Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sleep Notes

My hair is far more sexy now.

Out of the great wisdom God has seen fit to dump upon me (oh dear, we can see where this is going already), I decided not long ago to open a file on my iPhone’s Notes app titled, “sleep notes.” The intent was to provide a way for me, the author, to jot random arresting thoughts as I hover on the fringes of sleep at night.

Some things are just too good to forget.

The problem is I forgot most of what I wrote about. I can’t blame me, either, because what I left for myself is pretty cryptic. Take the first note, for instance:

But you will be brought home with yr head in a sack.

I am wracking my brain to try to remember what that was all about. I’m pretty sure I had been listening to my audio Bible that night, somewhere in mid-Genesis. Life was rough in those times. We’re a bunch of pansies now. That’s what I get out of it. I should take better notes, I know, but you’ve got to admit I’m doing pretty good for a guy who’s writing while mostly asleep. Next.

Underwater ok w o scuba. Rooms that go forever. Something is wrong with my companion. Strangers walking by my son and take him big clang

I’m providing fodder to the psych machine, I know. Before everyone else has a crack at my subconscious, though, allow me to oblige with my own analysis: I can breathe underwater, but only in large rooms, and only if my buddy is completely deranged. If someone I don’t know tries to take my son whilst we’re walking, they will be destroyed by a massive falling steel girder. That is all. Next.

Dog your own grave without knowing it.

I like dogs. I like them when they belong to other people and I don’t have to live with them. I don’t like picking up poo out of the grass. I especially don’t like, and this has been well publicized, picking up poo out of my grass, especially since I do not own a dog, and I especially do not like it, Sam I am, when your dog is the cause of the poo in my grass. Therefore the meaning of this cryptic note, having set the stage for proper context, can be summed up with one word: dogicide. That is, if I catch your mangy walking shite factory doing the doo on my grass. I will throw rocks and not try to miss.

Of course I’m speaking metaphorically. Which brings us on to our final dreamland note:

Metaphorical plunger

I’m pretty sure I was thinking along the lines of a stopped up toilet. Perhaps what had clogged it was, let’s say, akin to “waste.” I really don’t know what I was thinking, but I can guess. And by the way, why does it always come down to potty jokes for me? Is it because I’m a man? Perhaps. If that’s true, and a man, any man, every man, can be summed up so cheaply and so easily, then all women—by extension—are vicious gossiping harpies. See, that’s not nice, is it ladies? DON’T JUDGE ME, THEN. I’m a man, and I have feelings too, and they’re in my heart, not somewhere else as has been rumored, FALSELY. Just because a man’s definition of romance is a little different than yours doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Okay. Uh. Where was I. Oh! Yes. The meaning of this dreamland note is this: I’m not taking any more of your crap, World. Yeah!

Oh, and one more thing: Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Trumpet Times

Some of you may have noticed that a friend of mine posted up images of an old trumpet on his Facebook wall, tagging me in the process. This was my friend Nate, a high school acquaintance from way back in the day. Of course I’m now old and farty; it happens to the best of us. All that aside, it begs the question: what’s up with that old trumpet?

Turns out after I launched the Kickstarter campaign for my new trumpet studio, Nate messaged me on FB the same day. He told me about this old Conn he had kicking around. It’s a Connstellation 36B Lightweight, and it was most likely made in the late fifties (cf. The Conn Loyalist). These old trumpets are quite legendary. Conn made some of the finest back then. The tone of the 36B Lightweight and especially the 38B (which I now want to try, naturally) is dark; powerful at fortissimo and mellow at pianissimo. In essence, just what I’ve always wanted.

The 36B that I received from Nate is wonderful, but not without its flaws. Anything that’s sixty-plus years old is going to have some imperfections, I daresay. The mouthpiece receiver probably broke off at some point, because it was soldered back on, quite inaccurately. The bell and some of the bracing is bent. The proper felts and corks aren’t installed on the valves and I don’t know if you can even get them anymore. These are really just little niggles, because the horn plays really well. When you step to something like this, you have to try not to tell it what it’s going to do for you. You kinda have to ask it how it wants to go about its business; respect your elders. I did and I was rewarded. While the intonation isn’t completely consistent and the valve action is really heavy, it turns out that it all works in context. Having played my new Connstellation 36B Lightweight, I rather like it.

So, you may be asking, does that mean I’m no longer trying to raise money for my new studio? Not hardly. I still want to get my mitts on a trumpet I’ve had a chance to playtest, to choose for myself. While I don’t begrudge the gift of this old Conn, it’s still not exactly what I need as an instructor. It's very very cool, but it's  not something I would feel comfortable playing everyday. It's like an old classic car in that way, and time will tell if it suits me right down to the ground. One of Nate’s conditions on sending the Conn all the way from Ohio to Idaho was that, if I didn’t want it, I send it back to him or “pay it forward.” I certainly want it, and I certainly will use it. One way I could do that would be to allow my students to playtest this ol’ beauty, experience something completely different than the new school of trumpet construction. Trust me, the old Conn is way different; I don’t have the space here to go into it.

Another reason I’m continuing on with the Kickstarter fundraisingcampaign is because, as I said in the videos, this isn’t even about buying a trumpet. I have a close friend who offered to let me borrow one for a while anyway. What the Kickstarter campaign is about is starting up my private studio so I can teach music and trumpet to kids who need something more than they’re getting in life. Yeah, I need a trumpet to do that, sure, and I have one. Actually two, because I picked up an old Bach basher for fifty bucks at Dunkley the other day (fifty bucks?!) which I’ll use as a loaner (or as punishment) for my students. I'm telling you, doors are flinging wide open for me in this endeavor.

My assistant...
Since I last played, there are new method books out there. I need to know them, which means I need to buy them and use them. There are also approved Idaho contest pieces that I do not own, and I need to get all of them if my students are going to compete at state. There’s a list of about a dozen of them, and I need to get cracking on learning them so I can teach them to my students. What else? My daily routine includes stacking various boxes on the bed and propping my case open, stuffing a pillow inside, so I can get my books and music up high enough to practice good posture when I play. It would be nice to have a heavy duty music stand like I used to own. Another practical concern is that I need a diverse collection of mouthpieces, small- medium- large, that I can use with my students to make sure they’re playing on the right equipment. One mouthpiece is about eighty bucks, and I need probably five of them. Seven or eight would be better. I could probably find some for cheaper on eBay, but the list goes on.

So the fundraising continues. Good news: I’m still making connections here in Boise. I’m meeting with the band director at a local private school in Boise this week. We’re going to go over some of the problem areas his trumpet section is having so I can pop in to clinic on them soon. Perhaps I’ll gain some students out of the deal. I already have one verbal commitment from a kid at another school already. So I’m on my way. Thanks for journeying with me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Carnival of Venice

The Carnival of Venice (Arban) is one of the toughest pieces in the trumpet repertoire. It involves blisteringly fast scales, double tonguing (ta-ka-ta) and triple tonuing (ta-ta-ka-ta), crazy intervals over an octave in difference, 32nd notes, and on and on. I played an easier version (Clarke) my senior year of high school, and it took me a fair bit of practice to get it as perfect as I could.

I’ve heard it said that masterpieces are never finished, merely abandoned; and if you’ve ever gazed long at a renaissance painting you’ll begin to understand. The details could go on forever, and one wonders at the process… how the painter went about his business. When did he paint what? How did the pieces fit together in time as he created it? What made him move on from one zone of the canvas to the next and why? And at what point did he abandon it, effectively saying (in Italian, no doubt), “enough is enough!”

Wynton Marsalis, whom I practically worshipped as a young trumpeter in high school, produced a pinnacle of the art form in his recording of The Carnival of Venice on the record Carnaval. And yeah. It’s the Arban’s version, which is in another universe from the Clarke’s. Here's a YouTube link of Marsalis with John Williams and the Boston Pops orchestra that will blow your freaking mind. He's playing a cornet, not a trumpet, in that video. 

It’s a theme and variations, so it starts off with the basic melody. It’s in 6/8 time, so it feels like a waltz; oom-pah-pah, oom-pah-pah. It’s a nice little melody, if it does anything it lilts. I said lilts. Now I get a triple score. Anyway as the variations go on, they get more difficult until gradually, in the final variation it literally sounds like there are two trumpets playing simultaneously. I am not making this up. Just a shower of sound. Marsalis did this to perfection on the record Carnaval (aforementioned), released in the early nineties. It was and is incredible. I’m waiting on my public library to call me with my reserved copy of that recording; I just have to hear it again.

As you may or may not have gleaned from the buzz in the ether around here lately, I’ve picked up a trumpet after about a seventeen year hiatus. Right now I’m just using loaners however I can get them, but I’m back into practicing again nevertheless. Today during my routine I cracked into a dusty long-forgotten section of the Arban’s book.

J.B. Arban’s first comprehensive trumpet and cornet method was published in the late 1800’s and quickly became the ultimate authority on the instrument. I’d argue that it still is too, in many ways. It’s over an inch and a half thick and has everything you could ever and never think of inside it. Included is the trumpet part for The Carnival of Venice.

When I collided with it today it was glorious. I just thought you should know. As I was playing it, fond old memories started coming into focus again. That melody, those notes, are up near the rarified heights of musicianship that I was just beginning to know so many years ago. For me to make my clumsy little forays around the edges today was nothing less than a delight.

Mind you, our collision was probably hideously ugly to my next door neighbors. But to me, in my heart and head, it was a thing of beauty. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012


It's a funny thing about gifts. While a thing that we're gifted to do in life can master us, define us, lend us a piece of our identity, enable us to do what no one else can do, steward us to great heights of accomplishment... it can also break us, back us into corners, entrap us, destroy us, burn us like wicks until all the fuel is gone and we're utterly spent.

Probably the best metaphor for this is the simple seed.

Seeds. Contained within one of these impossible capsules is an entire forest, given enough time, good soil, rain. Generations can be supported on one grain of wheat, which again, given enough time, will produce field upon endless field of staple crops for the children of the children of the children of the man who first sowed it. It's incredible, but we can hear in this expression of creation the voice of God asking us why we're so amazed.

I've experienced a weird hate-love with a gift in my own life. It all started when I was eleven years old and in desperate need of something to do. I needed something to define me. Tell me, at least in part, who I was. The first time I ever touched a trumpet it was clear that I had a natural ability for it; a gift. I was able to make it work. One of my band directors in high school, Dan Christian, pulled me aside one day during my senior year and asked me why I wasn't auditioning for the Indiana All-State Band. I just shrugged and implied I was bored with it. That's when he told me that he had never in his life seen a kid take to the trumpet like I had. He told me that I really shouldn't be able to do half the stuff I was able to do, that I had been fortunate that no one had ever told me I couldn't. This is an incredible guy, by the way: he famously told us, "If you're gonna make a mistake, make it loud." I ended up auditioning for the Indiana All-State Band, and I made the All-State Honor band. Not first chair, but first part. I still have the CD of our concert somewhere, I think. That was the year I played Carnival of Venice, too, which is, as any trumpet player worth his salt will tell you, one of the premiere pieces in the repertoire.

Why do I bore you with these inane details? It's not to brag about anything. I'm far past those immature days; I might even hazard the opinion that most of it has been burned out of me. No, I tell this story to set the stage for a radical idea that, like a seed, has germinated within me after years--seventeen of them--lying dormant.

But first, another story. Bear with me. In 2006 I started up a construction company with my dad and my brother. By summer of 2007 it was busted, and for lots of reasons, but I maintain that I was rescued from success because it would have been more damaging than failure, at least given the way we were going about our business. After that, we entered the crucible. I was unable to find work for over a year. I was deeply depressed. It was as if I had lost someone, not something. We started selling off everything we didn't need in order to make ends meet. My drums, our band's PA system, my huge home stereo, the months-old plasma TV... then pretty much all that was left was the trumpet.

I had delivered papers for two years, maybe three years, saving my money for that pro-line trumpet. At the Indiana Trumpet Competition in Anderson Indiana in the summer of 1991, after play-testing several trumpets from the hundreds on display, I selected a Bach Stradivarius model 180S with a 43H heavyweight bell and 25LR reverse leadpipe. Very sexy for the times, let me tell you. And it played like nothing else. Rather than inhibiting my talents, it amplified them, made everything easier, better, richer.

In 2008 I sold it. I prayed about it quite a lot beforehand, too. I knew that I needed to provide for my family, and I wasn't opposed to selling it. "No sacred cows," I say. My in-laws lived in Hawaii at the time, and they told us, "Why don't you guys come here and look for a job?" All we needed to do was get there; they told us they would put us up in their one bedroom condo in Honolulu until we found something that worked. We needed about $1600 for the plane tickets, if I remember right. I appraised my old Strad and guess how much it was worth? It sold on eBay quickly for the appraised value. Some rather fortunate young trumpeter in the London area is now (hopefully) the proud owner. Off it went, certified post, and off we went to Hawaii. I found a job there quickly, working at a marina doing dock maintenance. Of course, I was laid off after about four months and we then came back home, but it was precisely what we needed: refreshment.

When I made the decision to sell my Strad I distinctly heard God tell me if I laid it down completely then, He would repay my decision, my sacrifice, many times over. I was glad to do it. And I don't believe that word repay connotes monetary value, either. God is creative. I shall be wise enough to allow Him to choose how and when; I live and breathe at His mercy daily. So we'll see what happens next.

And speaking of what's next, we're now full circle in the little story I'm telling here. I think also that it's significant that I'm posting this on the first day of a brand new year. That's what I'm talking about: my radical idea. Actually, it's probably not radical at all for anyone but me. Forgive me this indulgence, will you? You see, in the hard years now hopefully behind me, I've learned a great deal about holding to things loosely. How to lay my will down. How to make sacrifices for others. How to stop thinking so damn much about me, me, ME. In fact I learned it so well that when this idea finally occurred to me I was shocked at how out of the blue it was. Truly, it was the furthest thing from my mind.

I was so over the trumpet that I had actually gone to a local music shop and talked with them, casually, about getting a tenor sax on a rent-to-own program. But that was months ago. This new idea came gently, like a steady rustling breeze on a bed of hot coals, enlivening them slowly, roundly, thoroughly. I thought, Hey. I could teach trumpet. And that was it. Then, Why not rent one? The next day I was in the same shop looking, seriously, for a trumpet to rent. They obliged me with a play-test, also directing me next door to  a studio that, strangely enough, was looking for trumpet teachers. Huh, I thought. The lady was busy with students, however, but she took my number and promised to call.

I took another fine instrument on approval for a week, from another local shop. I got back into my fundamental routine, daily gaining more flexibility. The day came to return it, and I walked in and asked for another. A better one. A Bach Strad. There was a guy in line behind me as I went through the checkout process. He seemed a decent fellow, and asked me if I was buying a new trumpet. I told him no, just checking one out on approval, trying to get back into playing. That week, I had also Googled that nice lady with the studio who was looking for trumpet teachers and called her up and left a message. You've gotta chase these things down sometimes.

Later on that day, I got a call from the other shop; the one from which I had borrowed the Strad. This one took me way back. On the phone was a young man I had known since he was small enough to ride piggyback on my shoulders. He saw my name in the transaction record and decided to track me down to see if I was indeed who he thought I was (I was). Today he's an accomplished cellist, educated at Vanderbilt. He's quite well-connected, shall we say, with the local schools, and told me he was very interested in doing whatever he could to help me build up a private studio. He gave me a phone number as well: one of the trumpet players in the Boise Philharmonic. I called that gentleman right away and introduced myself, telling him I had been given his number by a young man who worked at Dunkley's Music. He said, "Hey, were you down at Dunkley's today?" I answered yes. He said, "I was right behind you in line." Turns out I had already met, in person, the guy I was going to meet over the phone. We're going to meet in person again soon to talk about strategies for building up my clientele. And just like that, I'm tapped into the local community of professional musicians.

The only thing is: I need a trumpet if I'm going to teach. It's not something that's learned out of books. It's learned by rote, by doing, by example, by repetition. A trumpet instructor without an axe is absurd. I was wracking my brain to figure out how to acquire a trumpet in the most cost-effective way. I could rent one, but that's a long-term expense that adds to the overhead of my business. While that remains an option, I nevertheless had a brainwave and struck on an idea that could be better, plus allow people that I've known for years to have a hand in helping me out, getting me back into playing trumpet and fulfilling a long dormant and frustrated part of me that wants to positively impact the youth of my community, the musical capabilities, particularly of younger musicians and students.

What is it? Crowdsourcing. If you've heard of Kickstarter, you know at least a little about what it is. And as of this writing, I'm still waiting to hear back from about my submission and whether or not it's been given a go. Whatever the case may be, my goal is simple:

Raise at least $500, buy a trumpet, and start teaching.

I've already looked on Craigslist and found some. I'm hoping to raise more, of course, but at least with that minimum amount I can get started, start my studio, gain students, make a difference, and earn my way back into this thing, eventually buying a pro-line trumpet again. Maybe even a Bach Stradivarius. I plan to weasel my way into local schools and offer to teach a day of sectionals with the trumpets, train them in proper warm ups, range expansion, the finer points of mouthpiece selection, maybe even give 'em some tips on jazz improvisation. It'll be a great way to recruit students. I'm going to have studio recitals with my students. I'll organize competitions. Together we'll raise the bar. We'll get some of these young musicians listening to properly good music, maybe even positively influence the pop culture with something besides sex and bling and gratuitousness. And who knows, maybe Idaho could become a musical oasis. Anything is possible. I know that for a fact because I have experienced it.

Stay tuned to this space for updates. When I hear from Kickstarter, I'll be posting up their yea or nay. If it's nay, I'll just raise the funds through my blog and social media, using Paypal. There' s more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to buy a trumpet and make a difference. The key is that we do this together. I really do believe that's crucial. Thanks for being a part of this "radical idea." And for now there are some videos that I put together that will tell you more about me and my story and my idea--plus you get to hear me play (yikes). There's a short and sweet version, and a longer one with an additional ten minutes of footage that tells the whole story. Leave comments here if you have questions/ideas about all this. Thanks for popping in here, and I look forward to getting started on this project ASAP.