February 20th, 2006 § § permalink
You are probably wondering where I have been, and why there haven’t been any posts? Or perhaps you aren’t, and that statement is just a form of self-aggrandizement. Either way, the truth remains: I haven’t posted in a while.
It has been an extremely busy couple of weeks, but the truth is, I could have been posting here if I had been determined. So why haven’t I? I suppose it comes down to a lack of inspiration. Writing has always come in spurts for me, and it turns out that this type of writing is no exception. This time, however, I think the fact that I haven’t been writing comes from a lack of desire to write about the trumpet. To me the trumpet is a means not an end, and quite honestly, I lose interest from time to time. That doesn’t mean I don’t love playing the trumpet, because I do, and I have been doing a great deal of practicing getting ready for a recital I am playing in two weeks.
As I write this, though, I don’t recall any great player talking about getting tired of playing the trumpet. Perhaps they do, but it seems like there is almost something dirty in discussing the fact that sometimes you don’t want just don’t want to face the instrument, or at least don’t want to talk about it. It is as if it is some big secret we are trying to keep; we can’t afford to let anybody know that sometimes playing the trumpet isn’t fun, if we do, nobody will want to do it. Maybe this is only me. Maybe I am the only trumpet player that doesn’t wake up every morning frothing at the mouth to cram a hunk of metal up to my face, but somehow I doubt it. If that is the case, oh well. I do love to play, and there are many mornings when I really look forward to playing, but mostly I look forward to making music. That is what gets me out of the bed each day. That is what makes me face all the mundane drills on a daily basis. If you took the music away — the real music, the sounds we make that are miraculously some form of expression — then I would probably never buzz another note. I would sell my trumpets and find some other form of expression.
Maybe this makes me less of a trumpet player, less of a force in the trumpet community. I can live with that. I just want to make music that somehow means something, and thus far, the trumpet has been my favorite and most effective tool to do so. So, I wake up every day and cram that hunk of metal up to my face, not because I can’t think of anything better to do, but because I want to make the best music I possibly can. And I honestly can’t think of anything better than that.
February 8th, 2006 § § permalink
My name is Jeremy Tarter. I am a trumpet performance major inm the twin cities and I’m really struggling with tongue position when I articulate. Up until about 3 weeks ago, I thought I just had a slow tongue that needed extensive work, but in one of my lessons, I brought up to my teacher that when I single tongue, I hit my bottom lip, meaning I anchor tongue. So my teacher got me doing a ton of tongue exercises with a new tongue placement, the top of my teeth. He says, “Just like an embouchere change, your tongue will strengthen and get used to tonguing up higher like it should.” Is this the right way to go about it? I have to admit, I feel so much better when I’m playing things in terms of endurance and sound quality because my tongue isn’t getting in the way, however, it is impeccably slow right now and frustrating to practice. Do you have any experiences with this or any ideas as to how much tongue work I should be hammering in everyday? Any imput would be wonderful!
February 8th, 2006 § § permalink
Craig, I really enjoy the articles regarding your routine. I especially like the way you list the exact excercises used. Oftentimes I find myself wondering what exercises you use in your skill set and where these exercises may fall in your routine. I realize that, since the articles follow a logical progression in a routine-like fashion, this article may be forthcoming. However, I am still quite interested in shortening the process a little. I also have the luxury of being here in person to ask you, but I decided to send in a comment just the same.
February 6th, 2006 § Comments Off § permalink
I don’t recall where I first heard it. Perhaps my Grandfather whispered it in my ear, having watched me bowl headfirst into the side of the house, in hot pursuit of one toy or another. Or maybe it was my Father; he would have had plenty of opportunities. Maybe it was after he saw me standing frozen in the backfield during a flag football game, clutching the ball, watching the kid I was supposed to give it to run down the field without it. The parents were screaming at me to run, but I didn’t get it. I had forgotten that the goal of the game was to score points, forgotten that the only thing that really mattered on this play was that we gain yards. My only thought was that I needed to hand the ball off, but now there was no one to hand the ball off to. So I stood there holding the ball, with no idea what to do next. It didn’t take long, of course, for the memory to return. I remembered the goal of the game, the goal of the play. So, I ran. I ran hard and fast, but I ran out of room before I ran out of field — out of bounds, just shy of the end zone. The play was a huge success, but I knew I should have scored, and my Dad knew it to. He could have told me then, but I don’t know if he did. He could have wrapped his big arm around my little seven-year-old frame and said, “Craig, you just couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” I would likely have stared blankly back at him, not understanding why we were talking about trees. But he would have told me; he would have explained the thing we all need to know about forests, and their trees. If I didn’t learn it then, I learned it soon after, in some other similar circumstance, but the point is I learned it. We all learn it. That’s what makes it cliché.
We tend to devalue clichés, casting them off as lacking creativity and originality, but it is important for us to remember why things become cliché in the first place: their universal truth and value. If a saying had little value or relevance, then it would quickly fade away, but some of them… some of them get right to the point. They lay it right out there. And we all become that seven-year-old kid, staring blankly, comprehension slowly sifting in, realizing that this is something we should have known all along. Unfortunately, many trumpet players forget this cliché when they get involved in the audition process. It gets lost amongst the details of our preparation, but with so many auditions right around the corner, I don’t want it to get lost on you.
When people play audition material for me, I invariably ask them what they thought about what they just played. It gives me insight into what they are listening for. Almost always the response is something like this: “I thought I rushed the triplets just slightly, and the dotted quarters were a little bit too long, not enough space after them. The octave jump at the end was solid, but the diminuendo was a bit too fast.” I will sit for a moment, processing what they told me, and compare it to my own observations, which are usually something like: The sound is thin overall; he plays sharp in the upper register, a little tubby in the lower; the articulation lacks clarity; the whole excerpt sounds forced; I don’t get a sense of the mood of the piece; has this person listened to many recordings? Needless to say, our thoughts about the way this excerpt was played are divergent at best. The student is clearly consumed with the details, the trees from the famous adage. I, however, like most listeners, am concerned almost totally with the forest, the big picture.
As performers, and particularly as trumpet players, we are prone to focus on the specifics of what we want to do. This is all well and good until it comes at the expense of our overall product. In the scenario above, if the student were to listen to his own criticism, he would need to work on one set of skills. He would tackle those triplets, making sure they don’t rush. He would work on the lengths of those dotted quarters and the pacing of the diminuendo. However, if he listened to my criticism, he would be examining his sound, trying to make it warmer and more resonant; he would be practicing articulation to get more clarity; he would be thinking about how to best capture the character of the excerpt: listening to recordings to achieve this goal. All told, he would be doing two totally different things, all depending on what he thought were the most important issues to tackle. The problem is, the typical listener will be much more concerned with generalities than with the minute details, and if the student focuses on his own set of improvements, he will be doing very little to achieve better results at the audition. Even if a listener is obsessed with the details, his or her vote is likely to be swayed more by the forest than by the trees. That’s why I came up with the Viola Effect (no offense to any violists).
The Viola Effect is rooted in the realm of the professional orchestra audition, but it is equally useful when preparing for any type of audition. The Viola Effect features a fictional violist who is stuck hearing trumpet auditions for the orchestra he plays in. This person meanders into the hall, newspaper in one hand, coffee in the other, grumbling about the fact that there are no donuts, convinced there must be language in the contract somewhere about donuts at auditions. He slides into the most comfortable seat he can find, opens his paper and begins to read. Meanwhile, backstage, Candidate A is waiting to play an audition for a major symphony orchestra, utterly convinced that this could be the most important day of his life. Now our violist certainly cares about who is in the orchestra and wants to get the best person for the chair. He will listen intently to the audition, but — and this is important — in spite of his seventeen years in the orchestra, he has no idea what dynamic is marked in the third trumpet part at rehearsal 17. He doesn’t have a clue as to which notes are marked staccato, or which ones have accents. He has, however, played this piece 215 times. He knows how it goes. So, he looks at his paper and listens, listens to see if any of today’s auditionees know how this piece goes.
Now, as we look back at our nervous Candidate A, it is clear that the only chance he has to win this person’s vote is to impress him with his forest: beauty of sound, crisp articulation, singing phrases, knowledge of the piece and its style. These are the elements that will make our violist stare over the top of his paper at the screen in front of him. These are the things that will make him put the paper down and listen more intently. These are the things that Candidate A needed to be prepared to demonstrate at this audition. But if our candidate has been focused on the trees at the expense of the forest, then all will be lost. He will be cut after not missing a note in his entire audition, and he will be left bemoaning his fate, convinced that the audition was rigged.
As you are preparing yourself for an audition, any type of audition, take a step back and view the whole picture. Find the forest. What is it like? Does it convey what you want it to convey? How are the generalities of your playing? What is the quality of your basic sound? What are the most obvious attributes of your playing? These are the most important aspects of your audition package. Don’t get me wrong; the details are extremely important. Without them you will be equally lost. If you don’t nurture the trees, the whole forest will look shabby and thin. But there is a definite danger in focusing solely on the trees, for it is by staring into the crooked labyrinth of twigs and leaves that we lose sight of our destination. It is there that the forest disappears, and with it, our dreams.
February 4th, 2006 § Comments Off § permalink
Yesterday I listened to trumpet auditions for an event called the Florida Honor Band. I would tell you about Florida Honor Band, but I’m sure it would bore most of you to tears, so I’ll cut straight to the chase. I listened to a number of young students come into my office to play their audition for honor band. Several of them proceeded to play through their piece lightning fast, but missing most of the notes in the process, and playing with a poor sound and bad time. It reminded my of my high school audition days, and especially of Hurricane.
There was one trumpet player from a neighboring school that would always show up to region band competition playing the etudes twice as fast as everyone else. His sound was fuzzy and I’m not sure he ever respected a dynamic marking with an actual change in volume. But he was fast. So fast, in fact, that the rest of us dubbed him “Hurricane”. I don’t actually remember his real name. He was always just Hurricane to me. The unfortunate thing is that Hurricane never really understood why he didn’t get in the top couple of chairs at the auditions. He would go up there, clearly play everything the fastest, then sit back with dismay as the results were posted, his customary fifth chair secure.
There were a few students yesterday that reminded me of Hurricane, although I think he played much more cleanly than what I heard yesterday. I told them exactly what I would have told Hurricane had it been appropriate: just slow down, concentrate on playing notes well rather than fast; quality over speed. I don’t know if they got it. I’m sure Hurricane never got it. I’m sure his band director and private teacher told him the same things, but I don’t think he understood. To him it was always a race: a race he would win every time, only to be non-sensically relegated to fifth place. Maybe he didn’t understand it, but watching him go through it sure made it clear to the rest of us. For that, I owe him: quality before speed. Thanks Hurricane.