Practicing While On Vacation
Before I begin this shorter blog, I want to make it clear that this is what I choose to do and how I think about my work as a trumpeter. This is not intended as advice or criticism. This is just what I NOW do.
In the opening disclaimer, I put the word 'now' in all caps and bold print. This is to allude to the notion that I didn't always think this way. I've changed over the last couple of years.
This blog is intended to simply inform anyone who might be interested in how I've evolved about this subject.
I've been playing trumpet for over 50 years, most of that time as a professional. Given how competitive the business has seemed (or my perception of it seemed) I lived in great fear of showing any "signs of weakness" as a trumpeter/lead-player. There is an old story of Doc Severinsen, who is famous for his incredible discipline as a practicing trumpeter, saying that if he missed one day of practice, he could hear it, if he missed two days of practice, his peers could hear it and if he missed three days of practice, everyone could hear it. As a younger student of trumpet, a the time, I took this message to heart and vowed to practice like crazy to become the best trumpeter I could conceive of.
However, after many years of this sort of practice, I've come to see things a little differently. Yes, I have an extremely organized and highly disciplined set of practice routines developed, but I no longer feel a near obsessed or guilt ridden need to do them. Now, I don't mean to conflate hard work and discipline with obsession, but for me personally, it was getting pretty close. I had this idea in the back of my head that if I missed practice to to family pressures or any outside influences that I was going to backslide as a player.
I no longer think this way. I love my work and music as a trumpet player, but I also love other things, too. That fact doesn't diminish me in any way as a musician! In fact, I think the argument can be made that, for someone like I, having diverse interest and activity actually enhances my work as a musician.
So, how has this impacted how I practice on vacation time? First, I need to explain how I used to do things.
For most of my musical career, I was deathly afraid of loosing my grip if I took time off from the horn to go on family vacations. I have a couple of pocket trumpets and many practice mutes that I'd bring along so that I could actually practice while away. My family showed great patience with me on this matter, but I know they didn't really like it all that much. I'd try to find jam sessions when out on vacations so that I could skulk off and sit in somewhere to keep my hand in the musical/competitive side of things.
One year, while visiting England, I let things get a bit out of hand with all of that, and we had a sort of "intervention" event. I agreed to NOT bring horns on subsequent vacations, but we worked around the idea of scheduling our return as much as a week before any gigs that I might be facing. This compromise has worked, but not without some challenges for our family scheduling.
Then I came to a realization. After several decades of highly disciplined practice, I wasn't going to forget how to play if I took a couple of weeks off the horn. There might be some impact on endurance and feel of the chops, but really not much.
We recently returned from a family trip to Iceland. It was a wonderful experience. We were only gone for 10 days, but that was enough for this initial exploration. My son, a professional musician himself, had to leave the trip a few days early to make a couple of nice gigs. My wife and daughter and I found the ten days to be more than enough, and that was it.
I didn't even form an embouchure to lip buzz for the first eight days of the trip. No, buzzing, practicing, no nothing!
It felt great! It was nice to just enjoy the other worldly landscape of Iceland and enjoy some beautiful family time together. I tried not even to think about work at all. I did NOT bring any sort of mini trumpet with me or mutes. I just let go. I highly recommend doing this.
I DID bring a mouthpiece, a ring visualizer, and a BERP and an old lead-pipe that I could just fit into my suit case. We scheduled our return for two days in front of a stretch of gigs. As it turns out, I could have done with just one day, and been fine for the jobs I was booked to do.
I "practiced" only on the very last two days of the trip. I did some free buzzing for a total of ten minutes a day, some, ring work also for ten minutes a day, some BERP work also for ten minutes a day and finally some lead pipe buzzing, again for ten minutes a day. So, on our ten day vacation all the "playing" I did was a total of 40 minutes a day for the last two days, and those forty minutes were spread out over the whole day. For example, if my wife and daughter wanted to poke around a tourist shop for ten minutes or so, I'd sit in the car and sneak in some buzzing that way, so as to minimize the amount of time they had to endure the racket in the car. One of those nights after dinner, I went out to the car for about 15 minutes. Yes, I did buzz in the car two times, but VERY quietly (quite practice is a big piece of my mode of working these days).
When we got home, after unpacking and doing a bit of house work, I headed down to my basement studio and practiced quietly for 90 minutes. Things were a tiny bit squirrelly, but not bad at all. Frankly, I could have played a combo gig just fine and no-one would have caught on that I had been on vacation at all. The next day I put in a full blown practice session, and everything just felt fine. That little bit of buzzing I did the last two days was more than enough for me to get the feel in place. In fact, on our next family world exploration, I'm going to just buzz the very last day of the vacation, depending, on my gig schedule. If the scheduling is relaxed, I will probably just wait till I get home and skip vacation practice altogether.
Speaking for myself, I had gotten into a near obsessive trumpet geek thing about my practicing and time off. I think it was important part of my current progressive work as a trumpeter to embrace the idea that occasional down time from one's profession is important and perfectly natural.
This is actually something of a relief. A release of pressure.
You, dear reader, my have utterly different ideas about all of this, and that is totally cool, of course. I felt compelled to write this blog as a result of my change of thinking on all of this, just in case anyone is interested.