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Be Prepared

April 15, 2022

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m no boy scout. Well, I was a cub scout for a short period of time, but much like my time in the Army, it didn’t take. Despite that, today I would like to share with you a story that illustrates the importance of being prepared.

One of the many great experiences our students get here at IU is the chance to have world-class orchestras visit campus. Usually their trips involve masterclasses, side-by-side rehearsals, and a concert. We’ve hosted the Cleveland Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra in the past few years. Selfishly, it’s always a pleasure to be able to spend some time with the musicians of these groups here in Bloomington. Just so you know- Manny Laureano is quite a chess player!

This year we had the pleasure of hosting the St. Louis Symphony. The students had already attended masterclasses, a side-by-side rehearsal, and the concert was Friday night at 8:00 at the IU Auditorium. My phone rang at just after 4:00 on that Friday. It was the personnel manager of the St. Louis Symphony. Her first question almost made me laugh:

“Joey, are you in Bloomington?”

As it turned out, I was. I was walking into a conference room where the brass department was about to meet for two hours regarding the searches we’re conducting this semester. The personnel manager asked if I could play the concert that night. When I asked what they wanted (needed?) me to play, there were two pieces. The first was a piece I’ve never heard of- “Chupshah! Harriet’s Drive to Canaan”, by James Lee III. She told me I would be playing principal on that. Next on the program was Gershwin’s piano concerto, on which Tom Drake would be playing principal, but would like me to play assistant.

Yes, I was being asked to sight read a concert with the St. Louis Symphony.

Playing principal.

With no notice.

So what did I do? First, I said yes. Then I asked two questions:

  1. What is the orchestra wearing?
  2. Is there any way you could send me the part?

After being told the orchestra was wearing dark suit/tie, and that they would email the part, I went in to my meeting. Like most meetings, it went a little long, so by the time we were done, it was 6:45. I did receive the part, so I knew that I needed a C trumpet and a straight mute for the concert. I had just enough time to go home, change clothes, make a quick sandwich (turkey and swiss-it’s my go-to), and come back to my office. I got my stuff together and walked down the street to the IU Auditorium, arriving at about 7:30.

I walked on stage and found Austin Williams, who is an interim member of the section, sitting there. He very kindly talked me through the piece. Next, I went and found Tom Drake, and asked if there was anything I should know for the Gershwin. He told me the part was marked clearly, and it should be fairly straight-ahead.

So now it’s time for the concert. Many of the Jacobs School of Music faculty and students were there. We started by playing the Ukranian National Anthem, with the conductor saying a few words about the situation there. Then we played the concert. The first piece, written by James Lee III, went well. The conductor, as a thank you, gave me a solo bow. Tom came out and sounded just fantastic on the Gershwin. I know it’s a piano solo, but I had the best seat in the house, sitting on Tom’s left. I had a great time, and really enjoyed getting to play with such a great orchestra.

When I told some of my friends this story, a couple of questions kept coming up:

Were you nervous?

The short answer is: no. I came in, looked over and talked through the parts, and decided that I would give it my best shot.

Are you insane?

Again, I think the answer is: no. I have been saying for years that what I want is to be able to answer the phone and say “yes” and then do the gig, whatever that gig is. There have now been a few times that I’ve put that theory to the test.

This is why I practice the way I practice. I’m not practicing for the purpose of being able to play a certain piece or upcoming gig, or to maintain my chops. I’m practicing to get better, both technically and musically. Because of that, my practice prepares me for unexpected situations. If all I wanted to do was play lead, and that’s all I practiced, then that’s all I could expect to do. The same goes for any type of playing: orchestral, military band, classical solo, jazz solo, or anything else you might consider. Thinking broadly about what is possible as a musician and trumpet player leads me to a different conclusion: if you practice for technical growth and apply to that to all music, the possibilities are endless. I know it’s not literally possible to play everything, that’s why it’s a goal worth pursuing.

6 comments

  1. Good job! Many of us aspire to be the caliber of musician that you are.


  2. Good job!


  3. That is an awesome story!!!


  4. Joey,

    Your article reminds me of a very good friend of mine, Tim Zimmerman, owner and leader of the King’s Brass. I called him one morning and he answered, and I said, “Whatcha doing?” He said, “playing the 1st trumpet part to West Side Story.” I said, “Wow – cool, when you playing it?” He said, “I’m not – I’m just practicing it.”

    You see where this is going… I said, “Why are you practicing West Side Story if you aren’t going be playing it anytime soon?” And he replied, “Cause someday I may get a call and need to play it that day.”

    Tim warms up with “basics” for 1.5 hours everyday, whether or not he has any reason to. Then he practices “stuff.” Sometimes his own music but often music he may never be asked to play, just in case he is. He’s a magnificent player, and his ensemble is outstanding. He’s more than twice the age of most of his ensemble members, but his sound never gives up anything about his age. He sounds FRESH everyday.

    Thanks for sharing. I wish I could have been that type of player, but… the cards didn’t fall in that manner for me. I do get to live vicariously through my trumpet heros, though. Thanks for sharing this story! James


  5. Joey,

    What a great story and even better philosophy about how and what to practice! If you can’t remember the name, you know me as Eric’s mom from many years ago at Birch Creek. And we try to say hi every summer when we see you there.

    The line about practicing to become better technically and musically resonated with me. I play(clarinet) in two community bands here in Door County. Before the pandemic I’d spend my time practicing my band music and very little time on the other stuff. When the pandemic shut everything down I still want to play and started on warm up exercises, scales, technical exercises, etudes from the top clarinet books I could find. Also took an online masterclass from John Bruce Yeh which got me pointed in the right direction.

    I have found that since working on the technical and musicality my playing has improved so much once the community bands resumed last year.

    I wanted to my experience with you. As a true amateur musician it is reassuring to know the pros like you continue to work on all the basics to keep playing great music!

    Look forward to seeing you this summer at Birch Creek
    Kathy Rauch


  6. I found this blog very informative, keep up the good work. Thanks for the opportunity.
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