Monday, December 31, 2007

Making Music Alone... with Others

One evening during the holidays, while at a family gathering, I ended up talking with two people who, independently, mentioned that have their own private relationship with music. They both play piano, create their own pieces and just love to play--as long as they have total privacy.

We often can think that music is a social art (playing in a large or small group in front of others, for example), but I (and probably most of you reading this) know many people who have their own very satisfying musical life where no other person ever hears them. So, after talking with these people, it reminded me of my own private musical life that I have always had. And I realized you can be a public performer in a group, a world famous soloist, a schooled musician who ends up doing something else for a living, a self-taught musician, someone who whistles while they work or sings in the car or shower, all have their own personal and private musical life despite the apparent outward differences.

The very wonderful and interesting thing to me in this, in a lot of these people like the ones I spoke with at the family party, is there is no need in them to ever play in front of other people, not even family or friends; (I wonder if that even includes pets or other animals. Hmmm...). The supportive acoustic for them is playing alone, perhaps in a place where they feel very safe and comfortable.

For me, when I play alone, I don't feel alone. There is an odd sense of wholeness and togetherness and a feeling that a something else is listening. For all of you private music makers, maybe you feel that too, that something is listening to your music and supports your art. In any case, know that I think it is wonderful and I support your private music making.

Hey, this makes me wonder, maybe we could all play a concert together in the privacy of our own personal environments. We could set a time and everyone could play their special music together, yet in private, knowing others are doing the same at the same time.

Sound interesting?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

What's Next? Website Links

We recently found out that many people who visit this blog don't know I have a website where you find news about my upcoming performances (including Frequency Band events and playing with other orchestras), master classes, recordings, texts and all kinds of other things. So, Carol has asked me to post a little something here to let you all know that. Here are a couple links:

News page at
Events Calendar page at

We'll soon be adding new things to our Resources area too, as well as to our Catalogue page (including digital downloads not only for recordings but for print music and text as well). We thought many of you might find that useful and especially folks overseas for whom ordering products sent by mail is more difficult (even though we do take orders for CDs, print music and texts on our online shopping cart from anywhere in the world, for those who prefer that).

So, I hope you all are enjoying the posts here, which will continue even more regularly now, and that, if you want to find out other news, you will visit the website too. If there's anything you can't find or would like to see, well, you can let Carol know! :-)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thank You So Much!

Last night was my last concert with the orchestra. I could not even have imagined a warmer and more sentimented send off than that one!

First, hornist Jane Sebring baked a beautiful and delicious cake with an inscription written in icing, "Not again Norman!" This has meaning to several BSO members who remember the time our former personnel manager, Bill Moyer, got a little fed up with me always being the last one on stage. I would get changed at our six minute call and be on stage a minute before tuning. (I would like to point out, for the sake of balances, that I always was at the hall warming up at least one hour before the concert or rehearsal started. :-) Anyway, one time Bill thought I was pushing it, and he announced over the P.A. system, "Not again, Norman!" in an anguished but gentle tone. It was hysterical! Thank you to Jane and her husband, Gus Sebring, the BSO's associate principal horn, for the cake and all the years of meaningful conversations and great music making. Gus has world premiered two pieces I've written and, hopefully, will be recording.

Also, BSO horn player, Jonathan Menkis, brought in some wonderful cookies that his daughters baked for me, accompanied by a very nice handmade card too.

Then the conductor last night was James Orent, who is one of the Pop's assistant conductors and a violinist as well. I enjoy Jim's conducting very much and he has participated in one of our Frequency Band recordings and concerts, as well. So to have him be the conductor of my last BSO/Pops engagement was a real gift. He announced to the audience, in a very sentimented way, that I was leaving and the audience let out a big sigh! Then he gave me a solo bow and, unexpectedly, spotllighted me in the last piece of the program, a swing version of "Frosty the Snowman" that had a big trombone soli in it. I also was given flowers on stage, which was a gift from trombonist (and long-time Frequency Band participant), Darren Acosta.

At this point, I was starting to get a bit overwhelmed because all of this was on top of the special gift and incredible note that Doug Yeo, the bass trombonist and my dear friend (who also has kindly played and conducted on Frequency Band recordings) had given me.

I received many heart-warming well wishes from other colleagues, stage crew members, the BSO driver, other staff, friends, family and even complete strangers that night and wonderful emails from current and former students, other family members and friends came flooding in as well. It was a heartfelt send off from people I really care about.

To everyone who played a part, including members of the orchestra, friends and those closer family members (especially my beloved wife, Carol, who also took the above photo before the concert), I want to say, "Thank You!" May your lives continue to be filled with the joy and wonder that music is and represents!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Then There Were Two

Only two more concerts of Christmas Pops and I will be finished playing with the orchestra. It is really like watching a movie, witnessing certain things for the last time. The process of leaving something that I have done for most of my life brings about an acute state of awareness of the people and the place that have been a part of my life for so many years. And when I think about it, I have spent almost more time with Ron Barron and Doug Yeo than my own family!

Speaking of Ron and Doug, I have learned a lot from both of them in our many years together. We all have strong views about music and life. We all have interests outside of music. As well, each of us has our own musical interests outside of the orchestra. From what I know, we were the only symphony section where each person has made multiple solo and ensemble CDs. As individuals, we have richly contributed to the trombone and brass world and I would say the music world in general. Both Ron and Doug are honorable, quality people. I give them both a resounding "BRAVO!" for all that they have done and will continue to do.

Above is a picture of the trombone section taken just last week by BSO principal oboist John Ferrillo. A moment in time...

In October, shortly after my leaving was announced on the Internet, I wrote a blog post with other thoughts about this process. Here is the link: Beginnings and Endings

Also, on November 23rd, WGBH radio aired an interview with me conducted by producer, Brian Bell, about my time with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras. With WGBH's kind permission, we've posted that interview on our website Audio/Video page. Scroll down until you see the WGBH graphic. Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Most Important Acoustic, Part 1

As a musician, one can develop a feeling for playing in different spaces. Some places feel dry in their resonance, others might feel very boomy. There are many variations on this theme. And like most anything else, we have our preferences.

I have played in many concert halls throughout the world. I have played in many practice rooms throughout the country and abroad. Where do I like to play the most? Wherever there is a supportive acoustic. It can be outside or in a small room with a pet. Or at a relative's house with people who really are appreciative of what I do. Does the nature of an individual piece of music require a supportive acoustic to give it a chance to come alive? That is a fascinating question which we will look into soon.

To start with, I'm sure different music might call for different environments. That would make for a challenging recital! "Ok, we will play this piece in this hall and that piece over there," ...not very practical! This is where our minds can play a key role in influencing the ecology we play into.

If we are playing alone or even with others, we can alter our own "inner acoustics." This can be done by imagining you are playing in another space than the one you are in, more to do with feeling that space inside yourself. We all have a variety of experiences we can draw upon and can replay them. You also can develop this to the point where others can feel your 'creation.'

And this brings us to a vital point. If you are playing for other people, what they generate, in terms of their thoughts, creates an acoustical overlay that can override the physical acoustics of a concert hall. So why not tune the audience? Certain music cannot be received if there is not a place made to receive it. Any farmer, gardener, teacher or therapist knows this simple fact. There needs to be an opening for something whether it is a plant, new learning, advice or music to be received. That is the first step. Better still is having the 'soil' be fertile so when that something is received, it can take root and grow.

Many pop groups have a loyal fan base. When they come on stage to perform, the audience is very supportive and open to what the group will do. The group feels welcome and appreciated from the get-go. Great place to start. But even in those circumstances, I'm sure it can take time to be in a fully in-tune state between audience and performers.

Carol and I have found that speaking to the audience about the music creates a place where the music can be appreciated more by the listener. Telling someone about the harmonic construction of a piece might be of interest to a few people. But, to a lot of the audience, hearing what a piece is about helps them to translate and understand the sounds that they will hear.

The other benefit of speaking to the audience is you have created an atmospheric acoustic which will give the music a path to flow through without as much resistance. This is a subtle science but can be so easily developed and proven if there is the desire. More to come on some practical steps to opening up this subject shortly. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Essence Doesn't Mind

It is very interesting to me how some people want to argue about such things as who is the greatest trombonist (or greatest anything) in the world. I used to do it myself when I was very young. It usually comes from a very biased position about what is great and what isn't as great, as it pertains to an individual's likes and dislikes.

So, let's have a bit of a contemplation: Take a moment and think of all the trombonists in the world... right, you cannot because you do not know all of them presently or in the past. How could anyone? So, in fact, you will never know.

Now, of the ones you have heard presently or in the past, who would be the GREATEST? And I mean THE GREATEST. You might have a favorite but is that the criteria for determining who is the greatest? I personally cannot think of just one. There are many great players today and many from yesteryear.

You would think that the GREATEST player would be able to do all styles better than anyone else. Does anyone fit that criteria? I certainly do not know of any. I know there are many great trombonists who are trying to play in many different styles to broaden their artistic and technical horizons. I believe in the saying of a great wise man,"It's not what you do, it's the reason why you do it." So, if learning as many musical styles and learning to play all the instruments in the trombone family or other instruments gives you greater fulfillment, then keep on! To thyself be true.

I have heard real essence come out of players who, by most 'professional' musicians' standards, would not ever qualify as fine players. But guess what? The essence doesn't mind! Isn't that a liberating insight, and relief?! After years and years (my whole playing life of 43 years) of listening and wondering about what is the essential ingredient in the magic of music, I have found it to be genuineness... and in that realm, where the player is playing from that genine place in themselves, the essence of the music doesn't mind or care whether the person is the greatest craftsman on their instrument or the worst. I have witnessed this many times alone and in the presence of many others.

I have seen people with a lot of creativity form attitudes of low self worth because they didn't think they were 'good' enough at a technical level. Yes, it is true that certain types of expression need a very developed skill and craftsmanship to work through. But many, many do not. This is the valuable lesson (the most important musical lesson I ever received) that I learned from my first four teachers. I am, and forever will be, grateful for that gift.

We have all had essence moments. Real genuine moments that were beyond any intellectually contrived workings out. I will admit that, for a while, it was difficult for me to hear players that just went for technical mastery. I am happy that at an early age I realized how to appreciate what somebody has to offer at any level. This insight has helped me to listen to players more openly. Whether I personally warm to the playing or not is another issue and not the point here.

A good first approach to broaden ones depth of appreciation is to listen to the qualities of a player from three levels:

* Physical aptitude
* Emotional content or involvement
* Musical resultant

Another set of three would be at the level of art:

* Machine management
* Architecture of phrasing (skill and timing)
* Depth of essence content (atmosphere and transference potency)

These last three are skills that take a lot of time to practice and develop. But it is worth it! :-) Because it can always grow and refine just like Art itself.

Of course, there are numerous ways to listen to players and music. One of the most important ways is to let yourself feel what the music does to you. How does it make your body feel? What is the nature of your mental state after hearing music? What did it do to your emotions? How open where you when you listened to it? The list goes on and on and on......

"It is, where it is," is a phrase that my wife, Carol, and I have come to. That, in my mind, is the criteria. Where is the music the greatest?

A very wise man said, " It is not who wrote or played the music, it is what wrote or played the music."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Diagram: Section Playing

Here is one of my views about section and ensemble playing. Sometimes simple diagrams can say a lot.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Singing in the Car

In the name of fun and freedom and spontaneous expression, the following little tune happened in the car. I was stopped in a lot of traffic and went to call Carol on my cell phone. I pressed some side button and, on the screen, this microphone appeared! And it said, "Press OK to Start Recording"! So, I pressed it and started singing into this mic and it went on for quite a while! Then the tune naturally ended. So, I stopped recording and on the screen it said, "Press Send." So, I sent it--to Carol!

If you can't be free to express yourself while you're alone, where can you express it? Now, I didn't really think that this would go public. :-) This is the raw, uncut version! But I do this kind of thing sometimes in my studio, in the shower, outside (in seclusion!) or in the car--and this one is caught on tape!

The value of this is the freedom of not being caught up in how "good" it sounds, like how's the rhythm, pitch or clarity. You just let it happen.

So, here's to your uninhibited, free time expression periods! Enjoy them!

MP3: Singing in the car

Sunday, November 4, 2007

More from "The TAC Legend Writings"

The following is an excerpt from a master class given by Master Manlon and his colleagues, Seymore and Joice, on "What is talent?" although the following, being well into the class, touches on an adjacent subject, namely, what is meant by "professional."

Master Manlon: "...Remember, not all of us can be virtuosi or be as accomplished as we would like on our instruments, but we still can be connected to the essence of the music and communicate that through our instruments."

Kilton: "Is it possible to be connected to the essence of the music in a professional setting?"

Master Manlon: "'Professional,' an interesting term."

Kilton: "What do you mean by 'professional,' Master Manlon?"

Master Manlon: "Things are where they are. To me, 'professional' can be a misleading term. Commonly, a professional is someone who gets paid for certain livelihoods that are considered to be 'professions.' But what about someone who is great at domestics in their home or what about a janitor or short order cook who are great at what they do? They perform at a high level and exhibit professional standards, don't they? But they would never be considered professionals. Also, just because you are considered a professional, doesn't mean you perform at a high standard for that profession. So, quality is where it is.

Now, to answer your question about whether you can be connected to the essence in a professional setting, the answer is, 'Yes, try, because every little bit helps.'"

The above is from my book in progress, "The TAC Legend Writings." Click here to read another excerpt and for links to previous excerpts.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Beginnings and Endings

Well, the cat's out of the bag! I was planning to talk about this in a couple of months, but it's already been posted out in cyberspace, so I'll talk about it now. My last concert with the Boston Symphony will be December 17th. It's been a long and very productive 32 years. And today, October 27th, is the date I won the audtion in 1975. What a day that was!

I had a 102 degree fever! And I didn't really care what happened! I think that was a good thing because I just played very uninhibitedly. It was a rainy day, just like today here in Boston.

I was very proud to have gotten into the BSO, for that was the orchestra I always thought about when I was younger because my uncle, Sherman Walt, was first bassoon and many of my mentors, of which he was one, were in the orchestra. And now I was a member.

Many people have asked me why I am leaving the orchestra. Even colleagues say, "Aren't you too young to retire? What are you going to do?" My usual response is, "I've been in 32 years. How many 32 year periods do we have?" I have a huge part of my life, separate from the BSO, that I want to deepen and expand upon, like composing and teaching and other personal interests, including playing in other ways.

Tonight, I will be playing Bruckner's "Symphony No. 9" for one of the last times with the BSO. It's an interesting place to be in myself.

So, as Edward R. Murrow used to say, at the end of his radio broadcasts, "Goodnight and good luck." Or, as Walter Cronkite used to say, at the end of his TV broadcasts, "And that's the way it is." Or, as I now have to say,
"On With the Battle of Life!"

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Another Excerpt from
"The TAC Legend Writings"

The brass players from the The Amazing Club were asking Master Manlon some questions on various topics. The subject of warming up was raised and here is an excerpt from this discussion:

Bert: "So you generally start with the same note everyday?"

Master Manlon: " Yes, I do. It is amazing how different that note can feel. And even if that note doesn't feel too different, other things in my warm up might.

Yes, Antil, did you want to say something?"

Antil: "I notice the difference in my air capacity. Some days, it feels like my air comes in very quickly and easily. Some day,s it seems like a big effort. On the days it feels like a big effort, what can I do to get past that obstacle sooner?"

Master Manlon: "The Golden Rule, which I'm sure you have heard many times is: Start with what you 'can do.' If you can't take a full, large breath, find out what kind of breath feels better. Perhaps, a faster but shorter breath. Start playing with half of your air capacity and see how it feels. Perhaps, you need to focus more on exhalation. See how that focus alters your inhalation. Sometimes, if we sit and work with what is and get in tune with that, then we will find movement usually starting to happen. Remember, sometimes the physiology will not support our concept or our concept might not fit our habitual way of going on."

Antil: "Is that why concepts are hard to change because they basically have just become unconscious habits?"

Master Manlon: "Yes, but there is more to it than that. It goes deeper because the concept that has become habit has also become an identity. For instance, if a person is known to others as having extremely fast technique and they end up getting arthhritis or have an accident, can they, or more precisely, will they allow themselves to change in order to continue to play? Or will their identity for being known as a speedster not let them?"

Antil: "It makes me wonder, if we think about music as a living thing, something that we are in service to rather than as our sole identity, we might not get as attached to our abilities and the constant need for recognition."

Master Manlon: "That is an excellent attitude to develop... It takes awhile to grow into this state of consciousness. So, if you still feel the need for a lot of recognition, it's OK, as long as you keep moving on...."

The above is from my book in progress, "The TAC Legend Writings." Click here, here and here to read other excerpts.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tributue to My Teachers:
Steven Zellmer

It was a cold, winter morning in Minneapolis. Saturday, January 13, 1969. The time was 11:00 AM and the place was the music education building at the University of Minnesota. I knocked on the door and a roundish, friendly man came to the door and said, "Hello! I will be with you in a few minutes." I remember feeing a little embarrassed that I interrupted him in a lesson he was giving. Five minutes later, he opened up the door and said, "Hello! I'm Steven Zellmer. You must be Norman." I said, "Yes!"

He then introduced me to his student, who was a college student by the name of Jim Taylor. Jim said, "Hello, Norman. I heard you a couple of years ago at the St. Paul Philharmonic Summer Music Camp playing 'Morceau Symphonique' with orchestra. It was very good." I responded, "Thank you but I've improved a lot since then!" Jim looked at me warmly and said, "Haven't we all!"

I'll never forget that first lesson. Mr. Zellmer was so friendly. He heard me play and said, "That's very unique and unusual playing, but if you want to get a job in this country, you'll have to sound a bit more like everyone else."

He was a great teacher--always looking to see that the quality of sound was even and consistent throughout all registers. We worked a lot on basics and orchestral excerpts. He had a profound love for the orchestral literature and the trombone's role in the orchestra. Sometimes, he would give me half of my money back at the end of the lesson and tell me to go buy this recording or that recording and to listen to it carefully.

Mr. Zellmer himself had a very pure tone with a beautiful high range. I remember hearing him do Beethoven's Fifth with the Minnesota Orchestra. He would come out at least a half hour before the concert and warm up his high notes on stage. His high D's, E's and F's had great clarity and they sounded easy. He played these on his Conn 8H and Bach 6-1/2AL mouthpiece.

Steven Zellmer was a wine collector, stamp collector, gardener, investor and an avid astrologer! In fact, after I played for him at my first lesson, he asked me, "When is your birthday?" I told him it was January 17th and he said, "You're a Capricorn! Many great trombonists are Capricorns." That was my introduction into astrology!

I called him on his 70th birthday, which was November 28, 1995. He was so delighted and touched. He said to me, with deep emotion and gratitude, "You remembered." He passed away exactly six weeks later.

He left in his will a large sum of money for the Minnesota Orchestra to start the Zellmer-Minnesota Orchestra Trombone Competition. I was commissioned to write two solos with piano accompaniment for this competition. The tenor trombone solo is called "Morning Walk," which is about his life, and the bass trombone solo is called "Sagittarius2," which is about his astrological and numerological influences.

Almost every day, I play his favorite etude, "No. 45" from P. Bona's "Rhythmical Articulations." I play this while looking at his picture, mentally giving him thanks for all his warmth, love and encouragement.

You can hear sound clips from "Morning Walk" and "Sagittarius2" on the iTunes page for my "Occurrences" CD or on our website.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

First Solo

It was 1965, 10:00 AM in the morning, in my elementary school gymnasium. The whole school, grades K-6, were invited to hear some of the students play solos. My solo was an arrangement of "The Saints Go Marching In," for trombone and piano. I was all ready!

I walked out onto the floor and looked at all the kids. There seemed to be a real lot of them! So, I started playing and it seemed to be going pretty well, when all of a sudden, I went out to sixth position and the slide made direct contact with the music stand! Bang! The stand fell to the floor. The music flew all over the place. Kids were laughing! But I was running after the music, still trying to play the solo, reading the pages of the music from their new found positions, on the floor.

Afterwards, even though the kids were laughing, and I was quite embarassed, I got a good round of applause and a special congratulations from my band director, as he said, "That's the way to go after it!"

Saturday, September 29, 2007

What Does It Mean...?

What does it mean to have it all?
...a plan a hope a dream a goal...

fast and slow
high and low
big and small
can we have it all?
what should we aim for?
where is the key to the door?
what door--all doors?
where is our door?

learn from all
whether tall or small
famous or not
it's what they've got

can we listen to our inner ears..?
sometimes far, sometimes near
it's ok to shed some tears
it can be healthy to look at our fears

to be oneself in the midst of peers

to stand in the crowd and feel clear
it's irrelevant whether they cheer...

it's ok to be you
and if you're in a stew
feeling a bit blue
begin simple and anew
start with what you can do.

Some music, on a similar frequency, for your enjoyment...
Excerpt from At Far, Brought Near
on my "Anew at Home" CD.
MP3 single available on iTunes.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rover and The Red Scooter

While recording and performing "The Red Scooter" (one of the pieces from my collection of unaccompanied solos, "You Are Not Alone..."),
I often would think of my childhood companion and friend, my dog Rover. He would run with me up and down hills when I would be riding my bike. We would wrestle in the snow and jump into a big pile of Fall leaves. Rover would come to school and wait for me.

Rover was the kind of dog that kids dream of having. He loved to play with us all the time and he felt like one of us kids. Sometimes, at night, when parents in the neighborhood would call out the name or names of their children to come inside, my father would yell out, "Norman! Marcey! Neal! Rover!" Sometimes, he would get mixed up and call one of us kids "Rover"!

"The Red Scooter" is a playful piece about having childlike fun. The next time you play (or listen to) it, connect to some fun childhood circumstance of your own and enjoy the ride!

Here is a sound clip of "The Red Scooter" from my "Anew at Home" CD.

[For those interested: An MP3 of "The Red Scooter" is available as a single track on iTunes. The printed music for this piece is included in the unaccompanied trombone solos collection, "You Are Not Alone."]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Blinded by Sound

Master Manlon was having a master class on "Resonance." Here, he is in the middle of a dialogue with Selby, an oboist...

Master Manlon: "So, is there any objective way we can assess what makes a sound a 'good' sound or a 'bad' sound? Yes, Selby?"

Selby: "Is this the question we should be asking? Doesn't it depend on the context of the music, what would make a sound appropriate or 'good' for that circumstance?"

Master Manlon: "Ahhhhhh! So, any sound could be a 'good' sound, if it fits the occasion or a specific piece of music?"

Selby: "That's what I would think, but we do have our personal likes and dislikes. I know what kind of oboe sound I like."

Master Manlon: "If you hear another oboe sound that is different to the one you like, can you still hear the music the person is making?"

Selby: "To be honest, it does get in the way of my hearing other qualities, at times, and does challenge me to listen beyond my own concepts."

Master Manlon: "I thank you for your honesty and openness. You have just hit at the root of prejudice."

Selby: "Excuse me, sir?"

Master Manlon: "Blinded by sound. Blinded by appearance. Blinded by that which is different to oneself. The root of prejudice or the potential seed for prejudice to grow, if not educated or directed into a broader perception."

[end of excerpt]

A lot of brass players--in fact, instrumentalists, in general--classify sound according to 'dark' and 'bright.' Oftentimes, 'bright' can mean 'bad' and 'dark' can mean 'good.' Oftentimes, 'bright' can mean a 'thin' sound and 'dark' can mean a 'full' sound. In my estimation, this is not accurate. I have heard resonant, beautiful, full 'bright' sounds and very dull, thick, heavy, unvibrant 'dark' sounds. To add to this, not everyone agrees what a 'dark' or 'bright' sound is!

If we are blinded by our concept of sound, it is no different than a person who is physically attracted to a certain body-type. Not all the time is their 'ideal' body-type full of content.

I would encourage those interested (the next time you listen to players), to try to hear what the players are communicating beyond ones own school of thought of what is 'good' playing and 'good' sound.

One good exercise in broadening ones concept of sound is to listen to many different kinds of players and feel the unique flavor, texture and substance of that sound. For example, I play trombone. But I don't always think of sounding like a trombone. Sometimes, I go for the haunting sound of a wooden flute or the intensity of a romantic cello or the crispness of a sharp bassoon staccato. I try to use all the instruments and have them be a part of my sonic palette.

[Note: There is a relationship between the above post and my "If the Shoe Fits..." post. Also, the above dialogue with Master Manlon is from my book in progress, "The TAC Legend Writings." To read previous excerpts from the book, click here and here.]

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Frog Concert

We looked down in an area of tall reeds and saw this frog who was sitting in perfect silence. In the very next moment, it began. One low short tone followed by another and another, coming from many different places around the small pond.

Slight variations in pitch, rhythm and timbre, moving with breathtaking momentum, surround sound. Holographic, rhythmically complex, making sense, yet totally mystical and personal.... We were the only human listeners. Awesome, magical and totally natural. A special, unannounced concert for us.

Perfect timing. My father passed away the very next day. The concert said to us (Carol and I), 'Enjoy the beauty when it is happening; try to see the marvel and the wonder of life. Always tune to the vital As of Attitude, Appreciation and Awe.'

The frog concert ended as suddenly as it began. Just like life itself.

The frog concert--for us and all the other lives that witnessed it.

A moment of eternity, sanity and peace.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Reading at the Speed of Sight

Just because you can do something currently, doesn't mean you will always be able to do it. Take sight-reading, for example.

When I was growing up, and until I got into the orchestra, I was an excellent sight-reader. That's what I was told by others and I knew myself that I was pretty good at it. This ability stayed with me through my Empire Brass days--all of those guys were GREAT sight-readers.

After I left the group, the need for me to sight-read difficult music occurred much more infrequently. Occasionally, we would get a Boston Pops piece in the morning and have to play it on a TV show that evening. The same with Pops recording sessions. A piece would turn up in the handwritten manuscript of the composer (oftentimes, divisi) and then the recording light would go on! Time for the first run through! But there was no demand for me to sight-read on a regular basis. Since I knew what the orchestra would be playing a year or more in advance, I started to see my sight-reading get rusty.

Then I noticed a lot of students sight-reading was not very good. So, I decided to write a sight reading book using four clefs (treble, alto, tenor and bass). I titled the book "Reading at the Speed of Sight."

The book is not easy at all and was designed in such a way that most of the studies are not predictable in their harmonic outline. In other words, they are not meant to be beautiful nor meaningful in their musical content. The purpose is to develop sight reading-skills or to improve the sight-reading ability we have--or used to have!

Many musicians who are freelance artists need to be able to sight-read. Many times they are called to play at a moment's notice and having good sight-reading skiills is valuable and impresses the employer and fellow musicians.

Sight-reading, in my experience, used to play a bigger role in orchestra auditions than it does nowadays. But don't use that as an excuse not to work on it. In additon to the reasons already mentioned, it's good for your brain! :-)

In the book, I include several different methods of approach which have proven to be very effective. Also included in the book are 20 sight-reading duets. They were inspired by Bartok's violin duets, in a certain kind of way, because, in sight-reading, assumption can be the mother of all screw ups! :-)

I think "Reading at the Speed of Sight" is an excellent book for advanced players--students or professionals who want to keep and build upon this very useful skill. It is available on the Studies area of our website, along with other texts and exercises. By the way, you can download (in pdf format) the first two etudes for free! Those are the easy ones--though not as easy as they look! ;-)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Meeting Woody Herman

At the time I was taking lessons from
Ed Von Hoff, my mother took me to hear Woody Herman and his band. At the intermission we actually got to meet him and someone took this picture. It was 1965 and I was 10 years old. It was such a thrill to hear and meet him, let alone get to take a picture with him!

At the break, I also met the trombone player. I wish I could remember his name. I went up to him and said I played trombone too. He said, "Great, maybe you will be playing up here one day." I said I wanted to be in an orchestra. He smiled at me. Then, I innocently said to him, "I saw you puffing your cheeks when you were playing. I thought you weren't supposed to do that?" He looked at me, smiled again, and said, "Well, you are right. I shouldn't be. But I am."

Tribute to My Teachers:
Edward Von Hoff

It has been almost 43 years to the day that I started playing trombone. I'll never forget that day when my beloved mother took me to the music store and we rented my Olds Ambassador trombone. I felt so proud as I walked down the street carrying my new trombone.

I was astonished when we were walking down the street and this man said, as he walked past me, "Well, young man, I see you have a trombone!" I looked at my mother and said, "How did that man know that?" My mother responded by saying, "Maybe the different instruments have their own special cases."

After I received my six free lessons at the music store (which was part of the deal when you rented from this store), I started taking lessons from a band director and music teacher in the St. Paul puplic school system. His own instrument was trumpet and his name was Edward 'Ed' Von Hoff.

He took me as a student because he used to live next door to my mother many years before. His house was a half mile from where we lived. I remember that walk as if it were yesterday.

He was a very thorough teacher. Each week I had to learn a scale, memorize a little piece and do some sight reading. If I played out of tune, he would stop me and say, "Normie, do you smell that?" He had a great sense of humor. Every time I would empty my spit valve, he would tell me to empty my spit into a glass, put it into the fridge, then serve it to guests. He said they would love it! I laughed so hard I thought I would fall over!

After two years of studying with Mr. Von Hoff, he told me that I should take from a trombonist.

I learned a lot from him. He loved music. He would always try to come to other concerts I was in later on to hear me play.

Just for the record, I never served any one that special cold drink--yet!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Tribute to My Teachers:
Ronald Ricketts

It is exactly 34 years ago today that I moved to Boston from Minnesota. It got me thinking about a lot of my past and how fortunate I was to have had the teachers I did, starting with my first four.

My first trombone teacher was actually a trumpet player, Edward Von Hoff. The second trombone teacher I had was Ronald Ricketts, former second trombonist with the Minnesota Orchestra. He was the first trombone player that I actually took lessons with. I was eleven-years-old at the time.

I'll never forget that very first lesson. I was playing on my Olds Ambassador, the very first trombone I ever played on. My mother rented it from a music store in St. Paul named Schimdt Music Co.

Anyway, Mr. Ricketts asked if I could hit a high B flat, and I did. In his very calm voice he said, "Wow, you can even hit a high B flat. That's good. Can I try your horn?" I said, "Sure!"

So, I gave him my horn and could not beleive what I heard! This beautiful sound was right then and there implanted in my mind. It was warm, resonant and open. That was my introduction to a beautiful, symphonic trombone tone.

I remember one week showing up with a squirt gun that I kept in my trombone case to water my slide (and occasionally for other things!) and Mr. Ricketts noticed it and said, "Hey, could you get me one of those? I could use it in rehearsal and squirt it at the conductor while hiding behind my music stand!" I could not believe what I heard my teacher say! :-)

Ron Ricketts was truly a great trombonist and teacher. He was a great euphonium player as well.

One day after I had already taken some lessons with Mr. Ricketts, I was writing in my little diary. At the time, I was really ticked with my sixth grade teacher and was not liking school very much. (I just wanted to play my horn and study other subjects I was interested in). So, I wrote this page (photo above) about my great trombone teacher in my diary. I was very determined, even at that age, to become a musician. I also was very fortunate to have had people that beleived in me and always supported my musical endeavors.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Excerpt from "The TAC Legend Writings"

This following dialogue is excerpted from one of Master Manlon's master classes.

"Master Manlon was about to continue when someone else, without raising their hand, asked,'Isn't this getting to be too much thinking? What about just picking it up, breathing and playing?'

The Master approached the person and said, 'Hello, what is your

'Julian,' the young man said.

Master Manlon asked, 'Would you like to come up here and play something for us?'

'Yes,' answered Julian.... [Julian played the trombone solo from Mahler's 3rd Symphony.]

...'What were you thinking about when you were playing?' asked Master Manlon.

'Uh, hmmmm. I was thinking it would have sounded better if I had warmed up a little bit.'... [Master Manlon asked if Julian would like to try to play something else and Julian said he would like to play the second trombone solo from 'Russian Easter Overture' by Rimsky-Korsakov and then played it.]

After a moment of of sensing what the acoustical return from the audience and his own registrations were, he [Master Manlon] proceeded to ask Julian again what he was thinking while he was playing.

Julian said he felt more ready and in control of what he was doing. Then Master Manlon said, 'Yes I heard that, but you didn't address the question I asked you. What were you thinking about while you were playing?'

'I was thinking this feels better. It sounds good and solid,' answered Julian, with a slight timbre of frustration in his voice.

Master Manlon walked closer to Julian, looked at him very directly, and said, 'What does this solo mean to you?'

Julian said, 'It's very chant-like and I read that it was supposed to be a psalm.'

Master Manlon: 'Is that what it means to you?'

Julian: 'What do you mean?'

Master Manlon: 'Is that what you were feeling when you played it for us?'

Julian: 'I was just trying to play it the best I could. That's it.'

Master Manlon: 'Julian, I appreciate that, and it was very clear you were giving it your present all. But knowing what something is about doesn't mean you are connected, or even can relate to it. Do you follow me?'

Julian: 'I think so.'"

The above is from my book in progress, "The TAC Legend Writings." Click here to read another excerpt.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Blast from the Past

While cleaning my office yesterday, I went through some old boxes and found this photo of trumpeter Rolf Smedvig and I in the summer of 1977. The picture was taken on the Tanglewood grounds. I was 22 and Rolf was 24.

Oftentimes, Rolf and I would practice together or play the Bach Two-Part Inventions. His playing had the ease of someone blowing bubbles. His fluid articulation, vibrant beautiful tone and expressive long line were truly exceptional. I learned a great deal from playing with him.

1977 was a pretty big year for the Empire Brass (Quintet), which also included, at that time, trumpeter Charles Lewis, hornist David Ohanian and tubist Sam Pilafian. We went on a three-week tour of Spain in the winter, gave our Naumburg Chamber Music Prize concert at Alice Tully Hall in New York in the spring, and, later that spring, made two recordings--one called "Baroque Brass" and the other called "Russian Brass," which was the the premiere recording of the Victor Ewald Brass Quintets Nos. 2 and 3. Ewald's 1st quintet is also on this recording.

We used to play all day long in those early years. Between Boston Symphony rehearsals and concerts and EBQ rehearsals and concerts, it was easy to play six to eight or even 10 hours in a day! This is when I discovered the real importance of warming up and sometimes warming down! The quintet reahearsals were very intense and often confrontational! But we all had great respect for each other and we had lots of fun and unbelievable humor as well! I look back now and feel very proud to have been a part of such a great musical and pioneering chamber music group.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Time to Make the "Reed"

Many years ago, when my son was getting into the oboe and he was learning how to make reeds, he came up to me one day and said,"Dad, you are so lucky. You can just pick up your horn and start playing without having to worry about making reeds!" I said, "Excuse me, but what do you think I am doing when I am playing slow slurs, gradually getting higher in range, then going down into the low range, then playing scales in different articulations, all this lasting 90 or more minutes? I am making my reed. That is how brass players make their reeds. Their embouchures are their reeds and some peoples reeds take longer to make than others."

Warming up and maintenance practice, I feel, at least for myself and other players that I have seen, are vital to feeling ready and provide a platform of stability. A good warmup/maintenance routine can act as an excellent diagnostic tool to monitor the 'health' of ones embouchure and support systems.

Life is ever changing for a person, at many levels, and sometimes we need to modify certain approaches physically and mentally to adjust to natural changes as they occur in one form or another. Having a basic, steady routine that one feels good with, and that also covers an extensive workout into a variety of playing aspects, can keep one informed and in tune with ones playing apparatus. The regularity of the routine offers a reliable point of reference for sensing any changes and gives a person time to make any adjustments. I think a good regular routine is excellent for maintaining greater longevity in ones playing life.

Today I had so many errands and household things to catch up with that I couldn't do my routine at my preferred time. So, I did it late at night and it felt very productive and set me up well for tomorrow's sessions. It's never to late to make the reed!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tribute to My Teachers:
The First Four

My first teachers are not known in the music world. Some people might think they shouldn't be called musicians. But this depends on what you think music is and, therefore, what you think a musician is. Lena Neren, Herman Neren, Shirley Baker and Charles Bolter are not famous musicians but they were great musicians in my eyes.

Lena Neren was my grandmother. Now, this marvelous woman could take away my headaches singing a song. My grandfather, Herman Neren, was a self taught violinist from Poland, a real Fiddler on the Roof. He would play songs on his violin that would connect him to the 'old country.' He would be transported to another time and another place. I could always see a tear come down his cheek when he was playing his beloved songs. My mother, Shirley Baker, took away my fear by singing the song, "Whistle a Happy Tune," from "The King and I." My father, Charles Bolter, first introduced me to multiphonics when he would imitate an outerspace ship by whistling and singing at the same time.

These people showed me that music could heal, change your state of mind, transport you in time, and inspire your imagination with magical sounds. So, when I got my trombone, that's what I thought music was about and that's what I wanted to do--and still do. For them, it was a natural part of their lives. They didn't worry whether they had "chops" that day or not. Music just flowed in and out of them whether it was happy times, sad times, religious ceremonies, or just to have fun. It was a natural expression.

They gave me the inspiration to first see music as a living thing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The T-horn, Not a Tenor Horn

I've been playing around with just the bell section of the trombone ever since I was a kid. And then, I realized it had a very very unique sound, almost like an ancient instrument quality. I played it outdoors in Wales at an ancient Roman site and you could feel the battle that may have happened there, just from two notes. (You will hear these two notes in the beginning of the sound clip included below.)

Interestingly, in Wales, I started out by trying to play my trombone at that site and the sound didn't match what I was feeling there. So, I detached the slide from the bell and just played the part that I later named the T-horn.

Oddly enough, nobody has ever inquired about what a T-horn is, even though it's listed on the CD in the instrumentation. So, we think people assume T-horn is short for tenor horn, but now you know the rest of the story....

Here is a sound clip using T-horns: "Persian Immortals" from my "Occurrences" CD. It is also avaiable as a single track MP3 on the iTunes page for this CD.

By the way, this piece was written several years ago and was inspired by an ancient legend. It has no relationship to any current world events.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Rhythmic Breathing Exercise

In my Preview, Review and Video Too post, I said that I'd write more about breathing in a later post, since it's mentioned in the video with John Peter. So, here it is! This is the same exercise I gave John but you don't see it on the video.

This breathing exercise was given to me by one of my principal teachers, former principal trombonist of the Minnesota Orchestra, Steven Zellmer.

Over the years, I have found a deepening value for this relatively simple exercise and have developed a number of variations myself, some of which I'm including here. It is excellent for locating tension that might exist in the stomach, chest and especially the shoulders.

Done on a regular basis, this exercise helps in the economy of breath. While doing the inhale for six counts, one needs to measure the breathing, making sure not to take it in too quickly or you can be full well before beat six!

Practicing the three count and the two count variations, one can feel the breath at faster speeds. These variations are excellent for monitoring any tension that could enter your body when air speed is increased.

Here is one way to use this exercise in a sequence:

1. Focus your eyes on something straight ahead of you.

2. Do the exercise three times consecutively with the six counts at a moderate speed.

3. Repeat using three count variation.

4. Repeat using the two count variation.

Oftentimes, players already have too much air in their lungs, so it can be useful to exhale for a count of two before starting the inhale.

There is so much that can be said about breathing. Find your own ways with this exercise and be careful not to overdo it so you don't hyperventilate.

By the way, this exercise is good for relaxation too!


Click here for "before" photo.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Trombone Sci-Fi

"After carefully setting the dials to the metrotune, Oscar was ready to practice his trobo slide exercises that his 7th degree mentor had assigned him.

'OK, I'll start with the 4 octave D flat quarter tone scale sequence.

Ooops! I forgot to connect my air tank to the mouthpiece funnel! Oh boy, that is my 3rd demerit this practice session! One more and I'll have to clean the entire theater again! So here I go.... Hmmmmm.

Clip the downward pointing nozzle into the funnel; hook this into the chamber at the end of the mouthpiece bowel; now gently bring the connecting hose into the left side of my mouth. Whew, got it...'

The metrotune was set at quarter note equals 4. Oscar needed to hold each tone 64 counts at this tempo, all at a dynamic of forte to the 25th power. This was in preperation for his weekly promotional. He was actually on probation for the past two weeks and if he did not pass this promotional, he would be expelled from the Academy of Sonic Scieneces.

Oscar was just beginning the 6th tone in the scale sequence when his friend, Dobey, interrupted him.

'Oscar, your release time of the previous note was early and you lost 38 vibrations in sonic stability!'"

This is a small portion from a book I'm current writing, "The TAC Legend Writings, Book 1: Journey to Freedom." Two hundred years in the future. Just a possibility....

Sunday, August 26, 2007

If the Shoe Fits...

Fashions come and fashions go.
Stay in tune with what you know.
Water your root and watch it grow.
Know thyself and you will flow.

A full sound is maximum vibration in a particular space or body (human acoustic). Fixed ideas about what a full sound (or anything else) is can cause conflict in a person if they compare themselves to others without enough broader understanding, i.e., take into consideration the fuller context and value of individual uniquenesses.

You can learn from the current style, but that doesn't mean you have to become it to be whole. Otherwise, how will you be able to fulfill your own destiny--or even find out what it is?

If you wear a shoe size 7-1/2 C and your foot fits that shoe fully, then why would you insist on trying to wear a 12-1/2 D shoe? Even though what you "can do" might seem "smaller" sometimes, doesn't mean it is lesser--and it doesn't meant you can't grow.

Here's a story: A student asked me if I thought they had a big, full sound. My response was that they had a medium, small size sound but it was very full within itself. They were very upset with my response! And that's when I gave him the analogy of different shoe sizes.

Many times brass players play equipment that is too big for them. They think this will help them get a fuller sound. But they only are thinking of size, not quality of resonance, which, in the end result, creates the effect of fullness.

I've also seen many people damage themselves as a result of trying to broaden their sound too far away from their natural physiology and nature.

Better to be yourself (and know what that is) so you can discover the fullness of your potential in music--and in life.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Preview, Review and Video Too

Some of you have seen, in an earlier post, the video clip of me and my nephew, John Peter. Here is another one. We were spending some extra time together after a lesson.

What catches me right now is how important it is to review and spend time with something. There is a ton of stuff in these short video clips that I am discovering every time I review them.

Here are some obvious topics that one can easily see in this new video:

- Articulation (e.g., triple tongue, legato tongue)
- Relationship between air and articulation
- Posture (its importance)
- Breathing (more about this at another time)
- Hard work (its value)
- Love of the subject

Here are some maybe not so obvious ones:

- Working with what you've got
- Transference (passing on the knack of it)
- The joy in being able
- Passion for expression
- Relationship between desire and retention
- Freedom to discover

You also can find and confirm the value of review, if you'd like, by seeing what else you can discover in this short video. People often say that they get so much more from a movie or book when they see it or read it a second or a third time. Life these days gets very busy and we don't always have the time to spend the time we would like on the very things that we enjoy. That's when it can be useful to review our priorities.

Introducing the French Monkey!

Several years ago, my wife, Carol, and I were in France. We were staying at an incredible place somewhere in the Loire. There was a picture on one of the walls that really caught our attention. It was a sketch of a parrot wearing a French beret and some funny little clothes, holding a baguette under its wing. I looked at it and said, "A French monkey!" The reason I said "monkey" was because the clothing the parrot was wearing looked to me like the outfits worn by organ grinder monkeys.

Years before we made that trip, I used to play my recorder for Atlantis, the actual name of our parrot. I started playing this funny little melody that came to me while looking at her and she would dance and bob her head and also sing along with the right notes and timbre of the recorder!

This photo of Atlantis captures her mischievous nature in action--or I should say, after the action. If you notice the blinds on the window and the fly swatter in back of her, you can see the results of her beak at work!

Here is a sound clip of the little melody I used to play for Atlantis on the recorder, here played on the trombone. The song is called "The French Monkey" and it's from my "Anew at Home" CD.

[For those interested: An MP3 of "The French Monkey" is available as a single track from iTunes. The printed music for this piece is included in the unaccompanied trombone solos collection, "You Are Not Alone."]

Friday, August 24, 2007

Music as a Living Thing

Some of you might not know this, but I do a lot of writing that is not music. I want to give you a very small excerpt from part of a large writing I am currently working on:

"Music as a living thing is a fundamental core alignment that creates the internal environment in a person to experience their art as a part of life, not seperate from it."

I picked this quote because it describes and explains in a concise way what music as a living thing is to me. Since I mentioned this in my Profile, I thought some of you would like to know what I meant by that statement.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Invasive Properties of Music

Have you ever been out having a meal where the music playing is not only of a kind you find not very appetizing but the volume is intolerable? Well, music is very hard to get away from, if it is playing in a place you happen to be. Whether it is in an elevator or a shopping mall or a restaurant, music can influence the whole of your experience.

Now, I believe music has potent atmospheric qualities. A lot of times, people think atmospheric music is slow, soft and ethereal. Well, as far as I can tell, ALL music is atmospheric. It is the KIND of atmosphere it creates that is of interest to me.

If you are trying to have a calm, relaxing meal and there is fast, loud and shrill music playing in the background, your time, most likely, will be far from relaxing--at least in the way I am thinking of it. However, some people might like to unwind from a cramped day at work to very loud, fast music. So what can be soothing to one, could be depressing to someone else. What could be fun, 'let-it-all-hang-out' music for one, could be torture for someone else. What is the solution? I used to carry ear plugs with me, and from my latest restaurant experiences, I might start doing it again!

Music is a powerful medium. It has a permeating quality that can heal, rejuvenate, make you ill or invoke your spirit. It can facilitate many kinds of activities and affect all levels of life, including in plants and animals. What a wonderful tool! The rhythm of music links up, or attaches itself, to your automatic processes that are, in themselves, working in a rhythm and at a tempo.

So, if anybody wants proof of music's powerful, invasive and atmospheric qualities, go out to eat at a place that plays VERY LOUD music when you need quiet--or better yet, if you have a headache! There are many other more pleasant ways to prove this vital point though! :-)

Monday, August 20, 2007

More on After a Lesson, Part 2

For those of you who have seen the video clip "After a Lesson" (in a earlier post), here is some more information about it.

At the beginning of the clip, you can hear me say the word "toilet." This came about because John Peter and I were talking about mutes. I was showing him a mute called a "wa wa" mute, commonly referred to in the brass world as a Harmon mute. Many times music calls for a plunger. A plunger is rubber suction that oftertimes is used when a toilet is clogged and will not flush. This is what we were talking about just before the bit on the Harmon mute, hence, the reference to "toilet."

But some very inventive jazz players, usually trumpet or trombone players, many years ago, discovered use of the plunger was a wonderful way to produce really cool effects. One of the sounds it produces sounds like a cry, Wa Wa! This wa sound is made by placing the mute in and out of the bell at various speeds depending on what kind of wa you are going for.

For example, a slow wa can sound like a cry but a series of fast wa wa's can sound like a laugh, especially in a descending pitch sequence of half steps. The Harmon mute can make similar sounds but has a different timbre or tone color. I love playing with the Harmon mute and have written many pieces that call for it. If I can find one that's a sound clip, I'll post it.

[UPDATE 8/29/07: We found a sound clip where I'm using the Harmon mute. Scroll down to track 20 after you click here and you'll find an excerpt from "After A Call" (from "Swallows") on my "Occurrences" CD. Hope you enjoy it!]

[UPDATE 9/30/07: For those interested, the single track MP3 for "After A Call" is available from the iTunes page for my "Occurrences" CD.]

[UPDATE 3/16/08: To hear a sound clip for "After a Call" posted on our website, click here. Also, the print music for "After a Call" is available as part of "Swallows," two unaccompanied solos dedicated to John Swallow.]

Also, I was showing John Peter how the trombone can sound like a didjerido when the Harmon mute is in and you are playing and singing a note at the same time. At the end of the video clip, I mention circular breathing just before the video ends.

Circular breathing has its beginnings thousands of years ago (just like singing and playing at the same time, which I talked about in my last post). It was a common practice on the didjerido for the purpose of having a continous sound. It is a difficult technique to do well. Any good book on how to play the didjerido explans the technique. It is basically this: While playing a note you collect some air in your cheeks. Then you take a quick breath through you nose, at the same time pushing the air out of your cheeks to make sure there is air still going into the horn while you take a breath through your nose! I was lucky to have played with one of the worlds greatest circular breathers, former Boston Symphony tubist, Chester Schmitz. It really helps to watch someone to learn this technique! Get a didjerido video and see!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

More on After a Lesson

Those of you who have seen the little video clip on "After a Lesson" might recall when I said to John Peter that people get embarrassed when they have to sing. So I told him to look at me and sing when I moved in front of him. What I meant was that many times instrumentalists, even extremely advanced ones, get shy when they have to sing in front of others. It is interesting because, in my view after seeing this many times, they feel very exposed, almost naked, without the instrument. They all of a sudden feel a bit vulnerable. It is easy to 'hide' behind the instrument if that is your main way of making music. The musician gets used to a certain machine to produce the tone and the pitch and to do it just with the voice is difficult, for the reason that the person is not identified with the sound of their voice, and probably hasn't made a connection to their voice, as a vehicle for their music making.

I was showing John Peter that the trombone can play a note with the vibration of the lips and sing a note with the vocal chords producing two notes at once. To demonstrate that technique, the little excerpt that I played for him was from the trombone chorale in the last movement of Brahms First Symphony.

Then I mentioned the didjerido. Many people think that singing a note and playing a note at the same time is a very contemporary or avant-garde technique. But the aboriginal people of Australia were doing it thousands of years ago on the didjerido! (Many ancient people employed this technique.) Makes you wonder what is original and where it comes from...?

Friday, August 17, 2007

After a Lesson, Video

We figured out how to post on this blog the videos taken after the lesson with my nephew (see previous posts)!

In this video, I was trying to inspire John Peter with a few ideas about other things you can do on the trombone, like using the Harmon mute (also called Wah Wah mute), multiphonics (singing and playing at the same time) and circular breathing (to create continuous sound).

Monday, August 13, 2007

After a Lesson, Part 2

During this little after session, John Peter and I talked a little bit about using the tongue to articulate the beginnings of a note. At this point in his playing, he feels better just starting a sound with his air and lip vibration. Using the tongue can help in getting a very clear start to the tone. I demonstrated some tonguing, both single and some double tongue. Tonguing can be like a painter's using his or her brush, making different kinds of strokes for different effects.

We always need to use our air, and I gave John Peter some breathing exercises. This helped his tone and articulation with the tongue. We also talked about the importance of posture and how much easier it was to take in a good full and deep breath when our backs were straight. I love working with all types of people. Perhaps because it amazes me how much I always learn--and, for a brief time, I get to experience life in a special way with another person, through the medium of music.

After a Lesson, Part 1

This morning, I gave a lesson to my nephew John Peter. It was video taped. We pretended to be all by ourselves and just have some fun with bits of instruction thrown in. He is a ninth grader and, like many kids in school band, doesn't practice much in the summer. :-) So we talked about breathing and articulation and had some fun with mental imagery, making up our own little duets.

After the lesson was 'officially' over, we did some more stuff. I gave him a bit of a fun demonstration. We're going to try to post a short video clip on our website and if it works, I'll post the URL here soon. In the meantime, here's a still photo from this fun session.

UPDATE: We figured out how to post the video on the website and here on this blog! The focus and sound quality aren't the best, but we hope you get the idea! :-) Click here to see it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Spending Time as Opposed to Practicing

Today, I had lots of time to myself. Me, my Self and the trombone. I am a very diligent practicer of basic routines and exercises. But, after an early warmup routine and rehearsal today, I went home and felt like, playing... playing what was in me. Unrushed, unscheduled, unroutined... playing simple, little melodies like: Bb, Ab, Gb, Db and Eb, slowly, at first, feeling and listening to what was inside the resonance. My feeling became the resonance of the sound. Then I thought if I had to do this in front of people, the environment and my state of mind wouldn't be what it is now. That's the problem, sometimes, in "performing." That's why I believe it helps to tune the audience so they become a supportive acoustic or supportive environment, so the connection can be made easier and deeper.

Spending time... building a close relationship with the process of playing. Not just focusing on results - "Is it good?" "Is it bad?" - just being with what is... you, the music, the moment, a moment in eternity.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Upbeat Breakfast

My wife and I went to a good local breakfast place this morning. I noticed this really little kid sitting right next to us having breakfeast with his parents. At one point, the child started saying something very loudly, which was also very funny. I turned to the mother and said, " Very impressive!" She then said to me, "You should have heard him the other day singing 'I've been Working on the Railroad' to everyone in the restaurant!"

She mentioned that his pitch is getting very good. I then asked, kiddingly, "What about his rhythm?" to which she responded, "His rhythm is great!"

I asked her what his sign was and she said, "Gemini." I told her we know some great percussionists who are Geminis! At that moment, the older man in back of us waved his hand and said," I'm a Gemini and I'm a drummer! I play every night at the club across the street." We all laughed and the mother of the child said she also was a drummer, but her sign is Scorpio!

Thia breakfeast was such a fun, upbeat expereience with these people all chiming in. It was nice to feel a connection with people we never met before. What an unexpected delight! Times like this make you think what a wonderful world it could be.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Playing Outdoors

For the first time in quite awhile I played my horn outside in a very large field. What a difference in sound and in my whole being! The sound has a certain purity outside, especially in this location because it had a considerable echo. A sense of freedom came over me. I could feel certain inhibitions fall away as I let my self go into a sea of sound and expression. It was a beautiful day with the green of the trees silhouetting against the rich blue sky. To not feel encased by a small square or rectangular space is very liberating and definitely engages other parts of our bodies and minds.

It reminded me of when I first thought of three diminsional sound. Feeling the sound come from all angles. That was in 1969 on a farm in southern Minnesota. I would aim at a tree about 300 hundred yards away and see if my sound could travel to that distance. It was a great feeling and my band director heard the difference! If you can play full and projected outside, it is no problem indoors, especially if you keep the outdoors mindset, IF they let you!

Here is an excerpt of a piece that was inspired outdoors, with the wind and the pond and myself as one, written in 1996. It's called "By the Pond, In the Wind" from my "Anew at Home" CD.

[For those interested: An MP3 of "By the Pond, In the Wind" is available as a single track from iTunes. The printed music for this piece is included in the unaccompanied trombone solos collection, "You Are Not Alone."]

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


I can't believe I have a blog. I must be in a fog. But after this, we will all feel unclogged. For we're going to start tuning in to what we love to do, me and you, and our trombones too. Oh boy! :-)

Sound clip from "Approaching the First Gate," on my "Anew at Home" CD. Enjoy!