Changing My Tune (sorry…) on Church Choirs

A few months ago my family and I began attending a different church in our community from the one of which we have been members for several years. The reasons for that are not the topic of this article, nor do I plan to discuss them in this space other than to say that so far we find the overall culture and particularly the liturgy of the new (to us) congregation to be more suitable. One big difference, which you might be surprised to learn did not influence our decision to visit and begin attending this church, was that it has a choir that sings one or two Sundays per month. Although we had intended to visit quietly for several weeks or even months without actively participating, the choir director also happens to be our son’s violin teacher, and we quickly found ourselves “drafted” into membership. This has been a delightful experience that has both confirmed and furthered changes in my thinking on church music that I have been processing for a while.

You see, prior to our attending this church we had not been members of a congregation that had a choir in over a decade. In most cases the reasons for this had largely to do with size. We spent four years as part of new church plants (yes, more than one, which is itself a long story) and nearly eight in churches whose membership or facilities were not large enough to facilitate regular choral singing. Additionally, after coming to the Reformed faith I had drunk deeply from the writings of staunch Presbyterians of the old school who were suspicious of choirs, instrumental music—pretty much anything other than unaccompanied metrical Psalms. While I never came to the point of embracing that level of austerity (though I enjoy and appreciate singing from the Psalter), between reading these authors and processing my experiences as a sometimes itinerant church musician through that lens I began to think that a greater simplicity in church music was called for. I wanted to see church music dominated by congregational singing—vigorous, quality congregational singing—with somewhat minimal instrumental accompaniment. At no point was I willing to say that churches shouldn’t have choirs, but I had been reasonably happy without them in the smaller churches of which I had been a part.

So what changed? In a way, very little. I still think congregational singing should be the primary musical experience in corporate worship, and I am always on guard against the tendency for church music—of any genre—to overflow its banks, as it were, and turn the worship service into a concert. What has changed, though, is my opinion of the place of choral music in the church’s life, a place that I find myself after all this time once again heartily promoting. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Choirs teach God’s people to sing well. It was perhaps too easy for me, as a classically trained musician with perfect pitch, to take for granted the ability to sing vigorously, in time, and in tune during the worship service, and then in turn to expect everyone else to do the same. And in some cases the choir-less congregations of which we were part, a couple of which had very good congregational singing, had above-average amounts of musical training among their members, as well, training which, incidentally, sometimes had come in prior churches with graded choral music programs. When done well, church choir programs from preschool and children’s programs through adult choirs provide a forum in which members of congregations learn at least something of the fundamentals of tone production and music reading. This necessarily leads not only to fine choral performances, but also to improved congregational singing, both by the choir members themselves and by other congregants who follow their lead.

2. Choirs teach God’s people to sing good things. Like many others of my particular theological and musical stripes, I have lamented the increasing loss of the great hymns of the faith as they seem to be giving way to contemporary selections of often inferior quality. This is not to say that all contemporary hymns and songs are poor, but the typical hymnal contains selections which have encouraged, instructed, and admonished God’s people for centuries, and have been in effect vetted by their continued usefulness over the generations. The tendency to jettison all of this in favor of the new and trendy is shortsighted and hubristic. Children’s choirs in particular are a perfect place to combat this tendency by teaching young people to read and sing using the old hymns and psalm settings. More advanced choral settings of these beloved hymns should form part of adult choirs’ repertoire, as well.

3. God is pleased and glorified by beauty. In Philippians 4 Paul tells us to think on those things that are often summarized as “good, true, and beautiful.” Although I think the argument can be made that New Testament worship ought to be simple, simplicity is not synonymous with ugliness. The God who directs us to sing his praises also delights in his own beauty and in that of the world he created. As we fulfill the command to teach and admonish one another using psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we should seek to do so in the most beautiful manner possible. Once again, choirs provide a means to that end.

4. Choirs provide opportunity for fellowship, support, and growth. I read an article recently in which the author described the adult choir as the best “small group” a church can have. At its best, the choir is not only a forum for training singers or enhancing corporate worship. Rather, it is a multigenerational community within the congregation that becomes a place where people are encouraged, admonished, loved, and prayed for. Given the tendency toward atomistic living even among Christians in our society, a forum for greater connection is both welcome and necessary.


Posted in Beauty, Choral Music, Church, Church Choirs, Music and Theology, Music and Worship, Practical Christianity, Worship

Jaw Pain While Playing? Check Your Corners!

My first diagnosed issues with temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD, sometimes called TMJ) occurred in 2007. Anyone who has experienced this knows that determining the cause of this pain and tightness is difficult, as is treating it. For whatever reason, TMJ issues do not constitute a recognized specialty within dentistry, so finding a practitioner with more than minimal study and understanding of these problems can be difficult. If you are looking for someone with such qualifications, organizations like the American Equilibration Society, the American Academy of Orofacial Pain, and the International Academy of Gnathology are good places to start.

Happily, I have had few jaw symptoms for several years. I sleep with a nighttime appliance to prevent clenching and grinding but otherwise do nothing to manage the condition besides occasional stretching. When the symptoms first began, though, I went through a whirlwind of tests, exams, suggestions, and providers. Treatment suggestions ranged from orthodontic treatment (probably career ending for me) to dental reconstruction (also risky and expensive) to conservative treatment with a nighttime appliance. I am thankful to have chosen the third option, and as I have observed developments within the dental community over the past decade regarding TMD treatment the trend seems to be away from aggressive and invasive treatments toward conservative ones. As it turns out, correcting the occlusion or “bite” issues which are often blamed for TMD does not always resolve pain and muscle symptoms. Indeed, despite modern Americans’ reticence to attribute physical symptoms to emotional or psychological issues, stress seems to be the primary trigger of TMD symptoms, regardless of the disposition of one’s dentition or other physical factors. That certainly seems to be the case for me, though I have also observed that sinus pressure from head colds and related illnesses will also cause some TMD pain.

I do not mean to suggest that when I encounter students with TMD symptoms that I suggest only that they “chill out,” though when a student first complains about pain or noise in the jaw I do begin with a suggestion of stress relief. Most of the time this resolves the issue. When symptoms persist I refer him or her to a dentist belonging to one of the three associations listed above. One student in particular who took this advice used an appliance to slightly reposition his jaw for a while and has now been symptom-free for several years. Another suggestion I make has to do with the disposition of the corners of the mouth in the student’s embouchure.

If I had to name as singular fault in my embouchure setup it is that the corners of my mouth are often too loose. How I am able to play well with overly loose corners is not entirely clear to me; I suppose it probably has something to do with the relationship between my teeth and mouth. A couple of years ago, though, I began to notice a correlation between upticks in jaw pain and playing with the corners excessively loose, especially when playing tuba. Purposefully playing with firmer corners resolved the symptoms in short order, so it appears that when the corners of the mouth are too loose the jaw has to bear the extra stress in order to maintain a cohesive embouchure. Not only is this inefficient—it hurts!

If you or one of your brass students experiences jaw pain while playing encourage stress relief first, and refer him or her to a qualified dental provider if symptoms persist. But check the corners of the embouchure, as well. If they are too loose, correcting that problem might both improve playing and relieve pain.

Posted in American Academy of Orofacial Pain, American Equilibration Society, Dentistry, Embouchure, International Academy of Gnathology, Pedagogy, Teaching Low Brass, Temporomandibular Dysfunction

The “Other” IT Crowd

My wife and I watch very little television. We have not had a cable subscription in over ten years, and though we subscribed for a while to one of the newer streaming services which resemble the “basic cable” plans of old, we recently canceled that as well, deciding that watching the occasional sporting event was not worth the monthly subscription price for the entire package. At the moment we have only an Amazon Prime membership, Netflix, and a new service, BritBox. The latter, as the name suggests, offers exclusively British programming, which appealed to us since, for reasons I’m not sure I entirely understand, we have developed a predilection for British shows over the past few years. My wife has watched every available season of The Great British Baking Show multiple times (I keep pulling for young Martha, even knowing that she doesn’t win), and our entire family recently enjoyed the four-episode crime series Maigret, with Rowan Atkinson (“Mr. Bean”) delivering a surprising and wonderful portrayal of the title role.

The IT CrowdAnother show that my wife and I have enjoyed watching is The IT Crowd, a sitcom centered upon two IT workers, Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade) and Roy Trenneman (Chris O’Dowd), and their computer-ignorant manager Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson), all employed by the fictional company Reynholm Industries. Like many British comedies, The IT Crowd is sometimes relatively clean but at other times surprisingly vulgar and even purposefully offensive. I’ll therefore not recommend it without serious reservations, and for a time I wasn’t sure why we found it so entertaining. After a text “conversation” a few weeks ago with a friend who works in IT, I put my finger on some surprising similarities between how IT workers and music teachers relate to their colleagues in other departments as well as their friends and acquaintances outside of their professions. Here are a few of those:

1. Both music teachers and IT workers choose those professions because of unique skillsets.
Although computers are ubiquitous in modern society, it wasn’t that long ago that their frequent use was the domain of a select group of nerds. Those are the guys (and they are mostly but not exclusively men) who ended up learning how to code and became the stereotypical “IT guys.” Likewise, music teachers are those who as young people found meaning and belonging in a particular group of usually-not-part-of-the-in-crowd folks participating in an activity not always considered “cool.” Thus both groups developed skills and ideas that placed them on the fringes of the mainstream at best.

2. Both music teachers and IT workers often feel that others do not understand their work.
Twenty years of conversations that both my wife and I have had with folks in other fields, even other educators, suggest that few outside of our profession really understand what we do all day. I don’t mean that they are intentionally dismissive of our work, but not everyone gets that performances don’t “just happen,” that lessons are not planned “on the fly,” and that quality music instruction requires hours of solitary planning, reading, thinking, practicing, listening, and evaluating on the part of the teacher. Even from my vantage point as an outsider I have observed IT workers similarly frustrated by clients who seem to believe that “computer stuff” will “just work” without notification of staff and consequent planning and setup.

3. Both music teachers and IT workers are often socially awkward.
This has to do, I suppose, with the social self-selection earlier in life to which I alluded earlier. While neither musicians nor “computer folks” have social difficulties among themselves, our unique professional cultures do seem to generate certain awkwardnesses when we mix with others.

4. Both music teachers and IT workers keep bizarre hours.
While music teachers have somewhat more “normal” schedules than full-time performing musicians, even in the teaching profession the need for after-hours rehearsing and performing leads to schedules that don’t always jive with those of our friends in other professions. Church, civic, and social activities organized around the 9-to-5 schedule typical of middle-class Americans don’t always work for us. Likewise, computer issues do not always conform to the predictability of the usual workweek, as both regular and emergency maintenance of always-on computer systems often has to occur after hours, especially when massive software updates need to occur during periods of minimal system demands.

5. Despite these and other problems, both music teachers and IT workers like their jobs.
Every profession has its problems, and the ones I’ve examined today are no different. The old joke, “How do you get a musician to complain? Give him a job!” didn’t emerge out of nowhere, and I know enough folks in IT to have heard my share of grousing from them, as well. And yet, for the most part we like our jobs, despite the social awkwardness and assorted eccentricities that they seem to engender.

Granted, I have here constructed an opinion of a large class of employees based upon their portrayal in a television series, and I am certain that people working in information technology do not constitute such a monolith. Music teachers certainly do not. For my tongue-in-cheek purposes today, though, these comparisons do seem to hold true, as my wife and I, both music teachers, find it very easy to identify with the hardworking, genuine, but often humorously misunderstood Moss and Roy.

Posted in Education, Music Education, Television, The IT Crowd, Work and Leisure

“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”

The Mississippi Convention of The Gideons International was held this past weekend in Jackson, and as President of the Oxford Camp I was expected to attend and deliver our camp’s collected offerings at the President’s Breakfast on Saturday morning. I did this but otherwise attended little of the convention; instead my family and I used the opportunity to visit with my wife’s parents, siblings, and niece and nephew, as they live nearby. I had volunteered to speak in a local church on Sunday morning on behalf of the Gideons, but they had more qualified speakers than needed, and I did not receive an assignment. Instead, we attended the early service at First Presbyterian Church, where we heard a sermon by David Strain from Colossians 3:5-11. This was a delightful experience not only because Presbyterian sermons seem somehow more profound and erudite when delivered with a Scottish accent, but also because Dr. Strain addressed a topic I have been pondering for some time. I have thought about writing this post for a while, and now having heard a sermon in which someone more learned than myself reached a similar conclusion, I am a bit more emboldened to opine. My particular interest here is in verse 8:

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

At the risk of sounding too much like the Pharisee from Jesus’ parable, I am thankful that in his mercy God has kept me from falling into what outwardly seem like “big sins.” I’m not a murderer after all, I don’t cheat on my wife or my taxes, I rarely consume alcohol and never to excess, and by most accounts I live an upstanding life. And yet our Lord had little good to say about those who thought much of their good outward appearances, and often exposed the sin that lay at the roots of even their best deeds. Sure, I may have mostly avoided those sins which bring some sort of public opprobrium, but there is plenty of sin inside that needs to be rooted out, confessed, and put to death. One of these, for me, has to do with language.

Readers who know me personally might be surprised by this, as most of the time the “dirtiest” thing about my speech is the poor grammar and syntax that characterize Southern colloquialisms. (Happily, these rarely find their way into my writing, unless I am trying to emulate Mark Twain.) While I conscientiously avoid the foulest of expressions, I have sometimes inserted mild profanities into my speech, occasionally even when teaching, in an attempt to add emphasis, keep attention, or generate a good laugh. I’ve tried to dismiss this as harmless, but after teaching through Colossians last year and considering verse 8 of chapter 3 at length, I’ve concluded that this is not so harmless at all. Not because the language itself is so bad, but because of what it indicates might be lurking underneath the surface.

You see, what I have suspected for some time, and Dr. Strain similarly stated, is that the list of vices in verse 8 is not just a list of sins to put away, but a continuum of sins that spring from the same root. “Obscene talk,” rendered “filthy language” in other versions, is the last and arguably the least serious of these. Slander is worse, likewise malice and wrath or rage. Anger is at the bottom, and an honest self-examination on my part reveals that, deep down, there is indeed some of that. Suppressed anger, sure, of which I was not even consciously aware, but those mild, seemingly harmless profanities that occasionally slip out are like leaks in the willpower that holds anger and other sins deep inside, in addition to being sinful themselves. Clearly I have had more sin to confess than just a few “dirty words,” and I am thankful that we serve a God who delights in forgiving those who come to him in repentance and faith.

I have sometimes said, only partly jokingly, that American evangelicals’ mores regarding language and other issues are “more Victorian than biblical.” I still believe this. After all, scripture has more than a few metaphors and expressions that can offend more refined sensibilities. God himself refers to the spiritual adultery of the Israelites using surprisingly graphic sexual metaphors, and I’m always amused by the Hebrew idiom, reproduced in the King James Version but not more modern translations, referring to males as “any that pisseth against the wall.” In the end, I’m not arguing for a pharisaic and puritanical policing of one’s speech, but rather a heart examination and repentance of the significant sinful thoughts and attitudes that might lie beneath even the mildest of vulgarities that escape our lips. After all, as our Lord said,

…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34)

Posted in Bible, Christian Worldview, Colossians, Doctrine, Practical Christianity, Repentance, The Gideons International, Theology

Complete Performance Recordings: Doubling Recital at the University of South Carolina

"The Array"

Post-recital pic with our instruments, dubbed “The Array.”

This past Tuesday a long-planned collaboration with Dr. Michael Wilkinson, trombone professor at the University of South Carolina, finally came into existence—at least, outside of our imaginations. Dr. Wilkinson and I were assigned as roommates while attending the Alessi Seminar in Oregon four years ago, and through the course of our conversations we discovered a shared interest in doubling on various low brass instruments. We began then to discuss the possibility of collaborating on a large recital featuring the two of us playing as many instruments as possible. Four years later, and thanks to funding provided by the Southeastern Conference Faculty Travel Program, we were finally able to make this happen. Tuesday night was, we hope, the first of many such collaborations; we are preparing to apply for funding to reprise this program at Ole Miss next year, followed by other universities and hopefully low brass-related professional conferences.

<i>The Low Brass Player's Guide to Doubling</i> by Micah Everett

I should mention that this program demonstrates in “real life” the principles outlined in my book The Low Brass Player’s Guide to Doubling, published in 2014 by Mountain Peak Music. (Incidentally, the book was published about eight months before Dr. Wilkinson and I met; he would have been a great addition to the list of coauthors!) The book answers in great detail the usual question, “How do you keep up with playing all of those instruments?”, providing a well thought-out and systematic approach.

Anyway, here are videos of the complete performance from Tuesday night, unedited except for the removal of talking between pieces, etc. Enjoy!

Canonic Sonata No. 3 (Telemann/Everett)
Everett—alto trombone
Wilkinson—alto trombone


Sonata No. 3 in A minor (Marcello)
Everett—tenor trombone
Wilkinson—bass trombone


Preludes 10, 15, 16, 24 (Shostakovich/Yeo)
Everett—tenor trombone (10, 15); bass trombone (16, 24)
Wilkinson—bass trombone (10, 15); tenor trombone (16, 24)


Slide and the Family Bone (Davis)
Everett—bass trombone
Wilkinson—tenor trombone


Trombone Institute of Technology (Davis)
Everett—tenor trombone
Wilkinson—bass trombone


Duo Divertimento No. 2 (Deddos)


Duba Dance (Verhelst)


“Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide (Bernstein/Slutter)
Everett—bass trombone
Wilkinson—tenor trombone


Don’t Be Absurd (Wilkinson)
Wilkinson—contrabass trombone


Posted in Alessi Seminar, Alto Trombone, Bass Trombone, Benedetto Marcello, Books, Cimbasso, Contrabass Trombone, Dmitri Shostakovich, Doubling, Douglas Yeo, Euphonium, Fernando Deddos, Georg Philipp Telemann, Higher Education, Leonard Bernstein, Low Brass Resources, Micah Everett, Michael Davis, Michael Wilkinson, Music, Performance Videos, Performances, Scott Slutter, Steven Verhelst, Teaching Low Brass, Tenor Trombone, The Low Brass Player's Guide to Doubling, Trombone, Tuba

Spring-Summer 2019 Concerts and Activities Preview

Midterm exams at Ole Miss are next week, so I suppose it’s a bit late to be writing a post about spring activities. Indeed, we’ve already had a few goings on in the low brass studio, including a trombone ensemble performance of the national anthem at the women’s basketball game against Auburn and a master class and recital by the trumpet and trombone faculty at the University of Arkansas. But the major performing activities for the spring and summer begin in earnest tonight, so maybe I’m not too far behind schedule with this post.



Our setup for tonight’s recital. That’s a lot of instruments!

Tuesday, February 19: Guest Artist Appearance at the University of South Carolina
I first met U of SC Trombone Professor Dr. Michael Wilkinson when we were assigned as roommates at the Alessi Seminar in 2015. Through the course of those ten days we discovered that we had a number of shared professional interests, one being the practice of doubling on multiple low brass instruments. At that time we began to formulate the idea of putting together a massive doubling recital where we would both play multiple instruments. It has taken four years for that idea to come to fruition, but tonight we will be performing that recital, with a total of 13 instruments being played between the two of us. I had a fine master class and lecture with Dr. Wilkinson’s students yesterday, as well. This event was funded through the Southeastern Conference Faculty Travel Program, and we hope to use that funding source to enable future performances at Ole Miss and at other SEC schools.


17635370_712447002269228_4401388372796067159_oSaturday, April 6, and Friday, April 26: National Anthem Performances for Ole Miss Baseball
Performing the national anthem at sporting events is a small but important opportunity for outreach for our low brass ensembles, and we are happy to regularly appear at both basketball and baseball games on campus. This spring the tuba-euphonium ensemble will perform for the game against Florida on April 6, and the trombone ensemble for the Texas A&M game on April 26.

Tuesday, April 23: UM Low Brass Ensembles Concert
The spring concert with the trombone and tuba-euphonium ensembles will primarily feature repertoire scheduled for our performances at major international conferences this summer. These are discussed in greater detail below.

Wednesday, April 24: UM Faculty Brass and Woodwind Quintets
Rather than presenting separate concerts, which is our usual practice, this spring the faculty brass and woodwind quintets will present a joint recital, featuring works for the two groups separately as well as one or two pieces for a larger combined dectet.

Tuesday, April 30: Tuba Solo with the UM Symphonic Band
During my seven years at Ole Miss I’ve enjoyed multiple opportunities to perform as soloist with our student ensembles, including multiple appearances with the UM Wind Ensemble as well as performances with the Lafayette-Oxford-University Symphony Orchestra and the UM Concert Band. This will be my first appearance as soloist with the UM Symphonic Band, performing Tapestry for Tuba by Michael Brand (b. 1952). This is a new piece to me, suggested by the band’s conductor, Randy Dale. It looks fun!

Monday, May 27-Saturday, June 1: International Tuba-Euphonium Conference
One of my goals when I came to Ole Miss was to establish trombone and tuba-euphonium ensembles and then build the quality of those ensembles to the point that they could perform at major conferences for our instruments. While our groups have appeared at regional events in the past, I’m thrilled that both of our ensembles will perform at their respective conferences, the tuba-euphonium ensemble at the International Tuba-Euphonium Conference at the University of Iowa, and the trombone ensemble at the International Trombone Festival at Ball State University. These are wonderful performance activities for our students, but I’m most excited about the opportunities our students will have for hearing, learning from, and interacting with the top players and teachers in our field, as well as their colleagues from other universities and organizations around the world.

Wednesday-Saturday, July 10-13: International Trombone Festival
In addition to the trombone ensemble performance at the ITF, which I’ve already mentioned, I’ll be performing an alto trombone solo during the event. Mythos II: The War of the Wood is an unaccompanied work by David Herring (b. 1970) that I discovered a few years ago and performed back in 2015. It has not been played very much, but it is a fun and challenging programmatic work depicting a battle between two very different sets of mythical creatures: Sprites and Gremlins. The extended techniques and even warlike yells in the piece are quite a departure from the far calmer late Baroque/early Classical repertoire usually performed on the alto trombone. Here’s a movement from that 2015 performance to give you an idea of the piece:

Wednesday-Sunday, July 24-28: ClarinetFest® 2019
ClarinetFest®? Really? What are you going to be doing there? Last spring I began a collaboration with UM clarinet professor Dr. Michael Rowlett, playing works “appropriated” for clarinet/euphonium duo. This pairing works exceedingly well, and we have so far given two performances, one in my faculty recital last spring, and then back in October at the College Music Society/National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors Conference in Vancouver. Dr. Rowlett applied for us to reprise the CMS/NACWPI program at this year’s ClarinetFest®, so I am looking forward to a new and different conference experience for me as the lone euphoniumist in a sea of clarinet players at the University of Tennessee. We’ll perform two pieces, one of the clarinet/bassoon duos by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), and the humorous clarinet/bass work Little Musical Flower-Garden with Leyptziger Assortment by Paul Hindemith (1895-1963). Here is our performance of the Hindemith from last spring:

This is, of course, not a comprehensive list. There will be lots and lots of teaching, student recitals, performances with the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, and assorted other gigs. But these are the major events around which I’m orienting my calendar for the next few months. I have a new book project in the works as well, and maybe I’ll be able to find time to work on it around all of this other activity. I hope so.


Posted in Alessi Seminar, Alto Trombone, Baseball, Bass Trombone, ClarinetFest, David Herring, Doubling, Euphonium, International Trombone Festival, International Tuba-Euphonium Conference, Ludwig van Beethoven, Micah Everett, Michael Brand, Michael Rowlett, Michael Wilkinson, Music, Paul Hindemith, Performances, Performing, Randy Dale, Teaching Low Brass, Tenor Trombone, Trombone, Tuba, University of Mississippi

“I Don’t Like That Answer”

2018-2019 Comparison

Left: January 2018; Right: January 2019

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.) 🙂


Posted in Alto Trombone, Bass Trombone, Daily Routine, Euphonium, Music, Physical Fitness, Playing Fundamentals, Practicing, Scales and Arpeggios, Teaching Low Brass, Tenor Trombone, Trombone, Tuba