Super excited to share with you the duet Scott Agster wrote for me as part of his Minneapolis Trombone Masterclass video series! It’s a trad-jazz inspired romp, complete with dogfight, that should get your toe tapping!
And stay tuned for my interview with Scott discussing the inspiration for the video, our history as colleagues, and my projects in the region.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Welcome back to #wcw (aka Woman Crush Wednesday) on my blog for Women’s History Month! I’m featuring a musical artist every Wednesday who has inspired me and driven me to expand and develop my own art in new ways.
Today I want to highlight probably my all-time favorite rocker (of any gender) and songwriter, whose music has given me strength, vulnerability, and beauty, and who drops amazing truths on Twitter when I’m least expecting them. Please welcome to the blog, Ms Neko Case!
seriously look at this boss babe, #goals
Neko is best known for her solo career, and for her part in the indie rock band The New Pornographers. She started off as a drummer, joining the punk scene at the tender age of 14 and playing the scene in the Pacific Northwest. She dived into country early in her solo career with the 1997 album The Virginian, with her vocals being compared to Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn.
She teamed up with The New Pornographers in 2000 on their debut album, and remains a staple lead & backing vocalist with the band. Personal note: NP is where I first heard her voice, but I had no idea she had a solo career until much later.
I discovered her solo work in 2006, when someone recommended I pick up a copy of Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. I could hardly believe a human could have such a clear, expressive voice.
I remember bus rides in winter, Minneapolis, on my way to work downtown, immersed in this open and mysterious sound unlike anything I’d ever heard. I would often get so tied to hearing a song all the way through I would frequently be late to my destination.
It was easy to delve into the rest of her back catalogue from there, and continue to follow her career. 2009’s Middle Cyclone was an absolutely godsend.
As a songwriter, Case intentionally writes poetic lyrics open for the listener’s interpretation:
“My intention is often to get people engaged in the story, and maybe be able to put themselves in the story, because that’s what I really love in other people’s songwriting,” she says. “A lot of classic pop songs are written about things that are as popular as love or whatever, but they don’t give you a time or place, and they remain kind of magical somehow. Unfortunately, I’m a little wordier than somebody like Cole Porter, so mine are definitely little black holes of stories, little rabbit holes of stories.” source
Neko Case is also an outspoken feminist and champion of women’s voices, but she also fights to be seen as a musician first. Famously, when Playboy reviewed her 2014 album The Worse Things Get the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight the More I Love You with the lede “Artist Neko Case is breaking the mold of what a woman in music should be”, Neko fired off a tweet reading, “Am I? IM NOT A F*ING “WOMAN IN MUSIC”, IM A F*ING MUSICIAN IN MUSIC!” and took off on a tear from there. Her point? First off, look at the artist first. Understand the value of the music for its humanity and depth. Secondly, ‘should be’ is such a prescriptive, horrible, backhanded compliment. There is no one way to be a woman working in the music industry. It’s part of a larger problem in society that tries to mold female expression into particular boxes that can be segmented off from one another, can be seen as ‘other’ and therefore either an exception or somehow less valuable than the default male musical voice.
Neko is about to release her first new solo album in nearly 5 years in June, and I couldn’t be more excited. A clip of the first single and title track, “Hell-On” has been released and features Case (and some slithery friends) singing lyrics about God in her trademark mysterious and erudite style.
You should tap into her catalogue, and follow her on Twitter (@nekocase), right this minute! It’s music for any time of day or mood, but it’s perfect for right now. Enjoy!