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.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bremen, Germany

Trombone class here at ArtEZ is quickly becoming an awesome experience.  Today, Peter, Tommy and I made the two hour trek to Bremen, Germany.  The purpose of the trip: check out two of the best trombone makers in the world.

First and Third stop the Latzsch trombone factory.  Latzsch is the trombone designer who sponsored the festival I attend last December.  Not only does he make great trombones, but mouthpieces as well.  After spending a couple hours at Latzsch, the three of us walked less than a mile to the Thein show room.

The Monster Contrabass

Theins have become an insanely popular trombone all over Europe.  Their horns are pretty incredible.  Unfortunately, these babies are the most expensive models readily available.  Thein makes a "German" trombone and a "Universal" or "American" model.  The differences have to do with the size bore of the slide and the exact shape of the bell flair.  The prices are also different, but a Universal model sold to a citizen of the non-EU country goes for only 6,512 Euro.

All three of us we kids in a candy shop all day.  The trip was a great way to kick off the school year.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

ArtEZ Conservatorium: Day One.

On Thursday, the master's students at ArtEZ met to start our school year.  The emphasis of the program is on personal research and creative programing.  Much like schools in America, we are responsible for our own research.  But unlike schools in America, the students are responsible for developing our own avant garde performances.  Over the next year, groups of us will be writing, organizing, and performing works of art that we produce.  I am excited to be in a very creative place.

Day One: Zwolle, NL

The ArtEZ school is comprised of three different schools in three different citys, Arnhem, Enschede, and Zwolle (ArtEZ).  The masters students are in each city because of our individual teachers, however, we will be traveling are working with each other throughout the year.  There are a number of students from all over Europe, including Spain, Romania, Germany, and the Netherlands.  I am the only American participating in the masters program.

Netherlands Symphony Orchestra: 
Sound Check

Zwolle is a typical Dutch city.  However, is this not a canal; this is the mote that surrounds the old city.  Throughout the town, you can see parts of the old fortress, the keep, and several other structures.  ArtEZ: Zwolle is actually in the old cloister just behind this tower.

After school we took a walk around town.  This is a typical cheese shop, there are serval just like it.  I am looking forward to a very fruitful year.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Creating Awe: TED and the Netherlands

A few weeks ago TED's Podcast posted a lecture by Rob Legato. Rob helps create screen shots in movies; the TED Talk is more or less him bragging about his work on Apollo 13, Titanic, and Hugo.  It's truly remarkable how he and his team created three of the most beautiful screen shots in cinematographic history.  Interestingly, none of them are based in reality.

The obvious musical reference would be splicing performance to create an uncharacteristically clean recording. A second could be using electronic software to loop or modify your sound.  Another could be small breaths in irregular places creating unusually long phrases.  How many sneaky ways to "deceive" an audience can you think of?

Today, I visited another branch of the ArtEZ Conservatory.  The city of Zwolle is a stereo typical Dutch town straight out of the middle ages.  The modern city actually dates from around 800.  The structure of the school has some pretty good awe power.  ArtEZ: Zwolle sits in a renovated cloister on the edge of the city center.  (On the left in the picture above.)  I will be posting some more pics of Zwolle soon.

Back in Enschede, I heard the finally exam (recital) of Babis Vlachos an incredible saxophone player.  Besides the beastly alto playing, Babis performed one piece on the bass saxophone.  This was a rare treat.  Babis just finished his MM under Johan van der Linden.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Europe: The day before

As many of you know, tomorrow I am leaving on trip to the Netherlands.  The catch - I have a one way ticket.  For the next two years, I will be studying with Peter van Klink of the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra at the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Enschede, NL.

For the past week, I have been at my parents house in south-western Virginia.  I have sold my car, finished the Discovering a Classical Music Project, published my arrangement of Avant de Quitter ces Lieux, and started the long process of packing.  I will be traveling with two duffel bags and a trombone.

I have no idea what will happen, where I'll go, what I will do, or what I will play on this, my next great adventure.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

My Favorite Teacher

Over the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to talk with all of my former teachers and a few former students.  I have realized a very important aspect of my relationship with these people.  All of them made me feel like their favorite student and I tried my best to make all of students feel the same way.  The interesting thing, I truly believe all of my students were my favorite.

John Rojak speaks about this particular aspect of his teaching consistently.  John Coffee, Rojak's teacher, had this quality in his teaching and thankfully his students are passing down the trend.

In modern educational theory, building relationships with your students is very important.  These relationships allow for communication and understanding in the classroom and a lasting impression in life.  These relationships not only help the student listen and understand the teacher, but allow the teacher to truly listen to the student.  A strong relationship with your students can drastically change the way you communicate with them and help them along on their quest to become peers.

Many many thanks to John Rojak, Pete Norton, Brad Edwards, Dave Ball, and Dave Day.

Current listening: Tower Music performed by the 2010 CCM trombone choir

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Creativity: Jonah Lehrer

As a fat kid at heart, I love finding justification for my laziness.  This morning, while reading the news paper, I found out about Jonah Lehrer.  Jonah is a writer about neuroscience and his new book is called Imagine: How Creativity Works. You should really check out his past works and appearances with various media outlets.

In our quest for perfect craft many classically trained musicians forget about the creative part of what we do.  By this I mean, our practice is deliberate and highly repetitive.  This is great for isolation of craft, but stifling for our creativity.  Think about all the ways we need to be creative.

Musically, we have to be creative to capivate our audience or intrigue our colleagues.

Physically, we have to be creative to overcome the difficulties of our instrument.

Entrepreneurially, we have to be creative in marketing ourselves.

Educationally, we have to be creative in how we teach ourselves and our students.

Communally, we have to be creative to inspire those around us.

Creativity is essential to being an artist or really a well rounded individual.  Jonah advocates allowing your mind to wander in order for individuals to salve problems.  His interviews include anecdotes of world renowned thinkers who do there best when relaxing.  He also includes some crazy statics about problem solving.  Check out his latest interview on the Colbert Report.  And also his interview about daydreaming.

A great summer activity: Be Creative.

Current listening: Of Monsters and Men Little Talks.  Relevant lyric, "We used to play outside when we were young and full of life and full of love."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bemidji: Artist in Residence in Review

Last week I had the great  honor of spending a week with my friends Sarah Paradis and Bill Kloppenburg while working with students at Bemidji State University in Minnesota.  Some of you might be wondering where that is, well take a right in the middle of nowhere (St. Cloud, MN) and drive three more hours.  Bemidji is actually the home of Paul Bunyan and the entire town is fascinated with his folklore. Everything from flanel to amazing pancakes to chopped lumber, and frozen lakes can be found in the incredibly beautiful town.

While in residence at BSU I gave a recital, masterclass, lessons, a lecture, and soloed with the community trombone choir.  Everyone was excited and we completed some great work.  I was surprised at the level of students, Sarah is doing great work with some gifted youngsters.

Talking about phrasing and style with Steve Radley

The Bemidji Trombone Choir is actually a community trombone ensemble made up of musicians from over 80 miles away.  The concert went well and featured a variety of music including my first arrangement. The choir was kind enough to play Avant de Quitter ces Lieux from Gounod's Faust.  I scored the ensemble for 5 trombones and was surprised when I played infront of 12 musicians.  Needles to say, I am little closer to the goal (160dbs).

Sarah Paradis (Conductor) Russ Zokaites (Soloist)
Bemidji Trombones (Choir)

Sarah and I before an amazing night

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bemidji State University

This week I am serving as a guest artist at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minnesota.  The week is filled with rehearsing, teaching, and performing.  I am excited to work with the students and a community trombone choir.

The schedule:
Wednesday March 28th, 11:00am Masterclass
Wednesday March 28th, 7:30pm Recital
Thursday March 29th, 7:00pm Trombone Choir Concert.

(I will be teaching on all three days but they will be closed sessions)

The recital will include:
Lebedev's Concerto in One Movement
Bozza's New Orleans
Ewazen's Concerto for Bass Trombone
Gounod's Avant de Quitter ces Lieux
Inez McComas' A Quick Trip with Lots of Baggage

Sarah Paradis will be conducting the trombone choir in a variety of repertoire including an arrangement of mine.  I am truly excited to get to work this week!

The drive from Kansas City was anything but quick, 11 hours in one sitting.  Although it was nice to see the hills in Iowa, and the lakes in Minnesota.  Most people drive south for spring break, I however drove to the still frozen in North.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Question: How do you Maintain Motivation?

I have started a new segment for the 160th post on the 160 Project.  Last night, I emailed high level performs and asked them a question.  In this case:

Dear Gentlemen,

How do you continue to motivate yourself?  After many years of a high level of practice and performance how do you continue to push yourself?  How do you pull yourself out of a practice slump? 

Will Timmons: 

I was discussing this at dinner with another trombonist in the AF band.  The answer that I came up with is that you have to continue to increase what you strive for.  You must be a good planner with short-term and, most of all, long-term goals.  These big goals will be something like:  Perform at the ITA Workshop or release a CD of the highest caliber.   I feel like many people become settled in to a feeling of contentment and the day-in-day-out mentality of what their job requires.  Some musicians get a job that doesn't require the perfection that the audition circuit demands or that the trombone community has come to expect.  People become content not to be the best in the world.  I find that to be fine... not everyone needs to desire that.  But I never want to stop pushing myself to a higher standard, even when I reach the top. 

Many times, people just need a fresh perspective or an inspiring idea to push them forward.  Inspiration isn't automatic or consistent.  A few times in my life, I've been propelled by those around me.  As a member of the New World Symphony Orchestra, I was constantly around incredible young artists that were winning jobs in top tier orchestras.  Knowing that they and I were on equal ground every day, and seeing them win these auditions made me feel as if I could win one too.  That helped me dive in and do the work that needed to be done to get to my lofty long-term goal.

Sometimes seeing a great performance inspires you to go practice.  Many times, I practiced for hours following a big performance in orchestra or band back in college.  There's something fresh and exciting about performing in front of a crowd.  I used that to my advantage by allowing that energy and excitement continue into my practice session afterwards. 

Keep performing, keep striving for larger accomplishments, surround yourself with high acheivers, and eat, sleep, and breathe artistic excellence.  Always try to think on the highest artistic plane possible.  This will help one to stay creative. 

Will Timmons (Will is a member of the Air Force Ceremonial Band in Washington DC.)

RZ: But what happens after an audition, or performance, when you just want a day or week off but you have another audition in just a few weeks?

You have a choice to make.  In order to have long term sustainability you have to have times when you relax and let your body and mind rest.  So you have to decide when to take a break.  I think this goes back to the short-term planning and how it fits with the long-term planning.  If you stack your schedule so much that there's no down time before having to start on your next project (audition, recital, performance) then you might be limiting your chances of success.  It all comes down to planning.  Don't schedule yourself to teach 6 hours the day of your recital.  Don't schedule 11 recitals in 11 days. 

To clarify, I think it's okay to take multiple auditions fairly close together.  You probably don't want to have them constantly 2 weeks apart.  It's hard to sustain that.  It's best if you have auditions within the same week or spaced out by a month or more.  The 2 week time in between is just enough time that you are able to get out of the focused mindset that you were in for the first audition, but not enough time to get re-focused.  I think that's a mistake some people make.  But for some people, 2 weeks works okay.  It all depends on who you are and how you respond to certain situations.  

If you are smart about it though, you can plan your way to success.  Set yourself up for playing your best at the right time.  Timing is everything.  You need times of intensity but you need times to relax and rebuild (just like any great workout would suggest). 

Will Timmons

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Playing in a Section: Rope

I have been thinking about individual responsibility in section playing.  Most people would think this is a no brainer and relates to individual parts.  However, I am thinking about the next step.  How your part relates to everyone else's.  More so, how can your part make it easier for other people to play?

The other day in orchestra, we were reading a student composition and the tubist had two isolated whole notes.  These notes severed as the underlying harmonics for a short choral in the winds and brass.  The first time through, he put a huge breath right in the middle.  The second time he supported through the choral, making the whole orchestra sound better.  I doubt the other wind players noticed much of a difference, other than their parts sounded a lot easier with a more clear idea.

Fig. 1

Yesterday, I coached a high school trombone section through a choral.  All of them knew their parts but had little idea how their parts functioned within the section.  (B in fig. 1)  Slowly, as the listened to where harmonies changed or where other people had moving notes a more clear section sound emerged. (C in fig. 1)  

How does this make it easier for others to play around you?  The 1st trombone had an octave leap over a bar line, while the rest of the section repeated their harmony.  This should have been a huge energy creating moment, but the principal had to work so hard to play his octaves energy was lost.  Rather than ask him to push through the bar line, I had the other three musicians push through their parts.  In supporting their own lines, they were supporting the first trombone part, making his job much easier. (D in fig. 1)

One of my students mentioned this process was like twine being worked into rope.  Knowing your part is only the first step, knowing where everyone else's parts are going will help a section or entire ensemble know where they are going.  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Time Passing

Time Passing

Listen to the Metronome Tick
Keeping me honest
It's rhythm is the truest
It's movement isn't a trick

Marking the Passing of Time
In search of the Sublime
Each hour of Practice
Almost a Sickness
What to do in the Meantime?

Day by Day I am Waiting
For my career to start Blooming
Weeks and Months of Work
Trying not to go Berserk
While my craft I am Crafting

Months and Years
Counted by Beers
Celebrated Performances
And tender Smooches
Avoiding our Fears

10,000 Hours
While our lives it Devours
Attempting to be Perfect
I am an Addict
My playing left to Scours

More batteries in the Trash
Time flies in a Flash
Metronome, tuner, Recorder
The source of my Anger
Everyday I Rehash

The Passing of Time
The work of a lifetime
Practice for Hours
Passing this time of Ours
Is it a Crime?

~Russ Zokaites 2-18-12

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Performance: of an arrangement

The Carolina Trombone Collective will be playing an arrangement of mine tomorrow night at 7:30.  Colt Campbell will be soloing with Avant de Quitter ces Lieux.  This arrangement was the first thing I arranged and I am honored that the piece is receiving a performance.

The CTC is the trombone choir at the University of South Carolina.  Under the direction of Dr. Brad Edwards the ensemble gives a biannual concert of varying genres.   I was a member of the CTC while at USC.  This ensemble introduced me to trombone choir and captivated my interest in contemporary trombone literature.  The CTC lead to incredible collaborations with some very dear friends.

If you have time to spare tomorrow night and happen to be in SC check out the concert.  I am sure you will be please with the performance.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lohengrin: Rhythmic Fun

Wagner's Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin is notorious for time issues.  The main excerpt utilizes moving notes on the weak beats instead of the strong ones.

In the above excerpt you will notice moving notes on beats 2 and 4.  Try moving everything back one beat.  Essentially put your metronome on beat 2 and 4 instead of 1 and 3.  This will put the moving notes on strong beats.

Can you do it? Take beats away.  Only allow your metronome to play beat 4 (of the original).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Remembrance of Things.......Today?

Today, the University of South Carolina Trombone Collective read an arrangement of mine with Colt Campbell soloing.  I wish I could have been there as this was the first reading of an arrangement of mine.  Avant de Quitter ces Lieux from Gounod's Faust is a tuneful melody originally for voice baritone.  I, however, set the aria for solo trombone and trombone choir accompaniment.  Hopefully, this arrangement will turn into one of many such arias, that one day will help me introduce young trombonists to opera.

Tomorrow, I will performing the Rite of Spring for the first time as well. The University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory Symphony Orchestra is performing for the Missouri Music Educators Conference.  We will also be performing Stravinsky's famous and history changing work Friday February 3 in White Hall, and again in April at the Kaufman Center.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I am listening to the excerpts for my upcoming auditions (Boston (just a tape) and New World) and I have come to some interesting realizations.

  1. First, the ride is apparently difficult to record, and the Marine Band does a fine job.
  2. Second, most recordings do NOT follow the written music. Pierre Monteux and the return of the theme in the third movement of the Franck's Symphony in D minor. Dutoit's La Gazza Ladra and the quarter note broken chords at the end of the first excerpt.
  3. Third, finding a good recording of Hary Janos is very difficult.
  4. I still wish I could play a Bach Cello Suite like Yo-yo Ma
  5. Bass Trombone KICKS ASS! 
Seriously people, I am so glad to be playing such a powerful and beautiful instrument that composers throughout history have entrusted with some incredible music.  One day I hope to play these excerpts with a great orchestra.

PS. I will get to see Yo-yo in person for the first time in the morning.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


"The only reason for time
is so that
everything doesn't happen at once."
~Albert Einstein

"The only reason to keep time
is so that
everything can happen at once"
~Russ Zokaites

I have been teaching a fair amount lately and I cannot get past coordination.  To play any instrument you must physically coordinate, breathing, articulation, embouchure, and fingers.  To play in any ensemble you must coordinate these aspects with several other people.  And this can only happen if you keep perfect time.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

M4: Parental Discretion Advised

This one is for all you marching band lovers out there!

Marchfourth performs a funky rock show done in the style of a marching band. Judging from their clips, their stage shows are a cross between Cirque du Soleil, Drum Corps, an 80's Leather Bar and a Nightmare.  They have performed all over the world and with a long list of amazing artists.  Their work began on Fat Tuesday and they are keeping New Orleans style street performers alive.  In December they were featured on NPR's song of the day.

In my mind this is what a marching band should do.....entertain.  I doubt anyone has had that much fun playing the quads.  Of course, M4 does not actually resemble anything like the modern competitive marching band.  Although, I believe many college football fans wish their bands had this much fun!

They perform all over the world, you should check them out.  They will be at Floyd Fest in July for all my hometown friends.

Thanks Becka Rankin for introducing me to these wonderful artists.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Interview: Steph Hollander

Today, I had the pleasure of talking with Steph Hollander about her hobby, sing and song writing. I have posted one of songs before and today we talked about the creative process in her creation: Finding

If you would like to hear more from Steph check her out on youtube Hunterblows1122.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

10,000 Page Views

Well 10,070.  I missed the milestone because of my time away from the blog over the winter holiday.

This coming semester is bound to be busy and incredibly fun.  I am co-heading the stage crew for the Band Clinic here at UMKC in just a few days.  The concerto competition is near the end of January;  I will be playing the Ewazen Bass Trombone Concerto....memorized this time.  Check for a recital date in February. March 7th, I will be returning to Cincinnati for an audition for the New World Symphony.  There are many more events that will be happening so please check back soon.

I would like to thank everyone who has made my blog fun and exciting, Carman Lewis designed the amazing new logo, several people have helped with spelling and grammatical errors, and everyone that gave me an interview this summer.  Discovering a Classical Musician has hit the editing stage and I will hopefully have a near finished project early this semester.

Again thanks for all the support.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Year in review

Today marks the end of 2011.

The end of the year is a special time to think about the past and the future.  Thinking about our goals and making sure our past is leading us to them.  For me 2011 was a very interesting year, my life seems to be on economic rewind.  I started the year employed and I have finished yet again, as a student.  If you don't mind a story, I will share my 2011 with you.

During the first week of 2011, I found myself frustrated with freelancing in Denver, and looking for a cheaper apartment.  I moved into a little garden level apartment with Antonio Ortiz and began searching for students.  Then on January 10, 2011 my life changed quite a bit.  Too Many Trombones played for Metrobonanzia at Denver Metro University and I was finally able to meet Greg Harper of the Colorado Symphony.  That day I was asked to join two trombone quartets and possibly give a masterclass at Metro, my freelancing "career" was looking up.  On the way home I got a phone call from a good friend and band director Kevin Keena.

For the next four months I struggled to keep my playing ability up while teaching band at Powell Middle School in Littleton, CO.  While teaching I won a position on the Colorado Symphony sub list and took another audition for the New World Symphony in Miami.  I would not trade my teaching experience for the world.  I grew as a person and as a musician in those short months.  I cannot overestimate how much teaching helps individual ability.  Again, I say thanks to my students and colleagues from Littleton Public Schools.

In the spring, I also had the unique opportunity to work with the Tromboniacs.  The group is a semi-professional trombone quartet in the Denver Metro Region.  The other three guys helped me branch out as a musician and gave me awesome teaching advice.  Many thanks to Doug Harris, Ron Argostinger, and Kevin Buchanan.

The summer I spent in Aspen, CO playing beside some amazing people.  This summer, Aspen energized me beyond believe.  The motivation you get from seeing your friends play well and get jobs is incredible.  Also, I had the unique opportunity to interview several of the low brass instructors about their careers.  (Discovering a Classical Musician is still in the editing phase, but look for it shortly.)  My host family was also unbelievable. I enjoyed living and working in aspen.

At the end of August, I started my doctorate at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  I managed to play in the new Kauffman Center, recruit a few students, and gig some.  I also took an audition in Norway and attend a trombone festival in Holland.  All of these activities have lead to better, more efficient, practice.

I am looking forward to 2012, hopefully the new year will bring new and exciting music making activities.