Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Tuning Slide 3.46- Ingrain the Positive

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

We remember the past,
live in the present, and
write the future.
― Shaun David Hutchinson

  • Weren’t things better back then?
  • The music today is nothing like when I was a kid.
  • Do you remember the good, old days?
What? You don’t agree? Oh, you’re too young to remember the really, really REALLY good old days? Well, they were something else. If only we could be there again.

Okay, go ahead, call BS on all that. The good, old days? Really? Nope! And just remember, THESE are the good, old days that many will be wishing for in thirty to forty years. In a phrase I once read in a book, that means all we have to look forward to is a glorious past.

To which I call BS.

I won’t go into what I think the “psychology” of all this is about. Suffice it to say, I don’t believe it. At least not for many of us. Yes, there are many in our world for whom these are bad days- but the past wasn’t much better and many don’t have much to look forward to. To deny that is to dwell in a fantasy world. (Kanye West fell into that trap when he talked recently about slaves, but that’s another story.) Can things get worse? Of course they can. Will be the future be any better than today? Who knows.

Which brings me to the center of that phrase- the present, today, the only day we have to live in. The past is unchangeable. For better or worse we can’t change what happens. But today we can choose to do some things differently. Today is the day we have. These twenty-four hours are our work- and play-space. What are we going to do with them? When the day is over will we look back and be satisfied with what we have done or wish we have done things differently? At the end of the day we won’t be able to change them. So we need to be intentional about what we plan and how we do it.

Those things that we call important are the things we spend our days doing. The default mode of our brains gets into a direction and keeps on moving. That is why we need to plan, to look ahead and make sure we are doing with today the things that will keep us moving into tomorrow. If you can’t do something about it today, don’t try to. Focus on what you can do.

As I was writing this I had just finished doing a first read-through of some music for an upcoming concert. We had not had a rehearsal yet. Some of the music I had never seen before; other pieces were as familiar as a comfortable shirt. I don’t know how it’s going to be to play those pieces, so I did what I could do today. I scanned them, I made mental and other notes of what to look for, I sang through some more difficult looking pieces, I played some of the sections, and then I listened to them on You Tube. Am I worried. No. Why should I be? I’m not at the rehearsal yet, but I did what I was able to do today.

Hopefully I was “writing” a story for the future playing these pieces. I was intentional about my planning.

Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again,
but expecting different results.
― Variously attributed to a number of people

Ah, but how slow we are to learn. If we do the same things over and over we will get the same results over and over. That’s where things like listening to the music on You Tube helps or where a friend or teacher/mentor can help us. If what we are doing isn’t working, change it up. But just as importantly, if what you are doing IS providing opportunities for growth and improvement, don’t stop. In our haste we often don’t give ourselves enough time and energy for the changes to stick.

I have talked before about those times when I have hit a wall or come to a plateau in my playing. I have a plan for when those things happen. I will go back to some good, old Getchell lessons and some of the basic Arban’s. Maybe some days I will work on a Concone etude as well. Basics that are familiar and get me back to the fundamentals. I try to listen to Self 2 who knows better than I do what is and isn’t working. I try not to keep barreling ahead making the same mistakes over and over. If I do, it will be the mistakes that get ingrained.

Ingrain the positives; make the good things the habits; rewire your brain to do the next right thing.

And the only time to do that is today. So the video for the week is from Bird- Charlie Parker- Now’s the Time.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Tuning Slide 3.45- Success

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Success is not final; failure is not fatal:
It is the courage to continue that counts.
— Winston S. Churchill

Another week of looking from life to music, instead of the other way around. Lessons learned in life about life are just as applicable to playing music and being a musician of any level. When I first looked at the quote from Winston Churchill I read it wrong. I expected it to say that failure is not final. But he headed down a different path. Perhaps a more important path.

Success, just as much as failure, is not final. Think about that a moment. You have been working and planning and striving for success at some thing or another. Then, there it is. You have achieved your goal. Success is yours.

What next? Where will you venture next? What new goal will you set? Or will you just stop and say, “Well, that’s my success. I think I’ll quit now”?

I don’t think so. Many of us have had that one solo or ensemble piece that we have worked hard at. It may be something that challenges you to be a little bit better than you have ever been. So you push, and work, and “woodshed” until it is what you had hoped it would be. You get to the performance and you nail it. It comes across with all the joy and energy that you put into it. You have succeeded! You take the moment to receive the congratulations of family and friends.

You then go back to the practice room and start on the next goal.

Or you blow it. You get lost in the middle of the performance. You don’t shine like you had hoped to. Your family and friends still congratulate you on your efforts. But you are bummed. You failed at that attempt. At least that’s how you see it. You smile and walk away.

You then go back to the practice room and start on the next goal.

You can quit after either event, but what good would that do? You may decide this isn’t for you after the “failure”. You put the horn away- perhaps just as you were ready to make a leap forward. Or you decide that this success is as good as it will be and you stop. You miss the opportunity to do even more than you can imagine.

Neither success nor failure is an end. As the wonderful quote from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel says:
Everything will work out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out yet, it isn’t the end.
Which easily brings me to the second quote from one who embodies these ideals, Helen Keller.

No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.
— Helen Keller

When Keller was less than two years old she lost her ability to see or hear. Through incredible training and perseverance she succeeded and became a prolific author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. She knew that to be pessimistic was what could be truly fatal to one’s ability to succeed. The movie The Miracle Worker is the story of how her teacher, Anne Sullivan pushed and inspired Keller.

There are many reasons to be pessimistic. None of them will get you where you want to go, unless you want to fail, or at best, be mediocre. One reason for pessimism is to keep from being disappointed. Too many bad things could happen that will keep me from succeeding. In order to prevent those things, I can adopt pessimism. Another reason is the fear of failure- or being held accountable for what you said you would do. Set low, pessimism-based standards, and you won’t have to explain when you don’t succeed.

I tried that the other year when, at trumpet camp, my friend, Jeff, looked at one of the parts of the “routine”, pointed to the high F or G way up there above the staff, looked at me and said, “By next year you’ll be playing up in that range.”

I laughed. “Never!” I said. I can never do that. I’m not a “screamer”. Be pessimistic. Set the bar low and you don’t have to go anywhere. It was, I will admit, a cover-up of fear. I wanted to be able to play those notes. I had never been able to play that high C on any regular basis, let alone go up another third, fourth, or fifth! That’s crazy to even think about it.

Crazy good! Because I wanted to.

The next year I had to go up to Jeff and admit that I had lied to him the year earlier. I wasn’t soaring up in those notes, but I was able to play them. I have continued to work on them. No, they are not flowing easily. Not yet. They may never for any one of a number of reasons. But I am now willing to be optimistic that things will work out in the end.

The song for this week is an old number from Frank Sinatra and the movie A Hole in the Head. Fun… and a song I’ve loved for years…. High Hopes.

Tuning Slide 3.44:

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

First, I know there wasn’t a post last week. Life caught up to me in several ways and I had to do other things. Like work and practice my trumpet. Oh, let’s not forget eat and sleep. So I figured it would be easiest to skip a week of the `. What that did give time to work out the ideas for the rest of this third year. I’m going to try things around and start with life.

Yes, the blog is subtitled “Reflections on Life and Music.” But most of the time we start with the music and move toward applying our lessons from music to life. Well, for the rest of the blog’s third year I will be going the other direction. I have found a bunch of quotes about living life from all kinds of sources. I have enough for two quotes a week through July 5, week 52 of the year’s posts. I will do my usual improvisational riffs on the quotes as they might apply not only to life, but to musicianship and music as well.

Let’s see where it takes us.

Lighten up, just enjoy life, smile more, laugh more,
and don't get so worked up about things.
— Kenneth Branagh

After the past month or so in my own life, this was the perfect way to start. Life happens and we have to get through it. The ups and downs of life also happen and we have to know what to do. Stress can be both a help and a hindrance. Stress is needed to keep us on our toes; and stress can send us into illness if it is too much. On top of that all of us have different levels of stress that we can tolerate on average, as well as in many different situations.

A secret to life is to learn how to deal with stress. Well, I guess that isn’t truly a secret. We all know that. It’s just that some of us learn to do it better than others, while some of us fall into all types of unhealthy ways of reacting. So I Googled “best ways of coping with stress” and got this from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  • Take care of yourself.
    • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
    • Exercise on a regular basis
    • Get plenty of sleep
    • Give yourself a break if you feel stressed out
  • Talk to others. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor.Avoid drugs and alcohol. These may seem to
  • help with the stress. But in the long run, they create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.
  • Take a break. If news events are causing your stress, take a break from listening or watching the news.
Nothing earth-shattering in any of those. We are simply better able to cope with stress if we do these simple things. I have a friend who did stop watching the news in the past five months. Their blood pressure dropped to a healthy level! It can really work.

Another way to say this may be learn to “go with the flow.” Here’s where music can be of great assistance. Many of us know the idea of being “in the groove”. There may be that time in the practice room when every note flowed from your horn as if it was straight from a heavenly source. Or in the midst of a gig all members of the band just clicked into place.

There can be a lot of stress that we place on ourselves in music. We want to perform well- as close to perfect as is possible. We want to push ourselves to get better. We want to make music that impacts others and leads them into the groove or the flow with us. I am convinced that in order for us to be able to do that, we need to learn to relax, deal with the stress, laugh and learn, practice with ease, lose the tension. We all know when it happens; we just have to learn how to get there. Having the attitude to

Lighten up, just enjoy life, smile more, laugh more,
and don't get so worked up about things.

That might make a huge difference. Which brings us to the second quote for this week:

To succeed in life, you need three things:
a wishbone,
a backbone, and
a funny bone.
— Reba McEntire

Simply put:

A wishbone is the desires and hopes we strive for. These are our goals and directions, the values and directions of our lives. Essential or we just drift into an aimless wandering that exhausts us- and probably those around us.

In our music this takes us back to the need to set goals; to be able to say why we are doing what we are doing; how we want life to be changed through what we are doing. Where is it you want to be in six months or a year. Make the plans. Life the direction of your dreams.

A backbone is courage to do the things we need to be doing. This encompasses the discipline it takes to move toward our dreams. It includes the willingness to say “No!” to those things which go against who we are and “Yes!” to the things that will lead us there. It means stand up for yourself and others and take the time to practice to get where you want.

Just having dreams isn’t enough. We have to find the ways to get there. And that takes work. Not just the many hours and years of practice, but the discipline to do it right. It is the courage to choose what is important and then make that a center point of your life. It will mean making some tough choices. It will mean having to sacrifice and give up some things for others. That’s where the stress stuff from the CDC above can come in. Look for help- a teacher or mentor. Go for it. With courage.

A funny bone is keeping all things in perspective. Life can be a lot of fun. There are many things to laugh at and enjoy. Look for them. Aim at them. Find the goodness and joy no matter where you are.

In the end, while these are important, the more seriously you take yourself, the more difficulty you will have moving in the right direction. Being too rigid will get in the way. Not being able to laugh at yourself will keep you from being able to relax at what you are doing. Go with the flow of your music, laugh at your mistakes - and then get back to doing the right things to move forward.

Yep, I know these sound like those platitudes that can be so sickly sweet that we get tooth decay from them. But they have stood the test of time. Remember to have fun. Life is too short not to.

Each week in this series I’ll end with a video of a song that gets to the heart of what I’m saying. No better place to start than with the Beatles.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

In Memory: Happy Anniversary

On this date 74 years ago they were married:

They had less than 18 years together, but they shared love.
Thank you!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tuning Slide 3.43: Listening While You Play

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

To me, groups of musicians playing together, not fighting each other, but playing a groove together is one of the most exciting things to listen to.
-Phil Collins

One of the most exciting things about being a musician is the opportunity to play music with others. I can sit in my practice room for hours playing all the great stuff I want to play, but if I’m only doing it alone, I am missing out on the ultimate joy of music. Our brass quintet recently got back together after a fairly long layoff. I had been practicing the pieces we have played and want to play, but I had no idea any more how they sounded together. At our first rehearsal a few weeks back I actually got lost because I became distracted by the other parts. My part didn’t sound the same as it did in practicing. (Doh!)

I have talked before about the joy of listening to a band play from within the band. What I am talking about this week, actually, is the way we have to listen to each other and how we build that into our performances. Such awareness is not natural for most of us. It makes us move outside of our own bubbles and pay attention to who’s with us and what we are doing.

In the book Making Music for the Joy of It, the author, Stephanie Judy goes into considerable detail about the direction of learning to play well with others. She calls it “extended awareness” that goes beyond the notes any one of us is playing to how we play those notes together. (p. 196)

She starts with a new group or even anytime an established group gets a new piece of music. The first time through everyone is essentially playing solos. You know the drill. We stare at the music when it’s put in front of us. We do the normal quick scans- key signature, key changes, tempo, repeats, dynamics, do I need a mute, etc. Then we start playing. We stare more closely at the notes. The pages seem to be endless. We make more mistakes than we care to admit. Unless you are a far more advanced musician than I am (and many of you are) that first run-through will be solos. You have a vague awareness that there are others around you, but most of the time you are listening to yourself with only an intuitive knowledge of what else is going on.

It is in that first run-through with others, though, that we actually do begin to listen. We can’t help it. The longer we have been playing the easier it will be for us to play our parts at least okay and get the feel, the groove, the inner listening of the piece.

Then, even as early as the second time through, we can move beyond our individual part to a better picture of the whole. We begin to hear on some levels how we fit together. We become aware of the ways we play under, over, through, or around others. We can begin to sense when we are leading, supporting, holding back, or enhancing and drawing out another part. Balance comes along as we think (unconsciously?) about it. We see and hear the dynamics. We pay attention to our sound and whether it fits or is not matching the piece. We begin to know our roles in the different parts of the piece.

This takes effort. It takes an ability to do more than one thing at a time. How can I stay focused on my part while watching the director and listening to the flutes or the trombones across the orchestra? How can I pick up the groove from the bass or give appropriate support to that saxophone solo without making it about me?

At the website Making Music, ( Christopher Sutton talks about "4 Extra Skills Musicians Need to Play Well with Others." They all include one form or another of listening. Christopher’s comments are in italics. My comments are in the parentheses in normal type. Here they are:

1. Exercise some patience.

Practice taking some slow, calming breaths when you find yourself getting “worked up” about something. Slow your thinking processes down. It may even help to close your eyes momentarily to remove yourself (if only for a few seconds!) from the stressful situation you find yourself in. (Listen to yourself and what’s going on within you. By learning self-mindfulness you can often discover new ways of reacting and interacting.)

2. Learn to be adaptable.

As human beings, we adapt to our surroundings naturally, though not always willingly. A big part of learning to adapt and accepting change has to do with keeping an open mind. Though it may be temporary, adapting to another musician’s creative process and meshing it with your own may be a big hurdle to overcome. (Listen to what they are saying and/or doing. Be open to hearing new and creative ideas. They may not be what you had hoped for, but you are now playing with others. Collaboration and listening go hand-in-hand.)

3. Make communication a priority.

Just as with pretty much every other relationship in life, communication in a collaborative community is key. In order to effectively balance your creative goals and those of your collaborators, there needs to be clear and consistent conversation. It may seem cliche, but sometimes the safest thing to do is to over-communicate. It’s better to be accused of this than to be reluctant to share your side of the story. (After you listen, make sure to set up and keep communication open to continue the listening.)

4. Try to have a sense of humor.

Perhaps the most important thing to do during this time is to have fun. Learn to not take things or to take yourself too seriously. (In the 12-step communities they will sometimes talk about “Rule 62.” It simply means: Don’t take yourself too damn seriously! Good advice for musicians!)

It is an amazing activity this whole thing of making music with others. Listen, join in and enjoy!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Embedded in Wars

I find myself involved in two wars at the moment. Through my ramped up research into my Dad's service in World War II I am following the 10th Armored Division leading up to and through the Battle of the Bulge. I have also recently been reading the recent book on the story of Hue 1968 and the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War. A number of years ago (well, many number of years ago, now) a colleague expressed surprise that I read war novels and have often been interested in war studies. "Aren't you a pacifist?" was his question.

Well, nothing is ever black and white, of course. History is often the story of conflict that led seemingly obviously to war. In reading and researching I feel that we can often get a better understanding of our world and hopefully find ways to make war less and less common.

World War II and Vietnam are both watershed moments in our American history. I grew up with World War II being recent enough to be current events. My Dad and many of my friends fathers were veterans. It was more than a watershed- it was a defining moment in many ways, positive and negative. I am also of the Vietnam era. I did not go to war, but the impact of the divisions in our nation as a result of that war are still reverberating. They form the roots of half of the reactions we are seeing today- the civil rights movement being the other half.

In any case a couple of things have stood out as I read through these two wars. This is not an in-depth understanding. These are just things that seem so obvious and still important.

First was the people involved. The soldiers and Marines, the families back home, the local people whose world was being turned into a wasteland. The deep fear and terror that often gripped them is indescribable. The courage is beyond reproach. The horrors of war far worse than any movie has ever been able to portray. Thinking specifically of the soldiers, the daily grind, at times boring and often so horrific that there was no time left to think- just react.

Deep gratitude and humbling awe is what I feel as I read about these battles.

The other thing that jumped off the pages of both wars was, inevitably, the lack of awareness at times of the leaders up the chain of command. They refused to believe, for example, that the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong were able to mount such an offensive. They ordered units into suicide missions because they simply didn't believe the enemy could do what the intelligence and ground reports were telling them was happening. Don't confuse me with the facts. General Westmoreland in 1968 was the classic. But the information that Patton's G2 units were passing back about the possibility of what became the Battle of the Bulge- were also ignored. At  least Patton had the war sense to believe it.

The others believed their own propaganda. Those between Patton and Eisenhower felt they were watching a retreat and not a building up of troops. The Germans and the the North Vietnamese, by the way, also believed their propaganda. It was nothing to push the Americans out of France; the Vietnamese people only needed to see a win like Hue and they would rise up against the foreigners. No army or nation is immune to seeing the world through its own lens of belief about itself.

These are lessons we must not lose:

  • The importance of the people on the ground- their insight, courage and willingness, and
  • Being wary of easy answers that simply echo what we already believe.
Yet I fear they will happen again and again.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Tuning Slide 3.42: Listening for Your Sound

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Musicians do not get on stage without hearing the song singing inside of them.
― Michael Bassey Johnson

Professor Harold Hill was supposedly a con man. For those who may never have seen the musical The Music Man, Hill would come into town, get people to buy musical instruments and then skip town leaving the wannabe students without a director and their parents without the money. He pushed what he calls the Think System. Just think about what you want to play. Keep thinking and it will get better. Finally, after thinking long and hard enough you will be able to play. And Hill would have skipped town.

In River City Hill met his love, Marian the Librarian and is forced to face the townspeople. In the end the kids DID learn to play and they go marching through the streets of town playing a rousing "76 Trombones". The think system worked- and no one was as surprised as Harold Hill- although he never admitted that.

Many of us know already that the Think System does work, although we do need instructors to lead us in the right direction. One of the most important pieces of it is learning how to listen. Listening to music in general, to other musicians, and then our instrument and to our own sound. These then lead us to listen to the song that is already singing within us.

Some of us start by knowing there is this song in there. Others discover the existence of the song after years of work and practice. All of us who care to be musicians will eventually hear our song- a style, a genre, a sound that fits us. Do you remember the early days of hearing other musicians who played the same instrument? Take a moment and remember that moment when you said, “I want to do that, too!” The world was new and exciting- even infinite. You could have turned to three or four other people standing with you and said, “Can you hear that? Isn’t it incredible?” and they would have looked at you sideways and nodded politely. But you heard it. It was someone else’s music and song, but it touched you and brought your song into consciousness.

It's that first and early listening that gets us to where we are today at whatever level we are currently playing. Setting aside the instruction for the moment, that sound never left you. Fifty-some years later I get the same feeling as when I first heard the opening notes of Al Hirt’s "Java" or Herb Alpert’s "The Lonely Bull". It was and is the sound of the trumpet. It was and is my sound. It has never left me. If I had stopped my playing those songs would today be just nice nostalgia. Instead as I have continued to play and change, they are still living sounds. In me. Through my horn.

I have listened to all kinds of music over the years, all of which shaped and informed my sound. I could never get the guitar to do the same, although I have loved trying- the songs of guitar- bluegrass, folk, rock- have impacted my trumpet sound. But over the years two things happened with my trumpet. As I listened to other trumpet players, Doc and Maynard, Clifford and Lee, Chet and Miles, I discovered that there are many different sounds to the trumpet. Bud Herseth and the Chicago Symphony Brass section and the Canadian Brass opened whole other sounds and styles. The rich and wondrous range to trumpet music was nothing short of a gift from God.

I learned how to make different sounds on the trumpet. I began to realize that I have to pay attention to those sounds- their similarities and differences. Listen and imitate. Experiment. Not just with the specific notes, but with the sound and rhythm, the tonguing and fingering, the phrasing. These soon became intuitive to some extent. Not that I was practicing enough for many years to improve as much as I would have like to, but it was building. I was learning the languages of the trumpet. Even just thinking of the sound as coming from a different style or source would change the music I was making.

That was the part of listening to the horn. My particular horn, an almost 50 year old Bach Strad, that I have been playing now for almost 35 years, is one I know. In the past three years of intense practice and learning I have found that I have barely scratched the surface of what we can do together. A couple years ago when I first found a new mouthpiece and compared it to the one I had been playing I discovered that the new one caught my sound in new ways. It was more me, more alive in the ways I felt the music. That was me, working with my own horn, and bringing them together in my sound.

If you have listened long enough and developed enough awareness of your song, your sound, and the potential the music universe of your instrument becomes endless. In the book Making Music for the Joy of It, the author, Stephanie Judy, spends some time talking about listening and sums it all up this way:
Listen without judgement, not what is wrong but what is…. Every note of every instrument is available in a fantastic range of volumes, attacks, duration, and tone qualities. It is both frustrating and liberating. (P. 116)
In essence what you are doing she says is finding more ways to play it, not taking control. If you are judging your playing (Self One at work) you easily end up with feeling that is was “no good.” All that does is shut the door. The path toward your sound, and the path your sound can take, is closed.

There is a sound inside each of us that we want to make. It may not yet be a song, but it has everything you need to make it your song. It may not be a particular song that is already written, although those can lead us. It will most likely be a sound and style that moves you. As it does so, it will also move your playing into new areas. Just do it. Just play it. Listen.

Then listen some more.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Tuning Slide 3.41: Learning to Listen

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

For the rest of April I’m going to tackle the theme of “Listening.”

We think that Music stops at the ears. That is a mistake.
Vibrations can be felt in all places and at all times,
even with the eyes.
- Victor Wooten (or Michael?)

Victor Wooten, Grammy-award winning bass player talks about listening in chapter 11 of his wondrous book, The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music. The whole book is a lesson on different aspects of making music. He finds a spirit guide or muse named Michael who pulls him into all kinds of different situations.

One night Michael takes him into woods at night and teaches him to listen. He hears the frogs and other animals and is introduced to the idea of noise pollution which can be just as deadly as other types of pollution. Noise pollution can hide the sounds of danger or keep animals from communicating with each other. He gets a couple different lessons from Michael about the importance of the practice of listening to everything that is around.

Victor talks about music as vibrations. We don’t need to have a degree in physics to know that this is true. All atoms and molecules vibrate. The universe itself vibrates. The “background radiation” of the universe is the “sound” the vibration of the Big Bang. (Yes, oversimplified, but the general idea is correct.) We see vibrations of light, we feel vibrations of heat, we hear vibrations of sound. Our whole body “listens” to vibrations of many types and makes decisions based on what we experience in these vibrations.

This helps explain part of what many of us may have experienced- playing in tune. There are times when I cannot actually hear myself as clearly as I would like, but I can tell when my tuning is not right. Some of it is through the ears- what I am hearing of my note is not in synch with what I am hearing from the musician next to me or the rest of the band. But there is also the other piece- the vibrations. I can sometimes feel that I am out of tune. Self Two says, “Lip it up. You’re flat.” The vibrations are not together.

As with the animals in Victor’s forest, noise pollution can be deadly for us as musicians. I don’t know about the forest animals, but I do know there are two types of noise pollution that get to me.

The first is “Outer Pollution”. This comes from the things happening around us that take our attention away from what we are doing. This is the noise of the crowd, the extraneous sounds that are often around us. It may even be things we want to have around us- TV, radio, iTunes. They are the things that can distract us. Sometimes it may even be the words and actions of others aimed at us that we take to heart.

When we take those words and actions of others and turn them into directions for us, they can add to the second noise pollution, “Inner Pollution”. We have often talked about Self One who is always trying to find out what we are doing wrong and setting us up to fail, proving our incompetence or lack of ability. It can be the words we have internalized from others or experiences that have hurt us or kept us from achieving what we know we can do.

Both of these sources of noise pollution keep us from truly listening to what is around us and what is within us. Which is why Michael took Victor into the woods. He wanted him to discover what music can do when we allow our whole body to “hear” music.
I closed my eyes and let the music envelop me. It was easy to do. It was the first time I’d ever felt music with my whole body. I thought I’d done it before when I heard music that made me get up and dance, but even then, I was only hearing with my ears…. (p. 182)
There is a “silence” that is enhanced by this kind of sound, music, enveloping us, allowing the inner self (Self Two?) to relax and get creative. It is partly the vibrations, as I have said, but it is more than that. It is the smells, the touch of a breeze, the feel of the ground we sit on. All of it together, what can be called the “ambience” or environment, contributes to the music that we can listen to. They are in harmony as Victor discovered.
I closed my eyes and sat inside the music.I listened to all the sounds around me and noticed how they fit in. Like different instruments in a band, each sound served a purpose. Each animal made a sound that somehow supported the other sounds while leaving enough space for all to participate. (p. 183)
Victor talks about a time a few months after this encounter when he was playing in a band and decided to apply what he had learned about listening from Michael. He is aware that his time at the lake in the woods gave him a new way of utilizing the skill of listening.
I noticed that most musicians seemed to reserve their ears for themselves rather than open up their ears to the rest of the band. I found that when I listened to the other musicians more than I listened to myself, it caused me to play better. I realize that listening is a choice. (P. 184)
I mentioned in a previous post how I was taken by a performance of the band I was playing in that almost got me lost. What really happened was that I was far more aware of the band than of myself. I could relax and “go with the flow” in a way that I wish were more common. I guess it can be if I take the time to choose to listen to something other than my own inner pollution of fear and uncertainty. The music of the pieces we were playing truly did carry me to playing as I very seldom get to do. Not because I don’t want to, but at that moment, the whole sound I was part of was more powerful and entrancing than my own sound.

Of course, as the theme of this blog has stated over and over, there is a correlation between music and life. They are interconnected. Learning to listen in music can be a way to experience listening in other ways. Victor adds:
The same is true in conversation. When I listen to other people more than to myself, I know how to respond and support them in a better way. It also helps me know when to remain quiet. (P. 184)
Music, even well “scripted” music played by a band or orchestra is a conversation. It is like watching a well-written play. The actors say the same lines in every production, but it is how they interact and respond to each other that makes a play come alive. Otherwise it is just a dull reading. In music we learn to listen and interact with others. If we can’t do it in our music we will most likely have a difficult time doing it in conversations.

We are just scratching the surface of the skill of listening. What’s next? How about learning to listen with a new set of ears and digging for greater insight?

Only through the power of listening can you truly know anything.
- Victor Wooten (or Michael?)

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

A 50-Year Memory: The Speech that Saved Indianapolis

Fifty years ago tonight Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy gave one of the most heartfelt and perhaps greatest speeches in American history. It is not as well known as others, but Kennedy was in the heart of the African-American ghetto of Indianapolis. It was only hours after Dr. King's assassination. He insisted on going and making the announcement of King's death to the crowd since most of them had been waiting to see him and didn't have the instant news access we have today.

The IndyStar published an article three years ago detailing the evening. (Link.) The called it "the day Robert F. Kennedy likely saved Indianapolis." Kennedy was urged to cancel the speech. The Mayor and officials told him they couldn't promise his safety. He went anyway and, with a few notes jotted down, gave an off-the-cuff speech that was personal, emotional, and prophetic. It was the first time since 1963 that he spoke of his brother's death. People knew he was being real.

Indianapolis did not riot.

Ponder these words.

"Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

"What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black."

[We must] "dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world."

The Wednesday After Easter: A Fifty Year Memory

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. -MLK

LBJ had just announced that he would not run again. Stunning. But as I said in Saturday's memory post, it was but the beginning of a series of events that would stun and forever alter the American political landscape. In reality it had begun at the end of January of 1968 when the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong began the Tet Offensive. Suddenly American military might was being seriously challenged. Johnson's decision was based in that as much as on Eugene McCarthy's show of popularity and the entrance of Bobby Kennedy into the race two weeks earlier.

But no one was prepared for what was to come beginning on that Thursday evening 50 years ago today. I had been studying and took a break to go to the college radio station. I walked in and noticed that the UPI Teletype was printing something. I don't remember if there were any bells going off or if our machine even had the bells for important news. Like November 22, 1963, the news didn't seem real.

Martin Luther King was dead. Shot on his motel room balcony in Memphis, TN.

King, as much as any other American of his time was the heir of Thoreau's civil disobedience. He had written in his autobiography:
During my student days I read Henry David Thoreau's essay On Civil Disobedience for the first time. Here, in this courageous New Englander's refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery's territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times

I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. The teachings of Thoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than ever before. Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, these are outgrowths of Thoreau's insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice.
This, no doubt, may be the greatest impact of Thoreau's writings on the life and character of the United States. Which is why I have added this one last "different drummer" post to the Lenten series. It is an appropriate closing to the Lenten journey and the hope promise of resurrection included in it and Easter. The nonviolence at the heart of the Civil Rights movement was planted in Thoreau's one night stay in jail for refusing to pay a tax. The challenge to our country's greatest sin- slavery and racism- is, I believe, Thoreau's ongoing gift to us.

As I remember Martin today, I remember the hopelessness and helplessness of April 4, 1968. This can't be happening. We are a better nation than that. The riots that followed were frightening. When an icon of nonviolence like King or Gandhi is the victim of violence, it is easy to lose hope or belief in the power of the nonviolent movement. For me- and for others I am sure- it only further solidified my personal direction as a pacifist. Pacifism is not some "pie-in-the-sky" idealism, Martin Luther King, Jr. showed. It has real-world consequences. It can be victorious as many of King's actions were. It can also be dangerous.

King was aware of that. In his last speech the evening before he famously told the audience:
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Thank you, Dr. King. Without your witness, work, and sacrifice, we would be a much poorer and sadder nation. May we all continue to work toward those dreams.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Easter Sunday

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting. 
-Henry David Thoreau

As I have said earlier in this series Thoreau was not a religious man. But he did have wisdom and insight into the human condition and the broad spiritual needs of humanity. At the heart of what he wrote was the need to live a life that has meaning. Meaning comes from action. It is not just what we believe that makes us who we are, it is what we do.

It is Easter. The Lenten journey has ended. The time of self-reflection and seeking new guidance and insight has brought us to this day. We entered the darkness on Good Friday and then the darkness was forever broken on this Easter morning. The holiest and most joyous of days in the Christian year.

The story is told in the book we Christians call Holy Scripture. Even the greatest and holiest of books must eventually be set down, having read its words. Then we must move on, as Thoreau says, to “commence living on its hint.”

  • I have read the story.
  • I have heard it countless times.
  • It still resonates with hope and light, brighter each year.
  • It still reminds me that God’s grace is greater than the powers of the world that seek to silence it.
  • It still calls followers to live in a way differently than the world’s ways of living.
  • It is called love.

Only that day dawns to which we are awake. 
There is more day to dawn. 
The sun is but a morning star.
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

As the sun rises over the world on this Easter Sunday, may we be awake. The day is ahead of us. It is a day of grace and love.

The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed.
Thanks be to God!

Sing hallelujah, praise the Lord!
Sing with a cheerful voice;
exalt our God with one accord,
and in His Name rejoice.
Ne’er cease to sing, O ransomed host,
praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
until in realms of endless light
your praises shall unite.

There we to all eternity
shall join th'angelic lays
and sing in perfect harmony
to God our Savior’s praise;
He has redeemed us by His blood,
and made us kings and priests to God;
for us, for us, the Lamb was slain!
Praise ye the Lord! Amen.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A 50-Year Memory: He Wouldn't Run Again.

March 31, 1968:
"I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President."

I was on the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Several of us were returning to school after spring break. I seem to remember it was  a foggy evening as we listened to the president's address to the nation. Like most, we were stunned and elated.

Tom Wicker reporting in the New York Times after the speech described Johnson as talking about the progress made in his years as president. But they
"must not now be lost in suspicion and distrust and selfishness and politics. ...I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing."
And so it was that the man who won the biggest political landslide in American history, when he defeated Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona in the Presidential election of 1964, renounced the idea of a second term. (Link)
LBJ knew he was losing support. McCarthy had shown Johnson's vulnerability. Bobby Kennedy was waiting in the wings. He was president of a deeply divided nation. He didn't know it at the time but it was very quickly going to get much, much worse.It was stunning, but soon to be overtaken by events in Memphis, Los Angeles, and the streets of Chicago and Prague.

One of the most chaotic and challenging years was just beginning.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday:

Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
-Henry David Thoreau

In that time when we understand ourselves, we also begin to know what we need and who we truly are.  Perhaps in our journey it is when we humbly accept ourselves that we can turn to a power greater than ourselves to lead and guide us.

As I stand at the Cross on another Good Friday, I learn of the heights and depths of God's love.

It is a time of darkness. The Lenten journey must bring us to face and accept this darkness. Without Good Friday there is no Easter.

But, as a pastor said on Thursday evening, because Jesus has gone there it is now a "luminous darkness. And in that, we will meet God."

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday- What Do You See?

The question is not what you look at, but what you see. -Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau wrote this line in his journal on an August night in 1851. He was criticizing those who looked at things but didn’t see what was really there. It was just a passing observation that he didn’t take to any other conclusions that I could find.

But when I saw it a couple months ago when preparing this series, it was one of the more powerful new insights. Many of Thoreau’s quotes have been around and used often. This one seemed perfect for the Thursday of Holy Week.

  • What do you see on this holiest of nights, surpassing even the wonder of Christmas Eve?
  • What is there to see that enlightens the soul and let’s us be participants in grace?

There is a table, set for Passover. Bitter herbs and a shank-bone; a roasted hard-boiled egg and a spiced mixture of nuts, honey, fruit, and wine. In the center three pieces of matzah covered on a plate and a cup of wine. It is like almost any other Passover meal then or in the 2000 years since. It is a ritual with depth and history and wonder. The participants recline and enjoy leisure, something their enslaved ancestors were not able to do. They laugh and enjoy the interactions.

But this table is set in a hidden place, an upper room in one of the city’s neighborhoods. At this point there are only thirteen people there, obviously a close knit group. They laugh and joke and ask deep questions. They no doubt have finished the ritual readings and glasses of wine. We can watch the obvious leader take one of the pieces of matzah and breaks it. One piece he dips into the spiced mixture and hands it to one of the others. Then he takes another piece and breaks it as well, says some words and looks at his friends. They seem to be confused. They apparently don’t understand. After they have eaten he takes a cup of wine and again seems to be saying more than the standard blessing. Again the group, now minus the one who shared the earlier matzah, looks at each other in disbelief.

If we did not know what we were looking at, we would not see what this all means. If we were not the heirs of two millennia of reenactments and remembrances of that one Passover meal, we would miss the wonder and hope of that event.

What will I see tonight? A ritual that I participate in because it’s what I do on this Thursday? Another uncertain theological event that we can argue about until, well, until the Kingdom of God is completely revealed?
  • Will I see the bread and do as I always do? Will I see the cup and wonder why?
  • Will I hear the words spoken at that other meal and experience in a renewed way what it means to have a body broken and blood shed for the proclamation of God’s grace?
  • Will I finally know that in some mysterious way I am proclaiming the grace of God in Jesus’ broken body and the forgiveness of sin in blood shed?
Bread and cup- or more?

Ritual- or life renewed?

Words- or grace, the free gift of God?

It all depends on what I am open to see?

Tuning Slide-3.40: Looking Out for #1

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Trumpet players see each other, and it's like we're getting ready
to square off or get into a fight or something.
-Wynton Marsalis

I knew I had to address this myth sometime again. It crops up regularly. So I figured what better time than the week before April Fool’s Day. (How’s that for setting up a problem for the reader and the writer? Neither you nor I will know if I am being serious or not. Actually, I have a hunch that by the end you will figure it out!)

Here it is, then. Our myth or misconception of the week:
  • Trumpet players are obnoxious, self-centered, prima donnas who only care about what they play.
Look up “trumpet player” on the “Urban Dictionary” and you will find:
A trumpet player is someone who:
a) plays the trumpet. obviously.
b) kisses amazingly. Trumpet players not only have the strongest lips in the entire marching band, it makes them great kissers.
c) In marching band, the best section there ever was. The lead part. Without this section, there is NOTHING. If you are a trumpet player, you are the best
d) Most are cocky, love to show off, and [brown nose the] band directors and get what they want.
Obviously, the trumpet player is the backbone of any band.

Perhaps the two most common trumpet jokes:
Q: What's the difference between a trumpeter and God?
A: God doesn't think he's a trumpeter.

Q: How to trumpet players traditionally greet each other?
A: "Hi. I'm better than you."
I know I have used some of these comments before. It is hard not to address this issue since it is so prevalent. It is also difficult to address the issue since we have all known trumpet players who fit the stereotype. Sometimes that trumpet player is us.

(Not to leave other musicians out, I have also known many instrumentalists and singers who also fit the stereotype. Old joke: What do you call the music department? The war department.)

Let’s start out with the obvious. The trumpet is a loud instrument. It is often given the lead. It has the ability to soar above almost every instrument in a band. The trumpets are expected to be strong and lead in many situations. I am told it is also a difficult instrument to learn to play. I learned so long ago, that part is lost in the myths mists of time.

Because of all this and perhaps more, it does take a certain kind of personality to become and remain a trumpet player. One has to be ready to be seen and heard. One has to be willing to take certain risks. One has to be open to calling attention to themselves simply because of the instrument they play. Not everyone can do this. Some of it is skill; some is personality; some is mental. (I realize that this, too, is a stereotype. But I must admit that when I see an otherwise shy child say they want to learn trumpet, I do believe they will succeed- and it will change them. But then again, music changes all who play or sing.)

But, and this is never to be forgotten, we, ourselves, are number 4 out of the 4 most important things about making music:
  • Music is #1
  • Fellow musicians are #2
  • The audience is #3
  • You, the indiidual musician, are #4.
  • I look at the music on the stand in front of me. 
    • That is more important than I am.
  • I look at the other musicians I am playing with. 
    • They are more important than me.
  • I look at the audience who has come to enjoy the music. 
    • They are more important than me.
  • I look at what myself, and my needs and concerns are fourth in line.
The only time a trumpet player is the most important player in the band is when they have a solo. And even then I wonder.

In reality if we are to make music that is powerful and interesting, none of us can do it alone. With the rare exceptions of outstanding soloists playing music for one- and only one- instrument, we are all important to each other. We need the others- they need us. We work together. Just because the trumpet may be the loudest or most visible at times, does not make us any more essential than all the others.

During the last concert I played in this past February I sat there in awe of what we were playing. It was an amazing concert with some difficult and interesting music. At one point I had something like 40 or 50 measures of rest. The sound of the horns and clarinets mesmerized me; the bass clarinet solo was spiritual. I almost lost count I became so entranced. That piece needed all of us.
Life is something like a trumpet.
If you don't put anything in, you won't get anything out.
-William Christopher (W. C.) Handy

It takes all of us doing our best on our parts to bring the whole together. It is not our job as individuals to outshine the others in the band. It is not our task to single-handedly turn a group into something better. It is not who we are to be in music to make sure everyone knows we are good. If our music doesn’t do it, nothing will.

So this week’s Holy Truth, and it is not an April Fool’s joke:
  • It’s the music. Always the music!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Sixth Sunday of Lent-A Peasant Procession

If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.
-Henry David Thoreau

When we speak of Henry David Thoreau we jump back and forth between two different images. One is the naturalist and semi-hermit on the banks of Walden Pond for a little over two years. His writings began a great line of writers and seekers of peace and direction in the wildness that Thoreau knew was the salvation of humanity.

But there is also the tax resister, the anti-slavery and anti-war protestor. As the author of Civil Disobedience, Thoreau also began a second line of thought, one that influenced Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, and nameless protestors in the streets of many cities. Today we return to the protestor, to the Thoreau who wrote that the law must be disobeyed if it requires you to do injustice to another. We make this turn to the activist on the day we tell again the story of another activist 2000 years ago.

Today is the beginning of Holy Week. Today we sing of palms and crowds as cheers of “Hosanna!” ring through the air. It is the greatest week in the Christian year. It will end in death- and life! It was the week of Passover those many years ago in Judea. A time to celebrate the possibility of liberation from slavery and oppression under the boots of foreigners. As such it was a tense time for many.

In their book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Last Days in Jerusalem, the New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan argue that two processions entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, and that Jesus’ was not the only Triumphal Entry.
Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30…. In the centuries since, Christians have celebrated this day as Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week…. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers…On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.
In a very real sense Borg and Crossan are reminding us of the struggle that has existed for millennia when the nation may be acting with injustice and asking its citizens to also do so. While we have often hidden the political side of Holy Week behind the spiritual struggle, we have thus done violence to the whole picture of this important week. Jesus was not executed simply because a small minority of religious leaders wanted him dead. He was executed because his leadership was a threat to the established political and governmental order. He was executed because his understanding of God and faith was not a “nation” based understanding, it was not an expression of “nationalism” as we would define that today. It stood in stark contrast to that.

Jesus spoke passionately and often about caring for the least and the lost. The image of the sheep and goats at the last judgement equated righteous actions with visiting those in sick or in prison, helping the poor, the widow, and the orphan, or giving food to the hungry. Those who do not do these things cannot call themselves “righteous.” The intertwining of the religious leaders and the governmental leaders in Jesus day was anything but righteous. He entered the Temple and challenged those who were mixing the two. He engaged in an act of civil disobedience that set the stage for many.

Thoreau was not an anarchist, even though some would like to call him that. He did not want to do away with government. He said it clearly:

I ask for, not at once no government, 
but at once a better government.

It is hard, of course, and ultimately absurd to compare the Roman government of Jesus’ day with the American government of today. We would all agree with Thoreau that we want better government, caring government, although some may want far less government than others. It is a tough time.

What is a person of faith to do? We hear the cries from both sides to this day. The issue is as raw and painful on this Palm Sunday as it was on the first. Sides have been taken; some see the government as a way of enforcing a particular religious view. It is a time of power for them. Some see government leadership, even immoral and criminal leadership as a way to get the political agenda enacted. Bring down the hard hammer of law to make sure that the ways of a particular faith are enacted and followed. They decry these actions in other faiths and then call for them to be enacted in their own faith.

It is Palm Sunday. As it has often been since the first, there are two choices we are called to decide between, especially in our modern American dilemma. Are we to succumb to the power of the gun and the loudest, wealthiest voices? Are we to bow before a government that criminalizes ethnic groups and nationalities simply because they are who they are? Are we to seek ways to enforce a particular righteousness because it is what we think is the way?

Or do we stand up, as many did yesterday, and say “Enough!”?

Hear the two processions marching this week.

One is an imperial procession pointing fingers, rattling war sabers, making a joke of truth.

The other is a peasant procession calling for change and grace, hope and compassion, safety and life.

Not much has changed in 2000 years, except perhaps today we are more able to make our voices heard.
  • What can I do this Holy Week to speak for hope and life?
  • How can I witness to the power of grace standing against the power of hate?
  • Where is the call of God leading me to take a stand?
May I spend time this week looking within to find what may be next for me, as I follow Jesus toward the Last Supper, Calvary, and finally life breaking forth.

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sixth Week of Lent: The Star Thrower

Once in a lifetime, perhaps, one escapes the actual confines of the flesh.Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so merges with sunlight and air and running water that whole eons,the eons that mountains and deserts know, might pass in a single afternoon without discomfort.
-Loren Eiseley

Stories are the lifeblood of the spirit. I have a handful of such stories that have formed, informed, and built my life over the past 45 years. The wondrous preacher Fred Craddock, the amazing Tony Campolo, pastoral care guru Howard Clinebell all contributed. Only Loren Eiseley contributed a unique and enduring story in the midst of some of the most scientifically enriching writings of his day.

Loren Eiseley was called a spiritual wanderer and naturalist in the title of a 1986 essay by Joan Rosen in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan. Rosen wrote:
Nature is Loren Eiseley's teacher. In the creatures of the natural world, in the stars, in the flora and fauna, he witnesses the miracles and wonders of the ages…. [When Eiseley] describes Thoreau as "a spiritual wanderer through the deserts of the modern world” in "Thoreau's Vision of the Natural World" in the essay collection The Star Thrower he is describing himself.

Trained as an anthropologist he had a poet’s feel for words and an amazing eye for the unique and wondrous things of the world. Some quotes from Eiseley that shape his ideas and his incredible spirituality:
If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water
he wrote about the very beginnings of life on our planet, coming out of the primal seas. But there was a growing of life that at some point produced the human race and then:
For the first time in four billion years a living creature had contemplated himself and heard with a sudden, unaccountable loneliness, the whisper of the wind in the night reeds.
That loneliness, sadly, can turn to hubris. The result as we are seeing can be dangerous. Eiseley, who died over 40 years ago saw it coming:
When man becomes greater than nature, nature, which gave us birth, will respond.
Humanity is on an incredible pilgrimage within nature, as Thoreau and Leopold, Dillard and Olson have seen. It is not easy and never ends. Eiseley was one of the tour guides for me.
The journey is difficult, immense. We will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or to learn all that we hunger to know.
Of all the descendants of Thoreau, Loren Eiseley stands alone in my estimation. Some of his anthropology and science have been changed in these 40 years. We have broader and deeper understandings of the world and how we have come to be where we are. But his foundation is as unshaken as it was when I first read him well over 45 years ago. He calls us to pay attention equally to both the little and big things. He calls us to be aware- mindful in our 21st Century language- of what we do and how we live. He calls us to see within us the spirit of one greater than ourselves.

His greatest story, told and retold countless times over these years, often without attribution, has become almost a trite motivational trope. I found a number of “quotes” that were supposedly from Eiseley, but are paraphrases, retellings of retellings of the original. It is powerful, mind-boggling, and more than just a nice motivational story. It is the story of our calling as humans with nature and each other. Here is a very short version of "The Star Thrower." What a perfect way to prepare for Easter in a week and a half:
In a pool of sand and silt a starfish had thrust its arms up stiffly and was holding its body away from the stifling mud.

"It's still alive," I ventured.

"Yes," he said, and with a quick yet gentle movement he picked up the star and spun it over my head and far out into the sea. It sunk in a burst of spume, and the waters roared once more.

..."There are not many who come this far," I said, groping in a sudden embarrassment for words. "Do you collect?"

"Only like this," he said softly, gesturing amidst the wreckage of the shore. "And only for the living." He stooped again, oblivious of my curiosity, and skipped another star neatly across the water. "The stars," he said, "throw well. One can help them."

I had seen the star thrower cross that rift and he had reasserted the human right to define his own frontier. He had moved to the utmost edge of natural being. I had been unbelieving, hardened by the indifference of maturity. I arose with a solitary mission, to find the star thrower beneath his rainbow. I found him on a projecting point of land in the sweet rain-swept morning. Silently, I sought and picked up a still-living star, spinning it far out into the wave. I spoke once briefly. “I understand,” I said, “call me another thrower.” Only then I allowed myself to think. He is not alone any longer. After us there will be others. We were part of the rainbow – like the drawing of a circle in men’s minds, the circle of perfection.
I picked and flung another star. I could feel the movement in my body. It was like a sowing – the sowing of life on an infinitely gigantic scale. I looked back over my shoulder, and small and dark against the receding rainbow, the star thrower stooped and flung one more. I never looked back again. The task we assumed was too immense for gazing. I flung and flung again while all about us roared the insatiable waters of death, the burning sun, for it was men as well as starfish that we sought to save, a thrower who loved not man, but life. -Link

The Loren Eiseley Society.

Tuning Slide 3.39- The Plateaus of Movement

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

I’ve never seen a monument erected to a pessimist.
— Paul Harvey

It has been a long week with some difficulties in traveling, snow storms, major delays on the highways, and a lot of being tired. I just was unable to get this together before right now. So let me start right off with the myth of the week. I have heard a number of variations of this from all sorts of places and people among trumpet players. For those who are not professional musicians and who have to make time to be a musician while doing other things, this myth can be tempting- and dangerous to one’s growth.
When I stop improving maybe I should just be satisfied with where I’m at.
I did a Google search and found all kinds of reactions and rationalizations about what to do when we reach a point where improvement isn’t happening. Many were “comeback players” who had not played for many years and were getting back into their music. Others were people who had been playing for years yet the excitement has gone. Some were satisfied with there they were and had no desire to get any better. Others were sad or frustrated having hoped to be far better than they had become.

In many of these situations they simply stopped where they were. Some quit playing altogether. They stepped away and turned to other things. Some continued to play but were at a plateau. They never got better, but were content to be what they had been.

Now I don’t want to put any value judgement on any of these responses. We are all different people with different dreams and goals. Sometimes there are physical issues and limitations or injuries and setbacks in life that get in the way. But there was a sense of sadness to many of the things I read. These players had wanted to do so much more but just couldn’t seem to get there.

It is not unusual for any of us to get discouraged, bored, or tired. I have talked about some of the ways of dealing with that:
  • Switch up your routine while keeping all the basics.
  • Find a teacher who will take you to some new places.
  • Find friends to play with.Find a new band or group to join that could
  • give you new perspectives.
But that is easier than it sounds when you have been working and doing some of those things and you don’t seem to be getting anywhere new. What I have heard and seen in so many different ways well beyond making music are that there are basically two things that get in the way.

First is expectations. If we have wanted to play like Doc or Maynard and just can’t ever seem to get there, that is a potentially dangerous expectation. You are not Doc, I am not Maynard, nobody else is Miles or Wynton. Expectations like this are comparisons. Very few will ever be able to compare to any of those musicians. But I can still be the best musician I can be.

The second thing that gets in the way and is seriously impacted by expectations is a lack of patience. So often we want the fruits of years of practice without putting in years of practice. Over the years I have often wanted to play guitar. The problem was that Iw as a far better trumpet player than a guitarist. Why? Because I have been playing trumpet a long time and know how to do it. I wanted to be able to pick up the guitar and play it as well as I did the trumpet. It never worked. Impatience. Getting the gold medal without working for it.

What I have discovered in my life- and have been applying it to my musicianship these past three years is that there are ways of getting through the plateau. There are steps we can take. Here are four of them:
Review- Plateaus happen. They are normal, natural, and essential. They allow our learning to sink in and become a more natural part of who we are and what we do. When they happen or when our human tendency to slow down gets going, spend some time in reviewing. Get out some older pieces you have moved past or exercises that used to be a little bit challenging. Play them. Take them for a few days and include them in your routine. I am often surprised at how much better I can play them today.
Revise- Plateaus mean you have reached a new stage in your growth. Where do you want to go next? It’s time to review your goals and expectations. Make sure you are doing the things that will move you there. Name the joys and wonders of what you have been doing- and where that can take you. I am always surprised when that happens- mostly by how blind I have been to seeing the growth and movement I have been experiencing.
Regroup- Pull it all together. The new band or group, the new attitude that gets you back into optimism, the inner excitement of knowing that there is movement ahead. Go for it.
Relax- Stop letting Self One control your thinking. You enjoy that music. You enjoy the possibilities. Take it easy and go for it.

There are a number of ways, then, of naming this week’s holy truth. Some of them were in the summary of last year’s trumpet workshop:
• Your best trumpet playing hasn’t happened yet
• Your best trumpet playing is only a thought away

The truth is you can always continue to grow as a musician and as a human being. The minute you quit- you’ve lost the edge, the growth. Yes, things get in the way, like the problems and barriers I faced in the past week of travel. Yesterday I didn’t have the energy to write this piece. I didn’t feel like picking up the horn. My plan was to be satisfied with going 360 days in a row of daily routine and/or practice. I was giving up the dream of a solid year five days early.

But in the back of my head I heard “Isn’t that what you were writing about this week? Being satisfied?” So I pulled out the horn and did a variation of my daily routine for about 30 minutes. I could feel myself relaxing, falling into the notes- and the notes flowing into me.

If you are not ready to quit- don’t!

Holy Truth for the week then:
  • Plateaus happen- and they are good. They are a place to regroup so we can move on!
Learn how to be happy with what you have while you pursue all that you want.
— Jim Rohn

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The FIfth Sunday of Lent: Living Morality

Aim above morality. 
Be not simply good, 
be good for something. 
-Henry David Thoreau

I must admit that I wasn’t sure where this week’s post was going to lead. Morality is a BIG topic and one that can bring much controversy as we have seen very clearly in the last year or so in politics. As usual with something like this I started with a dictionary definition. Merriam-Webster said:
Definition of morality for English Language Learners. : beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior. : the degree to which something is right and good : the moral goodness or badness of something.
Again, a lot of ways to go with that. What is it we believe about “right behavior?” Where do we get those beliefs? How do they change over a lifetime? How do we determine the rightness or wrongness, the goodness or badness of something? It seems to me that some of what we say we believe about these is very cultural and even situational dependent. It even varies depending on the person doing the action. When person X does something it is wrong; when person Y does the same thing maybe it isn’t. Is morality situational? Is moral decision making based on variables that can change?

Phew! My head hurts thinking about that. It can be a deep intellectual, philosophical, and theological exercise that brings more questions than answers. So what was it that Thoreau was thinking about? He does give me an answer in the rest of the quote. Morality is not just about being a good person. There may be lots of good people in the world who are good because they just are and never do anything with it. Their “morality” may be nothing more than just not having an opinion or in a position to do anything. Thoreau says that morality is being good for something. What is it you stand for and how do you live it.

I am writing this post early on Sunday evening instead of the day or two before. As we were traveling on Friday afternoon my wife stepped off a curb coming out of a restaurant and fell, causing pain, abrasions, and, we found out later, a torn ligament. That threw off all my writing schedule until now. The next two paragraphs are from an email I sent to the general manager of the motel we were to stay at for Friday night, just one night. I think the morality of this is obvious and captures what Thoreau was talking about.
My wife and I had the pleasure of staying at [your motel] on Friday and Saturday evenings last week (March 16 and 17). Before we arrived, my wife had an accident when we were leaving a restaurant and was in great pain. We knew that we would not be able to continue the trip the next morning as originally planned. When we checked in on Friday we were told that there would be no rooms available for Saturday night due to a tournament. But [the desk person] did say that she would put us on a waiting list. I checked in before leaving for supper with some friends but she said there was nothing available. I called a couple hours later and she was excited- she had a room for us for Saturday night!!! When I got back from supper we took the necessary steps to reserve the room! Friday was an extremely busy afternoon and evening and she had hardly anytime to catch her breath, but she pleasantly and efficiently took care of my needs. Her personality and honest caring for our needs was amazing.

Saturday my wife and I spent most of the day at the hospital making sure there was nothing serious in her injuries. Fortunately there was not. After the day there, when I checked in for the second night the same desk person was again working and helped me through a couple things, including setting up my Wyndham rewards account and helping get a reservation for Sunday night up the road.

That desk person was a little bit of Jesus to my wife and me. Her willingness to pay attention to us in the midst of an incredibly busy evening (there were never less than 3 people in line when I was there on Friday afternoon and evening). She took care of me- and all the other customers- with no sign of frustration or short-fuse or being tired. She smiled; she helped; she did what she had to do and gave all of us a little bit of herself.

It would be easy to say, “Of course she did. That was her job.” But what I saw and received was over and above the basics of her job. She could have done her job just as efficiently without the extra TLC she gave us and the cam attentiveness she gave others. That is morality. That is right behavior. That is goodness in action.

I have a hunch that this IS what Jesus meant. It seems to have struck enough resonant chords:
  • Don’t preach me a sermon; live one for me.
  • Preach the Gospel; if necessary use words.
  • If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if a person does not love his brother, whom he has seen, then he cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
  • Faith without works is dead. (James 2:26)
Our morality is in what we do and in the end how we treat others. We have enough hatred in our country and world; we have enough division and preaching with fingers pointing in all kinds of directions. It is time to kneel down with Jesus next to the woman caught in adultery. He looked at the men about to stone her and made on simple statement: Anyone without sin can throw the first stone. No one dared. We should not either. That is morality at its highest as we support others simply because they need it.

  • Who has acted with morality and care to me this week?
      • Lord, I give thanks for these people who have helped make my life a better this week.
  • When have I not acted with the care and compassion?
      • Lord, forgive me and help me make amends.
  • What can I do better in the week ahead to preach the Gospel without words?
      • Lord, direct me inward to find your Spirit filling me.
  • Where is God directing me to be a witness of faith alive?
      • Here I am, Lord. Show me your direction.
Such actions are not a burden. Morality is not a chore that we do out of fear or from having no other way to act. When we begin to live with the power of morality in action, we may find joy and others being helped. Perhaps even ourselves.

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Tuning Slide 3.38- The Myths of Practice

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Misunderstanding is generally simpler than true understanding,
and hence has more potential for popularity.
― Raheel Farooq

Last week we looked at the myth/misconception about equipment. While I used the never-ending discussion of the best mouthpiece to use for the example, we could have taken all kinds of twisty, overgrown back roads about equipment. The answer was, of course, that equipment doesn’t make the music. We do. Hence “Holy Truth #1” was

Equipment is not the answer.

Well what might be the answer? Not hard to guess what the answer to that might be.

Practice, of course.

But if you’ve been following the Tuning Slide for a while you know that just the thought of “practice” brings with it all kinds of myths and misconceptions that never seem to go away.
  • Just practicing as we have seen in a number of different series of posts over the past three years can do nothing but keep us mediocre if we don’t have goals and plans.
  • Just practicing for the sake of practicing gets pretty boring- and getting bored with practice ends up with us not practicing.
  • Just practicing without working at what we need to work on keeps us doing the things which keep us mediocre without improvement.
But I found a couple myths and misconceptions on the website Trumpet Journey that we might have missed, depending on how we have learned our practicing skills.

Myth #1 is that old saying

Practice makes perfect.

Stanley Curtis, author of the Trumpet Journey blog says:
Perfectionism, while seeming to be a noble goal, is actually not that good for trumpeters. More than most instrumentalists, we miss notes, and we need to get on with life. By becoming fixated on our weaknesses, we never let our spontaneous self naturally blossom.
Another way of saying that might be, if we work at being perfect, we are just feeding the ego of old Self 1 who likes nothing better than to find out what ’s wrong. I like that second sentence in that quote where Curtis says that we may very well miss more notes than most instrumentalists. It is a humbling thought which may be why we work so hard at perfect. But Curtis is right, the more we work at perfection, the less likely we are to be perfect.

That does not mean that we should ignore what we need to work on! We know what particular aspect of our playing is not going as well as we would like. It is painfully obvious to us. So we then make a plan, a deliberate practice goal, to do something about it. It’s not rocket science.

Before one of the concerts in the community band last year I realized that I was having some difficulty with intervals beyond fifths. An interval jump of an octave or more just wasn’t falling into place. So I dug out the lessons from the Arban’s book and worked on them. The problem was I was not hearing or feeling the interval and my flexibility was sloppy. It didn’t take much to improve. I just had to do it. Deliberately. Intervals are now on my once or twice a week practice plan.

Myth # 2 that I found on Trumpet Journey:

If practicing makes me better, then MORE practice will make me ever better.

Why sure, that makes sense. If I can do a two-hour practice today, maybe I can make it more tomorrow, and on and on.

Curtis nicely sums up why that’s a potentially dangerous misconception:
The error here is that there is a limit to practice, especially the physical aspects of practice. Practice is a lot like a great paint job on a fine automobile. Instead of one sloppy, thin coat, it’s far better to paint many thin coats to avoid runs and smears. When we practice too much, we start to get sloppy, and then we get used to being sloppy. I like to think of weekly practice goals, so that each day can be a little different.
In my own reading and research into practicing, I read somewhere (which means I didn’t note where I read it) that we should make sure we stop our practice session before we have exhausted ourselves, our lip, and our mental capacity to keep growing. The reason is simple, we will learn the exhaustion stage more than the place where we were sounding good. This is the same as an athlete. They do not set records in practice. They want to build themselves to a point of 80% of maximum. The only time they need to give 100% is the race or game when the extra push is needed.

We have to do it slowly. We have to build. We don’t blow it all in one marathon practice session a day. We will hurt ourselves that way. Slowly, surely, build it up. Curtis’s statement about building many thin coats of pain reminded me of what the master Leonardo da Vinci did. He would add very thin layers of paint slowly over time. The Mona Lisa or Last Supper were not done with thick layers. The wonder of his artistry was how he built it slowly, one layer at a time.

So, again, we have seen a couple myths and misconceptions of practice. There are more. We will surely invent them (or re-invent old ones) on a regular basis. We think we have all the answers, which as the quote at the start of this post indicates, will lead us to more misconceptions. So slow down and keep it patient, balanced, and deliberate. After all this is supposed to be fun, not torture.

Which brings me to the Holy Truth for this week. I think by following this, I may be able to keep that patience and deliberateness that is essential to better musicianship.

When you practice, rest as much as you play!

By the way, Stanley Curtis at Trumpet Journey has a series of weekly lesson plans for trumpet practice over three years. While many of us have adopted the basic routines that we have learned from teachers who were taught by William Adam, there are also other lesson plans that we can use to build certain aspects of our musicality. If we remember it starts with the sound, these lessons may be helpful. Just thought I would pass it along. It should take you the rest of your life to get through it. What a great thought!