What do you do when you’ve been rejected? When you’re told what you did wasn’t good enough? When they say someone else was better? What do you do in the face of harsh criticism?
If you want to make a living in the music business, you've got to learn to handle being rejected over and over again. I’m not afraid to say that I have a fair bit of experience dealing with these things. When I’m rejected for an audition or job application, I've learned to view it, even welcome it, as an opportunity to improve. I think to myself, “I'm not going to let this happen again. Next time I come back, I’ll be too good to be ignored.” I use any anger or frustration as a fire that motivates me to buckle down, work even harder to improve, and find the way past the current hurdle.
At certain points in my life I've rebounded from a slight or rejection by finding fury. This isn’t the kind of fury that causes people to lash out or get in a fight; this is the simmering, brooding fury that settles in and makes a home in your mind for a while. This is the fury that whispers, "They said you weren't good enough. Will you let that happen next time?"
Here's an example: when I was in graduate school at Indiana University, we had auditions every semester for ensemble placement. There were four or five orchestras, three bands, and four big bands. The most coveted positions were in the orchestra, or at least the top band. My second semester I was in the second jazz band. I was last place in that particular audition. I know this because Mr. P left his audition notes out on the table for me to read while I waited for him to start my lesson. I think he did it on purpose because he knew me well enough at that point to understand what it would do for me.
I read Mr. P's audition results and at first was hurt. I'm very competitive, and desire to be the best of the best. I also sulked over the dawning realization that I would be spending the next semester in the jazz band (nothing against jazz, but it's not my thing). Most shamefully, I tried to find someone else to blame for this, but couldn’t manage to. It always came back to me. Being last hurt my pride and stung my ego, but I had no one to blame but myself. I was the one who didn't take the audition seriously. I was the one who failed to prepare the repertoire. I was the one who had earned a last place finish.
So what happened next, you ask? I practiced, and practiced, and practiced some more. Going to jazz rehearsals was a constant reminder of my own failure to take my job of getting better at tuba seriously. The fury was there and was fueled as I attended orchestra concerts with my peers playing in the ensemble. Before the audition I'd been practicing around two hours a day. That was barely enough for maintenance; I needed to be working on improvement. Clearly I was not in a position to rest on my laurels. That semester I upped my average daily practice time to around five hours. That summer I increased it again. By the time we came back to school in the fall of my second year at IU I was practicing on average forty hours a week. In the first semester of my second year I fared much better, earning one of the top positions and placement in the orchestras.
I keep pressing on and working hard because I want to become my best self, the best possible teacher and performer I can be. Here’s what keeps me rolling: I don’t blame anyone else for not noticing my end product. I take total responsibility for it and vow to put in the work so that next time, they will have no choice but to realize how much I’ve improved.
Thank you for reading!
Have you ever had a performance that you were underwhelmed or even disappointed by?
First, after a performance you're unhappy with, ask yourself what went well. Once you've got an answer to that you can proceed. Next, you can move on to addressing problems. Why were you disappointed? For me there are usually two reasons I’m bothered by a performance. Either I allowed my nerves to get the best of me or I was under-prepared. There are simple solutions in both situations.
For performance anxiety you basically need to put yourself in situations where you feel pressure while you perform. This primarily means that you need to perform for people. You can also simulate the symptoms of nervous anxiety by doing some jumping jacks, push-ups, jogging in place, etc. this will increase you heart rate, respiration, and probably make you shake a little bit.
For under-preparation give yourself more time to learn the repertoire. If you had two months to learn the repertoire last time, try giving yourself three months next time. Or if you had six weeks, give yourself eight. The numbers really aren't the important issue here. Ensuring that you have adequate prep time is. You can also address your practice proficiency. Make sure you’re being honest with yourself when you practice. Never allow mistakes to go unaddressed. Obviously, there are some exceptions to this. You can’t fix every problem right now. Otherwise, we’d all have new repertoire ready for performance by tomorrow! Another consideration for under-preparation is whether or not the piece you performed was within your current capabilities. If not, choose rep that you can handle more readily next time. If the rep was within your current abilities, see above.
Later, go over a few things mentally. What could you have done better? Often there are specific problems holding performers back from having a better performance. There are any number of things that may be a culprit here; range, flexibility, articulation, dynamic contrast, musical concept, etc. Figure out what the issue was and how to fix it before your next performance. Add exercises to your routine that will cause you to improve on the identified issue.
What were some other potential contributing factors? Distraction? Hunger? Unforeseen hurdles that caused you to show-up late to the performance venue? Not getting time to warm up adequately? All of the above? Ask yourself these questions and find solutions to them. Then get busy working on the problems you’ve identified rather than dwelling on the disappointing performance. You can’t change the past, but you can (and should) learn from it. Use it to your benefit in the future.
Awesome! Now you know what you need to work on. So get to it!
Thank you for reading!
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of most breathing exercises. The reason for this is that it seems to me that people who do a lot of breathing “calisthenic” type exercises tend to have tight sounds. If you’ve been reading TuBlog for a while you know axiom number two (The Seven Axioms of Teaching) is always play with your best sound.
Try this: go back to the beginning of this blog post and read it aloud. What do you notice? Now, if you've got an instrument nearby play something and notice your breathing. How is conversational breathing different from breathing as you play?
In a conversation your breathing is shallow, slow, and imprecise. Hopefully, when you play your breathing is deep, full, relaxed, efficient, and exact. A lot of players breathe conversationally as they play. Our breathing should be more like when you’ve been running sprints than conversational. As low brass players, we need to be breath athletes, a virtuoso breather. Breathing in context must be practiced in the same way you practice technical passages of notes.
Here’s an exercise that I think is useful. Play it in every key, any range, all dynamic levels, and any tempo. The lower/faster you play it, the more effective the exercise will be.
Here are the rules:
Add this exercise to your routine and I think you’ll be pleased with the results. What do you do to work on breathing?
Thanks for reading!
I do the majority of my practicing in my office at university. There's a busy hallway right outside my door and a window which looks out into the atrium of our main music facility. There are almost always people near enough to my office to hear me practice in real time. I was thinking about this recently and began to wonder who might be listening to my practice sessions from the hallway.
I'm not suggesting that people camp outside my office door and eagerly await the arrival of my first notes every day (as cool as that would be). However, the thought that people walk past my door and hear what I'm working on reminded me of something I've heard a lot of musicians say: always sound your best.
The sentiment of always sounding your best is well-intentioned, but impractical and unsustainable. It's also in direct contradiction to one of my axioms, which is that practice is for problems. If you constantly attempt to play your best, you'll be stuck forever playing like you do right now because the fastest way to improve is by attacking your weaknesses. Attacking weaknesses means making mistakes. Making mistakes means sounding less than your best. The goal is to improve every time you sit down to practice.
People walking by probably think that I don’t perform as well as I do since I spend most of my time working on weaknesses. They walk by and hear me sounding my worst, precisely because I'm fixing the highest priority problems. I think certain people are surprised when I perform because there’s a big difference between performance preparation (practice) and performance. Performances are a very different product than practice would indicate. This is because I spend so much more time hashing out problems (improving weaknesses) than working on my strengths.
Here's another way to look at it: maintain strengths, but focus on weaknesses. Better yet, make weaknesses improve so much that they become strengths.
It's best to sound your best in certain situations. Find a way to peak for each performance. If that's not possible, decide which performances are most important to you and peak for those. Ultimately, you’ve got to decide what’s more important to you: improving or sounding your best.
First, Merry Christmas! Second, I've posted a new video on my YouTube Channel. It's Teutonic Tales #1: Damon - Tanz.
Now for the important stuff! A few weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of traveling to Waldkraiburg, Germany to visit the Miraphone factory. Christian Niedermaier was kind enough to pick me up at the airport in Munich and drive me to meet with German Tubist, Dirk Hirthe.
My purpose for meeting with Dirk was to discuss German tuba philosophy; when and and why they use bass or contrabass tubas. This was an interesting discussion. I learned that German tubist typically play bass tuba (F or E-flat) by default and switch to contrabass (CC or BB-flat) when specified. For those of you who don't know, this is the opposite of what we do here in the states.
After meeting with Dirk, Christian took me to the Miraphone factory (picture 1, below). At the factory I tried most of the instruments in the show room (picture 2, below). There were many instruments to choose from, including pretty much all of their inventory.
Miraphone starts the manufacturing process with raw materials like brass tubing (picture 3, below) and huge rolls of brass sheet. They make basically everything for all the instruments in the factory. This ensures that all of the materials are of the highest quality.
Picture 4 is a picture of a tube after being bent and expanded. There are actually two angles in this one. Once it’s bent it’s put in the steel mold and expanded in a press machine with an oil mixture under extremely high pressure. This tube fits the Petruschka. When I first looked at this part I began to realize just how many steps are involved in going from raw materials to a finished product. There are literally thousands. The process can be loosely broken down into drawing, bending, expanding, spinning, soldering/assembly, polishing, and finishing.
In picture 5 on the left are some of the assembled instruments that are awaiting final polishing. In the background on the right are bells. Picture 6 shows a 186 BB-flat tuba being lacquered. It’s in a booth which is designed to minimize the amount of dust and other contaminants in the air from getting in the lacquer.
In addition to meeting people from Miraphone and touring the factory, I was there to pick out a new Petruschka F tuba. The one in the show room had a silver finish. I was able to choose between two unfinished Petruschkas. It was a difficult decision because they both played well and were close enough to each other that they were almost indistinguishable. Picture 7 shows the instrument I ultimately chose.
Before Miraphone ships it to me they’ll switch-out the leadpipe, add a tuning-slide kicker, add water keys, polish, and silver plate it. I was astonished to learn that about 30% of the manufacturing process is actually polishing the instruments in preparation for the final finish (either lacquer or silver).
After the trip, I have a new respect for the quality and skill involved in making a Miraphone instrument. There are about 60 people who work to make instruments in the factory. I saw first-hand that every single one of them are invested in making instruments of the highest quality. So, next time you sit down to practice, take a minute to consider what was involved in producing the instrument in your hand.
Thank you for reading!
I hope those of you in the U.S. had a great Thanksgiving holiday and are recovering from the food-induced stupor. I recently released a new performance video on my YouTube channel. Here's a link to the new video, The Grumpy Troll.
Thank you all, loyal readers for following the Tuba Tuesday Newsletter. It means a lot to us here at Tuba Central that you continue to read and share the content. I've got big plans for future editions including: my trip to visit the Miraphone factory, two arguments, breathing, and more new videos. So stay tuned!
Thank you for reading!
This has to be a quick one. I'm leaving for Germany in two hours! (more about that next time)
I've been thinking recently about my purpose, my Why. What is my reason for being on this planet? This question came up at the beginning of the semester. As we were about to start school I was told I would probably have major surgery to alleviate several medical problems which had developed in my body.
This raised many questions. Could I give a recital this year? Would I be able to keep playing? Would I survive? I decided I wouldn't let any of the medical issues slow me down.
After a somewhat serious procedure and further testing, the medical issues ultimately turned out not to be as serious (or maybe as imminent) as we thought. However, as I was mentally processing this news and dealing with it emotionally, I began to wonder what the point of my existence was. After much reflection, I realized that secondary to caring for and loving my family, I want to be the best tuba player I can possibly be and that I want my students to be the best they can be, too.
So I kept thinking about it. Those are worthy aspirations, but they didn't seem to be enough. They seemed to feed toward a larger, more transcendent goal: I want to help popularize our instruments and share them with as many people as will hear them.
I later realized that things like practice and getting up early to work are much easier when you can articulate the reasons you're doing them. This helped me to achieve things above and beyond the goals I had set for myself this semester, in spite of an uncertain start.
What is your Why?
Thank you for reading!
I performed a recital here at WTAMU on November 3rd. If you weren't able to make it to campus or you want to hear it again you're in luck! I performed at Texas Christian University November 5th. Here's a link to the TCU live stream for my recital:
In preparation for these performances I tried a number of new techniques, some of which I'll use again in the future. My favorite of the new techniques is that last week I made a list of daily practice tasks.
I compiled the list based on two questions:
The second question is a matter of persisting through the issues I'm still working on for this performance. An example of this is producing a loud, isolated, staccato pedal-tone in The Grumpy Troll. So daily work on these passages is essential.
Something that didn't work well and actually ate up a lot of time was transcribing all of my accompaniment parts in Sibelius. I experimented with this a bit last year and thought it worked well. I was able to use them to practice with a simulated piano part. However, the repertoire for my performance last year involved much less rubato and was generally less complicated in terms of ensemble issues with the piano.
What are some things you're experimenting with?
Thank you for reading!
I'm a huge proponent of to-do lists. I use one every day to help me remember what I need to get done. Items on my to-do list could be things like sending an email when I get to the office, picking something up from the store, or other things that I need to get done that day. I also have recurring tasks for things I need to do regularly, like writing new Tuba Tuesday emails or evening long tones for my practice rest day.
Have you ever thought about making a to-do list of things you need to practice today? In issue #14 of the Tuba Tuesday Newsletter I discussed becoming your own greatest asset by taking a proactive approach to directing your development as a player. One of the ways to do this that I mentioned was to record yourself and fix problems you hear in your recording.
I record practice sessions regularly. I've got a recital coming up in two weeks and will record run-throughs of my recital repertoire several times between now and then. When I listen back to the recording I always use the sheet music of the piece I'm listening to for reference. As I listen and follow along in the part I write down feedback on what I hear.
This feedback could be complimentary, "Great entrance," or "Nice vibrato." Or it could be critical such as, "Accuracy, m. 65," or "Louder through crescendo, m. 122." I try to be as specific as possible with the criticisms so that I know exactly what to work on when it comes time to practice the piece again.
The list of feedback from listening is now your practice to-do list. Next time you practice you know exactly what to work on. Work your way through all of the criticisms and mark them off the list if you want. When you've fixed all of the problems, record yourself again. Listen, make a new list, and repeat the process. Do this as many times as you can before your performance.
One important suggestion; this process is most effective later in your performance preparation. I only start recording myself after I think I've fixed everything in the piece.
What's on your practice to-do list?
Thank you for reading!
Today I'll discuss being your own greatest asset.
An asset, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is an advantage or resource.
A liability is a debt or pecuniary obligation.
Let's re-frame my questions. If you have a lesson teacher, great! Pump them for every scrap of knowledge you can. You are with them a half hour a week or a full hour if you’re fortunate.
You have yourself for the other 167 hours every week. So wouldn’t it be useful if you could be your own teacher? Are you an asset to yourself or a liability?
How can you teach yourself?
Thank you for reading!