New Year Resolutions of a Brassman
Let me open with a disclaimer. What follows are my ideas, feelings and opinions. You may have utterly different outlooks, feelings and ideas on these matters.
We are into the second week of 2020 and this is my first blog post of the year. A lot has been on my mind, particularly as 2019 drew to a close. I stepped up my online sharing of my music and trumpet work. I have been developing some new tech in my studio. I've been working on my playing (a constant labor of love). After a year of contemplation and planning I'm going to get my new Variable D Postulate Ensemble big band project underway. I've been spending as much time as I possibly can with my wife and kids (even though my son and daughter are grown and on their own). And I continue my quiet but relentless battle against ageism. And on and on...
Life is fascinating and a challenge and very much a work in constant progress!
As is often the case, we make resolutions for the new year and set goals for ourselves as we continue that progression. I have made a few - some the typical "I'm going to change my diet" or I'm going to drop a few pounds" or "I'm going to read more books" etc.I'll skip over that. This is a musician's blog, after all, so I felt the need to share the resolutions I've made in my musical career during these tough times for musicians. Perhaps some of these might be relevant to you, dear reader. Perhaps not. So it goes. These are in no particular order.
1.) I will make a concerted effort to take much more of an interest in the lives of others as opposed to being self centered and egoistic. I have been too quick to immediately start talking about my work, and I need to stop that.
One of my heroes is the late Fred Rogers. He had a knack of ALWAYS being genuinely interested in other people. He was famous as a guest with talk show hosts or interviewers for turning the interview back on them and ended up finding out more about THEM as opposed to just beating his own drum. It was also genuine.
I once met him during a show he did in Chicago in the mid 80's for Mayor Byrne's "Loop Alive" events. We did a full day on Saturday doing several full show/concerts with the Mr. Rogers cast and I was in the trumpet section. When Rogers came out on stage, he walked right into the trumpet section and chatted with us briefly.
I was IMMEDIATELY struck by how genuine he was. The Mr. Rogers you saw on TV WAS him. It was never an act. I was also overwhelmed (in a positive way) by the sheer kindness he exuded.
As a trumpeter/musician in this obscenely competitive business, I have been, more often than not, very quick to "toot my own horn" at every opportunity almost as a knee jerk reaction to the need every free-lance musician has to always be developing opportunities. While "business is business" it doesn't have to be that way at the expense of kindness.
This is going to be tough for me. I have always felt pretty much totally on my own in developing my work - until I met the late Neal Dunlap and the late Warren Kime, I had no mentors and no real support system. I had to advocate for myself and I had to promote myself. Nobody else was going to do it.
However, over the years, I feel this propensity in me has gotten out of hand. So, I am, on a face to face basis and via my podcast, going to stop that. If I slip now and then, please forgive me. This will be a work in progress.
2.) I will record as much music - classical and jazz - as I possibly can - with video, as opposed to slide shows. I will record the music of the many composers who wrote the etudes and books I want to play from in order to keep THIER music alive as well as my own playing.
Over the years, I have built up a rather large library of music - brass ensembles, duets, etudes, etc. All of that music SHOULD be played and SHARED. I've said this before, music is a labor of love and love needs to be shared to actually be love.
3.) I will stop obsessing about trying to get ALL people to like me, personally or like my playing. I will just be myself and play my way and for myself and just trust that the love that goes into my work will, indeed speak for itself.
Recently, I've had some lengthy conversations with some old dear friends in the music business. In one of those conversations my friend inadvertently leaked it to me that a peer for whom I have great respect as a musician has been speaking ill of me - either as a trumpet player or a person. It was hard to tell because once my fried realized what he said, he tried to walk it back a bit to spare my feelings.
I was (am) hurt, but I let it go. This has happened before. Some time ago, I was hired to play in a band by the band manager. I was thrilled to get job. However, when I started, the MUSIC director of the band hated me, and I don't use the word hate loosely, here. His total dislike and disrespect for me was as irrational as it was mean. To make matters worse, this individual was an unabashed and unrepentant bully. That's enough to set the stage, though I could go on.
I tried everything I could do to make things better, including some things that made me uncomfortable. Yet, nothing could fix this. It seemed that this person had his mind made up that I was a loser and nothing I could do would change that.
After agonizing over that, I finally decided to leave that band and work elsewhere. It seemed the only way to create peace for everyone - myself and the band manager included. While I wish things had turned out differently, this was what it was. In the end, it was for the better. Also, for with it is worth, I hard have no hard feelings.
Fast forward back to my recent conversation. My immediate reaction was to try to think of ways to make this peer who has been "dissing" me like me better. Can I try harder as a trumpeter in some way? Could I try to develop a bit more of an obsequious behavior on those rare occasions we work together?
Then it hit me. I have written about this in other blogs. I needed to "love my way" through this. I just need to feel a sense of love for this person whenever I think of him/her and just maintain the respect I already have for this person. On the rare occasions we work together, I plan on just being myself, both as a person and as a trumpeter. Some people will accept me, some won't, but that's OK. Going back to Mr. Rogers, I just need to show and feel a genuine sense of kindness for everyone, whether they like me or not.
4.) I will be more careful about who I accept into my experience. I plan on being as "wise as serpents but as gentle as doves."
In light of #3, I need to include #4. I can be kind and loving to people, but if someone is being openly or subtly hateful towards me (and, unfortunately, the music business can really get mired in this sort of behavior), I will just walk away from them and they can be on their way and I'll be on my way.
Since #4 is just an extension of #3, that's enough here.
5.) I will make more of an effort to think outside of the box when it comes to developing my music work.
The internet has utterly changed the music business forever, and we, as artists, simply have to face this. The public has developed the position that music SHOULD be free in large part because you can find ANY MUSIC YOU WANT TO HEAR for NOTHING on the www! iTunes, CD Baby, whatever, can't really help in any big way, and this is exacerbated if you are not some big star like Lady Gaga or Bruno Mars.
This trend has a default side effect that many how feel music should be free might push back on, but, by default, it is inescapable. People feel musicians don't need to be paid. They should just play for fun.
The result has been tumultuous. Bands that are trying to find an audience are falling all over each other to play for the door in clubs, or make money by passing the hat in clubs or even for free "just to get the exposure." Bands are making CD's and doing huge recording projects on which the sidemen are either not paid at all or are paid a paupers wage ($6/hour for skilled labor, for example). Night club owners almost never feel compelled to pay musicians because musicians are lining up at their doors to play for free.
The situation seems hopeless, but I will NEVER GIVE UP HOPE. I believe that while file sharing on the internet has caused this predicament, I also believe the solution lies there as well. There ARE ways to monetize our work online, though, personally, I haven't put that in place yet.
...but I AM working on, hence #5.
6.) I will develop more of a sense of peace about my work as a trumpeter and strive to let go of a sense of urgency or desperation for work.
This one is probably the most challenging for me. When I retired from my day gig as a high school physics teacher in June of 2017, I expected to get back into jobbing more and playing more jazz gigs and doing more clinics and concerts.
While I have made SOME progress along these lines, it has been pretty tough. Jobbing is almost gone for me. I don't do very many clinics and concerts right now. I do play lots of big bands and jazz gigs, but the money is laughably low.
The upshot of this is that I have managed to develop an unhealthy sense of urgency or desperation for developing my work. I need to let go of that, and this is my biggest resolution of all.
Here is an excerpt from a little poem (from an old hymn) that I had forgotten about, but it recently has given me a sense of peace.
Drop thy still dews of quietness
Till all our strivings cease
Take from us now the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace
There is another phase in this poem that touches me:
Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
Thy still small voice of calm
Well, this from a hymn and I'm sure it is evident the Thy in here is referring to God. I realize that folks who read my blogs may not be religious and possibly are atheists. That is totally cool with me. Perhaps this excerpt could suggest a meditative calming way of thinking. If you are offended by this reference, please know that this entire blog is basically just MY ideas and feelings - completely editorial, so feel free to skip over this part.
For ME, the appealing for a sense of quietness (an odd concept for a TRUMPET PLAYER!!) and the idea of lifting strain and stress seems really important.
Yes, I plan on working like a dog on my music career. THAT is a labor of love. However, I will be making every effort to just be calm and peaceful at every step I take. The fact that my work IS a labor of love should, in and of itself, be a calming balm.
So, these are my six main new year's resolutions. If you are reading this sentence, let me wish YOU a wonderful, prosperous and successful new year filled with wonder and love.
As with all of my blogs, these are my opinions and ideas, not to be mistaken for 'facts'. You may have a totally different outlook on these things. That's fine.