Saturday, December 31, 2011

Musical Creativity IV

Check out Steph Hollander!

I attended with CCM with Steph.  She is an excellent horn player and one creative girl!

Monday, December 19, 2011

More Braveheart

Support:  Think about the amount of air support it took Mel Gibson to scream "FREEDOM" in the famous torture scene.  This is even more impressive when you realize his inside are leaking out just off screen.  Although the beginning is nice, his airstream kinda dies near the end.

Direction:  The opening of the movie is a little slow.  However, there is never any doubt that the images of the Scottish highlands and character development will give way to something...epic.  Even soft openings have to go somewhere.

Support and Direction:  The very last thing to happen in the movie.....The iconic sword toss.  Think about the amount of support it would take to toss a broad sword even five feet, let alone halfway across a battlefield.  And that arc, perfect.  Every phrase should have that direction and support.

Braveheart and Teaching


Today, I used Braveheart while teaching a lesson.  I had a couple of reasons, and I teach out of my apartment so I had a copy of the movie handy.  And, yes, we did watch some of it.

Telling a story:  Many teachers and performers encourage young musicians to tell a story while they play.  Strong emotions can help inform style and direction.  However, simply coming up with a story might not be enough.  Actors rely on pervious experience to draw a strong correlation between real life and make believe.  My students aren't old enough to have a good handle on life, so why not use movies.  Braveheart is a perfect example of a tumultuous love story with emotions so over the top everyone can understand.

Solo Piano:  Creating a proper mindset for a student to play piano in solo piece is also tricky.  In their experience  they see p and think as quiet as I can play.  Many of them have never seen a concerto performed because they have never been to see the orchestra.  And many more have never seen a brass concerto with the orchestra.  I usually try painting a picture, you are standing infront of the orchestra (80-100 musicians) and you are standing infront of 1,000-2,000 people in a huge hall.  Now everyone has to hear you over the orchestra.  In this case p means with a soft quality, not necessarily quietly.

In both the opening and closing monologues of this movie, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace are speaking clearly, articulately, softly, and yet loud enough to be heard.  Actually in the every last scene, Robert the Bruce pleads with an entire army in a soft manor.  They still had to hear him.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Little Sound-Huge Air

When you play soft you use less air?

When playing soft your air must be every bit as compact and the same speed of air as if you were playing forte.  A huge mistake when playing soft is to back off your air, causing bad articulation and sluggish response.  There are bunches of ways to visualize this.

Mighty Mouse

Here is a great image.  Little dude, big punch.

Li'l Sneezer (Tiny Toons)

For those of you who grew up in the '90s, I think this is a better image.  Li'l Sneezer, off of Tiny Toons, sniffles constantly.  His character comes off pretty weak.  But, with the help from some pepper, his sneeze can level a city block.

The Brain

Alright Smarty Pants, stop thinking and go try this.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The em-Phasis is on the wrong syl-Lable

This one is all David Krehbiel, however, I have read the same from Ed Kleinhammer and Warren Deck teaches the same thing.


The meter is very important.  One must treat, pick-ups, after-beats, and the meter with respect or the phrase sounds mispronounced.  As students we spend a ton of time making everything the same, when in fact it is rear for anything to be the same.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Kickstarter...but not mine.

Will White and I met at the Pierre Monteux School in the summer of 2009.  While in Maine, Will was the assistant conductor for the festival and lead us through, the Stravinsky Octet and Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man.  He was also a huge supporter of the the pig roast and meat eating projects throughout the summer.  He seemed to always be at parties with a glass of Wild Turkey.

Will is the one in glasses.

Currently, Will is doing is own Kickstarter campaign in an effort to record some of his music.  Will is a great musician and deserves to have his music recorded.  The campaign will raise money to pay for musicians and the recording engener.  Check out his website to get a taste of what he is about.

Will is the assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony where his responsibilities include working with the youth orchestra.

Good luck, Jack.

Famous Again

The Aspen Music Festival and School has posted some concerts to  They have posted several concerts from the past three years.  They have recitals from many incredible musicians, as well as top notch orchestral concerts.  If you have time check out the Festival Orchestra playing Mahler no. 5 or no. 2 from this past summer.

Trombone Section and Matthew Rhys

If you want to hear me play check out A Midsummers Night Dream or Firdbird.  The Mendelssohn is narrated by Matt Rhys, which adds to the piece.  Both concerts are with the Aspen Chamber Symphony and are worth a listen.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Frustration is Weakness Leaving the Brain

In an effort to increase my practice time without increasing time on the horn, I have started myself on a healthy regiment of sight-singing and rhythm study.  I have already noticed and increase in my musical thought process while practicing.  I encourage everyone to find ways to practice away from the horn.  This helps fix the problem, your brain, without wasting your face.

I am reviewing A New Approach to Sight Singing by Berkowitz, Fontrier, and Kaft, the text we used in my undergraduate sight singing course.  This time with some diference, fixed-do and persistance.  I have been using fixed-do to prepare my solo repertoire and excerpts for awhile, however the addition of scales and sight singing will hopefully help intonation and understanding of intervals.

For rhythm I am using Rhythmic Training, by Robert Starer.  This book was recommended by a clarinetist in my undergrad and utilized by Al Otte in my eurhythmics class at CCM.  Al would basically have us mark time and clap or count the rhythm on each page.  I, however, have been counting the rhythm and clapping the "dead" subdivision.  The physical manifestation of the subdivision is a great way to do it correctly, and makes cheating much more difficult.

Both of these can be incredibly frustrating.  But, I am fixing the problem and keeping my musical mind engaged for longer without wasting my face time.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Musical Creativity III

This one is stupid awesome.

When I was at Carolina, there was a music-ed trumpet major one year younger than me.  I never knew Tommy Miserendino really well, but he is up to some cool stuff.  As far as I know he is done with classical music and straight onto what he says sounds "like Jack Johnson with a whiskey edge."

Tom Dino's Nothing But Problems, is mellow in nature and lightly influenced by reggae.  The relationship to Jack Johnson and other college rock singers is apparent in the vocals and acoustic tracks.  The album is a great listen and I am sure I will have it on at the next party.  The lyrics are optimistic in nature but reflective at times and should appeal to twenty somethings.  Tommy plays guitar, trumpet, bass, and does the vocals on the album.  Check out his facebook page.  The album is on iTunes.

I hope Tommy keeps this up.  I cannot wait for the next one.  Seriously, check it out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Travel: Part ?

I find myself in the Frankfurt airport more than slightly jet lagged, after a very short night of attempted sleep at 30,000+ feet.  I have another short flight before I get to Oslo, where I will be auditioning for the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.  Preparations have gone well since we received the required music less than three weeks ago.  This past week was filled with Trombone Choir and Brass Quintet more than preparing excerpts.  However, I was able to perform the required solo (the Lebedev) and play a few mock auditions.  If it were not for my exhausted state, I would be psyched for the audition.

Tomorrow (or today) is Liszt's birthday.  Liszt was an incredible pianist and changed the music world.  Miles Hauffman, of NRP, however, does not think he should be count among the great composers.

Thoughts?  I am to tired for outrage.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Found it!

Trombonists talk about sound quality, constantly.  Searching for the perfect sound is a life long process and sometimes a frustrating one.  We are luck to be in an age with great musicians and easy access to technology.  We can listen to Charley Vernon, Matt Guilford, Paul Pollard, Jim Markey, and practically any working trombonist in the world with a few clicks of the botton.  We can also listen to remarkable musicians of the last generation, people like Pavarotti and Sinatra, through CD.

However what happens when you want to listen to an artist who was active before CD's and the internet?  Usually a library will help, even if you have to listen on an LP.  But what happens when this artist is a little know bass trombonist, say the Talented Mr. Roberts?

Pretty much everyone of the bass trombonists listed above talk about Mr. Bass Trombone and sound quality.  You can scarcely read an ITA Journal without someone mentioning the famed bass trombonist. I remember my first lesson with Matt Guilford in 2005 when I was a sophomore at USC.  He mentioned George Roberts as one of his influences and I have been on a quest to find his CD for the last six years.

The wait was worth it.  Just look at how easily he produces a great sound.  You can order his "CD's"

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Holly Cow! I just discovered the next best thing in practicing, SmartMusic.  I know I am a little late to the party but after buying the program yesterday I am sold!

Will Timmons once asked me if I knew who the four greatest teachers are.  The Answer, a metronome, a tuner, a mirror, and a recording device.  These four gentlemen do not lie.  SmartMusic comes with everything except the mirror, however there is one other feature that ROCKS!

The program will let you upload an .mp3 and let you manipulate it.  You can slow the file down or speed it up; you can even change the key!  I have been using this as a technique trainer.  I will never have to play William Tell by myself even at half speed!  The best part, the program records your playing and will let you listen back with or without the accompaniment.

Reasons why I waited.  Playing bass trombone presents a lot of challenges.  SmartMusic was designed to allow you to play with a piano whenever you want, as log as they had the piece on file.  Well let's just say there is not much demand for bass trombone repertoire.

So I have trying that feature out with the Lebedev Concerto in Movement for tuba.  Turns out the interface used to follow performers is still clunky at best.  I became incredibly frustrated working with the program.  But nothing is stopping from playing with one of the numerous recordings at a slower tempo!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Music Education and Glee

Although I hate the show and everything it has done to music; Glee has had a positive influence in music participation.  Every time I visit a school, I see posters for glee club auditions.  The show has reinvigorated after school show choirs...........okay, at least a more pop-oriented "modern" form of show choir.  Kids are showing up.

Why do I care?

Because Glee Gives a Note

Glee along with the producers and Fox are sponsoring a glee club contest to help underfunded music programs across the country.  The music program that started my pursuit of music, Christiansburg High School, entered the contest.  I will tell you right now, their facilities needed a face lift a decade ago.  I am surprised they couldn't show more in the video.  When I was there the sound and lighting equipment was borderline dangerous. The boken chairs have been there since before I attended CHS.  I seriously, doubt if anything has been updated since the mid-1970's.

What can you do?

Take a minute and vote for CHS.  And do it again the next day.  Then the day after that.  Contest ends November 7.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

One year old: A Year in Review

Today the 160 Project turns one.  I am sure many of you never expected me write this much or this long.  I certainly had no plans, other than to write as much as possible.  I cannot thank the some 9,000 readers or the 30 or so people that donated to the Discovering A Classical Musician project enough.  Over the past year your comments and my thoughts have changed the out look, purpose, and formate of the 160 Project.

The beginning of the blog was a discourse about art and music with a few pedagogical insights.  Over the year my thoughts evolved into an eclectic blend of music, food, teaching, and interviews. A few of my favorite were:

What Music Means to Me
Young at Heart
Pierre Monteux
Poe's Tavern

Interview with Pam Kiesling (First interview on the blog)
Discovering a Classical Musician
Warren Deck

I hope you will continue to read.  I will continue to write.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Midwest Trumpet Festival

Today and tomorrow Pittsburgh State University in Pittsburgh, KS is hosting the Midwest Trumpet Festival.  Curiously, Joe Alessi is among the guest artists, along with Vince Di Martino and the Third Street Brass Quintet.

Imagine my surprise when I walked in and saw the Third Street Brass Quintet.  I met this guys at Aspen this summer and they are a wonderful group of guys.  Unfortunately, I was unable to hear their recital.

Mr. Alessi gave an hour and a half long master class discussing aspects of playing brass instruments.  He mostly spoke about air and singing qualities of brass instruments.  In my favorite analogy he used used a lawn mower.

The student was loading too much air into the trumpet causing overflow and back up, resulting in a bright crase sound.  Mr. Alessi imagined someone filling up a lawn mower.  If you use to much fuel, the gas will overflow over the funnel.  Instead you have to use just the right about of fuel.

Mr. Alessi is giving a recital tonight at 7:30.  I cannot wait.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Listening to Music: Marc Martel

Listening to music is probably the most underused pedagogical technic out there.  Listening helps teach us about music in a much clearer and quicker way than talking about the music.  If you want to be informed about style, melodies, or harmonic goals....listen.

Imitation is also a great side effect of listening.  Listening can inform us about sound quality and style of different performers as well.  Sometimes, I like to play along with recordings to get everything just right.

Check out Queen Extravaganza

Currently, I am listening to myself play.  Recording myself, during my practice sessions, has pointed out all the places I need to work on.

I guess the point.........LISTEN.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs changed the face of the world during my life time.  I was nine years old with Toy Story was released.  I remember how skeptical of Apple products my family was in the late nineties.  And I remember hating the iPod when it came out.  Now I can count at least three Pixar films among my favorite; I am constantly tied to my iPod, and I am typing on a MacBook Pro.

"Simplifying complexity is not simple," says Susan Rockrise, a creative director who worked with Jobs. "It is the greatest, greatest gift to have someone who has Steve's capabilities as an editor and a product designer edit the crap away so that you can focus on what you want to do."

What does this have to do with music?  Our responsibility as musicians is to simplify music for our audience.  No one in the audience cares how difficult Ein Heldenlaben is to put together or how long you have spent on the solo in Mahler 3.  They want a sleek, easy to listen to, life changing experience. 

Make it Simple.  Record your practice and work on what you need to work on.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ender's Game and Musician

Did Orson Scott Card write about music and music making?  I am not not sure, but the famous author has had some incredible insights to humanity and working as a team.

As musicians we spend most of our time trying to do everything the same.  To have a unified idea really makes a section or ensemble incredible.  However, at what cost?

In Ender's Game the main character Ender Wiggin encourages his lieutenants to have creativity in the way they approach each battle.  What would happen if you gave the same freedom to other members of your ensemble?  Musicians are supposed to be creative people, so let them create. If individuals are allowed artistic and musical freedom, at least in rehearsal, think of the possibilities an ensemble will have to pick from.

I once asked John Rojak what made an incredible chamber group.  He replied, "The willingness and the ability to do anything and everything musically suggested by everyone."


For the folks out there cheering for me this is a video of the orchestra I am auditioning for at the end of the month.

For those of you that think American Classical Music is in danger, maybe we should do more of the this stuff.  And for those of you that hate pops.....well this looks like a lot of fun.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Opening Night

It's that time of year, back to school and back to performances!  Last night was the opening night of the UMKC Wind Symphony.  The concert took place in the week old Kauffman Center; a $330 million dollar building dedicated to performing arts in Kansas City.  The hall is incredible, and to fill the space the program included William Bolcolm's Concerto Grosso and Corigliano's Circus Maximus.  The Prism Saxophone Quartet performed both pieces with the band.

For those of you who do not know, Circus Maximus is an incredibly large work that fills any performance venue.  The piece is incredibly loud and includes several off stage trumpets, percussion, woodwinds, horns,  a marching band and a shotgun.  The performance is certainly an ordeal and a crowd pleaser.

For those of you who did not get to see a performance recently or do not live in a major city you can checkout live and recorded broadcasts of several ensembles.  Our performance from last night will be on youtube shortly.

The LA Philharmonic performed last weekend, but the concert is still on NPR.  Check out....... ridiculous.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Well folks, I am famous.  I know this might come as a surprise to most of you, but I am kind of a big deal.

I had no idea this video actually existed.  And I am a little ashamed at how little views this video has.  You will notice two CCM grads in the video, Jackie Arrington and myself.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Musicians are Geniuses

The MacArthur Foundation announced it's 2011 Genius grants today.  Among the top thinkers of the day are two musical performers.  Alisa Weilerstein and Dafnis Prieto both received the half-a-million dallor grant to do what every they want.  To make this even more impressive both of these musicians a relatively young, Dafnis is 37 and Alisa is 29.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Ride: in one

The ride is plagued with an incredible amount of thought.  The biggest aspects being the rhythm, tuning, and style.  Another large issue is making the accent on the downbeat and not hammering the dotted quarters.  Try thinking about the excerpt in one.

In my lesson last week, JoDee Davis, talked about the 1996 Chicago Lyric Opera production of the Ring Cycle.  In this production the Valkyries "ride" in on trampolines.  In this moment the singers are replaced by agile ballet dancers suspended from the ceiling.  Apparently, the dancers would land/jump on the downbeat of every measure.  In this production "the ride" is clearly in one.  Check out the article form the New York Times for an awesome image.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Just for Funsies

I am not sure why people feel the need to write all over their parts, however we have all done it.  I have seen copies of rental parts where other bass trombonists signed their name.  And, of course, the obligatory cursing over difficult passages.  Yesterday, I saw something new.

Yes those are single celled organisms and references to Star Wars.  Later on in the piece there are also dinosaurs and monsters....Oh my?

Now if there are any of my former students that miss me enough to get me a present, I found the perfect thing.

Order the t-shirt from Shirt.Woot.  E-mail me for my new address.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Visuals and Music

I read several other blogs in the inter-webs.  Most of the authors are my friends, teachers, or people I find interesting.  You can see a few off to the left.  I would recommend Alex Ross and Bob Sutton, who actually write for careers.  However, today I was presented with a paradox.

Bill Eddins wrote about musicians that move with music.  If you watch great performers, most move a little.  Even in large ensembles musicians move.  For some this can be "musical" and for others it can be functional, like when a principal player gives a little cue for the section. 

What happens when musicians are blind? The Ohio State School for the Blind Marching Panther Band is teaching young blind musicians to participate in a visually complex activity.  Incredible.

In studio class, Dr. JoDee Davis had the trombone choir close our eyes and listen for the breath to start playing.  This is a difficult task for twelve people to accomplish.  I love rehearsing in chamber groups with our backs to each other.  This lets you rely on your ears and to trust that your colleagues really will play on time.

Visuals do effect the performance of classical music both for the performer and for the audience. The audience likes to "see" the music either from the conductor or soloist.  And performers use visuals to inform what we do.  How else can you communicate silently over several feet of space?

Another Air Flow Analogy

Air flow, it must be important, everyone keeps talking about it.

The most common air flow analogy is probably the old water faucet story.  You turn the water on and then you just interrupt the water with your hand.

This past weekend, I rented a car to drive 600 miles along I-70.  Cruise control made my life easy.  Just like a solid consistent airstream.  Of course, I still had to adjust for traffic or construction, just like I have to adjust my air flow based on register, dynamic, or style.  However, the air or cruise control is always on and consistent.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Musical Creativity II

Joel Baroody is a great friend of mine.  Currently, he plays trumpet with the Coast Guard band in New London, CT.  He wrote the harmony, one verse, and recorded every part of this wonderful anthem.  I cannot thank musicians for their free time more.  Bravo, Mr. Baroody.  Check out his other youtube videos!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

San Francisco Symphony turns 100

In a financially driven artistic world that is threatening the existence of some of the oldest musical organizations in the country, it is nice to hear some good news.  NPR did a great spread about the San Francisco Symphony turning 100 this year.  At 11 o'clock EST check out to hear the orchestra play Billy the Kid and Young Person's Guide.  There will also be appearances by some incredible guest performers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Simple Tunes and Duets

Ever since studying with Brad Edwards, playing simple tunes has been a part of me.  They were huge to me as a young player and I use them a lot when I teach.  Recently, I have been playing simple music to work on my own fundamentals .  Simply put, when playing simple music you can work on more complex concepts.  Brad even has a book full of simple tunes, Simply Singing.  I have not actually used this book but I hear it is fantastic.

A few days ago I found a new site.  This is a creation of Joe Schoonmaker.  This site is not about lip slurs, it is about simple duets.  The site is designed for young players (probably still in middle or high school) to have access to a large collection of duets.  The duets are available in a verity of keys, so playing with different instruments is easy.  

Here is the kicker.  Schoonmaker convinced Doug Yeo of the Boston Symphony to record a few of the parts.  Not only can you play with your friends but you can play with a member of the Boston Symphony!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chris Dudley Teaser

Chris' interview is the longest in the set at a whopping 65 minutes.  In his interview we discussed his education, performing on two continents, his 20+ years with the Baltimore Symphony and performing on electronic instruments.

Stefan Teaser

Stefan Sanders is the former bass trombonist of the Buffalo Philharmonic.  After encountering complications with playing, Stefan left the orchestra to pursue is life long dream of becoming a conductor.  In this interview we discussed his musical training from the age of three years old through the Juilliard School and into his job in Buffalo.  We also discussed his issues with playing and the transition from trombone to conducting.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New Adventures: Kansas City

Sunday night I said goodbye to the paradise I called my home for 14 months.  Denver, flanked by two summers in Aspen, taught me some incredible lessons about music, the industry, myself, people and students.  I am very thankful for those musicians, band directors, and students that made my life interesting and possible while I lived in Colorado.

I left the Aspen Music Festival and School to drive 13 hours to Kansas City.  I will be attending the University of Missouri at Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance for a Doctorate in Musical Arts in trombone performance.  While I am here I will be playing with the conservatory ensembles and studying with Dr. JoDee Davis, as well as working as a professional musician and educator in the greater KC area.

After I get settled in Kansas City there are a few projects that I need to finish.  Discovering a Classical Musician went very well.  I obtained interviews from Warren Deck, John Rojak, Per Brevig, Stefan Saunders, and Chris Dudley.  These need to be compiled.  I still need to record A Quick Trip With Lots of Baggage for Inez McComas.  I will be archiving and updating the 160 Project. And of course working on my DMA.  I am extremely optimistic about this work and I look forward to presenting it to the world.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Last Week in Aspen and a Little Humor

The Aspen Music Festival and School has been a brass players wet dream with monumental works on virtually every concert.  The season has boasted four Mahler symphonies, Firebird, Rite of Spring, Pictures are an Exhibition, three Shostakovich symphonies, The Planets, Falstaff, West Side Story and a smorgasbord of Prokofiev writings. To top it all off the festivals theme of "Art Inspires Art" has lead to a number of Shakespeare interpretations.  The result has been an incredibly excited brass studio teetering on the edge of exhaustion.   This final week is no exception with the run of West Side Story, a program consisting entirely of Shostakovich pieces, and the epic Second Symphony of Mahler.

In a summer like this, humor is important.  There are awesome pieces of music with humor at their core.  One of my favorite being Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel.  However a friend of mine, Jason Stoll, introduced me to Dohnanyi.  Below is a variation set of a very familiar theme.  After you hit play you have three minutes to figure it out.  If you cannot, I guarantee you will die laughing.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Warren Deck Teaser

Warren Deck gave a 45 minute interview about his career for the Discovering a Classical Musician Project.  Warren's interview was incredible and covered topics from school, orchestra, working with composers, and working through injuries.  I cannot thank Warren enough for participating in the project.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Russians and Romeo

This is a huge week at the Aspen Music Festival and School.  Rehearsals are under way for two adaptations of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The opera company is performing Bernstein's West Side Story and the Santa Fe Ballet will be performing Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.  And to top it off, I will be playing in the pit for both performances!

The Ballet will be performed Monday August 8th
The Opera will be performed August 18th and 20th.

If this epic tragedy is not enough for you emo kids about there, this week in low brass class we will be covering Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony.  The work represents the sedge of Leningrad during the second world war.  This oppressive work is scored for two trombone sections and is one of the loudest piece in the repertoire.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Awkward Daddy-o

In the last few days, I have come across some incredibly awkward moments in film and awkward sites on the web.  The family I am staying with was kind enough to introduce in to  The site is hilarious and sometimes boarders on the extreme.  However, there is a site dedicated to Awkward Classical Music Photos.


I am slated to play the last "opera" here at Aspen, West Side Story.  In preparation for the show I have been watching the DVD.  The movie does not follow the correct order of the show and opens up a lot of solos to cover for the extended dance sequences.  Add on the bad recording quality and following the book is pretty  difficult.  However, there are incredible uses of slang throughout the show.  I need your help to bring back....




The shows are August 18th and 20th with a benefit on the 16th.  I hope to see you there!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tossing a Ball

All notes are not created equal. This summer I have seen this recurring theme.  As brass players we practice playing entire pages of etudes with every note sounding the same, sometimes for years.  This is great to practice articulation, notes lengths, and styles; however, how often is it practical in music?  Hardly ever.

In Warren Deck's low brass class we have been talking about meter and always playing so the listener can discern the meter.  This means treating pick-ups like pick-ups and always playing a phrase.  Depending upon the style this could mean a little lift between notes.  A pick-up is certainly a lift in energy, possibly a kick start to the phrase.

Allen Otte, my eurythmics teacher at CCM had us "toss balls" of energy to reflect weight or direction of particular phrases or notes.  The above might reflect a light style of playing with the energy staying near the performer.  However, can you use different images to reflect different style.  Below, you can see the strain in tossing the medicine ball.  This would be great for weightier passages.

In my coachings with members of the American Brass Quintet, I have been working on renaissance dances.  Ray Mase and Kevin Cobb have both been every adamant about the singing quality, where EVERY NOTE IS NOT CREATED EQUAL.  To create line one must stress curtain notes like we do in language.

Rojak Teaser

The first interview is complete for the Discovering a Classical Musician project.  Here is a taste of what John Rojak had to say about his musical career.

Look for the release in fall of 2011.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Insights from Warren Deck:

What does Jackson Pollock have to do with music?

No. 5, 1948

What is the difference between an accent and a marcato making?  Context, what stands out in the above painting?  The impact comes from the difference, make the change.
"I do not care about tessitura. I do not care about instruments.  We are talking about music." ~Warren Deck, July 27, 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ride of the Valkyries

Practice, Practice......?

It is not often in my career as a young musician that I get to play an audition excerpt with a full orchestra.  Yesterday, however, I read the Prelude to Act III of Der Valkure with the Aspen Festival Orchestra.  The section included Aaron Tindall, John Rojak, Teddy Malasky, Michael Powell, and myself, and the reading went incredibly well.

What you imagine as you spend countless hours preparing the epic masterpiece.

However, "The Ride" is something we practice everyday as low brass players.  Everyday!  One would assume this quest for perfection would be about something difficult.  Not so, Valkyries in context is easy.  Yesterday's reading was possibly one of the biggest let downs of my entire life.  (Although my life is pretty short)

What the piece feels like when you actually play it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Making music is about high levels of trust.  Trusting your colleagues know the piece, trusting the downbeat will happen on time, and trusting your work in the practice room and in sectionals is correct.  I had an interesting morning reading the Firebird and rehearsing for the concerto competition.

In the Danse Infernal in the Firebird there are lots of rhythms that start just after the beat.  The same thing happens at the end of the Ewazen Concerto.  Most people will wait to hear the beat before the start playing, this results in the musician entering late.  You simply have to trust the beat Will be on time and put your part exactly where it happens.

Rehearsal is the time to put your part with everyone else.  Listening and adjusting requires a massive amount of thinking power and worrying about your part just adds another layer.  Simply relax and trust that your hard work in the practice room will pay off.  Trust yourself and your hears.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Perfect Week for a Visit

This week will be incredible at Aspen.  Monday there is a chamber concert of new and old music, Tuesday AACA is playing Dvorak No. 9 (New World Symphony), Wednesday Concert Orchestra is playing Pictures, Friday Chamber Symphony is playing Firebird, Sunday the Festival Orchestra is playing Ride of the Valkyries and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5, and Sunday night is the brass and percussion concerto competition.

This year's festival combined with my Kickstarter Project have kept me incredibly busy.  If you wanted to visit this week, you could hear some wonderful concerts. 

But if you want to hear me play here is my schedule:

Monday July 18, 6pm, Gabrielli along side the American Brass Quintet
Wednesday July 20, 1pm, Mahler No. 6, Warren Decks Low Brass Class
Thursday July 21, 8pm, Brass Bash, Brass chamber music
Friday July 22, 6pm, Firebird with Chamber symphony
Sunday July 24 4pm, Overature from Ride of the Valkyries with Festival Orchesta
Sunday July 24 7:30pm Ewazen's Concerto for Bass Trombone for the BP concerto competition.

Wow, I hope I survive! 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


This summer I am honored to be around so many amazing musicians and excellent teachers.  On top of lessons with John Rojak, trombone class with Per Brevig, and low brass class with Warren Deck, my brass quintet is being coached by Ray Mase.  Playing for and watching these musicians teach is both incredibly exhausting and uplifting.  All four of these men are full of infectious positive energy.

Mr. Mase has given me permission to post notes from our quintet coaching.  I did my best to scribble some down while I played with the group.

People perform how they rehearse.  Every time a group plays or someone practices, there has to be every bit of music making happening that you want to happen during the performance.  Music will not magically happen.

A good group hears when you execute a better group hears when you end together.

Instead of using a decibel meter, pretend you have a color meter.  Simply increase or decrease the amount of color you are looking for.  Change the character instead of the volume.

When you practice try to change one thing about your playing.  Play softer but do not change the articulation or style.

Don't do the minimum.  Many musicians think that if no one comments on their playing then they are doing fine.  This is like a Janitor that only cleans half a room because no one ever asks him to do a better job.  It is your job as a musician to positively contribute and to contentiously strive to do better, even without being asked.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Music on the Mountain

I had an awesome time this afternoon.  The Aspen Music Festival and School Trombone Octet performed on top of Aspen Mountain. The eight of us performed together and as two separate trombone quartets.  We performed everything from barbershop and jazz to baroque and contemporary classical music.

 Russ Zokaites, George Michael Ference, Josh Becker, James Ginn
Amanda Logue, Katie Thigpen, Katie Daugherty, Sarah Paradis

The set started with Brad Edwards' Boneweek Fanfare #3 and an arrangement of Mahlers second symphony.  Then the Four Trombateers performed followed by the other four members of the octet. The full choir closed with A Song for Japan, a Buxtehude Fanfare, and  the ever popular Achiev'd is a Glorious Work.

The Trombone Pickin's

The crowd was incredible and enjoyed the performance.  I had lots of people ask about the Song for Japan. The choir was also made up of musicians from all over the country and most of us were cornered after the performance to discuss various locations with locals or alumni from our various pasts.

I was the "elected" spokesman 

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4 in Aspen

Happy 4th Everyone!  Today a friend of mine, Will Timmons, reported for basic training.  Will recently won a position in the Air Force Ceremonial Band.  Over the next 8 weeks he will be in San Antonio, TX preparing for the next four years of his life.

Tonight I will be playing in the Aspen Music Festival fourth of July concert.  If you are in Aspen you can attend the festivities at 7pm for FREE!  However no matter where you live you can listen at KAJX.  Check the listing for exact time (mountain time).

I celebrated already this morning with loud brass playing, a protein breakfast, and the Aspen July 4th parade.

Current Listening:  Copland's A Lincoln Portrait

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Not Aspen, but awesome

After 53 years Cliburn returned to Russia as a guest judge for the Tchaikovsky Competition.  Cliburn, an American, won the competition in 1958 at the height of the Cold War and Soviet rule.  The New York Times wrote a wonderful article about the occasion.

Cliburn age 23

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Deck Aspen

Aspen is back in the swing of things.  The Chamber Symphony, Festival Orchestra, and Conducting Academy have all started rehearsal and the first orchestra concert will be tomorrow.  I will be performing with Chamber Symphony on Mendelssohn's A Midsummer's Night Dream.  Interestingly there will be a choir and Matt Rhys of Brothers and Sisters will be narrating the performance with Shakespeare excerpts.

Outside the Music Tent

I also had the chance to listen to the first rehearsal of the AFO this morning.  The will be performing on Sunday with Vladimir Feltsman and Markus Werba.  Strauss' Don Quixote is full of energy and with incredibly sporadic.  Werba will be singing Mahler's Song of a Wayfarer, and will be doing an incredible job.  This morning his rhythm and sound were impeccable.  I am looking forward to hearing the entire program on Sunday.

Warren Deck's first low brass class met yesterday afternoon.  As always Mr. Deck was enthusiastic and very involved with teaching.  The first section prepared Mahler's Symphony No. 5  and began sounding amazing.

Major topics included:
Feeling strong beats to propel time and motion
Separating articulation from dynamics
Note length
Function within the section and orchestra

Some of the best moments however came when Mr. Deck was talking about listening and musical thoughts.  He uses mnemonics to remember how each piece and section goes, however he does not use verbal phrases.  Instead he uses musical ideas, these can suggest time, style, dynamic, actually any number of ideas with just a few beats of music in your head.

I am looking forward to Low Brass Class this summer, some of the topics will include:

Ein Heldenleben
Alpine Symphony
Shosti 7 (courtesy of George Curran)
Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet
Bruckner 8
and many many more.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Aspen, CO

I have been in Colorado for one year and I have been writing the 160 Project for 10 months.  The original idea of writing the 160 Project was to digest my schooling mainly Aspen 2010.  This is the 100th post on the Project and fitting that I am in Aspen one more time.

Upcoming concerts

July 1, 6pm Chamber Symphony, small amount of playing
July 13, Concert Orchestra, Mahler No.1
July 15, Colorado Symphony, John Williams medley

Please keep in mind my Kickstarter Campaign on the right side of the page.  I think a clear view of a musical career will help focus students and inform the public.  There is only one week left so get donating!

Tonight is Per Brevig's first trombone class of the summer and I am looking forward to it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dancing Trombone

Tomorrow I leave for the Aspen Music Festival and School, for a summer of serious music and hard work.  However, staying in touch with the "fun" side of music is incredibly important.

Check this out

Dancing Trombone Website

Monday, June 20, 2011

Travel Warning

Over the past half decade I have been travelling a fair amount with my trombone.  This includes auditions, recitals, vacations, and a European tour.  All of you tenor trombonists with your small cases are lucky; you can put your instrument inside the plane. Usually I have to gate check my bass trombone.  Walking my trombone to and from the plane has minimized the interaction between my baby and luggage throwers. My BAM case seams to work well; I have seen my horn fall off a stack of cellos only to hit the tarmac.  The horn was fine.

Warning:  Frontier will not give your horn back on the jet way.  However, they sent my horn up with the over sized luggage so it would not have to go through the baggage claim carousel.  The horn is fine and all of the baggage handlers I talked to expressed how careful they were with instruments.

On a positive note, Frontier serves warm chocolate chip cookies to all of its passengers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Musical Creativity

Will Timmons is one of my closest friends.  For Will, music has always been a sort of intellectual pursuit.  He even taught freshman theory and ear training while earning his master's degree.  After taking a computer music course, Will has written a few pieces for trombone and electronics.  These two performances are from his church in South Carolina.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Interview: William C. White

This evening I had the pleasure of interviewing Will White, the new assistant conductor for the Cincinnati Symphony.  In this interview we discuss Will ascent from the viola to the podium, as well as his composition and work at the Pierre Monteux School.  If you would like to know more about Mr. White you can check out his website at

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Song for Japan

A Song for Japan is a project to raise money for Japan to help rebuild after the tsunami.  Uniquely the project creators hope to raise money through trombone performance.  The above URL is a link to the project site where you can donate or buy a t-shirt.  On the website you can also get a copy of the music, for free!  And in several different arrangments.  Check out this youtube video of the project.  The project coordinators happened to organize several of the worlds best trombone players into one video.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

More Kickstarter

Dear Fellow Musicians and Educators,

As many of you are aware I have been writing a blog for the last nine months.  The theme of is basically anything I can think of musically. Many of the posts are about teaching, practicing, and musical thought, although some are also just really cool youtube videos.

During the last four months, I had a chance to fill in as a middle school band director here in Colorado.  The experience was incredibly rewarding and I definitely learned a lot about teaching.  The hardest lesson I attempted to teach and I think the most difficult for all music students is that a career music classical music is actually a viable option.  Luckily, I had the chance to bring in members of the Colorado Symphony to work with my students and many of the close friends won their first job this spring, allowing for some real evidence for making money with music.  Many of these young musicians will be appearing on my blog, giving interviews about their audition experience.

I have recently launched a Kickstarter Campaign to raise money to do interviews with faculty members at Aspen this summer.  These musicians and teachers will be talking about their careers in music and what their life has looked like throughout their relationship with music.  Hopefully, the compilation of these interviews will serve as an educational tool to inspire young musicians and students to pursue a career in classical music.

I know many of you have had some interesting and long careers and I would like to interview everyone, however living in Colorado has its limitations.  For now, I would like any advice you could give me about the project. I would also appreciate it greatly if you would forward this email to other musicians and educators who think this might be a good project.

Thanks for your support,

Russ Zokaites

Monday, June 6, 2011

Terrifying Night

Well the temperature is starting to raise, even in Colorado, so I thought I would give you something to chill your blood.  We all know in some cases music can convey emotion.  Usually these emotions are somewhat vague; happy, sad, playful, etc.  However, in some cases these emotions can be quite specific, in this case terrifying. 

Most of you are familiar with Mozart's Queen of the Night aria from the Magic Flute; even you non-musicians know this.  The piece has been feature numerous times and in a verity of places. However, I am guessing most of you do not equate this music with the terrifying nature it is meant to have.  In this performance Diana Damrau does an incredible job at being scary.

I hope this helps you cool down on an incredibly hot evening.  Sweet Dreams

Discovering a Classical Musician: Kickstarter Campaign Launched!

My Kickstarter Campaign went public today.  The whole idea is to get the 160 Project mobile!  I will be interviewing classical musicians this summer while I am at the Aspen Music Festival and School.  The end product will be interviews with high caliber musicians about their careers and how they got started in music.  Hopefully this project will help young musicians and students realize that a career in classical music is Possible!  If you like the blog and the project I would love your support!

Movie Glory?

Last night I saw X-men: First Class, and like lots of recent movies there was lots of bass trombone in the soundtrack.  I have to admit, I always enjoy listening to a fell bass trombonist crushing some low notes.  However, at some point the novelty simply wears off. 

Henry Jackman came up with a pretty intense chord progression and allowed the bass trombone to play as loud as he could.  I started thinking about how much fun playing the score would be.  However, the some twenty second clip was reused every chance the director could get.  I guess that is the downfall of cinematic music.  I hope bass trombone does not go they way of comic book movies, overdone.

The movie itself was an entertaining watch.  Finding out more about Magneto and Professor X was interesting.  And the film score did add to the movie overall.  If you have not seen the new X-men movie yet, it could possibly be an entertaining evening for you.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Interview: Derek Fenstermacher

Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing an incredible musician who happens to play the Tuba.  In this interview Derek Fenstermacher and I discuss this introduction to music, his musical aspirations, his audition with the New Jersey Symphony, and cooking.  Derek was joining the 160 Project from his finance's backyard in Austin, TX.  Derek recently won a position with the New Jersey Symphony after a one week trial period in which he performed Mahler's 3rd Symphony.

To listen to Derek perform on the tuba check out his YouTube channel.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Flash Mobs

Undoubtedly, all of you have heard of flash mobs.  Large groups of people organize in a public space to perform some unusual act and then disperse. Started in 2003 by Bill Wasik, the flash mob was designed as a social experiment about conformity.  The largest flash mob was International Pillow Fight day in 2008.  In recent history, flash mobs have become more organized and usually consist of musical or dance performances.  Again, most people have seen this performance of the Hallelujah Chorus

It was easy to surprise bystanders in all of these events, with participants needing little to no equipment.  What would happend if an orchestra wanted to perform a flash mob?

Copenhagen Phil at Copenhagen Central

MCO at a Beach Soccer Game in Amsterdam

Thanks to Mike Blair and Ben "Honeybutter" Clymer for finding these videos and to Wikipedia for the brief history of a flash mob

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kickstarter Campaign: Discover a Classical Musician

Proudly, I can announce that 160 Project will be starting a Kickstarter Campaign very shortly.  What is Kickstarter?  They're the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world.  The website has been featured in several periodicals over the last two years.  The site has raised over $50 million dollars to fund individual and creative projects of the last two years.  Currently, the site is taking over $2 million dollars worth of pledges every week.

My idea: Discovering a Classical Musician

I would like to interview professional musicians, this summer in Colorado, with one goal in mind.  To determine who instrumentalist are and what their careers look like.

For many students and young professionals the dream of having a career in music is incredible and often times overwhelming.  Students are daunted by the task of starting a career and are often discouraged from pursuing a career in classical music.  Also, with so many jobs in the field and so many people doing lots of different jobs a clear view of a typical career in music is difficult to achieve.  By putting a face on high level performers I hope to encourage young people to pursue a career in music and to help them negotiate common predicaments and perils faced by musicians.  As a side effect I also hope to inform the general public about who musician are, how they work, and how they achieve their goals.

I need the 160project to go mobile!  I am currently working off a huge desktop built in 2003 and designed for my grandparents.  I need a sleek and sexy machine that can run video editing software and burn DVD's. The cheap webcam I stole from my roommate will not allow for the quality, verity, or mobility I need to shoot interviews in the Rocky Mountains.  With your help I will be able to get mobile and get interviewing.

I am still working on the pitch for the actual website.  But keep an eye open over the next few weeks for opportunities to Discover a Classical Musician.

Braces: An obstacle for many young musicians

In teaching young students I have unfortunately encountered a recurring disaster, dental work.  Braces and brass playing do not mix, however, most young musicians go through stages with metal in their mouth.  I was lucky enough to start playing while I had my braces on and had them removed about two years.  More commonly a young student will start playing and then get braces after they get the hang of the instrument.

This is disastrous and can often lead large amounts of frustration.  There are two major problems that young players have and that braces exacerbate, too much mouthpiece pressure and too much movement in the embouchure.

There are a couple of things that can make wearing braces less annoying.  First, loosen up those biceps; use less pressure and stop pushing in with your instrument.  Second, use your braces as a tool so you know when you are moving too much.  Use slow gliss and take note of how your face changes, you probably will notice very little movement.  Also buzz more, buzz sirens or long glisses.  You have to get your face used to moving a little bit.  Then buzz lip slurs or other passages making sure to stop at each pitch instead of going passed it.  This will help minimize movement in your face.

Sorry to all you young brass players with braces.  But on the other hand one day you might actually have a decent small.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Die Walkure

Today at 6:30(local time all over the US) the Metropolitan Opera is giving an encore presentation of the Ride of the Valkyrie.  For those of you who do not know, the Met projects its presentations directly into movie theaters across the country.  This is a great way to experience some of the best opera in the world.  Colorado Public Radio has a complete list of the 16 theaters in Colorado offering the service, most of these theaters are in the Denver Metro Region.  Two theaters, one in the Springs and one in Littleton, are offering the broadcast on their IMAX screen!

Just a warning for all you casual music goers, the show will last approximately five and a half hours.  However, there are English subtitles to help you navigate this epic story.  This broadcast is also incredibly special because James Levine did conduct the concert.  Levine, nearing the end of this incredible 40 year career, has been plagued by health issues in recent years and had to cancel most of his engagements with the Met and the Boston Symphony.  If you have nothing to do this evening, this presentation of the Valkyrie is more than worth watching.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Washington D.C.

I have spent a great deal of time in our nation's capitol because my mother grew up three miles south of the government center.  And now it looks like I will be spending more time visiting this musical mecca; the city is acting like a magnet attracting most of my friends to its musical institutions.

Will Timmons recently won a position in the Air Force Ceremonial Band
Tyler Castrucci will be attending the University of Maryland for his masters of music
Katie Thingpen is moving to stay close to Tyler
Joel Baroody just won a position the US Coast Guard Band

I think they should all move to Denver.  As proof here is the crime rate for both cities, Washington D.C.and Denver.

Congratulations to Washington D.C. you are receiving four more incredible musicians to add to your musically bloated city.

Correction:  The Coast Guard Band is in New London, CT.  I am not sure how I missed that.  Sorry Joel.  But Washington, you really should stop enticing my friends.

Interview: Pam Kiesling 4th Horn of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra

I am pleased to announce a series of interviews here on the 160 Project.  My plan is to interview rising young musicians in an attempt to chronicle their progress in the field of classical music.  In the first round of interviews I will be looking at some recent audition winners around the country and one international audition.  Hopefully, this will lead to interviews on a verity of topics with musicians from a verity of careers and stature.

First up, Pam Kiesling.  I met Pam at the Univesity of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music where we performed together in the orchestras and wind symphony.  Currently, Pam is living, working, studying, and teaching in Houston, Texas.  In this interview we discuss her budding career and her recent success with auditioning.

If you have any questions for Pam or myself please feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Faster than the speed of sound

In a world full of overweight and beer drinking trombone players, who would think a trombonist could break the sound barrier? Mico Hirschberg of Eindhoven University thought so.  BBC News published this article about trombones producing shock waves.  They have even provided video proof.  The air traveling inside a trombone travels approximately 1 percent faster than the speed of sound.

However the article does not make any mention about volume.  Sorry violists this is not proof that brass plays too loud.  I guess the quest for 160 dbs continues.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summer in Colorado

Yesterday, I had my first experience playing for money on the street in downtown Denver.  The 16th street mall was packed with people in anticipation of the holiday weekend. Most people were either eating lunch or in a hurry to get to the next store.  However some people stopped to listen, including a few ACLU activists, a dude smoking a cigar, the head of jazz studies from LSU, and a violinist dressed like Darth Vader.  The Tromboniacs received lots of complements and little cash.  Several people took pictures and I doubt we will ever see them.

Last night Colorado Public Radio broadcast the Colorado Symphony playing Mahler No. 9.  The concert was spectacular.  I was very impressed with the trombones, Mike Thorton, and Justin Bartels.  The orchestra as a whole was incredibly tight and energetic.  I hope they can reproduce the experience again tonight when I will be in the audience.

Congratulations to Rachel Hockenberry for being named 4th horn of Symphony Kentucky at Bowling Green and to Pam Kiesling for being name 4th horn of the Arkansas Symphony.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Future: at least the next three months

Tomorrow the Trombonaics will be playing on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver.  The weather looks phenomenal, so bust out your lawn chairs and your dollar bills.  We will be putting on a show around lunch time and we will have a case open for tips.

As many of you know, I will once again be spending my summer at the Aspen Music Festival and School.  A few days ago Alan Fletcher and Asadour Santourian made a video discussing the season highlights.  If you are looking for the best concerts this is the video to watch.  If you want to hear me play, you will have to keep reading the 160 Project.  I will know my assignments one or two weeks before the performance.

Feltsman is performing with the Aspen Festival Orchestra on the opening concert of the season on July 3rd.  I first heard Feltsman perform in the spring of 2006 when he performed with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in Atlanta.  His performance of Rachmaninoff's 3rd piano concerto changed the way I listen to music. He was so captivating at the piano that the orchestra seemed to be an extension of his playing.  I was so focused, strings, winds, and brass seemed to emanate from the piano.  One day I hope to achieve the blending that I heard the Rotterdam Phil produce that night.

Sadly, I will not be on this performance, my teacher John Rojak will be performing with the Festival Orchestra all summer.  However, I will not miss the concert or dress rehearsal.

Congratulations to Derek Fenstermacher for being named the principal tubist with the New Jersey Symphony.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

October in May

Congratulations to my former school and to my former roommate!  Joel Baroody arranged Shostikovich's October for the CCM Brass Choir.  I have never had the pleasure of playing under Joel, but his conducting looks pretty steller in this video.

To my knowledge Joel has an arrangment of a movement Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony for brass quintet, and an original composition for 8 Loud Trombones which I have been lucky enough to perform twice.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hero #2

Early on in the existence of this blog I wrote about the importance of being Young at Heart.  Being optimistic and energetic about the world can keep us positive and help us enjoy life.  No other teacher was better at being young at heart than Dr. Dorothy Payne.

Dr. Payne was a true inspiration to every music theory student taught.  And she truly believed any student could learn music. Even at the end of her career, when I was her student, she was upbeat and full of energy.  She taught either from the white board or from her piano.  Her large vocabulary and quizzical nature always made her class interesting and playful.

Dr. Payne was the only classroom teacher, in my sixteen years of education, that I disappointed. I was usually very slack in my approach to academics; Dr. Payne did not mind much as long as I aced the tests.  One day Dr. Payne decided to see who did the reading.  She asked every student in class if they knew what an Italian augmented sixth chord was.  Finally she addressed me, "Surely, Russ will know." No ma'am I don't.  Disappointed she continued the lesson.  I read the entire chapter during class and gave Dr. Payne a run down of every international augmented sixth chord, their function and their spelling after class.  Pleased she thanked me and I went on my way.

I have many more stories about Dr. Payne and I will always remember her with affection and awe.

Hero #1

In my recent job interview I was asked about my hero.  I had difficulty with this because there is actually no one person that I idealize.  Instead, like most musicians, I look for the best attributes in individuals I respect and try my best to incorporate them into what I do, myself.  Hopefully, this will be the first blog in a series outlining some of the people that I have come to respect.

Dr. Brad Edwards was my trombone teacher at the University of South Carolina.  I studied with him for four years in Columbia, where he became a great mentor and a trusted friend.  He helped teach me to hold a high standard and to be patient.  He was always focused on the musical outcome and spent a great deal of time talking about the tune.

2010 Guest Recital at USC
Russ Zokaites, Brad Edwards, Katie Thigpen

In the first master class with Doc he discussed how he was not going to teach us to play the trombone.  He was simply going to teach us how to practice.  He knew then that our musical journey would not end when we left Carolina.  He spent a great deal of time showing us various exercises to practice excerpts or scales and he would then encourage us to come up with our own.  In education this is called creative problem solving.

His focus and drive lead him to publish three books, teach numerous students including several that went onto study at competitive conservatories and a few that play professionally, give recital tours, take auditions, play in two orchestras, and coach his sons lego team.  Doc will continue to be a huge influence on my teaching, musicianship, and my approach to the trombone.