Saturday, October 29, 2011


The older I get it is easier to see certain things and/or patterns. One of my interests for over 35 years has been to get to the core of an issue, the heart of the matter, the CAUSE.

One of the things I realize is the cause is simple once it can be seen (or heard). BUT! It is not always easy to come to the very core cause of something and see it because that is a matter of perception development. This comes from constant penetration into the subject matter over years of working into it. We can only see what we can see at any given time.

Genetics can be the cause of certain physical conditions like baldness, serious diseases or longevity for example. But HOW we live our lives I think can either activate the not so useful genetic tendencies or activate the healthier ones. Think about how science comes to a theory then alters it when new discoveries are made that alters what was once considered 'fact.'

For many years Carol and I have been concerned with the integration of the technical and the musical. We have also been concerned as I said earlier of the cause of things. Over many years of experimenting and getting constant and consistent confirmation, what someone is connected to when they think, act or play an instrument, is a huge governing force in the potency and effectiveness of their results in the world of action. You may be wondering what does this has to do with music or playing an instrument. I would say almost everything! (Actually I would say everything).

That does not mean ignore the body and just think it and 'watch' it happen. It has to do with working with the body, i.e. embouchure, tongue, breathing, with a supportive attitude and thought that empowers the physical work.

Thought is energy. Your thoughts govern your body. Some might say that the body can affect the thoughts, of course it can. But lets take a look at some practical things in our music to help bring in the practical application of what has already been brought up.

I was conducting a class the other day, and the trumpets and the horns had something in unison. I said for the trumpets to blend more with the horns and the horns to blend more with the trumpets. And like magic, the blend was totally unified in timbre as well as pitch. I did not not pick it apart bit by bit tuning each note. It all happened with that concept.

Another example happened when the horn and trombone had the melody in Saint Saens 3rd symphony.The players were not really lining up very well. I suggested to think about the piano marking in another way rather than a volume control knob. I suggested to think of it as distant. Something in the distance. Well, like magic it happened. All the pitch, timbre and musical spirit aspects came together beautifully. All in the class could hear it and agreed it was HAPPENING.

You have most likely heard the saying 'a picture is worth ten thousand words.' How many words are in one thought, idea or concept? A connective thought is a unifying agent which acts like a magnet to all the individual details and draws them together under one purpose.

My concern as a teacher is that students and professionals who have worked with me, (and Carol), and who have experienced this kind of approach with it's effectiveness and powerful results, don't often put it to use. Why? Because the majority of the people they work with don't. It is easier to see the physical metronome and tuner than a thought which is energy and abstract in comparison.

There is the complex and the simple. My way (and Carol's) can come across as too simple and magical without paying attention to 'details.' BUT! It can also come across as very detailed in it's explanation of why it works and how it works. The way of connection is simple but getting there has it's own technique that is extremely specific and far away from being abstract or airy fairy.There is no lack of being aware of the 'details' on our parts. But the question is: what is powering the details? What details? What are they pieces of? To dismember something into details and examine them is one thing, but to not see that they are a part of a bigger picture that needs a connected thought to pull it all together, derails the spirit of the music. At this point it can turn into 'critics corner' connoisseur, picky type mentality. If someone is prone to this way and style and are getting results that they are satisfied with, then keep on it. The problem I have is this is getting to be a trend in orchestral settings, especially the audition circuit. The orchestra world could be loosing fine gifted artists to this system. Who knows, maybe something else will come with those players who can't fit into this system and to those who can but feel straight jacketed and a 'new professional' and a new orchestra will be born.

Saturday, October 22, 2011



This October has been a very busy month! On top of all my teaching, coachings and classes, I have done extra master classes at Longy with the MAM (Modern American Music) program students and the Pedagogy class which is made up of all kinds of instrumentalists.

In the beginning of the month on October 7th, I also gave a master class for high school students at Rhode Island College in Providence, Rhode Island. I was also soloist with their wind ensemble in one of my compositions called "Timeline Contemplations".

A couple of days later on October 9th, I gave a master class at the Boston Conservatory on their first Trombone Day which featured master classes, recitals and performances by John Faeita, Larry Isaacson, Angel Subero, Blair Bollinger, Triton Brass with trombonist Wes Hopper, Michael Davis and Jeff Galindo. A very long and packed exciting day for sure for the many that attended.

I just got back from Toronto after doing a couple of master classes at the Glen Gould School which is part of the Royal Conservatory of Music. It was great to be there and the students were very open to me and kept up with me as my pace intensified throughout the day on a variety of trombone, brass playing and music topics. I was also thrilled to meet for the first time Gordon Sweeney who was Principal trombone of the Toronto Symphony for many years. I had heard so much about him for such a long time that it was a joy to be with him even briefly.

My feelings and I know my wife Carol Viera feels the same way, if a couple of people or only one person is deeply touched by what we say, it is worth it. I was very happy when several people from all of the different master classes and performances came up to me and were touched and wanted to keep in contact. I love when people can take something up and really work with it and see where it leads. This is very encouraging to me.

One girl who is a student at Rhode Island College came up to me and said that the piece I played and talked about when I was there (Timeline Contemplations for trombone and band), helped her understand time better in regards to life and are limited time in this sphere. That was such a joy for me to hear! Other people told me similar things there and at the other classes that were given in the other places. Meaning, that what was said had an impact on them that helped to answer or give direction to challenge they are having. For some it caused a rebalancing that needed in their playing and approach.

It is important as a teacher or clinician to remember that not everybody will 'buy' your product. Therefore 'to thyself be true' and adhere to what you believe in and someone will be on some overtone of resonance with where you are at and will benefit in some way to what you are saying and communicating.

*On a brass technique point: it was amazing how this one young lady bass trombonist's tone focused on her low C when she went from thinking 'Aah' as her syllable to "U!" The "U" sound is made like it is in the word tube. I love syllable work! What a vital ingrediant to the air-embouchure relationship. Not one syllable fits all ranges or all people.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


In order for one to remember to keep working on a vital needed part to one's playing, it is necessary that they be applied in all circumstances, especially if those things are air support and embouchure structural support. When students just 'casually pick up the horn and start mindlessly playing, they are going back to their default system. This system might not be the one they need to keep reinforcing! Integration of new ideas, comments or techniques are not part of the automatic systems yet and need to be taken up every time the person plays or practices or rehearses. I know it is difficult, but it can be done.

Even when I say to students to write down on a piece of paper what you want to remember and look at what you want to consciously activate and add into your 'useful' habit life, it still can take a long time if the person is not constantly at it themselves on their own without me breathing down their neck.

That is why it is important to practice 'correctly' in small bits so it doesn't get overwhelming and the new habit can be formed without pressure in natural way. Again, oftentimes it is the power of the person's will and desire that comes into play or not. That will and desire holds the person to the task and see that it is done as good and as regularly as possible. Without this, nothing will really form the next steps to continuing growth. That makes it pretty tough on the teacher and ultimately the student will end up suffering the most.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


It is so refreshing when a student comes in having been in their own process of discovery. I can always tell when people are actually taking a serious look into their playing. Some people express it with telling me what they came across with the exercises I have them do. This is a vital part of the relationship between teacher and student. The student eventually needs to come to the realization that they need to know themselves.

A person going through some changes in their playing is put into a situation to have to think about what they are doing. There is nothing wrong with this! A teacher really can only do as much as the student allows them to do with what they offer the teacher as a next step. If a student really wants to accomplish higher levels of playing, it is NATURAL to come across obstacles in the path. Not everything is easy! That is why it is a development process which takes a person through a variety of so called ups and downs, curves and unexpected twists. If the persistence is real in a person, answers will come. And those answers might be temporary, just help at that particular point in time. Then, something else might be needed further down the road.

It is so absolutely clear to me that everybody is unique. Some seem to not have 'obstacles.' To that I say, "Not yet anyway!"

It all depends on what is the motivating the person and how much they are willing to endure and pursue.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Teacher's Log, School Date 10-7-11

Sometimes it is important at any level of accomplishment to use the wisdom of one of the great songs from the musical "The Sound of Music," "Let's start at the very beginning...."