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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Category: Inspiration

No One Cares About the Facts

Andrew Hitz

As musicians we get caught up all the time in getting all of the facts right. Sometimes, in the moment, it is all we care about.

The problem is that most people don't really care. Or at the least only care when the facts aren't correct. But they are rarely a value add.

"Don't just tell me the facts. Tell me a story."
—Seth Godin from All Marketers Are Liars

The above Seth Godin quote has absolutely nothing to do with music. He was talking about marketing. But this quote could have come from any number of world-renowned music teachers.

The problem with focusing on the facts in an audition is that so many people will show up able to play all of the facts correctly that you are going to be in trouble. And the number of people who can do that is greater than ever and getting larger all the time.

There will be a few people at that audition who can deliver all of the facts (impeccable rhythm, pitch, phrasing, articulation, etc.) but will also be able to use those facts to tell a musical story so compelling and so remarkable that they force the committee to consider them for the job.

The same goes for conductors and trios and composers.

So whether you are hoping to someday replace Joe Alessi in the New York Philharmonic or are sitting in a high school band, always go for the story.

The notes on the page are a car. Drive your audience somewhere interesting. Somewhere they have to go back to. That's what it's all about.

Being a Team Player

Andrew Hitz

"It's better to sound right than to be right."
—Rex Martin

This is one of the best soundbites that Rex Martin threw my way during my studies with him. It gets right to the point.

In a performance, there is no such thing as one person being in tune and the other being out of tune.

Rather, they are out of tune.

If someone isn't balancing a chord right and you can do something about it by playing louder or softer (regardless of what dynamic is on the page), you are the obligated to adjust. Same goes for pitch and everything else.

This doesn't mean everyone should go around constantly adjusting to everything. That would quickly resemble one giant dog chasing its tail and never quite catching it.

But the definition of being a team player in a music is always being ready to do what sounds right rather than what is right.

It doesn't matter how many degrees you have, what gig you've got, or how many countries you've performed in. This goes for everybody.

Thanks, Mr. Martin, for making that crystal clear to me so many years ago.

Strong and Wrong

Andrew Hitz

We used to have a saying in Boston Brass that we would use all of the time when coaching groups: "Strong and wrong!"

The meaning of that is of course to always play like you mean it, even the mistakes. If you are worried about making a mistake and back off a little, even if you play the note or passage correctly, it is going to sound wrong anyways.

And who really cares if you make a mistake anyways?

(Well, other than your ego...)

Words of Wisdom from Bud Herseth

Andrew Hitz

"It is not a matter of being better than anyone else. How can you love trying to be better than anyone else? Play for your own satisfaction, and for other's enjoyment."
—Bud Herseth (Former Principal Trumpet - Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

Mr. Herseth was an incredible player and teacher and his above words are incredibly wise.

There is a byproduct of playing for your own satisfaction: You tend to enjoy the process of getting better a whole lot more and therefor do the work. Bottom line: You get better.

Practice something until you love it and then share it with the world. At that point you'll be dying to share it with us and that will shine through in your performance.

Quitting Can Be Good (But It's All About The Timing)

Andrew Hitz

"Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can't deal with the stress of the moment."
—Seth Godin from "The Dip"

Spot on as always from Seth Godin! You should never make a decision to quit something in the heat of battle.

Don't decide to cut something from your recital program while you are in the middle of a frustrating practice session.

Don't decide that your band needs to play an easier march for assessment while you are in the middle of a bad rehearsal.

Don't decide to change career paths while you are in the middle of a terrible gig.

Any of the above conclusions may very well be the best thing moving forward. But there is never a drawback to being sure you are not succumbing to the stress of the moment.

The only way to accurately assess the long-term potential of something is to do so without any emotions involved. So avoid doing so in the stress of the moment.

Do You Want To Eat?

Andrew Hitz

"A woodpecker can tap 20 times on a thousand trees and get nothing, but stay busy. Or he can tap 20,000 times on one tree and get dinner."
—Seth Godin from "The Dip"

Don't let this happen to you when you are practicing your instrument, working on your conducting, or pursuing whatever it is that you do.

Don't start working on something and then stop when it gets difficult to move on to something else.

There is a potential trap there. If you move along to work on something else you can trick yourself by "staying busy" or "working hard" or whatever euphemism you'd like to use instead of calling it what it is: that you bailed once the work got difficult.

The successful people in the music business regularly try the 20,000 times thing and then eat dinner.

What are you avoiding by moving on to the next tree well before you reach 20,000 taps?

Three Tuba Legends Talk About the Influence, Playing & Teaching of Arnold Jacobs

Andrew Hitz

This is awesome!

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has assembled a number of clips of three tuba legends, Rex Martin, Gene Pokorny, and Floyd Cooley, speaking about their mentor, Arnold Jacobs.

The three of them speak about a wide range of topics including:

  • Teaching
  • Vibrato
  • Sound
  • Legacy
  • The CSO Brass Sound

There are a total of 19 short clips about Arnold Jacobs. These are absolutely priceless. A huge thank you to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for publishing these!

You can here them all here.

Great List of Playing Tips

Andrew Hitz

I recently stumbled onto a great list of playing tips over at the website for the International Horn Society by Eldon Matlick, professor of horn at the University of Oklahoma.

It is titled "Hot Tips for Horn Players" but is really a list for all musicians. It features 18 tips for musicians of all kinds. Really, really good stuff!

You really need to read the whole list but here are a few of my favorites:

1. PERFORMANCE IS 90% MENTAL! Learn how to think! If you can hear it, you can play it. Expose yourself to great music and music making. Listen to great horn players. Experience live professional music making. Listen to recordings of world- class ensembles. Experience various mediums and styles of music. Become a musical sponge and take everything in. Every musical experience goes into your memory bank and this is the source from which you draw.

6. LEARN TO HEAR DETAILS IN YOUR PLAYING! Don’t succumb to the trap of falling in love with your playing. Develop a critical ear. When you think something is polished, record yourself. You will be amazed at what you hear. Keep stock of what you can do well and what you need to accomplish. Don’t waste time doing things that are not a problem. Great players work out and solve their playing deficiencies. Eliminate weaknesses in your playing. While this may prove to be mentally painful, this is a sure-fire method of gaining success in your performance.

12. PRACTICE ‘OUTSIDE THE BOX’ Musicianship is not the same as horn playing. Create a musical experience when you play. To this end, we must free ourselves from the instrument. Learn to sing! Singing is the ideal medium for establishing musical flow and the identification of logical breathing spots. Identify the natural flow of the solo line. Is the phrase asking a question or making a statement? As you sing, are you aware of the various emotional content of the various passages/sections? Practice singing and phrasing different ways. Identify those phrasings that have promise and then experiment on your instrument. When learning a solo, don’t neglect learning, and being able to sing, all interludes between solo entrances.

Seriously, go read them all!

Accepting Your Limitations is the First Step Towards Improvement

Andrew Hitz

"The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change."
-Carl Rogers

This quote applies to all aspects of life and all aspects of being a musician.

My favorite definition of acceptance comes from Tara Brach. She says that acceptance requires two things: clear vision and compassion.

So first, you have to clearly recognize what you can and can not do as a musician. Second, you must not pass judgement on yourself for any shortcomings.

Identify your shortcomings and then make a plan towards improving them. Judging yourself for those shortcomings is simply ego and will not help you to reach any of your goals.

If you are a band director and struggle with speaking too much from the podium, simply recognize that fact without judging yourself and then see if you see any improvement after trying a few things.

If you are a string quartet who is having trouble getting gigs, simply recognize that it is an issue and then try some different things and see what works.

If you have a website that is not getting very much traffic, noticing that problem is the first step. Then simply try a few things and see what gets you the traffic you seek.

As Mr. Rogers said in the quote above, the curious paradox comes from having to accept (and notice!) things exactly how they are in order to know what to change.

The Key is Consistency

Andrew Hitz

Much more important than total time spent is the consistency with which you practice.

If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.

- Jascha Heifetz

Consistency in terms of both how often you practice and how focused you are in the practice room.

The first step to consistency is practicing every single day. The best way to get playing in the extreme high register is to play in the extreme high register. Pretty simple stuff.

The second step is how consistently you bring a laser-like focus to your practicing.

I had the privilege of watching David Fedderley work with the top three finishers in the Young Artist competition at a conference back in March. The top two players were really good. Very impressive for 19 and 20 year olds.

The person who finished third in the competition played last of the three and was by far the best musical storyteller of the bunch but her tuba playing was well behind them. David asked her, knowing the answer, "So with that musical storytelling, you won the competition, right?" She simply smiled.

He then explained that the other two were much better tuba operators than she was at this point but that she had musical ideas that were just dying to get out of her horn.

He then pointed at me, then Charles Villarubia, Justin Benavidez, and Demondrae Thurman. He asked her what all of us have in common. She smiled and said "They are professionals."

He said "Yes. They get paid to play their horns for people. Do you know what else they have in common? I know each of them and know that they each bring a laser-like focus with them every single time they practice."

You could see the lightbulb go off in the student on the spot.

So while the amount you practice is certainly important, the consistency in how often your butt is in that chair coupled with the focus you bring to those sessions is much more important.