Posts Tagged ‘music’

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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.