The Case Against Haydn, Part 3

Jul 11, 2014

It’s easy to criticize a system as imperfect as auditions, which is what I have done so far.  It is far more difficult to make positive suggestions. So with that in mind, based on the audition rounds described above, I would like to offer some suggestions about repertoire for the various rounds. These suggestions are meant only to give ideas and not to be final recommendations, and my hope is that these suggestions will be criticized and discussed, which might lead to a more thoughtful consideration of possible repertoire choices for orchestral trumpet auditions.

Round One

Principal Trumpet

  • Pictures at an Exhibition (Promenade) – for sound and phrasing
  • Petroushka Ballerina’s Dance or Ravel Piano Concerto (opening) – for technique
  • Beethoven Leonore 2 and 3 offstage signals – for interpretation and style
  • Mahler 5 – for power and drama
  • Respighi Pini di Roma offstage solo – for lyrical and dolce playing

Trumpet 2 and 4

  • all or some of the above, plus Mahler 3 last movement solo and/or Britten Young Person’s Guide

Trumpet 3

* Strauss Symphonia Domestica

* Strauss Don Quixote or Ein Heldenleben (either first Bb or first Eb trumpet)

* Prokofieff – cornet solos from either Lt. Kije or Romeo and Juliet

* Mahler 5

Round Two   Principal Trumpet

  • Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, movements 1, 2, and 5
  • Tchaikowsky – Swan Lake cornet solo
  • Mahler 3 posthorn solo and chorale in final movement
  • Bach Magnificat or B Minor Mass
  • Shostakovich Piano Concerto

Trumpet 2 and/or 4

  • Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, movements 1, 2, and 5
  • Stravinsky – the Firebird Suite
  • Mahler  7
  • Brahms  2
  • Carmen

Trumpet 3

  • Debussy La Mer cornet solos
  • Ravel Daphnis and Chloe
  • Britten Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes
  • Tchaikowsky Capriccio Italien cornet solos
  • Other standard excerpts that the principal trumpet would not play

Round Three :  This round would contain repertoire that could highlight both strengths and weaknesses of candidates who pass the first two rounds. As mentioned earlier, a main goal of this round is to not only find the best player/musician but also somebody whose musical personality fits as well as possible with the orchestra in question.   Many people reading this will have doubts about the orchestral audition material I have listed for rounds 1, 2 and 3. No matter – I believe that the main issue is larger than what specific pieces should be asked in which round, and this main issue is that the standard audition tradition needs to be re-thought, and that each orchestra should have specific goals for each round. I have given my own ideas, but they are meant to begin a discussion, not to be the final answer. A standard phrase in America is, “If it’s not broken don’t fix it.” The results of most auditions, however, certainly seem to indicate that the system is broken and not functioning properly, and so I think it is in an orchestra’s best interest to consider a new paradigm for how auditions are held in the future.


Dec 6, 2017

When I see the word failure, I think of a day many years ago in San Antonio.

I was 25 years old and had been playing with the San Antonio Symphony for three seasons (the first season as associate principal trumpet, the second and third as principal). The orchestra was leaving on tour for a week, but I was staying home, because I had caught chicken pox from a friend’s young daughter. The doorbell rang. The postman handed me a registered letter. I opened it and read that I had been fired from the orchestra for “lack of development in phrasing and musical articulation.”

It was not a good way to start the week and, more importantly, not a good way to start a career. You could say it was a failure with a capital F.

I still had to finish out the final four months of the season and wondered how I should handle the rest of the season. So I called Irving Bush, who not only was one of my teachers but a close family friend and a man of great integrity. I asked Irving what I should do, and he told me to play as well as I possibly could, handle myself with dignity, and leave with my head held high.

It was valuable advice, and I did my best to follow it the rest of the season. The politics in the orchestra were very tense and paranoid at that time, and I was just one of a group of musicians who had been fired. But because of Irving’s advice, my final months with the orchestra went well, and I learned a lot. As a result, what started as a failure ended up being a great experience for me. In fact, as crazy as it seems, I look back on it with a certain fondness.

I learned a number of important lessons from that experience, but two stand out. First, you can’t control outside circumstances; you can only control yourself and your actions. And second, people who talk the loudest in a crisis are often the first to fold, while the quiet ones are sometimes the strongest. I think, for example, of Leland Sharrock, a hornist in the orchestra. Leland was married with a young child, and yet he put his job at risk in order to support the musicians who were fired. That kind of courage is not forgotten.

So, although failure is never fun, I try to see it (in the words of self-help author Tim Ferriss) as a feedback mechanism. To me, that means to reflect honestly on the experience and, if possible, determine what could have been done differently.

I also try to remember that if you take risks, you will inevitably fail at times. I love a quote from the actress Vera Farmiga, who said in an interview, “You can only go as far as you risk.” Which means I will have to keep pushing myself to risk more, which means I will fail more.

So although it is never fun, I am trying to embrace failure as much as I want to embrace success.

I'm not an expert.

Dec 6, 2017

I’m not an expert… on anything. This idea occurred to me gradually over many years, and I’ve now come to terms with it. Here’s why:

For me, an expert is someone who knows a lot about a little. Take, for example, the field of Baroque or Renaissance music. Bruce Dickey is arguably the world’s greatest cornetto player, while Friedemann Immer has recorded Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #2 at least nine or ten times on the Baroque natural trumpet. (He’s so good that I’ve lost count.) These two players are world-class experts in their field. Yet they would not be my first choice to play Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. For that I would go to one of the many great orchestral players around the world.

Yes, there are players who are experts in several different fields. As an example, Gabriele Cassone is equally brilliant in his approach to both Baroque and modern music. But I believe he’s the rare exception and not the rule.

I’m not a person who knows a lot about a little. You might say, instead, that I know a little about a lot. I’ve played in orchestras, I’ve played natural trumpet (with varying degrees of success), and I’ve played modern music, chamber music, and solos. Of course, that was in the past. These days I teach and compose.

Is it better to learn a lot about a little, or a little about a lot? I’m not sure you have to choose. I think it’s possible to be an expert in one area of music while continuing to learn and be a non-expert in other areas. And conversely, a person who is broadly based and without a speciality can study with an expert to improve in that particular area. This kind of cross-pollination is a healthy thing. In sports it’s called cross-training, and it’s an accepted part of any athletic regimen.

I try to improve in all the different areas of music I participate in, and I’m happy not being an expert. But it sure is fun to try.

Motivation and the Three Tier-System

Dec 6, 2017

Motivation seems to be a hot topic these days. There are motivational speakers and motivational authors. People constantly are looking for motivation. And motivation does have its uses. It’s great for getting started on a project or even a career.

But there’s a problem: motivation doesn’t last forever, and then what happens when you don’t feel motivated? A lot of sports stars use the idea of “Go hard or go home,” but nobody can go hard indefinitely. For most of us, it’s more like “Go hard, eventually lose motivation, and go home.” If you are counting on motivation as a lifelong stimulus, I think you’re destined for disappointment.

Motivation is important, but it’s not the only way or even the best way to get things done. A better approach is what I call the Three-Tier System. The three tiers are motivation, discipline, and habit.

The first tier, motivation, is a good way to get started on most projects. It can carry us during the early stages, when we’re excited about the project. To me, it’s a little like having a crush or falling in love—it’s a thrill and a rush. But then you form a relationship and maybe get married, and over time the thrill begins to fade—to be replaced, we hope, by a certain maturity. Joseph Campbell called this going from passion to compassion. Maybe you show compassion by washing the dishes or mowing the lawn, which are not exactly a thrill. This is where the second tier comes in: discipline.

As a composer, I can’t count on always being motivated to sit down and write. My schedule can vary greatly from day to day or even month to month, so I often need discipline to get the work done. I can distinctly remember several evenings when I had two hours to compose and basically had no creative ideas at all. Two hours of practicing the trumpet with bad chops is certainly no fun, but two hours of composing with no ideas can seem like an eternity. In spite of that, I look on those particular sessions as being very important for me. I was beginning to build my discipline muscle.

But even discipline will only take us so far, which brings us to the third tier: habit. It has been shown that we have a limited amount of discipline, much less than we think. The challenge, then, is to build a system that still works when discipline fails. That system is habit. You don’t have to be motivated or even disciplined to brush your teeth every morning; it’s simply a habit. And so, if we can move our important work into the area of habit, that work will get done. In my career as a trumpet player, practicing was a habit; if I didn’t practice a lot and consistently, not only did I not play as well, I just didn’t feel right.
It would be nice if we could move every long-term task from discipline into habit, but I’m not sure that’s possible. With some tasks, as with my composing on a schedule that may change every day, I have to rely more on discipline than habit.

The three-tier system can be used not only for specific projects but also for the building of a successful career: motivation gets us started, followed by the hard work of discipline, and finally the routine of habit. Following that pattern means that when motivation fades, it’s not the end of the game; it’s simply part of the transition to attaining mastery.

"Who Cares?"

Nov 7, 2017

It seems as though some of the best lessons in life come when one is least expecting them. 

One such lesson for me came years ago when I was still a member of the Summit Brass Ensemble. This was after a two-week summer seminar, and we were warming up for the second day of a two-day recording session. The first day had been brutal… a full day of recording difficult and very strenuous music. But it was even more brutal for Ray Mase, who was the designated piccolo trumpet player with Summit. As I was passing by Ray while we warmed up, I was just making conversation when I said, “So, how are your chops feeling this morning?” And Ray answered, “Who cares?”

What Ray meant was that it didn’t matter at all how his chops felt; he had a job to do and somehow had to find a way to do it. I think that, like most people, I have had a tendency to rely too heavily on how I feel on a given day or at a given moment. As in: (as a trumpet player) ”My chops feel bad, so it will be hard to play well”; or (as a composer), “I didn’t get nearly enough sleep last night, so it will be difficult to compose well.” That approach, of course, was and is a recipe for disaster, and also a clever excuse for not doing my best.

As a young player, I had one lesson with Adolph Herseth of the Chicago Symphony, and during the course of the lesson I asked Herseth what he did when he had to play a difficult solo with bad chops. He replied that he concentrated only on how that excerpt would sound if played beautifully—and said that he felt some of his best concerts were played with bad chops, simply because he had to concentrate with total focus on how an excerpt should sound. So over time I gradually adopted a rather strange way of viewing difficult future concerts, and it seemed to help me quite a bit. Whereas in the past if I had a difficult concert to play I would think, “I sure hope I have good chops for that concert,” I now would just assume that I would have bad chops for the concert. That way, if I had bad chops it would be no problem because I was expecting it, but if I had good chops it would be a bonus.

To me this question pertains to all aspects of life: how to do our best when conditions are not optimal. Because, if you really think about it, conditions are rarely optimal. That is the challenge we face every day. To help me in my daily struggle with this challenge there are several quotes that I keep at the piano where I compose. One is from Alistair Cooke: “A pro is someone who can do great work when they don’t feel like it.” The other is perhaps my favorite, and it comes from Gil McDougald, a Hall of Fame second baseman with the New York Yankees from 1951-1960. The quote is crude but also direct and to the point: “Anybody can have a great day when they feel great and a horseshit day when they feel horseshit. The question is, can you have a great day when you feel horseshit?” That is the challenge.

Spitwads and the Smoking Trombone

Oct 24, 2017

My first real experience playing with an orchestra came when I was eighteen years old and joined the American Youth Symphony in Los Angeles. At the first rehearsal I was fifth trumpet; by the second rehearsal I was second trumpet. That’s not as impressive as it sounds—the other three players never showed up again.

The principal trumpet was Ron Kidd, and ever since that first rehearsal we have been close friends. Ron eventually left the orchestra and the trumpet to become a writer. He was always a good trumpet player, but now he is a great writer. After Ron left I became principal trumpet, but when I think back to those days, my favorite time in the orchestra was when I was second trumpet. At that time Ron sat to my right, and immediately to my left was Jock Ellis, the principal trombonist. And, believe me, there is only one Jock Ellis!

But there was another person who made playing in the AYS such a memorable experience, and that was the conductor Mehli Mehta (father of Zubin). He loved big pieces from the Romantic era and in addition loved loud brass playing. And we loved to give it to him. That was a time of such idealism, of listening to records all night long and comparing different orchestras. Of course, our only criterion was this: which brass section could play the loudest.

So, we were a very loud brass section. But we were also a very funny brass section, and in this area there was no doubt as to who our leader was. It was Jock.

Jock had a fascination with his trombone and loved to fool around with it. He quickly discovered that the leadpipe, with the slide removed, was perfect for blowing spitwads. Now, all orchestras, youth or professional, have a couple of musicians who are, well, impressed with themselves. In the AYS it was a horn player. Jock took care of him one day during a horn solo by shooting a spitwad that landed on the guy’s left ear. Mehta yelled at the horn player for missing the notes, and we couldn’t stop laughing. In addition to Jock’s aim, his power was also impressive, and he hit a wall clock on the other side of the room. That spitwad was on the clock for at least five years and may still be there.

Jock’s fascination with his trombone didn’t stop there. Once he came to a rehearsal with a beautiful new trombone, a silver Conn 88-H with an F-attachment. Although he didn’t smoke, Jock lit up a cigarette during rehearsal, took a big drag, and blew smoke into his trombone, capturing it inside with the F-attachment. He then waited for a loud brass passage, and when he started to play he released the F-attachment, sending smoke out the bell. Jock had achieved what every brass player dreams of. We were on the floor.

In a recent email, Jock reminded me of an incident that involved the Rossini Overture “La gazza ladra.” It’s probably best if Jock tells this in his own words: “As the long orchestra crescendo built, I raised my horn for the wonderful ladders of scales dear Rossini had written for me. I turned to you and Ron, cupped my hand as if cradling my hanging nuts, and exclaimed, ‘Molti testi!’ Then I blew as loud as I could. Probably louder. Mehta threw down his baton, undo, and suddenly he started laughing. When he composed himself and picked up his stick, he said to the orchestra, ‘You see the power! You see the power of that one instrument! By himself he can slow down the entire orchestra!’”

When I think back to those days, I remember the fun and crazy times we had. Mostly, though, I’m grateful I was able to play for a conductor who shared our passion and love for music. All young musicians should have such luck!

Online Teaching and Coaching

Mar 30, 2017

For many years I’ve had the great opportunity to teach brass players from around the world, but they’ve always come to me or I’ve gone to them. However, that’s about to change. Starting in April we will meet halfway between, in cyberspace. And anyone in the world can join us. I’ll explain… but first I need to tell you something about myself.

In 1976 I left a secure position with the Utah Symphony to follow a very insecure dream: being a trumpet soloist and composer. At that time, the only full-time trumpet soloist in the world was Maurice Andre, so the thought of making a living as a soloist was idealistic. And making a living as a composer? That was way past idealistic, bordering on foolish. My plan was to return to Los Angeles, my hometown, where I would do some freelancing and struggle with being very poor for a couple of years. Once my career got off the ground, I figured I would be, well, less poor.

But I caught a break about a month before I left the Utah Symphony. My teacher, Tom Stevens, called and said he had arranged a teaching job for me in Los Angeles at California State University Northridge (CSUN). So I could start my solo career being less poor, rather than very poor. When I began at CSUN in September 1976, my first student was Elia Pirozzi. Elia and I developed a friendship, lost touch with each other, and then spoke on the phone last summer. Elia no longer plays the trumpet, but he has had a distinguished career as a judge in Southern California.

In the 41 years since leaving the Utah Symphony, I’ve gone from being an orchestral trumpet player, to being a trumpet soloist and composer, to giving up the trumpet and composing full-time. During all those years, the one constant in my professional life has been teaching. Teaching has taken me to colleges and universities across the United States and to countries throughout the world, including Japan, Australia, Switzerland, France, Spain, all of Scandanavia, and Germany, where I live. Being a teacher has enabled me, ironically, to be a student my entire life, to learn about different cultures and to experience our shared humanity.
But now, with the Internet, the possibilities for teaching and learning go beyond geographical boundaries. To study with someone, you don’t need to be in the same room with them, or the same city, or even the same country. Technology has opened up new ways of learning (master classes and interviews on YouTube are favorites of mine), and clearly we’ve just scratched the surface. In my own case, technology means I’ll be able to teach anyone in the world, as long as they have access to the Internet and Skype or a similar program.

This is my way of announcing a new venture: online teaching and coaching. In a few months I’ll have a website giving all the details, but I’m open for business in the meantime, starting the week of April 10. If you’d like more information, please email me at [email protected].

This will be an exciting time for me, and I think the possibilities are huge. So… stay tuned!!

Older Than Thou

Feb 6, 2017

My favorite trumpet player in the world is Allan Dean. He is a consummate musician and is comfortable playing basically any type of music—Renaissance music (on the cornetto and other instruments), Baroque music, orchestral music, chamber music, and jazz. Everything that he does sounds natural, relaxed, and “right.” You never hear the player, only the music. In an age of so many players playing so many notes, he can say so much with so little.

Being an extremely versatile player, Alan disapproves of musical rigidity. A number of years ago he attended a Renaissance / Baroque conference, and afterward he told me how opinionated the experts were about authentic performance practice. Allan called their dogmatism “Older than thou.”

In my own career, I first got my real dose of authentic performance practice when I did a teaching exchange with Edward Tarr during the winter of 1984, with Ed subbing for me at the University of Southern California while I taught for him at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland. Many of the students knew more than I did about Baroque music and how to phrase in an authentic style, so it was a tremendous learning experience for me. Many of the things I learned during that semester I still apply to classical, romantic, and modern music, as well as to Renaissance and Baroque music.

Still, the question of authentic performance practice isn’t a simple one. Several years before I went to Basel, I was at a chamber music festival where a featured artist was the great flute soloist Ransom Wilson. At dinner one evening, he told a group of us about a Baroque music recording he had done in which he had used modern phrasing concepts. He made the point that such a choice was not, after all, a question of morality or ethics. At the time his argument made perfect sense to me. But these days I’m a little more confused about the issue, as I believe that one of the great joys and perhaps even responsibilities in life is always to be a student and always to learn. And in this case, perhaps being a student means trying to learn new ways of phrasing old music.

For a long time I’ve wondered why it’s better to phrase Renaissance and Baroque music in an authentic style as opposed to a modern style. Saying that an authentic style is more “academically correct” is just not convincing enough for me. So here are a couple of reasons why I think it’s important to learn about phrasing in an authentic style:

1. Surprising as it might sound, phrasing in an authentic way makes the music swing. So much of old music is dance music, and when it is played with even articulation (ta ta ta ta ta) as opposed to uneven articulation (ti ri ti ri ti), the music sounds stiff. The same thing applies to jazz: if all the notes are played evenly, the music (to quote Allan Dean again) “swings like a rusty gate.”

2. If played in an authentic style, the music sounds much more contemporary than if played in a modern style. (How’s that for irony?) There is quite a bit of dissonance in Renaissance and Baroque music, and old phrasing brings out that dissonance, while modern phrasing hides it. Thinking about this difference has also made me realize that, in general, brass players tend to make phrasing choices based on melody rather than on harmony.

The problem today is that we have a tendency to play a series of notes the same way, no matter when the piece was written. For example, if you compare the opening phrase of the Vivaldi Concerto for two Trumpets with the end of the Finale in the Pulcinella Suite, the notes are the same. And yet even though these two pieces were written centuries apart, most trumpet players use the same articulation.

Think of it this way: A trumpet player who used Baroque phrasing in Stravinsky’s Firebird would be laughed of the stage; yet that same player, performing a section from the Bach B minor Mass in the style of Stravinsky, might be thought of as brilliant. (I know that from personal experience.) Or imagine Harry James playing a Chet Baker phrase, or Chet Baker playing a Harry James phrase; they could play the notes, but it certainly wouldn’t be authentic. (There’s that word again.)

So, while I don’t want to join the “Older than thou” group, I do think it’s fun and instructive to dig deeper into whatever style of music we’re performing. And who knows, in doing so our playing and our thinking might just might end up being “Younger than  thou.”

Ron Kidd’s Dating Strategy

Dec 30, 2016

Ron Kidd’s Dating Strategy

Ron Kidd and I first met in 1967, when I joined the American Youth Symphony at the beginning of their new season. Ron was already established as the principal trumpet of the AYS, and at that first rehearsal I was fifth trumpet. By the second rehearsal I was second trumpet, simply because the other three players never came back. Since that time almost 50 years ago, Ron and I have been very close friends. In addition, because Ron is both an editor and a prize-winning author, we have collaborated on a number of projects, ranging from children’s operas to a cantata and an oratorio. Through the years Ron has been an inspiration to me for many reasons, and here is just one of them.

Back in the 1970s, when we were both single and trying to meet women, Ron often went on Sierra Club hikes, where the women tended to be fun and have similar values. The extreme opposite in those days were discos. Many people would go to discos with one goal: to pick up someone for a superficial fling. And that was not the type of person Ron wanted to meet.

One evening he was faced with a dilemma. There were no Sierra Club hikes or anything similar, which seemed to leave him just two choices: either stay home and watch TV or go to Big Daddy’s, a disco in Marina del Rey and the ultimate meat market. He thought, “If I go to Big Daddy’s, the chances of meeting someone I would would like (and who would like me) are practically zero. But if I stay home and watch TV, the chances are absolutely zero.” So he went to Big Daddy’s.

As it turned out, a young woman named Yvonne Martin had just gotten over a failed romance and had gone for drinks with a friend to commiserate, ending up at Big Daddy’s. Ron and Yvonne met, and next year they will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Their beautiful daughter Maggie is now a student at Northwestern University.

I think about this a lot. There are so many times when I know that if I try something, there is very little chance of success. But, like Ron, I also know that if I don’t try, there is zero chance of success. And so I always try to push myself to follow Ron Kidd’s dating strategy.

On Music and Dying, Part 2

Dec 15, 2016

Interview with Kristina Guevara

Part Two

Many years ago I read Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s seminal work, On Death and Dying. It was, and probably is, considered to be one of the most important books on that subject. But until recently I had never connected the subject with music. That changed in October 2016 when I was at a party in Kansas City at the home of Marty Hackleman, horn professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City. There I met a trumpet player named Kristina Guevara, who told me she did music therapy for hospice patients. I was moved by her idealism and the way she was trying to help people at the end of their lives, and I asked if I could interview her. She graciously agreed, and what follows is the second and final part of a two-part interview.

Since you were in music education before, do you consider music therapy to be your true purpose in life?

At this point in my life, absolutely.  I believe music education is very important and continue to advocate for it, but I find that the work in music therapy fits my personality.

There are two things I know very well about myself: music is what I know, and I love helping others however I can. In music education, it filled me with joy to see students’ faces light up when they finally achieved new skills on their instruments. However, what I am able to provide with music therapy is more rewarding to me on a much deeper level, especially with end-of life care. I will admit, when going through school for music education, I had a “fake it till you make it” attitude. This was due to a combination of me being young and having a difficult time acknowledging the fact that I was about to be a professional with a music education degree. I had similar feelings when working on my master’s degree. This all changed once I dove into the world of hospice care. Although this work has me with the terminally ill on the daily basis, it feels so natural and comfortable.

As cheesy as this may sound, I vividly remember the day I acknowledged to myself that this may be my purpose in life. It was a day filled with overwhelming levels of happiness, excitement, and tears of joy, all while driving to the home of my next patient. I believe this is my purpose and if that changes for some reason, so be it. Going with the flow of life and taking opportunities has led me here where I am today—happiness and a sense of fulfillment. I can’t really complain about that.

Do you think that other music education majors might consider this as a career path?

Of course! When starting my graduate studies in music therapy, I found that my
background in music education was helpful in some cases. The music therapy profession has progressed over the years, branching into several schools of thought. One of these branches draws from music education approaches, using adaptations of Kodaly, Orff-Schulwerk, and Dalcroze Eurhythmics, concepts that are introduced in elementary music education courses. Also, the process of teaching music comes in handy with private lesson-like sessions. Of course, these “lessons” involve another level of skill sets learned in a music therapy curriculum—for example, understanding different diagnoses and their characteristics. Music therapists may find themselves teaching piano lessons to a child or a teen on the autism spectrum, an adult who had previously suffered a stroke, or even older adults with decreased cognitive and physical abilities. Understanding the approaches in music therapy gives the therapist the tools to adapt and set up those clients for success in achieving their goals. This is where I find the most overlap between music education and music therapy.

However, there is much more to be learned in the music therapy curriculum that is not discussed in music education. Subjects related to psychology, abnormal psychology, human anatomy, neuroscience, counseling skills, and medical terminology are just a handful of the study areas for any music therapy student. And, as with any music major, practicing and being proficient on musical instruments is vital. Even with my previous music degree, I found the amount of learning required to be overwhelming. But was it worth it? Absolutely.

I urge anyone who is interested in music therapy as a potential career path to do your research. There are a number of fantastic board-certified therapists who have websites filled with information, resources, and blogs on the world of music therapy. You can even find YouTube videos of music therapy sessions with all sorts of populations.

The Internet is a great tool for finding more information to determine if music therapy is right for you. And, of course, you can always ask a professional or student music therapist!

What are the positives and negatives for you? Is it difficult being around people who are dying?

A disadvantage of hospice work is just the nature of the type of care itself. It puts me in a position where I’m helping people who are dying and providing them with end-of-life care. Because of this, I have to deal with death on a regular basis. It’s true that often I will play and sing for and with patients, which seems fun. However, it’s therapy, not entertainment, because I’m using music as a therapeutic medium. Making music for enjoyment is one thing, but counseling about the patient’s fear of death or acceptance of death is a completely different matter. Death and dying is a reality that can be quite challenging, especially when faced five days a week. However, there is something so beautiful about music therapy in end-of-life care that completely outweighs the disadvantages.

Being with people who are terminally ill gives me the opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives not only of the patient but of the family as well. I am able to celebrate the person’s life through music, share special memories, create music with them, and even discuss their fears or acceptance of death. For people who are actively dying and are no longer able to verbalize or speak, I am able to be friendly company; someone who can talk to them, sing to them, restore a sense of dignity, and just be with them during whatever time they have left. At that point, my goal is to create and bring them into an atmosphere where they can feel as comfortable as possible.

How has your work as a music therapist influenced the way you view life or the way you deal with people each day?

Never in my life have I thought of death so much—not in a suicidal way but in a positive and helpful way. Being with the dying on the daily basis has taught me this: Death is real. It’s a part of life. It’s going to happen.

In Western society, most of us don’t like to think of death, so we try to run away from the topic. Since those thoughts are repressed for so long and not acknowledged until a loved one dies, it hurts… a lot. Seeing and experiencing this with families in hospice has prompted me to really think about it, develop an understanding of what I think death is and what it entails, and ask myself, “What am I doing to make the most of my time?”

Death is a touchy topic, but honestly, because I took the time to ponder it (and continue to do so from time to time), I not only feel more comfortable talking about death, but I feel more love—toward others, toward myself, toward the natural world. It’s hard to explain those feelings fully. I’ll just say that the experience has taught me to listen deeply and respect others and myself. I guess it can be a weird thing to say to people, but I strongly recommend that people try it: think about death once in a while, and never forget to listen to yourself.

On Music and Dying, Part 1

Dec 15, 2016

Interview with Kristina Guevara

Part One

Many years ago I read Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s seminal work, On Death and Dying. It was, and probably is, considered to be one of the most important books on that subject. But until recently I had never connected the subject with music. That changed in October 2016 when I was at a party in Kansas City at the home of Marty Hackleman, horn professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City. There I met a trumpet player named Kristina Guevara, who told me she did music therapy for hospice patients. I was moved by her idealism and the way she was trying to help people at the end of their lives, and I asked if I could interview her. She graciously agreed, and what follows is the first of a two-part interview.

What path brought you to where you are today?

Before I entered middle school, my father bought me my first trumpet. At the time, my older brother had been playing the euphonium and was honestly quite talented; I guess you could say I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Once I was in the band, I never looked back. Whether it was joining jazz band, playing in chamber ensembles, or filling in on the not-so-French horn, I did it without hesitation. In no way did I feel obligated; making music felt completely natural to me.

After high school I went to college at Florida Gulf Coast University to pursue a Human Performance degree, determined to become a physical therapist in the future. However, I couldn’t pass Biology 101 to save my life. All through the heartbreak and confusion of that experience, music was there for me, and in fact its presence remained stronger than ever. With the help and encouragement of my colleagues, university band director, and college girlfriend (now fiancé), I made the successful switch to music education.

To complete my music degree, I was required to do a big project on any topic of my choosing. Back then, music therapy was a field that was just becoming established, and since I was a bit short on time due to procrastination, I opted to research and present on the topic of music therapy. Though my presentation was extremely overgeneralized, something about music therapy caught my attention. Thankfully, I had a friend finishing up her master’s in music therapy at the time. She shared her experiences and encouraged me to apply for a graduate program in the field. After a few applications, plane ticket purchases, and interviews, I was accepted into a program at the University of Missouri Kansas City. I moved halfway across the country to attend, and I will graduate with a Master of Arts in Music degree with an emphasis in Music Therapy.

What makes music therapy so meaningful to you?

To me, there is nothing more beautiful and rewarding than helping others. Also, I can’t imagine myself every becoming bored of this type of work. Each and every human being is unique and functions differently. Whether through building self-control, developing social skills, or promoting neurological rehabilitation, our priority in music therapy is to help our clients reach their goals. Therefore, each individual requires personalized treatment plans in order for the therapy to be effective. This challenges me both musically and creatively; it really keeps me on my toes!

In music therapy, we use an approach called the Iso Principle (where the therapist tries to match the emotional state of the patient/client through the music). Through this principle, we are able to meet the patients “where they are” and gently guide or redirect them toward a different emotional state using the music. In hospice work, this gives me the opportunity to address patients’ emotional, physical, psychological, cognitive, social, and spiritual needs—all common and important goal areas in end-of-life care. This opens up a channel of communication and meaningful conversation so we can talk about memories a song may trigger, validate emotions and feelings, or talk about death. We can even work on getting out their frustrations by improvising some lyrics over the twelve-bar blues. With some quick thinking and a touch of creativity, a music therapist can provide endless possibilities for hospice patients.

In previous clinical practicums, I’ve had the pleasure of working with older adults, children with emotional or behavioral disorders, and young adults with neurological disorders. Although I enjoy working with those populations, working in hospice has brought so much joy into my life. I know that may sound eerie, but there is something special about spending time with people at the end of life that words can’t fully explain. However, I can say this: spending my time with the sick and dying has given my life a sense of purpose.

Do you see this field expanding?

I firmly believe the field of music therapy in hospice will continue to grow; the older-adult and geriatric population is not getting any smaller. I am sure, for example, that there will come a day when adult diapers will outsell baby diapers (which I believe has happened in Japan already). Because these groups are growing, hospice care is a thriving business, which can potentially create more opportunities for highly trained board-certified music therapists.

End-of-life care is only one of the many areas in which music therapy services are both provided and growing! Because music therapists follow an evidence-based practice model, we combine the best available research, the therapist’s clinical expertise, and the patient’s values and needs in order to provide the best possible service for all ages. This has paved the way for music therapists to work in (but not be limited to) the following areas:

• Neurological disorders
• Substance abuse and addiction

• Emotional and behavioral disorders
• Survivors of domestic violence and abuse
• Traumatic brain injuries
• COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder)
• Mental illness
• Military populations
• Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s)
• Typically functioning people

What is fascinating is the continual growth of the research being conducted, even expanding to career fields outside of music therapy. Music interventions—actions and therapeutic devices utilized to alter the course of one’s cognitive processes—have been cited and used in research studies from a wide variety of disciplines, including neuroscience, physical therapy, sports medicine, speech therapy, and others. In all these disciplines we strive toward a common goal: to uncover the health benefits of music therapy and its effect on one’s well-being and quality of life.

That Sounds Like Shit

Dec 13, 2016

Tom Stevens was principal trumpet in the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1972 until 2000. In addition to his wonderful playing, he has always been known

for championing and commissioning new works and for teaching a generation of players. I was one of those lucky students.

Tom was a phenomenal teacher for me, and a great mentor. Although I haven’t seen him in quite a number of years, his concepts and ideas are with me today and have been filtered through me to my students. And many of the ideas I gained from Tom came from one of his teachers, William Vacchiano. Tom has a DVD called “Vacchiano’s Rules” that explains a number of these ideas.

I studied with Tom during the summer of 1967, and I did no music festivals that summer so that I could practice. And practice I did–six hours a day: two in the morning, two in the afternoon, and two in the evening. If I remember correctly (it was a long time ago!) we didn’t really work on orchestral excerpts that summer; I had covered all the excerpts before with Irving Bush, also a fantastic teacher and mentor. What we did work on was solo literature and also etudes, especially the Ernst Sachse transposition etudes. That course of study was determined by this conversation at our first lesson together:

Tom: Irving tells me that you can really transpose well.

Me (false modesty): Well, I guess so.

Tom: OK, then sight read this etude in D-flat.

Me (after a pause): Um, I’ve never transposed in that key before.

So, we were off to the races with transposition. Tom would give me several different to learn per lesson, and in my practice I would also sight read in every key, from F down to Gb every day.

I learned many specific things from Tom about musicality and the trumpet, but perhaps more than anything he taught me ideas and concepts about how to approach music. Years later I was still learning from him. As an example, I had always thought that musicianship and musicality were just different words for the same thing, but then I read an interview with Tom in which he stated that musicianship has to do with the basic rules of phrasing and music, whereas musicality is what each individual, using these rules, brings to a piece.

Tom’s favorite phrase after I played something for him was “That sounds like shit.” Then he would tell or show me what to do, and I would immediately sound better. Our lessons were long and wonderful (at least for me), and I remember leaving them feeling both depressed because I seemed to know so little and inspired because I was learning so much.

A highlight in my life came ten years after I studied with Tom and was asked to teach at the University of Southern California, where Tom was the principal teacher. It was a huge honor for me, but after a month or so I realized that a number of students came to their lessons unprepared. (Some things never change). So I called Tom for advice and started the conversation by asking, “When I studied with you, I was always prepared for our lessons, right?” Tom immediately knew why I was calling, and we discussed the situation for about ten minutes. Then, just as were were about to hang up he said, “Yeah, you always worked really hard for me. You always sounded like shit, but you were always prepared.”

I’m still laughing about that.

Great Coaching: Part 2

May 15, 2016

Jasna Rather is table tennis coach of the perennial national champion Texas Wesleyan  University. In this email interview, she touched on some important points for playing  and coaching, whether in table tennis or music.  

What are your thoughts about training or (for music students) practicing? 

I’m not a believer in meaningless hours of training. I think the number of hours that players train should be based on their needs and the outcomes they seek. So, yes, each person is different. I know players who spend eight hours a day in the gym and it’s a total waste of time, while for other players intensive gym work can be helpful.

My rule is this: If you can’t focus and train using at least ninety percent of your attention, then it’s a waste of time. It’s better to play less but with the right mental attitude and doing things in the right way, rather than just clicking out hours. Conversely, training more will not hurt the player if it’s done with the desire to improve.

To me, here’s the most important question: How do players best develop talent into skill?  Is each person different, or do you think there are basic principles that apply to  everyone?  

Talent in the aspect of touch is not as crucial in modern table tennis. For example, Jean Michael Saive did not have a natural talent for touch, yet he rose to number one in the world through hard work, focus, great physical conditioning, and mental preparedness. All these elements are separate skills that players need in order to be successful in table tennis. The right amount of each element—combined with effective training conditions, sparring, equipment,  and tournament schedule—can allow a player to reach table tennis heights.

Given two players of equal talent, how is it that one of them becomes a good player and  the other becomes a great player? 

My belief is that natural talent does not mean much anymore if it is not developed through the right kind of coaching, work habits, physical fitness, focus, mental toughness, and so many other factors that help make a great player.

My belief is that natural talent does not mean much anymore if it is not developed through the right kind of coaching, work habits, physical fitness, focus, mental toughness, and so many other factors that help make a great player.

Great Coaching: Part 1

May 15, 2016

Jasna Rather is perhaps the most successful, least known sports coach in U.S. collegiate history. Since assuming the role of head coach of the Texas Wesleyan University table tennis team, she has won ten national championships in eleven years. Born in Yugoslavia, she appeared in four Olympic Games before becoming a coach,  and she is married, with an adorable daughter. How do I know all this? Because my  son Jason is a student at Texas Wesleyan University and has a scholarship to play on  the team. Since I am intrigued by what makes a champion player or coach, in sports or  in music, I asked Jasna if I could pose some questions by email. She was kind enough  to agree, and I think several of her answers relate directly to excellence in music  performance and teaching. 

What do you see as some of the most important aspects of coaching? Why do some coaches succeed and others fail?  

Having been taught by some of the best coaches one could wish for, I can say there are a number of details to consider. First of all, training must be individually planned, because each player has different needs, styles, approaches, and mentality. Having a one-size-fits- all philosophy is a huge mistake.

Second, fundamentals are crucial. If technique, movement, and so on develop in a way that will eventually need to be corrected, these will not be easy to fix. The older the player is, the more difficult it is to make changes. It’s similar to language, in which the older we are, the more difficult it is to hide an accent. In Yugoslavia, coaches would focus on one stroke or element of the game to develop. That way, the player would really learn to master shots, which is in contrast to the “Table Tennis Express” style that is so prevalent in the U.S.

Beyond technique, how important is the personal side of coaching?  

Caring about players, almost like a parent—showing interest and knowing what’s going on in their lives—will enable a coach to understand things that might help or hurt table tennis progress. But a coach also has to show the other side of parenting: being firm. There should be rules and reasonable punishment for not following those rules. Of course, the rules and approach will vary depending on the age of the players.

Great coaches are great motivators, which means being creative. For example, it’s not always fun to practice, and a creative coach can make the practices interesting. Also, it can be hard for players to recover after a big loss, and a coach’s approach to this situation can either help or make things worse.

How do you go about balancing the physical and psychological sides of coaching? 

A good coach knows how to physically prepare players according to their needs and potential. Not everybody has the same physical ability for training, so getting the maximum from players could mean having one player run a half-mile and another player run five miles.

The psychological side of coaching is critical. The coach must understand what to say to players and when, so they will be prepared for difficult situations in important matches. One good way to do this is to create training conditions that simulate competition, setting up sparring partners, mini-tournaments, and so on.

These are a just a few things that can make a great coach.

Guest Post, Chad Goodman: Sounding Good on Your Instrument is Simply Not Enough to Succeed

Apr 12, 2016

Every music major should be told that on day one.

Walk into any music school and, chances are, the student population will be isolated in practice rooms. While college is a crucial time for students to practice and mature on their instruments, schools and teachers often place exclusive emphasis on practice and nothing else. Four years of solitary practice will have a student leave school a better instrumentalist than when they entered, but does not provide a firm foundation for students expecting to make a career out of music immediately following graduation.

It should not come as a surprise that music students are often unaware of the realities of the world that exists outside of school. After all, from a young age, a career in classical music is laid out for us as a clear path. As long as you practice, practice, practice, it will be as simple as connecting the dots.

Grade school years spent in youth symphonies and private lessons are dots that will connect to four years of undergraduate music studies and summer music festivals. Practice hard enough during those four years and it will connect to more dots: Master’s programs, Doctoral programs, and Artist Diplomas. After you’re finished with academia, you transition into a job.

In the case of most music students, however, the grad school dot and professional job dot will not connect the way the others did. As a matter of fact, there is no dot in sight.

Here’s the reality: In the real-world, it is your responsibility to create opportunities for yourself.

Most schools do not teach students that the development of a good relationship with the personnel manager of an orchestra can lead to a substitute gig. I landed my first orchestra gig by emailing an introduction and resume to the personnel manager of every orchestra within a 100 mile radius.

When one of them contacted me about needing a last minute sub, I replied to the email within the hour, spent the weekend learning the music, showed up 45 minutes early to the first rehearsal, and played my part.

As soon as I recognized that no one was just going to hand me gigs, I decided to create opportunities for myself and others in my local music community. Having studied conducting in graduate school alongside trumpet, I made the choice to start my own professional music ensemble. Not knowing anything about the business side of music (school only taught me to practice my instrument), I took a risk and threw myself into the deep end, accepting the fact that I would just have to learn as I go.

I founded and now serve as Artistic Director of Elevate Ensemble, an organization that in just two years has developed a loyal fanbase from the coveted 25-35 year old demographic, has a residency at San Francisco State University, and runs a composer-in-residence program that develops sustained relationships between composers and performers.

I got in touch with owners of music shops and school music teachers, offering my services as a trumpet instructor and coach. Those early steps were a tremendous help in building up my private studio. I also took the time to teach myself about the music publishing industry, choosing to self-publish Nielsen Duets, a book of 25 trumpet duet arrangements of piano pieces by Carl Nielsen.

No one should have to enter the post-academia music world without a solid foundational understanding of what it takes to make a living as a musician. There are business principles, communications skills, and teaching strategies that can and must be learned.

Rather than placing exclusive attention on music performance, let’s start preparing our students to recognize and practice the real-world skills that they’ll need in order to become successful musicians.

Chad Goodman is the Artistic Director of Elevate Ensemble. This Spring he will begin visiting universities and conservatories to present his lecture “You Just Earned a Music Degree. Now What?” in which he shares lessons learned about navigating the world as a working musician. For more information, please visit

An Entertainment Culture

Apr 7, 2016

David Halberstam and Michael Lewis are two of my favorite writers.  Although they come from different generations (Halberstam was tragically killed in an automobile accident several years ago), they share several similarities: both are nonfiction writers and both have written best-selling sports books in addition to their other major books. Halberstam quite often dealt with politics and war, while Lewis has written extensively on Wall Street.

In several of his works, most notably The Fifties and The Powers That Be, Halberstam warned that the U.S. was becoming an entertainment culture, that the new technology of the fifties, television, was also capable of bringing culture and education to the masses. And over the years it had—think of the fifty-one Young Person’s Concerts with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic or the wonderful PBS programs on a great variety of subjects. But television has also become a place where people can passively consume junk. And if the growing entertainment culture of the fifties seemed to be ominous, the entertainment culture of today seems to be on steroids… just look at afternoon TV or evening reality shows.

And the reason this has happened? Quite simply, money. As H. L. Menken once wrote, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” And with the new technology of today (Facebook, YouTube, and on and on), the entertainment culture seems to be growing ever stronger. In fact, at the time of this writing, a reality TV star will most likely be the Republican candidate for president in 2016.

Sticking with politics as an example, what seems to be missing from a lot of the current dialogue is the willingness to, as Halberstam put it, “follow the facts.” Most people only want to look for facts that will support their own position on whatever subject is in question. It is a black-and-white world, and nuance seems almost to be a dirty word. That is what strikes me as being interesting about the writing of Michael Lewis. In many of his books, he deals with facts and numbers, but he always suggests that the numbers themselves don’t tell the entire story, that you have to dig deeper than just the numbers, or search for a deeper understanding of the numbers. Combining this concept with Halberstam’s idea of following the facts whereever they lead, then contrasting that with today’s entertainment culture and the influence of money in the media, it is easy to see how we have gone astray.

But this dumbing down has to do not only with politics but can be extended to many other areas of life. Since I am a classical musician and and ex-brass player, let me speak about my own tribe. Audiences today almost always go to a brass chamber music concert to be entertained; they rarely go to hear serious and substantial music. Audiences at brass chamber-music concerts are in a sense essentially choosing reality TV over PBS. I believe the only way this will change is if groups play higher-quality music and gradually educate their audiences. Unfortunately I don’t see this happening—we seem to be too deep into entertainment, both in life and in music, to be able to change direction.

And if you think politics and music are superficial now, just wait for ten years to see what the future brings.

On Conductors

Nov 28, 2015

Many years ago, as a young trumpet player living in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to occasionally play extra trumpet with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. It was a fantastic opportunity because not only did I get to play with a great orchestra, I also got to sit next to my teachers, who were also my heroes.

On one occasion I subbed for Mario Guarneri when the orchestra performed and then recorded the magnificent music for the ballet Romeo and Juliet by Serge Prokofieff.  This was before the advent of CD’s, and what was unusual about these recording sessions was that they were direct to disc, meaning that the entire side of the record was recorded in one take, with no splices. If there was any sort of mistake, the recording would stop and the recording engineer would have to re-tool or re-set, and this would take time and cost the orchestra thousands of dollars (this was 30-35 years ago when the term thousands of dollars really meant something).

One side of this recording began with the beginning of scene 3, which begins with horns, the third trumpet then enters, which I played, followed by other brass. The orchestra had rehearsed this, played one or two concerts with no problems, but on the recording session when I played my note the conductor, Erich Leinsdorf, stopped the orchestra and looked directly at me with anger. He first began talking to the celli. I leaned over to Irving Bush and asked if I had done something wrong, Irving said “no”, and then Leinsdorf said, ” Mr. Second Trumpet, why did you play the wrong note? Play your note for me.” I did and he said it was one tone too high (a note that cost the orchestra thousands of dollars), and so I corrected it.

Here is what is interesting about that story – Leinsdorf was recognized as being a great conductor, and a conductor who was extremely knowledgeable. Yet he had failed to hear my wrong note in both rehearsals and concerts. And I was playing a part that came from the orchestra library, meaning that this part had been played over the years for many conductors and was never corrected.

To me this points out that conductors are still just people and, being human, they can also make mistakes. When such a great conductor can miss hearing such an obvious mistake then I think it is appropriate that we allow less than great conductors to also be human and make mistakes.

And yet, there is a tradition of conductors as being dictators, and not benevolent dictators. As mentioned in an earlier blog (I was there when the Legend began) the french hornist Dave Krehbiel said that Fritz Reiner was like a shark smelling blood……..if he sensed any weakness in a player he would try to break that player. This tradition still exists, but it is far less prevalent today.

The good news is that today so many of the world’s great conductors are universally known as being nice and empathetic people……Gustavo Dudamel, YannickNezet-Seguin, and Andris Nelsons. But there is another side of this nice guy coin. I spoke with a friend who plays in a major orchestra in the US and I mentioned that his music director, a genuinely nice person by all accounts, seemed to be like one of the guys . “That’s the problem,” was my friends reply.

So it seems that to be hugely successful these days a conductor must walk a very fine line – on one hand, he must be encouraging and empathetic, yet on the other hand she must still have some distance between herself and the orchestra. This makes being a great conductor a difficult if not impossible job, and probably no one does it perfectly. But if a conductor tries to be humane and caring, then I think we should allow them not to be perfect. After all, they’re only human.

David Collins: The Musician as Entrepreneur – Part 2

Nov 20, 2015

n order to get an idea of how a working musician with no experience in arts management could start a new festival, an audacious undertaking for even an experienced arts manager, I had to ask some questions:

How and why did you start the Dublin Brass Week?

  • Dublin Brass Week started as an idea in January 2013 for the first festival in July 2013. I started the festival for a number of reasons but the main one was borne out of personal experience with masterclasses I had attended as a trumpeter myself. In April 2012 I attended a trumpet masterclass for 6 days with an international name in the trumpet world and had a great time. It ran however as many masterclasses do – short warmup in the morning, a chance to play once each day for around 15/20 minutes and sitting in the one room observing others play or finding a practice space to do some playing for my next slot as well as play a chance to play for 10 minutes in a closing concert. On top of this was the cost – In total this was over €1,300 before I had factored in money for food and the occasional evening beer…! The accommodation cost was most expensive at €525 (the classes were in Switzerland), the masterclasses cost was €500 and the flights came to €300. It made me think about value for money and what I would like to see at masterclasses myself in the future. Instead of just complaining about the cost and the fact that I had to travel 3 hours to attend masterclasses with 1 international trumpeter I decided to create a brass festival based in my home city of Dublin with the aim of having multiple faculty members, lots of concerts and playing opportunities for the students, to try to keep the base costs as low as possible and to organise free hosting with local players for the students coming from overseas which would help in keeping the costs more manageable.

What have you learned from the experience?

  • I have learned so much from organising the brass week! As a freelance trumpet player it is great to have other things on your mind and I find with Dublin Brass Week it always has my brain working, if you have less work over a certain period it means your brain is still working away and you can be preparing for the upcoming festival with emails/calls/scribbling down ideas. Similarly when you have a patch where you are very busy with playing it is easy to do the minimum and only reply to direct emails or requests and then hopefully finding a Sunday morning to catch up on the bulk of the work. As a player it has made me much more relaxed as you see the international names of the brass world as normal people not some superhuman players that know the “secret” to brass playing. All of the players and teachers I have dealt for Dublin Brass Week with have been unbelievably hard working regardless of how relaxed they come across and in public!

What mistakes did you make?

  • I made many mistakes at the outset! Too many to list…! I had no real idea how to organise a festival so I spoke to people with experience in the arts admin field to have a general outline of what needed to be done and luckily my then girlfriend (now wife!) is a violinist and much more organised than I am, so she managed to keep me in check right from the beginning! Many things were done on a trial and error basis as well as looking at other successful models, trying to see what they were doing right and then transferring certain elements to Dublin Brass Week.

What have you learned from this experience?

  • I definitely feel many of the skills I have picked up along the way are transferable to the rest of my life, playing included. I feel much more at ease dealing with people and speaking in public. Also having to negotiate with artist management with regard to flights, fees, accomodation and also being able to problem solve on the spot really makes a difference in life as well as career. You are always seeking a positive outcome to every situation and I find it has given me a much more positive outlook on life which is a very powerful thing. The original idea was to always to have a full compliment of brass instruments even in 2013. I didn’t realise the amount of work the lay ahead in organising a trumpet faculty, never mind a full festival. As soon as I realised that it would take so much time and that I didn’t have much of an idea on how to create a successful festival I decided to start with trumpets only for 2013 as I obviously would know most about trumpets and then expand by 1 instrument each year until 2016 when we would have the entire orchestral brass represented. In 2014 we added French Horn, this year in 2015 we were joined by Trombones and Tuba is on the way in June 2016 so all is still going to plan!

Was funding a problem?

  • Financing a festival was a real concern as again I had no experience with budgeting anything apart from my own day to day life. In 2013 we applied for a grant of €5,000 from the Arts Council of Ireland and I was naive enough to think that as I had a great idea it would receive funding. I found out that my funding application had not been successful about 6 weeks before the first festival and realised I was entirely dependent on the course fees and concert attendance to cover faculty fees plus their hotel stays and flights to Ireland!  Since then the festival has been very fortunate to have many brass companies, embassies and others come on board and support DBW with paid adverts in the festival brochure as well as offsetting the faculty cost by covering flights and hotel accommodation and every little bit really helps with a small festival. The Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin where the festival has been held since 2013 has been stellar in its support and for the 3rd year in a row we have had the use of the building including the concert hall absolutely for free, without which it would have been almost impossible to get the brass week up and running. We still apply for the big grants from government arts funding, however we also look for smaller amounts of funding and sponsorship from the private sector which helps to cover all bases.

Did you have to deal with rejection or failure?

  • I received plenty of rejection at the start and have had to face more rejection ever since! I have found it tricky to be positive at all times as it can be really disheartening when you spend 20/25 hours on a funding application, wait 8 weeks and find out that your festival will receive zero funding for this year. The only way I have found to deal with the rejection is to be even more determined to make the festival successful in the long term! There is a great sense of achievement in seeing the festival grow from a faculty of 4 with 10 playing participants in 2013 to a faculty of 12 with almost 50 playing participants from all across Europe, USA, Asia and a really strong showing from players in the UK and of course Ireland in July 2015 so regardless of rejection and small stumbling blocks along the way I try and focus on the bigger picture!

Has this changed your perspective on anything having to do with brass players in general?

  • In my experience brass players have always been entrepeneurs and really adept to problem solving – I always find it astonishing how many brass players you find as leaders within an orchestra – there are so many examples of players turning to orchestra management or becoming chairperson of the players committee. Outside of managerial roles many friends and colleaugues play freelance with orchestras as well as having a full time position with a brass quintet, arranging music for brass ensembles from quintet to brass band in their non-playing down time and sell their arrangements online as another income stream. Other examples are players who take a job in an army or police band and teach at the weekend as well as playing as part of a function or wedding band. There are so many avenues open to brass players (and so few orchestral jobs) that unless someone is determined and fortunate enough to secure a full time orchestral position it would seem to be that you have to be a jack of all trades.

What aspect of the festival do you take pride in the most?

  • For me, one of the best things that has come from the festival is the additional interest it is fostering in brass playing across Ireland. There is a great sense of achievement in seeing the festival grow from a faculty of 4 with 10 playing participants in 2013 to a faculty of 12 with almost 50 playing participants from all across Europe, USA, Asia and a really strong showing from players in the UK and of course across Ireland in July 2015. Seeing brass players attending from youth bands across the island, to music degree students across the globe to the brass sections in both the RTÈ National Orchestras who have all had so much enthusiasm for the festival each year it’s hard to know which group gets more excited! With the fantastic support across Ireland and abroad I hope that Dublin Brass Week will continue to grow and become a permanent fixture in the international brass calendar.

Dublin Brass Week 2016 will run from June 27-30 2016 at the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

For more information see

David Collins: The Musician as Entrepreneur – Part 1

Nov 20, 2015

Several years ago I got an email from David Collins, asking if I would be interested in participating in a brass course that he was starting. I had never met him but the course was in Dublin, Ireland, and since I had never been to Ireland and love new experiences my answer was of course, “yes. ” So over several months we corresponded by email about the normal sort of stuff prior to such a course – travel arrangements, schedules, teaching, and so forth.

He said that he would be picking me up at the airport in Dublin, and when he did I was shocked – he was not a middle aged man who had been in arts management all his life but rather someone in his 20’s with a happy personality and winning smile. His girlfriend (now wife) Sarah was with him, and she was his assistant during the course in Dublin. As we spoke on the way to the hotel I asked more about the course. It turns out that he felt that Ireland was somewhat isolated in terms of brass playing, and since nobody else had put together a course, well, maybe he should……..even though he was “only” a trumpet player and had no arts management experience.

No doubt he was concerned, perhaps even stressed, during that first Dublin Brass Week, but if he was he didn’t show it. The festival ran very smoothly and, in addition to all the teaching and performing involved, there was still time for fun. In fact, one of the highlights was a concert at the Guinness beer factory, and after the concert we all went to the 7th floor for a free pint.

For many years now I have increasingly felt that young musicians must think about themselves as entrepreneurs. The old and traditional paradigm of practice, get a job in an orchestra and then stay there until retirement just doesn’t seem as useful or practical or even as interesting as it once did. But my thinking had always been in terms of a person furthering their own career and development through this entrepreneurship. However, here was something totally outside the box – a player was creating a festival to help other players in his country. I found that really intriguing, so I had to ask Dave how he did it. His answers, thoughtful and inspiring, and be found in part 2 of this blog post

Composer Auditions: Part 3 – Why Not?

Sep 29, 2015

In Parts 1 and 2 of this blog post, I suggested holding composer auditions for the selection of new music, modeled after instrumental auditions for the orchestra. Using two rounds of rehearsal auditions managed by a committee that includes orchestra members and other key players, the field would be narrowed down to two or three finalists. How would the winner be chosen?

Immanual Richter, currently solo trumpeter with the Basel Symphony, told me that when he auditioned for the solo trumpet position with La Scala (which he won), the final round was held in front of the public. Each of the three final candidates had slightly over an hour to perform excerpts on stage… before a large audience! Why not do the same with composer auditions? I believe that audiences, alienated by the modern music they hear, would be delighted to help audition and perhaps even help select new music. (For critics who fear that giving the audience a vote would dumb down the pieces chosen, keep in mind that the audience would be choosing from compositions approved by the music director, artistic director, and orchestra in previous rounds.)

Picture an open audition featuring the final three compositions, in which audience, orchestra, artistic director, and music director would all have input. Does this sound too democratic?

Perhaps it does, but I think it could be a huge public relations coup for an orchestra, and it could work wonders in bringing the audience and orchestra closer together.

Orchestras are desperate to involve the community, attract young audiences, and create a new model for symphonic music. Public composer auditions could provide a way of doing that. There are a number of orchestras these days that are championing new music, but only the music director is participating, not the orchestra and certainly not the audience. What better way to pull in the community and get them excited than to ask their help in selecting music that could help build the future of symphony orchestras?

Holding composer auditions, and especially being the first orchestra to do so, would pose tremendous challenges, and I can immediately think of two big ones. First, managements and music directors may be reticent to relinquish their power and control over this crucial aspect of running the orchestra. And second, such auditions might be expensive, at the very least taking up two rehearsal slots and a performance.

Regarding the first challenge, I am convinced there are orchestras, managements, and music directors bold enough to try this experiment. For the second challenge, I believe that if an orchestra is creative enough to pursue this new and courageous model, a wealthy patron could be located to fund such an audition and be listed as the sponsor.

Composer auditions would certainly not be a guaranteed success. However, I think of the American entrepreneur Elon Musk, who said that when he founded Tesla, his electric automobile company, he thought there would be less than a fifty-percent chance of success. An interviewer asked, “Then why try?” Musk responded, “If something is important enough, then you should try even if the probable outcome is failure.”

I don’t think the probable outcome of composer auditions would be failure. I think it would be a success. And I think the idea is important enough for at least one courageous orchestra and music director to take the risk.

Composer Auditions: Part 2 – How?

Sep 29, 2015

As described in Part 1 of this blog post, the process of selecting contemporary music for orchestras has been top-down, leaving orchestra members powerless, audiences frustrated, and all but a few composers out in the cold. What can we do to fix a system that is broken? I believe we can learn much from the way orchestra members are selected.

The process for choosing orchestra members has come a long way in the last 50-100 years. The decision used to be made solely by the conductor. As an example, when I auditioned for my first job I played for a committee of one: the conductor. However, due to a number of abuses over the years, auditions have become much fairer and more controlled. These days there are certain rules and regulations that are followed. There is an audition committee, including orchestra members, that usually handles the opening rounds of an audition; those opening rounds are frequently held behind a screen to assure fairness; in the final round the committee has a certain percentage of the vote and the music director the other percentage; and so forth.

The process isn’t perfect, but it gives a voice to the members of the orchestra and assures a measure of fairness to those who audition. I believe a similar process could be used for selecting new music. Here is my proposal, which makes use of some ideas proposed by the American composer Stanley Friedman:

An orchestra could hold composer auditions once or twice a year to determine at least some of the new music to be played in future seasons. The process could be managed by an audition committee that includes orchestra members and could be similar to the process for instrumental auditions. An announcement would be made, and interested composers could submit a score along with parts. (If too many composers applied, the committee could ask for tapes to determine who would be invited to the first round.) As Friedman has suggested, composers would be asked to send two scores, one with a name attached and one without a name. The score without a name would be given to the orchestra to assure anonymity.

In the first round, each piece could get a five- to ten-minute performance during special rehearsals, after which the committee would vote to decide which scores would advance to the second sound. The second round would include a larger portion of the composer’s submitted work, and afterward another vote would be taken to choose perhaps three finalists. All these finalists would be guaranteed a performance, and the winner could get a commission from the orchestra. In the final round, as with instrumental auditions, the voting would be divided between the orchestra members, the music director, and the artistic administrator if there is one.

But I have a suggestion for an additional step in selecting new music. Using this step, I believe composer auditions could be used to help to create a new model for symphony orchestras and their relationship with tomorrow’s audiences.

Composer Auditions: Part 1 – Why?

Sep 29, 2015

The American composer Stanley Friedman recently posted an idea on Facebook that I thought was brilliant: Orchestras spend time and money holding auditions for musicians; why not hold auditions for composers? Though the idea isn’t mine, I’d like to explore it and elaborate on it.

To provide some context, orchestras today often program new compositions that orchestra members don’t want to play and audience members don’t want to hear. Decisions regarding new music seem to be top-down, and orchestra members have little or no say in how those decisions are made. Most frequently, the new music is chosen by the music director/conductor, an artistic administrator, or a composer-in-residence. As a result, orchestra members often are resentful of the modern music they have to play. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in music—that if the audience doesn’t like a piece, quite often the orchestra feels the same way.

But it’s not just the musicians and audience who suffer; think about the composers. There are a great many talented composers working today who simply don’t have a chance to get their works heard. The librarian of a major orchestra once told me that the music director of the orchestra received about twenty-five new scores to look at per week, and those packages went directly into the trash, unopened. The fact is that unless the composer has a personal connection with a conductor or a major publisher, the chance of getting a piece played or even considered is very slight.

So, the current process for choosing new music bypasses the musicians and the audience, and it benefits a relatively small group of composers who land most of the commissions. The system is broken and needs to be fixed.

Why does the selection of new music still belong to a system that is outdated? What can we do to change a system that penalizes audiences, orchestra members, and composers? I’ll look at these important questions in Parts 2 and 3 of this blog post, in which I’ll suggest some ways to improve the process of programming new works for orchestra.

Legend – the Maestro speaks

Jul 26, 2015

My blog about Glenn Fischthal and his way of dealing with orchestral life seemed to really strike a chord. A great many people found his experiences to be funny, so I got back in touch with Glenn and, knowing he had many stories to tell, asked him to write down some of his favorites. What follows is Glenn writing about several experiences he had in the past when he was principal trumpet with the Israel Philharmonic.:

        Zubin Mehta loved to play pranks in the orchestra.  During my tenure as Principal Trumpet with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), the orchestra was on a series of run-out concerts from Tel-Aiv to Haifa.  The soloist on the program was Isaac Stern performing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.  One night at intermission, after Isaac’s performance, I was called over the P.A. to Maestro Mehta’s room backstage.  Of course, when you’re called to the music director’s office, one is always suspicious that perhaps something about your playing needed to be addressed!  Having heard the announcement, my fellow Americans in the orchestra were quite concerned that perhaps I was in a bit of trouble!
        Well, after knocking on Zubin’s door, he invited me in and said, “I want to play a joke on Isaac and I need your help!”  “Okay!! Great!” I said, thinking this is a beautiful thing, and who would be better for the job than me?  So, he goes on to tell me that during the Molto meno mosso  passage in the final movement where solo woodwinds share a dialogue with the solo violin, he wants the trumpet to play the bassoon solos.  He was loving it!   Zubin told the bassoonist not to play the solos the next night and allow me to cover these measures on trumpet.  When I emerged from Zubin’s office, I saw that my worried American colleagues were anxiously huddled outside the door, waiting to hear what kind of scolding had perhaps been laid upon me.  To their relief and great astonishment, I told them about Zubin’s plan.
        Needless to say, during the next night’performance, Zubin begins smirking a few minutes prior to my entrance, knowing what was about happen.  The big moment approached and I played the bassoon solo. Ordinarily, as you know, the violin responds in kind.  But on hearing me play, Isaac swayed abruptly toward the podium as he played, only to see Zubin having a good laugh!
        Knowing that Zubin liked the occasional prank, we (the trumpet section) decided to play one on him.  Zubin conducted a great Mahler 5 and we performed it many times in Tel-Aviv as well as abroad. During one concert in Tel-Aviv at MANN auditorium, the orchestra was cruising along in the final movement when I was caught “day-dreaming” and forgot to play a short one-bar motif in the 1st trumpet part. Well, when you miss an entrance, Zubin will not forget and he’ll be anticipating your entrance the next performance.  We (Rafi Glasser, 2nd trumpet) decided we couldn’t miss an opportunity like this and planned to play up on the “day-dreaming” theme the second night, too.
        As the entrance approached, I continued to look around the orchestra, look out at the hall, look everywhere except at the music director to give the impression I was going to miss the entrance yet again.  It was clear Zubin was growing annoyed – I could feel his eyes drilling into me but I refused to look up.  At the last possible moment, as I was still looking around, Rafi whipped up his horn and played the lick.  A good laugh was had by all!
        From then on, every time we played Mahler 5 – and depending on Zubin’s mood, of course –the trumpets would scheme up a different variation on this joke to pull on Zubin – sometimes even passing bits of the solo down the line among all four players!

        During one concert in Tel Aviv with the IPO, Zubin Mehta conducted Beethoven’s Leonore Overture #3 which, as you know, includes two famous off-stage trumpet calls played mid-way through the overture. Generally, the offstage trumpeter is not called to the stage for a bow; however, on this occasion, Zubin summoned for me to come out to the stage for a solo bow.  Well, standing next to me at that moment was Ken Krohn, principal percussionist, an American who had very similar features as me – black beard, corpulent, etc.  So, I thought, this would be a good one on Zubin.  I quickly handed my trumpet to Ken and said, “Get out there and take a bow!”  And to Zubin’s and the orchestra’s astonishment, there stood Ken with my trumpet and wearing a big grin!

I was there when the Legend Began

Apr 27, 2015

Many in the world of brass know the playing of Glenn Fischthal. For twenty-four years he was principal trumpet, eight years associate principal trumpet of the San Francisco Symphony before his retirement in 2012. He can be heard on numerous Grammy-winning recordings with the orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas and has had a glorious and iconic career. But he is iconic in another way as well, and I take pride in being able to say I was there when the legend began.

Here is what happened: Glenn’s first permanent orchestral position was with the San Antonio Symphony, of which I was a member, during the 1971/72 season. In Glenn’s first rehearsal, the first of the season, which was for a pops concert, the first piece played was “Pavane,” by Morton Gould. The piece opens with a four-bar intro followed by a cute trumpet solo, which I played. As soon as my solo ended, about thirty seconds into Glenn’s first rehearsal with his first permanent orchestra, the following dialogue took place (and I still remember the exact words):

Music  Director Victor Allesandro: “Mr. Plog, could you bend that last note like Joe Venuti [the famous jazz violinist]? Does anybody here know who Joe Venuti is?”

Glenn: “Yeah, he’s a pimp from Chicago.”

Thus was the legend of Glenn Fischthal born.

He solidified his standing with the orchestra that year with many acts of… well, I don’t know exactly the term for Glenn’s approach to orchestral behavior—perhaps fearless might be the best description. Here are several highlights:

Toward the end of the season the orchestra had refused to ratify a very poor contract, and Allesandro was furious. He began a rehearsal of the Verdi Requiem by yelling at the orchestra for about five minutes, peppering his rant with inappropriate profanities. (No conductor could do that these days, as union rules are much stricter.) Finally, banging his fist on the podium, he said, “I’ll have to step off the podium to calm myself down, but if you don’t ratify this contract you’re just a bunch of goddamn fools.” The orchestra sat, stunned, the blood drained from their faces. Glenn calmly picked up his trumpet and started playing “What Kind of Fool Am I?”

Lest you think that Glenn’s humor had no sublety, I remember that one time during a lunch break some of the brass players visited a German restaurant (still in Texas) that had a guest book, which of course we all signed. The players following Glenn all saw that he had signed his name… Hans Upp.

Perhaps the most legendary story about Glenn occurred years later at a San Francisco Symphony performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony at Carnegie Hall. Before recounting it I would like to mention another story, this one involving Chicago Symphony trumpet player Adolph Herseth, because both stories involve dealing with intense pressure situations. It turns out that one player was there on both occasions—Dave Krehbiel, who early in his career was associate principal horn with the Chicago Symphony and later was principal with the San Francisco Symphony. The conductor of the Chicago Symphony at the time was Fritz Reiner, a great conductor and an even greater dictator. It has been said that with musicians, Reiner was like a shark—if he sensed even a tiny drop of blood in the water, he would attack. Dave said the pressure among orchestra members was so intense that he would drive to concerts hoping he would get into a traffic accident. One thing was sure: sooner or later Reiner would test you. It would be your turn, and either you would survive or you would be broken and out of the orchestra. One day in rehearsal it was Herseth’s turn. He was playing the famous and treacherous trumpet call from Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” The number of times Herseth had to play the call during rehearsal that day is up for debate: I have heard as few as seven times and as many as nineteen. Each time Reiner would stop him and ask for a correction, and Herseth would play the call perfectly once again. Reiner finally asked, “Mr. Herseth, is this a problem for you?” Herseth glanced at his watch and said, “I’m here until 12:30.”

Fast-forward 40 years or so. The San Francisco Symphony was playing Mahler’s Fifth Symphony in Carnegie Hall. In terms of pressure it probably doesn’t get much more intense than that. Not only does the symphony begin with a dramatic trumpet fanfare; quite often the conductor doesn’t even conduct the opening. The conductor on this occasion, Edo de Waart, came on stage and waited for silence. Then, head down, with great drama, he moved his baton forward, signaling that Glenn should begin. Silence. He brought the baton back, waited, and moved it forward again. More silence. He finally looked up and saw that Glenn had his legs crossed and was speaking with the second trumpet. Krehbiel, who as principal horn was sitting next to Glenn, whispered, “Hey, Glenn, de Waart’s on the podium.” Glenn looked up, motioned as if to say, “Just a minute,” finished his sentence, and then began the fanfare. What a great story, and as with all great stories probably too good to be true. Or is it?

Several years ago I had dinner with Glenn before a San Francisco Symphony concert, and I couldn’t resist asking him if the story was true. Well, he said, not exactly. It turned out that when Glenn had motioned “Just a minute,” it was because he had been telling a joke and needed to deliver the punch line. Evidently de Waart didn’t think it was so funny. A number of years later the orchestra did Mahler’s Fifth on Halloween, and when de Waart gave Glenn a solo bow, Glenn stood up and smiled broadly, displaying a set of Dracula teeth. This time de Waart laughed so hard he had to leave the stage.

So, that’s just a sample of the legend that is Glenn Fischthal. There are many, many more stories (for example, the time he fell asleep behind the screen during an audition… and still won!). If readers have more stories, I would love to hear them. But there is one other thing that’s easy to forget.

Glenn Fischthal is a great player, a great musician, and a great guy.

Musical Illiteracy – Part 3

Dec 17, 2014

One of my favorite authors is Michael Lewis, who is perhaps best known for two of his books which became blockbuster movies, The Blind Side and Moneyball. (As good as the movies were, the books are even better). Most of Lewis’ books are on financial topics, and he is an extremely thought-provoking writer. When I copy music I almost always listen to interviews, and in the case of my favorite authors I listen to every interview I can find on You Tube. So I know a bit about Michael Lewis.

Michael Lewis was a student at Princeton University, but he did not major in economics or writing; he majored in art history. And this has influenced the way he thinks about education. I had not really considered this before, but he points out that the vast majority of young people now go to college as a sort of career preparation, as opposed to going to college to get a well-rounded education. This interesting concept applies to music students as well.

When most music students walk into a university or conservatory, they think they are there for training how to become an orchestral musician. So not only are music students not getting a balanced education in the humanities and other aspects of learning, their main focus is on a very limited aspect of music – playing in an orchestra. The most extreme example I can point to is a trumpet professor who urged a student to study with him, because at the end of four years the student would be able to play the 10 excerpts most asked on auditions perfectly and win an audition.

Are music schools in Europe becoming factories, training students only to how to get a job in an orchestra? I think is is probably an exaggeration. However, I do think it’s true, as I’ve blogged elsewhere, that when brass players graduate from conservatories or Hochschules, most of them are in some sense musically illiterate. They may get a job because they play well, but there is not a lot of understanding of the depth or substance of music.

We are entering into a new era, with technology expanding our concepts of everyday living at an exponential rate. I think that music conservatories need to consider very seriously making some changes, urging students to have a deeper knowledge not only of music but of literature and other aspects of living as well. In addition, the student of today must be far more entrepreneurial than before. These tasks seem daunting, but we must face up to them if we are to serve the student of today and tomorrow.

Musical Illiteracy – Part 2

Dec 16, 2014

When I taught at the Freiburg Musik Hochschule I tried to have as many non-trumpet playing guests visit our trumpet master class as possible. These master classes were always fascinating, and it was continually interesting to see how the professors in different categories (string, piano, voice, theory) would have different approaches to the same problem. One such class was given by Katharina Kegler, a good friend who is the pianist who usually works with the brass in the Musik Hochschule.

Katharina has worked not only extensively with brass, but also with woodwinds, string, and voice. And she has worked with both students and professionals. So, in addition to being a superb musician, she has a tremendous amount of experience in all possible sorts of situations. And the premise of Katharina’s presentation was this – during the rests in the music brass and wind players have a tendency to count, whereas string players and singers tend to listen. I have run this idea by a lot of accompanists when I do master classes at other schools, and they all agree with this premise.

To me, at least, this suggests that singers and string players know the piece they are playing, while brass and woodwind players know only the part they are playing. So, even though I am not now discussing musical illiteracy as related to orchestral playing, I believe that this is another form of musical illiteracy that brass players exhibit on a daily basis.

Why is this so? Why do brass players not know the music they are playing as well as string players and singers? I think there are probably numerous reasons, but here are two: first, brass players don’t have the great literature that singers and strings players have. Compared to the Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, for example, that are standard pieces of string and voice repertoire, the repertoire of brass players pales in comparison. And since the literature for strings and voice is so strong, players had better know the piece inside and out or their lack of knowledge will very quickly be obvious. But for brass players this is no excuse. Nor matter what the level of repertoire, a player should always have the same approach – learn the piece as deeply as possible rather than learn only the solo part.

Second, almost no brass players in Europe play chamber music. Although brass players don’t have Beethoven or Bartok quartets in their literature, there is still a great deal of strong music. And thanks to groups like the American Brass Quintet, which has been commissioning music for 50 years or so, the contemporary literature is quite substantial and strong. In the U.S., many universities have a faculty quintet, and students are required to be part of a regular brass quintet. This is simply not so in Germany and other parts of Europe.

So I think one solution to the problem of musical illiteracy is for the various schools in Europe to require students to be in a brass quintet or other chamber music formation that will meet on a weekly basis. My belief is that when students are able to make chamber music a part of their musical day, they will begin to listen (as one must in order to play chamber music) and not just count. In other words, they will be more complete musicians. My hope is that students would take control of their musical education, find other students, and form a chamber music ensemble, but unfortunately this is rarely the case. I have suggested to many students on many different occasions that they should form a quintet or other chamber ensemble, but nothing ever seems to happen. So, if conservatories in Europe really want to develop brass musicians who are literate and not illiterate, a good start would be to require students to play in a regular chamber music group.

Musical Illiteracy – Part 1

Dec 16, 2014

I recently had an experience with a student that was shocking. This student asked to take a lesson in preparation for an upcoming orchestral trumpet audition the following week. One of the pieces on the audition list was a standard piece from the orchestral repertoire, although not a standard audition piece. It was immediately obvious that the student had never heard the piece and therefore the interpretation of the specific excerpt was uninformed and simply wrong for the passage involved. I have experienced this so many times in  Europe, and so while this was upsetting it certainly came as no surprise.

Later that night I mentioned this to my wife, who was formerly a nurse and now teaches KUMON, which is a learning system out of Japan. Cathy is not a professional musician but loves classical music. She said, “A musician who doesn’t know that piece? Unbelievable.” Sadly, my shock was that I didn’t find it unbelievable but rather all too believable.

A few months earlier I had a meeting with all of the brass students at the Norwegian Music Academy, where I now teach. Over the course of an hour I played a short excerpt from 10 standard audition pieces and asked the students to identify the pieces. Only I didn’t play the excerpts asked on auditions but instead other important (and recognizable) selections from the same piece. The results were profoundly depressing. From a total of around 30 students, not one student was able to recognize the beginning of either Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Petroushka, or a rousing passage from Also Sprach Zarathustra, for example.

To me this indicates that although the vast majority of brass students in the U.S. have a better and deeper knowledge of orchestral repertoire than students in Europe. After all, Germany as an example has an incredibly rich and long classical music tradition, especially when compared with the U.S. – Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Hindemith, and so forth. With such a rich tradition, one would think that the great masterpieces would be a daily part of life for a music student. But that is simply not the case – one trombone student in Freiburg admitted never having heard a Mahler Symphony. As my wife Cathy would say – unbelievable.

Perhaps one solution would be that conservatories could require all students to take a musical history survey course. This would not be a normal music history course, but rather would be for students who want to be professionals and who should know the standard orchestral repertoire. As simplistic as this seems it might possibly be a beginning.

The greater hope is that students would begin their conservatory study knowing a certain amount of repertoire (meaning an entire piece, not just the required audition excerpt) and would be eager to learn new masterpieces. Unfortunately this just doesn’t seem to be the case, at least among brass playing students. But this is a very important aspect of being a professional musician – love and knowledge of the music we play. Both students and schools must do better.


Dec 12, 2014

There is a certain sad theme that tends to play itself out in any sport – the hero athlete who is well past their prime and just can’t walk away from the game they love. They have too much emotional investment in what they do, they can’t give up the adulation, and they are unwilling to recognize that their powers are in decline. They are simply incapable of performing the miraculous feats that came easy when they were in their prime, and they refuse to recognize that fact.

Taking an example, Michael Jordan had a fairy-tale ending to a fairy-tale career. With seconds left in a championship game against the Utah Jazz, he stole the ball from hall of famer Karl Malone and made the basket to win his sixth championship. Nobody could write a better ending to an iconic story-book career. Except……..except……….several years later Jordan attempted to make a comeback and the results were, well, less than story-book.

There are many similarities that sports and music share, some mental and some physical. When one thinks of these different aspects of performing in either arena some of these similarities include the following: relaxation combined with intense focus and concentration, ability built from both long hours of practice and expert instruction, the search for perfect form rather than brute strength, and so forth. And also the fact that there are limits, including age limits.

So, since sports and music have so much in common, we can also expect that our musical stars, our icons, will also reach an age when their talents begin to diminish. In other words, when they reach their limits. And I believe this is true. With this in mind it might even be possible to loosely predict a certain age for a certain sport or instrument or voice when the limit has been reached and the inevitable decline follows.

But here is the interesting thing about these limits. Clearly most of the decline is physical, but I believe that there is also an important mental component. That is, how much is truly determined by our age and how much by our thinking? Think first of Roger Bannister. Until he ran a sub four minute mile in 1954 such a feat was deemed impossible. And so it was for centuries – simply an impossible goal. But then he broke the record and now a sub four minute mile is common place. In fact, Steve Scott holds the current record for the number of sub four minute miles – 136!

In music one has to go no further than the person considered by many to be the greatest orchestral trumpet player who ever lived, Adolph Herseth. When Adolph Herseth retired from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra he was 81. Let me say that again – when Adolph Herseth retired from the Chicago Symphony he was 81. Even though I was in Europe during his final years with the orchestra I heard a lot of complaints about his hanging on instead of leaving the orchestra gracefully. But even back then I remember thinking that I didn’t really hear anybody considering this from a different perspective. Forty or fifty years ago people thought that still playing trumpet in an orchestra until the age of 65 was really pushing things. But 81? In a major orchestra? Get real!

So even though Herseth’s final years in the Chicago Symphony were not nearly as successful as his earlier years, in a way I think he gave us a gift. Which is that our limits constantly seem to be expanding. That seems to be as much a fact of life as reaching that limit. And if any sort of limit seems fixed in this day and age, well, why not just move the calendar twenty or thirty years down the road and set that as a limit?

The Bjorn Borg Effect

Jul 11, 2014

I began playing tennis right around the time Bjorn Borg burst onto the tennis scene, and as his career developed in to one of the great tennis careers of all time. I loved to watch him play – his cool demeanor on the court, his clutch play, and of course his wonderful shot making. At the very beginning of his career he was dominated by a slightly older player by the name of Jimmy Connors, who was the exact opposite of Borg – brash and volatile, he would charge the net, whereas Borg played a baseline game, and so forth. But those two young players shared something in common – they both hit their backhands with both hands on the racquet, and at that time this was extremely unusual. And I remember that before Borg began winning major tournaments there were critics who said he would never do anything major because of that funny backhand of his. Then, among other acheivements, he won five Wimbledons in a row and, well, I guess he answered those critics pretty well.

What is interesting about this is not only that he had a great career using a backhand that was somewhat revolutionary for the time, but that he also had a profound effect on the game in Sweden. Sweden was never known as a great tennis country, yet after an incubation period of a few years, other Swedish players began winning championships, people such as Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander, for example. And it is just as common these days to see a player hit a two handed backhand as a one handed backhand (think of Nadal, Djokovich, the Williams sisters, or Sharapova). So for the sake of argument let’s call this the Bjorn Borg Effect.

I believe that we are now just at the beginning of a Bjorn Borg Effect in brass playing, using mainly the trumpet as an example, but this effect doesn’t have anything to do with playing technique. Rather, it has to do with gender.

For the past four decades Sue Slaughter was principal trumpet with the St. Louis Symphony, a major orchestra in America, and was regarded as an essential part of the orchestra’s sound. Unfortunately she was IT – the only woman to hold a principal trumpet position in a major orchestra. She has been replaced by Karin Bliznik, who is another great player but, alas, Karen is the current IT – she is still the only woman in a principal trumpet position in a major orchestra. The Philadelphia Orchestra is unique in that two of its four principal brass players are women – hornist Jennifer Montone and tubist Carol Jantsch. And Gail Williams, who for many years was the associate principal horn of the Chicago Symphony, left the orchestra for a great and very well rounded career, being the top horn soloist from the US, one of its top teachers and a wonderful chamber musician.

But I believe that the Bjorn Borg Effect is beginning because of two European trumpet soloists – Allison Balsom of England and Tine Thing Helseth of Norway. What these two players have in common is that they are, of course, top level soloists. But, more importantly, what they also have in common is branding – they are both women who make playing the trumpet seem glamorous and exciting, and they are both stars. My belief is that because of their branding and stardom there are a number of 10-15 year old girls right now who, when they grow up, want to be soloists like Allison Balsom and Tine Thing Helseth. And so I think that it will only be a matter of time before there will be a number of absolutely top level women soloists on all brass instruments. It could be, however, that it will take longer for a number of women to become principal trumpet players in orchestras, although I do believe it will happen eventually. It’s just that, as well as Karin Bliznik plays, she doesn’t get the publicity that Allison Balsom and Tine Thing Helseth do.

But this WILL happen, and I think it will be a huge step forward for the music business. So I guess the question is –  when will we know that progress has truly been made? For me, it is this: I would love to hear that someday in the future a woman has been appointed principal trumpet of the Vienna Philharmonic. That would surely seal the deal for me.

Sibelius by Scandanavians

Jul 11, 2014

In August of 1990 I moved to Sweden with my fiancée Cathy, now my wife, in order to play with the Malmö Symphony. At the time the position was for one year, but I stayed on for a second season before moving to Modena, Italy, for a very short time, and then to Freiburg, Germany, where I have lived since March 1993.

My first week with the Malmö Symphony was the beginning of a lesson that will last the rest of my life. The featured piece on the program that week was the magnificent Second Symphony of Jean Sibelius, a piece I had played many times in the United States. Yet it wasn’t until that week that I had ever really played the piece, because I had never done it with a Scandinavian orchestra.

During that week I got a glimpse of the way Scandinavians play Sibelius. All the differences essentially came down to an attitude about Sibelius and his music. The music was not just great; it was also important. Bo Nilsson, my friend and trumpet player in the orchestra who was responsible for my getting the position, used the rehearsals to teach me how to phrase certain passages of Sibelius in a Scandanavian way instead of an American way. It was a great week, but it was just the beginning of my education about the culture of countries as it relates to their great works of music.

Years later I invited the Russian violinist Nicolas Chumachenko to one of our weekly master classes at the Freiburg Musik Hochschule in order to discuss Russian music and to hear students play some of standard Russian trumpet literature. At the beginning of the master class I asked him to talk about Russian culture and style, which he did, and to demonstrate and play excerpts from the Tchaikowsky Violin Concerto, first in a non-Russian style and finally as a Russian would play it, with Russian inflections and phrasings. It was the same experience as with Sibelius—the first version was beautiful, the second version was Tchaikowsky.

What I have come to realize is that each country has its own musical treasures: Russia its Tchaikowsky, Prokofieff, Shostakovich; Germany its Bach, Beethoven, Brahms; France its Debussy and Ravel; and so forth. The United States has its Copland and Gershwin but also its Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. And it seems to me that a big difference between the United States and these other countries is that the United States doesn’t revere its artists as other countries do. The first time I was in the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia at that time), I heard a Dvorak symphony performed by the same orchestra and in the same hall where Dvorak premiered the piece over a hundred years before. When I walked by a record store, there were displays of the latest recordings of music by Dvorak, Smetana, and Janacek. I have never seen anything like that in an American record store.

I learned several things from experiences such as these. The first is that the United States must learn to value and revere its musical treasures – as John Steinbeck said in a letter to John Kennedy, “A nation may be moved by its statesmen and defended by its military but it is usually remembered for its artists.” The second is more personal and practical. Each of us, in playing music of different countries and cultures, can seek out performances by groups from that country and emulate their particular phrasings and style. With Youtube and the Internet it is now possible to keep one’s own traditions while at the same time playing composers from other countries in a style that captures their essential spirit.


Sibelius by Scandinavians is not just beautiful. It’s Sibelius.

The Case Against Haydn, Part 2

Jul 10, 2014

My thoughts about auditions will at first be general and then a bit more specific. In terms of picking repertoire for an audition I would suggest that the basic goal of the first round should simply be to get the most qualified applicants safely into the second round. This may mean that some not so qualified players advance to the second round but no problem – they can be eliminated in the second round. But all too often some very highly qualified candidates are eliminated in the first round and this, I feel, should be avoided at all costs. So the audition material in the first round should be basic and not too difficult. Quite often the more experienced players who already have a job show a tendency to improve with each successive round as their knowledge and experience become more apparent, while a talented student does well in the early going but then later in the audition process proves to be simply not qualified for the position.

The second round should now be one where only the most highly qualified players are considered for the third round. Whereas the purpose of the first round should be to get the more qualified candidates into the second round, the purpose of the second round should be to eliminate everybody except those who are good enough to take the job. Therefore, the audition material should be much more challenging and extreme than in the first round. Since there will be fewer players in this round each candidate should be given enough time to show what they can really do as a player. In technical and physical terms this should be the most difficult round. In this round the committee should know if a candidate is thoroughly capable of handling the most difficult passages in the repertoire.

Most auditions have three rounds, so let’s assume that the third round is the final round, which will probably mean that there are only several players involved. All of these players should be qualified to be a member of the orchestra. Sometimes one player will stand out as being obviously the best candidate, and this is probably what every orchestra wants – an easy choice. This is also easier for the candidates as well, if they realize that a certain player was obviously the best. But often the choice is difficult and can come down to who is the best “fit” for the orchestra, not only in terms of style and musicality but also personality. This is a round where solo literature can be asked and where the candidates can be asked to play with the section. And the requirements for a second or third player should be different than those for a principal player. Showing one’s ability as a soloist is necessary when choosing a principal player, but a second player should be solid as a rock and should have the necessary tools to make the principal player feel comfortable and secure. The third player should be a combination of these two, with the ability to be a section player yet also the ability to be able to play solo lines.

My own personal opinion is that the position of principal trumpet is such an important position that there should be a fourth and final round, and that the one to three candidates should be invited to either play various excerpts with the orchestra or have a week or two playing concerts with the orchestra. The problem with this last suggestion is of course the cost involved, but picking the best candidate can save the orchestra money in the long run because that candidate will be with the orchestra for many years, as opposed to a player being hired, not getting tenure, and then the orchestra spending both time and capital to arrange another audition.

The Case Against Haydn: Suggestions for Fairer and More Balanced Trumpet Auditions, Part 1

Jul 9, 2014

Many people involved in auditions are unhappy these days. Applicants feel that they don’t get a chance to show what they can really do and are quite upset with the fact that often a first audition produces no winner (and at times even a second audition), and on the other side of the screen the committee and conductor feel that the level of candidates is not as high as  they would like it to be.  There are many sides to this problem, and this blog discusses only one.  But it is an important aspect of auditions and I believe that it needs serious discussion. Thus far repertoire and the thinking behind repertoire seems to be taken for granted, and so my hope is that this will stimulate discussion which will lead to fairer and more successful auditions for all involved.

Imagine this scenario: you have been invited for a job interview at the largest bank in your city. At your interview you are asked to demonstrate your skills in operating a PC.   “But,” you say, “I thought that this bank works with a Mac, and although I can probably run a PC I am an expert with a Mac.”   “Yes,” comes the reply, “we do use Mac exclusively and you will never have to use a PC with us, but we still required that the first round of our interview be with a PC. Oh, and by the way, you will be asked to use software that will make the PC more difficult to operate.”   “But what does this actually have to do with my job, should I be lucky enough to get it?” you ask.   “Nothing at all” comes the reply. “It’s just our tradition.”

Let’s now step out of this imaginary job interview and put ourselves in an orchestral trumpet audition. Substitute the Haydn Trumpet Concerto for the PC, the standard orchestral repertoire for the Mac, and the German Bb trumpet for software. In a number of countries in Europe this is the scene of the first round of an orchestral trumpet audition. The candidate is asked to play a piece that he/she will never once play as part of the job description, and is asked to play this piece on an instrument which makes it more difficult to play. And to carry this scenario to its ultimate conclusion, the player is asked to perform in a style that often is out of character with the musical style of the piece.

Does this make sense? It sure doesn’t to me. But it is a tradition in Europe and tradition, no matter how illogical, dies hard. Because of this tradition I have seen so many qualified applicants eliminated without having had a chance to show their skills as orchestral players. I have seen so many talented players lose interest in having to take auditions, since they know that they will once again have to reduce a wonderful piece of music to a trial that they must endure and hopefully survive. And I have heard at least one player sarcastically express the opinion that the first round of an orchestral audition should be just one note – the high Eb. Make it and you go to the second round, miss it and you go home.

By now it must seem as though I’m mounting a campaign against the Haydn Trumpet Concerto. Actually, I’m only against the Haydn as an audition piece for the first round of an orchestral trumpet audition. I think it is a wonderful piece to include in a solo competition. After all, it is a Concerto and not an orchestral excerpt.

Since we’re talking about orchestral trumpet auditions I think it would be wise to consider what qualities a musical director and committee might like to hear. Here are a few: obviously a good sound is necessary, along with a stable sense of rhythm. In addition, lyrical playing is often required, and of course the technique necessary to master the many difficult passages that face an orchestral player. Finally, a sense of drama, power, and pacing of a phrase should also be considered.   I think it is important for a conductor and orchestra committee to realize exactly what kind of player they want for the position. This must be balanced with flexibility, of course, but having a good idea of the type of player they are seeking can help to encourage a successful audition. So many auditions that are held today end up being negative experiences for quite a number of players who are involved. The candidates feel as though they weren’t given a chance or that the audition wasn’t fair. In the case of the Haydn Concerto all too often a candidate will play well yet find that they were eliminated because they guessed the wrong way – did they play this classical piece too “big” and in an orchestral style, thereby giving the impression that they are not a refined player? Or did they play in a light and elegant style only to be eliminated because the committee felt that they didn’t have a big enough sound? That is quite a dilemma facing the candidate, and so I would like to suggest an alternative approach.

The Bad News Bell Curve

Jul 8, 2014

Most students accepted into university music programs as performance majors have the talent and potential to succeed as professional musicians. Yet far fewer than fifty percent end up making a good living as performers. Why is this? A look at the bell curve may help to shed some light on this.

The bell curve represents what statisticians call a “normal distribution.” What this means for performance majors is that most of them fit somewhere in the middle. A few on one side of the curve are extremely poor, while a few on the other side are superior. In most professions, you can be in the middle of the bell curve in college and make a fine living after graduation. But if you are a music performance major and are in the middle of the bell curve, you have relatively little chance to succeed as a professional. Only the truly superior students will have a chance, and they will be competing with the top students from other schools. In addition, when they audition for jobs such as orchestra positions, they will be competing against top students from other countries. That’s the good news. The bad news is that these superior students could also be competing against seasoned professionals who may be at the level of their own teacher.

The problem arises when the student confuses talent with skill, and those are two completely different things. Talent is what we are born with, but skill is far more important – it is basically the final product that we offer. And the only way to develop talent into skill is by working very hard and also working very smart. Since most college students do believe they have the talent, the ones that end up at the superior side of the bell curve are simply the ones who have a better and more intelligent work ethic. Many top professional musicians use the phrase, “Hard work trumps talent.”  That is what it takes to get to the far end of the bell curve.

Unfortunately, most students don’t seem to realize how difficult it is to become a successful working musician. They feel comfortable in their college or conservatory music program and expect their success to continue. But in music performance, good or comfortable is not good enough. Sometimes it’s not even close to being good enough. This may sound brutal, but in fact it’s brutally honest. If you want a career in music performance, you’d better be at the far end of the bell curve. Being in the middle of the bell curve probably will not get you a career in music, or at least a successful career in music.

So, if you are a music student and feel comfortable at school… beware the Bad News Bell Curve.

A Lose-Win Situation

Jul 7, 2014

For many years Nick Norton was the principal trumpet of the Utah Symphony. Before that he was second trumpet with the same orchestra. Recently he stepped down from principal to play in the section so that he could have more time and freedom to enjoy life. His career with the Utah Symphony has been special, and he is revered by his colleagues. But Nick, like everybody else in life, has also had his share of failures.  And one of those failures led to unexpected consequences.

When Nick was a student he auditioned as a doctoral candidate for Vincent Cichowitz at Northwestern University. Cichowitz was in his heyday as a teacher at that time, and was probably the most sought-after professor in the United States. Unfortunately Nick had a bad day and did not pass his audition—setback number one. So he decided to try for the University of Southern California and Tom Stevens, who at that time was principal trumpet with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a solo recording artist, and also a great teacher. Nick was accepted and all was well with the world except… shortly before Nick was due to begin at USC, Tom quit—setback number two. I had recently joined the faculty, so by default Nick ended up being my student.

Not only did we have a good teacher/student relationship, but our friendship developed into one of the strongest and most enduring friendships of my life. So when I made the decision in 1989 to burn my bridges and stop freelancing in Los Angeles in order to pursue the possibility of a solo career full-time (ever the idealist), I moved from Los Angeles back to Salt Lake City, where I had once played with the Utah Symphony. Nick had joined the orchestra, and he and his wife Claudia were such close friends of mine that I figured that if I was going to radically change my life that would be a good place to start.

Within a year of moving to Salt Lake City, I met my wife Cathy on a blind date.  We became engaged, moved to Sweden where I was hired to play with the Malmo Symphony, got married in Sweden, moved to Italy for a short time, and since 1993 have been in Freiburg, Germany. Our daughter Kelsey was born in1993, and our son Jason was born two years later.

I guess we never know what the outcome of any success or failure will be. Although I would never wish anybody bad luck on an audition, on behalf of my wife and children I sure am glad that Nick had a bad day so many years ago at Northwestern.

On Becoming a Composer

Dec 3, 2013

I have never had a composition lesson in my life. I don’t say this with pride, but rather just as a matter of fact. When I was in college all I wanted to be was a trumpet player. I took all the classes I needed in order to graduate but my heart, mind, and body were always in the practice room or in a rehearsal or concert. My memories of my experiences as an aspiring and enthusiastic trumpet player are strong and vivid, while my memory of my time as a music student having anything to do with intellect or scholarship is distant and vague. But although my life at that time was narrow and perhaps limited, it was also wonderful – I was totally involved in doing what I loved. Every student should be so lucky.

As a trumpet player my sights were set on becoming an orchestral player. I had my heroes, and the most immediate were my main trumpet teachers, Irving Bush, later Tom Stevens, and also the other two members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic trumpet section, Robert Divall and Mario Guarneri. My distant and unreachable heroes were probably the standard heroes of most other young trumpet students of the day – Adolph Herseth of the Chicago Symphony and the soloist Maurice Andre.

But in addition to being involved in orchestral playing I also played in a brass quintet called the Fine Arts Brass Quintet. And it was for this group that I wrote my first piece of music. It was justifiably called Mini-Suite because, even though it had four movements, its total length was less than four minutes. It wasn’t much, but even though I didn’t realize it at the time it was a beginning. Mini-Suite was published by Western International Music, not because it was any sort of stellar work, but simply because the owner of the company, Bill Schmidt, had befriended me (and eventually became a mentor of mine). When the piece was published I had just begun working at my first permanent orchestral job, with the San Antonio Symphony, and I still remember the thrill I had when I received the publication in the mail and saw my name on a piece of published music.

That was around May 1970, and for almost the next twenty years playing always came first and composing was second. I began by writing for brass in smaller combinations, but later began writing for larger combinations of instruments – a brass octet (Music for Brass Octet), several pieces for wind ensemble (Textures, a Flute Concerto), and so forth.

Fast forward to Dec. 4, 1989. I was in Berlin to play several Christmas Oratorios and also a few solo concerts with organ. I stayed with some friends of the organist, and on my one free evening I went across the street to the Deutsche Oper to see if I could get a last minute ticket for a production of Prokofieff’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, one of my favorite pieces. As luck would have it, somebody approached me in front of the theater and offered a ticket at no cost, which I of course gratefully accepted. Although the production was far short of spectacular, that night was an epiphany for me – from that night forward I knew that I would eventually quit playing and become a “real” composer. To me that meant that I would be a composer of works in all or at least most genres, rather than being a composer of just music for brass. The greatness of Prokofieff touched me so much that I adopted the idea that even if I failed as a composer I could still say that I was in the same profession as Prokofieff. It took me another 10 1/2 years before I was able to retire from playing the trumpet in order to have more time to compose, but Dec. 4, 1989 was the evening that radically altered the direction of my life.

The Student of Today: Part 3 (Technology and Being a Musician / Entrepreneur)

Nov 13, 2013

When I was a student at UCLA in Los Angeles and would play some sort of outside gig with a professional, I would occasionally be told, “When I was your age, things were much tougher for students and musicians.”  I have no idea if they were right, but the implication was that back in “those days,” the players who succeeded somehow had more character.  I think this attitude will always prevail with some older players, but my own opinion these days is just the opposite: the music business is far more difficult for the young player of today than it was during my time as a student.

There are several reasons for this.  The level of playing overall seems to be higher, which of course means there is much more competition for that one position everyone wants. And I think it is obvious to anyone looking at the music business that the profession is having real problems.  Just look at how many orchestras are struggling and how many have failed.  It is easy to point a finger at the financial crisis of 2008 or incompetent management, but, even taking those factors into account, the traditional music business is in decline.

This is what the student of today faces, and it is not a pretty picture.  There is more and better competition, and the job market is shrinking. You don’t have to be a math genius to see that the numbers are not encouraging.  However, there is a positive side to this story if students are willing to be proactive and take responsibility not only for their performance level but also for their career.  And so that is why I think I had it relatively easy when I was a student: basically, all I thought about was to practice a lot and try to get better.  I didn’t have to worry about developing a career; I just had to do well on the job and in various auditions.

But today’s student must also be an entrepreneur. And that means using today’s technology not only to develop a career but to also to expand learning and knowledge.


I think we live in an incredibly exciting time. It’s a time when we can think of a question and get an answer immediately, a time when we can think of a certain world class performer and read more about that performer online or hear performances and interviews, a time when we can make connections with almost anybody around the world.  Think about that for a minute. It is amazing!

Here are just a few ideas about how technology can help a person learn more about music (or anything in life).


As I write this, Google is still the biggest search engine, and it is possible to learn so many things through Google.  If you are in doubt about something, just Google it.  You will find not only an answer, but possibly other approaches to that question as well.  And there are times when you can go directly to the source, if you just have the courage to do so.  Several years ago a student of mine, Eddie Ludema, had some questions about a wonderful, substantial piece he was working on, Masks for Trumpet and Piano, by Dana Wilson.  I wasn’t sure I could give Eddie a  knowledgeable answer to his questions so I said, “Why don’t you find Wilson’s email address and ask him?”  Eddie said he would not feel comfortable doing that, I said he should, and after a short discussion Eddie grudgingly said he would do it. (Even in this new age of technology the teacher almost always wins.)  So Eddie sent an email and got a very nice and thoughtful response from the composer.  That could not have happened even in the fairly recent past.

In addition to being able use search engines and contact performers, agents, and composers, I would suggest going on as many websites as possible, and especially websites of your favorites performers or composers.  Ask yourself: What do these websites have in common, and how are they different?  By going on the websites of your favorite artists, you can gain valuable insight into the way they think and approach music.  As an example, since I am a teacher of trumpet and brass chamber music, here are a couple of websites that I think are very insightful: (articles) (quotables)


YouTube presents many opportunities for learning.  Type in your favorite artist, click on the first thing you see, and not only can you hear a great performance, piece, or interview; you will see that there are other YouTube videos that you can watch.  Not only can you hear your favorite artist of today; you can also view historical performances, such as Shostakovich playing his Piano Concerto in 1934, Hindemith conducting the Chicago Symphony in 1963, and so on.  Here are a couple of my own favorites:

* Bernstein: Folk Music (1/6), beginning around minute 3: In the next few minutes Leonard Bernstein explains how different languages influence music and phrasing, and this short explanation is probably more valuable and thoughtful than a semester-long music course in college.

*Will Smith Inspiration (minute 3 – Building a Wall), and NBS 2011 Artist Panel: Tom Hooten. Combine these two, and you have a great approach to practicing effectively.

Keeping Score: Shostakovich Symphony 5 or Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring: These are examples by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony of extremely well produced and recorded programs that give tremendous insight into the making of great music.

The possibilities are endless, and every day presents an opportunity to learn something new and valuable.


Although in the future there will no doubt be fewer opportunities for traditional employment, the new technology is creating far more opportunities, if one is willing to be creative, take chances, and sometimes think outside the box.  Technology is expanding rapidly, and to show how quickly things change, Tom Friedman, who in 2004 wrote the iconic bestselling book about globalization, The World Is Flat, recently went back to that book as research for a new book and checked in his index for Facebook.  To his surprise, he couldn’t find it! Friedman says that we have gone from being connected to being hyperconnected, and he states that in 2004, “Facebook didn’t exist, Twitter was still a sound, the cloud was still in the sky, 4G was a parking place, LinkedIn was where you went to prison, applications were what you sent to college, and SKYPE was a typo.”  And that covers only the last ten years.  Imagine what our world will be like ten years from now.

Since so much is now out there, I will address only the two topics I discussed before.


One possibility for furthering one’s career is to use Facebook as a way of reaching people.  A great number of people already use Facebook and other social media to be in touch with one another, and quite often it seems as though these sites present opportunities only for how to waste time and become shallow.  But social media can also provide a way of getting your message “out there.”  I think an even better use of the Internet is to have a website.  Most students think they haven’t developed enough to need a website, but I disagree.  A website doesn’t have to be used only for high-profile concerts or commissions.  It can also be used as a way to get wedding gigs, explore private teaching opportunities, and so forth.  And as a career progresses, the website can always be revised and expanded.  Websites can be expensive, but if you are a college student these days, you almost surely know someone who is tech-savvy and would love to build a website for a friend at a nominal fee.


As I stated earlier, YouTube is a fantastic way of learning.  But it can also be used as a way of getting yourself heard by people who would normally not have the chance.  An extreme example of this is the pianist Valentina Lesitsa, who turned a career that was on hold into one that has soared.  To anybody interested in using YouTube for career enhancement, I would suggest Googling the following: Valentina Lisitsa, the pianist who won the Internet.  She is an exception, but some of the principles apply to everyone. Your video doesn’t have to be glitzy, but it should look professional and of high quality.

In conclusion, the student of today must be better, smarter, and more creative than the student of yesterday.  This may seem daunting, and indeed it is.  But if a student is willing to take up the challenge, then it can lead to unlimited possibilities for growth.  Now, much more than ever, a student’s future lies in their own hands.  It will be increasingly easy to blame failure on circumstances — the economy is terrible, orchestras are dying, the music business is corrupt, and so on.  But the student who succeeds in the future will use these negatives as a starting point  on the way to future growth and an inspiring career in music.

The Student of Today: Part 2 (Traditional Values)

Nov 8, 2013


I believe that to do well in anything in life we must have passion, a love for the work. Steve Jobs, in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech, put it well: “The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”  Normally one does not choose music as a profession due to financial considerations.  In fact, quite often the reverse is true – we pursue a career in music in spite of financial considerations.  We pursue a career because of our love and passion for music.

As a teacher it is easy to spot students who have this sort of passion for music.  They work harder, but because of their passion the work is not work; it is play.  That is one very easy way to spot a student who has passion: is practicing fun or work?  If it is fun the passion is there; if it is work, then better to work in another profession, for at least the weekends will be enjoyable.  The great chess master Bobby Fischer was once asked, “What is chess to you?”  His opponent had, in the same interview, answered by saying, “Chess is like life.”  Bobby Fischer said, “Chess is life.”  The same could be said for our profession: music is life and life is music.  Or, as the great American scholar Joseph Campbell put it, you must “follow your bliss.”

If you love what you do, there are a couple of ways you can develop and even increase your passion.  The first is to simply be around passionate people, the type of people who inspire and energize you.  These can be friends or teachers, for example.  They will make you feel that you not only can do more or better than where you currently are, but that you should do better.  The flip side of this coin is that you should spend as little time as possible with people who are negative.  As with positive influences, these people can be friends, and unfortunately, also teachers.  It is said that we are the average of the five people we spend most of our time with, so choose those five people carefully.

A second way to build your passion is to have heroes.  Know that some of your heroes will change over the years, while others will remain.  Some early heroes for me were trumpet players – Adolph Herseth, Maurice Andre, and my own teachers.  But I have added heroes as the years have gone by – Arthur Ashe (integrity under extremely difficult circumstances), Tchaikowsky (for his body of work), American historians David Halberstam and Robert Caro (for their passion and work ethic), Atticus Finch (the fictional father from To Kill a Mockingbird), and, most recently, Charlie Rose (for the breadth of his knowledge and his love of life).  And I have lifelong friends who are also heroes.  All these people have traits that I seek to emulate.


If  passion is there, work will be like play.  And I believe that the purpose of this work, as in any field, is to develop talent into skill.  It is easy to confuse talent with skill, but in my mind they are two different things.  Talent is what we were born with and has to do with our own potential (which is usually greater than we believe), while skill is what we do with our talent, how we develop our talent.

Over the past decade or more, experts have studied the subject of talent and skill and how these lead to success.  And one of the standard, if at times controversial, findings is the concept of the 10,000 rule.  This rule states that  in order to be really good at almost anything, a person needs to put in at least 10,000 hours of practice (or roughly 20 hours a week for 10 years).  As a student I would practice six hours a day during summer vacation and would try to get in four hours during the college semester.  Most college students practice 2-3 hours a day, and so practicing more than that is an advantage.  Just recently I heard a concert of the Tonhalle-Orchestra in Zurich where an ex-student, Heinz Saurer, is co-solo trumpet.  When Heinz was preparing for his audition he put in about 7 hours of practice time a day.  And even now, 10 years into the job, he will be at the hall by 7:30 a.m. for a 9:30 rehearsal (1-1/2 hours for his warm up, 30 minutes for a coffee).  Heinz is an extremely talented player, but it was and is his work ethic that separates him from the pack and makes him such a superior player.

And yet… there are many people who practice a lot and don’t seem to improve much. Which brings us to the second part of this equation, which is effective, or deep, practice.  There is a quote from the famous physicist, Richard Feynman, that is a favorite of mine: “The main principle is that you must never fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”  And I think it is very easy to fool yourself with practice.

Several years ago I happened to read two books back to back that contained phrases which, to me, constitute a perfect definition of practice : “simple things understood deeply” (Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Jazz, by Edward Burger and Michael Starbird) and “caring more and more about less and less” (The Violin Maker, by John Marchese).  To me, those phrases indicate a perfect recipe for practice.  The current principal trumpet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Tom Hooten, uses three Asian words as guidelines for his practice concept. The words mean small improvements, perfect concentration and form, and repetition.  There is nothing fancy or new about this, but quite often students don’t go back to the basics as often as they should.  Patience should always be combined with discipline; indeed, I think it is a part of discipline.


I gave a talk about this subject at the Trossingen Musik Hochschule, and when I asked for questions after discussing work ethic, my friend Wolfgang Guggenberg, trumpet professor at the school, said, “Curiosity is also very important.”  Wolfgang is so right.  I think curiosity can turn a great player into a great musician and finally into a great artist.

I heard a story once about a very young Vladimir Horowitz taking a lesson from the famed Russian composer and pianist Alexander Scriabin.  After Horowitz played only one piece, the Russian maestro said to Horowitz something like, “Good, thank you, goodbye.”  When Horowitz asked if Scriabin was going to teach him anything, Scriabin replied, “Know everything.”  At 85 years of age, Horowitz said he had always tried to follow Scriabian’s advice.

This may be exactly what you don’t want to do, but I would suggest trying to be the dumbest, not the smartest, person in the room.  If you are “dumb,” you can ask questions and consistently learn about new areas of life.  In addition, read as much as you can.  Follow your passions (such as favorite authors and subjects) and see where they will take you.  One of the great joys of my life in recent years has been listening to interviews on YouTube while copying music.  We are surrounded by genius, beauty, and challenging ideas. I believe that if you spend your time hearing a stimulating interview or reading a great book, your inner life will be far richer than, for example, if you watch some of the junk we find on television or the internet.

In closing this section on traditional values, I’ll quote from an interview with the American author James Baldwin.

Interviewer: What do you tell younger writers who come to you with the usual desperate question: How do I become a writer?

Baldwin: Write.  Find a way to keep alive and write.  There is nothing else to say.  If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you’re not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you.  What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real.

Interviewer: Can you discern talent in someone?

Baldwin: Talent is insignificant.  I know a lot of talented ruins.  Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.

The Student of Today: Part 1

Oct 14, 2013

This three-part blog post comes from a presentation I have given at different colleges and music schools throughout the United States and Europe.  The subject is being a student in today’s world, and since the area where I make my living is music, it will deal with aspects of the world of music, specifically music performance.  But it is my belief that the ideas and principles that I will discuss pertain to being a student in any subject.  And I would like to state as strongly as possible that I believe that one should be a student for an entire lifetime – I hope that I am still curious and trying to learn up to my final breath.

The  possibilities of making a living as a performer are dwindling, and this decline now seems almost precipitous.  In a well-known study, the 1994 graduating class from Juilliard was contacted  ten years later, and of the 44 people the researchers were able to find, 12 had  left music.  If  one keeps in mind that Juilliard is one of the top music schools in the world and that things are more difficult now than in 2004, it is not overstating things to assert that the average student in a mid-level university has very little chance of a performing career in music.

Yet the great majority of students today think that if they are doing well in their college career it is an indication that things will continue that way after graduation.  Perhaps in other subjects that may be the case, but certainly not in the area of music performance. So I think that a student who wants a performing career must realize that the chances of success are not high.  And today’s student must be prepared to have an exceptional work ethic – only in rare cases is even a decent work ethic good enough.

That is the bad news.  But the good news is this – through technology the motivated student of today has a huge advantage over students of the past.  This use of technology will be discussed in a later blog, but the big difference is that during the time when I was a student the basic mindset was just to practice hard, keep improving, and finally get a job.  I grew up in the city of Los Angeles, and so I had the added advantage of being able to freelance while still being a student.  But even  in terms of freelancing I was still, in a way, passively involved.  Organizations would call me to play for them, rather than my acting as an entrepreneur and generating my own possibilities.  It was considered to be very poor form for a player to hustle for work – this was thought to be politics of the worst sort.

My belief now is that a student must not only work on developing performance skills but also entrepreneurial skills.  The student musician of today must be more flexible and savvy than the student of the past.  This may sound daunting because it means that  students must take far more responsibility for their future than before.  But I see this as positive, since it means that students can take far greater control of their lives and career.  But where to start?  I believe that success in anything begins with one word: passion.