Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.23- Becoming a Performer

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Everything that comes out of your horn must sound like music.
It’s then that you can call yourself a musician.
-From Eric Bolvin, The Arban Manual.

Perhaps one of the least mentioned ways of practice that will get us beyond mediocre is to stop practicing and always perform. The quote above is at the bottom of one of the lesson pages in the Arban Manual Study Guide by Eric Bolvin. The result of effective and dedicated practice is not being a technically good or even excellent musician. The result of that practice is that whatever comes out of your horn must sound like music. That is not as easy as it seems when written on the computer screen. It doesn’t take much effort to remember those awful days when we could hardly make “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” sound musical. With practice, Twinkle Twinkle can be as musical as a Miles Davis solo.

Becoming a performer of music is truly what all this practice is about. It gets pretty boring to never perform. Sure we may play some wonderful pieces and become accomplished at playing the trumpet. But it is the act of performing the music that shares the wonder of music with the world.

Way back in my earliest high school years as a trumpet player, I had a number of solo-type pieces and etudes from the method books that I liked to play. There were many times in my practice that I would imagine putting together a concert- a performance- for my family. In my mind I would pick out what the program would include and in what order. I would then practice as if I was actually performing them for the family. That more than anything else may have helped move me from the techniques of playing the trumpet into the joy of being a performing musician.

Gerald Klickstein whose website The Musicians’ Way has been the source of much of this month’s posts, talks about a three-step process of moving into the performance level. He looks at the progression we all do when working toward performing a new piece of music. He says the “material” goes through three stages:
Stage 1: New Material
• Get an overview.
• Make decisions section by section.
• Slow tempo.

Stage 2: Developing Material
• Refine interpretation.
• Increase tempo and problem-solving.
• Memorize.

Stage 3: Performance Material
• Practice performing.
• Maintain memory.
• Renew and innovate.
As I have seen it in my own practice, this does work in a clear progression. The overview is when I scan the music for the first time. What’s the key, the range, the key changes, the tempo? Maybe I sing or hum through it. I look for the harder appearing sections and make note of them. I also know that just because it looks hard doesn’t mean it is hard. Play through it - keeping it slow. At this point I am looking for the way the music flows and moves. I am trying to make it sound musical. I try to be conscious of the sections and how the music changes from one to another or maybe circles back to something earlier. I am getting the music to fall under my fingers at this point.

The second stage, letting the music develop, is when I “know” the music but haven’t figured out how to interpret it musically. I might experiment with different tempos or figure out why my fingers refuse to cooperate on certain passages. As I said a couple weeks ago I am not good at memorizing so I don’t usually do that part of this stage. But the goal of “performing” the piece has to be there- even if it’s a new Goldman exercise or Clarke etude. The aim is always to make music- be a performing musician.

The third stage for me is putting it all together. It will now become performance! It cannot remain just another piece for the practice room even if I know it will never be performed anywhere else. That is the “practice as if you are performing” injunction. I sometimes react to myself “Would I want an audience to hear it that way?”

What I am talking about is simply to make sure I move beyond being just a practice room musician. The particular etude or exercise will most likely never be a public piece, unless I record it and put it on Facebook or something. But what I learn and experience in doing this with all my practice will carry into other things I do. That is why we practice things other than our performance pieces. That is why we may do the same routine with variations every day for weeks, months, or years. We are transforming everything into music so when we come to the musical pieces we will play them musically.

It’s back to Self One and Self Two and how our brains work. It is back to easing the performance anxiety of Self One trying to take the negative road and undermining what we can do. It’s about Self Two learning and showing that we can do it. It is taking charge of the music since it is the “natural” musician.

This is being a performer. It is how to live.

There is a You Tube video titled Transform Yourself Into a Performer. (Watch it below.) It is by concert pianist Alpin Hong in a TEDxLaSierraUniversity talk. In the enjoyable presentation he talks about
  • Being self-conscious and still projecting self-confidence.
  • If they’re in your audience, they want you to succeed. They are on your side!
  • Thoughts on making mistakes- yes, we all make them. He even quotes Monk. His answer is to improvise, i.e. know your piece well-enough that if you get lost, for example, you can make your way back to the right place.
That is what we are all about. Performing. We want to truly make music. It doesn’t just happen by chance, but it is certainly within our grasp.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Starting This Sunday: A Series for Advent

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. As I have often done in the past, I will be doing a seasonal series. This one will be on the themes of Advent through Epiphany. In light of what many of us have experienced and felt over the past year I am going to explore the meaning of spirituality as "resistance" to the ways of the world. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind. The ten-part series will be:

1st Sunday, Dec. 3: Hope as Resistance

2nd Sunday, Dec. 10: Love as Resistance

3rd Sunday, Dec. 17: Joy as Resistance

4th Sunday, Dec. 24: Peace as Resistance

Christmas Eve, Dec. 24: Humility as Resistance

Christmas Day, Dec. 25: Light as Resistance

Sunday after Christmas, Dec. 31: Sacrifice as Resistance

New Year’s Day, Jan 1: Sacrament as Resistance

Epiphany, Jan 6: Revelation as Resistance

Epiphany Sunday, Jan 7: Proclamation as Resistance
There will be more of an introduction on Sunday. Join me in preparing for the season as a sign of Good News for all.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.22- Gratitude and Music

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.
- Fredrich Nietzsche

It is Thanksgiving tomorrow. It is the day we single out to be grateful. In reality gratitude and thanksgiving are actually essential elements of happy and many creative lives. It can provide a sense of hope and strength in even the most difficult of times and places. It is good to take a moment this week to remember to be grateful.

Almost four years ago The Huffington Post had an article titled Music and Gratitude: The Gifts That Keep On Giving by Frank Fitzpatrick. ( The writer had attended a rare concert by composer Johnny Mandel ("The Shadow of Your Smile", the "Theme from M*A*S*H") which was on Mandel’s 88th birthday. Fitzpatrick wrote:
I felt deep gratitude for that opportunity to be there with Johnny, my good friends and the beautiful music. I enjoyed a sonic journey back through my life — reflecting on loved ones and fond memories. It was Johnny himself, however, who brought the power of gratitude into the spotlight. With an innocent pride and profound sense of humility, he turned and thanked us for sharing with him the greatest birthday gift he could ask for — a chance to make music and to relish with us in the experience as his compositions were performed by these astounding musicians. You could see the youthful sparkle of joy in his eyes.
Truly one of the great joys of music is to be in the presence of such mastery as Johnny Mandel or Doc Severinsen or whoever your musical hero might be. Those of us who had the chance this past April to meet Doc in Eau Claire, WI, are still living in the glow of that time. I wish I could have played in the band behind him, but just to be there as the music flowed in gratitude from him was a life -filling moment. Earlier in the day we heard Doc interviewed by Bob Baca and it was amazing to see and feel a sense of humility and gratitude. It was real.

That evening, after the show in the green room I had the opportunity to be with a number of the students as they waited for Doc. When he was ready he didn’t disappoint any of us! He was as truly present with each of them (and me) as he was on the stage with the music. Again, here was a musical icon, superhero, superstar, and many other things. Yet he paid attention to us. I heard from others similar stories of their interactions with Doc. He showed amazing gratitude for what he has been able to do in his now 90+ years.

Fitzpatrick expressed in his article what I had felt from Doc:
This sense of deep gratitude, and the humility that makes it possible, is one of the most inspiring qualities that I have found in other visionaries and masters of their craft whom I have had the privilege to meet in my life….
It brings me back to my opening paragraph above about the essential foundation of gratitude. It can lead us to be more present (mindful) in daily experiences. It can fill us with those moments of awe when we play an amazing piece or participate in an equally amazing concert. It can lead us to know life in new ways. Again, from Fitzpatrick’s article:
I found myself reflecting on the deeper meaning and quality of life. I thought about the values and tools that have allowed me to be more present, to feel more deeply and to continue to reconnect to the joy in life. I remembered what my mother taught me about the power of humility and what one of my teachers meant when he said gratitude was the shortest road to joy. While music has been one of the greatest connectors for me, I have come to realize how much more empowering that emotional channel can be when I surrender to it, trust in it, and honor life with humility and gratitude. Music can, in and of itself, be a great expression of gratitude.

I believe that true musical mastery, like gratitude itself, requires a kind of humility — a recognition that something far greater than us is at play, and an appreciation for the gifts and love we have received.

No matter where I find myself in my life, I can always return to the music and the gratitude and follow that path to joy.
I don’t believe I can add much more to that, other than to take the time tomorrow to reflect on what I have been blessed and present to experience since last Thanksgiving. The joy of gratitude is real as I have had the opportunities (many of them!) to be part of things that are greater than I am. In them I find joy- and home and meaning.

What does this have to do with this month’s theme of practice? Actually everything. If we do not approach our practice, our musical learning, and our musicianship as a gift to be grateful for, we will not put the energy or care into it. I really want to say, we won’t put the love into it. If I don’t love my music and my practice of it, if I am not grateful for the growth that practice can bring, I will lose interest and not go where the music can take me. I will be mediocre, or mechanical, or emotionless in my music without love and gratitude for music.

What a gift to celebrate each day. Take time to practice and play your music with gratitude this week. It will be amazing, I am sure.


Finally, a shout-out to all of you who have mentored me, played in groups with me, given me inspiration and direction since last Thanksgiving. What a gift you have all been to me. I can’t name you all for fear of forgetting someone. Fellow students, instructors, colleagues on the stage, gurus, and superstars- thank you!

Link to Huffington Post article.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sad, Afraid, Speechless, Stunned, and Hopeful

Those words present the wide-range of feelings and reactions I continue to have over the news stories that never end. Tonight it was Charlie Rose. Last weekend it was Al Franken. Add that to Roy Moore, seemingly countless entertainment celebrities, legislators on all sides, even an NPR news executive. The biggest name continues to be Donald Trump, but he is not alone.

I admit to sadness, but no surprise at the Franken disclosure. Just when many of us liberals and progressives were beginning to get out of our Trump Funk (It only took a year!), we get knocked back by the awareness that this is not a liberal or conservative issue. We have tried to do that in the past, especially since many of the conservatives being accused have been "paragons of family values." (Liberals- being liberal- have always been accused of these kinds of immoral values.) But when it comes right down to today's news, it makes no difference.

Everyone seems to have clay feet! Which should not surprise anyone who is a person of faith or spirit. If we are honest, we would be the first to admit the awareness of what Paul says in Romans 7:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (NIV)
Unfortunately too often the religious right seems to forget that this applies to them as much as anyone else. They try to hide their human failings behind the righteous life they claim to live. That does not excuse it, however. The actions are still wrong. Period! End of discussion.

But this post isn't about that side of the issue. What has struck me most powerfully over these past few weeks since the Weinstein revelations became top news is the pace at which this has happened. Think about it. Before Weinstein things were normal. White male privilege was firmly entrenched from Hollywood to the White House to Alabama. Sexual harassment was the order of the day.

And then suddenly it wasn't.

A couple years ago we were amazed at how quickly opinion about, and acceptance of, same-gender marriage changed. It was almost like whiplash. One day it was wrong. And then suddenly it wasn't.

The same thing has just been happening from a different direction. This time it's women who are taking their power and running with it. They are not backing down. They are calling sexual abuse wrong! They are standing up to power, white male privileged power, and saying, "Enough!" They are advocating for change in some very basic issues in our society.

We are even hearing more about Bill Clinton and a little about the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. These were earlier skirmishes in what has become this major move forward. In other words, these are not just things that are happening now. FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy were guilty of a number of things that we know about- and many that we don't. People are saying "No!"

The powers that be don't like it. Those who benefit by the system the way it is will fight back. They will build walls, figurative, metaphorical, and real, to keep others out. Some of the fights will be symbolic; others will be for real progress for real people. The fight over health care and the tax bill are examples of fights that will occur on many different fronts.

Perhaps this is a natural outcome of the Trump election. The dark underbelly of American culture and politics took the spotlight. Trump flaunted it, reveled in it, put it into 140 characters or less every day on Twitter. We could no longer pretend that it wasn't there. We began to realize that the system can perhaps best be described by the WW 2 acronym: SNAFU. Systems Normal, All Fucked Up. (Usually credited to the Marines. Not a surprise there.)

But it doesn't have to remain that way.

Resist. Move ahead. Become an ally. Speak up. Stand with the victims.

In spite of the stunned and fearful reactions of some, I actually find hope in the breaking down of this patriarchal system of abuse and worse. Maybe we will be able to make significant and world-changing movements.

I pray that it is so.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Looking for a Christmas Gift?

Here are my books available at Amazon. 
They are both in Kindle and paperback. 
They make really nice Christmas gifts.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.21- Beyond Mediocre (2)

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

You have to, take a deep breath
and allow the music to flow through you.

Revel in it, allow yourself to awe.
When you play allow the music to
break your heart with its beauty.

― Kelly White

What else is there about practicing (this month's theme) that can help us rise above being simply mediocre? How about memorization built on sight-reading which itself is built on listening and rhythm?

If there is a secret - and easy - way to memorize, I haven’t found it. In fact I have seldom memorized a song all the way through. The only exceptions might be When the Saints Go Marching In and several songs I learned by ear. As I write that I also know that I have just given one of the not-so-secret ideas about memory work. Some of memory work goes back to what we talked about last week, listening. I have a hunch that memorization is more than just rote recall of something. Like I have said, you have to know the language. Sure, anyone can recite something in a different language without knowing what it means. But it will be lifeless compared to knowing the real feelings behind it.

The other thing that I have found that helps is having a better feel for the rhythm and style. This starts with the basics we always talk about- scales, chromatics, arpeggios, and the like. As we get to know the feel of these basics they become natural. We don’t have to think about them with Self One and will give appropriate control to Self Two. Then, when that run comes up in a performance piece or rehearsal, it just happens. Listening and rhythm then lead to what I have found to be the next pre-memorization step- sight-reading.

Sight reading
Expertise with sight-reading belongs
at the top of your list of priorities.
–The Musician’s Way, p. 99

This was one of my greatest weaknesses for years. Way back in high school I was a mediocre sight reader- at best. Even though I was first chair I had difficulty with sight reading. Part of that may be my somewhat ADD personality, but I didn’t know how to move beyond that. I would then take the music home and woodshed it and be able to play it like a first-chair should play it the next rehearsal. (We had an excellent second-chair who could sight read and was right there to support me and the section. Something every section needs!) Without going into the many decades since then, It was not until the last five or six years that I learned you can actually practice sight-reading.

Enter Getchell’s Second Book of Practical Studies for Cornet and Trumpet. They are amazing- and fun to play! They are based, among other things, on rhythm and time. The more I worked on that, the better my sight reading got. I then learned how to deal with a new piece of music and the “steps” of sight-reading. These include the obvious mental checklist of key signature, time signature, key changes, repeats, dynamics. But they also include a quick look at what appear to be difficult passages- and then humming or singing them. All this can be done in a relatively short time. The more time, the better. By the time the conductor raises the baton to start, I found I am no longer truly reading it for the first time. It is almost not sight-reading.

But here is where a paradox shows up for me. The more I get into the printed notes on the page, the less I am able to do it from memory. I have tried for years to memorize the closing section of Stars and Stripes Forever. Trumpets always stand to play it and I can’t read the music. Put the music in front of me and I can play it flawlessly. Take the music away and I easily get lost. Last year I worked on it using a lot of the new ideas and techniques I have been gathering for the last three years and I had it almost complete. In the end it became a melding together of all that I know about playing that came from listening enough to know the song including the rhythm and progressions (from sight-reading practice).

How then do I move on to greater ability to memorize? On the Your Music Lessons website I found this: (

The steps to memorizing can be broken down as follows:
• Put information into short term memory.
• Repeat the information in your short term memory multiple times.
• Sleep. [Important to moving information from short- to long-term memory.]
• Repeat steps 1 through 3.
• Do the whole process again after some time has passed.

(I like the sleep idea!) How then do I put these steps into practice? From The Musician's Way website here are The Four Stages of Memorization

Stage 1: Perception

Deep perception makes for solid memory. When we grasp the inner workings of a composition as well as how we want to shape each phrase, those rich connections lead to steadfast recall.
  • What’s the structure, how does it flow, what are the emotions? This is the start of getting information into the short-term memory.
Stage 2: Ingraining
Ingraining is the means whereby we lay down enduring memory tracks. But beware: ingraining necessarily involves repetition, yet only mindful repetitions will do.
  • This takes us back to all the elements of mindful practice. Just practicing doesn’t do it; practicing with images and goals will do a great deal. We need to make the music part of us, ingrained in us.
Stage 3: Maintenance
Even if we ingrain deeply, unless we maintain our memory, the mental connections we form will gradually disintegrate. Here are strategies that keep memories strong.
  • Here we do things like record ourselves and listen or do mental reviews of what we have memorized. It keeps it alive.
Stage 4: Recall
  • This is performance. Be relaxed and mindful, feel the emotions and trust in your preparation. With some of the music I have been working on this means getting myself out to a jazz jam or volunteering for the improvised solo in a gig.
This is exactly what I have been trying to do with some of the jazz work I have been developing. I have seen that as I work on playing by ear it allows the music to be more than just short-term since I cannot rely on visual memory alone. That in itself is a big piece of memorizing for me.

With all that here are some final thoughts on memory and music from Your Music Lessons:

“Muscle memory” is not even memory, it’s purely habit. Habits are formed in the most primitive parts of our brains. Studies have shown that people with no ability to form new memories, because of accidents or disease, are still able to form new habits. This shows that habits are not technically memories. When musicians depend on “muscle memory” what they really are doing is repeating patterns mindlessly.

This type of “memory” is also very prone to memory slips because the music is actually not in the musicians memory at all, and any small break from the habit (like a mistake or someone in the audience coughing) can cause the habit to break down.

Real music comes from our actively engaged minds. If the musician cannot sit down and write out an entire piece of music from memory, the piece is not memorized. Never try to acquire “finger memory”. It will come naturally because of constant repetitions. You should always seek an intellectual understanding and memory of the music first.

So, memorization, connected with playing/transcribing by ear, will be one of my goals over the next six-months. I’ll see if this old dog can still learn these new tricks.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans' Day 2017

It is the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Ninety-nine years later.
Veterans' Day.
Iowa Memorial- Vicksburg National Military Park
For your bravery, hard work, 
and dedication to our country, 
we thank you

Diorama- World War 1 Museum, Kansas City, MO
Without heroes, we are all plain people, 
and don’t know how far we can go. 
– Bernard Malamud

Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers- Arlington, VA
 As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

World War II Museum, New Orleans, LA
Honoring the sacrifices many have made for our country in the name of freedom and democracy is the very foundation of Veterans' Day. 
-Charles B. Rangel

Vietnam Veteran's Memorial- Washington, D. C.
 America’s Veterans have served their country with the belief that democracy and freedom are ideals to be upheld around the world.
-John Doolittle

Harold K. Lehman, 80th Med. Battalion, 10th Armored Div., WW II
If you want to thank a soldier, 
be the kind of American worth fighting for.


If you are a Veteran in crisis or know one who is, call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to confidentially speak with a trained, caring VA responder and get connected to services that can make a difference. Chat online or text with a VA responder to receive anonymous support now. Deaf or hard of hearing individuals using TTY can call 1-800-799-4889.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.20- Beyond Mediocre (1)

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

If you need to be inspired to practice,
you should probably do something else
-Ted Nash
“You didn’t wake up today to be mediocre,” says a common meme easily found on the Internet. But many, myself included, spend way too much time avoiding the things that can help us move beyond mediocre or keep us stuck in ways that don’t move us forward. Which, in the end, keeps us mediocre.

Definition: of only moderate quality; not very good.
Synonyms: ordinary, average, middling, uninspired, undistinguished, unexceptional, unexciting, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, lackluster, forgettable;
Informal -OK, so-so, fair-to-middling, no great shakes, not up to much, bush-league

That’s why so much of the research and writing on expertise and improvement focus on “deliberate” practice, working on the things that will make us better and consciously doing things that challenge us to grow. Just playing something two hours a day every day won’t necessarily make us better. With bad habits we may just become fair at being mediocre.

Brent Vaartstra on the Learn Jazz Standards website has an article outlining the Four Ways to Stay Mediocre as a Jazz Musician.

Specifically related to jazz musicians, his thoughts are just as applicable to all musicians who want to improve. I have reversed the themes into four ways to get beyond mediocre, but the idea is still the same:

• Don’t get stuck on scales
• Get out of the practice room
• Work on rhythm and time.
• Don’t beat yourself up

Let me sum up what these mean for me.
• Don’t get stuck on scales
⁃ As Vaartstra says, scales are essential, but how are we playing them? Are they just some rote exercise that we do because we want to learn the scales and let them fall smoothly under our fingers? Good. But what about the style and sound? Can we play them smoothly, with feeling and movement? Can we play them staccato with a sense of musicality? What about the tone? Do they sound like we are just rushing through them to get on with the real stuff? Talking with one of the Shell Lake Workshop participants the other day, he said that he has been working to make part of the Routine"musical". That’s the point. Every time we play we are making music! Then when that scale comes up in a piece, we can play it musically and not just by memory.

• Get out of the practice room
⁃ There are two aspects going on here. One is to get out and listen to live music when you can. It can (and should) be just about any kind of music. It is the opportunity to hear how other people make music and inspire us to improve out own. The other aspect is to get out and play with others. In jazz that can be going to an open jam. It can also be any bands or groups you can play with. Find ways to play with others! Even the best soloist must know how to play in balance and blend with others.

• Work on rhythm and time.
⁃ We often overlook this aspect of deliberate practice. Being able to read more complex rhythm takes time. For my money the two best methods for that are the Arban exercises, especially the syncopation and dotted eighth-sixteenth sections, and Getchell’s Second Book of Practical Studies for Cornet and Trumpet. More about why this is important when we talk about sight-reading. To sum it up now though, it is the rhythm that can often through us off. Rhythm is the dialect and emphasis of the music. When we can get those in our practice, we will be able to play more music.

• Don’t beat yourself up
⁃ It seems we often get back to these underlying concerns that we have often called Self One and Self Two from the Inner Game disciplines. As we work on our pieces, our less accomplished techniques, the more difficult exercises, it is easy to be unkind to ourselves- or worse, give up. Stay steady, let Self Two do what Self Two can do and tell Self One to relax and enjoy the music.

With that in mind here are the two of four ways I have discovered that these movements beyond mediocre can be of great value. I have found some of this on The Musician’s Way website ( and reflect on them from my own experience in practice and performance.

Warm-up and basics.
Like sensuous opening ceremonies, warm-ups prepare the body, mind, and spirit for making music.
– The Musician’s Way, p. 37
I still haven’t found warm-ups and basics to be “sensuous”, but they are the obvious place to start in the movement beyond mediocre. As I mentioned above this can be a place to develop musicality and tone. To play that “simple” Arban routine with beauty and tone is always the goal. Some of the exercises are even performance etudes. They are how we learn to do it. A good warm-up routine, appropriate to your needs and growth is worth it’s weight in gold- and time. So are things like mindfulness and exercises like T’ai Chi and Qigong in getting the body into a healthy spot.

Listening and learning
“For you to perform with native inflection, you have to listen and listen until you break through to the soul of a style.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 98
The more you listen, the more you learn. On one website I read the more than obvious statement that we actually learn to speak- by listening. No one tells us how to talk. It is natural. We are designed that way. The same is true for music. But there are different types of music- just as there are different languages. They all share the same notes, though not always played the same way or in the same order. Some have different rhythms and different time frames. Some are “straight” and some “swing”. How do we know how to play it if we haven’t heard it.

I was reminded of this last weekend. One of the big bands I play with had a gig at a local dance venue. It was an amazing evening for me. I found myself moving along in time (mostly) and able to go with the rhythm. I realized that I am now truly beginning to understand and “speak” the language of jazz big band. I can more regularly look at a passage and know what it probably sounds like because it is in a pattern that is commonly used in the music. I realized I was no longer reading it “note for note” but playing it out of what was called above the “soul of the style.” It is just like when I have learned a new language and found myself thinking in the language. I was no longer translating from an English thought to a German or Spanish thought. On Friday evening I was not translating a written note from one style to another- it was more often just coming out that way.

This is actually more important than it may seem at first glance. All music is language. Music is perhaps a “generic” term for different languages. Like learning any new language we do not start with the most complex words and sentences. Trying to read War and Peace before a first-reader would be most difficult. As I was watching the John Coltrane documentary the other evening I was reminded of this truism. There is much in Coltrane’s later music that I do not understand. It was a different language than any most I have known in music. It was clearly powerful and transformative. I could feel it- but I don’t yet understand it. I want to- and have been working on that for years. I know more about it today. Someday it may all fall into place.

For that to happen I have to keep listening. The many styles and languages of music will enrich my overall understanding of the depths of music and increase my vocabulary. I will be a better musician- and a better person for it.

Which, next week, will bring me to two other aspects of practice that will help us all move beyond mediocre- sight-reading and memorization.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Keeping Faith Tonight

Friday, November 03, 2017

Post-Season Pic #14- The Last for This Year

I had to make it an even two weeks of Post-Season Pics.
Thanks to the "boys of summer" for an incredible season.
It is now officially "winter."

And football season, of course.

But, in case you were wondering, there are only
106 days
until pitchers and catchers report!

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Post-Season Pic #13- Let's Play Two

It's hard to let go of the summer game. 
So let's get two quotes for one picture today!

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.19- Endurance

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Last month we looked at attitudes and habits that lead us to self-care, respect for our colleagues, and balance in our musical lives. This month I want to dig into some of the things I have learned about practice. I never was very good at practicing. I would do it when I needed to or when I wanted to have some fun with some new piece of music I found in a music store. But I was not very disciplined or organized. Over these past few years of my growth into a musician I have been taught a great deal about what makes for practice. I have even come to enjoy it. What then are the effective, efficient, and deliberate ways we can practice that will enhance what we want to do?

So, the theme for November here on The Tuning Slide:

The joy of practice

If you’re not practicing- that’s stupid.
-Lennie Foy

How long can you play? How high can you go? How will your chops hold up? I ask myself these questions all the time. They are questions of endurance. I have had a love/hate relationship with endurance. I love it when I have it and hate it when it bugs out on me. I am not satisfied with what happens and what I’m doing. Some days it seems like I have more endurance than I need and then the next I barely make it through a 30 minute routine. As I was working on this week’s post I dug a little more intentionally into the book by Paul Baron, Trumpet Voluntarily: A Holistic Guide to Maximizing Practice Through Efficiency. In a number of different posts I have written about “deliberate practice” and I have been trying to do that. But it seems I was missing something.

Well, not missing it so much as not applying what I know to my practice. That missing something was what I talked about last week- balance. Baron, on p. 13 caught me up short when he wrote:
A chop-building routine requires stretching the boundaries of your range, endurance, and volume but with a balanced approach so as not to injure your lips.
He goes on to talk about how rest is important- you know- rest as long as you play when practicing. He talked about things I am already doing- the Clarke studies, the Bill Adam routine, and Concone etudes. But he also ended up talking about the danger we fall into, what I fall into, when I think I have found the promised land of endurance and range. I get what he calls “stupid chops”. For Baron that is when he neglects the daily maintenance of his chops in order to play a show. He ignores the stuff that balances the thing he is working on with the basics.

What does he mean?
When things are going great, we sometimes feel like we are unstoppable and do not pay attention to the proper mechanics of playing, only to pay the price later. [Then] we decided to try a new routine and push it to sheer exhaustion.
He just described what I (and obviously others) end up doing in some repetitive and self-destructive cycle. All stemming, it appears, from an inability to maintain balance.

Stupid chops.
  • My lips don’t recover enough between days of practice
  • My range falls apart.
  • My sound is mediocre to poor.
  • I feel like I am straining to just play what I used to be able to play well.
Sometimes, as I have noted before, this happens just before I am about to make another breakthrough in endurance or range. So I used to just power through it until I had to back off and go at it again. It always needed up in some way of taking a step backward to allow my chops, attitude, and ego to rebuild. Then it moves ahead- but only after I have consciously stopped to return to balance.

I am at one of those points again which is why I think I subconsciously picked this month’s topic. I get the chance to write it out and see what it might mean. After Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop in August I was working on some embouchure adjustment thanks to Bill Bergren’s mentoring. It began to fall into place. I was regularly doing things that I had not thought possible a few months earlier- like regularly being able to hit the high “C”, “D”, and at times “E” above the staff. I was able to play quite well for up to two hours a day! It felt good. It was a major breakthrough.

Until about three and half weeks ago when it became work again. It happened on a Tuesday after a Monday when I practiced an hour in the morning with my normal routine and then two Big Band rehearsals that evening, and therefore the equivalent of another two hours plus of playing. I forgot to balance and went right ahead on Tuesday to try to do it again. And I fell apart. Like Paul Baron said, I felt “unstoppable” until I stopped. I forgot the mechanics of playing (just say “M”, right Bill?) and breathing. I barreled my way into the upper register forgetting the basic middle “G” approach. Now here I am trying to recuperate and recover from my own stupidity- er, lack of balance.

Maybe I should practice what I preach.

Let me bring it together as a way of giving myself a direction if not an actual plan. My “deliberate” practice over the next month or so will focus on balance. I will work on developing an overall style of practice that will allow for the balance to be more natural and ongoing. The basics of that will be:
  • Rest as much as I play.
    • Admittedly I am not good at this. If I have an hour to practice I have difficulty only playing for 30 minutes. But that doesn’t mean I should spend the whole hour playing in order to get it all done. That IS a recipe for disaster, and it isn’t deliberate. I need to prioritize and plan the things I need to do.
  • Balance the upper and lower.
    • Doing the expanding long tones starting on middle “G”; working Clarke 2 and 4 as expanding up and down from G; playing different volumes
  • Increase slowly, not trying to get too far too fast.
    • Impatience. Dangerous. We get hurt when we are too impatient because we forget the basics. Take it easy. Grow at your pace and don’t push it. (By the way, never pray for patience. God will make you wait.)
  • Don’t forget the basics
    • I know what they are. We all know what they are. Sound, rhythm, scales, long tones. We all know where to find them- Arban’s pages 11-36. Now to be aware of playing with good sound, good rhythm, and good intonation. Balance!
So what’s good in all this? Well, the work I have done has not been lost. I just need to get back into balance. When I was practicing last evening I still have the range I had three weeks ago- and it is actually a little stronger and clearer than it was. My sound is as steady and full through the same range- and is a little stronger as well. I am aware of being more relaxed overall. It is always a movement forward even when you have to slow down or even take some time to regroup!

This is one of those topics where it almost begs me to comment on how this applies to every day life.
  • Rest and play- All work and no play makes Johnny dull. It can also make us sick and can lead to burnout. Take the time to kick back; find the direction of play; have fun.
  • Balance the extremes- Always living at the extremes will just make you more addicted to adrenaline. It may easily lead to physical repercussions. The body needs the balance.
  • Patience- Take it at a sensible pace. Life is a marathon- not a sprint. Plan for the long-haul.
  • The Basics- Breathe. Take time to renew and refresh. One Day at a time.
If we can make these who we are, we can endure more than we thought, with greater range- and for longer than we think possible.

Post-Season Pic #12- Tonight's the Night

Third base bag from last regular season game at the Metrodome.
Game 7- It will be over tonight.
 Houston Astros  vs.  Los Angeles Dodgers
The elimination game. The last day of "summer."

All Saints' Day