Monday, February 27, 2006

Themes Bubbling to the Surface

What? Two blog entries in a single day? Astounding.
Each semester I teach, it seems that I find myself repeating ideas in different lessons. Enough repetitions and the idea takes on the aura of a theme.
Starting the semester is always interesting because I don't know what themes will bubble to the surface.
We're about at our halfway point in the semester and I believe two themes have arisen:

Play the Hand You're Dealt
This of course is a poker term. Hey, we all want to be in ideal situations. At least some of my students would love have full scholarships to Juilliard with plenty of time to practice every day, good meals to eat, a great circle of friends, inspiring conductors, 8 hours of sleep each night, etc.
Just like in poker, it's hard to lose if you keep getting royal flushes and full houses.
The real question is: how do you respond to a situation that is less than ideal?

I think this is especially relevant in professional orchestras where a young, highly motivated player joins the group and discovers that some of the people around him/her have, shall we say, "lost that spark."

Playing is a Natural Extension of Breathing
So often I need to deal with tension issues in people's playing. I find it interesting that, when someone puts down the horn and just takes a natural, full breath, most of the tension disappears. What is it about the act of picking the horn and looking at music that causes the body to tense up so much? Rhetorical question, really. Obviously these are learned responses that have to be replaced with more effective learned responses.
I like exercises that reinforce the notion that playing the horn isn't so radically different from full breathing.
Here's one idea: try "blowing through" a difficult pattern. In other words, pick up the horn and pretend to play (moving your slide and everything) but simply blow air through the instrument. Make it "musical air" that reflects the phrases you want. I'm guessing you'll find a lot of the tension is gone.