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Set the Bar High

June 11, 2014

One of the first questions I ask new students is this:

If it’s completely up to you, what will you be doing once you graduate?

Shockingly, some of the answers given begin with phrases like, “I guess it would be okay if….”, or, “I’d be fine with…”

Similarly, after a student plays something in a lesson, I will ask what he/she thought of the performance. Often the responses include, “okay”, or “pretty good”, and the students seem satisfied.

These are big problems.

If your goal is to be average, how will you ever achieve greatness?

It’s time to start thinking big.

First-your career. Ask yourself what you really want to be doing. Not what you’d be okay with, or even what you presently think is realistic. It can be a job that already exists, or something no one has ever done before. Now instead of following a career path that someone else has for you, or worse, having no plan and hoping for the best, you have a direction. Follow that direction. You’ll be amazed where you can end up.

Second-your playing. Remember this:

Good enough isn’t.

Whether you’re working on technique or music, the goal must be the same- playing great. Be completely honest with yourself in the practice room. Never let yourself off the hook. If you work intelligently and diligently on a daily basis, you can’t help but get better and better.

It can be simple…even comfortable to set your career and playing goals low enough to be able to reach them relatively easily. It’s much more difficult, and even painful, to be honest with yourself about what you really want out of your career and playing, and then hold yourself accountable.

I promise- it’s worth it.

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Summertime (and the practice is easy)

June 4, 2014

Now that school is out, for most of us, it’s time for what can be the most enjoyable and productive time of year.  Do I sense doubt?  Stick with me.  During the school year, you are generally responsible for three types of music:

1)  Music your teacher assigns for lessons

2)  Music you will perform (school ensembles, recitals, etc.)

3)  Music you want to learn.

During the summer, numbers 1 and 2 don’t exist in the same way for most people.  This leaves more time for the area most people ignore when they get busy during the school year- #3.  So get to it.  Make a list of music you want to learn.  It can be anything- solos, transcriptions, tunes, excerpts, stuff you think everyone already knows except for you but you’re too embarrassed to admit it, etudes, etc.  Then get to work.  How many times have you heard something and thought, “wow, that’s cool…I’d love to be able to play that”?  Well, this is your chance.  Make a list of:

Music I Want to Learn

Of course, you must balance your musical practice with technical practice.  Summer provides a great opportunity to tackle the technical weaknesses that you are busy hiding during the school year hoping no one notices.  As I put it so delicately to my students here at Indiana, summer is the best time to make a list and practice:

What I Suck At

With these two lists you’ve got a full summer’s worth of stuff to practice.  When school starts in the fall, you can go back with confidence in the new music you’ve learned and the new skills you’ve integrated.

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Why You Should Have Been at the ITG Conference

May 27, 2014

Last week the International Trumpet Guild held their annual conference in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. It was spectacular. As I like to simplify everything, this post will deal with the three reasons you should have been there.

1. The People

The conference is a great time to reconnect with old friends. This year I was happy to be able to spend some time playing and hanging out with Al Hood. Al is the Professor of Trumpet at the University of Denver. We first met in the summer of 1982 at a 6-week summer jazz camp at the Eastman School of Music. Where else could we find the time to spend some time together and do some playing? There were many other friends there, but I mentioned Al as I think I’ve known him the longest.

This year was filled with world class players, many of whom I’ve never had the opportunity to see. When I walked in to the rehearsal for the opening concert, Tine Thing Helseth was playing. Never having seen her play live, I walked up and sat in the front. She sounded fantastic, and was the first of many players that I got to see for the first time.

The ITG conference is a great place to make new friends. This year I was featured on both a panel demonstration/discussion on lead playing and as a soloist with the Philly Big Band. Also playing on the panel was the leader of the Philly Big Band: Matt Gallagher. Although this was our first time meeting, Matt instantly felt like an old friend.

2. The Presentations

The variety and high level of music and music making was truly astounding. A short (but nowhere near comprehensive) list of what went on included: Trumpet Ensembles- Trombamania, Tromba Mundi, The New York Trumpet Ensemble; Classical Soloists- Eric Aubier, Chris Gekker, Terry Everson; Jazz Soloists- Sean Jones, Marquis Hill, Graham Breedlove; Historical Performances- Gabriele Cassone, Crispian Steele-Perkins, Friedemann Immer. There were an unbelievable amount of world class performances.

There were also great classes. My good friend Scott Belck gave a class on how to read waveforms as a practice tool. It’s amazing how different notes can look in that format. Tony Kadleck and James De La Garza talked about what it’s like to be a Broadway trumpet player.

3.The Stuff

With the number of music stores, especially that carry professional equipment, declining, the ITG conference is probably the best place in the world to try out stuff. The exhibits were spread out this year with the floor plans clearly laid out in the front of the Conference Program. Having the exhibits in several rooms works very well. Noise can always be a problem, so spreading everyone out helps.

I like to keep up with what is available in the trumpet world. Although I’m very happy with my B&S trumpets, I was happy to try out all kinds of horns. I talked with a gentleman that has half of his trumpet encased in wood and an interesting theory on why he believes that to be the way to go. Bach has recently (re)discovered the #1 bell design by Vincent Bach, and brought 2 prototype lead/commercial horns built around the “new” bell. Hub van Laar, whose horns I’ve never had the opportunity to even try, brought several trumpets and flugelhorns. There’s no other place you could compare and contrast a couple of different G trumpets, play test multiple plastic trumpets (I’m sticking with my Tiger, and not just because it’s the only brand making pink), try out horns with the person who made it right there, like Fred Powell (whose horns are terrific), as well as find every accessory you could imagine.

Interestingly enough, trumpet players will work hard to find what’s wrong instead of celebrating what was right. It’s too easy to ask why Player X or Player Y wasn’t included (especially if you’re Player X or Player Y). I was featured this year, but attended the conferences in Grand Rapids last year and Minneapolis two years ago and found both to be very enjoyable. Take a minute to consider how much goes in to putting on this conference, and how far in advance the planning is done. It’s quite the balancing act of players, exhibitors, presenters, and all of the demands and egos of each.

I look forward to seeing you next year in Columbus, Ohio.

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Why Wait?

October 4, 2013

There is a Prudential commercial on the air now that asks:

“If you could get paid to do something you love, what would you do?”

The commercial goes on to say that this is what your retirement is for.  The first time I saw this, I was astounded.  Is this what people think?  We should toil away for the majority of our adult lives, saving enough to then pay ourselves to do what we want once we retire?  This is a terrible way to live.  

The initial question grabbed my attention, which is what it’s supposed to do, but for this reason:

I do get paid to do something I love.  

I’m teaching my students to figure out what they want to do next, then work to get there.  Notice I say what they want to do NEXT.  You may not have the same career goals at 21 as you do at 41.  This can be difficult.  Not everyone knows what they want to do.  But remember this:

Not making a decision is a decision

There are plenty of people in this world that, by putting off making a choice, end up having their career choose them.  So they end up working for most of their adult lives in something that they’re not even sure how they ended up doing.  

Don’t be one of these people.  Spend some time figuring out what you want to do.  Then work as hard as you can doing it.  

I’m not saying that it’s easy.  I’m saying that it’s worth it.   

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Shiny Stockings

April 11, 2013

This week, with my nose firmly back to the grindstone, I pay tribute to the great Count Basie. I consider myself quite fortunate to have seen Count Basie several times before he died.  More than any other big band, Count Basie’s Band was about the ensemble.  This is not meant to take away from the fantastic ensemble playing of any other band, or from the spectacular soloists on the Basie Band.  But the ensemble writing and playing of the Basie Band holds a very special place for me.  Here’s Shiny Stockings:

Very soon will be an update on the fantastic March I had, which included being featured with Vince DiMartino in front of the U.S. Navy Band at the National Trumpet Competition, and playing the film score to West Side Story with the Houston Symphony Orchestra.

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This Week in Trumpet Ensemble News

February 12, 2013

It’s almost time to jump in the car and start the drive to Pennsylvania for the West Chester Trumpet Festival, which you should all be attending.  But I wanted to get one more chart done and a snippet recorded.  This week’s music comes to you from my good friend Greg Jasperse.  Greg is an unbelievably talented singer and songwriter.  Among the many pieces he’s written are several that are wordless.  The first time I heard one I knew that he was really writing trumpet ensemble music, he just didn’t know it yet.  He did send a few scores at my request, which I have transcribed for trumpet.  Here’s a clip of a piece he calls “Voicedance”, which we’ll call “Dance of the Trumpets” for now:

Dance of the Trumpets

Please let me know what you think.  If you like it, thank Greg for writing a beautiful piece of music.  If you don’t, blame me for not playing it well enough.

This week is going to be great.  At the West Chester Trumpet Festival, (did I mention how good it is?), the U.S. Army Blues is playing on Friday night.  Soloing with the band will be Sean Jones, Scott Belck, and me.  On Saturday night, Tromba Mundi will be performing a World Premiere of a piece written for us and wind ensemble with the Messiah College Wind Ensemble.  There are also masterclasses, I’ll be giving one on Friday, and exhibits during the day.  The full schedule is here:  Trumpet Fest Schedule.

Coming soon- thoughts on the Grammies.  (I think Grammys or Grammy’s just looks wrong.  It seems obvious that it should be Grammies, so I’m going with that)

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Maynard-Part 1

February 5, 2013

The first time I saw Maynard Ferguson was at the Texas A&I Jazz Festival when I was in 7th grade.  We packed up the middle school jazz band in two vans, left school brutally early, and after performing early in the morning, spent the rest of the day watching high school jazz band performances.  After the dinner break was the big concert, at which the awards would be given out.

Once the concert started, I forgot about the ridiculously early morning, the long uncomfortable van ride, the hours and hours of high school bands, and sat in amazement.  I remember very clearly the thought in my 11-year-old head:

I didn’t know a trumpet could do that


After hearing a spectacular evening of music, I went home and started buying records.  One of my favorites was a Maynard record that had just come out a few years before:  M.F. Horn Two.  It starts with the brilliant excitement of “Give it One” but my favorite piece on that album has always been the one that follows.  So this week I took that chart and arranged it for 6 trumpets.  Here’s a snippet of “Country Road”:

Country Road

As always, please let me know what you think.

Next week, the place to be is West Chester, Pennsylvania.  My good friend JC Dobrzelewski is once again hosting the West Chester Trumpet Festival.  It is a spectacular event.  You can learn more about it here:

West Chester Trumpet Festival

I’ll see you in West Chester next week.

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