Conditioning vs Improvement
Hello Weston Sprott,
First I must tell you how much I love your site. The playing tips section has some real gold nuggets, I look forward to your further comments.
My question for you: Has your playing changed much since a few years ago when you joined the orchestra? Are you simply refining the skills/technique that won you the job or have you since discovered a more efficient way of making music on the horn? I'm curious to hear what you have to say about keeping in shape vs. refining technique vs. learning new or different approaches that might replace the old.
Also, just got your cd and am really digging it. The Casterede in particular I keep coming back to.
First of all thanks for the compliments and thanks for submitting your question. Hopefully, more people will feel comfortable sparking conversation as well!
To answer your question, my playing has definitely changed a lot since I joined the orchestra. Obviously, back when I won the job six years ago, I had a lot of things going well enough to find myself in the winner's circle. However, I think that just means I exhibited fewer bad habits than everyone else over that course of a few days and I had good fortune on my side as well. My playing is constantly evolving and improving. Playing in the MET Orchestra and having the opportunities afforded to someone who plays in such a great orchestra has opened my eyes to a ton of things that I can improve. The fact of the matter is there is always a lot to learn. As the old adage goes... the more you know, the less you know.
I am definitely refining the skills that won me the job in addition to learning how to play more efficiently. The basics of rhythm, pitch, tone and phrasing are things we can always work to improve. The details may get finer, but there is still work to be done. Anyone who says otherwise is either arrogant, no longer improving, or more likely, both! As for efficiency, playing at the MET has forced me to be a more efficient player. I think very few people can truly understand the amount of playing/work that is required of the musicians in the MET Orchestra. This past week for me has included two performances of Puccini's Tosca, two performances of Berg's Wozzeck, one performance of Strauss' Capriccio and a Carnegie performance of Schoenberg's Five Pieces and Brahms' Second Symphony. That doesn't include the 14 hours of rehearsal. Next week has 15 hours of Walkure rehearsal in addition to more Wozzeck, Tosca, and Capriccio performances. Throw in 8 regular weekly students and a couple of drop-ins, many of whom would like to have you demonstrate the more difficult passages they are working on, and you've got a nice 7 day work week. Did I mention we were playing Rheingold the week before?!! For those of us who like play recitals in addition to a schedule that regularly looks like this, learning how to be efficient is paramount. During my first few years in the orchestra, I constantly found myself dead tired and playing on my teeth. As a result, I was forced to find a way to be more efficient so that I can have a long career that will hopefully be more free of injury and chronic fatigue. After a few bouts of stress, a couple of books about marathon and cycling training (to learn about people who routinely put a lot of hours on their musculature), and a handful of performances that I felt were compromised by extreme fatigue later, I have found myself with a completely different practice routine and set of equipment than I had as a student. I still haven't gotten it all figured out, but I get closer and closer every day. Most importantly, I have a far greater understanding of how to play efficiently and correctly than I ever did before, and I find that knowledge base getting larger each and every day. Having the information I possess now makes me wonder how I ever achieved the things I did when my knowledge base was so limited. I suppose ambition and a lot of hours in a practice room can make up for a lot!
As for keeping in shape vs. refining technique... This is a different battle for each and every person. It surely varies depending on your school or work schedule and on your own body's capacity for fatigue. During weeks the like one I described above, I don't need to do anything to stay in shape. The job will keep you in shape. I simply put in 45 minutes or so of long tones, lip slurs, scales and arpeggios and save my chops for work. During weeks when the schedule is more reasonable, I have time for an additional hour or two per day on top of that mandatory 45 minutes of bare bones basics. That extra time is usually focused on solos and etudes. I've also come to realize that there are different times for certain types of growth. There are points in the season when I'm in recital preparation and other weeks like the one I described above where you are simply keeping your head above water. I find the summer time, when the MET is on break, to be my best time to make major changes in my playing approach. I'm actually afforded the time and opportunity to experiment with new things without worrying about paying the price in performance if they don't work. If you're a self-motivated person, being able to practice without being concerned about what's coming up tomorrow can be a very positive and liberating thing! The summer also gives me the chance to put the horn in the closet for 10 days and hit the reset button. That's quite helpful too!
As for learning new approaches... I'm always learning new approaches. I regularly read through the traditional trombone geek sites and sift through what I think is sensible and what's not. Some of it's useful and some of it is laughable. I also look through the webpages of great players just like you do in hopes that they will give me some food for thought. I really love Ian Bousfield's new website and I think Jay Friedman's monthly articles are generally spot on. Check them out if you haven't already. I also attend a lot of performances in search of inspiration and a learning opportunity. After Wozzeck the other night, I raced to the east side of town to see John Fedchock's quartet play and it was fantastic. I regularly visit Jazz at Lincoln Center to see my heros Wynton Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon and their friends, and I'm a regular at Carnegie Hall to see the world's great orchestras on tour. Listening to all of that gives you plenty to think about when you practice!