Happy New Year! It is a privilege to return to The Reforming Trombonist on this first weekend of the new year and, God willing, to resume the weekly writing schedule that I have not consistently kept since last April. While I was able to post somewhat regularly throughout the past fall a number of those posts consisted of deleted material from early drafts of my recently-released book that required only light editing for inclusion here, and then by mid-November I was so overwhelmed with the final preparations of the book and my (long-delayed-but-hopefully-soon-forthcoming) CD project that blogging became impossible. With all of that behind me, I am glad to be back at the computer, with enough planned topics to keep me writing every week through the end of May, and no other writing projects (besides editorial work for the ITA Journal) to otherwise distract me from practicing, performing, and teaching. As this is essentially the first time I’ve anticipated keeping a regular blogging schedule in nearly nine months, this does feel like a “reboot” of sorts.
The big announcement for today’s post is, of course, the recent release of my book The Low Brass Player’s Guide to Doubling, which you can order directly from the publisher either through the Mountain Peak Music website or through Amazon. This release is the culmination of planning that began nearly two years ago, though outlining, choosing coauthors, and finally writing and editing did not begin until January 2014 and continued throughout the course of the past year.
You can read more about the book on the Mountain Peak Music website. To put it briefly here, what we have sought to do is to provide the player of multiple low brass instruments with a framework for conceptualizing, organizing, and executing performance and teaching on those multiple instruments. Rather than supplanting any of the fine instruction and study materials that are already available for these instruments, the ideas found in this book, along with tons of helpful charts and exercises, will help the player to manage performance responsibilities on multiple instruments in an efficient yet thorough manner. The book fills a void in the heretofore available instructional literature for low brass instruments, and I am excited to be able to present it to the low brass community, as well as thankful to David Vining at Mountain Peak Music for giving me the opportunity to do so.
In the remainder of this post, I want to write a few reflections on the process of bringing this book to market, discussing similarities and differences between this and other publishing projects of which I have been a part. I’ll then conclude by briefly discussing plans for this blog for the remainder of the spring.
How Writing a Book Was Similar to Earlier Projects, Only Bigger
Although this was my first book-length project, I am no stranger to printed publication. I joined the editorial staff of the International Trombone Association Journal in 2004, and have as of this month served as editor for 45 Audio/Video Reviews columns in that publication. In the early years of my tenure the column also included a brief editorial (which was later replaced with a new materials listing), so my published writings extend back more than a decade.
In addition to my editorial work for the ITA, I have published twelve articles in various publications, eleven book and recording reviews, and 22 arrangements for various brass solo and chamber configurations. This is the 89th post on The Reforming Trombonist—this blog could almost constitute a book by itself! Don’t forget, either, that I have an earned doctorate, and had to write a short dissertation (101 pages) even for the doctorate in performance.
In short, writing and publishing was nothing new to me, and in many ways I approached writing a book in the same way that I have these other projects.
How Writing a Book was Different: Initial Writing
Still, writing a book is different. For starters, the initial writing process was rather intense. While I had an outline in hand back in January, I was not able to really begin writing in earnest until late May. I then held myself to a schedule of writing 10,000 words per week until I had covered all of my initially planned topics. This required a full seven weeks, and the first draft I had in hand was very long, often repetitive, and definitely hard to read, but the makings of a useful text were there—the unnecessary stuff simply had to be cut away. I suspect this is something like what the great sculptor Michelangelo (1475-1564) meant when he said
In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.
I knew going into the project that much of the initial draft would be cut away. I had no idea how much that would be, though. Whole sentences, paragraphs, and even chapters that I thought were clear, necessary, and helpful fell victim to the editor’s pen. Still, I can only be pleased with the final result, which contains my ideas and those of my coauthors, but in a form that is as easy to read as possible and free of superfluous verbiage.
How Writing a Book Was Different: Coauthors
While as a performer I greatly prefer working as an ensemble member to appearing as a soloist, with publishing projects I would generally rather work alone. This ensures consistency of thought and presentation throughout a work, and I have no one to blame but myself if things fall behind. However, in this book we cover alto, tenor, bass, and contrabass trombones, euphonium, baritone horn, bass trumpet, tuba, and cimbasso, and addressing two or more permutations of each of those instruments. While I can write at least somewhat intelligently about all of them (I think…maybe…most of them, at least), I definitely cannot write authoritatively about all of them (who could?!), as my own performing work is limited to alto, tenor, and bass trombones, and euphonium, in addition to teaching and only occasionally playing the tuba. While I edited and modified all of the coauthored chapters to a greater or lesser extent in order to ensure consistency of style and to avoid redundancy and contradiction, the contributions of the six coauthors have amply supplied the areas where I am lacking and have made this a better and more authoritative book. You can read about the coauthors on the MPM website.
How Writing a Book Was Different: Editing and Changing. Lots of it!
As I mentioned, the book changed a lot from its first draft to its final version. Whole chapters were eliminated, new chapters were added, and new topics were added within chapters. That this occurred didn’t surprise me at all. The volume of it that occurred did, especially when we started expanding the appendices.
While I have had various fundamental exercises, fingering charts, overtone series charts, and similar exercises on my websites for years, the initial plan had been to include these in only a cursory way in the printed book. As work progressed, though, it became clear that the book would be much more useful if these were indeed included. Doing so nearly doubled the length of the final version, but the end result is the only book anywhere that provides complete fingering and overtone series charts for all of the low brass instruments, along with Targeted Fundamentals routines for doublers on those instruments. While I was surprised that we went ahead and included all of that material, the book is much better because it is there. In fact, I’m not sure which will prove more useful to folks: the text or the charts and exercises. I suppose that will depend on the reader’s needs.
Plans for Blogging and Other Endeavors for the Spring
To say that I am excited about this book is an understatement. I am excited about bringing it to the low brass community…and I am excited that it is finally done after over a year of planning and work. I am looking forward to spending the spring semester focusing primarily on practicing, performing, and teaching. Writing is fun for me, but it does sometimes rob me of needed practice time. There is also the CD project to be finished (more on that soon) and hopefully more time for rest, reading theology books (my oft-neglected pastime), and spending time with my family.
Planned blog posts for this spring include the usual writing on brass performance and pedagogy, on theological topics, and on the intersection of music and theology. These plans include a larger than usual proportion of book reviews. While book reviews for printed publications necessarily focus on new releases, I hope to use this space to present books that have been around for a bit longer but that I have found particularly helpful, and that I think need to be known by my readers here. I’m looking forward to delving into all of these topics in the coming weeks.