Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fearless Thoughts from the Road

Hi from Salt Lake City the site of our latest Mirari Tour:)  We are on our last day, concluding with a concert tonight in a cathedral!  YAY!

Touring with the Mirari Brass is one of my most favorite things to do.  I get to travel to great places and meet and perform with great people!  This tour has certainly been no exception.  We've had a myriad of opportunities to work and perform with fantastic and inspiring students and musicians, like those at BYU-I, Blackfoot, Century, Herriman, Preston, and West High Schools.  It is also a great opportunity for me to continue my Fearless work.

One of the things I am most grateful for is the fact I get to work in a safe, supportive environment.  My brass colleagues are some of the most supportive, encouraging people I know.  Going on tour is an opportunity to get out of the bubble we create for ourselves and into a diverse world of people, traditions, cultures, and ways of thinking.  Although this can be a very enlightening and inspiring aspect of touring, it can also be a challenging one, as well.

I've always prided myself on being comfortable with whom I am as a person.  Having gone through (and still going through:) Jeff Nelsen's Fearless training I have become more comfortable with my musician.  This is a great achievement for me and certainly a welcomed success.  YAY!  Having said that, I have been challenged many times on this tour to stick to whom I am and what I have to say musically.  How do you stay true to yourself when that definition of whom you are is being challenged?  I'm sure this is something many people face so I thought I would take a few minutes to write down my own experience.

1.  Be proud of who you are.  
I've spent a lot of time and energy developing myself.  It's something I'll continue to do - move forward.  Although others may not agree and/or subscribe to my way of thinking doesn't mean we can't learn from each other.  In fact, I often find new perspectives and am reminded that we all want to get to that place of excellence.  Whether the path to get there is the same or not is irrelevant (as long as I'm not hurting anyone:).

2.  Focus on YOUR product.
I've spent many years getting to a place where I can tell stories and share experiences through music.  Those stories are my stories and as such are worthwhile.

3.  See the best in everyone.
As stated previously, everyone gets to excellence in their own way.  Trust that everyone has the best of intentions.  See the positive, or take the time to get to a point where you can see the positive, in every interaction and experience.  Take what you need to move forward and leave the rest.  That way, every experience can be a positive, learning one.

4.  Trust yourself.
This has been a long process for me.  Trusting my thoughts and perceptions over other's.  I can learn from other people's perceptions but don't need to define myself by them. It's my job to do that. It's my responsibility.

5.  Surrender.
This has always been a hard one for me.  I always felt like surrendering to something was being weak or it bruised my ego.  Not the case:)  Surrendering to what you can and can't control is being smart.  Take the information you have and make choices that work for you.

6.  It's Music.
Trust in the music.  That's ultimately why I'm here to begin with....from ever since I can remember, I knew I wanted to be immersed in music - to have it be my life's work.  Well, it is now and I made that happen. 

7.  I am my own ultimate resource - remember this.  Always.

Finally, HAVE FUN.  Always trust in what you know to be true while being open to new ideas, perspectives, and experiences.  My life has ALWAYS been richer thinking this way.

To be clear, most of the things I have mentioned in this post are my own doing.  Someone doesn't make me feel one way or another, I do.  Trusting in my path and story makes me a more effective person and a unique voice amongst many voices.

As I prepare for our final concert of this tour I am reminded of a sentiment a really, smart, caring teacher once shared with me - BE FEARLESS.

Thanks for reading and until next time..... YAY!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Commencing on Reflection

....err, I mean "Reflecting on Commencement."

Well, it’s here! Graduation Season, that is.  It’s the time of year when several of our friends, students, and/or family members are graduating from high school and college.  What an exciting time! 

As a professional musician, I have already played in (at least) twenty graduation ceremonies, with plenty more to come, I’m sure.  It is always an honor to be part of the musical ensemble that provides all of the audio “entertainment” for this important ceremony.

Yesterday I joined the Bemidji State Wind Ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Erika Svanoe, in their performance at the 2012 Commencement Ceremony at Bemidji State University.  We played a 45-minute concert before the ceremony (which included sight reading parts of Orff's Carmina Burana for me!), played Pomp & Circumstance for 25 minutes, accompanied a music student on the national anthem, watched the 90-minute ceremony, and then played some fun exit music by Alfred Reed.

Commencement was held at the new Sanford Center in Bemidji, which is the home turf for the
Bemidji Beavers Hockey Team.  The removed the ice rink for the commencement ceremony:)

During the actual ceremony part, I was moved -almost to tears- several times.  I wish I could say that this was a first, but it always gets me!  Everybody is so happy for everyone else and some students have worked very, very hard to graduate.  This particular ceremony was special for me because it was my first as a faculty member.  Not only was I happy for the students who walked across the stage, but I also took pride in their education, because I was part of it.  I knew exactly how hard they had all worked to be able to graduate, so the smiles on their faces were that much more meaningful. 

I had a lot of time to reflect during the ceremony (in between commencement addresses, of course), and I’d like to share some of my reflections with you:

1. In most collegiate music programs, you really do have to work hard to earn your degree.  If you are currently a high school student considering a career in music, please know this: most people have to practice, study, practice, rehearse, and practice a LOT in college in order to initiate a successful career, let alone graduate.  If you are considering a degree in music, or you are already pursuing a degree in music, make sure that you are willing to devote most of your day to your studies!  If you’re anything like my fellow quintet-mates and me, this is/was a much-welcomed academic situationJ  We love what we do, so we are so happy to spend all of our day playing, learning about, or teaching about music. 

2. When I saw the proud faces of the graduates, I knew that they had been preparing for this day for a long time.  They didn’t decide to buckle down last week and secure that high GPA.  My question to those of you who are in high school or a college music program (but have not graduated with your bachelor’s yet) is: Have you committed to music at the level that you need to graduate?  These graduates achieved success because they traveled on a path over the last 4 (or more) years in which they made good choices, maintained a regular practice/study regimen, and retained a balanced lifestyle.  Have you started this yet?  If not, what are you waiting for?

3. Ok, I will get down off my "hard work" soapbox.  Another thing that I noticed was that almost every one of the 1,000+ graduates had somebody in the audience cheering them on.  Isn’t that amazing?  These students come from all over the (large) state of Minnesota and several surrounding states AND even from a few other countries!  And almost all of them had family in the crowd—even the international students!  I also have very supportive parents, and sometimes I forget how far they will go just to see me and show that they are proud of me.  If you have parents like this, make sure you thank them and let them know that you appreciate their support.  I surely wouldn’t have gotten this far without my parents!

4. At one point I noticed that amongst all of the graduates lined up to approach the stage, a middle-aged woman was in line, and she didn’t have the normal black robe on.  She was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.  She was the last member of the group and the president soon illuminated who she was: in February, her son, who was a senior, had passed away in February 2012.  He would have graduated on Friday with his class.  She was there to accept his degree for him.  All of the administrators gave her a tearful hug and she dignifiedly walked off the stage with his degree. 

Well it was certainly a wake up call.

Here we are, all so very happy and celebratory, and yet it is easy to forget how privileged we are to not only graduate from college, but to be alive!  We take it for granted that many of us live safe, comfortable lifestyles.  I for one, hope that I live to see 100, and might actually get a chance to do that!  I am very fortunate to be able to live this life with freedom, and I get to pursue a career in music too!  It was a wonderful lesson about cherishing life, all of the wonderful people that I know, and all of the great opportunities that I have.  

5. Since I played euphonium at the commencement ceremony, this meant that I got to play a lot more of the melody than I usually play! And yep, I played the melody on Pomp and Circumstance (which by the way, is way more exciting than the bum-bum-bum-bum accompaniment part if you ask me….).  How many times did I play that melody?  At least 30.  With each repeat I had the choice of how I was going to play that phrase: would I simply make sure I played the right notes at the right time, or would I make each note the most beautiful sound that has ever come out of my instrument?  Let me tell you, it was a much more enjoyable experience for me if I chose the latter.  It is not easy to play perfectly, but how will you ever achieve it if you don’t try?  I owe part of this inspiration to two of my teachers:  Jeff Nelsen, who has taught me a lot about Fearless Performance and Pete Ellefson, who has always upheld a very high level of excellence in his playing and teaching.  

It was a wonderful reminder that music is only boring if we decide that it is.  If we choose to make each new phrase the most beautiful musical creation possible, I promise you won’t get bored, and your audience will surely appreciate it. 

6.  Well, I think that will be enough lessons for today.  Now…go practice!