Starting a new school year at a new school. I find myself thinking about all the lesson plans and units of study I put together over the past decade. Eventually, I get to a place in my thoughts where I think about “change” being the only thing that is constant in life. I think that is a quote or a thought attributed to Heraclius.
Other quotes that come to mind relate to the kind of teacher or musician I’d like to be…or at least the methods. Stravinsky chief among them has helped me with:
- What gives the artist real prestige is his imitators.
- Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.
- A good composer does not imitate; he steals.
Finally, I land on my favorite Einstein quote.
When I was first setting up my Twitter account, I was stumped by my title. At first, I thought, I should just use what’s on my business card… The only problem was which one should I use. At the time I was a freelance trumpeter, with about 498 cards from Vista Print and a music teacher at an independent private school in Lynnwood.
Okay…now for the next problem. I can’t just be a trumpeter, I want to stand out as more than an instrumentalist. I am a musician who plays the trumpet. Right, so don’t use trumpeter go with “musician”. Now for the other business card. I could go with teacher or instructor…time to pull out the thesaurus…EDUCATOR in big bold letters was the first word I saw. So I went with “teacher” for a while (probably because I had a narrow view of what I did at the time) however I recently changed it to Educator. (and I like that decision)
I had another problem…which comes first. Am I, a musician who educates or an educator who is a musician? The answer to this part of my online identity was very similar to my own personal struggle with personal and cultural identity. My parents are from the Dominican Republic, so I am Dominican. When I’m with them, my brother, and all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins (lots of cousins) I am Dominican. But I was born in the United States, In the Bronx to be exact. So I’m American! I am both, 100% American and 100% Dominican. So I’m 200%. (I’m not sure that’s how that works, but remember I’m a musician, not a mathematician).
Eventually, I settled with musician first, because I feel that is the seed for all that I do in a professional capacity. I can’t teach music unless I am a musician. I certainly can’t perform music on the trumpet without being a musician first. At least that’s how I feel.
But the truth, (like my personal and cultural identity issue) is that I can do both and am both at the same time. I can’t divorce one from the other because “that’s who I am”.
I don’t get into the spirit around the holidays or go out of my way to feel merry. However, when December roles around I tend to put on more music and listen with a purpose. That’s just because of the curriculum I mapped out for myself.
My 5th graders are learning about medieval & renaissance music, the 6th – 8th graders are learning about the baroque period in music. I am awash in composers and significant fact about the world at those times. Recordings of groups like the Orlando Consort, the Hilliard Ensemble and Anonymous 4. I get to talk about Guillaume de Machaut, John Dowland and Thomas Morley then Bach, Handel and Monteverdi to middle school kids.
As a kid raised in NYC in the 1980’s and 90’s, I often marvel at what it was that drew me to this kind of music. The best part is that there is no way of telling whether I’m teaching this or just having fun with my collection of recordings. Either way I love this time of the year.
If I ever need reminding about the struggle of being a band director and why it’s important to do what I do, Wynton Marsalis sums it up in this talk. All of it applicable to those who learn and those who teach.
I know what your thinking, yet another trumpeter writing about the importance of mouthpiece selection and striking the perfect balance between back-bore and throat size. I happen to follow all those trends religiously but this isn’t another one of those rants. Coincidentally, I currently play a Laskey 75C with a standard throat and back-bore, not that it matters. The question about mouthpieces comes up for me at least twice a year. I’ve noticed this pattern over the past 5 or 6 years.
The question comes up because I want to improve my performance on the trumpet. Which usually leads me to examine my approach to the instrument and the art of creating music. In reality it’s a small question that leads to bigger thoughts. The progression of questions might start off like this:
• Should I play a 22 throat with a symphonic back-bore like I did for 12 years or stay with what I have currently?
• Am I producing the sound I want the audience to hear?
• Am I performing music as the composer’s intended and am I being true to the style of music I am performing?
• Am I growing as an artist and educator of music?
• Can I continue to perform music and have a meaningful family life?
• Do I make enough money as a musician and educator?
• Am I doing everything I can to provide for my kid?
• Should I finish this bottle of wine or just go to bed?
This is jus a small sampling of the rabbit hole I fall into late at night/early morning. It starts off with the idea of playing a different mouthpiece and whether it’s the “Right Move”. Then there are the other question… Can I afford it financially….Can I afford not to make a change?
Too many questions … Maybe I’ll open up the back-bore next month.
Practical Daily Warm-Ups for Trumpet by Zachary Lyman is a great set of exercises to add to your practice routine. I don’t often get an opportunity to review the work of a friend and colleague, so I take great delight in writing the next set of words.
I use this book often and I use it with my students to supplement their Schlossberg assignments. The first set of buzzing exercises have been particularly wonderful for my beginning trumpet students. It has been a great addition to my library. If you want a copy of this book you should look it up at Keveli Music. While there, look up some of their other publications.
I’d like to think that I have a certain amount of balance in my life. If I keep to my routines I feel whole and complete. As a musician-educator there are few opportunities to work both sides of my professional life equally and with the same intensity. One will usually be stronger than the other, in other words I am either a musician (performer) who teaches music or a music teacher who plays music occasionally.
Then there’s the personal life and the balancing act which has become a game of Jenga. Spending the right kind of time with the spouse and kid, while keeping sanity within arms reach can be daunting. Not forgetting to exercise your body as well, you can’t afford to be out of shape. Eating well can be optional, depending on how much time you spend in you car. It seem to be all a game. One piece moved too far out and the whole structure come falling down and all the players get to yell JENGA!
There are rare instances where it all just seems to work. Hardly noticeable to you in the moment, sometime after the day has past by, you take stock of all the events that came into focus at the right times and in the right ways. Today might have been one of those days.