Saturday, October 22, 2016

One for the Record History Books

What a World Series awaits us! 
More than setting records, it will, 
one way or another,
make history.

Chicago has already made history. It is the first time since the troops  returned home from World War II that they have been in the World Series.
In fact my dad was on a troop ship in the Atlantic heading home when they were in that Series.

If Cleveland wins
it will be the first time since 1948.
(To show you how old I am- 
I was 2 months old!)

Let me tell you the top news from the last time the
Cubs WON the World Series:

  • Petroleum production begins in Middle East
  • Henry Ford develops the first Model T automobile, which sells for $850.
  • Baden Powell Starts the Boy Scouts,
  • Billy Murray hits the charts with "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"
  • The Gideons put the first Bibles in hotel rooms
  • William Howard Taft elected president
  • Oh- and that veteran returning home from Europe after World War II was only 3 years old.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Debates are Over!!

 Next: The end of the election cycle!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Tuning Slide: 2.7- Feel the Rhythm

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
Last week I quoted one of the ideas from this past summer’s Shell Lake Trumpet workshop:
There are three characteristics of a great trumpet player:
1. Every time you play you have a great- not a good- sound.
2. You have great- not good- rhythm.
3. You have great- not good- ears to hear the sound.
This week we focus on rhythm.
Life is about rhythm.
We vibrate,
our hearts are pumping blood,
we are a rhythm machine,
that’s what we are.
—Mickey Hart (percussionist, Grateful Dead)


For us, we start with this simple definition:
Rhythm is the arrangement of sounds as they move through time.

We know the synonyms. They are common in our musical language:


We are not just talking about the groove, though. Groove is a basic part of rhythm, but it goes beyond that. Rhythm is not just what a “rhythm section” does. What, then, IS rhythm? I asked Bob Baca, our Trumpet Workshop director for his thought:
Rhythm is the underlying pulse that creates initial emotion far greater than color or attack can achieve. All music, including cadenza must have an underlying pulse. In Western European Classical Music that pulse is some sort of a duple or triple subdivision. In classical music, although solid tone is of first importance, conscious rhythm is a close second.
That’s a good start. Rhythm is not just the beat, it is one of the ways that music creates emotion. All the standards we think of in music- crescendos and decrescendos, tension and release, accents and slurs, major and minor chords- are part of the rhythm of the music. That brings the music to life. Without those elements, a straight, non-changing sound would put us to sleep. Just plodding along at a steady level allows not tension and interest. Using only one chord without variation would get dull.

That is rhythm. What does it mean, though, to have great rhythm? Back to Bob Baca for a very simple answer.
Conscious Rhythm. We want to feel but not hear rhythm.
From the perspective of the listener, a song with great rhythm is not in what you hear, but in what you feel. It makes you move in response to what is being played. It can be overpowering to our senses if the rhythm is forced into the forefront. Sure- a good drum and rhythm section solo can be fun, but not for a whole song. Watch a Buddy Rich video, for example, and you will see conscious rhythm at work- and Rich doesn’t even look like he’s doing anything all that difficult when he is not doing a solo. You watch him and you feel the rhythm as all the other instruments play. The band without Buddy, if not dull, probably chaos. Together- the rhythm works.

From the perspective of the musician, rhythm is what we find when we move beyond simply playing the notes and trying to get them right. We move to playing the right notes, at the right time, in the right place, in the right way. The right way being in the rhythm of the song.

Rhythm can be easy to lose, of course. We’ve all heard a band or group get “out of rhythm” for any one of a number of reasons. Sometimes it is difficulty in communication across the group. Sometimes someone wants to jump in too early or misses the beat too late. (That is way too often me!) That’s where being conscious of rhythm is most needed.

Actually, if you think about it, rhythm is part of the language we are trying to learn. In jazz - eighth notes swing is a piece of the language-rhythm. The feel of a Sousa march is a piece of the march language- rhythm. Feel the pace and pulse of a Bach chorale- that is a piece of the language of the music- rhythm.

Part of our work then is always in the fundamentals. As Bob Baca explained:
Where rhythm is most lost is usually at the ends of phrases, especially if the phrase ends with a long note. If a note is held full value, the rest in-between phrases become part of the rhythm and sounds musical.
In our fundamentals we learn how to phrase our music. We learn the importance of “playing the rests” as much as playing the notes. Rests are essential to the rhythm, They help set the tension and release, they help give movement to the notes.

As I was writing this, an a Capella choral version of Amazing Grace came on my iTunes shuffle. Not a drum within hearing. I can imagine the conductor moving his arms in tempo, but beyond that it was all done by voice. Every rhythmic impulse of the song built through the melody line, the rise and fall of the solo voices, the droning vocal bass accompaniment laying the foundational rhythm. What did I do as I listened? I moved. Not just because I know the song so well, but because the singers kept the rhythm alive. It had a living pulse.

So how do you get it? Said Mr. Baca:
Always have a legato subdivision in your head.
It seems that audio visualization is never far from our thinking and playing. How do you hear it before you play it? What I have found is that just picking up the trumpet and playing the notes is not often a helpful first step in learning the rhythm. Several instructors have talked often about
1. Reading the piece
2. Singing the piece
3. Listening to a recording of the piece.
4. Maybe repeating the process a time or two, and then
5. Pick up the instrument and play.
I am not sure that anyone has a natural ability to know and feel rhythm from a printed page. These steps of practice and learning help focus us to feel it, then hear it, then play it. Yet we are naturals at rhythm. We are born with it. We hear it in the beating of our mother's heart while in the womb. We hear the tide-like rush of blood traveling through her system. It is the original music.

In full harmony with the overall theme of this blog- reflections on life and music- Mr. Baca had one more thought:
Life is about rhythm.
The very earth that we live, rotates runs in a steady rhythm and music, our most positive expression of who we are, must as well.
Music, as Mr. Baca says, is the most positive expression of who we are. Throughout history people have made music. Throughout history music has started with rhythm. That rhythm is the heartbeat of life itself. Whether the sound of ocean tides or the “lub-dub” of the human heart, it underlies everything around us. It may even be that the very idea of sound- frequency, etc.- is a rhythm itself. What we do in our lives is find our place in that rhythm.

Once more from author and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.
In the beginning, there was noise. Noise begat rhythm, and rhythm begat everything else.
We are part of the physical expression of that rhythm. Translate it, hear it in your music, share it with others in your actions, make music! Philosopher Lao Tzu said once that the music of the soul can be heard by the universe.

Stop and listen for a moment and it may also be that the soul will hear the music of the universe.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My Favorites By the Nobel Winner

According to Wikipedia, Bob Dylan has a collection of 522 songs he has written.

We can often accuse Dylan of not singing as we normally think of it. He has a way of using the sound of words to build the emotion and movement. The rhythm of the words is as important as the musical movement.

Hence, in my opinion, the Nobel Prize for Literature is well-deserved. He is a poetic wordsmith that allows music to flow from the words. I have not idea, of course, when Dylan started with the words and when he started with the music. Whichever might come first the connection between the two is always in service of the words. Sometimes, especially in the truly iconic songs, the music may seem trite, the words cliched. But that is only due to the fact that these were there at the creation. In fact, these types of songs ARE the creation story.

First, though, I listed my favorites. I wanted to give my top 5. Didn't work. I easily came up with my top 6. (It's impossible to stop at 1, 3, or 5.) Needless to say they are from after his move into rock. Some of his most powerful- and also among my top favorites- are before that. The words, the sounds, the fun of the first three move into into three songs that moved me internally, numbers 4 - 6. Then I wanted my top 10. Just as impossible to do. But what about...? After that it was how they came to me. It was easier to stop at 20. Hence this list:
  1. Rainy Day Women #12 and 35 (1966)
  2. Subterranean Homesick Blues (1965)
  3. Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
  4. Knockin' on Heaven's Door (1973)
  5. All Along the Watchtower (1967)
  6. Forever Young (1974)
  7. I Shall Be Released (1971)
  8. Gotta Serve Somebody (1979)
  9. God Gave Names to All the Animals (1979)
  10. Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)
  11. Masters of War (1963)
  12. A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall (1963)
  13. Chimes of Freedom (1964)
  14. Shelter from the Storm (1975) 
  15. Duquesne Whistle (2012)
  16. Thunder on the Mountain (2006)
  17. Everything is Broken (1989)
  18. The Levee's Gonna Break (2006) 
  19. Maggie's Farm (1965)
  20. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum (2001)
There are three songs conspicuously missing from that list. These are the obvious songs. These are the songs that go beyond "favorites" into the realm of the iconic, cultural stepping stones, music-changing music. These are THE creation songs I referenced above. Even if I didn't like them, which I do, they are here forever, as essential as any music ever written. In chronological order:
  • Blowin' In the Wind-1963
  • The Times They are A-Changing-1964
  • Like A Rolling Stone-1965
I will be putting together several more posts on these 23 songs. Watch for them over the next couple weeks.

In most ways, it would be easiest to say that my favorite Bob Dylan songs are the songs written by Bob Dylan. Dylan and the Beatles dominate my iTunes songs in the popular music. No one has done with and for music as much as these artists. Dylan is unique. Always moving, always creating new ideas, always a step ahead of even himself. Folk, rock, country, bluegrass, jazz, the American songbook have all been impacted by this minstrel of American music in the past 55+ years.

It is poetic literature. It is amazing.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Set-up Is Downright Frightening

When otherwise thoughtful people think the president of the United States is a traitor and deserves the firing squad, I am afraid for the United States.

When a presidential candidate says that the election is rigged because it is clear that he is going to lose, I am afraid for the United States. And when some of his followers call for violence to win for him, I am afraid for the United States.

When the same presidential candidate says that his opponent will be in jail after he gets elected, I am afraid for the United States.

When the presidential candidate wants to shut out the opposing viewpoint in newspapers or a comedy show, I am afraid for the United States.

When research has disproved over and over again the idea that IDs will defeat a non-existent voter fraud yet the move to make it more difficult to vote continues, I am afraid for the United States.

Yes, even as a liberal, when people suggest banning guns in general and working to overturn the second amendment, I am afraid for the United States.

But so does the unthinking support of gun ownership make me afraid for the United States.

When we have gotten to the point that we are as divided as we have become, I am afraid for the United States.

When it has gotten to the point where I am offended by what people I like are saying, I am afraid for the United States.

When simply being a "liberal" can make one get called anti-American, I am afraid for the United States.

You see, many of these positions I have talked about here, we cannot discuss. They become points of anger.

Yes, I get angry about these things. I get angry because I am deeply afraid for the United States. We MUST be able to discuss and disagree without extremes. But when we make extreme statements, even as I make them here, we stop the conversation.

Don't we see how angry we have become? Don't we see that we need to do things differently than we have been doing them? Don't we understand that democracy is built on dialogue and compromise, and not violence and hatred of others?

I want to cry- for our country, for myself, for friendships strained. I want to cry in pain, the internal paid of the incredible divisions that continue to develop, divisions which we all blame on the "other side."

Yes, I cry and rant.

Where is our decency? Where is our grace? Where is our American greatness? We don't have to agree, but we don't have to inflammatory. (Yes, me, too.) But we aren't listening. Even when we listen, we ignore. We have the final (!) debate of this election cycle this week. Finally. But I fear it will be far from over. The repercussions of this election may be with us for years.

God, help us all.

(By the way- I AM committed to doing what I can to facilitate the kind of dialogue I am talking about. Think globally; act locally.)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Quote for The Day

Within every one of us is an inner monastery. There is a part of us there in residence, right now. No matter how busy it seems on the surface of our lives -- In the very depth and truth of our being, we are already in residence in the inner monastery of total peace, wisdom, compassion, forgiveness and aliveness. This is where all answers are known, all peace is found and all rest is assured. We can take heart and comfort right now in knowing that all things are lined up to work together for the good. Go to your inner monastery and live from the awareness. Take your whole Self there today to revel in the peace, wisdom, aliveness and joy.
~ Mary Morrissey

Saturday, October 15, 2016

This Happened Yesterday!

The election cycle is over for me.
Early voting works wonders.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Out-of-Control Election

I am fed up! This is a rant with no excuses for it. We have hit the lowest in "political" rhetoric that I have seen in my over 50 years of being a political junkie.

For me it is summed up in a word.

A person who ruthlessly exploits others. 
(Oxford Dictionaries)
It came into usage as an analogy to predatory behavior in animals.

  • Stalker
  • Tracker
  • Pursuer
  • Lurker
 From Psychology Today:
Among their most dangerous features are a callous disregard for the rights of others and a propensity for violating norms. They can charm and manipulate others for their own gain, conning with no regard for anyone's feelings.

They look for opportunities—taking a security job that positions them to meet potential victims, for example—and they have no qualms, when the time is right, about exploiting them. We want to spot them, but they usually spot us first.

As predators get away with their acts, they learn the best ways to deflect others from discovering their secrets, and they enjoy the lack of accountability. They devise different sets of values for different life frames, so that they can speak convincingly about socially-approved venues of right and wrong, yet have no qualms about their socially-condemned behavior. -Link
I started writing this earlier this week after the ongoing conflict with Donald Trump's behavior. I would sit and watch him and his responses to the issue and would feel "creeped out." My radar kept saying, "This guy is creepy. He is a classic predator." I watched the way he walked, the demeanor, the sneering look, the "no one can challenge me and get away with it" attitude. It all rang out.This guy is a dangerous predator.

But then I decided not to post it. Maybe I was feeling overwhelmed by the whole election fiasco. Maybe I just wanted it to go away. Then Michele Obama spoke yesterday. She spoke of the way this has shaken her to her "very core." I agree. I have to say this.

For a public person like Donald Trump to do what he has been doing since almost the beginning and now this? What in the world is wrong with us? What is the world is happening that we as a nation continue to believe he is a suitable candidate for president? Because he got so many votes? No. He is a con man that knows how to play the emotions of many who feel disenfranchised. He knows how to touch the base emotions of our lives and play on them. His language that has gotten him into the most trouble is this so-called "locker room" language.

It is the language of sexual assault. It is the language of rape. Even if he didn't actually do what he claimed to do (locker room boasting), he is setting it out as appropriate behavior. And then one of his supporting male surrogates (Rush Limbaugh) in excusing the language, went so far as to say that we give too much power to the idea of consent. Men know when "no" means "yes" he implied.


Where have we gone as America?

Yes, there are those who say that at least no one died like at Benghazi. Well, that ignores a great deal of information on what led up to Benghazi and what the Secretary of State could have done about it.

It also ignores the many women who HAVE died as the result of the type of actions that Trump and his surrogates are now trying to excuse. Assault, forcibly pushing oneself onto another person, rape. People die from it every day. As long as we want to excuse it, overlook it, do a "Tsk! Tsk!" finger wagging at boys will be boys, we are allowing the whole culture of rape and assault to go unchallenged.

We are being assaulted as a nation by Donald Trump. We are being emotionally raped by a political predator. He is getting away with standing in the middle of 5th Avenue shooting people. He just isn't using guns. He talks about jailing his opponent as if it is something he as president could do. He talks about suing the New York Times because it published accusations against him. He banned the Washington Post for a while when they criticized him. He has denigrated women, Latinos, Muslims while upholding dictator/oligarch Putin as a great leader. It hasn't been overt, yet, but watch- he will come after the Jews next.

And the press is only just beginning to realize their own mistake in not standing up to it earlier and aren't sure what to do about it.

What will happen if he is elected? How long will it take the nation to see we have been assaulted politically without him firing a shot? He will find ways to use the executive order power to undermine who we are as a democracy in ways no president has ever done. And there is a lot more to undermine than the 2nd Amendment.

What will happen if he is defeated? That is potentially more frightening in the short run. He has implied that if he loses it will only be because it was stolen from him. He couldn't possibly lose fair and square. That is predatory behavior and thinking.

For today, though, I had to say these things. Watch him. Not as a presidential candidate, not as a politician, but as a predator. Watch the way he moves and speaks. These were some of the things that people commented on about Bill Clinton in the 90s. Clinton may have learned his lesson.

Donald Trump hasn't.

God help us all.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Times, They Have Changed!

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2016 was awarded to Bob Dylan "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition".


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Tuning Slide: 2.6- All About the Sound

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Last week I talked about the basic (and oversimplified) physics and acoustics of trumpet playing. Being centered in sound was at the heart of it and the way practicing long tones can help us visualize and enhance the resonance of the sound we produce. That can then lead us to finding ways to center our own lives through focus, visualization, and breathing. The result is the congruence of who we are and how we play.

This week I want to look a little more at this fine instrument many of us have fallen in love (and hate?) with.

First, here’s how it’s made from the How Products Are Made website:
Brass instruments are almost universally made from brass, but a solid gold or silver trumpet might be created for special occasions. The most common type of brass used is yellow brass, which is 70 percent copper and 30 percent zinc. Other types include gold brass (80 percent copper and 20 percent zinc), and silver brass (made from copper, zinc, and nickel). The relatively small amount of zinc present in the alloy is necessary to make brass that is workable when cold. Some small manufacturers will use such special brasses as Ambronze (85 percent copper, 2 percent tin, and 13 percent zinc) for making certain parts of the trumpet (such as the bell) because such alloys produce a sonorous, ringing sound when struck. Some manufacturers will silver- or goldplate the basic brass instrument.
Very little of the trumpet is not made of brass. Any screws are usually steel; the water key is usually lined with cork; the rubbing surfaces in the valves and slides might be electroplated with chromium or a stainless nickel alloy such as monel; the valves may be lined with felt; and the valve keys may be decorated with mother-of-pearl.
[Not a surprise that they look for alloys that produce a “sonorous, ringing sound.” That’s part of the overall acoustics we talked about last week. The trumpet is about $5.00 or so in metal. Probably less on the junk market where you may get as much as $1.30/pound. Weighing in at an average 2.5 pounds of metal, you might get $3 - $3.50 for the metal as junk. The thousands of dollars a Strad costs is in the design that helps make the sound.]
The most important feature of a trumpet is sound quality. Besides meeting exacting tolerances of approximately 1 x 105 meters, every trumpet that is manufactured is tested by professional musicians who check the tone and pitch of the instrument while listening to see if it is in tune within its desired dynamic range. The musicians test-play in different acoustical set-ups, ranging from small studios to large concert halls, depending on the eventual use of the trumpet. Large trumpet manufacturers hire professional musicians as full-time testers, while small manufacturers rely on themselves or the customer to test their product. --Link
Now comes what may be the most important paragraph from the website:
At least half the work involved in creating and maintaining a clear-sounding trumpet is done by the customer. [Emphasis added.] The delicate instruments require special handling, and, because of their inherent asymmetry, they are prone to imbalance. Therefore, great care must be taken so as not to carelessly damage the instrument. To prevent dents, trumpets are kept in cases, where they are held in place by trumpet-shaped cavities that are lined with velvet. The trumpet needs to be lubricated once a day or whenever it is played. The lubricant is usually a petroleum derivative similar to kerosene for inside the valves, mineral oil for the key mechanism, and axle grease for the slides. The grime in the mouthpiece and main pipe should be cleaned every month, and every three months the entire trumpet should soak in soapy water for 15 minutes. It should then be scrubbed throughout with special small brushes, rinsed, and dried. --Link
Perhaps I am overdoing it with this whole thing, but the one thread working through these quotes as well as what we talked about last week:

The Sound.
It’s all about the sound! Sound is everything- tone, upper register, melody, etc.

Everything is done in order to produce the best sound possible. From the chemistry of mixing metals to the long tones we practice, the end product is the best sound possible from the instrument you own. Period. With that in mind let me quote Mr. Bob Baca from the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop.
These are the three characteristics of a great trumpet player:
1. Every time you play you have a great- not a good- sound.
2. You have great- not good- rhythm.
3. You have great- not good- ears to hear the sound.
Let’s expand some more about developing a great sound. Remember that after the right mix of metals, tubing, etc. it is:
• being centered,
• finding the resonance,
• utilizing long tones in our basic practice.

Going beyond those basics, them, here are some thoughts from Brass Musician magazine’s web site.
We must have a very definite concept of a beautiful tone in order to produce a great sound. Conception of tone is a mental memory, aural visualization, imagination or recollection of what a beautiful tone sounds like. We cannot imagine or remember what we have not heard and memorized so we must frequently listen to fine players live and on recordings. Daily listening to recordings of fine players will develop our concept of tone. … Playing along with recordings… helps imprint the aural role model and imitation in our minds.
Olympic champion Michael Phelps and Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski were interviewed on TV last week. Both of them spoke of the value of “visualization.” Phelps said he works through the possibilities in a race beforehand- including potential problems. That way, he said, he will be ready for anything. Coach K. said he prepares visualizations for his players to use on iPads. They can see what a “champion” looks like- how champions carry themselves- including how they walk and talk. That’s what the above paragraph is talking about. You can’t hit the notes if you don’t know what they sound like. What better way to learn than to hear them, get them aurally imprinted, visualize the sound, and then “rehearse” it in your mind. I have heard a number of musicians say they hear the note or sound in that small fraction of a second before they play it.

For years I had the problem of not being able to come in on the right note after a rest, or at the beginning of a piece. Sometimes the note would slide off downward or I would overshoot it higher. It was particularly difficult if it was happening during or after an unusual chord structure where my note didn’t seem to be right. I asked one of my colleagues how she did it- and why I was having difficulty. She simply told me that I have to hear the note before I play it. No, I do not have anything like perfect or near-perfect pitch. If you asked me to sing that note in tune I probably couldn’t. What I could do was take a second and silently “sing” my way to the note using the open tones- middle C, G, and the C on the staff. That helped with the B or D on the staff. If I was going for the E or F at the top of the staff, I just silently sang the open notes to the E. It worked. I am still not in the habit of doing that as regularly as I could, but I don’t miss the notes as often as I used to.

Such visualization helps with a player like me who rends to be somewhat lazy in hitting notes. It focuses, centers my sound and keeps me in the music. That also means I am less tense when I come to the notes. I find myself able to hit the note with a stronger sound, probably more in tune and less pressured. Which brings me to the next paragraph from Brass Musician:
A steady relaxed airstream is critical to a full, beautiful tone. … When we ascend into the upper register we should blow faster and avoid tightening the abdominal muscles, which restricts the throat and causes a strained, brighter, sharper sound. There are many ways to improve breathing, blowing and tone. I recommend visiting, reading books and articles about or by Arnold Jacobs…
◆ Steady
◆ Relaxed
◆ Don’t tighten the abs
◆ Keep the throat open

Seems simple enough.

Check your shoulder position? Have you pulled your shoulders up toward your ears? You are probably tense. Drop them. Let them droop.

Are you holding the trumpet with a left-hand death grip? Relax. That tension is going all the way up your arm and even into your jaw. Loosen it.

It is amazing how much physical work is involved in playing a trumpet. For me it even goes to my posture either sitting or standing. I know, sadly, that if I took the iconic “Miles Davis Stance” I would not be relaxed. MY sound, at least at this point, would be constricted. That may be part of what Miles wanted. For me, it hurts my style. I have to sit up, give my abs the room to relax. Leaning forward tightens them, reduces my airflow and abdominal support for my sound.

That is where those infernal long tones help. Playing them in a relaxed but appropriate position helps our bodies to learn how to do it and enhance our muscle memory.

Arnold Jacobs is mentioned above. He was principal tubist for the Chicago Symphony and many consider Jacobs one of the great music instructors of the second half of the 20th Century. He has become well known as an expert on breathing and wind instruments.

(Here is a collection of quotes and explanations of some of what he taught.)

One of the quotes and explanations from the site.(Bold in original):
"Conceive, don´t perceive"

Controling our thoughts is one of the most important parts of musical performance. When we are playing, it is very common to ask ourselves questions like "does this sound good?" "am I breathing right?", "am I using my fingers correctly", "do I feel okay?", etc.

Arnold Jacobs thinks we shouldn´t ask ourselves these kind of questions during the performance because we´re sending information from our muscles to our brain when we should be doing exactly the opposite; creating music in our mind and making our muscles to produce it.

As Jacobs says, "be a great artist in your imagination", since analysis does not help performance. If we want to progress and improve we should present what we want listeners to perceive.

Jacobs points out that musicians should show their feeling and tell stories with their sound. If we want a specific colour in our sound, we have to create it in our mind and then our body will produce it by making the necessary adjustments. The idea is to tell a story though musical orders.
All this talk about breathing- remember that it is always in support of the sound, the great sound that we should always be seeking for. Breathing is the best way to start in any attempt to improve our playing. But it is also the starting point for stress reduction, personal centering, meditative focus, and many other introductions to better health.

Keep breathing- and learning to breathe better.

Monday, October 10, 2016

If Men are Really Like That....

It's time for men who aren't like that to stand up and cry foul!

It's time to show that respect is manly.

It's time to get our image out of the locker room and gutter and stand up for decency.

Call it what it is- abusive to women and demeaning to men.

Don't let others get away with it, either.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Not in My Locker Room

Trump's comments are offensive. They are offensive anywhere they are spoken. It is sexual assault talk. It is the kind of talk one finds in porn, not presidential politics.

As a father of a daughter, this is beyond politics.

This is plain human decency. And the religious right, who want us to return to decency and morals support him.


Will no one stand up to him?

One article I read online remembered the famous line from the Army-McCarthy Hearings where Army counsel Joseph Welch said:'ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
When will the GOP see this as the catastrophe that it is? When will they not only ask the question, but refuse to continue in this undermining of American democracy, decency, and honor?

Friday, October 07, 2016

Why I Support Hillary

It is now two days to the next presidential debate. I thought I would post this week on why I am supporting Hillary Clinton.

Naturally some of it is based on the level of uncertainty and downright fear I have with Donald Trump and his VP candidate, Mike Pence. But that is the current situation. In reality I would have had a difficult time voting for any of the GOP candidates. While I tended toward Bernie Sanders in the primary process, that does not mean I am opposed to Hillary. So, first, why I support her and then a look at what I feel are some of her shortcomings.

My core values and my understanding of the history of the United States, our gifts and direction as a nation, and the role of government with a large and diverse population most closely align with the policies and ideals of the Democratic Party- and always have. This is nothing new in my political history. I don't just tend to be a liberal- I am a liberal. I don't just tend to support Democrats- I do support Democrats because of the party's stance in the last 50 or so years. That doesn't mean I accept and support every stand and action of the Democrats in power. Of course not. But on any given day, I am most likely to agree with a Democratic position than a Republican.

This has become even more true in recent years as the extreme right-wing Tea Party and the religious right have hijacked the more traditional and reasoned conservative positions. There are many elements of government, such as to

  • form a more perfect union, 
  • establish justice, 
  • insure domestic tranquility, 
  • provide for the common defense, 
  • promote the general welfare, 
  • and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. (Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.)
In the past 50 years, in general, I feel the Democratic Party has worked hard at these in ways that I feel are appropriate. I have seen the GOP tear itself apart with supporting stands that often hurt the more vulnerable among us. In too many ways, the GOP has remained a voice for white males, leaving aside people of color, women, and those of differing religious and personal identities. (My purpose is not to delineate these. I can but I am speaking in general terms. Yes, again, there are Democrats who don't agree. That is fine. But, generally, this is my view of the Democratic Party.)

Hillary is the nominee of this party. She has supported the party's platform and direction. She has been a good spokesperson for these positions in many different ways. She is in the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders was more to the left of center, but was within that same overall tradition which is why they have been able to reconcile. She- and the overall party- appear to have heard the positions of the Sanders wing and have seemed to be working to bring some compromise and acceptance. That is how American political discourse is supposed to work.

I also believe that Hillary is as qualified as any other presidential candidate- and more so than some. She has been a political person her entire adult life. That means she has done good things and helped people. As a political person, that means she has been able to see the value of discussion and compromise (NOT a dirty word in a democracy!) As such, if faced with political concerns, she is probably more likely to look at the political advantage of not taking an ideologically strict position. Ideological strictness and control may be good to maintain a group built on those, but it is not how a democracy can work.

Being a political person also means she has done things which were stupid or unpopular. But she has been willing to learn and change her opinions. I have no problem with any politician being willing to do that. In many ways it doesn't matter that she (or Trump or whoever) may have supported the initial entry into the Iraq War. At that point, with the information in hand, that was what was felt to have been right. If they have changed that opinion because they have different or more information now, great! They are willing to listen, learn, and grow.

Is she "Crooked Hillary?" No one has, so far, been able to prove anything that would disqualify her. The endless series of investigations by congressional committees has found nothing. From a balanced look at things, it does not appear that Benghazi is all that different from any other attacks on US embassies under other Secretaries of State. Her email usage is just plain stupidity but part and parcel of many in her type of position on both sides. Trump, too, has been attacked for actions which are more just plain political actions or an ability to say what comes to mind with no filter than any crookedness. The Clinton Foundation appears to be a well-run and effective organization which does not appear to be true of Trump's. Even Trump admits to "pay to play" kind of actions. Why does it make him blameless and her the "worst?"

As to Bill's sexual actions in the White House- that has as much relevance as what Trump did with his first wife. Period. Or Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, or John Kennedy. Many, many married people have reconciled following indiscretions and affairs. That does not mean they were culpable in any way that is important to the American electorate. Period. Perhaps it goes back to the idea of what did they learn from it and how are they willing to move forward?

As to her shortcomings, she has them from my standpoint. Remember I am to the left of center and a pacifist. She tends to be more of a "hawk" than makes me comfortable. But then, so is Obama. Trump's war stances seem to be more trigger happy, and are also worrisome. She tends toward too much reserve, but so does Trump. Do any of us really believe that what we are seeing on the campaign trail with him is his real self? It's more of a show than Hillary. She has had difficulty playing to the audience and does tend to be more closed. But after 30 years in the political spotlight in all kinds of situations we know far more about where she stands than we do about where Trump stands. We have seen her tax returns. We have watched her change her stance on same-sex marriage as well as others.

A couple weeks ago my wife and I had the joy of seeing the comedian Lewis Black in performance. One of his insights into why we have problems with Hillary is simply that we know her too well. She HAS been around for many years and never seems to go away. We are tired of her and want someone new. He commented that she's like that person in your carpool that you wish would decide to retire. He explained that First Ladies, like Presidents, are supposed to get off the stage or at least do things that aren't as politically focused. We saw Nixon and Ford disappear. Regan's Alzheimer's forced him to be invisible. Jimmy Carter became an Energizer Bunny, non-stop house builder. The Bush Presidents did the normal step out of the limelight.

Bill and Hillary are still there. In the end, that might very well be her downfall. I hope not, for, as I made clear last week, I am downright afraid of a Trump presidency. He is a con man out to make what he can on us and leave us worse for the experience. But no matter which of the other candidates it would have been from the GOP, Hillary would still be my choice. Say what you will about my position, this is where I am.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Tuning Slide: 2.5- Finding the Center

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
How is it that this bunch of metal can make music? Whether I’m working on a Bach piece for the quintet or listening to Doc soar skyward from the very lowest G to far higher than I can go, this comes out of the same basic physics and metallurgy of the instrument we share in common. This is just as true for any instrument, but those of us who play wind instruments depend on some special properties of tubes. (Yes, that’s really all a trumpet or sax or clarinet is- a long tube.) So to understand some of the basics of our instrument, let’s look at some physics. Don’t worry, I’m not a physicist so it won’t get too technical.

As with all brass instruments, sound is produced by blowing air through closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound into the mouthpiece and starting a standing wave vibration in the air column inside the trumpet. The player can select the pitch from a range of overtones or harmonics by changing the lip aperture and tension (known as the embouchure).  (Wikipedia)

638px-crest_trough-svg (Link)
Standing waves are produced. Waves have frequencies. They have “sound” when they are in a frequency range we can hear. Our famous western tuning note of A440 means that the frequency (distance from crest to crest) of the standing wave is 440 Hz, or 440 cycles/second. Fortunately the way sound waves work in a tube, for example, produces more than just the base frequency or wave. Otherwise the sound would be dull and lacking in a lot of character. It also produces
Overtones, simply put, are various multiples of the original fundamental frequency of the wave. The higher the note, the fewer the overtones and the closer the next note. That’s why we have 7 different fingering positions between middle C and G on the staff (open, 123, 13, 23,12,1,2,) and only 4 different fingering positions (open, 12,1,2,open,1,2) repeated between the next C and G above the staff. (Overly simplified, I know. Don’t worry about the specifics of the physics. If it works, we don’t have to know how.)

But let’s keep going. There’s one more bit of acoustics that explains the sound of our instruments.

Resonance is when one object vibrating at the same natural frequency of a second object forces that second object into vibrational motion. (Link)

Which is what happens within the folds and valves of the trumpet. It is the ability of the sound to be reinforced or prolonged by reflection from the inner surfaces and setting them into their own vibrations. The result is that they is a deeper, fuller sound. It is how many overtones we are playing at a single moment. Lower notes tend to have greater resonance than higher notes because of the overtones, frequencies, tube length, etc. As we learn to play higher notes, we strengthen the resonance. That’s why someone like Doc can hit those high notes and he still produces resonance where mine sounds like a screeching baby bird being strangled.

Hold on, I’m just about through with the physics. It will all make sense even if you don’t understand the full science.

One of the reasons that Doc or Maynard (or whoever your favorite trumpet player is) can have a resonance in their higher register- as well as in their whole range- is that they have learned to keep the sound centered. You see the center of the horn, the center of that lead pipe or tuning slide, is where the sound is most effectively and efficiently produced. It allows the standing wave to go right down the middle and its overtones to be centered with it.

Yes, this is a long way to get to the point but let’s boil it down to this simple explanation:

The center of the horn is where the resonance is. Therefore, in order to get the rich, full sound, all you have to do is find the center and play into it. Center the tone; center the air; you will improve your sound.

How do you learn to do that? In looking at this basic explanation of trumpet acoustics, we have reached the very basics of trumpet practice and development- finding ways to center our sound. Since it is basic, it should come as no surprise that it is…

Long tones!

Yep, those boring exercises in holding a note for an “extended” period of time are probably the most important thing we will ever learn about being a trumpet player. It looks like, from an acoustics and metallurgical standpoint, everything else builds on top of that. You don’t have to know the science, but it helps me visualize what is important when I am doing long tones. And in visualization, we are actually helping ourselves to do what we are wanting to do.

When you play those long tones, it may be helpful to picture in your mind the sound wave moving down the lead pipe. As it does make sure it stays in the center in your mind’s eye. Through the wonders of the nerves and workings of our brain that actually helps us to guide the air that way in the world of the trumpet itself. We often overlook the mind-body connections and the power of visualization and thought.

Well, how long should we play a given long tone. There are all kinds of advice on the Internet abut how long, in time, “long” is. Some say hold it for as long as you can keep it centered and steady. Others talk about a flowing series of long tones. (Look up Schlossberg #6 at Greg Wing Trumpet for a really helpful exercise of long tones.)

In general though here are four definitions of what is long enough:

•    Long enough to keep it centered
When we are first warming up the sound will not be as centered as it can be. For those of us who are less advanced, such centeredness comes with time. But you will hear the difference.
•    Long enough to hold it steady
Once we hear it getting centered the next step is to keep it steady there. That means the force behind the breath and the abdominal support.
•    Long enough to hold the dynamics.
Pick a dynamic and hold it. Many recommendations are to play it soft, then next time softer, holding it at the pianissimo level for the duration.
•    Long enough to listen! Really listen!
Can you hear it? No? Then do it again. Hold and listen. Keep the breath and dynamic steady.

One very useful way to get started is just playing the “tube” - the lead pipe. Take the tuning slide out and play 2nd line “G”. Listen for the centeredness, the steadiness. Listen again. Do it regularly at the start of your practice and you will be ready for the notes that come next.

Long tones can be a good 10 minute warm-up. Not strenuous, but solid. As perfect a way to get your session going as any.

Bruce Chidester on The Trumpet Blog has a list of 10 reasons to do long tones. Here are four of them:
  • Long tones give you the opportunity to listen to your sound- by listening to your sound; there is a natural tendency to improve on what you are listening to.
  • Long tones help you analyze what is going on within your air stream. Opening and closing the channel which encompasses the passage of air will dictate the timbre of your tone.
  • Long tones train your arms and hands to support the instrument more steadily for any shaking in these areas will telegraph into a shaky tone.
  • Long tones are the direct opposite of fast, highly technical passages and thus need to be implemented to balance your technical playing.
    Bruce Chidester
But there’s another piece of being centered. It fits in with the principle that the way you do anything has an impact on the way you do everything. Being “centered” in ourselves may be the most important thing we can do for our health and daily living. It gives us a place to go to within ourselves when stress gets overwhelming. It gives us a way to gather our thoughts and focus ourselves. What we are talking about above with “centering” the sound is a form of focusing the sound. It increases our ability at mindful attention to what is happening. It trains our brains to control our body to produce the sound we want. Apply that now to who you are.

You- the musician- need to be able to be centered in yourself. You need to sense and enhance the resonance that happens around you and within you. That rich, vibrant sense of life alive can enhance all that you do.

That means attention to breathing. That means attention to how we are feeling and reacting to our surroundings. That means being aware of the physical tensions and tightness that so easily derails us. That is one important piece of my own personal work. I have learned a lot of that mindfulness and breathing in so many areas of my life. Now I am applying it to my trumpet playing. My performance anxiety, for example, can be eased with self-centering. My listening for the centering of my sound in long tones teaches me what being centered feels like. It relaxes my muscles and I find I am playing with a more relaxed tone. If we do not play “centered” we can find ourselves playing “tight”, constricting the sound. Playing tight also tires me out more quickly because my breath isn’t centered or easily flowing. It is a wondrous cycle of the flow of our lives.

Seek the resonance within you- and in your music.

End note: Gavin Brehm is one who does know the science of physics and acoustics. He has designed mutes, started Brehm Mutes, LLC and knows something about trumpets. Instead of putting his comments into comments, I place them here in the post itself as he has some good expansion and ideas. Thanks, Gavin!
Interesting take on this topic! I think that this definition of resonance brings up an interesting distinction between being “forced” into sympathetic vibration (which would be an oxymoron) and simply sympathetically vibrating. This definition encourages saying that a resonant player is able to “make” the horn resonate (again oxymoronic), while the physics dictates that it is actually the horn that allows the players lips to resonate to their full potential by reflecting waves in series back to them. To me, this distinction is often missed in colloquial English because of its subtlety. Yet, since only objects which share modes of vibration can send each other into resonance, then the horn and the players lips must already have equal oscillatory tendencies. This reinforces the idea that a relaxed player will achieve greater resonance than would a player with undue tension, since resonance is not something that the player can force.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Guilt and Frustration

It has happened with my daughter. I tell her a "live" sports score or comment on a game's final score. Then she says something to the effect of

Thanks, Dad! I was recording it.
It happened again last evening with a friend. We were at band practice and I checked the score of Monday Night Football and told him.

Yep, he got upset at me because he was recording it. He says he never watches live anymore. Too many commercials.

Guilt flowed around me as I was sorry I had spoiled his football enjoyment.

Frustration then came along. Now I can't even talk about scores when I check them. I might be ruining someone's enjoyment.

Oh well. Just be quiet, keep a poker face and refuse to talk. Let them enjoy themselves. After all, I'm a nice guy and considerate of others.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Why Does Synchronicity Happen?

Synchronicity is a concept, first explained by psychiatrist Carl Jung, which holds that events are "meaningful coincidences" if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related. -- Wikipedia
That word came to mind recently when reading the wonderful book Bach- Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner. He referred to the three musicians born in 1685 as The Class of '85.
In 1685, within a period of eight months, three master composers were born: Scarlatti, Handel and Bach. Although each was extremely influential, they worked in very different ways because of the contrasting demands of their surroundings. --NPR
Three other amazing composers were born around the same time, Gardiner reports. The French composer, Jean-Philippe Rameau was born in 1683 and Johann Mattheson and Georg Philipp Telemann, were born in 1681. In other words, the extended Class of '85 produced, in a four year period six remarkable, significant, and in many ways music-changing individuals.

Synchronicity: Meaningful coincidences.

Why? What happened in that time frame that brought about the start of some incredible musical changes by six men born within the same small window of time?

Coincidence? Sure, I can accept that. It doesn't have to be in any way related. Things happen. Kind of like enough monkeys "typing" on enough computer keyboards (had to update the image) could produce the works of Shakespeare. Except I am not sure that is reality. When things fall into "lucky" place like that, one does wonder why at that point in time and in that place those things happen.

I remember thinking of that about the rise of the major religions of the world as they have become in a relatively small time frame over the turn of the "eras" B.C. (B.C.E) and A.D. (C.E). It has made me wonder what was happening in the Western Hemisphere native peoples at the same time in the development of their religious life? If we could dig deeply enough, a "coincidence" would not surprise me.

Synchronicity: Meaningful coincidences.

I could cite others that I have considered but none of that would answer the question about why do coincidences like that happen? Perhaps even more broadly, why do coincidences happen in every day lives? Yes, many of them are false constructs, I realize. Correlation does not equal causation or even connection for that matter. The connection is in OUR minds and point-of-view; there is no actual connection in most instances.

And yet....

As I was pondering this question while reading Gardiner's book a thought did come to me. It comes out of the reading I have been doing on Quantum physics and waves and resonating frequencies. It is based on the thought that I had in an earlier post on The Physics of the Universe. At that time I wrote that the universe, creation and all of us...
...are energy vibrating, perhaps at our own unique wavelengths. Who knows but that we are finely tuned instruments who respond at our quantum level to the music and vibrations, the energy and pulsing rhythm always surrounding us.
I got this image of wavelengths of sound and energy flowing through the universe or, less grandly, in the vibration of lives and events around the world. As these vibrations propagate from life and the stuff of which this world is made, they interact with each other. They are like the waves from a pebble tossed into a lake interacting with waves from other pebbles, the wake from a passing motor boat, or the moving water kicked up by a fish's fin. It is basic physics that these waves move together or against each other.
In physics, interference is a phenomenon in which two waves superpose to form a resultant wave of greater, lower, or the same amplitude.

Like in this picture of waves in water.

At times these waves can produce interesting patterns. Sometimes they come together at points that bring about significant movement or other events.

So, as I pondered the Class of 1685 and the coincidence of time and place I wondered
What if these synchronistic events are a time and place where some of these waves, vibrations, overtones, and resonance come together in a unique way? In so doing they allow for things that have never happened before and in various places, the nodes of these interactions become the sits of coincidence.
Synchronicity: Meaningful coincidences.

Synchronicity: Resonance created by the constructive interference of vibrations and waves of events, people, and even quantum level overtones resulting in similar events that don't appear to have any causal connection, yet seem to be meaningful related.

Just thinking out loud.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Always Study Time

One of the people I know from hanging around the local coffee shop walked in this evening with his books and computer.

Study time,
I said to him.
he replied.

I am sure he has no idea how true that statement can be. Or perhaps how true that statement should be. As I continue to get older (the only one of the two options I like) I find it more and more interesting to continue to study.

I study politics. I study quantum physics. I study trumpet playing. I study how to publish my own books. I study new ideas in my career field. I study theology. I study new ideas!

I do this through books and magazines, through Podcasts and TV shows, through walking into the library and scanning the new books.

It's endless.

And it's fun.

It keeps me from acting out my oldness by keeping an open mind.

Keep studying. It's worth it.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

A 50-Year Memory: Video for October

One month into my freshman year in college in 1966 and I was finding my way to the college radio station which, along with band, would take up a great deal of my college time. (Sure, grades suffered, but none of it was wasted!)

The last week of September and the first two weeks of October a group called The Association
took over the airwaves with Cherish, their first #1 hit, but not as good, in my opinion as the earlier Along Comes Mary. They would perform at my college in another year or so when I had an opportunity to interview them for the radio station.

But the song of the month on campus took #1 nationally for two weeks in the month. It was our top song since they would be the headliner at the Houseparty concert. THAT was a big deal. No, as a poor, shy naive frosh I didn't go to the concert. But the first chords of this song transport me back those 50 years like few songs do.

The Four Tops-
Reach Out, I'll Be There.

Motown at its very best!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Why I Am Scared

I have been procrastinating on writing posts on the election we are being bombarded with. Some of it was I didn't know where to start. Some of it was sheer exhaustion at the length of this election cycle: Four **$%* years! The "unlike any election in modern history" title has fit it from the beginning. I kept hoping that somewhere along the line a sense of history and sanity would find its way into the process. As hard as some have tried to do that- the level of success has been nearly non-existent. Polarization increases with each passing moment.

I have finally decided I better do some writing now. Election Day is but 39 days away. To coin a phrase:

OMG! or
With the day that close and the polls generally showing a close election my level of anxiety and downright fear continues to grow. I am scared to death at the possible results of this election- and the repercussions of this downright awful election rhetoric. So, in some posts over the next few weeks I want to talk about my fear. I am not trying to convince anyone of the correctness of my opinion.

1) I shudder when any American politician of any stripe holds a dictator as a role model of efficient governing. How in the world can anyone think that this is okay? How can anyone hear tirades against "socialism" as a form of dictatorship and then hear the same understanding turned around to support a dictator? Vladimir Putin is not an ally. To raise him to the level of an exemplary leader is downright foolish and very, very dangerous. None of his followers seem to ask a significant question: If the Russians are trying to be influential in our election, why are they seeming to support Mr. Trump? Why would he be a better president for their agenda than Hillary?

2) I fear for who we are as a country when any American politician fans flames of hatred through stereotyping whole groups of people and suggests some kind of religious test for admission to the United States. The all too easy way that ethnic and religious stereotyping and fears have been instigated, even against his opponents. His off-handed, casual hints at violence against others are irresponsible. Yes, he has been using satire in some ways, but those ways are demeaning and offensive.

3) I am appalled at the bullying language and tactics that demean others. His language and attitude toward women is beyond sexist. It is middle-school-ish language. He may respect women, as his daughter tries to tell us, but I have a hunch he only does so when they do what he wants. I would not stand for anyone saying those things to a woman I knew or cared about. This is political discourse?

4) I shiver in barely controlled alarm when any American politician can make outrageous claims as truth then never admit wrong when proven so. Such playing footloose and fancy free with truth is not what any free country needs from its leader. The number of lies and misstatements of fact are almost countless. Yet no one calls him on them.

5) I am in shock when any questioning of the politicians views and ideas is seen as a personal attack on him- and he is willing to shut-out any news organization that questions him.

6) And none of these has anything to do with an isolationist, century-old world-view that would bankrupt our nation in a world of trade and economic relationships. His views on NAFTA and TPP aside, his trade policies make no sense in the 21st Century.

7) And above all I react in horror to the unquestioning way of so many of his followers or those who ran against him, pointing out all these reasons- and then saying, but vote for him anyway. The religious right's support makes no sense from their moral standpoint. Morals be damned when it is their candidate. The almost unanimous support he receives from white supremacist groups, KKK, etc. are just as disturbing as his support of Putin.

I have never liked using the specter of Nazi Germany in any political discussion about the United States. Having been raised in the success and joy of our democratic system, I often wondered at how the people of Germany could have been so fooled to blindly follow someone like Hitler. It was an intellectually exciting country, a country of great culture and science. Until it wasn't anymore thanks to one very sick man. Here in the United States our system has always worked to marginalize, then finally leave such people behind. It couldn't happen here.

I still want to believe that's true. I still want to believe that in the next six weeks the truth of Donald Trump will become so crystal clear that he will lose in a landslide, repudiating a style of hatred that turns against any and everything that has made the United States an exceptional country.

My fears of Donald Trump may be exaggerated. I hope they are, but the reasons above are so powerful and clear to me that my greatest (!) fear is that I am under-reacting- that it will be worse than I fear- that democracy as we have understood it in the United States may very well be at risk. THAT is how important I feel this election is! I have seen no reason, unfortunately, to change that opinion. Does Trump present some good ideas? I don't know because he hasn't been clear about what he is going to do. I believe he may very well have some ideas and policies that are not as bad as they seem to be. I wish he would talk about them. That wouldn't get me to vote for him, but it would decrease my fears.

When I go into the voting booth in November I will not be voting for a candidate who is the lesser of two evils. Hillary Clinton will get my vote for other reasons than those listed here. I will talk about that (and my view of her real and imagined shortcomings) in another post.

In many ways I hope I am a Chicken Little crying that the sky is falling. I also hope I never have to find out whether I am right.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Tuning Slide: 2.4- What's Number One?

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Why do we do what we do as musicians?

Somewhere at some time in the past- distant for some, more recent for others- music made us stop and pay attention. Most likely it happened when we heard something in music and our world changed.

Mine was in junior high music class. The teacher told us to listen to his piece of music and tell what we hear. The needle dropped and I heard cars and people and the noise of a city through a series of notes and instrumentation that I later learned were iconic. When a few moments passed she stopped and asked us what we heard. I tended to be shy and didn’t raise my hand in class very much at that point so I remained silent.

She looked around the room. I don’t remember if anyone else said anything. I do remember her telling us the name of the piece.

An American in Paris by George Gershwin. I had heard correctly. The music was alive and real.

Several years earlier I had taken piano lessons for a year but had never stayed with it. I liked making music, or at least trying to. But I wasn’t hooked. Around the same time as the American in Paris experience I started playing trumpet after much badgering of parents who expected it would be a repeat of the piano. Fortunately it wasn’t. Again because something happened. I don’t know what it was in this instance. I do know that music became a central part of my life. It was September 1961, 55 years ago. Music is even more central today than it ever was- both listening and playing.

As a performing musician of various skill levels and involvement over these 55 years I can honestly say I have never wanted to quit. There were fallow periods when I didn’t play much if at all. But it was never far away. My brain kept yearning, even if it was just at Christmas and Easter, or singing along with the radio.

Music is always number one!

Maria Popova wrote about this aspect of music for performing musicians on her web site, Brain Pickings.
“Each note rubs the others just right, and the instrument shivers with delight. The feeling is unmistakable, intoxicating,” musician Glenn Kurtz wrote in his sublime meditation on the pleasures of practicing, adding: “My attention warms and sharpens… Making music changes my body.” Kurtz’s experience, it turns out, is more than mere lyricism — music does change the body’s most important organ, and changes it more profoundly than any other intellectual, creative, or physical endeavor. (Kurtz, Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music)
Then, quoting TED-Ed author Anita Collins, Popova leads us to an insight about how powerful music playing is:
Playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout… Playing an instrument engages practically every area of the brain at once — especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices. And, as in any other workout, disciplined, structured practice in playing music strengthens those brain functions, allowing us to apply that strength to other activities… Playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity in the brain’s corpus callosum — the bridge between the two hemispheres — allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes. This may allow musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively, in both academic and social settings.
My guess is that at that somewhere moment in time our brains were filled with neurotransmitters and emotions and our mid-brain knew that it was good! Even when it got boring, we kept at it because it has been good and we knew it. The more we worked at it, the more we practiced, the stronger our brains became (that full-body workout of the brain!). It is dangerous to say, but in that our brain was hijacked. We can never be the same again.

That’s what got us going- and even keeps us going. It sounds like making music, then is all about us- the musician. And not anyone else. Just us. We do it to please ourselves. Which will get us nowhere. One of those seemingly insignificant statements that float about the room at the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop points this out.

No matter what:
• The music is number one. It is first and foremost,
• Fellow musicians are second,
• The audience is third, and
• You are fourth.

Let’s take a quick look at each and see how this falls into place.

✓ The music is first.
The music has to be there and, let’s be honest, it has to sound good. It has to have that element of the notes rubbing together that Kurtz is quoted as writing above. The instrument shivers with delight when all those things come together. We strive for that moment. We want that moment to happen every time we pick up our instrument, even when playing those seemingly endless long tones and scales. If Clarke #2 has never done that for you, try it next time you play it. That’s what hooked us in the first place- the music.

Unlike a substance addiction where you can never get back to that first “high”, with continuing practice and dedication you can go beyond that first musical hook to even greater heights and depths. The first time I played Clarke #2 starting on the high G at the top of the staff was a moment as fulfilling and exciting as when I first played “The Saints” 55 years ago. It is the music that perpetuates itself in us, fulfills us, and helps us move to the next stage of our performance ability. We want to make the music and we want to make better music.

✓ Fellow musicians are second.
But we can’t do it alone all the time. Music is a communal act. It is done with others. Even the greatest soloists in any musical genre cannot maintain a solo act with no supporting musicians. In saying that our fellow musicians we play with are second means that we are building a community of people working together to make music. The music lives when it involves others. The music lives when we make the music WITH others. The tone and color change; the rhythm can be different. Even if we are playing in unison, it is more than one person. Plus, as we have no doubt discovered many times, our part sounds different when played with the rest of the parts. Hitting that top of the staff F is a lot easier when it is in a major chord than when it is rubbing against some minor dis-chord.

✓ The audience is third.
And yes, we have to play FOR someone else. I think I knew that way back in my early days. I would dream of planning and performing a concert for my family. What would be the order? What do I need to work on? What will please them? Some of that may have been a way of atoning for all the “bad” sounds they had to endure, but it was also a natural extension of the music’s communal aspect. The music had a long way to go, but they seemed to enjoy what I did, if only because I was doing it for them. That group sitting out there in the auditorium or concert hall wants the music we have to offer. Bruce Springsteen was talking on TV the other night about the magic that happens in concert. The interaction between us and our audience is critical for good music. Sure, we can play exceptionally well without that feedback, but the chemistry of performers and audience is exciting and energizing.

✓ I am fourth.
In other words, in the end it is not about me.

Yes, playing music moves us. Yes, playing music does all kinds of healthy things for us, the musicians. Yes, music makes us better people. But in the end it is not about us. It is about #1- the music. The music does not primarily serve us and our needs as the musician.
  • We serve the music.
  • We support our fellow musicians.
  • We present our offering of music to the audience.
  • We are moved, filled, energized, and carried to further service.