Virtue Series

Recently, I had the fortune to attend David Cutler’s inaugural “Savvy Musician in Action” retreat where 57 musicians, entrepreneurs, and educators gathered to collaborate and learn about arts entrepreneurship. The knowledge and experience I gained are vast and will continue to influence my career.

This is the first post in a 5 part-series called Virtue Series, where I will detail the highlights of what I learned at the retreat: patience, teamwork/collaboration, originality & energy, inspiration & creativity, and networking & marketing. Each of these will be contextualized for the modern, aspiring musician. Look for each virtue to be published weekly, on Thursdays.

Patience

The core task arts entrepreneurs were faced with at the retreat was to develop a viable business model to fill a niche in the market. With only 2 days to develop, prototype, present and prove functionality of the business, teams were forced to operate rapidly. However, patience was absolutely imperative in finding the niche to be filled and how the business was to function effectively. The development of a poor idea due to impatience and hasty action is finite.

This virtue is true for all musicians, not just entrepreneurs. Patience and persistence in the practice room yields positive results. I have often witnessed that the jump in progress comes just after I nearly lose my patience. Next time you find yourself at your whit’s end, be patient and persist, a solution might be right around the corner.

What other benefits does patience have? How can you implement these in your career?

Preparation is the Key to Satisfaction

Prepare properly in a timely fashion, and nerves, uncertainty, and frustration can be avoided. The key to confidence, is preparation.

Embarking on an audition, jury, or performance can be very stressful, for the amateur and the elitist. The difference between those who progress and those who fall behind is the methodical practice done beforehand. The knowledge and skills gained from this type of work will yield confidence, leading to a successful performance.

Knowledgable practice and a healthy level of confidence will diminish fears, leaving you with the joy of musical satisfaction.

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

Alan Baer Masterclass

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Alan Baer, Principal Tubist of the New York Philharmonic, give a masterclass at the Army Tuba and Euphonium Conference here in DC. I will keep my own anecdotes short and simple, but I must say how down-to-earth Alan was; if he cracked a note, he blew it off or laughed saying “even the best of us do it”. His masterclass focused on orchestral audition preparation and repertoire. As he said “We play for these auditions, and 99% of the time, we are the only tuba player in the room. But now I’m playing for all tuba players… so I’m kind of nervous.”

Alan Baer Masterclass

– Realize that the excerpts are easy; it’s just a matter of control.

– The hardest thing is to get over your ego.

– Naked Tuba

– What do we want the tuba to sound like?

– We play for these auditions, and 99% of the time, we are the only tuba player in the room.

– Think of the committee as complete children. You have to speak so clearly that they understand.

– So much is lost beyond the stand.

Meistersinger

– The horn is so efficient that you don’t have to beat the hell out of it. You can really relax.

– Practice with the drone.

– Use a metered trill to practice.

Damnation of Faust

– Once you play those first four notes, you cannot change.

– On the ascending line, keep going to the high F, so that you ear train it. If the lines goes up, follow it.

– Play pretty.

– The committee does not want to hear you play the ride as loud as you can, they want to hear if you can play in tune and balance the section.

– Use a drumbeat in your practice. It’s doing the subdivision for you.

Prokofiev 5

– I advocate going back and fourth between the F and C. Match mouthpiece rims as well, otherwise you are confusing.

– Get yourself used to the multiple valve combination.

– Use the aperture and embouchure from a Db to use with an F# so that you do not overcompensate.

– Learn how to breath before you start something.

– There is a fine line between when your chops want to play, and when you want your chops to play. Always practice in time so they work when YOU want.

– Think about being on a committee, and listening to 100 guys play this slow, you are going to be pissed.

– Listen to the strings and how they move.

– I try to be as close to the fourth trombones sound as possible. I think ‘clarity for the basses and the mass for the trombones’.

– Get your valves vented.

– Not too loud, pretty.

– Make your music satisfy you.

– All of these loud excerpts, I practice at a comfortable mp or mf, so that you can make it pretty.

– Everything that you play, play with intent.

– “Now I’m going to play everything like the second movement of the Vaughan Williams”

Mahler 1

– “I don’t think of it in 4, I think of it in 12/8″.

– Thick is the thing to think here.

– Use 3 for the A and 1-2 for the D, if on F tuba.

– Whenever we miss a note, there’s a reason. Start looking for a reason.

– Do this one when the horn is absolutely cold, because that’s the real situation.

Fountains

– Only breath after the Low E, excerpt for pickups into 12, to show phrasing.

– Drop the wrist to make sure that the 4th valve goes down first.

When it comes to auditions

– You need to sell your product, and you have to believe in it. You must go in and show them, this is what you want.

– Stop drinking a month before an audition

– Next time you’re practicing a passage and you are just getting worse, take 5 minutes and do pushups, dips, and go back to it.

– No carbs before you are going to play.

– Protein bars and protein shakes.

Alan Baer

Alan Baer

inTONEation

Playing in tune is simple. Not necessarily easy, but simple.

Often, I see the “I sound out of tune, thus my slides must move” approach. While that is a part of the equation, the most important things you must focus on are not whether your slide is at 3/8″ or 5/16″. Your best tone and air will give you the best indication of where the pitch is. If you play with poor sound, you could be pinching the note sharp, and blowing it flat, and there is where the slide pulling is really ineffective.

Rely on your ears, they are usually more reliable than what is in between them. As far as inconsistency goes, make sure to simplify: stop, listen and digest the pitch, then play the note relaxed and with your best sound.

Tone is as much a vital part of pitch as slide length is. Once you play with your best sound, then you can play with good inTONEation.

As Anthony Maiello says “Intonation is like body odor: everyone has it, most people do something about it.”

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.

Masterclass: Marty Hackleman

This is the first of many frequent posts of its kind: masterclass notes. As the title indicates, this particular masterclass was given by Marty Hackleman, the former Principal Horn of the National Symphony Orchestra. True words of wisdom.

  • – Imagine you’re sixteen and not good at anything. Practice and learn harder than anyway because you are at a disadvantage. 
  • – Orchestral brass is “don’t stick out, don’t be creative”. The better you get the more you stick out. 
  • – Go in there and lay it down with poise, control and pride. It may not be perfect but its you and your sound. 
  • – Don’t ever apologize, don’t be safe. “Wow I stayed in my box of not offending anyone. Guaranteed to be ignored.”
  • – Music is a communication thing. But its beyond words, it touches you and brings out a language of emotion. You are enjoying the expression of feeling. That pride is communication. We are very vulnerable because it is a very personal thing. 
  • – You have to experience everything you can expect to have in a performance, in the practice room. 
  • – Spend quality time, not quantity. Take your ideal, cut it by a third with the same goal. That way you have to concentrate even more. 
  • – Be consistent. You will be inspired and energized with your playing. 
  • – In order to get the quality time, you must train your muscles accordingly. You must learn, apply, and then play. 
  • – You must have a routine. Warming up is a byproduct of a routine. You train to refine your tonguing, articulation,  and endurance. 
  • – Plan out your time. What are you worst at? Practice that most. 
  • – The important thing about a routine is how things are being done, not just that they are being done. If something starts creeping into my playing, that’s where I know it. 
  • – “I love sitting down and doing the same thing everyday and seeing the differences. What is different and how can I do it differently”. 
  • – If you go into the room with only the goal of success, you will never be satisfied. 
  • – When you are practicing and the same problems keep coming up, assess why. Do not let the next time be a repetition. You must figure out why and how to fix it.