One Day in the Life

April 6, 2019, is not a day I’m going to forget any time soon.

It was a day that reaffirmed my two professional loves, pedagogy and performance.

Freelance musician/educator life is constantly in flux- long periods of moderate or low activity, short bursts of busy busy busy- and our states of mind can often match those highs and lows. February and March were relatively slow months for me, performance-wise, and as often happens when the balance between teaching and performing is so heavily weighted in the direction of teaching I was feeling distressed and burnt out. There were many things on the horizon, but there was also the slog to get there, through long days of lessons and rehearsals, and no small dose of a trauma anniversary relating to my time at the U.

In a word, I was feeling stressed, crispy (that stage just on the edge of burnout), and worried. But I have faith in my abilities, my knowledge, and my experience, and I knew I had to power through, so I got to work.

And having goals? That means everything. A huge component of my pedagogy is helping people find Flow- find that place where distractions and worries slip away, and they work in the moment toward musical communication. It’s an inherently healthy state for our minds to be in. In a focus-challenged society, Flow States help us balance anxiety, depression, and stage fright; they help us do something for the sake of itself and gain reward from the result. I’d been losing track of my own Flow lately. Too much time trying to manage a social media presence for both my personal and professional life here, a healthy dose of staring out the window willing the flowers to come up there.

So back to those goals. Number 1: Present my pedagogy in an hour-long clinic at Twin Cities Trombone Day. Be convincing, be engaging, let the science prove itself. Sitting down to refresh myself on the source material took away almost all my worries. Being honest with a few folks about the struggle I was having to create an introduction to the clinic led me to some awesome suggestions that ultimately let the whole talk tumble forth fully formed. And walking around all week reciting, “You are an expert, you are the boss” certainly helped.

Guess what? That presentation rocked. The audience, a mixed crowd of professional, student, and amateur trombone players, was so open-minded and supportive, asking good questions and giving great feedback to the young folks who came up to help me demonstrate. Afterward I talked with so many people whose eyes were opened to a new way of thinking, and took a few cards to follow up on taking the clinic on the road.

Sam wanted advice on improving his bass trombone low range in the double trigger register. I refocused his attention on a musical goal- performing Mary Had a Little Lamb- so he could stop worrying about the technical aspects of low range playing. Video credit: Keith Hilson

Goal Number 1 had a bonus effect on Goal Number 2: Rock the bass trombone parts on the AMO charts. Bass trombone, and in particular my 1970s Holton 180 BEAST of a bass trombone, sometimes feels like driving a U-Haul through the Rocky Mountains with one arm tied. It’s hard. I’ve been working for a year on improving my air efficiency, my intonation, and my control over the lower register.

Working on that airflow

In getting back into the research, the thinking behind my natural learning-based pedagogy, it reminded me that I have been overthinking the hell out of approaching the bass trombone. I was letting all the little things I didn’t hear myself doing well ramp up my anxiety, and man, the self-talk was DIRE. But coming out of a funk, remembering why I do what I do, and getting back into Flow made all the difference.

So how was the show?

There have been numerous times in my life that have been tremendously musically rewarding. Almost nothing can compare to the act of finally putting something out into the world that people can hold in their hands, an album, and celebrating the artistic labor of love that went into every second. I’m just a tiny part of the AMO, but when it all came together, it felt like no moving piece was too small. We were all working together to put Adam’s incredible music out into the world, and enjoying the collaboration.

The Adam Meckler Orchestra performs with Toki Wright, April 6th, 2019
Photo by Reid Baumann

And to have an appreciative audience. What a joy. The act of sharing art, and feeling the reciprocation back. Music requires an audience, and communication goes both ways. We give what we have, the audience tells us how that makes them feel, we give more, etc…the loop feeds itself and everyone is better for it.

So how am I feeling this week? Incredibly, incredibly lucky, but also satisfied. I’ve done the work, I’ve sought the knowledge, I’ve walked the walk. Owning one’s strength is not egotistical, even if it can sometimes feel that way. I’m learning to overcome that learned impulse and walk into every room with confidence that I belong there- because I do.

Stay tuned for more photos & videos from the AMO CD Release show. Meantime you can order the album here.

Reflections and Resolutions

Trite though it may be, I’ve been indulging in the annual ritual of looking back on a year of work, as well as thinking forward to what 2019 may bring. I’m not huge on resolutions, but I do like setting some intentions for the year and putting some of my needs out to the universe. And so, in the spirit of the season, here are my reflections on 2018 and my goals for 2019!

In 2018, a lot of amazing things happened for me, professionally. I had general goals of working on big projects, like my clinic package, and building my business in new ways. Here are some highlights:

  • Hired as adjunct trombone instructor at St Cloud State
  • Became an Edwards Instruments Artist
  • Crowdfunded, recorded, and released Brass Lassie’s first album
  • Recorded with the Adam Meckler Orchestra (album out in April of this year)
  • Celebrated my first anniversary of Alexander Technique practice
  • Launched my clinic package “Ear on the Prize”
  • Played countless gigs, offered hundreds of lessons and clinics combined, showed up to jam sessions and pushed my creative limits
  • Learned how to better develop a healthy outlook on work and play that allowed me time for rest, productive periods, and fun

It was sort of a rough personal year, with the loss of fur friend Gatsby, but it was also full of fun: trips to Costa Rica and Scotland, kayaking, hiking, and camping with good friends, a warm house, regular meals. I have much to be grateful for.

2019 promises to be something entirely different than 2018. I’m feeling less motivation to come up with big ideas and projects, but more motivation to practice and perform the things that I love. I want to take the work I’ve done in the last few years and leverage it to have more name recognition, more performance opportunities, and more financial security. Here are some of the things I’ve been starting to focus on this year:

  • Continuing to improvise, arrange, and compose- looking for pathways to make this a bigger component of my career
  • Developing a modular recital program I can use for artist-in-residence and clinic visits
  • Filling in gaps in my pedagogy (the big one here is: teaching articulation in a holistic way)
  • Buying a wireless mic, for Brass Lassie, but also use to experiment with effects and looping
  • Becoming proficient enough at piano to accompany students on basic repertoire and improvisation
  • Making the clinic package as viable and desirable as possible to get bookings
  • Determining what the future might look like from several different angles- what work do I want to be doing in 5 years? 10? 20?

And here are some of the exciting things that are already in the books for the year:

  • Conducting the Hamline Wind Ensemble while regular director Dr Janet Greene is on sabbatical
  • Brass Day March 30 at St Cloud State
  • Adam Meckler Album Release show April 6 (more info TBA)
  • Presenting at Twin Cities Trombone Day April 6
  • Featured artist for BrassChix 2019
  • Brass Lassie gigs at Icehouse, Scottish Fair, Vintage Band Festival, and more TBA
  • purchasing a euphonium from a college friend (!! so excited)
  • My photo on an Edwards Artist poster!

On a personal level, I hope for 2019 to be a year of joy, balance, and passion for what I do and experience. My word for the year is ‘fire’- I want to acknowledge the things that have burnt out for me and reignite what I still have value and love for. Fire can be destructive- but it can also be cleansing, life-saving, and necessary. I have been ‘water’ for a long time- flexible, adaptable, constant- this year I feel the need for change, for energy and warmth.

What are your 2019 goals and dreams? What happened in 2018 that motivates you still?

DI 6.29.18 “Eternal Rain”

I really fell off the wagon with these! I had a few really busy mornings and then I never got back into the habit. Anyway, here’s a request from Kate back when we had a spell of dreary days.

DIs 6.16, 6.17, 6.18, 6.19.18

Daily Improvs from the last few days!

Inspired by the solo I take in the Brass Lassie tune Grianach, this is a little solo done over this backing track by Quist. 

I occasionally make time to schedule a flotation tank visit, and I did so on Friday. It was an opportunity to meditate, heal sore muscles, and turn off my brain. 

Bandmate Patrice gave me the prompt of this song by Trombone Shorty. I can’t quite funk that hard but I liked the tune so I built on it a bit. 

Sometimes you need to work on your articulation, but articulation exercises are boring. Make up your own! Do it in dorian!

DI 6.13 & 6.14.18 Our Animal Inspo

DI 6.13.18 “The Raccoon That Scaled St Paul”

A mini suite for the little buddy we were all rooting for this week

(Sorry about all the wind noise in this one, I forgot to turn off my fan)

DI 6.14.18 “Variations in the key of Loon”

It’s time for me to find my space in the North Woods and soak up the mysterious loon call under the stars.

DIs 6.7-6.12.18

I have been keeping up my Daily Improv traditional! Just got away from posting them. Here’s a collection of what I’ve done since June 6.

(I missed 6.9 because of a stomach bug- no trombone playing was happening that day!)

Working on taking a small idea and making it bigger- in this case, adding in all the notes of an Eb major scale. 

Thinking about the fabulous, intelligent, rough-edged and wonderful Anthony Boudain, and all the places travel has taken me too, as well. Let’s all go out and be bold, kind, curious travelers in his memory. 

 

I was trying to record a straight take of “Scotland the Brave” but kept messing up. This is just a little bit of my frustration, vented. 

The way my bass trombone’s valves are tuned, when I play straight down into the trigger register I get a sus4 chord instead of a major triad, like modern basses do. I like the sound and did a little funky improv on that. 

To celebrate having a Brass Lassie gig this weekend (if you’re in the area we hope to see you there!), I learned the tune to my favorite song in our book, Fause Fause, and then turned on a live recording and soloed over the instrumental sections. It’s a little goofy on the timing- I’ll work on a different set up next time I want to do something similar.