I recently completed a 1-week tour of Texas, visiting three universities and a junior high school, presenting a mix of recitals, masterclasses, lectures, and lessons. Needless to say, it was exhausting but motivational and inspirational, which is why I go to great pains to put these trips together in the first place. Having the opportunity to make new friends and share my experiences and insights thus far in my career with others is so rewarding for me, and I always learn a few things myself: one of my lessons this time around is to STOP OVER-PROGRAMMING my recitals!
Anyway, I felt one of the common themes of the week was blog-worthy. I’ll call it “have fun and make sound”. Years ago, when I first started doing outreach services in public schools around Chicago, a frequent question was “What do you enjoy most about playing the trombone?” My answer to that, with little consideration, was always that I love making sound. Producing sound on the trombone is a drug to me (perhaps a strong vitamin, I should say) and I feel an addiction to playing sound. Sure, I love making music and playing with friends, but the act of making sound on the trombone is a primary motivator. It’s the element of playing that speaks the strongest to me.
How does this relate to my week in Texas? Well, I found the words “have fun and make sound” coming out of my mouth during many private lessons and masterclass coachings. When playing, especially when we are trying our best (i.e. masterclass, audition, recital, etc) so many thoughts and instructions cloud our minds. Numerous articles and books have been written about this topic, but I want to simplify from a overly-practical approach: HAVE FUN AND MAKE SOUND!!! One of my primary practice and teaching techniques is to glissando everything and just make sound, focusing on nothing but air and resonance. Every time I (or a student) does this, the result is a clearer, more resonant sound, better pitch, a sostenuto airstream, and more convincing phrasing. There is something about letting go of the desire to control and remembering the pure joy of making sound that makes this happen. I often tell a student to pretend they’re back in grade school and playing trombone for the first time: wasn’t that fun making a sound on the trombone?!?! THAT is the joy we need to recapture by letting go of control.
Don’t get me wrong, we still need to approach technique such as articulation, slide and valve coordination, dynamics, etc. but not at the cost of HAVING FUN AND MAKING SOUND. We are all guilty of taking this thing called the trombone and music way too seriously, which can handicap our progress just as much as benefit. If you’re willing to let it all go for a few seconds and just enjoy making sound, I bet you’ll be happy with the results….and it will be fun.