Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sport Psychology and Music

I have been away for awhile and I am working on some pretty exciting stuff.  But this morning, I am inspired to revisit a topic that fascinates our industry.

It is without a doubt, in the world of high level performance mental training and thought are very important. In the music industry we have taken inspiration from the Inner Game of Tennis and Outliers.  Both of these books outline the mental and physical preparation it takes to achieve in competitive sports.

With the Olympics around the corner, I have always been more excited about the preparation of these athletes.  What they have achieved with their mind and bodies is unequaled in the human existence and can only be described as awe-inspiring.

I have been talking about Lindsey Vonn's documentary on Netflix for years. She can only train for her sport, skiing, for three months every year.  In her documentary she discusses cross training and other summer activities.  However, the most inspiring moment in the film is when she finally starts taking practice runs.  You would think, she is take as many as possible every day.

Instead, seven runs a day, with three coaches, four or five video cameras, and an entire line of ski equipment to choose from.  If high level audition training had that much thought, think what we could achieve.  (Get as close as you can, record yourself)

Also, musicians are wimps.  We loose on average 17 auditions before winning 1.  We all know musicians who after 5 or 6 auditions, throw in the towel or crash under the mental pressure.  At least we don't physically hurt ourselves.

Winter sport athletes are insane. Lindsey Vonn crashed in Japan and was told she might be able to walk in a few months.  Instead she finished all of her events in the Olympics that week.  This morning I saw Simon Dumont promo video for freestyle skiing.  Listen to his list of injuries then tell me winning an audition is too difficult.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Time It Takes Makes Us Interesting

Will Timmons is a great friend of mine.  We actually started our blogs on the same day without consulting each other.  The purpose of each blog was to discuss aspects of music and the music industry in an attempt to digest our thoughts and encourage others.  This post is in response to a recent blog of his: Life Takes Time For Some of Us. 

Will's point is very valid and he is attempting to encourage the millennial generation currently searching desperately to find its place professionally.  Notice, I did not say searching to find itself.

The facts about youth unemployment are overwhelming, not only in music but across our generation.

The first years out of college can be incredibly depressing.  For many people, this is the first time we are not around people exactly like us, other students of the same age, regional background, and subject area.  This is the first time we have to explore strange new work places, seek out new people and to boldly search for motivation.

Those of us lucky enough to have salaries are often at the bottom of a totem pole and exist in a predetermined job description.  Speaking with friends across fields and careers, they often find these jobs disappointing in their level of creativity, output, innovation, and freedom of thought.  So much effort is put on the "grammar" of fitting in, (dress right, be on time....etc.) little time can be spent on creation.

We need to stop asking our parents' generation for everything. We need to stop attempting to fit in.  We need to express ourselves creatively and courageously.  We need to DO.

These precious years between university and "professionalism" can be spent on a verity of activities.  It takes time to develop the vocabulary, poise, relationships, connections, and wisdom needed for innovation and articulate entrepreneurship .  But, all of these things come from doing, thought, and doing again.

If you are trained as an artist, make art.  Make bad art, but show your art and practice.  If you are a musician, play music.  Play lots of music.  Organize concerts. Perform. PRACTICE.

"Pre-professionals" (A term I think is crap forced on us by a strict and moldy generation) have something salaried people don't...TIME.

You have a degree in a field.  You have an expertise you thought worthy of pursuing.  USE IT.  You are a professional.

Young professionals have to practice to fit into a professional mold. And yes, everyone has to practice.  We have to practice more than our distinguished colleagues because they have years of wisdom.  But, don't be shy about calling yourself a professional.  YOU ARE.

The interesting characteristics of people are those that don't fit our expectations. Those people audacious enough to be themselves and to create, those people are the beautiful people.  Our generation needs confidence and a kick in the ass...go innovate. GO DO.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Advice for Young Musicians

This week a student of mine expressed interest in a music degree.  This is an intelligent high school student, however, his question went beyond the normal private lessons response. Specifically he asked about how to start studying theory and other aspects of music.

This is a massive undertaking and I think the music education complex does a very poor job at developing a comprehensive view of the industry. There are a few overlooked steps by many aspiring musicians.

Listen to everything....listen both as a passive listener and critically to all styles of music. Aaron Copland's book, "What to Listen for in Music" is a compilation of lectures to describe the benefits oh listen in different ways.

Perform Often....a few years ago I was able to interview the low brass teachers at the Aspen Music Festival and School.  Discovering a Classical Musician looked into the lives of five prominent musicians. John Rojak's interview was incredible insightful because he did not get into his first choice music school.  His first three years of undergraduate work were spent performing with local groups in Connecticut. These years allowed him to develop courage performing in various styles that eventually lead to his broadway career.

Research the Industry....find out how big the music industry is.  Music provides jobs for recording engineers, stage hands, producers, administrators, journalists, conductors, college professors, historians, public school teachers, and instrumentalist is a huge variety of genres.  All of these professions demand a high level of execution and musical understanding.

Use the Internet...there is a growing number of free course work websites. Coursera, as well as other sites, offer introductory courses in theory, history, and even jazz improvisation.  There are even period and style specific courses offered from some incredible schools.  A course in the history of rock 'n roll can be beneficial by increasing your vocabulary and make it easier to discuss music with non-musicians.

Read everything....expand your knowledge.  Read everything from program notes to biographies. Composers have lead some fascinating lives and sometimes their biographies read like a soap opera. Also start following the blogs of your favorite performers.  Some of the worlds top musicians write about the industry and musical thoughts every week.  Books like "Mozart in the Jungle" can also lead to an glamorous view of the industry.

Go to Live have to be inspired and understand what music is.  A live performance offers so much more than a recording.  Seek out different styles of concerts, attend recitals, jazz pubs, symphony orchestras and even punk rock shows. After the concert go back stage and congratulate the performers.  This is a great way to meet musicians.

All of these activity will lead to a comprehensive view of the industry and allow aspiring musicians to make choices that will affect their careers.  Having a clear picture and a depth of insight will direct you through choices that will determine your life.  But always remember, have fun, respect your colleagues and be gracious to your audience.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Trio for Soprano Sax, Bass Trombone, and Piano

Youtube Video
July 4th Concert
Enschede, the Netherlands

I had the pleasure of working with Iris Gruber and Hans van der Werf on Daniel Schnyder's Trio.  This piece marked a huge development in my growth as a musician.  The jazz inspired style combined with technically challenging rhythms and the wide tessitura were demanding. However, Iris and Hans created a working atmosphere where we could focus on style.  Overall the experience was very enjoyable.

We performed the piece three times

July 2, 2013 on Iris' Endexam
July 4, 2013 on my recital
July 10, 2013 on a graduation concert.

While working on the piece I had the pleasure of visiting Stefan Schulz in Berlin.  Stefan is a good friend of the composer and the two perform together regularly.  We spoke about some technical aspects, but Stefan had nothing but great things to say about Daniel's music.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Van Gogh: At Work

Last week, I took a second trip to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.  I visited last winter when his paintings were being exhibited in a different building.  The new Van Gogh Museum just opened at the beginning of May.  The title of the new exhibit: Van Gogh: At Work.


The exhibit attempts to give a comprehensive view of Van Gogh's development through different styles.  A lot of space is devoted to his education.  This collection of drawings and paintings are incredibly interesting.  You can see examples of sketches, color experiments, different brush strokes, and varying angles of the same subjects.


Take these two self portraits: same subject completely different style.

In music we attempt to do the same thing when we study.  We isolate different technics or licks and we practice them in different ways.  However, our study is mostly refinement based.  The huge difference, Van Gogh actively thought about what he wanted and had to drastically change his craft in order to achieve his goals.

Think about what you play and why you play it.  Decide on meaning and let that effect style.  Once you can hear exactly what you want, then the craft will be clean and meaningful.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Is Practicing Becoming Tedious?

Recently, I have been talking to a former student who has found practicing tedious. The first thing you should know is, practicing is tedious, sometimes taking years to achieve our goals. Classical music is unique in the level of craft and artistry, not to mention the pressure of repeating that high level in real time...every time. This takes practice and there is no way around it.

However, there are ways to have fun and stay interested in practicing.

  1. Be around other musicians and friends. A very close friend of mine told me to go to the school with the best people, and that's what I did. At USC and at CCM we had a group of energetic young students that consistently played for and with each other. Having a discussion about where you are and where you want to go is the best way to get there.
  2. Listen to great music. This step is often over looked in music school, who has time to listen to a symphony when you have a lesson tomorrow. However, this is the only way to figure out what music is. If you can listen to live music, that's better. And take in a variety of genres.
  3. Be creative in your practice routine. Know what and why you work on things in your daily routine. This way you can change the content and still work on the same thing. Instead of playing Rochut, play actual songs. If you are working on articulations, play some jazz.
  4. Be creative with your “truth boxes.” Playing for a metronome, tuner, and recording device can drive anyone nuts. Instead of the metronome use a beat, design your own for specific piece, or use something you find on a keyboard. Change the style of beat to fit the music. You can also use a drone or play along with a recording. You will know if you are out of tune.

If you can't listen to live music check out these places for current performances.

There are lots of etude books that use a CD.  Play with them.

Last, but not least, make sure you are having fun away from the trombone.  Exercise, join the gym, play an organized game or convince your teacher to play Ultimate Frisbee with the studio.

In a masterclass today, I heard a teacher demand a student take a day off.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Kickstarter: Not Mine

Everyone that reads this blog is familiar with Kickstarter, the fundraising site that funded Discovering a Classical Musician.  Two days ago, a friend of mine launched her own project.  Tromboteam, along with nine composers, are raising money for new trombone quartets.

I have known Sarah Paradis, the fifth member of Tromboteam, for almost three years.  We attended the Aspen Music Festival together, and this past spring, she hosted me at the University of Bemidji.  I have always been impressed with her playing.  However, this project shows off her unbelievable entrepreneurial skills.  Along with being a professor of trombone, Sarah, tours regularly with Tromboteam and an active brass quintet.  These compositions will certainly get exposure.

Inez McComas wrote a little piece for me in 2010.  A Quick Trip with Lots of Baggage has been a huge hit among my friends and colleagues. After the world premiere in May of 2010, I am aware of several performances, Dr. Brad Edwards toured Georgia performing the piece on tenor trombone and Genevieve Clarkson performed the piece at the International Women's Brass Conference on tuba.  Sarah heard the piece on my recital in Bemidji.  Brad Edwards premiered Inez's new composition Descending into Light last week.

Established composer James Kazik has written several popular brass pieces throughout his career.  Check out his website for more information.  Any new composition from Kazik is sure to be successful.

Trombone players and trombone supporters, get on it and help create new music.  This project is sure to be a hit.