June 15th, 2007 § § permalink
To most people it is undetectable, to some it is horrifying, but to me it is a badge of honor. Yes, I have a purple lip. Well, an occasionally purple lower lip, I should say, and not the whole lip just a small part in the middle. What’s the cause of it? Other than the fact that it has something to do with playing the trumpet, I have no earthly clue.
I was reminded of this phenomenon this morning while checking on some breathing mechanics in the mirror. Sure enough, after removing the mouthpiece, there is my badge of honor, a trumpet player’s right of passage. I can see you there wincing. Really, it isn’t bad, and when I’m not playing you would be hard pressed to notice anything at all. But why, you may be thinking, would I be proud of it? The answer to that is quite simple: my teacher had one just like it.
Ray Crisara was my teacher and mentor through the most formative and delicate years of my trumpet playing life, my undergraduate years. I looked up to him for just about everything. Luckily, I had a wonderful model to look up to. He is a man with many extraordinary and inimitable qualities, but clearly one of the most inspiring of those was his playing. His ability was truly incredible: thoughtful musicality mixed with impeccable control, a true musician’s trumpet player. In the 4 years I spent watching him play and talk, I noticed that he had a small purple mark on his lower lip. I always wondered about that mark, I wondered if it hurt or not, if it affected his playing in anyway. My conclusion was that it had no impact on his playing and that it was merely a sign of many years of lips on metal. As time wore on, that mark became a kind of symbol of quality: if my lip looked like that, perhaps it might sound like that too.
Now, my lip does look like that. My playing, however, doesn’t sound like his and honestly, I don’t think I play at the level that he did. But I still work at it. I still hear his sound and his words in my mind everyday, and everyday I work to get closer to reaching my potential as a player and musician. The evidence of all that work is there for anyone to see; I have the lip to prove it.
June 14th, 2007 § Comments Off § permalink
It’s quite simple, really. End every practice session on a good note. Finish with something positive lingering in your mind, rather than that missed high C or that muffed soft passage. Playing the trumpet is trying enough on our state of mind. Give yourself a little help and put that old cliché to work. You’ll be glad you did.
June 13th, 2007 § § permalink
I spent this morning making a long overdue trip through the murky marshes of my email inbox. When I sat down to the computer this morning I saw that I had 1185 unread emails… Fantastic. Yes, I believe a little email maintenance was definitely in order. Now, thankfully, my inbox contains no unread messages (and no, I didn’t just sort them all by unread and mark them as read). In the process of weeding through this mess, I found an email from my Mom from February (yeah, February. Sorry about that Mom!). Anyway, she had forwarded me an mp3 of an arrangement of “Smoke Get’s In Your Eyes” for barbershop quartet. As I listened to it this morning, I remembered the thousands of hours I spent as a kid going from place to place, listening to barbershop shows and rehearsals.
Both of my parents sang in the San Antonio barbershop choruses — one for women, one for men — and both spent time singing in barbershop quartets. I can’t say for sure exactly what impact all of those rehearsals and shows had on me. But if nothing else, they helped instill the intrinsic value and power of making music. Barbershop events are showcases for musical enthusiasm: people never stop singing, cheering for other’s singing, or discussing what they are going to sing next. It is like a perpetual motion machine of musical enjoyment. Parties go on into all of hours of the night with the soul focus being the enjoyment of another song, or even part of a song (yes, they spend countless hours singing the last few bars of different songs called “tags”. Groups constantly form and disband, the membership changing over who knows one part or another to a tag for a song that almost no one has ever heard of.)
It is probably somewhere in this obscure world of music making that I began learning about the power of making music, and the impact it can have on its listeners. Below is a link to the mp3 clip I listened to this morning. This arrangement was done by Brian Beck of the “Dealer’s Choice”. You probably don’t know what that means, but if you grew up in my house, you would know that the words “Dealer’s Choice” were always followed by a bit of silence, then hushed murmurs of reminiscence… after all, they were international champions. Don’t know what that means? Spend a few thousand hours as a kid driving toy cars around church assembly halls, minor local theaters, and high school cafeterias and you will know. You will also know about a world where people care deeply about music. It may not be music you care for, but it is music that they care for, and that, in the end, is what it’s all about.
Go. Make music. Enjoy it. That is what barbershop taught me.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes — arranged by Brian Beck
June 8th, 2007 § § permalink
Lately, I have been constructing a warm-up/daily routine from the Allen Vizzutti method books. I have found this to be a good routine for addressing what I call the foundation of trumpet playing (see Fundamentally Speaking for more detail) in a simple and concise manner. While discussing the benefits of this routine may be of enormous interest to some, that is not what I am going to discuss right now.
A few days ago I was starting my day with the first buzzing exercise in the book — G up an octave to G on top of the staff, and then down 2 and a half octaves to C — when I suddenly remembered a master class with Allen Vizzutti at TMEA (Texas Music Educators Association) many years ago. While I did find the class inspiring and informative, I am not going to discuss that right now either.
No, what I am going to discuss is the odd phenomenon of having too many eager music educators and trumpet players in one place. You see, when Vizzutti began his class he started by talking about warming up, so one of the first things he discussed was the aforementioned buzzing exercise. He described it briefly, then set about demonstrating it. After he finished the simple buzzing exercise, a strange thing happened: the entire room erupted into rambunctious applause complete with whistling. I sat there befuddled. Yes, it had been a good buzz, there was no doubt about that. But the buzz was not difficult to execute, nor did it seem to have any intrinsic musical value that would elicit such an outpouring of emotion. No, I think the reason for the uproar was simply that the buzz had come from Allen Vizzutti. To me, that is a strange phenomenon.
It is rather like watching one of those cooking shows, like Emeril or Rachael Ray, when they take a teaspoon of salt, make some cute comment while dumping the teaspoon of salt in the dish, then stand back and watch as the whole room explodes into applause. My question is this. Is it really that exciting? Is it really that incredible? Wouldn’t it be more prudent to wait and see what the dish actually tastes like before selling your soul for a serving? Wouldn’t it be better to actually hear Allen Vizzutti play some music and get excited about that instead? He did that, by the way, and he played beautifully, but that somehow didn’t elicit quite the response that his smooth, break-free buzz had. It sometimes makes me think that maybe, just maybe, we as music educators and trumpet players occasionally put the emphasis in the wrong place, that perhaps we have a tendency to place too much emphasis on technique and not enough on music. But it isn’t often that I feel this way, and when I do I simply put on my old record of legendary trumpet players buzzing scales on their mouthpieces. There’s nothing like a great buzz to remind me what is truly important in music.