12:07am. I'm home from the Classical Open Mic Night at Buzz Brews. Roy just can't seem to get settled. The Cat is licking himself nearby.
I'm trying to stay on top of things this month. February always seems so brutal. This is my third one since I've come back to Texas, and each has been extremely busy. Last February I worked so much that I got real sick. My poor ears ended up with a "eustachian tube dysfunction." Look it up if you like, but it really just means I had a bunch of fluid in my ear. One evening I was watching Netflix just before bed, and I realized that every pitch I heard [EVERY PITCH, all sounds!] was doubled. Two pitches for the price of one. (Or is it one pitch with the price of two?) Boy, did that freak me out. I figured that was the point I needed to get myself to the doctor. I did, and she told me I had "eustachian tube dysfunction." She also told me my records said I had asthma. (I do not.)
Anyway, I've been teaching horn semi-full time for two and a half school years now. What a blessed experience. I love kids and I love horn, and my good friends will tell you I love to talk a lot. Teaching horn lessons is kind of a combination of all three. One of the things I've come to appreciate since taking on horn lessons is the wisdom I walk away with. I learn a lot about people and life from these horn lessons.
So here are a couple of things I've learned about in terms of becoming a great musician. These things take a certain kind of willingness.
1. A Willingness to be Wrong
This seems to be a crucial thing in my lessons. It's not that I need or desire to be right. However, I know how to play horn more rightly than my 14 year old students do. The ones who listen to what I say will eventually play rightly too. A lot of my kids are afraid to get stuff wrong though. That's really frustrating for me, for when they fear getting stuff wrong they don't try as hard. I say a lot, "I'm not going to kick you out if you mess up!" I really encourage my kids to totally botch something. When you get it really wrong, you begin to know how to get it right. But when they're not afraid to get it wrong, they sometimes get it really right just by going for it! Magic, huh?
There's also a grown up version of this (though I see it occasionally in the kids I teach). It has to do with being a 'know-it-all.' When one is in the position of 'student,' it is so important to be open to the possibility of being wrong. That's hard, especially in people who have a lot of confidence in what they're doing. I remember going to a brass camp one summer when I was in high school, and Bill Vermeulen was the guest clinician. He was saying something during a master class one day about how difficult Strauss 1 is. Wouldn't you know it, some bonehead horn player decides to get up and play Strauss 1 for him. It was a "I'll show you how awesome I play" kind of move. Didn't throw Bill though. He pointed out every thing that was wrong in the kid's performance, and the kid wasn't happy.
He didn't want to be wrong. He wanted to show Vermeulen how right he was. Whenever you want to learn from a teacher about anything, be very willing and open to being wrong. After you're corrected, you'll be so very right.
2. A Willingness to travel down the Boring Road
I had two instances of this one this month.
The first was with one of my junior highers. I asked her how her solo was going. She told me she didn't like it because it was boring. It's actually not boring. It's a great and exciting tune, and it'll get even more exciting for her once she does it with her accompanist. However, at this point, it probably feels a little boring to her. I get that. She has to play the same notes in it over and over again by herself. Boring.
The second experience happened this week with an older student. I can't specifically remember her horn past (hopefully she'll forgive me for that), but she's essentially playing catch up. I can tell she truly desires to become a better and competent player. I told her that if she wanted to get real good real fast, she needed to become boring and do the same thing every day. Play scales, arpeggios, lip slurs, etc. But she needs to do it every day, and she needs to do it the same way every day.
I say this to most of my students, and it's something I've just realized for myself this year. A good chunk of a musician's musical experience is kind of boring. Same scales and exercises every day. You reach that boring state when nothing takes you by surprise anymore, and that's when you can become the artist. You can only be an artist when you know where everything is, and the only way to accomplish that is to travel the same boring road every day. (Oh yeah, that's where my C is. Oh right, I always blow my air like that.) The grown up word is consistency. The junior high word is boring.
If you can be patient and be ok with living in a boring state for awhile, it will pay off greatly. Funny, after playing horn for about 16 years and doing music for over 20 years, I'm only now getting this stuff.