The Art of Learning

Josh Waitzkin and his effort to become a chess champion--he first won a national title at age nine--is depicted in the movie, Searching for Bobby Fisher. After mastering the game of chess, he went on to win national and international championships in Tai Chi Chuan, a form of martial arts. Mastering two disparate disciplines--one entirely cerebral, the other partially cerbral and partially physical--and winning international competitions in both suggests that Josh Waitzkin has figured out how to learn.

His book, The Art of Learning, offers solid advice on the fundamentals of efficient learning illustrated with entertaining personal anecdotes. The strength of the book is this combination of advice and illustration. I am sure that while living through the events depicted the path was not always as clear as he makes it sound, yet he has laid out an approach one can imagine following.

The book presents an approach that could be applied to any field where excellence is a goal. This is, of course, why a book drawing examples from Tai Chi Chuan and chess is of value to a musician. One can't help but wish for a companion work book that applied these techniques in a concrete manner, however, there are books that can fill the gap, and, for trumpeters, I recommend diving into Daily Fundamentals for the Trumpet by Michael Sachs with the Waitzkin approach in mind.

Usually a book of fundamentals is a collection of exercises that expose basic techniques to scrutiny. There is some of that here, but Mr. Sachs focuses on extracting fundamental exercises from whatever music you are studying. As an example. he delves deeply into the opening of the Trumpet Concerto by Joseph Haydn exposing the fundemental structure of the passage in a manner one could imagine Mr. Waitzkin using.

From The Art of Learning

"The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a state of static, safe mediocrity." --page 33

"While I learned with open pores--no ego in the way--it seemed that many other students were frozen in place, repeating their errors over and over, unable to improve because of a fear of releasing old habits." --page 107-108.

"I have long believed that if a student of virtually any discipline could avoid ever repeating the same mistake twice--both technical and psychological--he or she would skyrocket to the top of their field."
--page 108

". . .my vision of the road to mastery--you start with the fundamentals, get a solid foundation fueled by understanding the principles of your discipline, then you expand and refine your repertoire, guided by your individual predispositions, while keeping in touch, however abstractly, with what you feel to be the essential core of the art. What results is a deeply internalized, interconnected knowledge that expands from a central personal lucus point." --page 138-139

"I started practicing. First I worked on each step slowly, over and over, refining my timing and precision. Then I put the whole thing together, repeating the movements hundreds, eventually thousands of times." --page 145

"Too many of us live without fully engaging our minds, waiting for that moment when our real lives begin. Years pass in boredom, but that is okay because when our true love comes around , or we discover our real calling, we will begin. Of course the sad truth is that if we are not present to the moment, our true love could come and go and we wouldn't even notice." --page 187

Performance comparison: "Mysteries of the Macabre" by Gyorg Ligeti

Great performances only come about when musicians are willing to explore all of the available paramaters to create deeper meaning. Arias from Mysteries of the Macabre by Gyorg Ligeti is a somewhat obscure and exceptionally difficult work that happens to have two amazing performances available online.

The arias are selected from an opera so it is not surprising that a vocalist would choose to present the music with an element of theater, however, Barbara Hannigan does not simply add a few hand gestures. With costume, wig, and dynamic staging this is not simply a concert performance, but a fully theatrical performance presented in a more resticted venue.

Her entrance immediately makes clear that she has drammatic as well as musical intentions, that she conducts as well adds to the impact. An alternate performance is available to those who subscribe to the Digital Concert Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic. In Berlin, Sir Simon leads the orchestra and he seems happy to engage in a bit of theater himself.

Hannigan performance

Brian McWhorter is a trumpeter who brings a different, though still theatrical approach to this work: his performance is a product of contemporary video techniques. Not reproducible on the stage--not because of the ability of the players, but only because of the liberal use of camera cuts--McWorter has over seen the production of a unique music video: the images don't simply create a genial atmosphere for the music, but instead engage as counterpoint, enhancing meaning and underscoring effect.

McWorter performance

This piece could easily be considered off-putting, and yet, the combination of virtuoso technique and theater create engaging performances; and, both Hannigan and McWorter have the technique and imagination to fully realize this difficult music.

Congratulations to Eliza, Ben, Jacob and Alex!

Congratulations to a graduate of the studio, Eliza Block, currently at St Olaf College, who was just accepted to the National Syphony Orchestra Summer Institute with a full scholarship.

Congratulations also to high school sophmore, Ben Sahlin, lead trumpet of the Roosevelt Jazz Band, who will be travelling to New York to compete at Essentially Ellington.

Congratulations to Jacob Shaffer who won the Commencement Bay solo and ensemble competition and to Alex Moore who was runner up!

Congratulations to Nicholas Ordoff whose brass quintet took third place at the WMEA State Competition.

Lip Slur World Headquarters


In the summer of 2012 lip slurs started appearing in my Facebook feed. Scott Belck was working on a book of flexibilities and was trying them out on his Facebook trumpet buddies. (I don't know Scott, but I have a few friends that do and it was their comments that invited Scott's lip slurs into my Facebook feed.) I was quite taken with the exercises at the time. Scott was mixing meters and changing valve combinatons within patterns to challange trumpeters' ears along with their faces in musically intriguing ways.

In June of 2013, Modern Lip Flexibilites for Brass was published by Meredith Music and, in January of 2015, I finally got around to ordering a copy. I confess that at first glance I was somewhat diassapointed: many of the most outrageous lip slurs that Scott had posted on Facebook were not in the book. As I spent a few days playing through the exercises I realized that rather than being ourtrageous these lip slurs were approachable by nearly the entire spectrum of trumpeters and consequently very useful. There are plenty of exercises in the book that will provide a work out for the established professional, but, perhaps more importantly, there are exercises to spark interest in the progressing trumpeter.

The few lip flexibilites to be found in the Arban's are unimaginative and tedious at best, and, perhaps worst of all, can promote a 'static' approach, i.e. because there is little sense of moving forward to a goal the student can fall into mediocre breath support. Scott has written exercises that are melodically intriguing with a light scent of jazz that create a feeling of forward motion thereby enouraging good breath support. Plenty of lip slurs with enough repetition built in to work the muscles well, but with enough variety to engage the musical imagination. I already look forward to playing these!

Belck  1A-1
For a many years the core of my teaching has rested upon the A Trumpeter's Daily Routine by Michael Chunn, Technical Studies by Herbert L Clarke and the Daily Drills and Lip Flexibilites by Max Schlossberg, but I believe that this fall my students will be buying an additional book.

Northwest Brass Festival

Charles Villarrubia sm

Don't miss the Northwest Brass Festival on March 7-8. Featured guests include Stephen Bulla, composer, conductor, and arranger--formerly staff arranger for the Presidents Own Marine Band--Charles Villarrubia, tubist with Rhythm and Brass and David Gordon, principal trumpet of the Seattle Smphony Orchestra. Highlights appear below.

Saturday, March 7

10:00 Exibits open
10:30 Masterclass: Charles Villarrubia
1:00 Masterclass: Jamie Hood, cornet
1:00 Brass band clinics with Stephen Bulla
2:00 Masterclass: Randi Bulla, alto horn
2:00-4:00 Youth Brass Ensemble
4:30 Youth Brass performance
7:00 Brass Band Concert

Sunday, March 8

1:30 exhibits open
2:00 Masterclass: Charles Villarrubia
3:30 Masterclass: David Gordon
5:00 Student Competition
7:30 Artist Concert

First Free Methodist Church 3301 3rd Ave W
Seattle, WA 98119
$25/day; $40/Festival

The Northwest Brass Festival is hosted by Brass Band Northwest and Common Tone Arts.

Concert schedule - winter/spring, 2015

January 29 (Seattle) 7:00: Don Quixote with Pacific Northwest Ballet.
January 30 (Seattle) 7:30: Don Quixote with Pacific Northwest Ballet.
January 31 (Seattle)1:00 & 7:30: Don Quixote with Pacific Northwest Ballet.
February 20 (Seattle) 7:30: The Three Divas with Northwest Sinfonietta.
February 21 (Tacoma) 7:30: The Three Divas with Northwest Sinfonietta.
February 22 (Puyallup) 7:30: The Three Divas with Northwest Sinfonietta.
March 7 (Seattle) 7:00: Brass Band Northwest at the Northwest Brass Festival.
March 8 (Seattle) 7:00: Puget Sound Trumpet Ensemble at the Northwest Brass Festival.
March 15 (Bellevue) 2:30: American Landscapes with Brass Band Northwest at Bellevue Presbyterian Church.
March 22 (Tacoma) 2:30: Songs from the Emerald Isle with the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra.
April 2 (Bellevue) 7:30: Messiah with Lake Washington Symphony Orchestra and Westminster Chorale.
April 3 (Bellevue) 7:30: Messiah with Lake Washington Symphony Orchestra and Westminster Chorale.
April 16 (Seattle) 7:30: Swan Lake with Pacific Northwest Ballet.
April 18 (Seattle) 7:30: Swan Lake with Pacific Northwest Ballet.
May 2 (Bellevue) 7:30: Scheherazade with Brass Band Northwest at Bellevue Presbyterian Church
May 9 (Tacoma) 7:30: The Planets with Tacoma Symphony Orchestra.
May 15 (Seattle) 7:30: The Taiwanese Connection with Northwest Sinfonietta.
May 16 (Tacoma) 7:30: The Taiwanese Connection with Northwest Sinfonietta.
May 17 (Puyallup) 7:30: The Taiwanese Connection with Northwest Sinfonietta.


(From the pit during final bows at Don Quichot with PNB.)

Performance comparison: "Intrada" by Arthur Honegger

Recently I was working with a student as he prepares for graduate school auditions; he is a junior, so the auditions are a little over a year away. He plans to audition for Charlie Geyer and Barbara Butler at Rice University, which means preparing Intrada by Arthur Honegger. The opening section of this work can be somewhat free in tempo and is, therefore, open to quite a variety of interpretations. I encouraged my student to listen to many recordings to open his mind to possibilities, so I opened up iTunes and we listened to a few 30 second previews.

The three trumpeters we chose were Thomas Hooten, Hakan Hardenberger and Wynton Marsalis all of whom are great musicians for whom I have the utmost respect. My comments are based on the thirty second snippet that is available as a free preview on iTunes. The differences were astounding, though not quite in the way I had planned. I encourage you to open iTunes, search "Honegger Intrada" and listen to these three performances--go ahead, I'll wait.

Intrada for Trumpet and Piano (feat. Rebecca Wilt): Thomas Hooten, trumpet from the album "Trumpet Call"
The opening repeatedly covers two and a half octaves quickly; Mr Hooten plays with an incredibly relaxed tone that belies the difficuty. I want to be Thomas Hooten.

Intrada: Hakan Hardenberger & Roland Pontinen from the album "Virtuoso Trumpet"
Mr Hardenberger is one of the most lyrical trumpeters on recording, yet here he shows more effort. Perhaps this is a choice, meaning, he wished to project greater brilliance, and yet I find the ease of Mr Hooten's performance more satisfying.

Intrada: Judith Lynn Stillman & Wynton Marsalis from the album "On the Twentieth Century"
The preview of Mr Marsalis' performance begins at the end of introduction. The lyric line begins on a low G and climbs two octaves in the space of a few measures. The top of the line is so abominably out of tune I had to listen a second time as I couldn't believe my ears; I couldn't believe that this was released! One must assume that a wrong take was chosen as Mr Marsalis is clearly capable of better.

Under this trumpet melody is a repeated G in the piano which sounds curiously muffled, as if Ms Stillman were intentionally muting the note to make it more percussive. I can't be sure whether this was an intentional detail or bad recording technique. If intentional, bravo to Ms Stillman for employing such imagination, however, it is hard to know for certain whether this is a bug or a feature.

Congratulations to Nicholas, Jacob and Ben

Nicholas Orndoff was accepted to the All Northwest Band and Jacob Shaffer was placed in the All State Orchestra. Congratulations on this recognition of your hard work! This past September, Ben Sahlin won the lead trumpet chair of the famous Roosevelt Jazz Band!

Last year Nicholas was placed in the All State Orchestra and Jacob into the All State Band, though I forgot to brag about them at that time.