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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Jeff Nelsen Master Class Quotes from George Mason University

Andrew Hitz

Jeff Nelsen is simply put one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever been around in my life.  His always positive attitude is both genuine and predictable.  And he is an absolutely phenomenal horn player.  His website, jeffnelsen.com, is a wonderful resource for any musician.  We were honored to have Jeff play one of the horn books for the Boston Brass recording of the Stan Kenton Christmas Carols.  He is a very special player, teacher, and person. Jeff was just in Washington DC playing 2nd horn to his dear friend and mentor Marty Hackleman in the National Symphony Orchestra.  I believe my good friend Tom Cupples, 2nd trumpet in the NSO, summed up Jeff the best after a performance of Ein Heldenleben: “Jeff is amazing. Just being in the same room as him makes me a better musician.”

We were very fortunate to have Jeff come to George Mason and give a master class about performance and life in general.  I learned a ton from the class and have used many of the quotes below in my lessons already.  As usual, I have highlighted the ones that really speak to me the most.  I will admit to having a difficult time not highlighting them all.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

PS Jeff is working on a book documenting his entire Fearless approach.  Keep your eyes on his website for details.
 

  • "Success not only comes to those who want it the most but those who want it the most often."
     
  • "There is a difference between simple and easy."
     
  • "Simplify things as much as possible and then work on them."
     
  • "You are engaged in performance when what you are doing matters."
     
  • "Fearless performance is not necessarily the lack of fear but the realization there are things more important than fear."
     
  • "(Shows picture of 16 month old) Have any of you ever been his age? When we are young we are afraid of good things like hot pots and traffic but we develop the rest along the way."
     
  • "You have to become a master variable controller."
     
  • "It's about isolating variables, changing one thing, and asking was that better?"
     
  • "The only physical difference between practice and performance is the actual walk on stage."
     
  • "The first mental difference is choosing 'this time means more.'”
     
  • His teacher: "There are no bad days. There are only days where to takes greater effort to play your best."
     
  • "If you approach every performance with your best, you don't leave room to try better."
     
  • "Most people don't aim too high and miss. Most people aim to low and hit."
     
  • "We can practice walking onstage."
     
  • "Saying 'On stage you must play your best' - problem is that making sure implies you might not."
     
  • "You can't control perception, you can only control presentation."
     
  • "In the sacred arena of the performance place, get over it. It's too late to control it."
     
  • "We're responsible any time we get nervous."
     
  • "No one can make me feel anything without my consent."
     
  • "We learn fear."
     
  • "If we can learn fear, we can learn love-full performance."
     
  • "Our level of nerves is inversely proportionate to our level of preparation."
     
  • "Make what you are doing the only thing that matters."
     
  • "There are three things that your audience and an audition panel are looking for: mastery, meaning, and autonomy."
     
  • "An audition committee is checking to see if your rhythm is autonomous."
     
  • "TV is getting great. We have to give the audience an experience."
     
  • "Don't call it a warm up. Make a great routine that touches what you need to do and the bonus is that you're warmed up."
     
  • "Musician is product. Technician is process."
     
  • "We're really trying to learn how to transcend the technician."
     
  • "I've missed 100% of the notes I've told myself not to miss."
     
  • "Make it about the solution. It's not about what not to do."
     
  • "Assign yourself practicing work for the next day."
     
  • "If you can't sleep, get up and write down what you can't sleep about."
     
  • "Tell your story to your audience."
     
  • "On a scale of 1-10 how much music did you just make with a 1 being regurgitating all the ink on the page? If it's a 6...OK, out of that 6 out of 10 how much of that did you get to the audience?"
     
  • "You should listen to your performance through the ears of your audience."
     
  • "Don't ask. Tell."
     
  • "The great performers of the world walk on stage and say 'I think this.'”
     
  • "Walk on stage to be seen."
     
  • “You are far too smart to be the only thing standing in your way.” - Jennifer Freeman
     
  • "In the 10 second walk on stage there's not much of a chance to make things better but there are lots of chances to make things worse."
     
  • "Every phrase is the only phrase."
     
  • His Mom: "If you're listening and the audience is listening, who's singing? - Critique later."
     
  • "Phil Meyers says that he went into his first few auditions trying to hide his weaknesses and it didn't work out. Then he tried to show them his strengths."
     
  • Phil: “I don't go out there trying to sound my best. I go out there trying to sound like me.”
     
  • "100% positive means taking the 'I liked' out of 'I liked how I played bar 6 well.'"
     
  • "Must be 100% responsible for how you play as well."
     
  • "If you make excuses, you make the performance space safe for failure."
     
  • "Everything, unless it hits you in the head, can not affect you unless you let it."
     
  • "You're right. There are people judging you and there are things to lose. You're right. Unless you want to do your best. Then you are wrong."
     
  • "Competing lowers your goal. Just try to be the absolute best you can be."
     
  • “If you do not have a website, you are invisible.” - David Cutler
     
  • "Choosing to doubt and choosing to fear will get in your way. And it is a choice."
     
  • "The word execute is a big part of performance."
     
  • "I'm happy because I think I am."