Elucidations 2014

1. Read your teacher's writings, blogs, articles, syllabus, etc. If you don't understand something or disagree, ask and discuss...you will learn something. You and your family are paying a lot of money for this knowledge. Be curious.

2. As a student, you are at the bottom of the food chain. Learn from those above you. As a student you don't know enough to know what you don't know. As you learn more you understand what more there is to learn.

3. If you are not consistently placing in the top 2 or 3 at your school auditions, why would you expect to win a professional audition? Your study is not necessarily to prepare you to win an audition, it is to make you a musician of such quality that employers will want to hire you for your expertise.

4. The path to excellence is well worn. Stay on the path. You are not different. You have not found a new way. There are no "million dollar ideas,” but only "million dollar executions.” Hard work outdistances talent. There are no shortcuts. 

5. Turn your phone and other distractions off during your practice. What you are trying to accomplish requires all of your focus. Don’t get sucked-in to mediocrity

6. Invest your time. Don't spend your time. Quality of practice is more important than quantity of practice. The ideal is a large quantity of quality practice.

7. Live aggressively and use each day to its fullest. You will never get it back.

8. Be curious, be interested, seek knowledge and progress. Apathy may seem "cool" but it only leads to mediocrity. Be proud to be good. Don't pretend it's not important.

9. Be the best you can be. You are cheating yourself by doing anything less than your absolute best. Don’t be upset with the results you don’t get with the work you don’t do. Remember…the world needs ditch diggers too.

10. Be a doer, not a talker. Don’t pretend too be something you are not. Become great so that you do not have to pretend.

Audience Etiquette

I go to a lot of concerts. I play a lot of concerts and I am astounded at the disregard that audience members show the performers and fellow audience members. Why do audience members always seem to cough at the quietest moment of the performance. Why do they cough wildly between movements? Why do people insist on opening their cellophane wrappers as slowly as possible? Why do some audience members insist on being the first to applaud after a quiet ending that should inspire contemplation? Why do audience members walk out during the applause? Do they really save that much time, to be so disrespectful to the performers?

10 Commandments for Audience Members

1.Thou shall plan to arrive in a timely fashion, so as to not disrupt the listening experience of others.
2.Thou shall possess cough drops and dutifully unwrap them prior to the beginning of the performance.
3.Thou shall turn off cell phone upon entering auditorium.
4.Thou shall exhibit self-control by not coughing or sneezing during the softest passages.
5.Thou shalt not be the first to applaud.
6.Thou shalt not depart whilst applause is still occurring.
7.Thou shalt not slumber in the front row.
8.Thou shall grant a standing ovation only to performances that merit thus.
9.Thou shall never photograph or audio/video record the performance by unauthorized means.

10. Thou shall understand and appreciate the effort that went into the performance and relish being present during the recreation of great art.

Sitting in my Teacher's Chair

It has happened. Over and over.

It first happened in 1992.

Then, again in 2004 and every year since.

When I was a student, the thing I wanted most was to do what my teacher was doing…play in an orchestra. The thing I REALLY wanted most was to do exactly what he was doing…by sitting in his chair. This feeling began when I was 18 and studying with Warren Baker in Oregon. “Bake” was the principal trombone in the Oregon Symphony and there was nothing I wanted more than to do what he did.
10 years later, I was. When Bake took time off for a hip replacement, I got to play his job for many weeks…time has erased just how many. I was thrilled to do it and thought I had “arrived.”

The next time this feeling hit me was in 2004 when I started working with the Chicago Symphony. When I sat in Frank Crisafulli’s chair, I saw what he saw for over 50 years. It is an awesome experience…and I never use that word lightly.

During my weeks with the New York Philharmonic, I only play principal trombone and again I am sitting in my hero’s chair…an awesome responsibility.

When I played the Tomasi Concerto as a student at Indiana, little did I know that I would return to the same stage to play the Rouse Concerto 15 years later, as a faculty member.

The room in which I teach at Northwestern is not Mr. Crisafulli’s old studio. Barbara Butler teaches in his studio. I have taught in her studio one or twice and the first time I just sat there for several minutes in silence to listen to what the walls had to say. The same room that was pivotal in my career. The walls had a lot to say.

It has been an amazing journey and I look forward to what comes next.

Leadpipe Blues

A friend and former student of mine has revealed a troubling habit. No, not drugs or Internet porn (at least not that he tells me…) but a habit equally as potentially destructive:

Cleaning his trombone the wrong way! Oh, no!! Really???? Poor guy.

Cleaning a trombone is not complicated, when following some simple guidelines regarding respect for the softness of the metal, which is easily dented and/or scratched; respect for the small screws, which are easily lost and/or the heads twisted off and respect for the valve structure, workings and tolerance.

This may seem trivial but there is one aspect to cleaning the instrument that while seemingly benign, can damage a very delicate part and greatly impact how it plays. When cleaning the mouthpipe side of the inner slide, NEVER use a cleaning rod to pull a cloth back toward the mouthpipe. Doing so can damage the end of the leadpipe (especially older, more fragile ones) by having the cloth catch on the super-thin end of the pipe. The leadpipe is most commonly made of brass, which is a very soft alloy to begin with. The end of the leadpipe is necessarily very thin to make a smooth transition from the mouthpiece to the nickel inner tube. It is very easily damaged. A snake with a swatch of cloth over the end, run through in the direction of the air and pulled out the other end is the safest way to clean this tube. This can be done on each of the inner tubes. When using the cleaning rod on the outer slide, make sure you use a cloth so that the rod does not come in contact with the brass. The cleaning rod must be used with respect because its compositional material is likely harder than that of the leadipie and outer slides and can mar the delicate brass, if not used carefully.

If you have a removable leadpipe, take it out and then go ahead and use the cleaning rod to clean the inner slide tibes. Clean the leadpipe gently, being careful to not damage the thin end. I’m not kidding, once it is damaged, it is ruined. Respect.

This discussion then lead to another, about the different types of leadpipes and how they attach to the handslide.

There are a few different ways leadpipes can be attached to the trombone:

Hands down, for me, I prefer a soldered leadpipe. Being soldered, it is more a part of the instrument and I also cannot mess around with other pipes in hopes of finding something “better.”

Get rid of the variables. Get to the practice room.