Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lenten Journey- Sunday 4- Uncompromising


Things do exist that are worth standing up for without compromise. To me it seems that peace and social justice are such things,
as is Christ himself.
–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter to his brother

To compromise may be a brave thing to do in the right circumstances. But in others, we better not. The possibility might be that we would compromise our soul. Bonhoeffer was a very intense thinker. He did more mental and theological gymnastics to come to terms with things he felt were right- or wrong. As German culture and the German Church was descending into chaos and then the very center of hell itself under the Nazis, Bonhoeffer was shaken to his core by what was happening to the country he loved, the people he loved- and the church he loved. The quote above was made in a letter to his non-Christian brother when Bonhoeffer was organizing an illegal seminary, unapproved by the German Lutheran establishment. Dietrich was moving into dangerous territory and he knew it. Yet he had to do it.

Whether we agree with all his theological conclusions, or even begin to understand them from this perspective 75 years later, is not important. What is important is the challenge and the witness to what was important, essential, to being a Christian. These three could be in any order and make sense. But I think for Bonhoeffer he would put it this way.

As a professing Christian, he would insist on an
  • Uncompromising Christocentrism.
Jesus, to Bonhoeffer, had to be at the center of the faith. But this was not in some narrow “What Would Jesus Do?” kind of idea. It was far more radical than that. In Jesus, God was showing that humanity, which God created, was worth the time and effort to save! The Incarnation was essential to the Christian life in the broadest sense possible. It made no sense without it.

Because of this the second thing for a Christian is
  • Uncompromising discipleship.
He, of course wrote the classic book on that, Cost of Discipleship, which in its original German was simply Nachfolge, Following. In it he spoke of cheap versus costly grace. He did not see that we had to “pay” more to get grace- it was free. Rather, having received grace, we become willing to pay any price to follow Christ. We can do all kinds of our own theological gymnastics to try to understand, agree with, or argue with this. The point for me is that when I say I have received grace from the Creator, I have at that moment been called to live a particular kind of life. And then to live that life through everything I do. Easier said than done, but still the call!

The result of this in the Christian’s life is then
  • Uncompromising compassion.
One of the first things that caused Bonhoeffer so much pain was the treatment the Jews in Germany were beginning to receive. His social justice interest was formed in the United States where he found the deepest and most profound faith among the African-American Churches in the midst of the deeply rooted racism. When he saw the same things happening to the Jews, he stood up.

His was not a narrow Christianity. He did not limit compassion to those who deserve it or those who were like him. He continued to be a pastoral presence in Tegel Prison- to guards as well as to other prisoners. He refused a cell on a cooler floor knowing that meant someone else would be put in his cell. He understood the dangers of narrow compassion and worked against it. His was not a faith that looked to life after death as the purpose of believing. It was far more important than that. It was about how we live each and every day.

Today is the 4th Sunday in Lent. We are nearing the half-way point of the Lenten journey. So far our themes have been:
  • Being open to God’s daily interruptions.
  • Trusting the Word of God.
  • Taking an honest self-inventory.
  • Giving the gift of truly listening to others.
I admit that now, after these three weeks, I must go deeper into the mystery of being a person of spirituality and faith. I must take some greater steps to understand how I am to follow the ways and will of my Higher Power. I must move away from my self-centered human ways and ask some tough questions of my self. They all follow from those three uncompromising stands that Bonhoeffer laid out.

1. Is Jesus Christ the center of my faith if I profess to be a follower of his? I can ask this in numerous ways to fit a broader context. Have I truly turned my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God? Is the spiritual path truly at the center of who I am? I won’t know the answers to these questions unless I am open to that self-challenge of the honest inventory of my actions that speak louder than words what I truly follow.

2. Am I willing to pay the cost of discipleship? How will I know? In Twelve Step programs they ask it a different way- Are you willing to go to any length to get and stay sober?
This is a tough one to deal with. We won’t know how far we are willing to go until faced with the situations. I have absolutely no idea what I would have done in Bonhoeffer’s situation- and I pray I never have to find out. He himself wasn’t sure most of the time, either. He wrestled constantly with what he was doing and often took a step back when he thought it might harm someone else simply by association.

3. How can I live a life of uncompromising compassion in ways I have not done before? Where and how have I been less than compassionate this past week? Maybe I need to ask that question every night in the upcoming week and be ready to make amends as needed for I am sure there will be times and places every day when that will happen.

This week my daily inventory will need to include these three elements of a personal faith, as well as the awareness that this is not a simple tip of the hat to some theological idea. I have to take a close look at how I live this life.

Earlier this week The Contemplative Monk posted a quote from Dallas Willard that makes a perfect beginning to this week's opportunities to be interrupted by God in our daily lives:
The gospel is less about getting into the Kingdom of Heaven after you die and more about how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven before you die.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Coming Home

Just sayin'...


Friday, March 24, 2017

Wouldn't It Be Nice?

Been spending some time on our trip back to Minnesota doing sightseeing and touristy things. I will most likely write about them in more detail in the coming weeks and months. Earlier this week we went to the National World War I Museum in Kansas City. It is a must see if you are interested in American and world history. But all I want to say today is that it would be great if this sign could be put on all armaments and items of destruction everywhere for eternity.


We should never be naive, but we should also never stop praying AND working for peace.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 2.29

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

I spent some time at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City yesterday. As you walk into one section you see a series of displays about the construction of jazz. They talked about the different instrument groups and what roles they play, but they made clear that there are three important elements to the “language of jazz:”
• Melody
• Harmony
• Rhythm.
A strong reminder on how all music is tied together. It doesn’t matter what style of music you play, it will have it’s own language built on the foundational language of musical concepts and theory. It will build that language with the words, sentences, paragraphs and volume after volume of music on those three basic elements. Music can be said to be built by the interplay of melody, harmony and rhythm. Without getting too deep into music theory, periods, styles and all that (which is too western) let’s link those three concepts.

Music is:
the succession of single tones in musical compositions, as distinguished from harmony and rhythm. the principal part in a harmonic composition; the air. a rhythmical succession of single tones producing a distinct musical phrase or idea. -Link
Here's more that puts all these together:
Melody is what results from playing notes of different pitches - sometimes pitches can be repeated too - one after the other in an 'organised' way. Melodies are very distinguishable and are often singable. However, just the succession of pitches doesn't make a melody. Each note played has a duration. The relation between durations refers to rhythm.

But, before rhythm, lets talk about pulse. Like every living organism, music has a pulse - beats (like that of the heart). And although we not always hear it, it is always there. Do you remember when children learn to clap their hands to follow songs? There is a constant, implicit, beat that happens periodically. In some cases, it is in fact played by instruments. For example, in Australian aboriginal music it is often played by clap sticks.

But rhythm is not just a constant periodic beat. The beat or pulse is like its skeleton. Rhythm is how you inhabit the pulse. Rhythm is what results of combining notes of different durations, sometimes coinciding with the beat and sometimes not. For example, if you can notice in Reggae or Ska music, the guitar or keyboards most of the times play, at times, exactly opposite to the beat.

And, last but not least: harmony. Usually, melodies are not just played alone by a solo instrument or a group of instruments playing the same thing. Very frequently there are 'lead' instruments which play melodies (such as the voice, wind instruments, etc.) and, at the same time, others that accompany them doing something else. This relationship between different notes played at the same time is what we call harmony.

Sometimes this can be done by one instrument such as guitar or piano, but other times by several instruments (like brass ensembles). There are many types of relations between two or more notes played at the same time, but they can be classified into two main divisions: consonance and dissonance. -Link
Again- it is in the interaction of these that what we call music is made. How do we learn to do that? Beyond the obvious issue of scales and listening to your music and those you are playing with, I have a hunch that rhythm is where we need to most practice. The “rhythm” section of any band needs to be solid or the group can’t hold together. I have probably seen many a director work hard with the percussion section in order not to lose the beat, the pulse, the groove no matter what the style of music. Soloists who lose the feel of the music can potentially go off on their own leaving the band either far behind or a couple measures ahead. It is as important to learn how to feel the music as much as it is to play it.

On the website, Learn Jazz Standards, they have a post about four ways to remain mediocre- number 3 is:
Ignore working on rhythm and time.
I find that a lot of mediocre jazz players spend the majority of their time working on their solos and navigating the vast array of harmonic structures jazz has to offer. Everyone wants to be a great soloist, and you will need to work on these things if you want to become one.

But it doesn’t matter if you play the hippest lines or have the best technique if you don’t groove. If your time feel is off, and you neglect all rhythmic studies you will be missing a key ingredient for jazz [or any musical] excellence.

When it comes down to it, if your music doesn’t make people dance on some level, your music will feel off. It has to groove. Your single note lines need to groove, and your accompaniment needs to groove. If you rush or drag too much, it won’t groove.

So if you want to stay mediocre, ignore these things. But if you want to become an excellent jazz musician, start shifting some of your practice time from soloing to rhythm and time. -Link
People may not be dancing in the aisles at a concert band performance, but it must make them move internally. It must make them connect with some pulse. Rhythm is essential.

That’s where the metronome can also come into play. I have previously indicated that I am not very good at working with a metronome. I hate being that regimented. I’d rather just go off and do it at whatever pace I want to, thank you very much! Which is why I am still just barely beyond mediocre in some things. My fear has always been that the metronome will make me too tied in a mechanical way to the beat. In the meantime I haven’t learned the discipline of the beat or learned how the song’s groove moves. Until I learn that discipline I am not ready to move beyond it and bring it alive. Until I can play it smoothly while remaining disciplined, I haven’t learned it.

Music is a living thing. Musicians make those broad kind of statements all the time. But the pulse of music, the heartbeat is in the rhythm. When building athletic or physical endurance we start with a baseline. We often call that our “resting heart rate.” That is exactly where we start with the music. The metronome is the guide to where to start. As time moves on we begin in our physical training to pay attention to optimal heart rates for activities and to know when the rate has gotten out of the groove. Every athlete know the signs of that- whether they name it as part of the rhythm or not. They know the groove that works for them. Once they get it, they can learn when and how to push it.

So I am finally talking myself into using that metronome more often.

Won’t I be surprised when it actually works?


As I said a couple weeks ago, I am going to end year 2 of the Tuning Slide next week. Last year I kept the posts going and ran out of time to get it published before Shell Lake in August. This year the posts will continue after next week, but on a different scope. I will be repeating the jazz series from last summer and adding some new thoughts I have learned from John Raymond. While a lot of it will be jazz related until the end of June, I will try to also in the new posts relate them to music in general. Not to mention how this all makes us better at whatever we do.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

More Reflections on Bonhoeffer

  • The Pain:
To be working against your own country that is as deeply rooted in you as anything.

  • The Confusion:
Wishing for the defeat of your country in war in order to save it from destruction.

  • The Loneliness:
Unable to talk to many people about what you are doing and thinking out of concern for them.

  • The Grief:
That the faith you so strongly believe in has been co-opted or worse, become meaningless in the fight.

  • The Hope:
That what you are doing may bring about a resolution to the problems you are working against.

  • The Peace:
That you are doing what you understand to be the will and calling of God in your life- even if no one else sees it.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Is It Really Here?

It's 5:28 am.

Do you know where your spring is?

No- don't look out the window. It might not be there and I wouldn't want you to be too discouraged.

Don't look at the weather forecast. After all to meteorologists spring started before the recent blizzards.

Close your eyes, picture daffodils and tulips; that fresh green of young plants, and play the video.




Now go back to sleep until April.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lenten Journey- Sunday 3- Listening

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship 
consists of listening to them. 
Just as love of God begins with 
listening to his word, 
so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is 
learning to listen to them. 
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Bonhoeffer was writing about what makes a “church” in this devotional classic, Life Together. Over the years before the war he had come in contact with many different styles of being church that changed his own understanding of his traditional German Lutheran training. He saw a need for a “new monasticism” in the church and incorporated that into his seminary he began for the Confessing Church. Part of such monastic-style fellowship he saw was the need to listen to each other.

Listening is hard. It takes effort to pay attention to what someone is saying to us. It has become a cliche that we spend all our time listening thinking about how we will respond instead of paying attention- truly listening. When we are not listening to respond we are not even listening. Our mind wanders, we lose track, we simply nod our head, vocalize some non-committal response, and look interested. The other person doesn’t often catch on because, in essence we are both doing the same things. We are talking around each other, over or under the discussion and not actually being in dialogue.

None of this is helpful, as Bonhoeffer saw it. It is not dialogue, it is not fellowship, it is not learning to love others. No wonder the church was in difficult times and not just with Hitler’s attempts at co-opting, taking over, and eventually destroying the church. It was boring itself to death without love because no one was listening.

Earlier this week we were driving north through eastern Louisiana and Arkansas. As we drove through those wide-open spaces of the Delta two things jumped out at my wife and me. I realized that this issue of listening may be right in front of us. The first thing noticeable was the incredible number of churches we passed on the way. We figured that in the 75-100 miles from just west of Vicksburg where we turned north we must have passed at least 50 or more churches. That averages to one every two miles or so. Not bad when you then realize we would go miles and miles with the farmland and no churches, then a cluster of them, barely half a mile apart.

Most of them were small buildings, like a majority of churches in the United States. Many smaller than houses, but on average, not much bigger than a mobile home or small sanctuary. Every now and then there would be a bigger one, but it was mile upon mile of small buildings for worship.We wondered what the story might have been? Rural people, most of them poor, no doubt, started these churches as places to be together. My wife, not knowing what I was writing about for this week, said, “They wanted someplace to belong- and to be heard.”

They wanted to be listened to! Oh, I am sure that there were enough church fights represented there as well. More like church “brawls” no doubt. Someone wasn’t listened to, someone was misheard and therefore misunderstood, someone was offended by what they thought someone else was saying, doing, or planning on doing. Theology may have been under some of it, too. But in those congregations theology was interwoven with the life, the people, the families, and the relationships. Change in theology can mean disaster to such fellowships. The search for meaningful fellowship was represented in those long string of church buildings lining the Mississippi Delta. It was almost like “house churches” except they came to “God’s House” since no one else had a large enough building.

Listen to each other, said Bonhoeffer. Truly listen. It is as important to listen to the word of your brothers and sisters as it is to listen to the Word of God.

The second thought saw what was more than obvious- the level of poverty and loss these people were living with. It was almost desolate. True- crops were not planted or growing which meant the colors were wintry drab. But the ramshackle buildings, corrugated metal sheds, the hardscrabble existence was obvious. Is anyone listening to them in their silent desolation? Is that even what it is?

Have we who have ears to hear heard that? Or are we still doing the same old thing. We think we know what they should be thinking, even as I am doing in this post. We judge what we think is going on.

And no one is listening to each other. Not truly listening. We throw words and phrases at the problem. We put our two cents worth of spin to it and go away angry or frustrated. We all then become more angry and frustrated at each other. The politics of the day then begins to take that all and spin it some more, further dividing us. One of the great disheartening results of this last election was that it appears no one is listening to each other. One side says they speak for a particular group while ignoring the needs of another; the other side says they speak for a particular group while ignoring the needs of another; and around it goes in a vicious cycle of not listening and not caring.

It is time to learn to listen to each other- not to the media, not to the talking heads and pundits, but to each other. Active listening, alive listening, compassionate listening. Am I, in this Lenten season, willing to listen as carefully to the words of my brothers and sisters on all sides of these issues as I think I am listening to the Word of God. We must have that dialogue of the needs in others. To do that, and I know I am being repetitive, we must listen.


So I am hoping to work more on that this Lent. I need to be able to hear the cries of others- on all sides of these divisive issues. I need to do that with their best interests in mind as well as the awareness that, as a Christian, I am called to affirm their concerns and then seek ways to work with them. So here are some of my guidelines for listening gathered from my experience as well as from myriad sources.

I start with one I learned a few years ago from one of my mentors, Dr. Amit Sood of Mayo Clinic:
  • Assume positive intent with others.
Give others a break. Start with a place of compassion. While words and even actions may imply poor motives, don’t always assume that. Assume that what the other person is telling us is real for them and has a positive outcome. Look for that positive intent as you talk. It may be similar to what we want. Find it and work on it.

  • Don’t interrupt and place your solution on them.
In other words, pay attention and jump in with some quick answer. Hear what they are saying- and what they are leaving unspoken. How does that connect with what I am feeling.

  • Try to feel what the other person is feeling.
Empathize. Don’t assume you understand it, especially if you haven’t gone through the same things they are going through. But keep listening for the feelings.

  • Be patient.
In a conversation with my brother on some of these issues I wanted to jump right in and let him know what I thought was right. I didn’t succeed at being as patient as I would like to have been, but I eventually began to hear what he was saying. We didn’t end up agreeing, but we could find the points where our concerns and discussion could intersect.

  • Ask questions for clarification.
In order to get to that point I had to ask questions. They were not judgmental questions (I hope), but rather seeking for clarification. These are reflective questions, “Do you mean this is what’s important to you? Does this mean you want this or that to happen? What is the most important thing that you want to see happen?” AND, be ready to have those questions asked of you.

  • Affirm areas of agreement.
Don’t get stuck on the disagreements. Find the common ground. Affirm where you are on the same page, even if neither of the answers will satisfy the other person. At least you get started.

Can I do this for the next week? Can I make sure that I slow down my tongue so that it isn't getting ahead of my thoughts? Can I turn off that inner voice that always has the right answers for every issue and let wisdom come from someone other than myself?

Tough to do, I know. But it may be the most spiritual thing I can do on any given day. A number of writers have suggested that spirituality is part of who we have evolved into because it can be a way of interacting in healthy ways with others. Religion hasn’t done well in this department, but spirituality is the ability to care and have compassion and be led to deeper understandings. In the end the most spiritually important thing we can give to another person is to listen to what they have to say without judgement or prejudice or seeking to overthrow their thinking.

It is being a vessel of peace- and the love of God.

Friday, March 17, 2017

My First Ever St. Patrick's Day




Well, sort of, kinda, maybe.




It is my first St. Patrick's Day knowing that my heritage is 6% Irish according to Ancestry.com. The majority of my ancestry is exactly what I knew it was- East European Jewish and Western European. But after that 81% comes Ireland.
  • Is that why I liked the Boston Celtics when I was a kid?
  • Does that explain why I felt at home in an Irish pub across the street from the Notre Dame campus?
  • Does it give any insight as to why Celtic spirituality has always resonated?
No, I don't think so either, but it had to be said.

I don't know how all this stuff works, but I did find it interesting that my Great Britain level was less than 1%. Just proves what the Irish have often told us- they are not really part of Great Britain.

Since I don't drink alcoholic beverages, I will have to find a different way to celebrate my first St. Patrick's Day as part of the Irish crowd. Corned beef and cabbage? Sounds good to me. Maybe I'll get some green food coloring and put it in my water. Does McDonald's still have those green shakes?

A whole new world has opened up to me.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all!

Oh, just for fun, here again is my short video I did for the camera club on the color green.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

A 50-Year Memory: News Review

What was happening in the world in March 1967? Let's get into our own "Way-back Machine" and see what strikes me as interesting fifty years later....


  • U.S. President Lyndon Johnson announced that Soviet Union Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin had agreed to discussions between the two nations to limit the number of offensive and defensive nuclear missiles that each side would possess. The Americans and Soviets would sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons on July 1, 1968.[A good start that took many years to complete.]

  • A U.S. presidential commission recommended a reform to the American selective service system, in what was described as a "youngest first by random selection procedure". While the existing method was for local draft boards to fill their quotas starting with 26-year old men, the new system would eliminate the 4,100 community draft boards and randomly select registered 19-year old men. "If a man is not drafted at 19," a reporter noted, "chances are good under the new proposal that he would never be drafted short of total war."[Never happened!]

  • CBS Reports aired the first television news documentary in U.S. history to report on gay and lesbian issues. Hosted by Mike Wallace, and viewed by 40 million people, "The Homosexuals" "reflected the bias of the American Psychological Association... labeling homosexuality a mental illness" but also showed gays and lesbians as individuals whose civil rights were deprived. TV critics reacted differently, with Chicago Tribune columnist Clay Gowran, who called the show "garbage" and said that "it was permitted.. not only to justify the aberration but, it seemed, to glorify it", while Tribune columnist Herb Lyon wrote that it "was one of the most intelligent, mature, incisive shows ever produced."[Fifty years can make a difference.]

  • U.S. Navy Lt. (jg) Frank Prendergast became "the only American aviator to escape after being captured in North Vietnam", after bailing out of his plane and coming down off the coast of North Vietnam's Thanh Hoa Province.

  • The first demonstration of "slow motion instant replay" on television was shown to viewers of ABC Wide World of Sports who had tuned in to see the finals of the "World Series of Skiing" at Vail, Colorado. The repeating of the same scene at the same original speed had been shown as early as December 7, 1963, but the Ampex HS-100 made it possible to slow down, freeze, or reverse the action for analysis by television commentators. [The day it became more interesting to watch at home.]

  • The Soo Line Railroad, operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway in both Canada and the United States, permanently discontinued its passenger train operations as its last train, The Winnipegger departed St. Paul, Minnesota at 8:45 in the morning on the way back to Winnipeg, Manitoba. [Yes, Virginia, there were passenger trains before Amtrak.]

  • Battered by a gale, the 974-foot long Torrey Canyon broke into two pieces eight days after it had wrecked, sending almost all of its remaining cargo of crude oil (50,000 tonnes or more than 1.5 million gallons) into the sea off of the coast of Cornwall. [Long before the Exxon Valdez, one of the first really bad such events I remember.]

  • In what was described as "one of history's most stunning elections", the U.S. state of Florida became "the first two-party state in the south" as the Republican Party won 20 of the 48 seats in the state senate, and 40 of the 119 in the state house of representatives. [That's what happens when the Democratic President became a civil rights supporter.]

  • The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit voted, 8 to 4, to affirm a decision ordering the integration of any remaining racially segregated public schools in the six southern states in its jurisdiction, and to do so in time for the opening of the 1967-1968 school year.

  • In New York City, 10,000 gathered for the Central Park be-in. [A be-in? Must have been one of those hippie things, smoking dope and who knows what else! ;) ]

  • Kicking off a tour with The Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens and Engelbert Humperdinck at The Astoria London, Jimi Hendrix set fire to his guitar on stage for the first time. He was taken to hospital suffering burns to his hands. The guitar-burning act would later become a trademark of Hendrix's performances. [A musical milestone!]

  • This picture was shot in England. 
THE picture.
The photo shoot.

    Wednesday, March 15, 2017

    The Tuning Slide: 2.28

    Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
    Last week I talked about anxiety, specifically performance anxiety and some ways to deal with it. My last point in that post was:
    • Have fun practicing!
      I do this because I enjoy it. I need to enjoy the music I make in practice as well. That is where self one learns to trust self two. Maybe I need to stop the tweaking of my plan to get over performance anxiety- and just learn to do it. No, not learn to do it- just do it. And that takes the ability to focus.
    I realized as I was summing up things last week that performance anxiety is enhanced, if not caused, by distraction or lack of focus. When I am “working on" “dealing with” my anxiety I am NOT focused on the music. Distraction causes me to lose my ability to stay on task- even a task that is simple and deeply ingrained. I found that happen several times last week when I was practicing scales sitting on the balcony. It has been my favorite place to practice this winter- the Gulf of Mexico, the birds, the wonder of the sky and beach all add a sense of peace.

    But only if I don’t focus on them.

    So I was running through one of the basic, level one scales, you know, Bb and Eb concert. Most of us can probably do them in our sleep. But not as well if you get sidetracked by something around you-
    Hey, look at that pelican..
    What a beautiful sky it is today..
    Or, well you get the picture. As soon as even the simplest thought entered consciousness, I would miss notes or my fingers would get flubbed up or I would forget where I was in the scale.

    That is a major problem of mine. I have never been diagnosed as ADD, but I sure can be easily…
    Squirrel!
    …distracted,.

    I have improved in my performance distractibility. For one I have a pair of reading glasses that focus best at about the distance of the music stand. I can’t see the movements in the audience as easily. (Chalk up one good thing for age!) I have also learned how to stay more focused on the director from peripheral vision alignment. That way I can stay focused on the music in front of me and not get lost when moving from looking at the music, then to the director and back again.

    The next step in this process is to deal with focus in practice. That brings me back to
    • planning,
    • goal setting,
    • being intentional in my schedule,
    • keeping a journal,
    • recording myself, and
    • using a metronome.
    Here is where I still struggle. I have improved in the first three, but need work in the next three. I have a hunch that if I learn to increase my overall focus in practice, I will begin to find more of it in performance.

    I can do it- any of us can. The best example of that may be that as Mr. Baca and others at the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop have said:
    If you have six-weeks to learn something- it will take you six months. If you have six days, you will be ready in six-days.
    In the end that may be the best description of focus. Which is why goals, with timelines, are good ideas. They are self-imposed deadlines, yet not so demanding that you resent yourself for imposing them. All in all it is the working on those inner voices that can get us stuck- or soaring to new levels of ability. Focus is being able to sort out the helpful from the unhelpful, the reality from the fear, and learning how to be more in the present. John Raymond, trumpeter and Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop instructor wrote on this in a recent Facebook post.
    About 15 years ago I came to New York for the first time. My dad managed to hook up a lesson with the great Vincent Penzarella and, while I didn't remember this until my dad reminded me a couple weeks ago, he dropped some HEAVY wisdom on me back then. It went something like this:

    VP: "John, why are you here?"

    JR: "I came out to NYC to check out some music schools and I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn from the best."

    VP: "Great! Well, who's been your best teacher?"

    JR: (most likely some immature response, although my first response was much better than I would've given myself credit for back then).

    VP: "The best teacher you'll ever have is your own brain. You know when you are playing and are really in the zone, and then you miss a note. Your brain says "I messed up, oh no." The critical side of your brain can talk very loudly. But you can't be creative when your brain is critical."

    "Your brain allows you to be critical or to be creative, but you can't do both at the same time. The critical side of your brain, especially for a perfectionist in music, can speak very loudly John. You need to learn how to manage that critical side. You are going to have to learn how to talk yourself out of that and let the creative side surface."

    "Your number 2 best teacher is the music. Listen to the music, learn the music, respect the music, love the music, just as it is. It has been around for a lot of years for a reason."

    I only wish I had the maturity back then to internalize all this. Nevertheless, 15 years later and I can confidently say that these words are 100% ON POINT.
    - John Raymond
    Well, it is never too late to internalize it. That’s what these posts and the whole Tuning Slide blog is about. It is moving forward, taking risks, pushing the envelope. It is finding new ways to be a better musician, a better person, and going to new places in our own experience.

    Tuesday, March 14, 2017

    # 6,500 in14 years

    March 9, 2003-
    The starting date of this blog.

    That is fourteen years and 6,500 posts.

    It has been fun and continues to be fun. I have gotten less OCD about making sure I post something every day, but that has given me a freedom to do a bunch of different things with it.

    So, with no further ado, tomorrow we will continue with year 15 and post 6,501.

    See you then.

    Monday, March 13, 2017

    Just Asking...

    I simply typed into Google:
      • Weird Thought for the Day.
    I got several web sites and a few statements that tickled my fancy. So as not to be selfish and unsharing, here are some of them:
    • If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn't it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked and dry cleaners depressed?
    • Why is it that if someone tells you that there are 1 billion stars in the universe you will believe them, but if they tell you a wall has wet paint you will have to touch it to be sure?
    • Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.
    • If quizzes are quizzical, what are tests?
    And one more that is old, but always topical:
    • If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of progress?

    Sunday, March 12, 2017

    Lenten Journey- Sunday 2- In Denial

    If my sinfulness appears to me in any way smaller or less detestable
    in comparison with the sins of others, 
    I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer- Life Together

    “Thank goodness I’m not as bad as that guy over there!” These are words that clearly indicate I am in denial and most certainly on the wrong path. I am making one of the most common of hypocritical statements. Even if I try to modify it in a way that admits, that well, maybe I am sinful, that is usually just a way of allowing me to point out the sins in the other person without guilt.

    As Jesus sat down next to the woman caught in adultery he started doodling in the sand. He looked around at the men (almost certainly no woman would have been allowed in such a place) and made one of the most powerful condemnations of human judgmentalism- “Whoever is without sin may throw the first stone” and he went back to doodling. I imagine the crowd quietly slipping away.

    In the Twelve Step programs of recovery and self-help five of the steps have the person look at themselves and find out what they have been doing wrong. Many balk at what seems to be an extreme self-examination. Yet recovery and growth depend on it.
    • Steps four and five are a personal moral inventory; 
    • Steps eight and nine recommend that the person go and make amends to all they may have harmed, not looking for forgiveness, but honesty; 
    • Step ten says continue to take personal stock of one’s life and promptly admit when we are wrong.
    Rigorous honesty is deeply embedded in the Twelve Steps, not honesty at telling someone else what they have done wrong but honestly admitting to oneself and others what we have done wrong.

    That is one of the major points of Lent. This is a time to take inventory of ourselves. This is not a wallowing in how bad we are. It is not a time of self-flagellation over how we have been so sinful it is hard to believe God can even get close to wanting to give us grace. Those have been part of Lent in many times and places- and still are for many. But that can be counter-productive to living the grace of forgiveness.

    As I have often understood it, it is important to realize that I am in just as much need of grace as anyone I may meet. I got into a discussion with a colleague one time about hoping that someone even as bad as Hitler or Charles Manson could be given the grace that allows them into heaven. My summation was simply that if God’s grace is THAT big, then there is also room for me. I wasn’t trying to say there is universal salvation. I’m not sure the Hitlers, Stalins, or Mansons of the world would want to be in heaven. I was talking about the oversized, one size fits all grace of God. (Please- no theological dissertations here. It was not a statement of doctrine!)


    If I am to know grace and forgiveness- and share it with others- then I have to see my human condition. Which brings me to the Lenten questions to ask myself this week in light of Bonhoeffer’s quote.
    • How do I participate in the sinfulness I am condemning?
    This is perhaps the most difficult thing to do. It is one of those psychological insights that we often rant the loudest and with the most anger at the things we are afraid of in ourselves. "Methinks she doth protest too much!" to misquote Shakespeare, is often used to indicate just that. I must look at the ways i benefit from or encourage the things I am finding sinful.
    • How can I discover when my own defects of character are getting out of control?
    If we take the time to pray and meditate in whatever ways we find helpful, the answers to this question will be quite clear. When I'm lying awake night replaying issues; when I'm filled with anxiety about something I said or did; when I am afraid to face a situation because it hurts emotionally- those could be indications that my shortcomings are our of control.
    • When have I not treated my neighbor with the love and respect I want- and need?
    Is it the way of God- if I only treat my neighbor well only when they earn it, but not at all times; or when they stop doing what I don’t like? How about even when I am upset at them? I need to regularly take THAT inventory. 
    • When have I judged others, casting the first stone, so to speak, instead of recognizing my own shortcomings?
    It is almost a cycle, since this question takes me back to the first one and back through the list again. Such a Lenten discipline can bear incredible fruit in peace and a sense of spiritual direction. These questions can even be the start of finding our what my God's will for me is.

    Does all this mean that I cannot speak out when I see evil being done or when people are being taken advantage of or when situations and individuals are acting in ways contrary to the ways of God? Absolutely not. Part of the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer was his selfless stands challenging the Nazis and the powers that be in the church in Germany. He did not mince words or soft-pedal the condemnations he was seeing. To look at oneself first is not to ignore the evil that may be happening around us. But we cannot do such challenge from a self-righteous position of being better or holier than the others. Only when we see our own self- honestly and in depth- can we begin to see the ways we are called to speak out from humility.

    But that will come later in Lent. For this week, I continue to dig around in my own soul, learning how to be more in touch with the will and work of my higher power.

    Saturday, March 11, 2017

    Playing with Pictures

    One of the wonderful diversions I get to explore on our yearly "snowbird" adventures on the Gulf Coast is my photography. As any long-time readers of these wanderings already know I have been an amateur photographer since I was 10 years old. In the winter I take a lot of pictures and play with pictures I have taken at other times in order to post them on a couple photo websites, Guru and Pixoto.

    This year I have started experimenting more fully with what are called HDR pictures- High Dynamic Range. (See after pictures for a brief explanation.) I have an iPhone app that takes these pictures as well as another app for my Mac that can create HDR from other photos. So here are some of the ones I have played with recently, just for fun. Notice how they have a more "evocative" feel to them. That's Trey Ratcliff's word. His short description and link to his page are below. Enjoy.

    Along Church Street in Bethlehem, PA at Christmas
    Sunset in Alabama.

    Alligator in the Mobile Alabama Delta.
    Brown Pelican at Bon Secour

    Close-up of the Metro-North train as it got closer than below.
    MTA Metro-North commuter train in New Jersey

    Another sunset picture in Gulf Shores, AL

    From Trey Ratcliff web page:
    HDR is short for High Dynamic Range. It is a post-processing task of taking either one image or a series of images, combining them, and adjusting the contrast ratios to do things that are virtually impossible with a single aperture and shutter speed.

    Friday, March 10, 2017

    Reflections on Bonhoeffer

    For the writing I have been doing on the Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes for Lenten Sundays, I have been reading the biography of him by Eric Metaxas. I am learning stuff I never knew about the 1930s in Germany and re-learning things I had long ago forgotten. Three issues have struck me.

    1. Size of Germany- and how quickly Hitler took over. Literally a few months and he already had his storm troopers (SA and SS) ready to take over for the regular army. He was elected on January 31. Less than a month later, February 27 the Reichstag (Parliament) was destroyed in a fire, most likely instigated by the Nazis, though blamed on the communists. Within months of his election Hitler had managed to intimidate, legislate, and coerce the end of democracy in Germany with little to no opposition. We forget that Germany is about the size of our states of Montana or New Mexico. Consolidation of power was easier than say it would be in a country as spread out and diverse as the United States. Fortunately!

    2. Taking over the church was part of the plan. It was already a state church when Hitler came to power. He hated the church and religion and was determined to co-opt and destroy it. The Deutsche Kristens (German Christians) movement sought to make it a Reichskirche, a Nazi religion. The almost succeeded but the Nazis were too open about their "theology" and its Nazi ideology. Instead, the overall German Evangelical Church (Lutheran) continued as the state church and was marginalized.

    3. The ineffectiveness of the church in being the church. As a Christian, former pastor, religious individual, this was one more bit of data to add to what I have often seen. In general, the church as we know it has very little effect against such powerful odds. One reason is that it is easy to co-opt the church. One does not have to live in Nazi Germany to see this. Church historian Martin Marty named it "Civil Religion" in the United States. We see it every time we say or believe that we as a nation have a special place in God's favor. It is a mixing of patriotism, nationalism, and Christianity. It easily divides Christians along political and ideological lines and shoehorns theology into whatever we want it to say.

    People like Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoeller worked at resistance and changing the way things were going. They did not succeed. They were steamrollered out of the way, co-opted by the Nazis and their supporters in the church. They became the "heretics" while those who were twisting Christian theology into Nazi propaganda were the official guardians of "correct theology." They were marginalized by laws making it illegal to be anything but a member of the official state church.

    I am glad we have never had a state church in the United States. The general term "Christian" has often been seen unofficially as that. Evangelicals and Fundamentalists have acted that way. I hope we can manage to keep from allowing religion and state to become mixed up.

    But there will be more thoughts on that in some of the upcoming Lenten Sunday posts. Back to my reading. I'll keep you informed.

    Thursday, March 09, 2017

    Some Movie Reflections (A Little Late)

    But better late than never?

    Sure, why not?

    I loved Moonlight.
    That an indie film made it to the Best Picture is almost too much to believe. That it was about the coming of age of a gay man makes it even more surprising. That that gay man is African American. Beyond belief. The acting was amazing; the plot was an interesting take on the development of the main character. Very well-deserved Best Picture.

    La La Land was overrated,but still of good quality!
    I enjoy musicals and some have been magnificent. (Chicago and Sound of Music come to mind.) This one was definitely well above average. The "jazz" theme was right up my alley.  At the same time I was not impressed by the stars' so-so singing and the way Hollywood is always so ready to pat itself on the back. I was afraid that a movie about a white jazz musician would overpower four other excellent movies with Black stars. I'm glad it didn't.

    Hidden Figures was powerful. I left this one crying with joy for what these women were able to do only 50 years ago. While there were scenes clearly meant to ease my white guilt, such as knocking down the bathroom sign, it gave a chilling vision of what racism can do to individuals- and how those individuals can overcome it. I found myself reaffirming the absolute need to address continuing issues of systemic racism and white, male privilege.

    Fences was a tour de force in bringing a stage drama to the screen. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis inhabited these characters like no other. They knew them intimately and allowed us to see their lives, strengths, weaknesses, and above all else, their humanity. I am a fan of stage drama and was pleased to see the power with which they managed to translate this to the screen without using a lot of different movie techniques- just enough to put movement into the life.

    Lion was my favorite of the year and a close runner-up in my book for Best Picture. The first half with the young actor moving across India was mesmerizing. The epic nature of the journey, a real journey to boot, was beautifully portrayed. Dev Patel has come a long way since Slumdog Millionaire and has become a top-notch actor. He has chops! This was the real tear-jerker for me. What a wondrous movie.

    I didn't see Hacksaw Ridge, but am grateful that Mel Gibson gave us a story of a conscientious objector war hero. I am going to see it on DVD. One does not have to carry a gun to be a hero, even in war. Maybe the violence was a little over the top, as some have said, but I have a hunch that any war violence will appear over the top and not even get close to the terror, tedium, and trauma of the real thing. War is hell. Sometimes some people are able to bring some life and presence into it.

    I also hope to see the other nominated movies. They sound as intriguing as the ones I have seen. In short, it looks like it was another good Academy Award season. Too bad we have to wait so long for the next one.

    Wednesday, March 08, 2017

    The Tuning Slide: 2.27- Anxiety

    Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

    I’ve written about performance anxiety before- and my 45 year battle with it. Last May I described what I have always considered my initial bout with it on a Memorial Day over 50 years ago. (I will repeat that post at the end of May, by the way.) Throughout this year I have continued to work on it and I am finding myself improving. I have sorted out some of the other issues like perfectionism, making a fool of myself, worry about what people will think, letting myself down, letting the other musicians down, letting the audience down, and on and on.

    No wonder I get performance anxiety- that’s a lot of heavy-duty baggage I carry around to every performance.

    One thing I have taken note of is that performance anxiety does not generally happen in rehearsals, although there have been exceptions. That usually happens a) in the larger groups when all of a sudden (as if I didn’t know it was coming? Right!) I have a part that stands out, and b) in a final rehearsal before a concert. In fact most of the time in rehearsal my self-improvement plan of the last two years has shown positive results for me. I am generally pleased with how things continue to fall into place. I more often than not leave a practice session feeling fulfilled and relaxed.

    But some of the signs of the anxiety still show up in the performances- overly concerned with what’s going to happen, dry mouth, some nervousness, the feeling down deep somewhere that I’m about to blow it- again. It’s not happening as much as it used to, but it’s still there and I continue to tweak my methods.

    Looking back in my notes from the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop the other day I found this list of ways to deal with it. I don’t remember (and didn’t note) if this was from one particular lecture at the workshop or a combination of things from different places. If I am neglecting to give someone credit, my apologies. Let me know and I will give you the props for it. In any case, here is the basic note with my updates and thoughts about each as I have worked on it this past year.

    To deal with performance anxiety:
    • Don't be overly concerned about what other people think of you.
      They probably don’t even notice when things aren’t perfect. I have done some improvising- as part of the big band and at a jam session. I am looking to do more of that to help me continue to gain the skills of listening and translating it into the language of the trumpet. I am learning that when I do that, people are usually on my side and want me to do well. No one is sitting there saying, “I really want Barry to mess this up!”
    • Put the performance in perspective
      One performance in terms of whole career? It’s a lot smaller deal than I am making it. Not to mention that I am not doing this as a career. In the while scheme of things any given performance is not all that earth-changing, especially at my level. Yes, there are performances that do make a difference, but most of them aren’t. By experiencing performing without anxiety, I can learn that I am able to perform better than I thought.
    • Breathe. Be in the moment.
      I talk a lot about this- and can utilize it in many ways, except on stage! On stage it seems to enhance the concerns and anxiety instead of easing them. That probably means I need to practice my mindfulness with less depending on it. It does work, but it can’t if I focus my breathing on how I’m about to mess up. Relax- and tell Self One to just be quiet!
    • Take the emotion from the music, not the other way around.
      We are the conduit. Let the music do the talking. Let the horn speak. This is part of the focus we seek in our practice. Did I say practice? I know that too often when practicing something more difficult or a solo part, I tend to look too much on the technical quality of what I am doing. By the time I get to a concert or gig the technical part shouldn’t be a problem. I should be moving well beyond that in my practice room and into the groove, emotion, rhythm, and style of the piece. In rehearsals I should be listening to how my part fits into the greater whole. Whether it is a concert band solo or improvising in a big band piece, I need to know the emotion of the music… and all music isn’t stuck in my emotion of anxiety.
    • Think like someone else.
      Like Miles or Maynard? Well, maybe, but in reality what I almost have to do is begin to think like a person who can play the part- and play it well. I am not the bumbling musician that self one is convinced I am. I know what I am doing- again, especially if I have given practice the time and energy it needs.
    • You are a person who plays trumpet, not a trumpet player who happens to be a person
      It’s like going in a circle- I am back to the first of these ideas. My personal dignity, worth, or self is not the trumpet, t’s in being who I am. THAT is what I want to share through the horn. I am learning how to do that, which makes it easier to put the anxiety aside.
    • Have fun practicing!
      I do this because I enjoy it. I need to enjoy the music I make in practice as well. That is where self one learns to trust self two. Maybe I need to stop the tweaking of my plan to get over performance anxiety- and just learn to do it. No, not learn to do it- just do it. And that takes the ability to focus. We’ll get to that next week.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    By the way, I am going to end year 2 of the Tuning Slide at the end of March. Last year I kept going and then ran into the idea of publishing it which entailed design and editing as well as the actual publishing. This year I’m going to be going at it a little differently. I will have more to say about that in a couple weeks. The posts will continue with repeating the jazz series from last summer before heading into some new ideas. Again, more on that in a few weeks. If anyone has anything you would like me to talk about in the next couple weeks, let me know.

    Tuesday, March 07, 2017

    Hard Work If You Try It

    Monday was a truly spectacular day on the Alabama Gulf Coast. We don't normally get big waves and heavy surf. But when it happens, it is amazing! About an hour before sunset I happened to glance out and saw what I thought was a kite, although it seemed quite large for normal kite-flying, I then noticed the guy in a wet suit holding on to the lower end of the kite. What a day for Kitesurfing! Winds up to 35 miles per hour! Needless to say I grabbed the camera and my wife watched an amazing display of athletic ability.

    (Above) You get a good idea of the size of the kite- and the small size of the person. Amazing.

    (Below) The waves were rolling and this guy was making the best of it, while holding on for dear life, I am sure.

    I was never sure if the kite pulled him up off the water or whether he kind of jumped up. It didn't make much difference- he was doing somersaults while the kite just pulled him.
    I don't know how long he had been playing in the surf when I first saw him, but there is 45 minutes between the first picture above and the one below. Needless to say he was pulled quite a way west on the beach. He was not walking very fast.



    Earlier I got this picture of him as he surfed a few feet off shore. I cropped in close to show the Great Blue Heron sitting there calmly watching this crazy human.

    Hey, when we don't have wings, we have to do with what we got.

    Sunday, March 05, 2017

    Lenten Journey- Sunday 1- Trust to the Word

    Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic.
    Do not defend God's word, but testify to it.
    Trust to the Word.
    It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity.
    -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    In this quote Bonhoeffer was talking about preaching. He said it to his ordinands at the “illegal” seminary he was leading during the war. Over the years he had become convinced of the importance of knowing the Word of God, not a particularly popular topic, especially in that moment of German-based theology. He had studied under the modern critical-thinking theologians and had great respect for them, but he was also a friend and follower of Karl Barth who did not feel the same way. The Bible, the Word of God, needs no defending. It is always relevant.

    Perhaps in less demanding times than Bonhoeffer lived in there is the luxury of digging into the Word in different ways, parsing the nuances. But Bonhoeffer had seen in the Black American Church a different way. There was the need to be faithful in the midst of suffering, he discovered, never dreaming in his worst moments that this idea would become so essential in his beloved homeland. To the African American experience of the early 1930s he owed a debt of deepest faith. They taught him the forever relevance of the Bible, even when it may not always seem that way.

    I have to be honest about how I look at the Bible. It is, of course, the product of its time. As I read passages about the subservient role of women in the church I know I am hearing only one side of a story- the side that did the final editing. As I read some of Jesus’ words there is a clear disconnect with other teachings of his. It is easy to twist and turn the meaning of words to fit what you need. I remember being at a youth conference where the preacher excitedly made a quote from the Book of Job. I scratched my head since that quote did not fit the book as I remembered it. So I looked it up. It was from the Book of Job, but they were words from one of the false comforters trying to explain to Job why he was suffering. It sounded good when preached, but they were words that God discounted a few chapters later.

    Everything I need to know about living a faithful life is in the book- and that, Bonhoeffer would say- is all I need to know.

    Even today in this time of division and uncertainty. Even today when some “preachers” seem to say that if you disagree with the president you are following the Devil. You are Satanic. Even today in a world that has such different views of history, creation, government, people than in the time of the Biblical authors. How then can we find the relevance?

    1. Be honest about yourself.
    Don’t think more highly than you ought to think. Your opinion of yourself will seriously impact my view of what I see in the Word. I may ignore the passages that challenge me- and emphasize how they challenge someone else. But we do think better of ourselves. Research has shown that we often think of ourselves in the top 20% or higher- even when all the evidence says we’re not.
    How can I become open to letting my own behavior be the first place I challenge and look to change?

    2. Be prayerful!
    Bonhoeffer did not see how anyone could preach without having the discipline of prayer. It was inconceivable to him!
    Bonhoeffer was not a “Fundamentalist” nor was he a “Liberal.” It is wrong to put opinions from the last 70 years into his thoughts. He was faithful! He knew what the Bible was all about, and that was not necessarily rules and regulations. It was about being in communion with God and others. That starts in and with prayer.
    How can I be more prayerful and prayerfully mindful this Lent?

    3. Be open to other points of view than your own.
    In spite of what some churches, preachers, and others may think, they do not have all the answers. No one does. A quote I’ve heard many times says If I can understand and explain God, than I’m not talking about God. Or, put another way, such a God that I can understand is not worth worshiping. There may be truth found in different opinions, something important to learn, but not everything can be true at all times. That can be confusing, sure. But in a prayerful life, we can learn discernment.
    How can I find ways to listen, explore, and seek for insights, even in those with whom I may disagree?

    4. Be willing to stand on your convictions.
    Being wishy-washy will get us nowhere. Yes, there are broader truths and understandings than I may be willing to admit. Yes, I may even be wrong sometimes in my opinions. But when it is necessary, I must be willing to stand by what I believe.
    How (and when) have I been afraid to speak my convictions?

    5. Be obedient to God’s word.
    When I discover all these things above (and others that I will add to this over these weeks), I then must be obedient. This understanding of The Word is not just (or even) an intellectual exercise. It is a discovery of what I am called to do and how I am called to live in my life. Most of the time this can be quite easy. I am fortunate to live in a time and place where that is possible. Bonhoeffer, in the end was not. The fear of many in this time- and it was a fear of others for the past eight years (see # 3 above!)- is that this could change. I need to learn the discipline of obedience now, when it is safer, so it will be a habit if it changes.
    Where is my obedience lacking or less than it can be?

    In the end, putting this all together with the world I am living in that has spurred this spiritual journey, I can perhaps look to Bonhoeffer’s mentor for a piece of advice I have heard for over 45 years:
    Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. 
    But interpret newspapers from your Bible.
    -Karl Barth
    May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to God, my Creator!

    Thursday, March 02, 2017

    The Tuning Slide: 2.26- Watching and Listening

    Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

    Sometime it is just neat to be in the audience when music is being made. Part of the discipline of being a musician is to go and hear others playing in performance. I have had a number of opportunities to do that over the past few months and have come away with some insights that I hope I can apply to my own public performance. In particular I have had the time to hear some types of music that I don’t personally play. When I go to a concert where I am hearing different types of music, I kind of mentally prepare myself with five questions. These help me focus on the music, not so much from a technical aspect but from the perspective of a music fan. These questions:
    • What’s familiar?
    • What’s different?
    • What’s new and interesting?
    • What do I like about it?
    What can help me in my own playing and performance?

    The most interesting concert for me was the Russian String Orchestra in a relatively small (500 seat) venue. It wasn’t quite like sitting by the stage in a club environment, but it was close. I very seldom get to hear strings in person. And even less do I get to hear “just strings” in person. Strings have a unique and wondrous sound in an orchestral setting. I can still remember the first time I heard an orchestra in person. I was 22 and just about to graduate from college. I spent the summer in Austria and there I heard a chamber orchestra perform in a local cathedral. I was swept away. The sound of such an ensemble is hard to match.

    The Russian String Orchestra consists of 16 string players, violin to double bass. My first thought was, “Gee, that’s about how many we have in our big band.” But there wasn’t a trumpet, trombone, saxophone - or amplifier- in sight. Which is the first thing that caught me up short; this is a 100% acoustic performance. There’s no manipulation of the sound, what is there is what you hear. It is not a “large” sound, but it does get through. It has an amazing range of dynamics. The quiet subtlety of a pianissimo section is almost breathtaking in its simplicity- and wonder. That they can easily move from that to a fortissimo that brings thunderstorms to mind is even more amazing. The ability to have that kind of control over one’s instrument is almost miraculous.

    Which is the first thing I took away from the concert. The hours of practice it takes to be that controlled in your music is critical, as I have talked about before. But to hear the results of that practice shows what a great gift it can be to the audience. Trumpet players aren’t traditionally known for their subtlety. Maybe it is worth working on that. Yes, it is difficult in a big band of brass and woodwinds to get that, but the result- for the audience- is priceless. Music is not just blasting away or developing high screaming notes or even a fast chromatic run. The silence between the notes may be just as important, which is where the subtlety can be born.

    The concert itself was purely “classical” string music-style. No pop numbers adapted for strings. It was the real deal. And, no surprise, it used all the same notes that every other band I play in uses. The rich variety of music available to us to hear and play is remarkable. On top of that, it also follows many of the same rules that I have been working on with my jazz improvisational learning, and most certainly what I find in Arban’s, Clarke, or Charlier etudes.

    The second thing I did was I listened more closely to get the groove of the music. I could pick out certain musical progressions that I am trying to become intimate with- variations on the ii-V7-I cadence found in so many jazz and popular numbers were there. So was the eight-bar phrasing at times, giving me the movement I could flow with. Hearing the music being moved around the different instruments, allowing each section and, on one piece, each member, to show off their virtuosity was entrancing. I moved with the music- and it became even more alive.

    Again, how much work goes into that? These musicians were more than proficient- they were professionally expert! Part of what they have done is to learn the music, feel the rhythm, and then allow the music to transfer through them and their instrument to their fellow musicians and to the audience. That is back to the control of their instrument (remember self one) allowing the natural development of the music to intuitively come out (remember self two.) But what I took away for me, beyond the practice and “Inner Game” thoughts, is again those three things we have talked about before:
    1. Every time you play you have a great- not a good- sound.
    2. You have great- not good- rhythm.
    3. You have great- not good- ears to hear the sound.
    All three of those came together with what I was hearing.

    The third thing that I have learned to watch when musicians are performing is how do they look? Are they just doing a job, or are they interested, engaged, even excited. I had seen that in a concert of Irish music and dancing the week before. Those young people were remarkable in their raw energy and their ability to harness it for the show. They were not polished like, say, Riverdance. But they were every bit as good. They were excited by the performance and the engagement with us the audience.

    I saw that same kind of excitement with the Russian Strings. They were having fun. Being in such a small venue I could easily watch their faces, their eyes, the movement of their bodies. I saw them look across the orchestra and smile when someone did a great job. I watched them lean into the music and get ready for the next section that was important to them personally. I saw the little communications that passed information from one to the other. They were intensely involved in the music, they liked the music, and they were excited to be able to play it.

    Part of that comes from their incredible intimacy with the music and the way they have learned to listen and work with each other. They may all be highly skilled, but they clearly know at this point in their careers that they need each other. I hope they never lose that. Part of it, too, is that they, like the Irish group the week before, truly like what they are doing. They get that from their conductor. He loved directing the music; he loved the opportunities this orchestra gives young people; he is excited by sharing it with us in the audience, even when the microphone didn’t work as well as he wanted it to. He was contagious- the orchestra caught it. The orchestra was contagious- and we caught it.

    It was a great evening of music. But it was also a great evening of learning for me and a reminder of why I do what I do with my music. Yes, it feels great to be able to build my chops and, for example, move through 12 major scales with little effort, or (Mr. Baca, Steve, and Warren take note) regularly hitting that high “C” and “D”. But if that is all I do, it will be nothing more than a selfish endeavor. It is in the performance that the true magic of music does its work. Therefore:
    • Deliberate practice to be able to give better performances. Develop the breadth and subtlety of the music.
    • Maintain the interest in finding new ways to be excited by what I am doing.
    • Stay engaged with the music and the groove in performance so it can fit together.
    • Put all these together on the bandstand or concert stage.
    • Be contagious and let the audience catch it.