Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The Tuning Slide - Panic and Air

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
If you panic,
you will die.
-R. Baca

A couple years ago I was doing a hike near Lake Itasca here in Minnesota. There was this circular trail around a lake that branched off the main trail. Or, at least is felt like that. In reality it was just a loop that came back to the same spot and then back out. The problem was that at the spot where the trail started the loop, the two sides of the loop were almost parallel to each other. So, as I returned to the point where the loop started, I found myself facing a "Y" and I didn't know which way to turn. I turned left and realized I was passing things I already passed in the same direction. So I turned around and got back to the "Y" and turned right. Yep- wrong again. I was now heading up the loop from the other side. I wasn't sure of this until I got to a place where I took some pictures of a beaver dam.

By this time I am already later than I expected to be in getting back to the car. My wife would certainly be getting worried. (She was.) We were out in the wilderness and the GPS on my iPhone wasn't showing any map. I knew I wasn't lost. But I knew I could become like Winnie-the-Pooh going in circles around the same tree. The only lesson I could think of at that time was an old hiking reminder:
Don't panic! Your life may depend on it.
I am not sure I was quite at "panic" level on the trail, but I was beginning to get concerned. I thought I knew what I was doing. But it was getting warm, I was getting a little tired. How was I going to deal with this?

I stopped, took a deep breath or two, calmed my mind and set about figuring out that I needed just to be more observant of what I was doing. It worked.

So when Bob Baca said the quote at the top of this post at Trumpet Camp it resonated. It applies to playing the trumpet, as much as it applies to hiking Itasca Park. Don't panic.

We can sure panic when we aren't prepared to play that solo in tomorrow's concert. We can panic when we get lost in the middle of a complicated (or easy) piece in the band's gig. Maybe we're in the midst of the show and our lip decides to quiver and rebel. What are we to do?

First and foremost: Don't panic. It will work against you. We have developed quite a system for survival over the years of our human evolution. the "panic" response is one of them. Panic, or anxiety, can happen when we are facing a "dangerous" or even "life-threatening" situation. Way back in our human development such anxiety or panic got all the systems moving in order for us to survive.

We can call it today the "Fight, Flight, or Freeze" response.

But that quivering lip, the un-prepared solo or jumped line in a song is not life-threatening. Our response is just a left-over. But we can easily metaphorically "die" if we allow the panic to take over. The extra adrenaline pumping with an elevated blood-pressure moving blood away from the thinking brain so we react intuitively makes it more likely that we will not get through the panic. The solo will fail, we won't find our spot in time for our next entrance, the quivering lip just gets work.

But there is another response that we can learn and cultivate. Instead of fight, flight, or freeze, we can learn "Flow." As in "Go with the flow!" I don't know who T. McIrvine is, but I found this quote from him online about playing the trumpet.

Release the air,
don't blow the air.
-T. McIrvine

This is, of course, good advice at all times, which I may talk about some other time. For today, though, this is a great way to think when facing those moments of panic. Stop and breathe. No, not that short, panting breath or that heavy rush of air as if you were blowing out the candles on your 100th birthday cake. Something more relaxed, conscious.

So let's put these things together: Panic and air. Take it easy. Allow the air to fill from the diaphragm. Count to five as you are inhaling through the nose. Hold for a count of two. Count to six as you slowly exhale, letting the air move from your stomach. Do this a couple of times. Don't focus on anything but your breathing.

Can you do this while playing? Probably not to its fullest, but look for several measures of rest. Then do it. Sure you won't revitalize your quivering lip, but you will loosen the tension that only makes the quivering worse. Pay attention to the ease of playing- letting the air release through the mouthpiece and around through the horn. It may be just enough to get you through the rest of the gig.

In your practice on that day before the concert, it will slow you down enough to figure out what you need to do.

Getting rid of the panic response will reconnect you to the music and you will more easily recognize where you might be in the music. After all, you have been practicing and you know the piece, right?

Lots of ways breathing can work for us, not just making a better sound. Perhaps good breathing exercises should be in our regular routine. Long tones, of course, can help with that as can "releasing" air through the lead tube without the tuning slide. But regular daily meditative, mindful breathing may do as much for our tone and music as scales. (BOTH are important, of course.)

As we learn to breathe, life itself can be a lot easier to come with.

Here's a closing quote from a new book I just came across:
Sometimes it's okay if the only thing
you did today was breathe.
-Yumi Sakugawa, There's No Right Way to Meditate

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