It’s the middle of summer, my kid is watching cartoons while I look at my units of study for the up coming school year. Since I am a middle school band director, I tend to worry about how effectively I am helping students learn specific skills on their instruments and the other parts of music, like music theory and music history. Never mind connecting them to other subjects studies at out school and finding ways to stay in touch with anything current and relevant to middle school kids, while thinking about making global connections to all we do.
Just for fun (or because I’m a glutton for punishment) we will be tackling intro to music theory, the Romantic era of music history, beginning conducting and beginning composition.
And yes, this will be the work 6th, 7th and 8th graders will explore with me. Should be a fun school year, so why am I worried about it in July?
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.
I don’t claim to be the kind of person that has it all together. In fact anyone that really knows me, understand that the confidence they see is just a facade. So it may come as a surprise to many that even though I perform music often, I still get quite nervous.
Most performers or public speakers understand the kind of nervous I am referring to. The kind of uncomfortable that comes every once in a while, when you are put into an unfamiliar situation. Or worst, when you know exactly the position you will be in and you know it’s not going to be good. What ends up happening to some is well known as “The Shakes”.
There are ways of combatting this problem. First, is knowing what happening to you. Understanding that your body is flooding with adrenaline as part of your fight or flight reaction to stressful encounters. Second (at least for me) is to breathe, while the voice in my head is going through the task in front of me step by step. Third is understanding that I need to have experiences working in these environments to help reduce or cope with this kind of reaction. So try to put yourself in that position more often than you’d like, to teach yourself how to deal with the anxiety. The last option is to use medication.
Many people use propranolol to help deal with the physical aspects of performance anxiety. These beta blockers can be used to chemically resist our adrenaline from causing performers to shake uncontrollably. The New York Times has an article titled “Better Playing Through Chemistry” on the subject and WQXR also did a set of radio interviews. Check them out, they give a wide perspective on the reasons for the use of medication for performers.
Please comment if you have other thoughts and suggestions. I think it’s a discussion we should not be afraid to have.
There are certain stress points for musicians, traveling with your instrument is definitely one of them. Some of my friends have had horrible stories about how they and their instruments were treated. This video however is a hilarious look at some of the funny thoughts and rules concerning traveling on commercial airlines and musical instruments.