100 reasons to be grateful

This is the 100th post on Trumpet Journey. As part of my Trumpet Happiness project, I’d like to shout out 100 things I’m grateful for. I’m not sure why, but being thankful helps me feel happier. 

I’m grateful today for:

  1. A cat that keeps company with me during my 5:00 a.m. warm-ups
  2. Parents who encouraged me and loved me
  3. Trumpet teachers

    Michael Johnson, trumpet teacher at the University of Alabama from 1971 to 2003.

  4. A teacher who enjoyed playing duets with me
  5. A trumpet teacher who knew all about how to play first trumpet in a major symphony orchestra
  6. A trumpet teacher who said funny, quotable things
  7. Band directors who encouraged me
  8. My first orchestra job which opened up a world of strings
  9. My first listen to Richard Strauss’s tone poems on a record I checked out from my public library in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was slack-jawed.
  10. A mother who insisted that whatever I did, I had to have lessons
  11. A dad who recommended that I do what I love 
  12. A brother who let me have his old trumpet
  13. Same brother, who taught me how to play my first note
  14. Same brother, who taught me how to free buzz (a little incorrectly, but, still, pretty good)
  15. A bugle, given to me for a Christmas gift when I was probably 10
  16. A shameless inclination to show off when I was young
  17. An unquenchable desire to learn music from my very first memories
  18. A great piano that I could learn how to play on
  19. A grandmother and great aunt who would play piano a lot
  20. A trumpet teacher who inspired
  21. An inquisitive personality
  22. The U.S. Navy Band Brass Quartet

    U.S. Navy Band Brass Quartet performing National Anthem at Orioles Baseball Game

  23. A great junior high school band director 
  24. A great junior high school jazz band
  25. A diverse high school marching band
  26. Good competition at all levels
  27. Mentors
  28. A chance to study with two legendary orchestral players
  29. A chance to study with a legendary baroque trumpet soloist
  30. Two summers at National Repertory Orchestra, which gave me so much experience
  31. A long drive to Colorado on my own, on the back roads, where I got a chance to jam with a blue grass fiddler
  32. A principal trumpet job
  33. The U.S. Navy Band
  34. The Navy Band for letting me audition when there wasn’t an audition
  35. Listening to the Cleveland Orchestra every weekend
  36. The opportunity to study in The Netherlands
  37. The nearly four year long honey moon in Europe
  38. Galicia, Spain
  39. Sitting next to a trumpeter who had perfect pitch
  40. All of those thousands of little conversations trumpeters have during rehearsal
  41. All of those funny conversations waiting for a hearse to show up
  42. The gorgeous beauty of Arlington Cemetery
  43. A family who understood my insane practice schedule
  44. In-laws who understood my insane practice needs
  45. The right woman
  46. An intelligent woman–who is willing to proof my writing
  47. Poetry
  48. Navy medicine
  49. Two boys
  50. Two boys who challenge me every day 
  51. Two boys with big hearts
  52. Two boys with big ears
  53. Two boys with different personalities
  54. A friend who spent his time helping me learn how to play jazz
  55. Friends who have listened to me talk about my crazy ideas
  56. A terrible gig at the Kennedy Center that turned out to be my first composition commission
  57. A music contractor who lived around the corner from me who helped me get my first gigs in Washington
  58. The late J. Reilly Lewis
  59. Coffee
  60. The Navy Band “family”
  61. My lovely, old house–big enough for my family, close enough to work
  62. A housing bubble that helped me slide right into my house
  63. Practice mutes
  64. Trumpeters of the past who took the time to write methods, etudes and solos

    Jean-Baptiste Arban

  65. The baroque trumpet
  66. The cornetto
  67. The cornet (19th-century)
  68. The cornopean


  69. Leaving a party just to check out the Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble
  70. The Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble
  71. Long friendships from playing Renaissance music
  72. Running when I was young, walking now
  73. Learning how to keep track of my finances
  74. A friend who has refused to join Facebook, but who sends me emails all the time
  75. Ideas that have come to me when I am bored
  76. Melodies that have come to me out of the blue
  77. A recording device to capture ideas quickly
  78. Trumpeters willing to share their time, advice and stories on this blog
  79. Double record albums with artwork and information about the music and artists
  80. My first record player

    I loved my first record player.

  81. My parents record collection
  82. Duolingo
  83. Movie music
  84. People who have volunteered their time to help me
  85. Those hour long lessons which turned into two hours
  86. The late night trumpet hangs
  87. Suzuki piano accompaniments I got to play
  88. Bach. Oh my God, Bach. 
  89. Haydn, who deigned to write a concerto for the trumpet
  90. Italian trumpeters who redefined the harmonic structure of music because of the limitations of their instruments
  91. Jazz trumpeters who redefined the direction of music
  92. An old professor who let me send Finale files to him across the country so he could give me advice
  93. Invitations to perform which seem to come out of nowhere
  94. Young Suzuki students who are just wonderful
  95. Patient and resourceful Suzuki teachers I have observed
  96. A Swedish woman who decided to start up Suzuki trumpet 
  97. A patient and thorough recording engineer
  98. A church choir that has taught me a little about singing and the choir experience
  99. A singer who was willing to re-text and offer solutions to my untutored vocal writing
  100. Readers from all over the world




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Is a trumpet happiness project worthwhile?

For the last ten days, when I would tell someone that I was doing a “trumpet happiness” project, I got a lot of blank looks and then stammering attempts to alleviate the craziness that has come upon their friend, the trumpet-blogger-trying-to-go-new-age. 

Of course trumpet playing is a narrow discipline with concrete goals, methods and results. Why muddy it up with self-help notions? The extreme competition for a very narrow and low-paying job market, the lack of opportunities of self-actualization, the solitary struggle to master the craft of playing, and the limits of our physical body highlight the need for my happiness project. 

Obviously we can simply practice more than anyone else, win a great job, and then be happy with our reward. Forever and ever. 

But that doesn’t ring completely true. Getting a job is going to give you pretty good bump in your happiness, yes. But for your long-term happiness, I’m going to suggest a few other things. And I will try to explore ways I can do these suggestions over my year-long project.

  1. Improve yourself as a trumpeter and musician in a deep way, right down to the bones. Deliberate practice. Here’s a great article about one musician’s improvement that I think is pretty inspiring. 
  2. Relish listening to music. Think how you can do things like your favorite musicians/trumpeters. 
  3. Gratitude for the people that got you to your trumpet playing level, and gratitude for the opportunities you already have. Playing music (and especially on the trumpet!) is awesome. 
  4. If you have opportunities for trumpet experiences, try to take them. Trumpet equipment–maybe not so important.
  5. Take a moment to enjoy what you are doing right now. Even as you play the most boring rehearsal, or the most miserable gig. What can you focus on, in the present moment, and enjoy?
  6. Develop musician friends. Not just “Facebook friends.” Real friends that you can share your experiences with. 
  7. Give your advice and help pretty generously to the next generation of trumpet players. 

In thinking about this last point, I remember, when I was in undergraduate school at the University of Alabama, how a certain professor–very talented–always seemed so busy. She could hardly take the time to talk about anything. At the time, I was greatly impressed. I figured that to be a really good musician, you must limit access to people who might waste your time. I wanted to emulate her.

But, now I realize I want to do the opposite. I want to be the person to listen. To mentor. To help those who haven’t gotten as high, yet. Because I truly believe that the same patience that you need for yourself (to practice, to learn, to compose), must be practiced at all times of your life, so that when you get to the practice room, you’ll be ready to patiently help yourself. 


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A day of rest

Rest, or cut back on your practice, once a week to feel refreshed

One of the best brass musicians I ever met was a trombone student at Indiana University back in the late 1980s. Francisco Rosario Vega, one of many talented musicians from the island of Puerto Rico, was technically flawless, had a great tone and he had an enormous amount of stamina. One day I asked him what was his secret about his stamina. He told me that he rested every Sunday. That rest gave him back the resiliency that he needed. Francisco went on to become the principal trombone of the Royal Seville Orchestra in Spain.

Although I have tried resting one day a week, it has not been great for me, at least so far. I have found that my fine motor skills suffer too much. What has worked better for me is to play only a very little amount, with the result that I am refreshed without feeling too regressed the next day. 

What can make this rest, or near rest, day even better is to try an inspiration quest. This could be as easy as listening to music that is new to you. Or you could go on a hike. There are so many possibilities. 

The main thing to realize is that we can’t keep demanding of our embouchure heroic efforts every consecutive day. We have to embrace a cycle of stress and recovery. Stress is practice and performing. Recovery is rest. Without rest, our muscles cannot do well, nor can our brain be inspired.

Relaxed, rested muscles and an inspired mind can definitely help us to be happier trumpeters.  

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How can recording yourself be soothing and confidence-boosting?

Gary Larson’s take on the confident trumpeter in an audition.

Here’s the situation: you are getting ready for an audition. Your teacher told you to listen to a recording to really understand how the music goes. Like thousands of other musicians, you put your favorite recording on your playlist. Who will it be? Which soloist or principal trumpet do you want to emulate? This is a good question. And a question that is somewhat a matter of taste. This recording will help you get to where you need to go. But only so far.

After you have learned your audition piece, you should be recording yourself. You should be trying to play the definitive recording of this piece for your own playlist. Why?

Because the effort will make you better, as I talked about in an earlier post. But one additional thing will happen when you play this recording back for yourself. You will hear yourself–YOU–rocking that piece! You will start to believe in yourself. You will remember what you are capable of. 

And when you are at that audition, trying to chill out in the waiting room, play your recordings for yourself. You’ll make yourself a believer–IN YOURSELF. 

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The new trumpet music business

Samuel Johnson quote on Union Station in Washington, D.C.

I’ve posted about the dismal trumpet job scene before. Unemployment is incredible among trumpeters. And yet….

Today, more than at any time in history, we can learn from so many books, videos of performances, lessons and masterclasses online. We can hear an unbelievable amount of recordings on Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon Music, and we can stream videos from all over the world on YouTube. 

We can self-record ourselves more easily than ever before. We can reach an audience directly in ways that we have only begun to imagine. We can crowd-fund! We are free to express ourselves more authentically than ever.

With these new horizons come new requirements for us to be successful. We cannot wait for a job to plop down in our laps. We cannot wait for a recording contract to give us our career. 

In my hometown of Washington, D.C., at Union Station, there is a quote carved on the front of the building. Attributed to Samuel Johnson, who was, in turn, borrowing from a Spanish proverb, the words are powerful directives to this new trumpet business world we are in:

He that would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him. So it is in travelling. A man must carry knowledge with him if he would bring home knowledge.

For trumpet players, I will paraphrase:

She, that would bring home the happiness of winning a position or a recording contract, must bring that happiness within her own heart. So it is with learning to play the trumpet. A woman must learn to play through self-evaluation and self-knowledge if she would learn best from a teacher.


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