One of the harsh lessons I had to learn as a young undergraduate was the importance of being on time. I'm sure many have heard this adage, but it's worth repeating:
"To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is unexcusable."
In even simpler terms, this means that you should be at all commitments, whether it be class, a lesson, an ensemble, a date, or appointment, as early as you can be, within reason. If you have a trombone lesson at 11:00 AM, and you have nothing in the hour before the lesson, it might be a good idea to be outside your professor's door a couple of minutes before the hour. Your teacher likely needs the passing period between lessons to take care of other matters, but I guarantee that they will appreciate seeing you waiting patiently outside their door.
I'm sure you're probably thinking that the old man is just in a bad mood, and that this rant will pass soon enough. But I assure you that it won't pass soon. It won't pass at all!
Being early for committments speaks to your reliability. It speaks to your enthusiasm for the subject matter. If you show up at 11:03 for an 11:00 lesson, and saunter in like nothing is wrong, then I cannot help but approach your lesson differently than if you are running down the hall, Tommy Boy style, trying to make it as soon as you can. Do you remember Tommy Boy?
Chris Farley's character was always a beat behind the rest of the world around him. He was funny and endearing, but when the time came for him to try and save the family's company, very few had faith that Tommy Boy had what it took to get the job done. Sure, he was fun at parties, and could make nearly anyone laugh, but at the end of the day...do you want to be your school or ensemble's Tommy Boy, or do you want to be known as someone who gets the job done every time they are asked?
I would guess that most of you, hopefully, would choose the latter.
You see, college is a training ground for the real world. It isn't the real world...in many cases, it is quite insulated. You have opportunities to make mistake after mistake after mistake, and your professors, for the most part, will give you ample opportunities to get it right. But can you imagine how high your stock will rise if you don't NEED to use every opportunity to get it right? If you have 3 absenses in a class before points are deducted, try using LESS than 3 absenses in a semester. In this way, you earn a better opportunity...for benefit of the doubt.
See the guy to the right, in the letter jacket with the trombone? That is me, just a couple of months before leaving for college. That guy thought he was the real deal on the trombone, and as far as high school players go, he might have been right. The reality is that when he got to college, he mistakenly believed the following things:
I'm not sure where I learned those things. They certainly didn't come from my parents or teachers. In fact, any mentor I had leading up to college would have given me a piece of their mind and possibly a boot in the behind for thinking that way. Later, when I inevitably faced the consequences of a sloppy approach to my committments, I realized that the better a player is, the more important it is to lead by example. I realized that I had continually alienated myself from some incredible mentors who had given me so many opportunities to get it right. Without realizing it at the time, I made my mentors question every person who had given me a whole-hearted recommendation, and very likely missed out on some great opportunities as a result.
The good news is that it's not too late to change! It's never too late to change, if the change is heart-felt and earnest. One of my great teachers, Don Lucas, gave me the following quote that has stuck with me all these years:
"When you are going through hell, keep on going. Never never never give up." – Winston Churchill
Give it your best shot! And, as always, if I can be of any help, please feel free to comment below if you would like to discuss this topic further.
The "snow day" that we experienced in North Texas today gave me ample opportunity to think about this week's blog post. I understand that today's topic might ruffle a few feathers, but often, the most impactful statements are those that challenge our thinking and force us to look inward for the answers. Many ideas or notions are repeated ad nauseam until they become "fact," and this is a slippery slope in teaching. It is my belief that a dichotomy exists within musical organizations. They come together to reach a common goal, but in order for each student to give their level best, they must be put in the best possible position to succeed.
A widespread trend in choosing an instrument or other equipment is the notion that "in this band program, we play XYZ trombone, with XYZ mouthpiece." This concerns me for two reasons:
One size simply doesn't fit all. Can you imagine giving a pee-wee football player the same gear that Aaron Rodgers wears in games? It might make a cute picture, but when you send the kid out on the gridiron in that gear, they will stumble all over themselves despite hours and hours of training and preparation, simply because the gear they are wearing doesn't fit them.
Depending on the items listed, it may be cost prohibitive. There are many quality instruments available that don't break the bank, and quite possibly might sound better than the "cadillac" of approved equipment. I would hate for a student to not be included in such an incredible art form because they can't afford a trombone or mouthpiece that is too advanced for their ability level in the first place!
Despite my belief in the very high quality of their product, you will never see me forcing a student into a particular model of Edwards trombone. In fact, several of the current Getzen trombones are all that most students will ever need. The same can be said for instruments from nearly every other American maker!
"By matching brand and model of instrument, we will match timbres across the section."
I think that there might be some truth to this, but in most cases, the matching of timbres will happen at the interface between trombone and trombonist, at the chops. How many times have the Chicago Symphony low brass or the New York Philharmonic trombone section been referenced by band directors hoping to conjure up a specific sound in their student's heads? The reality is that neither of those sections all play the same instrument or mouthpiece! At any given time, these incredible musicians play whichever instrument best allows them to do their job. Take the time to build in fundamental practice as a section to foster a like-minded approach to playing the instrument, and allow each student to make the necessary adjustments to "fit in" to the section sound.
"A (insert very deep popular euphonium mouthpiece name and model here) will provide my players with a dark sound that blends well in the ensemble."
Remember the Aaron Rodgers "One Size Fits All" approach we mentioned above? Yes, the sounds will blend, but such a large mouthpiece also introduces several problems.
On the contrary, a balanced mouthpiece size allows for a balanced approach to improvement on the instrument. In my experience, there is one size of mouthpiece that is a great place to start, but is by no means the only option. The "5G" size will allow the students to have a range of tonal colors, a balance of fundamental and overtone, and most importantly, will force the student to shoulder the responsibility of developing good manners in playing. This size of mouthpiece has a 25.55 mm cup diameter and a medium-wide, semi-flat rim. Consult the information in this document from the Bach company about their mouthpieces. The player, not the mouthpiece, is responsible for maintaining a great sound. The player, not the mouthpiece, is responsible for reigning in the articulation to the appropriate firmness for each situation. I choose a "5G" range because for so many, it just happens to work so well. Perhaps it has the "Golden Mean" of measurements for most adolescent oral structures. Even with this size that appeals to so many, it may not always be the answer. Similar information can be found from other mouthpiece makers, such as Doug Elliott and Greg Black.
There are so many great products available to the consumer that making a purchase can be baffling. Parents and students trust the music educators in their lives to help guide them through the process in a straightforward manner. While that is an admirable goal, please consider providing a list of options for the student to consider, so that every student...regardless of size, shape, age, or income level has a fighting chance to succeed.