Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Tuning Slide: 3.36- Ask! Just Ask!

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see?
The way one describes a story, to oneself or to the world, is by telling the story.
It is a balancing act and it is a dream.
-Neil Gaiman

All of us who know Bob Baca from UW-Eau Claire and the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop know that he likes to tell stories. Actually he is as much a storyteller as he is a master trumpet player and teacher! We listen because we know the story will be interesting and have an application for us. Personally, I am a big believer in stories. I write fiction stories because they can illustrate truth in ways that real events may find difficult. Those in 12-Step recovery programs tell stories about what people “used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.” The goal is to illustrate what works- and what doesn’t. The result will be a new understanding.

I had another one of my events in the past month that needs to be told. It is a story of learning what I thought I already knew and a reminder that we never know as much as we think we know. It will also illustrate eight more of the summary thoughts from last summer. As usual, these summary thoughts will be indicated by a check mark.

The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think,
but to give you questions to think upon.
--Brandon Sanderson, fantasy and science fiction writer

I have been on a great roll with my trumpet playing. A few ups and downs with the usual plateaus and then moving forward again. Toward the end of January I following my routine and Arban’s lessons. I was at a slight plateau but I was not worried. Plateaus happen. I noted in my journal that it was beginning to improve with some solid sound in the high C - E range. I was playing them with a solid sound and confidence. For me, that is a huge step forward. A week later I noticed pain on the inside of my upper lip, almost like a pressure sore where my lip and teeth came together. That was a first to that extent. I remembered what I had been told at Shell Lake:

✓ Listen to your body
  • It was telling me it hurt.
  • It was telling me it didn’t have the range or endurance.
  • I didn’t want to miss any days of doing my routine. I have not missed a day since the end of March last year. Yes, that was ego at work, of course. I want to go a whole year of not missing a day. I also had a concert coming up and didn’t want to lose anything of my endurance, even though that was happening any way.
  • I had bragged a few weeks ago to one of my trumpet friends how I was regularly playing notes in the upper register - now I was struggling and finding even my upper mid-range register was beginning to sound mushy. It was the worst setback in my playing since I started this part of my journey almost three years ago.
An important reminder from the words of Bob Baca:

✓ If you panic you will die.

Yes, Self 1 was in panic mode. That meant, for me in this case, that I wanted answers and wanted them fast! I couldn’t afford to lose my ability. I was doing so well in so many ways and now here I was, almost floundering, seemingly overnight. I was “dying”.

I wondered whether it is possible for Self 2 also to slide toward panic? Self 2 is supposed to naturally do what is the best. All is generally cool with Self 2. But, what happens when there is something out of even Self 2’s control? Whatever the physical reason(s) behind my inner lip problem/blister/sore, it was hindering what I was doing. I was hurting. I didn’t want to make it worse and have to stop.

So I did the normal plateau things of not pushing beyond pain limits; I went to slow easy pieces in the lower and mid-register; I worked on pedal tones. Nothing was working.

Oh- even my wife had noticed something was wrong. “Your playing sounds tired, exhausted. Take it easy,” she said. “Nah, I’m fine,” I said at the time. Typical.

✓ Circle of influence is important
✓ Power of ask

More words of wisdom from the board at Shell Lake.


So I turned to the community. I went to the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop Facebook page and posted a question, explaining what had been happening:

ME: OK, gang of trumpet gurus: I have developed a pressure sore (not a cold sore) inside my upper lip where it hits against the tooth. I have been practicing daily for almost 11 months. I had gotten to a good level of endurance and range! That is now going backward. Knowing opinions about taking a day off, etc. what might I do until sore eases so I don't make it so bad I can't play? Any thoughts?

Quentin replied first with a good practical question, but right behind him was the one who knew more about my embouchure than anyone else at camp. Bill Bergren. He worked with me on it last year-

BILL B: This can be caused by a crooked tooth, braces, or bad playing habits. Are you still playing with open lips? [He was remembering our private lesson last summer.]

ME: Thanks! More info: Bill- if you mean breathing, I have been working on it. …. Blah, blah, blah… more blah, blah, blah… Any other ideas or questions? [When you don’t get an answer, just talk more, add more information, fog it up with words. I can be good at that!]

BILL B: I reiterate; This can be caused by a crooked tooth, braces, or bad playing habits.

ME: I would agree since it …. Blah, blah, blah… It happened so suddenly, though. Oh well. I keep on playing. Thanks, Bill. [Ramble on my wayward son.]

I thought we were done. But I hadn’t heard Bill and he knew it. Bill, not one for extra words (or putting up with fools like me being dense) had one more, simple six-word reply.

BILL B: You are over analyzing. The sound..................

Mumble, grumble, huff and puff.

He was right. I was doing what I hate when other trumpet players do it- analyze the life out of everything. Ramble on and on about what’s happening looking for a quick solution. By focusing on the pain and lip and the sudden lack of range/endurance I was ignoring what Self 2 can do best- play with the right- and best- sound. Back to the board at Shell Lake:

✓ Always play with your best sound
✓ Just have fun! It will happen faster.

Self 2 knows how to make sound- good sound. It needs to convince Self 1 that it can still happen. “Be easy, man,” it was telling me through Bill’s words. “Don’t get so hung up on all that crap. Make the best sound. Always.”

I went back to the long tones and Getchell with slow and easy playing. I let the sound go from the horn. I stopped nerding-out and obsessing about what I was experiencing. "It’s a plateau, dummy. You pushed too far, you didn’t pay attention. Relax! Have fun. Make music!”

✓ Your best trumpet playing is only a thought away [therefore]
✓ Your best trumpet playing hasn’t happened yet

It’s been over a week now. I have regained the mid-range sound- simply by playing it the way I was before. I have regained the fun of playing. I am watching that I am not pushing the limits- I am paying attention to the body and what Self 2 is saying. The body does not like it when I push to playing tired. It unlearns what it has learned. It wants to feel good playing, not exhausted.

I've played two concerts in the past 6 days. The second was last night. I played well, with range and endurance! It was fun and I liked what I was doing.

Sometimes we have to listen to those around us.

As always and every time, thanks, Bill!

If you're going to have a story, 
have a big story, or none at all.
--Joseph Campbell, mythologist, writer and lecturer

No comments: