Online Teaching and Coaching

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

Older Than Thou

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

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

On Music and Dying
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.