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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Category: Inspiration

Simple Exercise to Gain Perspective

Andrew Hitz

As musicians, we can really use a good dose of perspective from time to time. I know I sure can, especially after a particularly frustrating practice session of failing to get a gig I was hoping to score.

Here is a 60-second read from Seth Godin (who my wife calls my spirit animal) with a simple exercise to help gain some perspective.

Good stuff.

The Tricky Part of Awareness

Andrew Hitz

"Awareness of what is without judgement is relaxing and is the best precondition for change."
—Timothy Gallwey from The Inner Game of Tennis

The without judgement part is the real key to the above quote. Any time I catch myself using the word should I know I am going down a dangerous (or at the very least not helpful) path.

I should be more prepared for this recital.

I should have this piece memorized by now.

I should already have a gig.

I should have my lesson plans done for tomorrow.

The problem with judgement is that it focuses on something that can't be controlled or changed, the past. And focusing on something that can't be changed is not a good precursor for change.

And yet awareness is incredibly vital. Without knowing what your blind spot is as a conductor, a bassoon player or an entrepreneur, you have very little chance of improving it.

So be brutally honest with yourself about what you can and can't do and yet be kind to yourself and accept what has already happened (or not happened!) as exactly what it is, done.

Perhaps my favorite quote of all time sums this up perfectly:

"You have to abandon all hope for a better past."


I drove through a beautiful snow-kissed Glenwood Canyon yesterday on my way to Grand Junction to be the featured guest artist at The Best of the West Festival at Colorado Mesa University!

I drove through a beautiful snow-kissed Glenwood Canyon yesterday on my way to Grand Junction to be the featured guest artist at The Best of the West Festival at Colorado Mesa University!

The Best Quote I've Ever Heard About Goal Setting

Andrew Hitz

"A good goal is one that changes your actions in the moment. Like, right now. Goals are not about the future. They are about the present moment. Changing your present actions."

—Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers is one of my favorite thinkers/authors/speakers/entrepreneurs in the world. He regularly makes me think about things in a different way or inspires me to try something new.

This is the best quote I've ever heard about goal setting. I've never heard the quality of the goal attached to whether it inspires you take to immediate action which makes all the sense in the world.

Two summers ago I decided to learn all of my major scales in thirds with the descending scales featuring ascending thirds. I learned ascending thirds on the way up and descending thirds on the way down many years ago. I have played that pattern at most once a year for the last decade and could do it perfectly right now. It is fully engrained. But playing ascending thirds on the way down was like reading a foreign language at first! Surprisingly so actually.

So I made a very specific goal for myself which was something like this:

I will play all the major scales in thirds around the circle of fourths in 8th notes at quarter note equals 100 with ascending thirds on the way up and ascending thirds on the way down from memory by August 20th without making a single mistake.

This goal made me immediately spring into action. It was made around July 1st and I had a very busy summer planned. I wasn't going to have a ton of time to practice because of gigs, family obligations and vacation. Putting a hard date on it that was neither overly aggressive nor so far in the future that there was no sense of urgency was the key.

It ended up forcing me to spend a lot of time on basics and certainly led to me having a few practice sessions that surely would not have happened otherwise. Using Derek's litmus test, this was a good goal since it made me take immediate action.

My students are going to get sick of me saying this quote very quickly because it is about to permeate my teaching.

So if you have a goal that isn't changing your present actions, the question to ask yourself is how can I improve this goal so that it does?


Can You Fill In With Only Five Minutes Warning?

Andrew Hitz

Filed under *always* be ready. From the Washington Post:

NEW YORK — Francesco Anile got to make his Metropolitan Opera debut in a T-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers. With 5 minutes notice.

The 54-year-old Italian tenor was in the green room during the last act of Saturday’s performance of Verdi’s “Otello,” which was being broadcast on radio throughout the world, when he was told by a stage director that Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko was sick and unable to sing the title role in the fourth act.

Five minutes warning to take the stage as the star of the opera. With the Metropolitan Opera. Wearing blue jeans and sneakers. You can't make this stuff up.

You always have to be ready for the call. You might never get a second one.

In fact, just last week I was able to attend the dress rehearsal of the Washington National Opera's production of Siegfried. The understudy had to fill in for Brünnhilde because the soprano playing that role twisted her ankle badly during a scene in the Die Walküre dress rehearsal.

The understudy filled in with just a few minutes notice during the Die Walküre rehearsal and sang the entire role in the Siegfried dress. You just never know when your number is going to come up.

I got a call at my apartment in Tempe, Arizona at around 9:00 pm on a Tuesday back in January of 2000. It was the Boston Brass asking if I could sub for them in an emergency situation. At 5:00 am the next morning I was checking in for a flight to Colorado. I proceeded to play with them for 14 years.

You never know when the call is coming. Are you ready?

Here's the full article from the Washington Post.

EDIT: My friend James Hicks, Principal Tuba in the Navy Band, read this and posted this as a comment on my Facebook page:

"I was once teaching lessons in the northwest Chicago suburbs and got a call from Gene (Pokorny of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) at 10am to come in and play Till (Eulenspiegel) on the 3pm matinee that afternoon. Also, got called one Sunday morning at 11am to drive up to Milwaukee to sightread a John Williams program with MSO on a 3pm matinee. You never know...."

You truly never know!

Why We Prepare

Andrew Hitz

"Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That’s why we train so hard."
—Chad Winkler in Episode 30 of The Brass Junkies

This is probably the most succinct quote about preparation I've ever heard. When Chad mentioned this in our interview with him at Duquesne University we made him repeat it.

I personally love hearing stories of the people like Chad who were able to win a job with the likes of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (which is his hometown orchestra on top of it about pressure!). When you hear him in his interview talk about the path he took to get to that point and all of the preparation that went into it, it takes a little of the mystique out of wondering "How could I ever win a job like that?"

Not that it is simply as easy as preparing a lot and then winning. But you hear over and over again from people like Chad how intentional and thorough their training was leading up to an audition like that.

I hate saying nice things about trumpet players, but when you hear how much effort went into his preparation for the audition for his dream job you have to say he deserved to win it.

But please don't tell him I said that. :)

Your Reputation Is Based On Dealing With Just A Few

Andrew Hitz

I have always maintained that 95% of the music business makes it incredibly easy to be kind and courteous to them at all times.

Unfortunately, our reputations are not based on how we deal with the 95%. Our reputations are based almost exclusively on how we interact with the 5%.

The people who are easiest to work with in the business get along with everyone all of the time. They get along with the considerate people and the not so considerate people. You won't win any points for dealing well with them. Everyone does.

It's the people who always have opinions about every rehearsal or gig that they then offer up to the room unsolicited. It is the people who don't pitch in to fix a crisis that might arise on a gig because it is not specifically their job to do so. It is the people who criticize others while not worrying about their own playing or behavior.

How we deal with these people is what our reputations are based on. Fair or unfair, this is reality. I find this is a good thing for me to keep in mind when I'm debating whether to let someone know they are in the 5%, no matter how tempting that might be at any given moment.

So when you encounter someone in the 5%, if possible, view it as an opportunity to solidify your reputation as someone firmly in the 95%.

Let The Ideas Out

Andrew Hitz

"If you have enough bad ideas you will have absolutely no trouble having enough good ideas. What people who create do is they let the ideas out. they sit and they do the work and the ideas come. Good ideas, bad ideas."
—Seth Godin from Leap First

Seth Godin was not talking about the practice room in the above comment but he might as well have been.

It is imperative that we "let the ideas out" when we are in the practice room.

Of course we need to focus on a daily basis on range, dynamics, articulations, releases, slurs and everything in between. This is the homework that every great musician on any instrument has done in spades.

But no one really cares if you are only a great technician on your instrument. Sure, you'll probably have a career of some kind (if you are truly a great technician and not just a good one) but you won't have one that is very rewarding or that has much impact on the world.

The ideas are what affect others. The ideas are why we all got into this crazy business in the first place. And the key to having great ideas is to have lots of ideas.

Ideas are why some people prefer Phil Smith, some prefer Chris Martin, and some prefer Thomas Hooten. It sure isn't because Phil can slur better than Chris or Thomas can. They slur equally well.

Yet all three of them play with enough clear ideas and storytelling in their playing that it is quite easy to prefer one over the other two. And that's what it's all about.

And the only way to ever approach the quality and clarity of the ideas of any of those three trumpet players is by letting the ideas out. The good ones and the bad ones.

That's exactly what they did.