View From My Face

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This is a view that I've spent about 4 years of my life seeing. That would be 4 years solid (no sleep and 24 hours per day). Over the decades playing trombone, I can easily calculate two hours of practice per day, averaged. That's fairly normal for musicians, but probably a bit shocking for non-musicians to hear about. When I was in my twenties, it's all that I wanted to do and I routinely practiced and performed about 5-6 hours per day, seven days a week. Luckily, I wasn't a violinist or pianist. They put in more hours!

Then, I dreamed of being one of the three or four trombonists in the U.S., that might win a position in an orchestra that paid a salary over $20,000 per year. It was a strange and almost reckless thing to spend your rent money on an airplane ticket to audition with 80 to 120 other trombonists, for one position. Perhaps I should have spent that money on lottery tickets. I did win two positions. One was with the Florida West Coast Symphony (now the Sarasota Orchestra), the other was a one-year sub with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. I also won the Richmond Symphony, but had to turn it down (it paid about $5,000 per year). Instead, I taught low brass at Indiana State University in lovely Terre Haute, Indiana and played in their orchestra. That's another story.

I liked jazz back then, but it was when I returned to Florida in 1989 that I really branched out to jazz, commercial (pit orchestra) and experimental music. About that time, I began assisting a local composers organization (Tampa Bay Composers Forum) as a trombonist and thought those magic words, "I can do that"... and began composing.

Practicing isn't quite the wondrous experience that it used to be. Sometimes I think of warming up like sound yoga, just to break the monotony. The long tones at the beginning of the warm up become my mantra. I quit reading notated music for a year (in practice sessions) after Sam Rivers recommended that. That really shifted my thinking about making music. It was the old external vs. internal process, in play. It's certainly more fun to perform than practice, but I play the trombone and for some reason, it's not exactly the most popular music instrument. Gigs are few and far between for trombonists, so that forces me to lead groups and scout for gigs. That also takes time... all to play the trombone. I think Beckett wrote a play about this.

The trombone is unforgiving. I can't practice two hours straight since that's like weight lifting with your lips, so I have to break practice up in 30-minute intervals with rest in between. All brass players claim to know one guy/gal who never practices and sounds great on gigs. It sounds like urban myth to me. If I don't practice, I will sound like a beginner within a few days. It's a monkey on my back reminding me that I'm a useless human being, if I don't practice! Then there's paperwork, meetings, class preparation, teaching and a million other things that demand attention. Then there is composing.

I don't seem to have the technique or air support that I had a few years ago. It's probably because I don't practice 4 or 5 hours a day. On the other hand, it seems that I'm making some better music now, in many ways.

Well... I need to practice now. How many times have I said that?