Sunday, December 04, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent:


May the God of hope fill you 
with all joy and peace in believing, 
so that you may abound in hope 
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Three Years On

Facebook's memories algorithm picked up on a three-year old post on Thursday. I posted on my move into what I called my Third Career. I have now been "semi-retired" for these three years. I went from full-time to part-time in December 2013. I had spent some time getting ready for it including some personal coaching. I did reading and writing, talked to our financial advisor, and did a lot of meditating on it. My wife had already retired and was enjoying it. I was a little apprehensive, needless to say, but I knew it was right. I just wondered what Career Three was going to look like.

Well, it took about two years for the whole thing to settle down into something that resembles "order out of chaos." Here are some of the reflections as I begin the fourth year:

  • Last winter was the first time I thought of myself as a "snowbird" with two places to live- and not just going on vacation to Alabama in the winter.
  • Music has been at the top of my list- and for the past 18 months, half of the time since the move, I have been taking great advantage of the time available to really improve my trumpet playing- and develop the Tuning Slide blog.
  • This year the writing has really fallen into place- a big part of Career Three. I didn't do as much on my memoir as I had expected. Instead I got sidetracked into following my dad at the end of World War II on another blog series and then turning the Tuning Slide into a book and finally publishing my Christmas stories on Amazon.
  • Photography has not been as much in evidence as I expected it to be. I am connected with a snowbird photo club in Alabama and am looking forward to doing more with that this coming winter.
  • Travel has been fun. We have had to make a number of family trips to the east coast. In that we have made connections with some old friends that we haven't seen in years- and done some fun sightseeing. When you are not constrained by having to get back to go to work, you can take your time and be mindful.
  • And the ability to just spend time with my wife doing whatever we want to do- or don't want to do- has been great. There have been great hours together in the car, for example, listening to books, podcasts, music, NPR, etc. and talking about them and just about anything.
The other day one of my co-workers was getting ready to retire. My comment to her- If your retirement is even half as great as mine has been- you will love it.

Year four is starting.
  • I have two major writing projects I want to tackle.
  • I really want to do some musical composing.
  • I have a couple videos in mind to produce.
  • I am looking forward to becoming an even more accomplished trumpet player.
  • Sightseeing, visiting and traveling will continue.
  • Life is good!

Friday, December 02, 2016

Christmas is Coming




 Only 24 days until Christmas. Here are the links for my book of Christmas stories and reflections from Amazon.

Hard copy

Kindle

Thursday, December 01, 2016

A 50-Year Memory: Video for December

For three weeks in December 1966 a novelty group dominated the # 1 spot on the American charts. In a variation on Rudy Vallee and the dance bands of the 1920s. A very surprise hit, it went on to win a Grammy in 1967. So, straight from the memory banks, here's Winchester Cathedral.



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Tuning Slide: 2.13- Nothing New- All is New

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
-Ecclesiastes 1:9

Many have seen quotes like this one from the preacher in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes as profoundly depressing. Day by day goes by and there is really nothing new. It’s the same old same old day in and day out. But let me suggest that there is another way of looking at it, a way that gets me back to basics and exploring. In the end it will turn into a couple of “new” things:

First, that I can learn from how things were done before. People have been doing what I am doing- how did they grow and learn. That of course is the idea of having mentors, teachers, people to inspire and guide us in what we are doing. It means that there may very well be wisdom in what has gone before. Most of us as trumpet players have been using the Arban’s method for years. It was first published around 1859- and is still in print! Charlier, Concone, and others have built on it, but it is still as good as it gets. Nothing new under the sun- just look at Arban.

Second, the preacher of Ecclesiastes can also be saying that if we keep aware of the things around us, we will find something, that for us, is new. Yes, I realize I am reading into the text, not reading from it. But if I know darn well that even if there is nothing new under the sun, I sure haven’t learned, seen, or done it all yet. For me, it could be as new as this morning.

It can be so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that once we have learned something, we can move beyond it- we don’t have to keep on working on it. That would be a profound danger for any of us in life- but certainly a potentially musically fatal error as musicians. Reading the stories of people like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Johann Sebastian Bach seems to show that these great musicians never stopped learning and growing. They were constantly exploring what was already there, it’s just that perhaps no one had ever seen it quite that way before. I would describe that to some extent as having a “beginner’s mind.” There is a Zen Buddhist idea known as “shoshin” - beginner’s mind. According to Wikipedia
it refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin)
Having that beginner’s mind is one of those essentials of growing in our trumpet skills. In earlier posts about practicing I talked about planning as one of the things that sets deliberate (and effective) practice apart from just playing the horn. Let me be clear, I have great difficulty with planning of this sort. I tend to want to move along, not get stuck in “boredom” of practicing too much on one thing. I have been working on this aspect of my musical growth these past 18 months. I am beginning to see the results. (By the way, patience will be one of my topics some week. When I get around to it.) Not just because it has forced me to plan ahead and work on things that are more difficult- an obvious need, but because it has made me look at what is important- and then focus on it. With this all in mind, then, I wondered what one of our Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop leaders would add to this. So I emailed Bill Bergren two questions:

What makes a good plan?
What should be in every trumpet player’s plan?

His answer came as no surprise, but rather an important reminder that even when there’s nothing new under the sun, there’s always the need to be reminded of what is important. He sent me four pillars of what should be in every trumpet player’s plan. The first two:
FUNDAMENTALS! 75% The majority of your practice time, 75%, should be spent on fundamentals. If you can play the instrument, you can focus on the musical aspects. This includes routine, scales, method/etude books.
 MUSIC! 25% If you are practicing fundamentals in a musical manner, playing actual music should be easy.
Yep. No surprise. Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. Three things stood out this year in a different way for me when Bill reminded me of these two pillars.

1) These help me play the instrument so that
2) I can learn to play the fundamentals in a musical manner, and
3) This helps me play music musically.

Because there is nothing new under the sun, what I will find in some musical piece for band, quintet, etc. will include what I have practiced in the etudes. I remembered on one of the pieces the community band played last summer that it felt like a Getchell or Arban’s exercise. It made it a lot easier to learn the piece.

I know it sounds strange to think of playing something like an Arban’s exercise “musically.” We don’t think that way when we are looking at the notes and figuring out how to play it. That is why it is important to “read” the piece and then “sing” it first. (Another of Bill Bergren’s points from Shell Lake.) Take the time to see and hear the music in the piece so that the music and not just the notes can come out.

It is important to see the etudes we practice as part of the fundamentals. According to Merriam-Webster, etude is defined as:
1. a piece of music for the practice of a point of technique
2. a composition built on a technical motive but played for its artistic value (Emphasis added)
The word “etude” comes from the French for study. Those etudes from Charlier, Getchell, etc. are meant to be musical so that we can learn techniques- fundamentals. One of my other mentors, Paul Stodolka, also from Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop, commented to me once that when he is finding himself off-center and needing to focus, he goes back to the etudes. It always works.

Bill listed two other pillars that should be part of every trumpet player’s plan. These two he said should be separate from the regular practice time:
LISTENING! ----You need to set aside time every day to listen to good music. It doesn't have to be trumpet players.

IMPROVISATION! Improvisation is important for ALL players.
A year ago I would have responded, “Yes, but…” to the second of those pillars. Not because I didn’t think it was important, but, well, it just kind of didn’t fit into what I was thinking. In reality I was afraid of it! It meant a degree of familiarity with the horn- and music- that I didn’t think I could have. Not that I didn’t want to learn to improvise, I was just intimidated by it. So what did I do? I followed Bill’s advice and went back to fundamentals. I learned the 12 major scales. Then I memorized Clarke #2 and one of the exercises doing thirds around the Circle of 4ths. Basic stuff. I worked on trying to play them musically, not just notes being translated from ink to air. It had to move from air to sound to music. I also listened to music. I always do that, but I became far more intentional about what I listened to. I began to concentrate on some specific pieces that had some good- but not complicated- improvisation. That was my plan. It worked.

And what fun it has become.

Next week I’ll take a look at what this can mean if we dig even more deeply a allow the beginner’s mind to be at work. As always, it will help us be better musicians and be better at living.
And THANKS, BILL, for the thoughts!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Tuning Slide: 2.12- Gratitude (A reposting)

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
I have been under the weather this week so, since it is also a holiday week, I thought I would do what TV networks do, air a football game. No, wait. I will do a rerun from last Thanksgiving. Perhaps I don't write about gratitude often enough. When I am feeling "ill" the joy of feeling "good" is heightened. So, everyone, have a wonderful Thanksgiving. See you next week.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Gratitude is the music of the heart.
-Unknown
It's Thanksgiving Week and it is hard to move past the week without talking about gratitude.

Will gratitude make you a better musician? Not as much as practice will, but it will do something just as important that will have an impact- it will increase your mindfulness, your awareness of yourself and the world around you. THAT will help your trumpet playing.
  • It will give you insight into your own life and emotions- an important part of being an advancing musician.
  • It will keep you in touch with those around you that will make your life fuller and more enriching.
  • It will keep you humble- which is another way of saying you will continue to be teachable- willing and ready to learn.
  • It will increase your happiness levels on a daily basis, say a number of research studies.
  • It will increase your energy and motivation more often.
  • Depression and stress will be more easily coped with on a daily basis.
As preachers have been saying for years on Thanksgiving, don't just save all your gratitude for this one day. It actually will make you a better person if you learn to practice it every day.
  • Dr. Amit Sood of Mayo Clinic suggests that you not get out of bed in the morning any day without some awareness of reasons or people to be grateful for.
  • Keep a gratitude journal and review it on a daily basis.
  • Don't repeat yourself- find new reasons to be grateful each day.
  • Silently wish each person you pass in a given period of time, grace and peace.
  • Meister Eckhart was a man of wisdom:
If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’
that would suffice.
– Meister Eckhart
One person who has helped me over the past couple years is Shane Burcaw. He is a young man with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and has been in a wheelchair his whole life. He also has a journalism degree, is the author of a wonderful book, Laughing at My Nightmare, is the founder of a foundation to assist others with Muscular Dystrophy and its variations, and has an incredible sense of humor. His attitude is nothing short of remarkable. No, he does not play trumpet (I don't think so, anyway!) but he is a person filled with energy- and gratitude.

Every week he posts a list called What Made Me Smile This Week. There are many things each week that bring a smile to Shane's face: meeting with elementary school students, binge watching a TV show, or drinking chocolate coffee.

Each week he makes me smile. He also reminds me of the wonders I miss around me when all I do is complain or find reasons to criticize. He challenges me, someone nearly three times his age, to see the world as fresh and refreshing each day. No matter what!

Maybe I should apply that to my trumpet playing and practice. How did my practicing today make me smile? What were the moments of gratitude and joy? Maybe I wasn't as focused as I needed to be, but what was neat about it? Maybe it was the particular exercise that is just fun to play. Maybe it was the ability to hit some difficult notes with a little more clarity. Maybe it was just the way I felt after making music.

What works for you? Where are you grateful today? Just enjoy it. No matter what!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

In Remembrance for Another Year


---1906
(in center)


1961----





Nov. 19, 1905- Dec. 4, 1964



Thursday, November 17, 2016

On "Getting Over It"

It has become one of those common posts these past ten days:

Get over it. You lost.
The winners almost always say that. If it were only that easy. "Getting over it" takes time when you lose something- a job you've been hoping and working for, a World Series or Super Bowl championship (as a fan), an election that you were passionate about. That IS what the grief process does, helps us work through our sense of loss. Getting over it? Until you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, it doesn't work that way.

(Sidenotes: 1) That does not mean rioting and trashing and good ways of going through grief!
2) It has also been noted on Facebook that some of those telling the losers to "get over it" are carrying Confederate flags. Just saying.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Tuning Slide: 2.11- Staying Mental

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
Aware that it may be nothing more than beating the same drum over and over, let’s take one more look at “deliberate practice.” Here again are the standards required of practice to be deliberate:
  • Deliberate practice is focused. Students must give it their full attention.
  • Deliberate practice involves feedback. Immediate, specific feedback on where students are falling short is vital.
  • Deliberate practice requires a teacher
  • Deliberate practice requires leaving one’s comfort zone. If students aren’t pushing themselves beyond what is comfortable and familiar, they will not advance.
  • Deliberate practice requires specific goals aimed at target performances
  • Deliberate practice builds on mental representations.
One of the most interesting to me is the last one:
  • Mental representations.
I had never thought of that as part of what practice does. Now I realize that it is something that happens fairly unconsciously. We do build a mental picture of what we are doing. We do look for patterns in the music and, if we are more visually oriented may even construct some mental framework. I noticed myself doing that recently in working on one of our quintet pieces. At one spot in my part, there is a repeating 8th note “D” followed by 3 other 8th notes, then back up to the “D”. It repeats this pattern several times. I found myself circling the repeating “D” that gave the section a clear, almost physical structure. It also helped me see that whether notated or not, those “D”s work better with a slight accent so they stand out. After I did it I realized two things:

1. It was now easier to play in time and flow because
2. I now had a mental image in both sound and visual that described the section.

Unless you are already years into being an established and advanced trumpet player, chances are you wouldn’t notice that for a while, if ever. All you would have are the notes on the page. Think now of all those Arban or Clarke exercises that repeat the same pattern across a scale or across the whole set of 12 scales. They build a mental representation. They instill an aural pattern into our subconscious that eventually becomes a natural way of doing the scale. We can all probably play our basic concert Bb scale without even thinking. The fingers just move. But now try to play the concert B scale (our C#/Db). No way can I do that. That physical- and aural- representation isn’t there yet. But I keep working at it.

But I am not sure that the best way to keep working at it is by simply reading the notes off the page. This would have sounded like I was thinking crazy not that long ago. "I will never be able to remember those scales without having it in front of me." I felt it was absolutely necessary to learn them from the Arban series in exercise 46 on pp. 20-21. It repeats a pattern (visual on the page, aural from the horn) or mental representation, around the circle of 4ths. I got the basics and then closed the book and started working on it by “ear.” I still have some difficulty with Db and Gb but it went much faster when I internalized the pattern- a mental representation- and learned it that way. I discovered that also worked well with Clarke #2, the classic exercise that is one of those essentials of trumpet playing. So it does appear that when we work toward those mental representations and visualizations, things improve- and often more quickly and effectively than otherwise.

No matter how you do this, though, you are always working on those three “greats”:
  • Great sound,
  • Great rhythm,
  • Great listening
Tempo keeps these 3 greats in order. When you get to a difficult place and miss the note, slow it down- it means the tempo was too fast. That also allows those mental representations to catch up to what you are playing. It takes a long time to play as fast as Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie- and do it well. Build the mental representations always, always paying attention to the three greats.
One more quick thought I heard: There is no better motivation for more practice than what happens when you practice more. You won’t ever say, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t practiced today.”

Staying motivated: See this link on the Learning Jazz Standards website for another way of describing all this.

I had said last week that I would talk some about “Grit”- the rest of the Peak and deliberate practice story. I think I will hold off on that until sometime in the new year. We’ve covered a lot of territory on deliberate practice in these three posts. It may be better to work on incorporating these into our own practice time. Grit will then become a refresher and expansion after we get a little more comfortable with being deliberate.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

One Week is Gone

Grace and strength will be in great demand (and need) for the next four years.

May we be the source of that grace and the bearer of strength in the midst of anxiety and uncertainty.

May we not succumb to the lesser angels of our nature and instead work for unity and hope.

In that may we witness to a better way than just to stand in opposition and blocking dialogue. It is not our way to pay back hatred for hatred or to revert to "Well, they did it first." We are called to be better than that.

We are called to be open arms and a comforting presence.

We are called to be people of hope.

It is not always easy. But the easier way would be to quit being graceful and to give in. The easier way would be to go hide our heads in the sand, hoping that it will all change or that the worst won't happen.

Only when we stand up for what is right and good and proper will that message get through. Then, and only then, can we work toward the prevention of the worst and the acceptance of all of us, united.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Dylan- My Next Ten

He was speechless and will try to be there. Good enough for me.

So, with the attention on Dylan, I continue with the next ten of my favorite Dylan songs. I am doing it in chronological order. Last time I covered basically his first decade. That means these ten come from 40 years instead of 50. I didn't look up how many songs he wrote in the first ten as compared to the last 40. It really doesn't matter. There are many different Dylans and the most significant overall was probably the several who showed up in the beginning.

That doesn't mean he wasn't still the outstanding poet. He just did it with a different style. I was also not as tuned into what Dylan was doing in most of these past 40 years. But let's just ignore all that. These are my favorites. So it's my list.

Reflecting- By 1973 Dylan was more reflective. Writing a score for a movie about Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid gave him a chance to do some thinking about changes of icons. He wrote a benediction-style song and reflected on the storms and where he could go for safety. The words are just as powerful as his earlier songs, but by now he was not breaking new ground so much as expanding the ideas.
11. Knockin' on Heaven's Door (1973)

Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore
That long black cloud is comin’ down
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door
 12. Forever Young (1974)
 May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young
13. Shelter from the Storm (1975)
’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”...


In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes
I bargained for salvation an’ they gave me a lethal dose
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
 Born Again- Then he became a Christian. Some good music, good words, but they weren't quite the same. These two are representative. One was whimsical with an edge. The other translated his earlier understanding of our human requirement into his new religious language.
14. Man Gave Names to All the Animals (1979)
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning.
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago.


He saw an animal that liked to growl,
Big furry paws and he liked to howl,
Great big furry back and furry hair.
"Ah, think I'll call it a bear."


He saw an animal as smooth as glass
Slithering his way through the grass.
Saw him disappear by a tree near a lake . .
.
15. Gotta Serve Somebody (1979)
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody...


You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Transition- I have only one song from the 80s and 90s, not because of Dylan, but because I wasn't paying attention. Other things were going on. But maybe Dylan knew that as well. I have no idea if he was talking about mid-life, me, the world, or the Reagan era, but this song seems to reach out in the midst of all that.
16. Everything is Broken (1989)
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken

Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground...


Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken 
Still Moving- The last three are from the last decade or so as Dylan moved into "elderhood." His voice changed significantly; his style moving into a combination of lounge singer, wise elder, and cynical observer. Was Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum the presidential candidates of 2000? Was the levee in New Orleans? Was the thunder on the mountain ringing from Afghanistan? Or was it just Dylan writing poetry that sounded good? Whatever it was, he still had the spark.
17. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (2001)
Living in the Land of Nod
Trustin’ their fate to the Hands of God
They pass by so silently
Tweedle-dee Dum and Tweedle-dee Dee

Well, they’re going to the country, they’re gonna retire
They’re taking a street car named Desire
Looking in the window at the pecan pie
Lot of things they’d like they would never buy...

Well a childish dream is a deathless need
And a noble truth is a sacred dream
My pretty baby, she’s lookin’ around
She’s wearin’ a multi-thousand dollar gown
Tweedle-dee Dee is a lowdown, sorry old man
Tweedle-dee Dum, he’ll stab you where you stand
“I’ve had too much of your company,”
Says Tweedle-dee Dum to Tweedle-dee Dee
18. Levee’s Gonna Break (2006)
If it keep on rainin' the levee gonna break
If it keep on rainin' the levee gonna break
Some of these people don't know which road to take

When I'm with you I forget I was ever blue
When I'm with you I forget I was ever blue
Without you there's no meaning in anything I do

Some people on the road carrying everything that they own
Some people on the road carrying everything that they own
Some people got barely enough skin to cover their bones
19. Thunder on the Mountain (2006)
Thunder on the mountain, rolling like a drum
Gonna sleep over there, that's where the music coming from
I don't need any guide, I already know the way
Remember this, I'm your servant both night and day

The pistols are poppin' and the power is down
I'd like to try somethin' but I'm so far from town
The sun keeps shinin' and the North Wind keeps picking up speed
Gonna forget about myself for a while, gonna go out and see what others need

I've been sitting down studying the art of love
I think it will fit me like a glove
I want some real good woman to do just what I say
Everybody got to wonder what's the matter with this cruel world today

Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground
Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down
Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king
I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing
20. Duquesne Whistle (2012)
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like she ain't gon' blow no more


Can't you hear that Duquesne whistle blowing?
Blowing like the sky's gonna blow apart
You're the only thing alive that keeps me going
You're like a time bomb in my heart


I can hear a sweet voice steadily calling
Must be the mother of our Lord
I will deal with the three iconic songs next month.

Beyond these and the three iconic songs I will talk about next month, I know there are some significant songs I have not listed- Gates of Eden, Desolation Row, Visions of Johanna, With God on Our Side, Mississippi, Hurricane. But then it would have gotten to my Top 30 or 40 or whatever. I had to put a stop to it sometime.

Until then, I am just going to enjoy his music- and maybe even dig into some of those "transition" years and see if there was more there.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Post-Election Reminder (from Years Gone By)

Comedian Pat Paulsen "running" for President.



His famous campaign slogan:
We Can't Stand Pat!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Disappointment Ahead

I saw an article by fellow Minnesotan Garrison Keillor after the election about how those who voted for Trump will not get what they expect. I didn't care for some of the tone of GK's article, but in many ways he is right on target. Mr. Trump will not be able to deliver what they think he can do; nor will be be able to do what he thinks he can do.

The government works differently. Or it should.

No president has ever been able to provide what he has promised. Some of it is simply the great difficulty in moving from campaign rhetoric to reality. I also have a hunch that sometimes when the candidate becomes the president he learns inside things that were unknown before. He also realizes that in many ways he is now the president of all the people and that nothing is as simple as the relatively black and white of a political campaign.

But I speak from experience.To many people President Obama did not live up to his promises. The country didn't change in the ways he- and we- hoped it would. Guantanamo is still open eight years later. That is political life in a democracy. I pray that Trump's supporters are ready to be disappointed that he is not the savior they hope him to be.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans' Day 2016

This video was originally done last year when I finished a series following my Dad's service at the end of World War II. I post it again this year in continuing honor of those who have served.




Thursday, November 10, 2016

In Memoriam: Leonard Cohen

1934-2016

The secret chord,
the 4th, the 5th,
a minor fall, a major lift

I'll stand before the Lord of song
with nothing on my tongue
but Hallelujah.



Now, Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river
She's wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they wil lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds her mirror
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she's touched your perfect body with her mind

The Tuning Slide: 2.10- Building on Basics-Being Deliberate

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
Last week I started looking at some of the research information published by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool in the book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. They present three levels of practice: naive, purposeful and deliberate. It is only through that last level that we move beyond just being okay or even good to new levels of “expertise.” This goes beyond the supposed “10,000 Hour Rule” that was intuited by Malcolm Gladwell and others from Ericsson’s research, as a key to making that level of success. Ericsson points out first that 10,000 hours was an “average” - meaning there were those who had more and those who had less. Beyond that it wasn’t just any practice that allowed them to get that far. It was very clear, deliberate and quite intensive practice.

What is deliberate practice then? Well, combining several of Ericsson’s and Pool’s explanations, here is a summary of the elements of “deliberate” practice.
  • Deliberate practice is focused. Students must give it their full attention.
  • Deliberate practice involves feedback. Immediate, specific feedback on where students are falling short is vital.
  • Deliberate practice requires a teacher
  • Deliberate practice requires leaving one’s comfort zone. If students aren’t pushing themselves beyond what is comfortable and familiar, they will not advance.
  • Deliberate practice requires specific goals aimed at target performances
  • Deliberate practice builds on mental representations.
I note that in the list there are no suggestions. These are all required. No “electives” on the list. Deliberate practice is not for those just in it for simple fun. It is not for those who want to be casual players. It is for those who want to reach significant levels of expertise in their chosen field. I would say that from my observations over the years in my career fields (ministry and counseling) that these elements hold true for those who end up excelling in those fields. They work at it; they don’t take any of it for granted; they are never complacent about what they can do or can accomplish. They will almost always look for new ways to step out of their comfort zones to experience, to learn, to grow, and often to share their expertise. I have no research data to support this- it is what I have seen often. It may be that what many of those have done is just very effective purposeful-type practice, although I would argue that the expanding elements of deliberate practice are also at work- with or without the research data.

Ericsson points out that the research data is rich in certain fields- sports being one; music being another. That is because there are very specific skills and methods of teaching that can be employed in those fields. They can show that taking those extra steps and actions do have real and measurable impacts on the development of expertise.

An important element of why this works is what we now call “brain plasticity.” This is the ability of the human brain to grow and change throughout our lifetime. The brain will “rewire” itself with enough practice and exercise. Many of us used to call this “muscle memory” when we would work over and over on a particular passage until it fell just right beneath our fingers. That’s part of the brain plasticity. The memory is in the whole interconnection of brain, nerves, and muscles.

Building on basics, one on top of the previous, next on top of what we already know. That’s the stretching out of our comfort, the need for feedback, the place of a teacher. But it is also why even the top trumpet players still practice their scales on a daily basis. Many also do a series of routines that keep their skills sharp. Yes, they have played them for years; yes, they do them from memory; no, they are never satisfied that they know them cold. Those basics, whether they are from Arban, Clarke, Schlossberg, or Charlier, are still the basics. These do not change.

What I have discovered, since I am not planning on reaching that very high level of expertise that would require 3-6 hours of practice daily, is that these routines keep me grounded in my trumpet playing AND in how my abilities are improving. It is these basics that are truly never “just” basic. What Doc or Wynton does is based on those. Everything is built on them. Every time I play those I need to remember to stay focused. Even the famous Clarke #2. Pay attention. What do I hear differently this time? Why am I having trouble with that particular key today? Why do I forget that particular sharp or flat note? Focus. Give it my full attention. I wish I could say I can do that regularly. I can say I am better today that I was six months ago. If I stay focused, I will continue to improve.

(Bob Reeves published Jerry Hey-Larry Hall Extended William Adam Practice Routine. That is how one becomes an expert!)

Paying attention is, in and of itself, a source of discomfort- moving out of my easy box. When I pay attention I don’t just go through the exercise and say, “Got it for today. Time to move on.” If I am focused I will notice the tone is off, the breathing isn’t falling into place, rhythm skips, or all those missed or sloppy notes. They better get fixed or I will never get it right. That brain plasticity works for the mistakes, too. Mistakes get ingrained if we don’t do something to correct them immediately. The single best way to do that is simply to slow down. Still not right? Slower. Remember a few weeks ago when I looked at the three elements of a great trumpet player?
• Great Sound
• Great rhythm
• Great ear.
If tone or sound is off, you need to hear it. If you can’t get the rhythm, you need to hear it. If you can’t hear it, assume you are playing it too fast. So slow down. In a different context I often quote comedian Lily Tomlin: “For fast relief- try slowing down.” It works on trumpet as well as it works in daily life. That is the whole idea of mindfulness, one of those ideas that flow in and out of these posts. More on that again in three weeks. Right now, simply slowing down is the basic. That, in and of itself, can be a stretch for most of us. We want to play at speed, we want to be Dizzy playing a Charlie Parker bebop lick at full speed. Resist that temptation. Learn it first. If the sound and rhythm are off, slow down and get them right. Speed will come- often one beat/minute faster each day.

As I was working on this post, the lead trumpet in the quintet emailed me about having a “trumpet sectional” i.e. the two of us. My first thought was to think back on the quintet’s rehearsal the day before. I know that on one of the numbers I was less than good. It is a section of the piece in a style that I have trouble with. My response back was “Good idea.” It is for the very reasons I have been talking about. I will not get better if I am doing something wrong and not getting feedback- even when I know I haven’t done it right. There are the times and places, more than we realize, when we must move to that deliberate practice of getting personal feedback and then working with a colleague on improving it. The email came at the right time. Maybe I should do that more often if I want my practice to be deliberate.

What will be your deliberate practice movement this week? Maybe it will be an extra ten minutes with improving Clarke #2 or working that second section of Charlier at a slower speed in order to get the tone and rhythm right? Maybe you have a piece coming up in a way-too-soon gig that needs your attention. Don’t put it off. Work on it. Be deliberate- and slow- until the brain picks it up. Listen. Hear the good and the not-as-good. Work on fixing it. Get feedback from a colleague or a teacher.

Above all- be deliberate. It’s what gets you to your next level.

Next week we will look at more of the elements of deliberate practice and add one more thing: Grit- the thing that keeps us deliberate in our practice.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Words (Sort of) Fail Me

Actually, it is not the words that fail me tonight, it is the ability to put them into sensible thoughts.

  • Sadness- deep sadness over a loss in this less than hopeful election season just ended.
  • Uncertainty- what will this change mean?
  • Fear- what has this victory unleashed?
  • Conflict- values and basic understandings of life and even of the role of our democracy in conflict- deep, divided conflict.
This will most likely go down in the long catalog of historic elections as one of the top game-changers. Nothing quite like this has ever happened before. A man with no public service experience, no government experience, no seeming understanding of how nations and governments are different from business.

More thoughts will come; more reflections will arise. We as a nation are in a different place tonight than we were when polls started closing on Tuesday. We have no idea what the next four months, let alone the next four years will bring. But yet, we are still the United States of America. We are all in this together.

Let me repeat the quote that I put on this page earlier today.

After climbing a great hill, one only finds
that there are many more hills to climb.
-Nelson Mandela
Actually, I chose all the quotes of these past two weeks at the very start. I knew that when we got to this day very little will have been resolved. No matter who won, I knew, we would have a very long way to become more united again. We have been deeply split; many feel deeply wounded. The voice of the people who felt left out has been expressed through Donald Trump. The wounded ones today are those who had other dreams of a nation living out its ideals.

It is not over. The great American experiment, the exceptional quality of this kind of democracy, is never finished. The pendulum swings from one side to another; one group is in the majority today, another will be in the majority next time. We must uphold that gift we have exercised for 240 years of a peaceful transition of power. Then we must move together to find the common ground, not allowing ourselves to get lost in recrimination, repudiation, vengeance, or just plain old apathy. There are many hills left to climb.

May we climb them together, even when we don't agree on what they might mean.

One More Election Quote: The Day After

After climbing a great hill, one only finds
that there are many more hills to climb.
-Nelson Mandela

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Twelve Quotes till Election Day: Election Day 2016


Every election is determined by the people who show up.
― Larry J. Sabato

Monday, November 07, 2016

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Twelve Quotes till Election Day: E -2

The ballot is stronger than the bullet.
― Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Coming to the End - What If.....?

The long, very strange road to the election is almost over.

Here are some of the thoughts I have rumbling around in my mind today. I am fed up, burned out, and just plain finished with the election. All I want to do is give you a few bits that I have heard on radio and TV the past week. No filling in the blanks- just the basics. Maybe next week it will clear. Maybe not.

  • Trump has unleashed some demons that won't easily be contained.
  • Hillary is a lightning rod and will probably not be able to do anything to win over those who don't like her. There is probably absolutely nothing she can do, esp. if the opposition won't attempt in any way to work with her.
  • Some of the demons include racism and sexism. But beyond those- and perhaps more difficult in the long run- is the middle class white anger at what they perceive as the loss of their hope while others seem to be the beneficiaries of their hope.
  •  US politics looks more like European politics than it ever has. Trump is a known type over there- conservative, mildly fascist. Sanders is also the other known type- the democratic socialist. Hillary is a throwback to the old politics.
  • Chris Matthews on MSNBC
    • If Trump polls 40%, and he very well could, pundits and the "elite establishment" better pay attention. It is significant that he, in spite of everything(!) could still get that kind of support. It says something very important that better not be overlooked by either left- or right-wings. Bernie Sanders did the same on the left. Together that would have made quite a majority if they could have agreed on issues. 
So, with all that in mind, that is about all I want to say until it's over. Maybe I can hibernate until Wednesday. Politics-wise- see you on the flip-side.

Twelve Quotes till Election Day: E -3

In America, anyone can become president.
That’s the problem.
—George Carlin