As I mentioned in a recent post, I have lost over sixty pounds in the past eight months or so. While I’ve enjoyed the positive comments that I’ve received from others about my appearance, I am even more thankful for the improvement in my health engendered by this weight loss. At the same time, I am sobered by the realization that I will to some extent have to maintain this diet and exercise program in order to keep the weight off. Having already lost and regained this much weight once before in my adult life, I’m well aware that on some level my body seems to want to weigh well over 250 pounds, so keeping it off in the longer term will require greater discipline than I have exercised in the past.
While the comments that others have made about my current appearance have been uniformly positive, I have on several occasions over the past few weeks had some version of the following conversation:
Other Person: “Wow. You look great! Have you lost weight?”
Me: “I’ve lost over sixty pounds.”
Other Person: “That’s awesome. How did you do it?”
Me: “By eating less and exercising daily.”
Other Person: “Hmm. I don’t like that.”
That last remark is always tongue-in-cheek, of course, but my interlocutors really are on some level hoping that my answer to “how did you do it?” will include protein shakes, magic beans, hypnosis, or some other quick fix requiring little or no effort or lifestyle change. The prospect of real effort and change, though an expected answer, is comparably unwelcome. In the end, practically everyone wants to get in shape, but not everyone is willing to do what is necessary to make it happen.
Why is this relevant to brass playing? Because the same is true for us as musicians. Of all the concepts, instructions, and assignments I give to my students, the hardest sell by far is the expectation of daily and systematic practice of fundamental exercises and scale and arpeggio patterns. Granted, it is hard to fault students for not wanting to spend several hours per week playing repetitive and sometimes boring exercises, as they have an understandable desire to move past such things and on to “real music.” And yet, just as diet and exercise are necessary to achieve weight loss and improved health, so fundamentals and scales are necessary to develop the habits of body and mind needed to consistently perform music at a high level. Furthermore, continued practicing of those things is needed to maintain these playing skills. Just as my failure to maintain a diet and exercise regimen in the past led to a steady increase in my weight and decline in overall health, so a lack of diligent fundamentals work leads to an inevitable decline in brass playing skills. Health and fitness, both generally and as a brass player, demands due diligence!
“I don’t like that answer,” they say. To be honest, I don’t either. I don’t always enjoy swimming laps or lifting weights, and playing long tones is often uninspiring. But I like being in shape, and I like playing well, so until I discover those magic beans I’ll have to stick with what works.
(And if I ever do find them, I promise to report back here to that effect.) 🙂