Friday, February 23, 2018

Literal or Serious (3)- What is Success?

I had originally just planned on this being two posts from last Friday and Saturday. Wednesday I realized that these are answering the questions raised by a friend a few weeks ago that I have not been able to put into words. I was challenged to be as specific as I can about what Trump policies I disagree with. Because so much of what we have seen is wrapped in his language, tweets, and rhetoric, I really had to start with the first two that set out some of the ideas.

One thing I have seen asked of liberals like myself is

Do you want Trump to fail?
The inference being that any good, patriotic American wouldn't want the President to fail at what he wants to do. To wish for him to fail would be to wish ill to the country.

I don't agree with that argument.

It assumes that I agree with the direction he appears to be taking the country. It assumes I agree with his ideas, politics, and plans. It assumes that if the President fails, then the country has failed.

Over the eight years of the Obama administration there were many Republicans and others who wanted Obama's policies to be stopped. They took some of them to court and won. Others never happened because Congress didn't agree. In other words, they wanted his agenda, and therefore his plans and directions, to fail.

That is where I am today.

Let me start then by saying if Trump's policies do result in a even stronger economy than we have had growing these past three to five years, then I am with him. I want him to succeed. If his policies provide safe and fair immigration and security, then I am with him. I want him to succeed. If his health care policies provide good, positive access to the health system for Americans, then I am with him. I want him to succeed.

But if he does succeed at those,
  • I don't want it to be at the cost of who we are as Americans. 
  • I don't want it to undermine the system of social support that has been around since at least the mid-1930s. 
  • I don't want it to result in hatred and racism becoming more prevalent, further dividing us as a nation. 
  • I don't want it to be because he was unwilling to stand up to American values against white supremacists and Russian hacking. 
  • I don't want it to be at the expense of the first use of nuclear weapons in nearly 75 years.
If his policies result in those things, then yes, I want him to fail, and fail miserably. We will be a better nation if he does. That does not mean I am against our country. Much the opposite.
  • I want him to fail at those so that we may remain a strong and vibrant nation, offering hope, and opportunity, even to those who were brought here as children and have made America a better place because of their contributions. 
  • I want to see children feeling safe at schools, not because we have turned their buildings into locked and armed institutions, but because we have become willing to stand up to the false god of guns as a national symbol.
  • I want to see the middle class be given the opportunities to benefit from the advances we as a nation make and not simply receive some crumbs thrown out to them while fanning their fear and dislike of immigrants or others.
  • I want to see him challenge his friends in that upper 1% to give of themselves like many in the middle and lower classes do on a regular basis. Yes, many do, but they are being given some incredible advantages in the new tax law that should bring with it greater responsibilities. And not just to shareholders or in one-time bonuses in place of real salary increases.
  • I really do want him to face Russia and say in no uncertain terms that meddling in our elections is NOT the way we want. The hell with collusion. This was, and continues to be, an act of aggression against the basics of who we are.
We do not blindly follow any President. The GOP didn't blindly agree and follow Obama or Clinton. Democrats did not blindly follow either Bush or Reagan. We don't have to! We can debate and disagree. And yes, when it comes to specific policies that we feel are detrimental to the health and welfare of our country, we can hope he fails.

This is called democracy!

(I think there will be one more of these in the next week.)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Gripping Book

Oliver LovingOliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is only by coincidence and not planning that I started reading a novel about a fictitious school shooting. But it opened worlds and thoughts. A marvelous and gripping book of pain and loss, anger and fear, lost hopes and dreams that are hard to let go of. From various points of view we watch a family and a town disappear into varied concerns and habits. We get a picture of rage that might more often than not be the underlying root of mass shootings. In the end it is in the power of grief AND of letting go that movement can occur. Quite a book!

View all my reviews

The Tuning Slide 3.35- Aim High!

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood…
Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.
– Daniel Burnham

Attitude- how you approach whatever you are doing and how you act on it. With that in mind here’s this week’s Trumpet Workshop Summary quote:

✓ Shoot high- don’t sell yourself short

Yeah, but what if I am only fooling myself when I think I can do that? What if I’m setting myself up for failure by shooting too high? Is it possible to shoot too high? In other words:

How do you know how high to aim?

I found some thoughts in a book a friend recommended to me, Making Music for the Joy of It: Enhancing Creativity, Skills and Musical Confidence by Stephanie Judy. She talks about making a self-analysis of our goals and purposes.
Begin by asking yourself hard questions like these: “What am I making music for? What part of music making gives me pleasure? What kinds of challenges do I welcome, and what kinds of challenges are pointlessly frustrating?” The purpose of such questions is to discover which musical experiences provide, for youth greatest meaning, the greatest connection, the most nourishing environment, the most direct route to your musical self. (p. 22)
Which in many ways brings us back to the question I didn’t dive too deeply into last week: Passion. How do you know what your passion is in order to go for it? In setting our goals, how high to aim and what to aim at, we go back to the questions related to passion.

Each amateur, and most of us will be advanced amateurs who are not earning a living at our music, will have different answers. Even if we plan on being “professionals” there are all kinds of different answers to them as well, jazz, classical, performance, education, etc. Actually the questions are similar in setting the goals. For example,
  • What kind of music do I want to play? Classical, jazz, Americana, pop, rock?
  • What kind of musical tradition do I see myself being part of? Folk, bluegrass, American jazz, Classical era?
  • What kind of ensembles do I want to be part of, large or small? Concert bands or orchestras, jazz big bands, combos- jazz or classical or combinations?
With these questions we are giving ourselves a general direction. Stephanie Judy comments that what we are doing when we find these answers is finding the “welcome soil” in which we can plant our musical seeds.

So here we are, today. Each of us has gotten to today’s musical place. We are where we are, we have accomplished what we have accomplished, we have some idea of what we are able to do- today! This is where we start.
  • Has the type of music I want to play changed?
  • Is there something new I want to learn?
  • Is there a different type of ensemble or group that I want to play in?
  • Is there something I want to get better at doing?
  • What are the strong points of my musicianship?
  • What are the weak points of my playing?
  • What are the ways I can apply the stronger points to the weaker points in order to improve?
Then aim and plan. Set the goals and do them.

We are talking about an attitude of passion AND openness in this post. The passion is what excites us and keeps us practicing even when it would appear to others to be “dull” or “boring” or when we feel that moment of boredom before picking up the instrument. (Not those long tones again!) The passion pushes us forward because it’s who we are.

The openness is the attitude that says “I don’t know if I can do that, but the only way to find out is to do it.” Stay away from “try to do it” and, to borrow a well-worn phrase- “Just do it.” Pick up the horn and play. Pick up the phone and call a teacher. Make a recording of your routine and listen for where it can be improved. Google the ideas you are thinking about and see what others have done to get there.
  • I WANT to do this, it excites me, and
  • I CAN do this if I am willing to work on it.
But what if I fail? What if I’m not talented enough? What if…?

Okay, what if the sky falls tomorrow or the promised warm weather goes south for the winter? See how silly that can sound. “What if?” is good, old Self One being its over-analytic and fearful self. It’s selling Self Two short. Again. Don’t let it happen.

Do it and see what happens. Not everyone can hit a double high C, no matter what some people say. But if we don’t aim at it, we won’t get up to the G a fourth below it. Not everyone can move their fingers as fast as Dizzy or Freddie, but we won’t know how fast until we do it.

And yes, “professionals” do have more specific time they spend on their work. Those of us who have other jobs spend as much time on our “professions” as “professional” musicians do. But that can still leave a great deal of time to do what we want to do with our musicianship. That does not mean we are second-class musicians. I will never be asked why I wasn’t as good as Doc or Maynard. I should be asked, “Are you as good as you can be?” The answer is, naturally, “Not yet but I’m working on it.”

One last thought on attitude. See how this might change you attitude if you are worried about that amateur-professional dichotomy. If you are an “amateur” and have no plans to become “professional” Stephanie Judy has a reminder that puts our “amateur” music-making in perspective and can change our attitude.
To be an amateur is to be, literally, a lover. An amateur pursues a thing for itself alone, not for profit, recognition, or perfection in others’ eyes, but purely as an end in itself. In many ways, there is no higher calling than that of amateur. So be proud of your amateur status. (p. 27)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

2nd Week of Lent: Getting Beyond the Idols

The atheist staring from his attic window is often nearer to God than the believer caught up in his own false image of God.
― Martin Buber

My Wednesday Lenten posts this year will be reflecting on quotes from people who were influenced in one way or another by Henry David Thoreau. A good one to start with is Martin Buber. His attachment to Thoreau is not based on Thoreau’s famous naturalist writings but on his political activism.

Martin Buber (1878–1965) was a prolific author, scholar, literary translator, and political activist whose writings—mostly in German and Hebrew—ranged from Jewish mysticism to social philosophy, biblical studies, religious phenomenology, philosophical anthropology, education, politics, and art.

He is most famous for his philosophy of relationships based in the short but extremely influential book, I and Thou. In it he differentiates between I - It relationships which are subject-object interactions and I -Thou or dialogue-based interactions. (Note: A reminder that “thou” in the original English usage is NOT the formal pronoun, but the informal version of close and intimate relationships. It is the equivalent of “du” in German and “tu” in Spanish.)

So without getting too complicated or philosophically technical, Buber sees the main difference between “I-It” and “I-Thou” as the first is an experience by one of another. It is in observation and analysis that this occurs. It can be said that it is also a non-interaction in the sense that there is no back and forth. I watch the sunset; I watch the heron on the beach; I watch the people walking by me.

On the other hand, “I-Thou” is interactive; we meet each other and dialogue or we seek to deepen our understanding of the other. Buber says this dialogue relationship is what happens in love. We live IN love; we don’t watch it. (Again, oversimplified, but that’s my understanding of the gist of it.)

Thoreau, when he went to live by Walden Pond really went into what he was expecting to be an “I-It” relationship. It was a self-serving, selfish motive on some levels when it began. How could it be anything else? He didn’t know the pond or its inhabitants either present or past, human or animal or plant. It didn’t take him long.

He dug into the ground and found history with old foundations and burial grounds of previous villages. He went out and discovered his fellow residents. He began to enter into a dialogue with them and discover what they had in common and what he had to learn from their teaching.

Every major naturalist writer since him has had the same experience. To repeat Sunday’s Thoreau quote, they discovered heaven is under their feet as much as it is about their heads. When we discover heaven it might be safe to say we begin to discover and interact in love. When Thoreau did that, he also saw connections he needed to make in other areas; we are all inter-connected whether we like it or not. That led him to his political views and the essay, Civil Disobedience. It was in that writing that Buber connected first with Thoreau.

Martin Buber wrote, of Civil Disobedience:
I read it with the strong feeling that here was something that concerned me directly.... It was the concrete, the personal element, the "here and now" of this work that won me over. … He addressed his reader within the very sphere of this situation common to both of them in such a way that the reader not only discovered why Thoreau acted as he did at that time but also that the reader—assuming him of course to be honest and dispassionate– would have to act in just such a way whenever the proper occasion arose, provided he was seriously engaged in fulfilling his existence as a human person. The question here is … of the absolutely concrete demonstration of the point at which this struggle at any moment becomes man's duty as man....
— "Man's Duty as Man" (1962)
Because Thoreau has entered into an “I-Thou,” personal and intimate relationship with his world and the events of the world, he makes it clear in his essay that any thinking and honest individual would have to do the same when challenged by circumstances. In Thoreau’s case it was the annexation of Mexican territory by the United States and the ensuing Mexican-American War. He was also a strong Abolitionist who saw no way that owning slaves was a moral thing. How could it be when we are all interrelated? How can we turn relationships with other humans into “I-It”, non-dialogic interactions?

Why then was I drawn to Buber’s statement above? We live in a time when there are many false images of God (or gods) being thrown around. There is the angry, punishing God; there are the things we worship as having importance beyond themselves; there is the image of a God that hates the same people as I hate and believes the same things I believe.

The atheist on the other side has nothing to start from. There is nothing of that kind of value as a “God”. The attic is shuttered, but unlike the false images, an attic’s shutters can be opened more easily than a closed mind. Somewhat in the way that Thoreau discovered the ability to be in a personal relationship with the world and others, the atheist has more possibility of discovering an “I-Thou” relationship with “God” because he or she has no preconception about what or who God is.

That is far more technical than my mind wants to grasp. But that is what Lent is about. I don’t understand this relationship with God in and through Jesus. Intellectually I understand it less today than I did in 1964 when I  became a Christian. But I know it better today. I also know that it is just as intimately connected with the world around me than ever before. I continually discover new ways to move from “I-It” to “I-Thou.”

This past week we have seen another school shooting. I will write about that sometime else, perhaps. But what I see happening among the student survivors of the Parkland shooting is a movement into an “I-Thou” based civil disobedience. They have discovered the Golden Calf of guns in the public square and realized that they are not as important as the idol. A relationship to an idol is not a dialogue. It is "I-It" and never built in love. It is often a demand. We say "I will worship you (the idol) and you will protect me and make me powerful."

In our mind the idol responds with a beckoning smile.

The students in Parkland have seen the lie in that. They have lost 17 fellow students and teachers. They were not protected by the idol; the idol was used to kill them.

The power of the interconnections, the relationships, become clear. Students around the country I am sure sat in their classrooms every morning since then wondering if it could happen to them. They saw and lived the relationship between themselves and Parkland. They are tired of it. They see the evil in it on some emotionally deep level and say, “Enough!”

  • What can I learn this Lenten season from paying attention to my relationships? 
  • How can I drop the “observer” role and enter into dialogue with the world around me? 
  • What does love compel me to do for those with whom I am in an “I-Thou” relationship? 
  • Finally, how can I stop being an observer of God, or worse, one who turns God into a false-image idol, and give myself over to the love I can live within?
Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.
― Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

Sunday, February 18, 2018

First Sunday of Lent: Breaking Through the Ice

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
-Henry David Thoreau

Lent. How many of these have I been through now? I became a Christian at age fifteen so that means my first Lent was spring of 1964. Of course as a Baptist we didn’t talk much about the church year like that, but I must have known something. That was a much different religious environment than we have today.

As I grew into a broader and more “liturgical” model of the faith I learned that Lent was about sacrifice and even suffering. After all, that is what Jesus did. That comes from an attitude that we have to tame the things of the body so the things of the spirit can grow. This is an outgrowth of what amounts to a more Greek than Hebrew understanding that says:

Thoreau would probably not agree with that, at least in the ways we often mean it. I picked the quote at the top of the post for this First Sunday of Lent to bring into light the idea that heaven is more than a place we go after this life and the earth is as much a part of our heaven as heaven itself, whatever that may be. This quote comes from Chapter 16 of Walden, titled “The Pond in Winter.” The chapter begins:

I awoke to an answered question, to Nature and daylight. The snow lying deep on the earth dotted with young pines, and the very slope of the hill on which my house is placed, seemed to say, Forward! Nature puts no question and answers none which we mortals ask. She has long ago taken her resolution. "O Prince, our eyes contemplate with admiration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied spectacle of this universe. The night veils without doubt a part of this glorious creation; but day comes to reveal to us this great work, which extends from earth even into the plains of the ether. [Emphasis added.]
Nature itself is the answered question; the glorious creation, “this great work” extends to the limits of the universe. Even in the midst of the coldest time of the year, Thoreau decided that much was going on that is the Creation itself. He continues:
Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and pail and go in search of water, if that be not a dream. … Every winter the liquid and trembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every breath, and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the depth of a foot or a foot and a half… it closes its eyelids and becomes dormant for three months or more.
The pond is not just some geographic occurrence. Thoreau senses that there is life there. Even at great depths. Many thought it bottomless but he will show more than that. Later in this chapter he will tell of his method of measuring its depth through an understanding of other measurements.  He will look at the water of Walden Pond as being part of all the waters of all the earth. He will understand that in some way more mysterious than magical, all creation is connected. The pond is now like a field.

Standing on the snow-covered plain, as if in a pasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer; there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is under our feet is well as over our heads.

Thoreau, in chapter 16, has rediscovered the spiritual under the material. He may have been fooled for awhile by the coldness and seeming lifelessness of winter. In this morning’s awakening he has the answer. Has he cut through his winter state, as the Cliff Notes suggest? Is he now about to open up to find new insight and new spiritual direction? It would seem that way. He has, in the metaphor of looking into the window under his feet, discovered himself and his own soul, alive and well. Heaven is not just some far off place, it is accessible here.

It does take work to get there, though. He had to cut through the soft snow covering and then the thicker, solid layer. Then he can drink from the source. It does not come either naturally or even easily. Our lives, our souls, are like the water beneath Walden Pond. Covered with soft and hard layers. These are the layers we have allowed to accumulate over our spirits. These are what we have felt the need to build in order to protect something we are afraid is too fragile- or perhaps too dangerous- for us to easily touch it. Perhaps there is more to this than that as well. Or perhaps we make too much of it.

Why is is that it takes us so long to become spiritual. I don’t mean religious. We easily and willingly follow rituals, especially ones of our own making. Even those who abhor ritual will do the same things over and over in a kind of religious fervor. Those rituals can and do keep us grounded; but they can also keep us frozen in place. It is when we dig through and discover the window into who we are and what Creation is that we can move beyond ritual into the spiritual.

Don’t get me wrong. I love liturgy and ritual. That is why, even all these years after having left the ministry of preaching I am compelled every Advent and Lent to write about them, to seek new answers and new questions to explore. In that I am part of a long history, my own of 54 years as a Jesus follower and the journey of other followers of Jesus for nearly two millennia.

It has a different meaning today. It was at one point all about some sacrifice on my part. It  meant giving up something, some symbolic action that showed I was serious about being a Christian. We didn’t put it that way, of course, but that was part of what we were doing. Now I write. I pray and ponder some very simple and even simplistic prayers. In the complexity of all that is happening in the world, I need to come back down to earth. I need to look around and find God in the details of every day living and my soul under the mid-winter layer of snow and ice. That snow and ice is not always of my own making. The world pushes and prods, undermines and challenges what I understand as the things that we as Christians are to stand up for. It can get mighty cold and frightening.

These are difficult times we live in. But then again, what times aren’t difficult if one is serious about finding the ways of God as one understands God? What times are not difficult when we are constantly searching for ways to be faithful to the Creator and the Creation? What times are not difficult when we are being pulled away from the task of being more fully in touch with eternity? Which is why we need a Lenten Journey every year.

Adopt the pace of nature:
her secret is patience.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Literal or Serious? (2)- True Believers

Yesterday I wrote about the statement that has been given as a way of "explaining Trump", at least from his supporters side. (See below for the whole post.) I said then:

Trump's critics take him literally while his supporters take him seriously.
The obvious inference is that when Trump speaks, don't take him literally- but take him seriously?
I talked then about how I might not often take him "literally" but I do take him very seriously. In fact, personally, I find the distinction quite difficult to understand. I believe many of his supporters do take him literally. For one, I have talked to enough of them who do believe what he says about, for example, his famous campaign line, "Lock her up!" or his recent agreeing with someone yelling out at a rally that not standing for him at the State of the Union was "treason." When he said it they believed it. Literally and very, very seriously.

But the other reason I think this is a false understanding and even a "straw man argument" is simple. Many of his staunchest supporters, his unshakeable 30% are Evangelical Fundamentalist "Christians". If there is one thing that Evangelical Fundamentalists believe beyond anything else is....

the literal, word for word interpretation of the Bible. They are well schooled in knowing when to literally believe something literally. And that is when it fits their beliefs.
  • They believed that Obama was literally going to come for their guns. They took it so literally they were serious about it. 
  • They believed that Obama was born in Kenya. Literally! It was not just some crazy right-wing extremist idea. When Trump said it, they believed it.
  • They believed some crazy-ass conspiracy theory that Hillary was supporting some pedophile ring out of a pizzeria. Or worse, that there was some uranium-selling deal she fostered through her emails. Fox News said it, they believed it.
That is just the tip of the iceberg I am afraid. There is a very strong undercurrent like this running around the country. Trump feeds it. He himself may not believe all this shit literally, of course. But he has enough people convinced that the FBI is the "bad guys" and the our judicial system is out to get him that it is a literal understanding. Trump's critics don't take that literally. Many believe he is just throwing things out as a smoke-screen or diversion.

The real serious stuff is not what Trump says in his daily mega-tweets. It is what he wants to do to significantly change the social support structure of our country that we have been building little by little over the past 85 years and others that go back to the beginning of last century. He plays loose with facts, but who cares. He said it, it must be true.

Broadcast and cable news has had a very difficult time dealing with this. He is so good for sound bites, they all know it helps their ratings. Whether it's MSNBC yelling on the Left or Fox and others on the Right, they love the hype. The evening news shows, just as dependent on sound bites and good video, have the same issue.

Fortunately the print news has, overall, done a great job of trying to do the digging and publishing. The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian have broken stories and dug into the depths they are taking this all very seriously and doing some difficult work. (Go see the movie The Post to see how the print media, esp. the Washington Post, stood up to a previous president who wanted to shut them down.)

It is time those of us on the Left do take Trump seriously and stop egging on his insane posting and statements. It is time for people like Stephen Colbert (who I enjoy at times) to stop making jokes that only serve to make him look like a buffoon we don't have to take seriously and instead focus on what he is doing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a contemporary of Henry David Thoreau once wrote
Your actions speak so loudly that we cannot hear what you are saying.
 Trump, so far, has been able to hide some of his actions by the loudness of his words. Let's move from that and see that his actions get more of the light of day they deserve.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Literal or Serious? (1)- An Excuse?

One of the comments I heard during the last Presidential campaign and in the first year of the Trump Presidency was that

Trump's critics take him literally while his supporters take him seriously.
The obvious inference is that when Trump speaks, don't take him literally- but take him seriously?

Seriously? But I do understand.

When he said that Mexico sends us the bad people (and maybe a few good ones), I knew what he meant and I took him seriously. He was playing to the crowd who didn't like Hispanics! I didn't think that was a good thing- but I took him very seriously!

When he said that we need to prevent immigrants from Muslim-majority countries entering the United States, I knew what he meant and I took him seriously. He was playing to Islamophobia and the fear of terrorist attacks, which there have been very few of. I disagreed with his presumptions and prejudice- but I took him seriously.

When he said he was elected to be President of Pittsburgh and not Paris and that we need to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreements, I knew what he meant and I took him seriously. He does not believe that global climate change is real (or of human causation) and we should not burden our country with trying to do anything about it. I disagreed with him- but I took him seriously.

It is clear that he is good at hyperbole and speaking to a clear constituency. It is clear that he may say things that sound over-the-top, but that he is clearly telling his supporters and all of us what he means. The news media in general loves sound bites and he is an expert at giving them what they want. Twitter is the new headline maker. But they get hung up on the ridiculous, self-serving ways he says it and the real meaning does get lost.

Through it all, he is serious. I take him seriously. Some feel he is a sloppy communicator. I don't think so. He really does know what he is doing and is enjoying every minute of the spotlight and attention.

Which is why I don't like what he wants to do. He makes it clear in many ways.
  • Cut Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Huge tax cuts that in the long run will help the top 1% and hurt the rest of us.
  • Huge budget deficits. I know, people talk about the "Tax and Spend" Democrats. The Republicans are, for sure, different than that. They just Spend without adding to the taxes, lining pockets until we are bankrupt as a nation.
  • Talking about "due process" when he has been known to make statements undermining such due process.
  • Increase the "nanny state" the GOP has hated for years by taking choice of food purchases out of the hands of SNAP recipients, replacing it with this year's idea of a "Harvest Box."
  • He plays a game of nuclear chicken with North Korea and wants to increase nuclear arms when we don't need any more. We still live in an era of "mutually assured destruction" if they start flying.
Don't take him literally? Take him seriously? I am not sure he is able to tell the difference himself. If he says it, I am afraid he believes it. Many of his supporters outside of D.C. do often take him literally. That's why they voted for him remember? "He speaks his mind. He let's us know what he's thinking."

In the midst of all that, then, we are being given a bunch of bullshit to hide the depth of what is happening. So I for one am willing to not take the specifics of what he says literally.

But I do take him seriously. He is deadly serious! Which is why I am scared to death.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Tuning Slide 3.34- Passion and Doing What You Love

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Nothing is as important as passion.
No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate.
— Jon Bon Jovi

We continue to look at the theme of attitude. Here’s this week’s quote from the summary board at last summer’s Trumpet Workshop:

✓ Love What You Do - Do What You Love
A Sidenote to start: I don’t usually like to start on a cautionary note that could bring us down. But as I was researching this week I had a strong realization that statements like this can be both helpful and harmful. I read insights that said, if you don’t love what you do in your job, quit and find out what you love to do. Without getting into sociology or politics, that is a great statement for any of us who have some place of privilege in the world. But not everyone can do that with what brings in the bread! I am one of the fortunate and privileged ones who has more freedom and opportunity than many. There are many, however, who can very well be stuck in a job that brings no pleasure. It becomes simply a way to pay the bills. This post is not about that. This post is about finding what you are passionate about no matter what you do for a living. We can all find some way of doing that even if you don’t have a job that you can love.
So, then, let’s get that quote again:

✓ Love What You Do - Do What You Love

I am not first and foremost a trumpet player. I have been fortunate enough to have “day jobs” that I loved and that allowed me the opportunities and freedoms to pursue my trumpet passion. I was also passionate about my vocations and careers. I didn’t exactly expect it to work that way and to this day I shake my head in amazement. You see forty-some years ago I would meet “retired” ministers, my profession at the time, who just couldn’t seem to let go of being pastors. “Why don’t they just retire and enjoy what they have. They’ve earned it!” was my general comment.

Now I am in the position to finally understand what they didn’t tell me- because I never asked. They loved what they did! It was not work, as such. Sure, they probably liked the extra income, but they did it as much out of the joy of doing it as anything. I call myself “semi-retired” today because I don’t work full-time. But as I turn 70 years old this year I still enjoy what I do. Over the years I have fallen in love with what I do, not because it defines me, but because it gives me joy.

In a post on Huffington Post I found a quote from our old friend Steve Jobs:
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
Even if you can’t do it with your “day job” it is often possible for most of us to find it in our passions. Sometimes it does take courage to follow your inner voice. Why, at age 65 did I start pursuing my trumpet playing to where it has by now become something that is an integral part of me? I am passionate about it. I can’t “quit” because I’m not done loving it yet. “All that time I spend practicing and going to rehearsals and gigs- aren’t there other things you want to do, Barry?” Sure- and I am doing them. But the music, now that’s something in its own unique place.

Even practicing long tones day in and day out. At least 10 minutes every day followed by 10-15 minutes of thirds or a triplet exercise. Every day. How boring.


Because it is part of what I am passionate about. It is not in my make-up to be mediocre about something I am passionate about. That has meant several things. First it means that in my life I have minimized the time I spend doing things that bore me- that don’t raise my passion. Again, I am fortunate to be in the privileged group that can do that. But even for me there were years when I couldn’t spend the amount of time at the trumpet that I am spending now. Today I can do it- and I am loving it. Balance your time and give yourself time to explore what you are passionate about.

Second, I am not easily bored. I have cultivated that attitude for my entire life. I am intrigued by what’s around me and what I don’t know yet. I may not be expert at many of these things, but I like learning and having some knowledge. That I also bring with me to whatever I am doing. Curiosity can add to passion as we want to see what we are able to do. Curiosity is "beginner's mind" that allows the newness in today to captivate you. Playing long tones can be interesting if you don’t feel you have to rush through them and get them done as some chore. They are far more than that. They help me move beyond mediocre. Cultivate curiosity as a seed of passion.

Third, do what you need to do today to improve where you will be tomorrow. Back to Steve Jobs’ comment above, life is limited, so stay in the moment and grow from here. If we allow the regrets from the past or the fears of the future to get in the way, we are missing the only time we have- today. That doesn’t mean don’t plan or dream. That means utilize where you are today to get where you will be tomorrow. Act today to grow the dreams for tomorrow.

When you pick up your horn today, be surprised at what passion you can bring to even the most mundane part of long tones or Clarke #1. Be surprised by what a difference it can make to find that you love what you are doing and grow from there.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

1st Week of Lent: A Different Drummer

Today, Thoreau's words are quoted with feeling by liberals, socialists, anarchists, libertarians, and conservatives alike.
— Ken Kifer

Before Aldo Leopold, Loren Eiseley, and Sig Olson-
~~ there was Thoreau.
Before Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.-
~~ there was Thoreau.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was a writer, philosopher, naturalist, abolitionist, and political activist. Part of the “Transcendentalist Movement”, he is best known for Walden and Civil Disobedience.

My interest in Thoreau began in the 60s, of course, when he was one of the mentors and heroes of both the anti-war and new environmental movements. It was recently reignited by a conversation last year with an early twenty-something who was clearly conservative and a Trump supporter. He said to me one day, “I have just found a great book that I really like. It’s kind of old though.” My first thought was naturally Thoreau. Who else but him would be an “old” writer that captures the imagination. I was right. This young man then went on to quote the opening of Civil Disobedience where Thoreau famously wrote that “that government is best which governs least.”

I didn’t try to dissuade him from his liking Thoreau, instead hoping that getting into reading it would perhaps move him a little away from his right-wing views. I have no idea how Thoreau himself would have looked at our 21st Century American government nor how he would respond to it. As an anti-Mexican War and anti-slavery activist (the reasons he wrote Civil Disobedience) I am hopeful he would not be on the Tea-Party side as this young man expected. From his willingness to go to jail if only for one night on a refusal to pay taxes to support a war, I would guess he would not be happy with some of the current budget and tax proposals.

Underneath and supporting his political style, Thoreau was part of the transcendentalist movement of his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Transcendentalists are strong believers in the power of the individual. It focuses primarily on personal freedom. Their beliefs are closely linked with those of the   Romantics but differ by an attempt to embrace or, at least, to not oppose the empiricism of science…. Transcendentalists desire to ground their religion and philosophy in principles not based on, or falsifiable by, physical experience, but rather those that derive from the inner spiritual or mental essence of the human.
For Thoreau this was based on an almost intuitive interest and understanding of spirituality.
one of his first memories was of staying awake at night "looking through the stars to see if I could see God behind them."
Among other things this spirituality took him to Walden Pond for a two-year period when he took the notes and started writing his famous book named after that pond. These are not separate areas of interest, each in its own compartment. The philosophy and spirituality of Thoreau are intertwined. His political stance fits into his view of the world which fits into his environmental understandings.

As I thought about this year’s Lenten season I felt I wanted to take a look at things from a little different angle. For the last year and a half, since Advent 2016, I have been looking at politics and faith and resistance. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was my guide last year and I grew immensely in my thoughts. Advent of 2017 was tying the themes of Advent to resistance to injustice, racism, and hatred. It is important to me- and part of my unshakable faith- that our faith as individuals must inform and expand our political and social views.

Thoreau is a perfect person to help with this.

I have chosen a number of Thoreau quotes to use for Sundays in Lent through Easter. I will use them as starting points for some reflections and interpretations. They will start this Sunday, Feb 18. I am not sure what I am going to do on Wednesdays in Lent. Today, Ash Wednesday, is obviously this introduction. I will see as we progress what happens, perhaps quotes from those who Thoreau influenced. [I have moved The  Tuning Slide posts on this blog to Thursday for the next seven weeks. They will still be posted on Wednesday on the Tuning Slide blog.]

For today, let me end with a quote from his mentor and friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is perhaps Thoreau’s greatest achievement:

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

3.33- The Tuning Slide- Beyond the Negative

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age,
which means never losing your enthusiasm.
-Aldous Huxley

The topic this month is attitude. It’s that simple- and that difficult. There are a number of good thoughts from last summer’s trumpet workshop that can guide us in looking at attitude so let’s not waste any time and get right to it.

One of the worst things we can have is a bad attitude. Here's one of the quotes from last summer's Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop:

✓ Negativity is exhausting. You will be negative about others if you are negative about your self.

We have all been around Negative Norman or Debbie Downer. Nothing is ever right for them.

Me: What a beautiful day.
Negative Norman: Yeah but we’re going to pay for this nice weather one of these days.

Me: I really enjoyed that book.
Debbie Downer: Yeah but the author did use a lot of big words.

We soon give up being around them. I once heard a preacher say, “There is no way to make a whine sound good.” Anytime I hear “Yeah, but…” after a positive statement, I shut down. I can almost feel my own energy being sucked out of me and my attitude starting to head down.

Unless I’m saying it, in which case I probably don’t hear it and just fall into my own negativity. Then I wallow in the bad attitude and usually ramp it up so I can feel even worse.

One of the reasons for this type of negativity is that we often have this fear that there’s only so much good stuff to go around or that happiness is what’s called a “zero-sum” commodity. In the end, I fear, I will have to balance all this good I have with bad so that in the end it’s just plain old average- ten good days has to be offset by ten bad days. I can’t be that lucky.

Notice that this is all about me? I can’t be that lucky…. I can’t have all these good things…. I will eventually fail… Pretty soon that permeates everything and naturally the bad “luck” begins to happen, the “good things” sour, and I “fail.”

My best friend in college was just the opposite of that. Everything always seemed to go well for him. He never had “bad luck.” Those of us around him would shake our heads in disbelief that everything always seemed to work out for him. How lucky can you be to fall into that proverbial vat of manure and come out smelling like a rose?

Except it wasn’t luck. It was attitude… and a willingness to learn and change.

✓ Animals can’t change emotion- we can.

That was another of the statements on the summary board at the end of the workshop last year. I am not entirely sure that non-human animals can’t change their emotions since I’m not one. What we do know is that human animals can! It happens all the time.

Now, one note of caution. Changing emotions or attitudes to avoid feeling them is not good. Emotions are present in our lives for very good reasons. We have evolved with them; they are signs and indicators. It is right to feel sadness when someone important has died; it is right to feel fear when something is attacking us; it is right to feel angry when someone has hurt us. The issue is not that we have emotions and attitudes- of course we do. It is whether they are appropriate, based on reality, and do they lead us into doing something positive about them and ourselves?

Negativity is the “attitude” that keeps us from doing something helpful and positive about what’s happening. It allows us to get stuck and to wallow around in that depressing and unhelpful place.

As I was working on this I came across an article from New York Magazine from last March. It was titled “How New Evidence Supports the Classic Advice From a 1972 Book About Tennis.” Yep- the Inner Game which we spend a great deal of time putting into practice around here- because it works. That’s what the article was about.

The author pointed out that the book is still a best-seller and that is because its premise works:
you need to get out of your own way — is not only a timeless key to peak performance on the playing field, but also off of it. But what’s especially fascinating is that more than 40 years after the book first came out, now-emerging science supports nearly all of its insights, many of which, like how to thrive in unsettling times, are as relevant as ever.
He goes on leading toward an excellent example:
“It is Self-1’s mistrust of Self-2 which causes the interference known as ‘trying too hard’ and that of too much self-instruction.” Both result in tightening up, overthinking, and losing concentration. We are better off “letting it happen,” trusting instead of fighting our Self-2, Gallwey writes, than we are “trying to make it happen.”
The example he gets to next in the article is “performance anxiety.” This can, we all know, be devastating. I have written a number of times about my personal struggle with playing solos. It goes back in many ways to a couple of incidents over 50 years ago that I have only been able to deal with constructively in the past three or so years. I would often tell myself, “Just relax, Barry. You can do this.” I would be pressuring, pushing, dragging myself into making sure that I got it right. Usually I didn’t. The article picks up on this and the Inner Game approach:
When you tell yourself “I need to relax,” your Self-1 is sending a signal that something is wrong — that you are stressed — and begins trying to fight the physical sensations of Self-2. Yet, as Gallwey writes, this often just leads to further tightness and angst. When you stop trying to fight the sensations and instead embrace them — telling yourself that what you are feeling is excitement, that the body is engaging all the systems it needs to be fully alert — an enhanced experience and outcome often follows.

Guess what? That was also on the board at trumpet workshop.

✓ Are you nervous or excited? Read yourself

Nervous means something is wrong- I am stressed.
Excited means I can hardly wait to play this and share it with the audience.

One is negative and unhelpful; the other is positive and helpful. Self-1 doesn’t trust itself (you) or Self-2 (also you). Self-2 knows it (you) can do the solo or performance and is eager to show it and wants Self-1 (again, you) to watch and see.

The study the New York Magazine article was reporting on concluded:
Compared to those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement perform better.
Now obviously, this doesn’t mean you can pick up the Haydn Concerto and just rattle off the solo. It doesn’t work that way- it is not some magical way of getting by without practicing. Self-1 is essential to keeping us on track and focused on what we are doing and raising warning signs. That’s why the quote from Shell Lake ends with “Read yourself.” That is the hours of practice from long tones through the particular solo piece. That is the “woodshed” of getting to know the piece and internalizing it. But “read yourself” does not mean to allow fear or uncertainty (Self-1) block you from doing what you (Self-2) can do.

Attitude change works!

LINK to article.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Doing Nothing Rots the Brain (Not)

Just thought I would check in here with something different- a post. yes, I know that I have been less than regular this winter. This snowbird time has been one of the most easy-going, even lazy times I have spent other than when recuperating from surgery. I have been doing next to nothing. That includes writing.

I promised a few weeks ago that I would post what I disagree with over Trump's actions and policies. No, I haven't done  it yet. No energy to write about that, though I have been thinking about it.

I have been reading a lot, but that's normal. No, I haven't written about any of them.

I have been practicing my trumpet, a daily routine and playing with the local community band. That is nothing but normal daily life for me now.

I have been taking pictures and wasting time working on them and posting them on a couple websites and Facebook. It doesn't take much energy to do that. It just happens.

We've seen a number of movies and one of these days I'll get around to writing about them.

I'm thinking about doing more research on my Dad's 80th Armored Medical Battalion with the 10th Armored Division in World War II. Notice I said I'm thinking.

I guess that's all good. It has been cooler than normal here, but not as bad as in the Bold North. The Eagles won the Super Bowl. That, too, is good. I spend too many hours surfing Facebook. I don't think that is good.

So, I am hoping that this post can be a kick in the ass to get me off square zero. My brain hasn't rotted yet- it's still working and connecting with fingers writing this. So  be warned. I'm still around.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

3.32- The Tuning Slide

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The heavens, whose aspect makes our minds as still
As they themselves appear to be,
Innumerable voices fill
With everlasting harmony;
The towering headlands, crowned with mist,
Their feet among the billows, know
That Ocean is a mighty harmonist;
Thy pinions, universal Air,
Ever waving to and fro,
Are delegates of harmony, and bear
Strains that support the Seasons in their round…
-William Wordsworth, On the Power of Sound

One of the joys of our winter stay on the Gulf Coast in Alabama is the ability to practice on the balcony overlooking the beach and water. I put my silent mute in and do my daily routine whenever it is warm and sunny enough, which is at least 75% of my time there. One day recently I finished my 30-40 minutes of playing and then sat and meditated for another 15-20 minutes. The result was the following reflection on both the practice and how music itself pulls us in and we become part of something greater than any one of us could ever be.

The surf is the constant background. It is a rhythm without a pattern, or better yet, a rhythm and pattern combining into breath. Its constancy is a heartbeat, a watery drum keeping all in motion. There are days it is as soft as a baby’s sleeping breath. This is, after all the Gulf of Mexico, not the expansive ocean. Even at fifty yards it can easily be overpowered by my muted horn.

But it is never lost. It is a pianissimo of my inner heartbeat, a drum cadence. It allows, even invites, movement. My long tones follow in order. They fall in sync with the surf. Then I play scales and it becomes a counterpoint. Play the chromatics too fast and I can lose the rhythm, the pattern under it all.
Slow down, the surf calls.
Follow me, the rhythm beckons.
In my time frame the surf is infinite, perpetual. Any time of day or night I can walk out on the balcony and it will be there. When it isn’t, life itself will have come to an end. This surf, formed by the world-wide waters, has been the breeding source of life itself. It shapes and reshapes the shorelines, constantly changing and challenging what even human grandiosity thinks is permanent. It will destroy and remold what we- and it- have built.

Then come the louder days. Gale force winds whip the tops off large swells. Though it is still the Gulf, its power is beyond what we can know. Most such days I am forced back inside, unable to compete in sound or comfort to the surf. In between the extremes, though, after a storm has moved through, shifted the winds, and roiled the surf, I can take the routine back to the balcony. Now the sound and pattern of my playing shifts. I get a little more aggressive, a little more stubborn in my insistence that I be heard, even by me.

I never win, humbling for a trumpet player to admit. Perhaps if I removed the mute my sound would carry a little further but I don’t want to disturb neighbors- or the surf itself. I must be in tune and time with the surf. Chromatics, Clarke #1, have to fall into the proper places, not just the silence but the ebb and flow of sound. The exercise on thirds must find the note solid in the right place of the surf’s rhythm. Amazing how many things it takes to make music. But with time and experience they do fall into an intuitive second nature. Harmony.

At times I realize I am also hearing and seeing other parts merging in this chamber composition. The birds in the tree below, the silent hopping of the sparrows on the edge of the balcony, the gulls laughing, pelicans soaring and diving. Whom am I to intrude, to insist on the importance of my part over theirs? That’s the harmony. I am not here to force my will on that of the world. I must not or the music will be more than dissonant, it will be destructive.

In between exercises and runs I pause. One is to rest as much as one plays, is the old adage. Here, on the balcony, that is a pleasure. As I stop the surf remains. It brings a moment of refreshment before I pick up the horn again. The others instruments continue their own song, unaware that I am listening. The call and chatter of the gulls, Laughing Gulls, in fact, challenging my hubris that I of all creatures can think I can accompany the greater symphony. Or they just do what they are supposed to do simply because their melody is needed to fill out the sound.

I take an extra 15 minutes at the end of the routine to just improvise over different chords, working on my favorite tunes I want to play at jams- Amazing Grace, This Land is Your Land, and Horace Silver’s The Preacher. They are now my contributions to uniqueness, more than just routine, foundation, they are different every time, influenced I am sure by the mood of the Gulf and the melody playing around me.

I am both humbled (kept in my proper place)
And empowered (given the direction to do what I can do)
By these practice times on the balcony.
  • Humbled at how little power I truly have;
  • Humbled that I am allowed to accompany such beauty;
  • Humbled that the surf and sand, birds and beach could care less!
  • Empowered because I, too, am part of this symphony simply by being here in this moment;
  • Empowered to play and seek ongoing harmony with nature’s music;
  • Empowered by the inner and outer beats of the Eternal Heart.
Music is a gift of God!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

3.31- The Tuning Slide: Time for the Important

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

… whenever our affairs seem to be in crisis, we are almost compelled to give our first attention to the urgent present rather than to the important future.
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
Okay, time to get going here. It is getting to be urgent. Here is the thought from last year’s Trumpet Workshop for this week:
✓ Have to schedule the not urgent/important or it gets lost
I am not joking when I say it is getting urgent. It is now Monday night as I am writing this and it has to be ready by Wednesday morning with other things happening in-between. Yes, these posts are important, but they don’t get urgent until the deadline nears. I have always been a person who works at deadline. That doesn’t mean I work better at deadline, I just tend to get sidetracked. That does not usually mean procrastinate, although sometimes it does. In general I just find too many things interesting. Once in a while the “urgent” do take over and push the other important things out of the way.

President and World War II commanding general Dwight D. Eisenhower is given credit for this whole idea picked up by many over the past 75 years including Stephen Covey who wrote the iconic book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The whole idea is often presented this way:
What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.
This can be illustrated with this 2 x 2 matrix, often called the Eisenhower Matrix.

It is easy to figure this out. Many of us, myself included, spend way too much time on the urgent, or what we think is urgent. As shown in this next illustration, things we often call urgent are truly just interruptions, things that get in the way and we can’t avoid them. How often do we truly have something urgent AND important? Sure they happen, but are they all that common? Probably not as much as we think.

Simple illustration that has happened over the years with the advent of cell phones and other personal media devices is the urgency of the phone call. It occurs every time that device buzzes. Even my Garmin Fitness Tracker had a buzz that would tell me when to move. I turned it off, not because I wasn’t going to move, but it became a serious distraction. The buzz said, in essence: “Urgent! Urgent! Urgent!” Think about the next time your phone buzzes with a text message, or your computer beeps with a friend’s Facebook post.

Think back on the past couple of days. How many of the things that happened were “urgent” but far from important? In reality, how many of those “urgent” things could probably be moved into the bottom right corner of neither important nor urgent? Most likely more than we care to admit.

The box that gets missed more often than not is the upper right, highlighted below.

These things in this box are important, but they may not have a deadline attached to them, they don’t interrupt us and call out for our attention. In fact many of them easily get missed as we go through the day. We say things like “I’ll get to that later” or “Gee, I wish I had more time for that.” A few weeks or so ago someone posted on the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop Facebook page a remembrance of a conversation with Bill Bergren a number of years ago. In essence it was,
“I don’t have time to practice two hours a day.”
      “Oh really? Do you have 15 minutes from time to time?”
“Sure, but…”
      “Well, every time you have 15 minutes, use it to practice. By the end of the day you will have your two hours of practice.”
Is daily, significant practice important? You bet it is.
Is daily, significant practice urgent? No. If it’s urgent, it’s too late.

Goal setting, planning, scheduling, and active doing are important things that fall into that upper right quadrant. Exercise, vocation and planning are what’s in the box above as examples. Doing things for your health and growth, doing things for your meaning and direction, setting your goals and the ways to carry them out. This puts the important in a place where it is less likely to get interrupted as often. It becomes part of your schedule.

Another way of describing what you need to do with the items is in the next matrix.
First is always the “Urgent/Important.” Do those things. Do them as soon as you can. Make sure they are given proper attention and management. But be careful. I know people for whom every event or situation escalates into an immediate “Crisis!” which means “Emergency!” and therefore takes precedence over everything. These people are living in a perpetual crisis mode and never get to the long-term issues until they, too, become “urgent”.

At the bottom left are the interruptions and distractions. These are not important but seem urgent. These can be the leftovers of the crisis mode above, or they can just be the things that pop up with all too frequent regularity. Learn to avoid them, let others handle them, or put them in their proper place.

Bottom right issues are, for me, the biggest problem. I easily have way too many “Oh, look at the squirrel over there” moments. I stop typing here and think, “Oh, I’ll just go check my email. Might as well look at what’s happening in the news. Hmmm, maybe somebody on Facebook….” That happened a couple times this past weekend and it got in the way of me practicing my trumpet as much as I wanted to- and it pushed off writing this post until now.

Which brings me to what may be the most important quadrant for our growth and future, the top right. The word there to really catch is “Focus.” That’s the purpose of goals, and the reason we write down our goals, and why I keep a journal of my daily practice as well as the James Blackwell-inspired daily checklist. I can plan and decide; I can focus; I can adjust and make sure I am dealing with what’s important. It may be a small thing I discover, but chances are it will help me reach my goal. For example, I noticed on Saturday that I had not been working on the “interval” exercises. Nothing urgent about them, but they are important. I had been sidetracked by other important things, but I wasn’t finding a balance. When we work in that upper right quadrant we are finding ways to expand our horizons, accomplish our goals, and balancing our lives.

Here is one more matrix with other issues added:

I love the titles given in this one.
#1 is necessity. It’s got to happen. (Do it now!)
#2 is quality. It makes life interesting and meaningful. (Schedule and do ASAP!)
#3 is deception. It looks bigger than it is. (Delegate or delete.)
#4 is waste. It eats up your time with little benefit. (Ignore.)
In the best of all possible worlds, the Eisenhower Matrix sized to time spent on these should look like this:

Maybe take some time this week to work on that upper right quadrant. Take a look at your goals and how you are managing and planning. Then go for it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

3.30- The Tuning Slide- The Worst Sin

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Seeking new levels of technical mastery should be a life long pursuit -
not because you want to impress, but to facilitate any direction
the great spirit inside you wants to go.
― Kenny Werner
I continue talking about goals and goal setting for the month as well as using a number of the quotes from the end of Trumpet Workshop summary. First here is what was noted from the summary board:

✓ The worst sin is feeling sorry for yourself- because it’s all about me.

What does that have to do with goal setting anyway? How does a “poor me” attitude get in the way of being a better musician and person? I know I have gotten to the point where I say to myself “Enough is enough! What’s the use?”

That usually occurs when I hit one of those regular plateaus of progress or even those days when it seems that I have gone backwards. “Damn! I played better last week!” But to achieve goals we can’t allow such self-pity to get in the way. One of the surest things that can get in the way of my goals is “poor me!” Self-pity, pure and simple, is being selfish. Everything becomes focused on me. That means that I cannot focus on the music, the audience or potential audience, or my fellow musicians. It’s me and me alone that is getting all my attention.

That is just plain counter-productive.

As I was working on this post I also started reading a book I picked up last summer. Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within by jazz pianist Kenny Werner (1996, Jamey Aebersold Jazz) starts right off with what I was thinking about. He says that one of the reasons that many musicians never achieve mastery is the false idea that runs around our society. He starts the Preface this way:
The realm of the gifted has always seemed to be an exclusive club. The common belief is that, “Some of us have it, some of us don’t.” Implicit in that statement is the assumption that “most of us don’t.” (p. 9)
Most of us then assume that we are in the group that doesn’t have the gift. We remain mediocre. “Poor me.” He goes on in the Preface to mention two ways we approach music. He talks about
Good players who, for some reason, have little impact when they play. Everything works fine. That are “swinging” and all that, but still, something is not landing in the hearts of the audience. They are trapped in their minds. There is no nectar because they are merely plotting and planning an approach along acceptable, “valid” lines of jazz style. (p. 10)
He is saying, in other words, that they are being controlled, “dominated” he says, by their conscious minds. Sound familiar? It is on the same track as the Inner Game approach we have talked about often on this blog. We are looking at another example of Self One and Self Two at odds with each other. What we must do, Werner says, is
Practice surrendering control to a larger, higher force. It’s scary at first, but eventually liberating…. [L]iberation is attainable through the surrender of the small self to the larger “Self.” … After one taste of [liberation] through the medium of music, one will never want to return to a life of “thinking music.” As one moves beyond the acceptable to the inevitable, creativity flows. Personal power will increase manyfold. (p. 10)
Wow! I want that, is my response as I read that. Where can I find it? The answer is obviously in the “Self” or as Inner Game refers to it, Self Two, the intuitive, natural musician within each of us. It is the movement from “Thinking Music” to “Playing or Living Music.” Thinking music can probably be seen as
• Over analyzing
• Relying on the conscious mind
• Over thinking what we are doing
• Worrying about being perfect
• Worrying about what others will think.
Playing or Living Music is deeper than that. It is
• Feeling the music
• Letting the rhythm carry you
• Channeling the music of the Self
• Trusting Self Two to guide you since Self Two knows what to do and when to ask for help.
Back to Werner’s Preface…
True musical depth is not about better playing, but about more “organic” playing…. [The] intuitive self… is very much about “forgetting” one’s self…. Music can shoot through the musician like lightning through the sky if that music is unobstructed by thoughts. Therefore, the elimination of thoughts is a very relevant issue. (p. 11)
That’s a lot of stuff from just three short pages at the beginning of the book. It does, however, sum up our problems. Many times they are of our own making because we are unwilling or unable to let go surrender to Self Two and the music. Which brings me to another of the Trumpet Camp summary ideas:

✓ Obstacles appear if we take our minds away from the goal. Therefore we must always be shooting for a trajectory.

Every time we hit an obstacle we get thrown off-track into ourselves. We lose sight of our goal, worry about ourselves, dig into the “poor me” pity pot and lose the music. We go back into “thinking” music and lose sight of the living music.

In reality this takes a lot of practice. It takes the seemingly endless hours of long tones and scales, chromatics and thirds, Clarke and Arban.

This past week I did some improvisational noodling for the first time in a few weeks. I started doing some very basic blues progressions in a couple of different keys. I went from C to F back to C then to G, F, and back to C. You know. Just the basics. I then did it in F and again in Bb and finally G. Nothing new or outstanding. I was part way through when I realized that for the first time I had stopped thinking about what I was doing. My fingers kind of knew which note was next. Self One is actually the one that noticed and told me. At which point Self Two took a bow, told me to shut up and get back to playing.

When I got to the end I thought about it. What had happened? I had never before had that happen. I then realized I had added two new exercises to my daily routine over the past month. I was working ascending thirds in each key and working on a jazz pattern of triplet thirds, again in all keys. I have practiced one or both of those most days in the past month. They have become second-nature, intuitive to some extent.

I was channeling the music of my Self Two be surrendering to the music- living it instead of thinking it. Yes, I spent a month of thinking and visualizing; yes, I had to work on it daily. Although I didn’t kick myself for being slow or imperfect. I didn’t over analyze, I just let the patterns and music flow as it should- and as Self Two knew how to make it flow. And now it was real.

A short-term goal has been reached!

I was told that by Mr. Baca and others in the past. I had to trust them. It is happening because they have shown me that setting goals and moving ahead is important. Stop playing “poor me!” Stop whining and moaning about what you can’t yet do. Set the goal, let go of the selfishness and move forward. There are lightning bolts of music waiting to shoot through me- and you.

[Note: I may do a month of posts on Kenny Werner’s book on Effortless Mastery later in the spring. It looks like a good addition to the Inner Game training we have been doing.]

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Enough Shit- A Not Completely Serious Post (R-rated)

I have been having fun watching all the TV news people and pundits having fun with Donald Trump's latest pronouncement denied by some, insisted upon as truth by others. They have been having a field day, regardless of their ideology or political leaning with the word itself.

Warning, here it comes.


My fun is in how it takes me back 50 years to when I was a college station DJ and newscaster. That was around 1966-70 to be exact. George Carlin hadn't gotten WBAI into trouble with his words you can never say on TV which came out in 1972. In case you don't remember, the first word on the list was, yep, shit.

Anyway, back in those days such words and milder were not allowed on TV or radio under any circumstance.Then, in the late summer of 1968, probably around the time of that infamous Democratic Convention in Chicago, the pop group Spanky and Our Gang came out with a song titled "Give a Damn." It's chorus went:

And it might begin to teach you
How to give a damn about your fellow man
And it might begin to teach you
How to give a damn about your fellow man
Here's how Wikipedia tells what happened:
In spite of not receiving airplay in several markets because of the curse word in its title, as well as its use of the sound of an African American man from the ghetto saying something that was not understood, ending in his laughter before the song's fade – and because it was a comment on racial equality that became the theme song for the New York Urban Coalition – the song became a regional hit where released and overall made No. 43. The band also performed the song live on an episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, resulting in CBS' Standards and Practices division receiving numerous complaints about the song's title being used during "family viewing hours". One such complaint reportedly came from President Richard Nixon. "Give a Damn" would become John Lindsay's campaign song during his successful run for mayor of New York.
But we sure had fun playing it and, mostly saying the word damn on radio.

The following spring The Beatles released a song that got a similar treatment. "The Ballad of John and Yoko" had the following chorus:
Christ you know it ain't easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They're going to crucify me
Needless to say, when we were allowed to play it, we loved the rebelliousness of the song. WLS in Chicago and WABC in New York, two of the BIG radio stations never played it. I know I wasn't supposed to play it on the station back home I worked at that summer.

Those days are long gone, of course. Lots of words a great deal worse than those are now found on regular TV from time to time, especially later at night, although lots of bleeping is still heard on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Which is why this (get ready for it) shitstorm over shithole is so much fun to watch. (Yes, I'm having fun writing this. There's still a little of that young rebel in here somewhere.) I haven't sat and paid close attention to the networks and news channels to know who is doing what with the word, who's bleeping, or censoring and who has actually used the word. I am sure there was a lot of backroom and production office discussion about how to handle it. But I am also fairly certain that apart from the political leanings of the newscaster or pundit, they are enjoying just being able to talk about shit like this, even if they can't or don't explicitly use the word.

Some of you have probably seen the cable TV interview program, Inside the Actors Studio. One of the ten regular questions that host James Lipton asks every guest is "What is your favorite curse word?" You might have guessed with this post what mine is. When shit happens, I usually say "Shit!"

But let me take a twist in this post. As much fun as I have had with watching all this shit on TV about a word used by the President, I am sick of this shit.

It is not about the word!
It is not that it is fun and perhaps even titillating to viewers.
It is not that the President of the United States knows how to swear. (Remember Richard Nixon's [expletive deleted] from the Oval Office transcripts? And LBJ I am sure had a bigger potty mouth than Trump ever will!)

It is about the attitude and the seeming racism that underlies it. It is about civility and compassion for people who are not as fortunate as we are. It is about the way the amazing and caring policies of the United States are being slowly eaten away. I have been challenged by a friend to name these policies that I have come to dislike and which raises a great deal of fear in me and many like me. Not that the President has a potty mouth. I don't give a shit that he does. I do care that he is doing things which many believe will undermine the future of this great country. I will be working on that post over the next days and hopefully posting it by next week.

Until then- to the news media and all the rest of us- let's stop this shit over a word. Let's stop using it as a sign of something it isn't and get to the real issues the incident has raised- one new one among many. Yes, I am guilty of using it to get my shit out on the table. But it is far deeper and far more dangerous than a simple word we can't ever say on TV.

I'll be back with more thoughts by next week.

Monday, January 15, 2018

In Loving Memory: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now as much as ever!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Full-Week of Videos on a Theme

Charlie Haden and Hank Jones


From one of the all-time amazing albums, this Charlie Haden piece with Hank Jones brings a week of spiritual videos to a close. I hope they moved you.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Another "Theme" Song

Hubert Laws

Amazing Grace

One of the most powerful and meditative versions of this classic. Day six of seven on a spiritual theme.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Day 5 of a Theme

John Coltrane

Dear Lord

Considered by many the most "spiritual" of all jazz masters of any time or place. Coltrane. Day five of seven on a spiritual theme.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Four Days in a Row

Horace Silver, 1955

The Preacher

A non-trumpet player, but a great trumpet part. I keep wondering about this becoming my jazz theme song? Day four of seven on a spiritual theme.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

3.29- The Tuning Slide: The Goal- Making Theory into Reality

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost;
that is where they should be.
Now put the foundations under them.
— Henry David Thoreau

First, here is the note from the board at last year's workshop to start us off:
✓ Taking the theoretical and making it real.

Let me play with these words for a while. I promise you that if it doesn’t work out, you are not reading this. Or whatever. Seriously, I do want to play word doodling here with the whole idea of that quote. What are the steps of moving from theory to reality?

So let’s set the parameter:
  • Theory- an idea that something can be done.
  • Reality- doing it.
It is obvious, then, that there is:
  • Issue #1- what do I want to have happen?
The answer to that is found by asking myself:
What’s important to me?
Where do I want to go?
I may not even have an idea about what the “theory” is that I am going to try to make into reality. It is vague, it is uncertain. One could call it nebulous, which is another way of saying cloudy and indistinct.

At this point it’s all in my head. It is not even truly a dream.

I take myself back to my first Shell Lake trumpet workshop 2 1/2 years ago. I went because I sensed something would be there after meeting Bob Baca at the Adult Big Band Workshop. Was it my 50+ year experience of being a musician and being able to play music? Was it a sense that maybe I can improve? Most likely it was these things based in what has been an unending part of my life: music.

While at Shell Lake I had an experience that told me, in theory, that I can do something with my trumpet playing, even at age 67. I can move beyond the relatively mediocre but somewhat experienced musician I was. The theory was:
At age 67 I can become a better trumpet player.
Visions and dreams are nice, but they remain nothing if we don’t do something about them. So the next stage, though not a particularly clear one for me at that point was what I call:
  • Self-testing in thought experiments.
    • If I do this, what could happen?
    • What are the pros and cons?
    • What are the steps I will need to take?
NEXT is to do some:
  • Research and planning.
The research was right there in front of me at the workshop in Mr. Baca and all the staff. I took crazy notes. I exhausted myself with thoughts and answers. I overwhelmed my thinking processes with new ideas. I listened and asked questions. If I was to find out if the theory was possible, if it could become a reality, I had to have a plan, which was also right in front of me-
  • The Bill Adam Routine!
    • It was a daily plan to get me started. It was the long tones and thirds, the expanding Clarke #1 and Schlossberg #28. It was making a commitment to playing as often as I could, missing as little as possible. Let’s see what happens, was my philosophy. It can’t hurt- and might actually work.
Which led to
  • Action
I did what I said I was going to do.
  • Month 1- Easy: I practiced 87% of the month. I was psyched.
  • Month 2- a lot of travel and I was not ready to figure out how to practice on the road. Only 15 out of 30 days.
  • Month 3- Back in gear. 84% of the month.
  • By the end of December- 90% with an overall average of 3 out of 4 days practicing or playing.
  • Next two months at 78%, then no month since then under 87%.
  • At end of 12 months and returning to Trumpet Workshop: I had practiced and/or played my trumpet on 9 out of 10 days.
Did it work?
Yep. I was getting comments from friends. My wife noticed the improvement. I was building endurance. And Mr. Baca pointed out how much I had changed!

That meant it was time for the next two steps:
  • Reflection
  • Repeat the process with new goals, new theories to work on, new research to do, new plans to make.
Other goals I have worked on include learning the 12 major scales (without using music), expanding range, learning improvisation, being more intentional about my practice planning.

So, as a trumpet player who has visions of Doc and Maynard floating through his head, here is a new theory to explore:
Is it possible for a now 69 year old experienced trumpet player who is no longer quite as mediocre to build upper register range?
I have never had a range above the staff. If I did in high school, over 50 years ago now, I don’t remember it. I avoided high parts. I would break into a nervous sweat if it went above that “G” on top of the staff and only agree to play that piece with that in it early in a performance. Sure, the “A” above that was somewhat reachable, but only when the gods and weather systems worked together.

Do I need to be able to play up there?
Not if I am playing mostly 3rd and 4th with an occasional 2nd here and there. And if I build enough endurance I could probably, in a pinch, get up to the “B”. But if I want to do any 1st parts, or even interesting improvising, I need to at least be comfortable up there. One friend said that, in essence, your “usable range” is actually about a third lower than your upper note. That meant that my “usable range” was that top space “E” and top line “F”.

That was not good enough for me anymore. But is it possible, at my age, to do that? Hence the research, planning, and action model. I found some of my notes from what Mr. Baca had said about playing the high notes the same way you play the lower ones (simplified, I know.) I took a lesson with Bill Bergren at this past year’s workshop and learned how to start all over again. (Yep! Thanks again, Bill, in all sincerity!) I did some Googling on the Internet. And I started working on it.

As of today, my actual range is now “F” to “F” sharp on the ledger lines above the staff!! My effective range is now up to “C” and “D” above the staff. (I’m still not sure what they are officially called.) I finally broke through a barrier/break that I didn’t know was there but hit every time- the “G-A-B” above the staff. It is a real break in playing and takes time. I didn’t know that before doing the research. In finding that out I realized it wasn’t my inability to play it that was the problem. It was an actual physical and mental thing together. Now I go sailing right through it. I think I have found another one (for me anyway) from “D-E-F” above that.

And I am working on it.

In short, without the whole process and being far more intentional (and less intense!) about it, the more fun it has become. The result is that I am a better musician, trumpet player, and human person, as a result of finding these things about myself.

Truly we can take the theoretical and make it real. It doesn’t happen overnight and we all work at our own pace. But it does work. At the 2nd trumpet workshop I said to my friend Jeff as we looked at the music- I don’t think I will ever play up there in that register above the above the staff High “C”.

I had to apologize for lying to him. He laughed and encouraged me to keep at it.

Keep researching, keep planning, keep the actions moving.