Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

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Accountability

August 23, 2018

If you know me, you know I’m a sports fan.  If it’s competitive, generally I’m interested (except soccer, which is ridiculous).  Once, when I was on the road in Jakarta, I was in my hotel room practicing and my roommate (not a sports fan) walked in- glanced at the TV, which had the Asian Badminton Championship on- then looked at me with exasperation.  I took the horn off of my face and said, “C’mon, I hear Malaysia has a real shot at a medal this year!”  He was not amused.

Way too often, musicians compare themselves to athletes.  I’ve already discussed how ludicrous that is here:  Musicians Are Not Athletes.  One of the aspects that musicians and athletes share is accountability.  To oversimplify, I’ll put it this way:

You must practice to get better

My job is teaching trumpet at a university.  That means teaching college students how to become professional musicians.  There’s a lot that goes into this.  It’s not just playing the trumpet well.  It’s also about how to conduct yourself in the professional world.  With that comes a lot of accountability.  Not just for how you play in an ensemble, but for your actions and interactions with others.  Sort of like a coach.

Here are the facts of what happened at Ohio State recently:

  1. Urban Meyer, the head football coach, denied knowing about domestic abuse allegations against one of his assistants.
  2. After a report came out stating he did know, Mr. Meyer wrote, in an open letter to “Buckeye Nation”, : “I have always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures when I have learned of an incident involving a student-athlete, coach or member of our staff by elevating the issues to the proper channels. And I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015. I take that responsibility very seriously and any suggestion to the contrary is simply false.”
  3. An investigation by Ohio State found: “Although Coach Meyer and Athletic Director Smith failed to adhere to the precise requirements of their contracts when they concluded that they needed to await a law enforcement determination to file charges before they reported the otherwise disputed claims of spousal abuse against Zach Smith, they did so based upon a good faith belief that they did not have sufficient information to trigger a reporting obligation or initiate disciplinary action in the absence of law enforcement action.”
  4. Urban Meyer was suspended for 3 games.

So let me see if I can sum this up for you quickly:

  1. Urban Meyer lied- “I didn’t know”
  2. When caught in that lie, he lied again- “Okay, I knew, and I reported it”
  3. When the University caught him in both lies,- “Okay, I knew and I didn’t report it”- he’s given a slap on the wrist.

This isn’t the kind of accountability Urban Meyer demands of his players.

In short, Urban Meyer is not being held accountable for his actions.  Ohio State has made the cowardly decision that winning football games is more important than their integrity, and in this case- an abused wife of an assistant coach.  Even at Ohio State, the majority of the football players are not going to the NFL.  What these college students are learning is that if they win enough games and make enough money for the university- the rules don’t apply to them.

Shame on you, Ohio State.  Your players and fans deserve better.  I hope they ask for it.

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Musicians Are Not Athletes

March 5, 2015

It’s time that we stop saying “Musicians are Athletes.”  It’s one of those phrases that has been repeated so many times that it is now accepted as fact.  There’s only one problem.  It’s just not true.

I’m a sports fan.  Those of you who know me also know that’s a bit of an understatement.  I have respect for the amount of work it takes to become a world class athlete.  Although there are comparisons that can be made in how athletes and musicians practice, saying “Musicians are Athletes” is just as silly as saying “Athletes are Musicians.”  I understand the correlation: Both musicians and athletes spend years honing the skills, both physical and mental, which are needed for their respective careers.

Now let’s look at the execution of these careers.  Athletes are preparing for competition.  The job is to, either as an individual or team, win by doing their job in a quantifiable way better than someone else (score more points, faster, etc.).  Musicians are preparing for concerts.  The job is to perform music for an audience.  (I’m intentionally ignoring music competitions the same way I’m ignoring sports showcases…they exist, but music isn’t quantifiable the same way as sports, and sports showcases take away the competition, one of the key components, from professional sports.)

The reason for bringing this up is not to take away from either group.  It is important that musicians think of themselves accurately.  Although we may share many superficial qualities with athletes, we do not belong under that heading.  We are artists, and should think of ourselves as such.  All of our training, practice, and rehearsals are so that we can step out on stage and create art.

Another significant problem I have in considering musicians athletes is the separation athletics employ.  Most sports are divided along gender lines, and size and shape play an important part.  I’ve witnessed some ridiculous discussions regarding perceived advantages of gender and size, especially as it pertains to trumpet playing.  These discussions have typically relied upon the worst kind of evidence: anecdotal.  Please don’t tell me that you believe a gap in your teeth is the secret to playing high because you saw Jon Faddis.  Or that a beard is necessary to play jazz because you saw Bobby Shew.  Or that military service is the secret to a great orchestral career because Mr. Herseth was in the Navy and Mr. Smith was in the Salvation Army.

As trumpet players, we work together regardless of gender, shape, and size because those things don’t matter when creating music.

The last point of discussion is a doozy.  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard some variation of, “playing trumpet is an athletic event.”  Please stop saying this.  Let’s start with air.  Take a look at the throat of your mouthpiece.  No matter what anyone tells you, there is only so much air that will go through there at one time (and it’s not as much as you might think).  Yes, you do have to hold the trumpet up while you play.  But if that’s a measure of athleticism, then playing bass trombone is a lot more of an athletic event than trumpet (you have to hold it up and move one arm back and forth!).  Then there’s the strength involved.  Usually this is referred to as chops, which generally means the ability to play for a long time, very loud, very high, or some combination of those three.  The root of this might be the corners of your lips, which do need to be able to stay in place while blowing air through the mouthpiece and holding the horn against your face.  But here’s a big secret:

It’s not all about strength.

It’s about coordination.

I’ll certainly discuss more about coordination, in detail, in the future.  But for now, please realize that the overlap in the way musicians and athletes prepare doesn’t make musicians athletes any more than it makes athletes musicians.

Now that we are thinking of ourselves as artists (and our chances of a concussion have decreased significantly), practice and rehearse with the idea of creating art each time you step in front of an audience.

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The Power of I Don’t Know

January 19, 2015

Regularly, new students will ask me, “Am I playing the right mouthpiece?”  My answer is usually, “I don’t know.”  This answer often surprises them.  I explain that because we are just starting to work together, I’m still learning their strengths and weaknesses, and planning how to address them.  That might include equipment.  It might not.

I don’t know.

It’s important to be aware when “I don’t know” is the best answer.

In college football we’ve been told all year that the SEC is the best conference and that the Big 10 is not very good.  In the bowl games this year, the Big 10 went 3-1 against the SEC.  So which is the better conference?

I don’t know.

We’re given long term weather forecasts daily.  You can open the weather app on your phone and get one right now.  I’ve done this a number of times when planning travel.  It’s astounding how often and wrong the forecast can be.  Why?  Because even with the best information we have today, predicting the weather is not an accurate science.  So what’s the weather going to be like in 10 days?

I don’t know.

Although sports and long term weather forecasts are trivial when compared to teaching, they provide excellent examples of how reticent people can be to admit how much they don’t know.  As someone who has (rightly) been accused of being a know-it-all, I hope I can help you learn this lesson.  When put in a position of leadership, it can be easy to feel the responsibility for knowing..well…everything.  Should you take on that impossible responsibility, you can quickly alienate those around you that could help because they know things you do not.  You can also lose the trust of those you lead.

Here’s my message for you this week:  I don’t know can be the best answer you give.

Teachers can have a hard time admitting there are things they don’t know.

Students can have a hard time not getting an immediate answer to a question.

Teachers- Please be honest with your students, which includes admitting what you don’t know.

Students- Be respectful to your teachers.  Realize they are real people that can’t be expected to know everything.