, I was playing at the sound, at the note and not through it. How do I change that? By listening and practicing the scales or early Arban and Getchell exercises. But not just going through them to get through them, but intentionally, slowly, mindfully, while listening to the sound. My Self 2 knows what to do and how to do it. I need to relax and play with the sound not against it. That also goes to the breath and style. It is the same whether I am playing a G on the staff or the high C above the staff.

With that example, here is this year’s list of reflections from the students about what they learned from the workshop. I will again deal with a number of these over the next year. They can be a good regular reminder of what making music is all about.
______________________
• Sound
• Know what we want; study it; act on it.
• Tone quality
• Have the mind of a child, i.e. be open and ready to learn.
• The power of ask
• Sight reading
>>> Play everything
>>> Read the sound (pay attention to rhythm)
• Conscious and confident rhythm
• (Slow it down so we) don’t make same mistake twice
• Accomplish something- that’s what makes us happy.
>>> Set goals and meet them.
>>> Setting goals is an essential action but make them achievable
>>> Small victories add up
• Accountability
• Motivation
• Rest as long as you play
• Set a constant routine
• Have different sets of practice each day
>>> Plan what you might do in each set during the day
• Why are the (Bill Adam) routine pieces we learned in that order?
>>> Relaxed breath
>>> Always, always no matter what the part of the routine it’s the breath and sound
• Don’t practice- perform
• Eliminate distractions when you are practicing
• You only see your path of dots looking back
>>> Just make good dots- from a Steve Jobs graduation talk.
• Have continuous energy in your sound
• Record yourself
• Life is about learning and sharing.
>>> Wise ones know what to do when
• Intent with every note
• Play through the sound, not at the sound
• Phrasing consists of tension and release
• Imagination- imagine your best sound - and then play it
• Be solution-oriented
• Non-judgmental practicing
• Principles over emotion
• Listen to music and listen deeply- listen with a musician’s mind.
>>> What is the shaping of the line? (For example)
>>> How can I learn to do it?
• The most successful person sticks with it the longest
>>> Persistence leads to success, therefore…
>>> Be persistent
• Plans- long-term.
>>> Pick something you really want and move toward it
>>> Start with end goal in mind and work backwards to today
• Professional reputation starts today
• Always give 100%
• If you’re on time, you’re late
• Urgent, important, not urgent, not important, etc.
>>> Time management
• Failing forward
>>> Say thank you when you fail
>>> There’s no failure, only feedback
>>> What’s between the two mountains? Valley.
>>> Don’t take yourself too seriously
• It only matters that you are on the journey for today
>>> Journey comes before destination
• Just be yourself- we are constantly evolving
• Inner game- p. 37- the rose. It’s always a rose from the seed to its death.
>>> Petals and thorns. Don’t criticize it for not having the flower.
>>> Grow where you’re planted
• No limits- but be smart
• Solo will never sound good if thinking- look how good I can do
>>> Good soloist is selfless
>>> How it fits with whole.
• Get inspired
• Worst sin is feeling sorry for yourself
>>> Causes many problems
>>> Root of so many issues
>>> It is the sin of pride
>>> Don’t put someone else’s light out to make yours brighter
>>> It’s self centered
• Be engaged with everything you do
>>> Make everything interesting
• Concentration happens in the presence of a quiet mind
>>> Develop mindfulness and focus
• Perception is reality
• Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
• Reality of dreams comes from na├»ve idealism
• The way you do anything is the way you do everything
• Put it out there and see what happens. Take risk and do it.
• If you think there’s a ladder of comparison between you and another player, you’re done.
>>> When we compare ourselves to others, it takes away our potential.
• If we have a month to prepare, takes a month,
>>> If we have a week, it takes a week
• The part number doesn’t mean a talent level. It’s NOT: first or your dirt.
• Most difficult thing about practicing 3 hours a day- mental preparation.
• If you do something, you will want to do more. Have to start with something.
• If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.

Which ones do you need to focus on this week?

Monday, August 27, 2018

Tuning Slide 4.7-

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The feeling of togetherness- not togetherness as in some rigid lock step, but togetherness as in dance- is vitally important in music making.
-Barry Green, The Mastery of Music

Barry Green is the author, with Tim Gallwey, of the classic book, The Inner Game of Music. His second book looked at The Mastery of Music: Ten Pathways to True Artistry. In this book Green expanded beyond the Inner Game ideas into developing “true artistry” in our music. Every couple weeks I am going to take one of these ten pathways and bring it to my life and the applications to the Tuning Slide goals.

In The Inner Game of Music Green talked about two of three disciplines than demands mastery. The first was the techniques, the second was concentration. These two are basic, essential, foundations of making music. The conflicts and agreements of our Self 1 which is always ready to remind us of our mistakes and Self 2 which is the innate and intuitive side that knows how to do it are the building blocks. The third discipline is developing what Green calls, “true artistry.” In my view this takes the technique and concentration and begins to develop musicality. To find these, Green looked at different instruments and different people who seem to live and even embody these 10 pathways. He interviewed them and put it all into this book. Let’s start the journey with Green.

Pathway #1— Communication: The Silent Rhythm (Ensembles and Conductors)
I am working under the assumption that we are musicians because we like to make music and that we practice so that we can do that with others. A solo recitals can be nice, but that isn’t really what making music is all about. Even practicing with a play-along CD doesn’t get to the real joy of music that playing in a combo or band can. In order to play well with others there has to be some way we learn to communicate with each other. There has to be some method, style, trick, or just plain intuition that leads us to do more than just be a collection of musicians doing our own things and hoping (or believing) it works together. And most of the time we have to do it without speaking, on the fly, in the midst of a piece.
Green calls this the “silent rhythm” that unites us in communicating with the audience. He calls it “non-verbal, rhythmic union.” Musicians playing in a group get into something called “entrainment.” They sense the rhythm of the music as played by their colleagues. No one is micromanaging the rhythm through conducting. They feel it. As the group locks into a pulse they become more in tune and more efficient and musical in their playing. Yes, there is a science behind it.
In 1665, Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens, inventor of the pendulum clock, was lying in bed with a minor illness and watching two of his clocks hanging on a wall…. He noticed something odd: No matter how the pendulums on these clocks began, within about a half-hour, they ended up swinging in exactly the opposite direction from each other.
Research has shown that the reason for what Huygens noticed is in vibrations (sounds) on the wall caused by the pendulums swinging works to move them into synch, in tune with each other. In reality this falling into synch is improving efficiency. The two pendulums are no longer working against each other. They are “in tune.” In order to get to that point as musicians we have to go back to the technique and concentration Green related to in the Inner Game. We have to know how to play the parts we have- mistakes, flubs, ineffective fingerings can get out of synch with the rhythm.

We must also give in to the group. We must cease being a lone musician who just happens to be playing with others and let Self 2 do its thing. Self 2 is not as worried about your own technique. Self 2 knows what you or I can do and just wants Self 1 to let us do it. Self 2 knows what’s needed- so let it happen. Distraction, whether by the hyper-critical or hyper-analytical Self 1 or a lapse in focus can easily get you out of synch. Concentration- mindfulness and surrendering to the music- keeps us on.

As we share that with each other, Green lets us know that we are receiving guidance from the music itself, from its pulses and chords, phrases and rhythm. In so doing we receive energy (those vibrations) from the music and our colleagues in the group. In Eastern philosophy there is the idea of “Qi” or “chi” as energy. (Hence Qigong and T’ai Chi). As we play in a group it is that same type of energy that is being shared, silently yet powerfully among us.

Green talked to both percussionists and conductors to explain this idea since it is they who must most fully embody that in the group for all of us. They can get the rhythm, or even set it and communicate non-verbally with the rest of us. As we all fall into it, the “groove” sets in and, well, then it “swings” no matter what the genre of music!

But it is not something that can be forced. One of the musicians Green talked to (Ralph Towner) called it a “zen thing— as soon as you think you have its you lose it.”
There are no secondary roles in music: everything you do affects the total music. So it is critical to be one hundred percent attentive to everything, all the time, and hear the whole as it evolves.
Is it any wonder that right behind “sound” is “rhythm” in the building of musicality? Green concludes:
We don’t just play notes: music is a live current, and we navigate it. This current can be shaped and gently guided, but not pinned down…. The moment we interfere too much, the music’s power, effectiveness, and flow will be disturbed…. We have to be silent, attentive, and sensitive to its shape. We have to intuit a silent rhythm that has the power to unite us. We each have unique capacities to respond to the music, and the better we understand, the more we feel, the closer we will come to the true spirit, and the more artistry we shall have to express.
Just like life.

"No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
— John Donne (1572-1631)




The Mastery of Music: Ten Pathways to True Artistry by Barry Green, chapter 1, pp 21-43.
(2003, Broadway Books.)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Tuning Slide 4.6- Learning from LIstening

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

If there is a behavior you are trying to change, be it large or small, listen to what you are saying to yourself as you work on it. You could be the only person/voice standing in your own way.
— Samantha Smithstein Psy.D.

Last week I talked about the importance of recording oneself for learning and improvement as a musician. I didn’t talk about two things, what I discovered and am doing about it and what does this all have to to do with every day living.

Let’s start with the trumpet stuff. I am not an expert, but have managed to pick up a great deal of insight from the great faculty at the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop. I hear their voices and suggestions whenever I seek to play better. It is always, they will say, about the sound! What do you hear? Are you listening? It’s also about the breath. How are you breathing? Is it relaxed?

Listen to yourself. Listen, listen, listen.

Well, when I listened to myself on the recording I liked what I heard in general, but was really aware of what needed work. Let’s be honest. We can be our own worst critics, hearing everything that’s wrong even when it’s only a brief slip here or there. I was needing to be my own best critic- that means I needed to be a constructive critic of my playing. I needed to listen musically as if it were someone else.

I know how to do that. I have listened to live music and heard things that I knew were needing improvement. Ever since my first experience of hearing my tired, blah sound those six or so years ago, I have been more aware of it when I hear it. It is because I know what it sounds like- and that it can be dealt with- that allowed me to take the leap of faith unto the recording a few weeks ago. I knew I could trust both my Self 1 and its “great” analytical powers and my Self 2 and its love of music to lead me in the right direction when I wanted to change and grow.

What I learned in more depth than I ever realized it was that I tend to be a sloppy player. I had at times a very sloppy sound. Not always. I noticed that the songs I knew best in the set were usually much, much better than some of the newer or more complicated pieces. There were several songs that we have been playing as a group for most of the ten years I have been with the group. Those I heard my sound clearly and with a musicality that I could appreciate. (Pat on the back, Barry. See, you can do it!)

What does a sloppy sound mean? That was my question to myself as I listened more closely. It was not enough just to say that it was sloppy. That was an immediate reaction which could be discouraging. Go deeper, I told myself. What is sloppy? I was aware of four things, listed from the most basic and obvious to those I have learned from my mentors:

1. Not hitting notes cleanly. That meant I would either slip to a higher note or stick on a lower note. It also meant that old bugaboo of mine- the dull, non-energetic tone. I also learned this past few months that this is also a sign that I am not centering the air and holding its strength as it plays through the music. This happened way too often, even on the songs I knew well. That meant another problem that I talk about later.

2. Articulation issues. Part of that was the air from above. But it was also inefficient use of valve changes and careless movement of my fingers from note to note. I was not being as precise in my fingering as I could- and the result was that at times it sounded like I was simply playing a series of notes and not a melody line. Again, the older songs, even those that were more complicated, didn’t have this as much as the newer ones.

3. Distraction. Since it is me listening to me playing, I know the musician quite intimately. One thing I know is that I can be on the edge of ADD way too often. (Squirrel!) My mind can easily move off its own center line. I know from hard experience in my practice room that when that happens I can easily get lost even when playing a simple C major scale. I could hear that in my playing. Some of those flubs were just silly moments when my mind went somewhere other than the music or its sound.

4. Finally, playing at the music, instead of through it. This is a deeper discussion of what I mentioned in the first one above. Let it flow, move the air in a steady stream and keep the tongue from getting in the way.

What then is there for me to do? Thanks to my teachers and mentors I have set up a few things to handle these.

First, I am paying attention to the basics of the long tones. (Oh, not them again!) I have been doing them every day for a year and a half, but there is always something new they have to teach me. I am discovering that they are my best friends. (If you don’t like playing long tones, you don’t really like playing trumpet I have been told.) I do a set of them in whisper (very, very soft) tones. I am listening, carefully, trying to keep the sound centered and what it feels like.

Second, I am doing it slowly. Most mistakes come from trying too fast. Slow on the long tones, slow on the exercises from the beginning of the Arban’s book, slow from Getchell- so I can listen while still moving the valves deliberately.

And third, go for a lesson! Which is scheduled for later this week and then I am planning one a month through December when it can be arranged.

For life, then, in this whole discussion about recording oneself and listening:

• Focus. Unless we learn ways to maintain focus in life, we will get sloppy. We will miss important things that are around us and in front of us. And the best teacher of focus can be-
• Mindfulness. The non-judgmental action of bringing one’s attention to the present moment without putting values on them is an invaluable skill. This gets us in touch with our feelings and reactions. We miss so much of our daily lives by losing focus and mindfulness. We ignore important things and settle for the trivial because we don’t see what’s around us. But for it to work we have to have-
• Teachability- honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. There will be countless times each day when the opportunity to learn something new will be in front of us. Watch for the teachers, listen for the mentors. Then move forward.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Tuning Slide 4.5- The Power of Recording

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music


Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak;
courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
— Winston Churchill

In spite of the fact that I am often an early adopter in finding and using new technology (a geek, in other words), I have not been great at utilizing recording myself to improve my sound and musicianship. Yes, I have always agreed that it is a good idea, but, well, you know, sometimes I don’t do what I know is a good idea. I think, perhaps, that I was actually afraid to truly listen to a recording of myself for fear of what I might hear.

Sure, I have heard recordings of myself playing as part of a band, which may be where the fear actually came from in the first place. It was a number of years ago that I first did a recording of our big band and a number where I had the solo. I was excited about what it sounded like. I thought I did well. I downloaded the video onto the computer and hit play.

Ouch! There was no tone; the sound had no energy and barely felt like it was moving; it felt flat- in all dimensions of the meaning of that word. I was embarrassed for myself and felt like I should apologize to the audience and my colleagues in the band for what I sounded like.

This was before my first experience at Shell Lake Arts Center and that initial session with Bob Baca. At that time he introduced me to a number of the ideas of Bill Adam to be used in practice. I learned about blowing the sound through the notes and not at them; I learned about centering the sound; I learned about ways to actually be successful at practice. I put them into effect and, but a few months later I heard another recording of myself in the quintet and I had a whole new sound. I played it for Mr. Baca and he smiled!

I have recorded our quintet a number of times but never to focus on myself alone. I was listening for the sound of the group, how we fit together, how our balance and tone and dynamics complemented each other. I wasn’t upset about what I could hear in myself. But it wasn’t my goal.

Yet every year at trumpet camp I heard people say we should record ourselves. I thought about it and did a couple things using recordings of myself to play duet parts with myself. But, again, I wasn’t listening to me, just the notes.

I believe I was unconsciously afraid to hear what I might truly sound like. While the quote from Winston Churchill above wasn’t about listening to ourselves playing music, it still applies. If I am willing to be honest with myself and listen critically, it will take courage. Until I realized I needed to do that, I hesitated. Well at this year’s Shell Lake trumpet workshop, one of the leaders (Thanks, Quentin!) talked about how he recorded himself every night when he was on a year-long national musical tour. Then he would listen and make notes, critically, in order to improve. I realized what that could do and set my mind to do it.

Fortunately the big band had two gigs right after camp. I hadn’t asked Quentin how he did it, but I figured out a method. I set my iPhone on a stand right next to my music stand. In essence I was playing into the mike on the phone while still getting the overall sound of the band. The first gig’s recording was disappointing for a number of reasons beyond my control. So I erased it and set it up at the next gig. This one worked. There I was, clear as day; there was the band behind me doing its thing. Now I had to listen critically.

I have been told that the best way to give critical feedback is to give the good first as the foundation on which to build. I did that. I didn’t cringe at my sound like I did in that earlier recording five or six years ago. I liked the general tenor of my sound. I felt I was following well and that there was real energy in what I was playing. Improvement! Hearing those things first helped strengthen me for now listening for what wasn’t as positive or as musical as it could. Knowing that listening could give me clues to what I needed to work on next, I listened again.

That, too, worked. I could hear the things I was clearly deficient at. I could also hear things about my playing that surprised me. It is important when preparing to listen to yourself play from a recording that you realize that while playing you never hear yourself the way others do. We are normally hearing ourselves from behind the horn. Believe it or not that can often be louder than it truly is. One reason is that we are often hearing the sound slightly reflected off our music stand. More to the point, we are “hearing” sounds that no one else can hear- the vibrations of the horn against our lips and hear, flowing through the bones and skin of our head and face and into the inner ear without going through the air. It is the same way listening to a recording of our voice. It never sounds to us like us. So don’t be surprised at the sound you hear. It will probably have less bass and different overtones than you are used to hearing in yourself! You will also not hear yourself in balance with the rest of the band. The mike is at your stand and your sound will be predominant. If you want to hear how you blend with the rest of the band you need to put the mike out front of the whole group. But that’s not the purpose of this recording. I wanted to hear my sound.

You will hear a lot of other things. You will hear strong or weak articulations. You will hear changes in tone and color that you didn’t know were there. You will discover that things were not as alive (or more alive) than you wanted. You will hear every mistake, wrong note, slipped note, flub and frustrating fingering. You will hear how your sound generally blends with the sound of the group. Is your tone brighter or darker? Is your articulation the same as the rest of the section? Am I playing with the same musicality as my fellow musicians?

I realized that it was the real reason I was doing this. My goal was not to pat myself on the back and pin a first place medal on my shirt. I wanted- I needed- to hear this since I don’t normally hear that when I am behind the horn.

So have courage. We have a tool that musicians did not have until recently- a relatively simple and available method for recording ourselves. The simple voice memo on iPhone is all you need. The greatest part of the tool is the willingness to be honest with myself about what I sound like. I am working on it already. It seems to be working- but I won’t know for sure until I have the courage to do another recording.

(P.S. Next week I will relate this to life and even talk about what I hear about my playing and what I am doing about it.)

Monday, August 06, 2018

Tuning Slide 4.4- It's in the Basics

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music


Success is neither magical nor mysterious.
Success is the natural consequence of consistently
applying the basic fundamentals.
—Jim Rohn

I had already decided on this week’s theme before this year’s Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop. But right from the beginning of the week I realized that this was no coincidence. I return every year to Shell Lake to be reminded and renewed in the basics of being a trumpet player, musician, and human. Success is always in the basics- and working on the basics every day.

My thinking on this started a month or so ago when I had a trumpet lesson with a local musician. I knew that he would help me in a number of areas and I knew it would be about some of the fundamentals. I just didn’t know which ones- and what to do about it. That, of course, is why we need to have a teacher and take lessons. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we can’t be entirely objective about what we are doing. It takes someone outside of my own head to hear what I am doing and what I need to do about it.

It is always about the basics. First and always and forever, it’s about the sound. It is making the best sound, the sound that resonates with myself and others, the sound that “plays well with others,” the sound that I am hearing in my head and wants to come out through the horn. As my mentors at Shell Lake emphasize over and over, the sound is what we focus on. It is learning to listen to the rich harmonics possible in any given note for each note, as they tell me, is the whole universe in and of itself.

Second, and as essential as the first, is the rhythm. How do I work on rhythm? Articulation comes to mind. So does singing the part or exercise. Catching the rhythm is basic to sight reading I am finding out.

Third, and often overlooked by most of us in practice, is patient slowness. We want to play it up to speed as soon as possible. We want to sound like Clifford Brown in one of his incredible be-bop licks or take that whole Clarke etude in one breath like it indicates. But if I haven’t discovered the sound (tone) or rhythm (articulation and phrasing) it will be just a bunch of notes with no life in them. In order to get to that point, I have to take it slow! I can’t help but think of the lyrics of one of the songs in West Side Story when I hear this:
Boy, boy, crazy boy
Stay loose, boy!
Breeze it, buzz it, easy does it
Turn off the juice, boy!

So, in my lesson, what did the teacher do? He took me back to the basics, of course. Since he, like my Shell Lake mentors, was a student of the great trumpet instructor Bill Adam at Indiana University, he had me pull out the tuning slide and just “play the tube.” Breathe and let the air vibrate. Find the center of the tube- and the sound. Listen to it. Improve it. Breathe it. I could feel my sound relax and center. I could feel the tension decrease. It’s the basics, man, just the basics.

Next, still on sound, we started on long tones and long scale tones. Because of what I was hoping for, part of it was to make the sound as soft as possible. Pianissimo. Soft. Quiet. Breathe it soft. Keep the sound centered. Keep the breath moving. (Last week one of my teachers there noticed I needed to do some work on that as well. Another piece of my puzzle added.)

Now it’s the to add some rhythm work- articulation. He had me turn to one of the basic rhythm exercises in the Arban’s book (the ultimate basics of trumpet playing!) and play them keeping the sound and notes connected. After over 56 years of playing trumpet, I had never really ever worked on this before. (Amazing what happens when your last lesson before a few years ago was when Lyndon Johnson was president!) Listen to the sound! Keep the breath moving. Keep the notes connected as I articulate.

Finally, the overall basic for this lesson- take it slow! Don’t rush through it. Do the long tones- slowly. Do the scales and chromatics- slowly. Do the rhythm and articulation exercises- slowly. Find the way to do them slowly but with purpose and energy. Slow can be dull and boring, or it can be filled with potential energy being released.

Two weeks after that lesson I went to the Brass Festival in North Carolina- and I was knocked over by the change in my sound and breath. I do not need to be convinced of the importance of the basics. I see the results in my playing. I hear and feel the results in my playing.

The basics. Now as much as ever. Perhaps even more so now. It is easy to get the feeling that one has learned all the simple stuff. That is for beginners. No. The trumpet, as many trumpet players have said, is a very unforgiving instrument. It will be putty in your hands one day and a piece of ice unwilling to bend the next. It is always in the basics that I learn to keep moving forward. If I do nothing else with my trumpet on any given day, I must always do the basics.

It is just as true in my own daily life. I can get complacent about what I am doing or what is happening around me. I can lose the center of my life, moving into the out-of-tune sections that can lead me to boredom, fear, or just plain laziness. Each day I need to work on my own basics.
  • Sound- the tone of my life. Is my tone happy or sad, accepting or judging, willing to work with or working against others? That is the internal. It is my mood, my feelings, my inner reactions to what is happening around me. Mindfulness to these is basic.
  • Articulation- how I show it. Do I act out my internal struggles or feelings, taking it out on others, blaming others for my stuff, ignore what is my responsibility? This is the external. How I respond to others is important for it can and will impact all my relationships.
  • Patience- Stay loose and keep moving. I have to know I can’t be perfect, so don’t try to rush things in order to get past them and ignore them. Turn down the juice and keep cool.
Every day, in whatever ways I can, it is all about the basics. They are, after all, the only way to get where I want to be.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Tuning Slide 4.3- What Music Does For Me

Life is a song. It has its own rhythm of harmony. It is a symphony of all things which exist in major and minor keys of Polarity. It blends the discords, by opposites, into harmony which unites the whole into a grand symphony of life. To learn through experience in this life, to appreciate the symphony and lessons of life and to blend with the whole, is the object of our being here.
- Dr. Randolph Stone

As I write this I am between musical experiences. A little over a week ago I participated in an amazing international event, the 3rd Moravian International Unity Brass Festival. I have never before had the opportunity to play in a large brass band of 167 musicians. I was one of the 1st trumpets and kept up with it (except at the end of the concert when the old embouchure said “No!”) There were 50+ trumpets and related, nearly 60 trombones and related, and nearly 60 horns, euphoniums and tubas. Stop and think of that sound. It is nothing short of mind-boggling. (Here is a link to a video of one of the hymns as we rehearsed it.)

When this gets posted on Monday morning, July 30, the annual Shell Lake (WI) Trumpet Workshop will be just getting under way. That, as any regulars here know, was the source of the great leap somewhere forward in my trumpet playing over the past three years. My whole understanding of music and being a musician changed in ways I would never have anticipated. It all started with a simple act of simply playing the lead pipe on my horn to learn how to “center” the sound of my playing. It’s all that simple, I was told. Just do that and you will play in ways you didn’t know you could.

These two specific experiences go far beyond the list of things I posted the past two weeks of why I play music. They go much more deeply into what playing music does to and for me. They get to the heart of the connection of life and music in me- in my soul, at the center of my being. I can list five specific things that being an active musician helps me with. In many ways this summarizes so much of what I have written over the past three years and the foundations of what I will continue to write. So here goes with:

What Playing Music Does for Me

1. Discipline
No one is a born musician. Some may have certain aptitudes, but very few (other than the prodigies) are truly able to be good at it without work, followed by more work, and then enhanced by more work. Knowing that Doc Severinsen “warms-up” for three hours in order to make sure he knows what he is doing and ready to do it when he gets on stage, humbles me. I think I am doing well when I take 30 minutes to do the daily routine before moving on to the pieces I have to know. Yet, I have developed a discipline- a training regimen for the trumpet- that I never thought I could do. While I don’t always carry that over to other areas of my life with the intention I give to the music, it has helped. I am more disciplined in exercise, writing, and even just taking the time to relax and read!

2. Focus
Part of discipline is learning how to be focused on what I am doing. I have seen it happen over and over- I take a mini-second to think of something else and I get lost. This happens even when doing something as rote as playing the C Major scale. My mind burps and I miss a note. I have had this problem for years when performing. It is easy to get distracted when I am by nature somewhat attention deficit disordered. Playing music has helped me learn to stay focused. This is a huge help in many other times and places as well. If I can do it when playing my trumpet, I can do it for other situations, too.

3. Listening
A musician has to be able to listen. If all I do when I play is listen to my own notes, I will never be able to be a good musician. I may end up being technically proficient at what I do, but, as they might say, “He doesn’t play well with others.” The skill of listening is one of those basic interpersonal skills that we all need to develop, no matter what our lives look like. Too often, it is said, we don’t listen to hear what the other person is saying, we listen to figure out what we are going to say next. Listening, by the way, is at the heart of what we do in a musical piece when we “play the rests.”

4. Blending
Another way of saying this is that we DO play well with others. When we have learned to focus and listen we will know how our part fits in with the others. It is easy to think that they should blend with me when the reality is we have to learn to blend with each other. The brass quintet I play with had a rehearsal on Saturday. At the end we all looked at each other and smiled. We were even excited by what we were sounding like. We all agreed, it was because we were paying attention through focus, listening, and blending. A musical group of any size is, by nature, a set of relationships. They are just like relationships we have with family, friends, co-workers, or even strangers we meet in our daily travels. Do I listen to them or do I ignore their needs or concerns? Do I seek ways to work with them (blend) to get a job done, to accomplish some activity, or just to let each other know they are important? I fear we are forgetting how to do that and instead yell at each other, throw memes around like firecrackers on the 4th of July. I learn- and am reminded to keep learning- when I play in a group, we need to work together. Always!

5. Mindfulness
For me, when I put all these together, I end up with being mindful. Mindfulness is to be that non-judgmental attitude that keeps me open to the present and what it happening. Mindfulness is one of the exciting therapeutic tools to come along in the past twenty years and has shown to have great impact on many kinds of situations. Being a mindful musician can help me move away from a narrow-focused view of what is happening and allows me to play more intentionally. It helps calm down my Self 1 that is forever over-analyzing and lets Self 2 show what it knows and what it can do. At times I know this sounds like a variation of the Music Man’s “think system.” But it is more than that. It helps bring these five things that I get from being a musician into fruition.

These five things will surely be showing up again and again in year four. I am constantly looking at ways of making them more effective and more natural. As I learn to do it in my musicianship, I am learning how to do it in all that I do.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Tuning Slide: 4.2- Why I Play Music (2)

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music


When you play music you discover a part of yourself that you never knew existed.
- Bill Evans

Last week I began the fourth year of The Tuning Slide with seven items I called My Experience of Playing Music. These were the first part of two posts which give some of the answers to the question: Why do I play music? Well one week wasn’t enough. As I worked on that I ended up with more answers than I realized I would. So I pick up where I left off.

My Experience of Playing Music (part 2)

✓ Being surrounded by the sounds of a wondrous symphony from within the band

This happens usually at least once in many rehearsals and in concerts. One time it happened I have to admit that I got so lost in the wonder of the music around me that I almost missed my entrance. Back in the latter half of the last century they had something called “Surround Sound Stereo” where you placed speakers in all areas of the room as you sat in the middle and let the sound surround you. Let me tell you that was nothing compared to what a musician experiences sitting in the midst of an orchestra or concert band. (Like when I was part of the Baldwin County (AL) Band and we played this Barber march.)


✓ Playing “The Army March” for the 4th of July

Many of these items I am listing involve memories that playing music brings to life again. In the concert band for the 4th of July we always play a medley (Armed Forces Salute) that honors those who have served in the military. My dad was a veteran of the Army in World War II and I grew up hearing and knowing the song by John Phillip Sousa- the US Field Artillery March- also known as The Caisson Song. It is the lead number in the medley. There is a trumpet part as it starts that I am honored to play. It is a memory and in honor of my dad. It is a way of keeping connections over the decades.


✓ Whenever I play “Spanish Flea” in our big band.

Like many musicians we can spend time playing in church. I was part of a trumpet group that did just that. But the adult leader of the group was a trumpet and guitar teacher locally and he decided to use several of us as the core for another group that played the music of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. It was truly the first “band” I played in outside of school and it was fun! We weren’t big time, but we did play a number of local gigs and enjoyed the opportunity. I still pull out a book of Herb Alpert songs and transport myself back to that time. Spanish Flea is one we even play in the one big band.


✓ Gabrieli’s “Canzon per sonare #2”

It was 1968 or 1969 when one of the greatest brass recordings of all time was released. The Chicago Brass Ensemble, Cleveland Brass Ensemble, and The Philadelphia Brass Ensemble combined in a record called the Antiphonal Works of Gabrieli. I was blown away by it. It won a Grammy and fifty years later it has lost none of its power. When I found an arrangement for our brass quintet of its rightly stunning closing piece I bought it immediately. I play music so that I can share the music that has moved me and hopefully give that experience to others. And, just as exciting is when we have played that as the massed trumpets at the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop. Unbeatable! Indescribable!


✓ “Stars and Stripes Forever”

What is there to say? To stand at the end and play that famous melody says more than words ever can.


✓ Watching people in wheelchairs (and children) respond to the music

Our big band often plays at senior living centers. It never fails when we start playing this Glenn Miller classic. Many are not able to stand up and move, but they swing with the music and clap in time. It is always a kick. Just as kids love to dance when we play in the park. Isn’t that what music is all about?


✓ Nailing the High C in the final piece of a long concert.
I’m no Maynard- and never will be. (I don’t think I want to be, either!) More like Chet Baker and Miles Davis range for me. That means only getting up to that high “C”. But when you have one on the closing piece of a concert, it is nothing short of ecstasy to nail it! It would be nice to do it with the ease and grace of one of the greatest living trumpet players.

(I know it’s a double high “E” at the end. But I can’t play the high “C” that smoothly.)

That’s why I play music.
What’s your reason?

Monday, July 16, 2018

Tuning Slide: 4.1- Why I Play Music (1)

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music


If you play music for the right reasons, the rest of the things will come. The right reason to play music is that you love it. That's why I play music.
— George Benson

Music is- and has been since third grade- one of the centers of my life. Sometime between ages 8 and 9 I started taking piano lessons. I wasn’t particularly good at practicing so after two or three years with the wonderful Miss Palmer my mother thought it would be good to stop. It wasn’t going to happen. She played the piano as did my Dad’s sister, my Aunt Ruth. I enjoyed their music as well as the many old 78 rpm records that they had.

I did learn how to read music in those lessons with Miss Palmer and, from time to time would even pull out a piece of sheet music and play the melody line. Music intrigued me. Playing music intrigued me, but I was more interested in reading than playing music.

In 8th grade, age 13, I decided I wanted to play trumpet. I have no memory of why. I probably saw the trumpets in the high school band marching in a parade and liked it. Maybe I saw Louis Armstrong on TV. Herb Alpert’s first single, The Lonely Bull, was a year from being released and Al Hirt’s Java was three years away. So nothing remains of the first memory- except the trumpet and the never-ending desire to play it- and play it better today than I did yesterday.

As many of you know from previous posts, I have never stopped playing in these soon to be 57 years. There were lean times when playing for Christmas or Easter at church was the extent of my playing, but the horn was always nearby. The last three years since my first Shell Lake Adult Big Band Workshop has been a whole new world of music opening for me. Some of this has been chronicled in the earlier posts in the Tuning Slide. As I get started in the fourth year of the Tuning Slide I sat back and reflected on why I play music. Over the past weeks a number of moments have occurred in various places that have reminded me why I continue to do so. To get Year Four started- here’s the first half of what came to mind.

My Experience of Playing Music (part 1)
✓ Band members smiling in rehearsal as we practiced Holst’s “2nd Suite.”

The two Holst Suites may be the greatest concert wind band pieces ever written- and the 2nd is at the top of the list. We were rehearsing it for a summer concert and I looked up during a long rest in the fourth movement and noticed that almost every musician in the band who was in the middle of a rest was also smiling. I couldn’t believe how my whole body, mind, and soul responded immediately to it when we hit the first notes. Yes, it is that great! Every time.


✓ Carmen Dragon’s “America the Beautiful”

Our director called it perhaps the best concert band arrangement of any time- the Dragon arrangement of America the Beautiful. I have long lost count of how many times I have played this. I have never forgotten the first time. I was a senior in high school and was at our district band festival playing first trumpet (not cornet, since I didn’t own a cornet.) The band arrangement was only three years old at the time and not well-known- like it would become. I was overwhelmed and inspired at that point. I still am today. Even writing this gives me goosebumps.



✓ Remembering my daughter’s solo in “A Copland Tribute” when I’m playing the piece

My daughter played clarinet in Middle and High School. In her senior year the band played the wonderful music of Aaron Copland in the piece, A Copland Tribute. As both her father and as a musician myself I enjoyed that piece when it came to the section known as the Shaker Melody (or Simple Gifts.) It begins with a clarinet solo- which she played beautifully. Every time a band I am in plays that piece- and it has been at least five times in the past 20 years- my mind lights up in joy remembering her.



✓ Falling in love with new pieces

At our spring concert our community band played a new piece by composer Jay Bocook, Down in the River (Hal Leonard.) It is a series of variations on the gospel song, Down in the River to Pray. It was fun to play and I loved the way the theme came in and out from the background. It also happens to be one of my favorite gospel songs. Yes, people are still writing music that can move me!!


Then at the recent July 4th concert I was introduced to another song I had never played before, an arrangement of the hymn God of Our Fathers by Claude Smith written in 1974. I am surprised I have never heard it before and fell in love with it in spite of mangling the trumpet trio in the first three measures during the last rehearsal. (I played it spot on in the concert!) It was a wonderfully challenging and inspiring piece. There will always be new pieces to play for the first time and fall in love with!



✓ Learning Al Hirt’s “Java”

It was my first favorite trumpet song. Released in 1964 it captured my imagination. I bought a transcription in the late 60s and tried to learn it. No luck. I didn’t take the time to really work on it and by then I was heading into my career and let the advancing of my trumpet skills slip. About six or seven years ago I found a transcription online and began working on it again. I can now play most of it and sometimes even up to tempo. It may be 54 years late, but it is why I am still playing music.



✓ “1812 Overture”- as exciting as it was 50 years ago when I first played it

  • College band, 1969, in Carnegie Hall. We even used the cannon the football cheerleaders used at games. What a kick!
  • Every Fourth of July, just before the Stars and Stripes and the fireworks. It never gets old! It is new every time! That is what music can do!
That’s why I play music!
What’s your reason?

(More next week as we continue into year four of The Tuning Slide.)