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.

Still Got the Theme for the Week

Doc Severinsen, 1966

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands

How could I not have Doc Severinsen in a series of spiritual jazz pieces? Day three of seven.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Staying With a Theme

Maynard Ferguson

Gospel John

When I posted yesterday's video of a fantastic Freddie Hubbard song, The Gospel Truth, I wasn't planning on making it a series. But, hey, if the Spirit moves you, go with it. Just call it a "Spiritual Theme."

Monday, January 08, 2018

Music for a Monday

Freddie Hubbard, 1973

The Gospel Truth
Couldn't say it better with words!

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Spirituality as Resistance: Proclamation

Epiphany Sunday
January 7, 2018
Proclamation as Resistance

Preaching is effective as long as the preacher expects something to happen-
not because of the sermon, not even because of the preacher,
but because of God.
— John Hines

I come to the end of this Advent to Epiphany series of Spirituality as Resistance. There were the four weeks of Advent:
  • Hope
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
Then the Christmas season:
  • Humility
  • Light in the darkness
  • Sacrifice
  • Sacrament
Yesterday, Epiphany was
  • Revelation
As a result of all of that, these nine themes have been building on each other. They interweave
  • who we are with
  • who God is and then on to
  • who God wants us to be.
We ask the final question of this series:
What good is all that hope and love, light and revelation if we don’t with humility and peace take the sacrifice and joy and
  • Proclaim

Easy for me to say. I am an independent, retired preacher who proclaims here, on a lonely blog that most days probably gets fewer readers than I ever had sitting in the pews when I was preaching. I am not dependent on you or any of my readers for my salary. I can say pretty much what I want, filtered through my own bias and spirituality. If you don’t agree with me you can leave a comment, or just not come back to see what else I have to say.

So I go ahead and proclaim my resistance. When I was still in the pulpit I would often temper what I was going to say so as not to offend those of different opinion. I might not speak out against the oppression or non-Christian stands of people in power or government. Not only did they pay my salary, they were also my friends. Therefore I had to find ways to say what I wanted to say that would not push friends away or even turn them into adversaries. What good would that do? It was a fine line and a tightrope down the center of a busy thoroughfare, to mix all kinds of metaphors.

Perhaps I didn’t always trust that God would work as fully as I wanted things to happen. Perhaps I wanted to make sure that I would be around to preach for longer than just that one sermon. But when not in the pulpit- hence when it could be a conversation and not just me speaking- we could have discussions on disagreements. I could find ways to proclaim what I felt- and feel- was and is the Good News when sitting face to face with these friends and agree to disagree while still respecting each other. Brene Brown in her latest book, Braving the Wilderness, talks about getting close to people as a way of overcoming division. She points out that most of us can name people who have very different opinions from ours with whom we can maintain friendships. Many of us know that all __________ are wrong, can’t be trusted and are not worth my time, except for _____________ who is my friend. (Fill in the blanks. It goes in all directions.)

The past year has severely tested those opportunities for many of us. Polarized opinions shut off debate as well as discussion. Proclamation becomes “my way or the highway.” I did some of the dialogue at times with mixed results. It was tiring, even spiritually draining. Even moderate statements could raise tensions on both sides. But it is in maintaining the possibility of discussion and dialogue that we may be proclaiming our views in the clearest way possible. When we say that we need to have a discussion and not a diatribe, we proclaim our personal values of acceptance of the others. We make a clear statement of who we are when we can embrace our friends with differing ideas even when they may be proclaiming something entirely difficult to hear.

There is always something about proclaiming love in what we do and who we are.

That, after all, IS what we say God did in Jesus.


What next? I am regrouping for Lent at this point. It’s not that far away- just 38 days. Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day this year. (What a great metaphor to begin the season of reflection!) Over the past six weeks I have been working through a couple of spiritual readings, Falling Upward by Richard Rohr and some of the writings of Thomas Merton. They highlight the inward journey I have found myself traveling in the past year or so. I may take Rohr’s book and do some riffing in good jazz style on what that means in this day and age, building on what I have been writing about since the Dark Night of the Soul posts last year. In any case, keep watch for what’s next. Let me know what you think. Have a wonderful month until Lent.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Spirituality as Resistance: Revelation

January 6, 2018
Revelation as Resistance

Unclench your fists
Hold out your hands.
Take mine.
Let us hold each other.
Thus is his Glory Manifest.
-Epiphany, Madeleine L’Engle

An epiphany is
  • a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.
  • an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking.
  • an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.
    • For the essential nature or meaning of something to be revealed is revolutionary and changes everything.
    • To get an intuitive grasp of reality through some simple, yet striking event, pushes back against the status quo.
    • To experience a truth that lights up our lives and the world empowers us to stand up and resist what needs to be challenged.

But what is it that is revealed on this day? What is so striking about today that it should make the state quo defenders tremble? What is the truth that empowers us to resist?

We answer this in the Christian year as the story of the day the Wise Men arrive. While popular culture has combined that with the Christmas Eve narrative, they stand far apart. Mary and Joseph have Jesus in a house now. The angels now bring warning to the travelers instead of tidings of joy. They participate in God’s conspiracy against the government of Herod- they sneak away by another route. That story is a clear instance of resistance and rebellion. It is not to turn Herod into a “believer” or make Judea or Rome a “Christian” place.

The days of Christmas have come to an end. It is Epiphany. All has been revealed, at least for now. Suddenly it is all clear- kind of.

And what is that we now know either more deeply or for a first time or in an entirely new way?
  • The essential nature is not power, but humility and poverty and love.
  • Reality is the birth of a baby being worshipped by the rich and powerful foreigners under the very nose of the King.
  • The truth is that God’s ways are not our ways since none of this makes any sense in the work and ways of this world’s powers.

In such times and with such knowledge Madeleine L’Engel’s words prod and push us into a different understanding.

  • The clenched fist of hatred and discrimination is not what God wants, unless it is seen in the helplessness of an infant reaching for love.
  • The ways of God are not the actions of racism or greed but rather the open hand reaching to grab the fist of the powerless and downtrodden.
  • The light of God illuminating us is knowing that none of us is a stranger to God who knows us more fully than we can ever begin to describe.
  • The empowerment found in the revealing of God among us allows us to stand together, holding each other tight with hope.
In that is the glory of God made visible.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Watchword for 2018

In our Moravian tradition we choose a "watchword" for the year as the new year begins. There are a variety of ways that different congregations do it. In general they are pulled at random from a collection of scripture passages like those used in the daily devotional guide, The Daily Texts (Losungen in the German tradition). The Losungen tradition goes back to May 1728 (yes, 290 years!) as a daily "watchword" was chosen from an Old Testament passage. The Moravian Daily Texts book is still published and is translated into over 50 languages. LINK to more information on The Daily Texts.

Sometimes people can look at these chosen watchwords in some superstitious or "prophetic" way. The main idea is for it to be word that guide you through the day and year. Not being in a Moravian Church at this point, I still find it a great way to start the year. I first look at the watchword (OT) text for my birthday, and this year, as is often the case, it was right on target.

In [God's] hand is the life of every living thing.
-Job 12:10
I double-checked the full passage and, as usual, found more that adds to the power of the word. It is Job himself who's speaking. He is reacting to the attempted words of "comfort" from his three friends. They have been chastising Job for his challenging God and asking the creator for answers to why this was happening to him, a righteous man. (We know he is a righteous man. The story sets it up that way. Also, Job has to be one of my favorite books of the Bible raising very contemporary concerns and questions. But that's another post.)

They come up with all the standard answers but focused mainly on the punishing aspect of God. In other words, they tell him that he is in denial, he is not such a good person, he must have done something really awful for God to punish him this badly. "Repent, Job, and all will be okay," is their heartless message.

Job argues very simply that they are wrong. Period. Yes, everyone, in fact all of creation knows that God takes care of everything and that God is aware of everything. The difficulty is that we want to know what God is, or isn't, doing.

In short, this passage is a statement of trust. Way back in chapter 1, Job had proclaimed that the LORD has given and the LORD has taken away- blessed be the Name of the LORD! He is reiterating that here in response to the "comfort" of his friends.

In the end, at this point in Job's life, that may be all that can be said.

Trust in God. Radical trust in God.

No matter what.

Work therefore to feel the presence and the hand of God on me...

No matter what.

Talk about continuing the resistance to the ways of the world. A good watchword for 2018!

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

3.28- The Tuning Slide: Goals for a New Year

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

What better way to begin a new year of posts than to talk this month about goals. Setting them, working on them, achieving them, revising them. I will let the quote below tell us why.

When I was growing up I always wanted to be someone.
Now I realize I should have been more specific.
— Lily Tomlin

So this month we will get specific. That’s what goals are all about isn’t it? We move and grow, change and develop. We start with who we are, where we are, and then move into what we might want to become. Simply said, goals are ways to help us grow and realize the potential that is within us.

While I have been starting each post with one of the summary statements on the board at the end of last summer’s Workshop. But this week’s is based on a whole paragraph from the groundbreaking book, The Inner Game of Tennis. We talk a great deal about the principles in that amazing book and The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green with Gallwey. The note I wrote down from the summary simply said:

✓ Be yourself at your full potential (Example of the rose, Inner Game of Tennis, p. 37)

I needed to be reminded what that meant so I went digging and easily found it. Here’s the full paragraph:
When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as "rootless and stemless." We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don't condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.”
― W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance
Our potential is already present before we start this process; at each moment we are right where we are and that is okay! I can’t help but think of our individual genetic codes when I read that. Inside that double helix of genes and chromosomes is all that is needed to make each of who we are. Period. Nothing else is needed. Each cell in our body is completely us. No, I don’t understand all the ins and outs of it, the processes behind it, etc. But I don’t need to. All that I ever was, all that I have ever become, all that I am yet to be is somehow or another encoded. Yes, I have an impact on how that happens. But the potential is there.

What then do I want to do? Where have I been? What have I learned and experienced already that can help me. So, as I think about 2018 I look at where I am and what has gotten me to this point. Last week I did a list of the experiences of 2017 that have created dots that I have connected in the past 12 months. Here are a few of them. They were:

⁃ Dots of inspiration and humility.
⁃ Dots of learning and staying open to growth.
⁃ Dots of discipline and commitment.
⁃ Dots of patience and improving skill.
⁃ Dots of acceptance of Self Two doing its work.
⁃ Dots of sharing what I have learned so others, too, may learn.

What didn’t happen as fully as I wanted?
  • Exercise and weight loss (I know that's not a direct musical issue. But it does go back to the old "how you do anything is how you do everything" mantra. If I can so easily lose commitment and dedication in that area, it could happen in other ways. Not to mention that being in better shape and weight will help me in many ways, including as a musician.)
What do I want to expand on?
  • Increased endurance and range. (Already a huge jump over a year ago.)
  • Improvising. (Also leaps and bounds ahead.)
Making a plan:
James Blackwell has some ideas and ways to keep track of goals and the path to fulfill them. (

Here’s my take on it in a mock-up of just part of what James talks about. Mine is set up on a weekly basis instead of monthly. That’s just the way it fits in my mind. My mock-up shows via an Excel spreadsheet what I am doing. I keep the list in my “Basics” notebook so I can follow along.

Barry's Practice Log Su M T W Th F Sa
Daily Routine
Long Tones x x x x x x x
2 Octav Thirds- Circle of 4ths x x x x x x x
Clarke 1 Expanding x x x x x
4-5 days/week
Schlossberg 28 x x x x
Scales- various Exercises from Arban x Ab x Ab x Ab x Ab x Db
Clarke 4 Expanding x x x
Arban Lessons (Examples)
Basics, Lip Slurs, Chromatics, B, C LS C B
Scales, arpeggios A A A A A
Tonguing, Technique x x x x
Goldman 1-6 1 2,3 2 5
Clarke 5-6, 7-8 5, 6 5,6 5,6
Arpeggio Scales x x x x
Getchell/Concone x
Arban- Characteristic Study
Keel Row/Blue Bells x x
Yankee Doodle/America x
Jazz Improv x x x
Current Band Pieces, etc.

That’s a lot, I realize. It would easily take over 2 hours/day to do it all. That isn’t the point, of course. Even my over-active perfectionism knows that. What this is doing is now giving me an overall structure to my daily practice. The Daily Routine is required and can take up to 35 minutes. It is what I have learned keeps me centered and focused on the very basics.

I said earlier that I want to really work on jazz improvisation this year. That may mean that the Jazz Improv line may need to move up on the chart. Even if it doesn’t, I will have a way of noting if I am truly doing what I say I am going to do. For me, that is the real value of this chart and my accompanying notebook/journal. The charting gives me a great visual that can show me at a glance were I might be missing something. Following James Blackwell's thoughts, I will probably keep tweaking this, moving things around, adding and deleting as I work through things and find new areas to improve.

One of the goals for the year is reflected above in the line- Arban's Lessons. I am hoping to get through a significant part of the classic Arban's book in the next 12 months. I am using an excellent resource recommended by one of my teachers. Eric Bolvin has developed a series of lessons that takes you through Arban in a well-organized manner. It is called The Arban Manual and is available at his web site. (

Over the next few months I have more practice time and plan to try at least two 50-60 minute sessions/day. Perhaps more some days? I know it can be done. Can I do it? Will I do it? The goals and planner will hopefully keep me on target.

Remember, for each of us, like with the rose, the seed - our potential is already present. It can always be changing and growing, but it is also always there.

Last week I talked about Steve Jobs' now famous commencement address where we talked about connecting all the dots. He knew any of us can get lazy and stop making good dots, or get distracted, or find ourselves in difficult situations. He ended that address with words placed on the back cover of an early 70s iconic publication, The Whole Earth Catalog. The catalog's farewell was written beneath a picture of an early morning country road. All it said was:
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Jobs said he wished that for himself and for his listeners. Stay hungry for more adventure and growth. Stay foolish enough to think we can actually do it.

Or as Mr. Baca would put it,
Crazy? Yeah. Crazy Good.

It's going to be a great new year!

Monday, January 01, 2018

Spirituality as Resistance: Sacrament

New Year’s Day
January 1, 2018
Sacrament as Resistance

God is always coming to you in 
the Sacrament of the Present Moment.
Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament.
— Evelyn Underhill

When I outlined these reflections for Advent to Epiphany I wasn’t sure what to say on New Year’s Day. Sure, I could ramble about new beginnings, learning from the past and moving on, working with a clean slate, making resolutions, keeping (!) resolutions, etc. None of it felt right so I kept it open until about 10 days ago when I came across the quote above from one of the great spiritual writers of the 20th Century, Evelyn Underhill. Suddenly the talk of past and future paled in comparison to the “Present Moment.” But it is not just any present moment, it is THIS Present Moment when we have the opportunity to welcome God into our lives- and our lives into God’s presence.

This is a sacrament:
  • a visible sign of an inward grace,
  • a visible symbol of the reality of God, as well as a means by which God enacts his grace,
  • Sacraments signify God's grace in a way that is outwardly observable to the participant.

Jean Pierre de Caussade introduced the idea of the Sacrament of the Present Moment in the late 17th, early 18th Century. It is in abandonment to the Divine Providence that union with God becomes real. It is when grace grows within us. It wasn't published for many years after his death, but has come to be a classic of spiritual guidance.

Notice that grace is a common theme here! When God is present, so is God’s grace. The sacrament of the Present Moment opens that possibility no matter where we are.

Talk about rebellion and resistance to the ways of he world!
    • Abandonment? Forget it. Unless you are talking about blindly obeying the words and dictates of the nation state, of course!
    • Grace? A free, unearned gift? Not for me. I’m no freeloader- even on God. I’ll earn my way, thank you!

Today is not a day, then, to look back in pain or nostalgia. It is better a time to remember when God’s grace flowed into my life in the past year; or maybe the times that grace pushed me out of the door of my own self-imposed box and helped others find grace. It is also a time to inventory the times when I closed the door and windows of my spiritual house so that I wouldn’t be disturbed by the cries from those in pain or terror, need or healing. Then it becomes a time of confession and making amends.

Today is neither a time to look ahead in some dim sense of a nebulous hope, filled with resolutions of what I want to do in the next 12 months. Instead maybe it is a day to just welcome the presence of grace into my life; to abandon me soul into God’s presence and seek the power to live it- today- so that I can be stronger tomorrow.

All sacraments are rebellious; all sacraments challenge the powers that be. Even in my tradition of two sacraments, they cover the gamut of life with grace.

At baptism:
  • Therefore live! Yet, not you, but Christ live in you. And the life you live, live by faith in the Son of God who gave himself for you.
At the Eucharist:
  • As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death, until he comes!
  • The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your faith and love. The more a soul loves, the more it longs, the more it hopes, the more it finds. The will of God is manifest in each moment, an immense ocean which the heart only fathoms in so far as it overflows with faith, trust, and love.
    -Jean Pierre de Caussade

That truly makes for a Happy New Year as well as the promise of each new day. Resist the nostalgia of “the good old days” and the promise of some time when all will be “great again.” It is today, as each day, that the grace of God is alive.