Taking Responsibility

“Eventually we all have to accept full and total responsibility for our actions, everything we have done, and have not done. ”
― Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

More important than taking credit for successes, is taking responsibility for failures, and learning from them.

In music, it is one’s own responsibility to take the tools given, listen to the lessons/masterclasses/courses, and work hard in order to have success. The lessons may be taught, and the advice given, but it is the individual’s responsibility to implement this knowledge to better him/herself and those around them.

It is our responsibility as musicians to create, perform, and teach great music for those who are not as fortunate as us.

Gotta practice somewhere

Gotta practice somewhere

Expecting More From Yourself

Far too often, musicianship is compromised in an ensemble setting. Focus drags, motivation lacks, and our general ‘nit-picky’ attention to detail diminishes. While playing in a large ensemble like an wind symphony or orchestra may seem to mask some errors, it simply does not. Playing to the best of your abilities regardless of the level of the musicians around you can only yield positive outcomes.

If you notice your articulations are not as clear as they should be, don’t settle for “its good enough”. Do not let others around you dictate your playing: whether it’s a high school group you are asked to fill in for, or a big time band, take it seriously and expect your best at all times.

Also, do not wait for the conductor to point something out. Constantly assess your playing and others’ playing around you. Of course, nobody needs a ‘backseat maestro’ correcting others, just be the technique police for yourself. There is always something to make better.

If none of the aforementioned interests you, playing to your peak is also much more fun.

Harry Potter a Musician?

I am sorry to say that magic simply does not exist… in practice! Performers and teachers can have an ora, or a magical quality about them, but the way they obtained that is not magic. Some are accustomed to thinking that the Chicago Symphony has some powerhouse brass players, but what that magical affect actually is, is a singular unit playing with heart and soul, together. The end product is magic, but often times the process is not.

Many times while practicing I wonder “what is the secret to *any weak spots of my playing*?”. I sometimes assume that there is something that a God of tuba could tell me that would make it happen. Perhaps I’ll dig up an ancient box filled with golden mouthpieces, and the tuba of Arnold Jacobius, son of Tubagodius. This hasn’t happened yet.

How do you get good? The answer is hard work. You must practice efficiently, frequently and with purpose. Set goals, reach them, then set more.

Never forget why you began playing, though. Be the toddler who has no idea what a tuba is or who the Chicago Symphony is, but loves brass because its shiny. Just don’t poop your pants and cry.

We may not get a letter delivered by owls saying we are invited to attend Julliard, or say Wingardium Levoisa and have a soaring high range, but we can practice our skills, meet giants (maybe tuba players), and Stupefy those with our sound… and then we can have magic in music.

One Big Family

Essential Steps to a Great Performance

Many of us have witnessed it: the person who gets up on stage, stops during a performance to correct a mistake or a missed note, then marches off stage without a thank you bow or nod. This type of performance makes the audience just as uncomfortable as the performer sweating bullets on stage. There are many ways to have a great performance before and after the actual piece is played. Here are a few things to keep in mind before, during, and after a performance.

Before- take care of everything in your control

– Make sure you are appropriately dressed for the occasion. If you need some help in this area I suggest artofmanliness.com. Simply put, be modest and professional.

– Ensure that your music is in order, neat and most importantly with you. For brass players, empty condensation from your horn prior to going on stage. No one wants to hear a water balloon drop on stage.

– As Jeff Nelsen (former horn player for the Canadian Brass and Professor of Horn at Indiana University) said, “Your level of nerves will be inversely proportional to your amount of preparation”. Thus, do all of your practicing prior to being backstage.

– Know what to expect and what not to expect. Simulate your performance in your head so it will all be familiar when you are in front of the lights.

– Treat every performance the same: do your best. Whether it is a piece you will be performing in Piano 101, or a recital, never settle for mediocrity. Even if it is a non-chalante piano performance, no one wants to hear you introduce yourself as “Well, I’ll be playing Under the Sea from the Little Mermaid. Its gonna be pretty bad so I hope I get through it.” Rather, “Hello, my name is _____ and I will be performing the Theme from NBC’s ‘The Office’ composed by _____. Enjoy.”

During-

– Focus. Listen and let the music speak for itself.

– Play everything with an exclamation point, not a question mark, as my professor Andrew HItz frequently says. In other words, be confident in what you’re playing whether its right or wrong, and don’t apologize for it.

– Confidence. You should have no doubt that you will be receiving emails and phone calls from the New York Philharmonic or CSO the next day asking for you to be their principal player of… This is an exaggeration of course but do be confident in what you can do. Just as important though, the second you walk off stage tuck that arrogance in your back pocket. Be modest, thankful and open to all comments, good or bad.

– Think ‘do’, not ‘don’t’. In other words, don’t think while playing “oh gosh here comes the worst part of this solo, I hope I don’t frack it”. Nonsense. Think “I’m going to play this part so well just like the other day”.

After- 

– Modesty. This is huge. Even if you are the best musician in the world, do not go on about how much you love yourself. If you have a great performance, the audience will tell you.

– Be respectful, courteous and grateful. Accept all comments with grace and poise. If someone is coming up to you to tell you how wonderful your tone is, don’t say “Yea it was alright, its usually better”. In essence, you are saying that they are wrong. You do not want to do this.

– Finally, move on. It may have been a circus-like frack fest, or a moving experience, but the only thing that matters for the progression of your musicianship is how your next performance will go.

For more performance technique and direction, I highly suggest visiting Jeff Nelsen’s page.

Guy doing yoga behind my tuba

Deliberate Practice

Hello All!

Being my first blog post, I will start slow. I used to think that more hours in the practice room meant more improvement. However, not everything is symmetrical and we can end up doing much more “work” for the same result. This is when I learned about the concept of Deliberate Practice: a practice tool, psychological theory, and immense help to our studies. I have attached a link to the website Study Hacks (another great resource for simplifying success) that explains this concept much more eloquently than I can.

Some of the main themes I took from this are as follows:

Playing is not Practicing

Deliberate Practice is very focused, methodical, and planned

Work hardest on your weaknesses

“…busyness and exhaustion should be your enemy”

Do less. But do what you do with complete and hard focus. Then when you’re done be done, and go enjoy the rest of the day.”

 

http://calnewport.com/blog/2011/11/11/if-youre-busy-youre-doing-something-wrong-the-surprisingly-relaxed-lives-of-elite-achievers/