May 30, 2010

Bonneville Shoreline Trail

Yesterday morning after I'd finished my practicing (and had ended up mildly frustrated that I hadn't been able to get a whole lot done) I took a long walk along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. It follows a bench formed by the ancient lake Bonneville (see previous post: May 2010, "Antelope Island") along the mountains of the Wasatch Front. Though only about 100 miles are officially designated today, the future proposed route would stretch 280 miles from the Idaho border in the north, to Nephi in the south. I only covered about 3 miles of it (6 miles out and back) from Sandy to Draper, but am now somewhat tempted by the idea of traveling a much longer portion at some point this summer.

In this photo it is easy to make out the trail snaking across one particularly wide section of the bench that may have once been a lovely beach. It's incredible to imagine the valley below filled with the deep waters of a vast inland sea--at one point much larger than any of the Great Lakes.

I'd heard about this trail, but had never personally travelled it. It was a gorgeous Sunday--brilliantly sunny without being too hot and further cooled by a mild breeze--so of course the trail was somewhat peopled. It follows a moderately rolling contour with surrounding terrains ranging from wide flat sage brush plains, to moist shaded creek bottoms, to steep hillsides covered in thick scrub oak.

All along the way my eyes were constantly drawn to interesting sights large and small (particularly small). I noticed all sorts of tiny flowers I'd never seen before and caught glimpses of a great variety of birds and reptiles. Of course I had my camera out the entire time and had fun challenging myself to capture ever smaller blossoms and, commonly on this occasion, insects clinging to their fragile petals . These days, once I start taking pictures, I see more and more that grabs my attention and my habit snowballs until I'm stopping almost every few yards to capture images. This has the happy consequence of making me forget about what time it is or how far I've come, and allows me to become unselfconsciously lost inside a childish fascination with the world.

And because I took so many pictures and couldn't seem to narrow my favorites down any further, I'll just include them all today....

Here is a wild rose: the first, and largest, flower I photographed. It was one of my grandma Ricks' favorites. She had (maybe planted?) a huge bush of yellow wild roses in front of their house at the county line.

This one was really tiny! And I love the miniscule spines feathering out from its slender leaves. I wish I knew the names of these plants. I have a field guide at home--maybe I'll take it along next time.

Because of the particular way the petals of these flowers are structured (one large leaflet framed by two shorter and more slender ones), from a distance they looked like little five-sided snowflakes.

Here's one flower I know I hadn't ever seen before this hike, and I love it! it's like a miniature lilly pad, only it's growing out of the ground instead of floating atop a pond.

I think this bird is called a black-headed grosbeak. As you can see from it's confident pose and wide open craw, it was singing up a storm when I took the photo.

I was zooming in on this little purple flower when a fly unexpectedly landed right on top of it. At first I was annoyed and thought I'd wait till it flew away, but then I realized I'd gotten lucky and should instead try to get a shot of its feasting while I still had the chance!

The trail descended a couple of times to cross hidden mountain creeks. The water cascades through steep mini-canyons creating an occasional waterfall tucked into the mountainside almost out of sight.

Here's an area recovering after a wildfire. The snow-capped Oquirrhs line the horizon on the western side of the valley. The benches are easily set ablaze and all trails are marked with signs strongly prohibiting any open flame.

This shot took some courage on my part...for obvious reasons!

I was lucky to catch this little hummingbird taking a brief pause from its fast-paced search for food.

Normally I really dislike box elder bugs. I know they're basically harmless, but I am always a little creeped out when they fly at me or I find one crawling on the back of my shoulder. This one though is fairly photogenic--it's amazing how petty little phobias fall away when I'm behind the protective lens of a camera.

As the time for my departure to Evanston approaches, my interaction with everything here has taken on an increasing aura of farewell. Almost every day I recognize something else I'll miss when I leave Utah: maybe that's one reason for my new addiction to photography. It occurred to me as I was hiking yesterday that much of my attachment to the west, and Utah in particular, has its roots in my experiences out in nature. With so many incredible landscapes within reasonable traveling distance of Salt Lake, it's almost too easy to escape the bustle of daily life and surround yourself in wilderness.

I am excited to begin my studies at Northwestern and immerse myself in the rich and vibrant cultural community of Chicago, but I'll miss the special brand of solitude the mountains and deserts of Utah provide. Once I arrive in my new, if perhaps only temporary, midwest home, I'll have to make a concerted effort to get out and find the places nearby where I can get my required rations of natural beauty, peace, and fascinating wildness (like this miniature moss garden emerging from a crevice in a boulder). I'm also hoping those places won't be too overrun by gigantic mosquitos and wood ticks!

Until then, I plan to use this summer to its fullest potential and store up enough memories to help get me through my first winter in the windy city.

Titan: The Finale

The Utah Symphony's final performance of the season took place last night at Abravanel Hall. As Mahler's Symphony No. 1 unfolded around me I sat in my chair on stage and tried to take everything in. That performance may prove to have been my last time in the hall for quite a while.

Before the show on Friday night, I wandered out into the lobby to take some photos. The focal point as one enters the building is "The Olympic Tower": a WILD blown-glass sculpture by artist Dale Chihuly that rises 30 feet up from the floor. It took a while for me to appreciate this massive explosion of suspended glass curlycues, and at first I thought it merely an annoying distraction that sullied the view from the hall's floor-to-ceiling windows. I was also grateful I wasn't the one that had to figure out how to dust the thing! Over the years though it has started to grow on me. It's impossible to deny its ability to mesmerize, and I sometimes wonder how many other people besides me have considered the problem of dusting as they pour over its intricate structure.

Both night's performances were thrilling and well executed by the members of the USO. I wish I could say I contributed more, but it was almost as enjoyable for me just to be in the middle of it all. There were moments on stage when the excitement was so tangible it was all I could do to keep from jumping up and raising my arms in a cheer, or when the sound of the first horn player (whom I sat directly behind) was so penetrating in its tenderness that I couldn't hold back a smile.

I also learned quite a bit. I worked on excerpts from Mahler I for much of my practicing this week and while the rest of the section would be playing I'd discreetly finger the parts or imagine myself as part of the section. I've heard from a few people that this sort of mental practice is actually quite beneficial, but I made sure to avoid playing these parts aloud backstage as playing someone else's music is generally considered rude.

After the concert on Friday, the orchestra was invited to a sushi party held in a nice room on the first tier. As I've been keeping myself on a strict budget these days, I hadn't indulged in raw fish for far too long--it was excellent! I tried to be sociable as well and had some nice conversations with a few of the orchestra members.

Nick Norton, the principal trumpeter, has been my teacher off and on ever since I first worked with him at the University of Utah from 1997 to 2000. Of all the teachers I've had in my life so far, he has been perhaps the most influential. On top of the excellent advice and instruction he's provided me over the years, he's also opened many doors of opportunity and given me moral support and personal encouragement along the way. I was able to play with the USO as a very young student because he stuck his neck out and referred me--though I embarrassed myself, and probably him, by showing up to that first rehearsal only 3 minutes before it began! This is a HUGE faux pas in a world where, (in the words of Joe Alme of the International Music Camp) "early is on time and on time is late". I still remember the disappointed look on his face when I finally walked out on stage that day--I wanted to curl up into a ball and die! I can tell you I learned that lesson pretty well!!! I was a little shy on Friday about asking Nick to take a picture with me, but figured it may be one of my last least for a while.

May 28, 2010

Titan: Day One

It was the last rehearsal for Mahler I this morning and once again I was paid to sit back and listen as great music was performed around me. I almost feel guilty about it, but it's not my fault the maestro decided he didn't need to rehearse the final moments of the symphony.

Actually, my part in this evening's show might be a tiny bit nerve inducing because it was decided in rehearsal yesterday that I would stand up with the horn section and one trombonist right before we come in for the grand finale. I noticed later that this action is even indicated in my music (I suppose it would have been responsible of me to have looked up the word "aufstehen" before the first rehearsal!). By itself this performance detail is not major, but I've never been able to rehearse it. I'm hoping that when the moment comes, I'll stand in unison with the horns and somehow avoid tripping over my wretched high heels.

Except for the fact I didn't get to play much (I actually was able to play about 15 notes in the 4th trumpet part to assist Ed Gornik on some fast mute changes), sitting in for rehearsal today was quite enjoyable for me. I admire so many of the USO players both musically and personally, and to be in the section as they rehearse and perform is like a paid lesson.

Mahler I is an evocative work. The first movement opens with a sustained pianissimo drone in the strings and later the high woodwinds: most strikingly the solo piccolo which is subtily and precariously perched atop a mass of breathy strings like a razor-thin crest of snow peaking over the ridge line of a mountain summit. When it's in tune, it is positively goosebump inducing.

The drone evolves into a mysterious chant-like motif of falling 4ths punctuated here and there with "cuckoo" calls and the distant heralds of off-stage trumpets . The mood as the piece begins reminds me of the the curious magic that unfolds right before sunrise--turning even the most banal setting into one of potential fantasy.

Ok Rob, I'll quit with the cheesy and overdone descriptions...for now anyway:) After our performances I may not be able to further resist waxing poetic about how I experience this great music.

May 27, 2010


This week I'm fortunate to have been asked to participate in the Utah Symphony's final concert of their regular season. The big piece on the program is Mahler's 1st Symphony on which I'm playing 5th trumpet. This part is pretty minor. I come in doubling the horns for the last couple minutes of the 4th movement. Despite this, the conductor Carlo Rizzi never specified a rehearsal schedule, so my time at Abravanel Hall these last couple days has included much waiting around. If you look to the left of the 4th trumpeter in this photo, you'll see the chair I'll fill during the concerts this Friday and Saturday. I took this picture from the balcony after I'd finished my part today.

Fortunately, I'd made it to the library before the first rehearsal yesterday and armed myself with a good book: "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It is Ali's autobiographical telling of her youth as an Islamic girl in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya and her eventual escape from a forced marriage to an independent life in Europe and later the US. I'm still early on in the book, but her story is riveting.

Today, I had been hired for two back-to-back rehearsals at the USO, but Rizzi got my part out of the way first thing this morning and I was able to head home. I always love to play (particularly with such a great group) and may have stuck around and listened for a while if it weren't for the nasty cold I've come down with. Instead, I went home, ate lunch, and curled up on the couch to read my book and catch up on some badly needed rest.

Until today, my schedule this week has made it impossible for me to get my usual daily nap. When I got to Cannonball this morning, I was completely unable to engrave effectively. Between my nose running constantly and my eyelids wanting to close by themselves, I realized it was a lost cause. I wrote Ryan a note of apology for not being able to help him with more horns and drove home to get an additional couple hours of shut eye before the 9:30 am rehearsal.

I've got another graduation to play tonight and I still feel pretty crummy, but at least I've caught up on my sleep.

May 25, 2010

Antelope Island

So...I'm feeling slightly under the weather today and even though it's absolutely gorgeous outside, I'm takin' it easy in bed for a while and working on another new post for this blog (which is rapidly becoming worrisomely addictive--maybe the novelty of it all will wear off after a while. And anyway, after I make it through my standard morning routine, I don't feel as bad about wasting a little time later on).

One personal reason for telling all these stories and posting all these pictures is so I'll be able to come back here from time to time while I'm away in Chicago and remember a few of the things I love about Utah...and for me, there's a lot to love.

Earlier this year I was in the middle of playing a run of "42nd Street" at Pioneer Theater while simultaneously working full time at Cannonball. Needless to say, I was exhausted and felt like taking a little break from the world. So one Saturday night after Rob and I had our usual goodnight call, I shut my phone off for the next 24 hours and drove out to Antelope Island for some trekking.

Antelope Island is the largest of the Great Salt Lake's 9 islands and is most known around here as being home to a large herd of buffalo. I enjoy it mainly for its open space and miles of trails, most of which are flat or only mildly graded. This makes it a great place to go early in the year before I've gotten in shape for real hiking. It can also be extremely buggy, so it's good to go either before the weather gets too warm, or when there's a healthy breeze to keep the swarms at bay--the day I went ended up being the latter.

The trail I took started out at the Bridger Bay campground and wound around the north-western side of the island snaking idly through thick patches of sage brush and piles of the concrete-like rock that is ubiquitous on the island. The day I went, a lush carpet of grass, peppered here and there with tiny purple flowers, blanketed the ground around each fragrant bush and oddly-shaped boulder.

As I walked among all this loveliness I got more and more carried away with the close-up setting on my camera and stopped almost every few feet to take a shot of some flowers or interestingly textured rocks. My desert-island outing became less about stretching my limbs and more about collecting little bits of natural beauty.

I have a history of keeping my nose close to the earth. All during childhood I was constantly combing the ground looking for bugs (check out the tiny red mite on this yellow flower), rocks, shells...interesting stuff that any normal person might completely miss. Once (I think I was in 1st or 2nd grade) I got really lucky and my odd little habit paid off. During a family outing to the Kennecott Copper Mine I actually found a diamond laying in amongst the sand and pebbles on the sidewalk. It was already polished and cut and had likely fallen off of someone's wedding ring. At the time, my mom had a diamond missing from her wedding ring, so we took the one I'd picked up and had a jeweler set it into the empty spot.

Eventually, I did start to make some progress along the trail and enjoyed the gradual unfolding of spectacular Salt Lake views and vast high-desert vistas. Until I returned to my car later in the afternoon, I didn't meet or even see a single other person. The solitude was refreshing.

Once, I sat down on a rock to relax and enjoy the breeze. It was silent except for the sound of wind through grass, the melodious trill of the meadow lark (my favorite bird song), and the distant rolling of water onto shore. As far as I could see there was nothing visible to remind me of where or when I was.

I felt as though I could've transported back in time 1,000 years without knowing it and everything, smells, sights, sounds, would have stayed exactly the same...well, as long as I would've arrived after the recession of Lake Bonneville (the huge ancient lake that covered much of Utah and Idaho thousands of years ago, of which the Great Salt Lake is only a meager remnant)...if I'd hit before then, I would've been instantly underwater and not nearly as caught up in idyllic reverie!

In any case, this sensation is not really new. I guess it's what the desert usually does to me. my concept of time is lost and I'm overcome by a sense of the land's as much a "religious" experience as anything else.

I was able to observe a good bit of wildlife along the trail. Many different kinds of birds, some deer, antelope, buffalo, and even a lizard sunning itself on a rock (I was amazed at how colorful they are up close).

I took an off-trail jog over to the water's edge and discovered that (as is typical at the GSL) the shoreline was covered with mounds made up of the husks cast off by brine fly larvae. It's actually a little gross (though oddly beautiful blown up in a me anyway). I remember going swimming in the lake when I was little and stepping right over these brown piles and into the water without a second thought. And don't ask me how a lady bug would've gotten in with this mess.

After a few hours I made it back to my car with more bug bites than I would've preferred, but satisfied that the outing had been the perfect remedy for non-stop work and too much time in an orchestra pit.

What a Tease

Yay! The sun is back! You can see that Rusty has already started to beg for his walk...

...and George has found his spot in the sunshine by the back door--I think it's still a hair too chilly for him to want to be outside, but I'm guessing that will change in an hour or so and he'll be scratching eagerly at the glass to be let out.

By 11:00 yesterday we had about 2 inches of snow on the ground, but then it had all melted by 2:00. Though the air stayed a bit nippy, the sun was shining, neighborhood lawns were green, and flowers were blooming as radiantly as ever. I think that if you'd slept in past noon you may have missed any sign of our little blizzard entirely.

Ok. I must head out to the "woodshed". I think I'm about as eager to go for a walk in the sun as Rusty is!

May 24, 2010


Hey! So where did spring go?! When I left for work this morning it was raining, but by the time I finished up, there was an inch of snow on the ground with more still falling heavily. Rusty has never seemed to mind the cold or snow, but he'll be disappointed when he has to forego his usual walk.

Last night I played 3rd trumpet in an Artie Shaw Centennial concert with the New Deal Swing Band. It was held at the Kol Ami Synagogue as part of their regular concert series and was absolutely packed! Last year's Benny Goodman Centennial was the same way.
The auditorium was decked out in flowers and featured a spiffy black-and-white-checked dance floor brought in for the occasion. Before we started our program, free dancing lessons were offered by the Salt Lake Jitterbugs (a local swing dance troupe) and then on the first half of the show, they performed a few numbers with us.

The New Deal Swing Band was put together by Utah Symphony clarinetist Tad Calcara, and originally featured primarily USO musicians. Since its inception in 2003, its evolved to include more local jazz players than USO, but there are still a couple of hold outs. I've played with the group for the past 3 or 4 years and generally we end up doing 4-5 concerts per year. It's always a fun challenge for me to try to imitate the big band style of the 30s and 40s. On a couple of occasions I've had to play lead in the group (an adventure lemmie tell ya), but fortunately last night the trumpet section was led by two players more suited to the style: Keith Davis on lead and Reed LeCheminant on solos. I think we made up a pretty hot section--it's always a blast for me to play with those guys!

Tad Calcara is an incredible musician. He sounds amazing in the USO of course, but is really well versed in swing as well. He spent years digging through archives to obtain original charts and our book is chock full of great, if sometimes nearly illegible, music. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the swing era's music and musicians, plays the clarinet parts flawlessly--and with as much flare as Shaw or Goodman--and can hold his own at the keyboard to boot. I am always in awe of musicians with such diversity of skill.

The first half of the show was as much a history lesson as a concert and incorporated archival video of Shaw's bands alongside more recent interviews done with him. In a couple of cases, the original band would start out a tune on the video and then Tad would bring us all in to finish it out. It was a bonafide miracle that the video syncing worked last night! In rehearsal a week before it was stubborn as a mule and nearly made Tad loose his cool several times.

Tad, as someone in the band remarked, "is better than Wikipedia", can expound eternally on swing, and related some pretty interesting stories last night. Here's one that I remember:

When Shaw was young, he was turned on to music after hearing a saxophone player performing on Vaudeville. He worked for months at a deli to save up the $40 he needed to buy a used C melody saxophone and instantly got to work listening to records and imitating what he heard. After a while he felt proficient enough to audition for a local dance band. The director was thrilled with his ability until he put a piece of sheet music on the stand. "What do you want me to do with that?" Shaw asked. The director replied that unfortunately he couldn't give him the gig unless he could read music. Shaw asked him to hold the position for a month and wowed everyone by coming back in said amount of time able to read anything put in front of him. He was only 14 at this time!

On the second half of the program, the dance floor was opened to everyone in attendance and a surprisingly large crowd stayed out on the floor, some trying out their newly learned moves and others showing off more substantial amounts of time spent in formal training.

It was an enjoyable evening, but I was eager to get home and into'll be another week of early mornings. I was supposed to be working only part time at Cannonball this month, but a shipment arrived and there are a TON of horns that need engraving. For now they still need me to do the bulk of the engraving, and I'm mainly doing what I can to prevent Ryan from getting too overwhelmed. I guess it's good to be needed, but I hope they're able to get things going without me at least by the end of the month.

May 23, 2010


Yesterday I played with the Timpanogos Brass at Juan Diego's commencement (an additional function to the graduation mass held earlier in the week). This time we set up in their high school auditorium and were without an organist, so fortunately our Tubist remembered his music! (He also brought us all doughnuts--always a great way to make up for past sins). We played a bunch of prelude music followed by the obligatory and eternal"Pomp and Circumstance".

Along with the tedium of repeating the tune of Elgar's famous march 50 times, gigs like this always remind me how far I have to go in improving my endurance on the trumpet. I have always had a nice sound, reasonably good technique, and natural musicality, but when it comes to playing for long durations, I consistently struggle. I think I've heard everyone at some point complain about the difficulty of playing a two-page Charlier, making it through the Hindemith Sonata, or continuing on to the high C at number 29 of Shostakovich's 5th Symphony 1st mvt. Even so, in most situations, I seem to get fatigued well before other players. When I play duets with my friend Ian Murdock, he'll just be good-and-warmed-up by the time I start leaving out measures here and there to let my chops recover. During yesterday's prelude and processional, which in total I think ran to around 30 minutes, I became audibly fatigued: quite an embarrassment for me.

We had a long break after this first segment and the group went back down to the band room to pass the time until we were called for again. Lately I've noticed that people like to bring up Chicago while in casual conversation with me, and yesterday, Ryan Williams our wonderful trombonist told me about a time he attended the Midwest Band Clinic (held annually in Chicago), and got to hear Chris Martin (the current principal trumpeter in the CSO and former student of Barbara and Charlie--my soon-to-be instructors at NU), play in a performance with the Chicago Brass. He said it struck him that Chris had been playing for hours and hours beforehand and still sounded fresh and strong at the concert. I mentioned to him my frustrations with endurance and he replied by saying he'd heard that Chris would practice to the point where his muscles simply wouldn't allow it, and that each day he'd try to push that threshold a bit further. This certainly sounds like a great idea on the surface.

During the year or so of preparation I had between the time Larry Zalkind got me committed to going back to grad school, and my auditions at the various schools to which I applied, I went through what could be one of the most tumultuous periods in my experience as a trumpeter.

After talking with Larry, I immediately rededicated myself to practicing and study with a vengeance. My daily routine was this:

5:30-7:30am... practice
8:00-12:00... work at Cannonball
12:15-12:45... practice (usually piccolo)
1:00-5:00... work at Cannonball
6:00-7:00 or whenever I was done... practice

Additionally, my work at Cannonball frequently involves play-testing and acoustically adjusting trumpets, so at the end of the day that's a LOT of playing...and I NEVER missed a day.

I believe this is the most time I'd ever devoted to practice in my life. After having my first couple of lessons with Charlie Geyer I got even more excited and kept up this exhausting schedule at the expense of sleep, relationships, and my sanity...all in the name of working hard in order to be competitive for grad school auditions. (I should say that Mr. Geyer did NOT suggest that this practice routine was a good one--quite the opposite in some ways in fact).

I was improving tons for a while, but at some point in late spring or early summer I hit a wall. My range, which had increased markedly for a while, fell off, my sound was frequently plagued with double buzzing and "fuzz" and everything about basic playing became a huge effort. It became obvious that I had overdone it.

I had a lesson with Nick Norton and he instructed me to take a couple days off without touching the trumpet then come back slowly--maybe only playing 45 minutes to an hour at the most every day. He recommended a great book of simpler etudes (Longinotti) and advised me to go out and have fun once in a while. This proved to be excellent advice and though my full recovery lasted months, I noticed an almost immediate improvement in my sound.

Somewhere around that time I heard another story about New York trumpeter Louis Hanslik, a Juilliard grad who I'd met when we both played in the concert that opened Zankel Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. Apparently, he'd also been a practicing fiend, and while at Juilliard, had experienced something similar to what I'd recently been through. I heard that Mark Gould (who had been my teacher there for a semester) told him he was only allowed to play 45 minutes per day for a while and that he subsequently improved as I had.

From my own experience and after hearing this story, my schedule has evolved on the premise that I should focus primarily on developing a routine that's efficient. More precisely: I need to be able to get a lot done without having to play more than a couple hours per day. For everything except long duration endurance this has worked really well for me.

Now I guess that the stories about Chris and Louis are not necessarily at odds. One thing Charlie told me in our first lesson has stood out in my mind as I mull over this problem. He had asked me to tell him what my biggest problems as a trumpet player were.
I responded predictably, "Range and endurance".
"Ahh, but what kind of range and what kind of endurance?" he countered.

He went on to explain that the kind of range and endurance you use playing the Brandenburg is totally different from the range and endurance you use playing a Shostakovich Symphony...which is also totally different from the range and endurance you use to play a Charlier etude...a brass quintet orchestral get the idea.

For our first lesson I stupidly did not bring a recorder and so don't have a perfect memory of the advice he gave on this subject. I do remember him saying that it's necessary to prepare differently for each performance situation, and that I should be creative as I come up with ways to address specific problems that arise. If I need to play the Brandenburg, it doesn't make much sense in preparation to hammer my chops on big horns, and vise versa.

Ok, so now I'm kind of thinking that if I have a quintet gig coming up where I know I'll be playing for long periods of time without taking the mouthpiece off my lips, then in preparation for that, I should do something along the lines of Chris Martin's supposed technique: Incrementally increase the time the horn spends on my face from day to day--and even most specifically from practice session to practice session--prior to the performance. But I don't need to practice that way all the time, and maybe the way I approach my other practice cycles will balance this "heavy lifting" well and lead to more strength development over all.

When it comes down to it--I don't think I've ever played a quintet gig that lasted more than 2 hours, so the main thing with this type of endurance is that I've got to be able to play without a whole lot of rest for individual periods of time (each maybe 10-15 minutes) that add up to about 2 hours of playing.

Years ago, I also read briefly about marathon preparation. The book I had said that several months before the event, you should run something like 3-5 miles a day for 5 days of the week, 10-13 miles on the sixth day, and then take the seventh day off. As the race gets closer, you should primarily increase the amount you run on the 6th day while keeping the distances on the other 5 days relatively modest. And most importantly, the day off at the end of the week is crucial to the ability of your body to recover and build efficient long-duration muscle.

It's obvious that the relentless practice schedule I maintained last year was not allowing time for my muscles to recoup after being pushed to their extreme. This must be where the damage arose. I jumped in head first and only stopped swimming when my body quit and I had to accept a life preserver. It would have been much wiser to get out of the ocean once and a while for a soak in the sun. (me and my penchant for analogy).

It makes sense for me to occasionally focus on endurance as one individual part of playing in much the same way I single out one aspect of articulation or multiple tonguing on a given day or week. Instead of incorporating "general endurance" as a daily practice issue--like running marathons every day from the get go--I should instead push myself incrementally beyond my threshold for a few sessions--always being strict about wise amounts of rest and recovery--and then back off a bit.

We'll see how that goes.

May 21, 2010

Too Much Light in the Darkness

I'm home today feeling spoiled after being able to sleep in all morning! Patrick and I got back from Bryce at 3:30 am and though for a brief moment I entertained the idea of just sucking it up and going to work, that moment remained brief indeed and I drove home from the park & ride for a few hours of luxuriously uninterrupted sleep.

The trip yesterday followed a predictable plan. Patrick has been doing this program at Bryce for over 20 years and has the schedule mapped out to the nearest minute and mile marker. As usual, I met him at the 7200 south park & ride at around 2:45, we stopped to fill the tank in--appropriately--Fillmore, ordered Subway sandwiches by phone 10 minutes prior to arriving in Beaver, and from there made a straight shot into the park to arrive 45 minutes before the scheduled start time of his NASA presentation.

During most of our drive the skies were completely overcast and though we started to see little spots of blue the further south we got, it looked as though we'd be most likely be clouded out. By the time we got to Panguitch, we did notice that the clouds were thinning into the wispy kind that sometimes disappear with darkfall, but we were then additionally confronted by a large cloud of smoke blanketing the sky from a nearby controlled burn.

Look at the contrast between the bright red rocks in the foreground of this photo compared with the washed out looking formation in the not-too-distant background. Imagine the same blurring haze applied to the night sky and it's a good illustration of how smoke and pollution can affect conditions for star gazing...specifically "transparency".

Bryce normally has incredibly dark skies as it is almost entirely unaffected by light pollution. At times, the milky way appears so bright, it almost seems to cast a shadow. In skies like that you can see the Andromeda Galaxy easily without a pair of binoculars, many open and globular clusters appear as tantalizing smudges against the black background, and so many stars are visible, it can at first be confusing to pick out the typically simple constellations.

I arrived to set up with 5 other volunteers and their scopes in the parking lot behind the ranger station at the front entrance of the park. Patrick ran off to do his show at the lodge (which, by the way is really entertaining--he's a great public presenter), and I got my scope all aligned, chit chatted with the other volunteers (who were all VASTLY more experienced than I...and who's telescopes looked like giant cannons next to my orange toy squirt gun--far right of photo), and did some last minute studying of my astronomy book to make sure I had interesting things to say to visitors.

The skies did end up clearing out at darkfall, but at that point we were all dealing with a different sort of pollution. As beautiful as a first- quarter moon can be in a telescope, before it sets it ruins the sharpness of almost every other astronomical object one might choose to view. To many amatuers and pros alike, any moon larger than a thin crescent is nothing more than an annoyance. Last night it did cause some trouble, but also treated us to a great view of the Sea of Tranquility (the Mare in which the most famous moon landings took place), the Alpine Valley (a startlingly straight valley possibly formed by either an ancient fault or a meteor leaving a string of debris as is hit at a sharp angle), and a satisfying display of craters at the terminator. One woman remarked to me "Wow! It looks so real!"

As the night wore on we each tried to find new objects for the crowd to view, but it became increasingly clear that the moon was corrupting the "typical" Bryce Canyon astro-viewing experience. It was so bright, we might as well have set up in the parking lot at Harmons (as we often do in SLAS as the grocery is our #1 sponsor).

Fortunately, the crowd was huge and generally interested and appreciative. Visitors to Bryce come from all over the world and I answered questions posed to me in a variety of accents. I primarily stayed on the moon as the other volunteers seemed more interested in showing Saturn at first and then, despite the lit up sky, went after some star clusters and even a few faint fuzzies. I eventually zoomed in on the Ring Nebula and the Hercules Cluster and people did seem to enjoy them even with the lack of great definition. Patrick told me later that it had been an experiment to do the star party on a first-quarter experiment not likely to be repeated I gather.

We packed up and hit the road again around 11:30. Mercifully, I slept nearly the whole way home.

May 20, 2010

Minor Consideration

This morning after work I drove down to Springville to engrave my friend Lisa's cornet. The horn was in pristine condition when she bought it used from Tony Dilorenzo, but since then it had picked up some serious scratching on the bell. She said that the origin of the scratches was a mystery, but hoped I'd be able to cover them up with engraving.

Weeks ago when she talked to me about doing this, she'd asked me to come up with a really funky abstract design. This got me excited! I was being allowed artistic free reign to produce something truly unique. Unfortunately, I've been going through something of a creative dry spell (stress? work overload? who knows...) and struggled unsuccessfully to create a design. Finally I asked Lisa to give me some ideas and she sent me the logo for her band Minor Consideration: a central flower-like trumpet flanked on either side by guitars which peel away from the horn like leaves. I had to "psychadelify" the logo in order to make it appropriate for the engraving technique that I use, but Lisa really loved my final version and we set up a time for me to come by.

Lisa was at work when I got to her house, but she'd left me a key and had towels left out on the table for me to use. I was nervous to start cutting. One could make the argument that an engraving is even more permanent than a tattoo, so what would I do if I slipped and totally ruined her horn? Finally I began the first line with no trouble and everything went smoothly from there.

I used a washable marker to draw the design on the bell and then traced over the lines with the various tools I brought. It really is amazing how dimensional flat line engravings can appear if the right combination of graver sizes and textures is used. I feel like the type of art I've done all my life has prepared me perfectly for instrument engraving. The technique fits my style like a glove and I am grateful to Cannonball for the opportunity they provided me to learn this unusual skill.

Lisa took a break from work and came over for a few minutes to snap some pictures and watch the process. She seemed to love what I was doing, and I must say, I'm pleased with the result myself. I don't know if she's been back home since I finished the horn, but I'm excited to hear her reaction.

In a few minutes I'm headed out the door to meet Patrick for our drive down to Bryce Canyon. The weather up here is pretty stinky, but I'm hoping there may be some clearer skies down south.

May 19, 2010

Cathedral Graduation

Last night I played with the Timpanogos Brass Quintet for Juan Diego's graduation mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in downtown Salt Lake City. I love playing at the Madeleine. The building and the choir school that bears its name are surely among Utah's greatest treasures.

I still remember the first time I saw the place. On Christmas Eve 1998 I was invited to play for the cathedral's midnight mass with the Utah Symphony brass section. I was nervous as all get out to be playing with those guys, though my teacher Nick Norton (who'd got me the gig to begin with) was there keeping me in line and trying to get me to relax!

As far as I can remember, it was also the first time I'd been in a Cathedral, let alone one so colorfully and lavishly decorated. I remember the particular smell of incense, the mystique of the mass and its rituals (exotic and extraordinary for a young Mormon girl), the etherial swell of the children's choir, their vibrato-free resonance a completely new sound for my ears, the feel of the massive organ's pedal notes as they rumbled the floorboards of the choir loft, and the incredible acoustic that allowed each sound to hang suspended in the air for several seconds. I also remember (and deal with this issue even today) trying hard to keep my eyes on my music rather than absent-mindedly allowing them to wander around the beautiful space. I remember playing some antiphonal Gabrielli and probably a bunch of hymn adaptations: fairly classic fare, though for an inexperienced student, it was a challenge for me musically to rise to the level of the others in the group. After such a fortunate initiation, playing for midnight masses has remained on my list of favorite holiday traditions.

Anyway, back to the more recent past, when I got up to the choir loft last night, I caught the end of another mass that just preceded the graduation. The children's choir was singing beautifully and I sat back for a while enjoying their sound and the memories it brought back.

Our performance went alright considering that for the first hour and a half we were only a quartet. Our tuba player (who shall remain nameless for now), had left his music at home!!! I won't complain too much because I suppose we've all been there, or someplace similar, in the past... sigh... stories for another day. Anyway, we made due as best we could playing four part Bach chorals and a couple other hymn tunes instead of the prelude we'd prepared. When it came time for the processionals though we were really hurting. Can you imagine having to perform the Promenade from "Pictures at an Exhibition" over and over minus the bass part?! Without a foundation our sound seemed uncharacteristically thin, and of course that made our jobs much more difficult. Fortunately some of our pieces included organ, and being able to blend with an instrument like the Madeleine's certainly alleviated a bit of the anemia.

The service was long, but fun over all. When we've got everyone participating the TBQ is a great quintet! The second trumpeter Dave Faires had attended some conducting workshops at Northwestern and was telling me stories about how incredible the brass is there...hopefully I'll be able to keep up this Fall!

I drove home in a rainstorm and stayed up late listening to the downpour and talking about composers with Rob...a satisfying end to a good evening.

May 17, 2010


Last week I was listening to the radio and was introduced to the word "quotidian". It was surprising to me that such a fancy sounding word meant pretty much the opposite of anything out of the ordinary. Routine, normalcy, the mundane--even boring--details of everyday life: these are quotidian. I've had people tell me they think I have an exciting life and I guess I do go out for a spontaneous adventure now and then, but for the most part my days are pretty routine.

Where my routine differs from others' is maybe what surprises them. For whatever reason, I have always been a morning person and, especially lately, I've been living that in the extreme. My day begins when my alarm goes off at 3:47 am (yes, I intentionally avoid 5s and 0s when I set my alarm--don't ask why) and shift sleepily into work mode. I'm out the door in 20 minutes and at work by 4:30 in order to enjoy the next 3 1/2 hours of peace solitude that are the conditions under which I work best.

My current job, engraving saxophones and testing trumpets at Cannonball Musical instruments, takes a good deal of concentration. While working over the bell of a sax with a sharp metal tool intentionally scratching the surface in what eventually reveals itself as an intricate design, I am much more at ease not having to experience the hubub of a busy workplace right outside my door. I usually turn on the radio, classical 89.1 for music or KUER for news depending on my mood, and cocoon myself into the rhythm of my gravers zig zagging across the curved metal surfaces of the instruments. It was my request to keep such odd hours and though I have had a few issues with getting enough sleep, in general this schedule is, for me, ideal.

I leave the office every day just before 8:00 and head over to my Mom's house where I'm free to practice my trumpet without having to disturb neighbors or use a stuffy practice mute. After checking email and chit chatting with Mom for a half hour or so I hit the woodshed.

I'm pretty particular about my practicing and monitor my time on and off the horn in a way that some would describe as excessively anal. I plan out my practice session before hand--what techniques I'll address, what music I have to polish up for an upcoming gig, and how much time I can afford to keep the horn on my face that particular morning.

I do this for a couple of reasons. It is amazing how much more I accomplish when I address specific techniques rather than just going through a tired daily routine that tries to hit all the bases. If I target three or four issues per practice session, spend a specific amount of time devoted to each item (typically 10 minutes), and follow each segment by a required amount of rest (3 or more minutes--usually more), my practice efficiency goes WAY up. I improve much more quickly and preserve my chops much better overall compared to the more loose and general way I used to practice. The older I get, the more this proves to be a career saver. So, as ridiculous as it may appear to anyone else, I sit in my Mom's living room every day looking out over the valley to the west and, with a stopwatch and notebook, meticulously plan out and time my noise making.

Another habit I've gotten into is during each short rest period I'll get up and do some little chore around the house...take out the trash, start dishes, do laundry, play with the dogs... This helps pass the time and makes me feel less guilty about using someone else's house as a practice room, and shamelessly mooching some food out of the fridge for lunch.

After practicing I'll either take the dogs for a walk or head out for the gym. Now that the weather's been nice, the dog walking usually wins out. It's amazing to see how Rusty (my parent's Jack Russell) has totally figured out my routine. I'm convinced that he knows how my practice intervals are timed because whenever I finish a segment, he runs right into the living room and looks at me with head cocked inquiring, "so are you going to play with me now?" I've taught him the meaning of the phrase "I have to practice" and whenever I respond to his query with that phrase, he turns around and skulks out of the room until the next break. He hates the sound of my trumpet! However, George (the Chihuahua) doesn't seem to mind my horn at all and usually comes into the room while I'm practicing and curls up for a nap in my jacket while I work.

Rusty can also tell when I've finished my whole session and start my warm down. At that point he'll come in almost bursting at the seams and ask, "Ok, are we going for a walk now?" He's usually right on the money and I take him out for 3 or 4 miles first, then come home and take he and George (who doesn't seem to have the same desire to go for long walks) for a lap around the block. They're sweet puppies and I'm sure going to miss them when I take off in the fall.

By the time I make it through this routine it's usually about noon and I have the rest of the day to fill how I please (which these days usually includes a substantial nap!). I guess I thrive on structure and it makes me feel a ton better when I've been productive right off the bat. Getting that good start is everything.

May 16, 2010


Last night I drove out to the Stansbury Park Observatory Complex (SPOC) for the second official star party I've been able to attend this year. The park is home to 3 incredible telescopes that are among the largest in Utah, and as last night was a "private" party for Salt Lake Astronomical Society (SLAS) members and their guests, the ratio of nerds to regular Joes was highly imbalanced.

I should say that I love nerds and have always aspired to be one --though during adolescence I was in denial about this and wished, as most teenage girls do, (unsuccessfully in my case) that I could overcome my nerdiness and be "cool".

This forgivable diversion aside, I've come to love the fact that I seem to belong with people who are insatiably drawn to explore some part of the universe, who obsessively work to develop an obscure skill, or who cannot seem to get their fill of an off-the-beaten-path area of knowledge and often yearn to share their interest (invited or un) with everyone around them. Folks like this are the salt of the Earth. I am thrilled by the passion they exude and can only hope that some of it will continue to rub off on me.

SLAS is full of these wonderful sorts. Our club president Dave Bernson, the walking encyclopedia, can take a green laser and point out and name every constellation, every star in those constellations, tell fascinating stories about how each was named, and rattle off a list of significant astronomical statistics relating to them and other interesting telescopic sights nearby. Newsletter editor Patrick Wiggins, an official NASA Ambassador, is often found in the building housing the beautiful 200mm refractor he assembled charismatically entertaining lined up viewers with odd tidbits about the solar system. And the lawn surrounding the telescope houses is filled with dozens of other club members and their telescopes--all of which come in every shape, size, and political persuasion.

Throughout the night people observe a while and wander a while, everyone taking in far-out vistas in various scopes and comparing notes on how to trick out their gear or how to take the most detailed photo of the Whirlpool Galaxy. For newbies this conglomeration of human and technical oddity can seem intimidating at first, but after viewing Saturn for the first time through someone's enormous Dobsonian, the mood under dark skies is infectious and adults and kids alike are easily caught up in the excitement.

In addition to getting my nerd fix, my purpose last night was to refresh my memory of the night sky and see if I could efficiently operate the C8 telescope I'd been loaned. I've agreed to help out Patrick with 4 monthly star parties at Bryce Canyon and the first one is this coming Thursday! The crowds are great at Bryce and I want to make sure I can hold my own with the scope before heading down. So, after taking in an INCREDIBLE view of Mars with a backdrop of blue sky (I could see the Matian polar cap for the first time!) at the refractor house, I set up my scope, aligned the finder and telrad, and, starting with last night's beautiful crescent moon, set off to see how many beautiful objects I could find.

The picture at the top of this entry is one I took through My C8 by holding up the lens of my camera to the scope's eyepiece. At the mid-upper left of the crescent, you will see the edge of the sea of crisis (one of the lunar maria or seas--actually lava plains) and below that, further to the left in the image, a string of 4 fairly well-defined craters: Langrenus, Vendelinus, Petavius, and Furerius (no, I don't know these by heart...I looked them up in my Atlas).

Even without a scope, the moon was spectacular. The crescent framed a gray disc of Earthshine against a sky that could put Maxfield Parish to shame, and above it and to the South, Venus shone like a beacon--amazingly brilliant in the fading dusk. Magnification adds another dimension to the experience and you can almost imagine what it must have been like for Galileo to have seen, for the first time, that the moon was not a perfect porcelain disc, as the lore of the time claimed, but a far off land with high mountains and vast plains pocked by myriad craters. The view of the moon is best, and much less blinding, when not full and the most captivating texture is more obvious at the terminator--the line between lunar night and day.

As the night continued I focused my scope on Venus, (bright indeed, but not much else to see), Saturn and four of its moons (my previous record for seeing moons with Saturn is only two!), Mars, the beehive star cluster in the constellation Cancer, M13 (the giant globular cluster in Hercules), and the Ring Nebula and the "double double" (an interesting pairing of double stars) in Lyra. Anyone with basic observing experience would recognize that none of these targets is particularly difficult, but as my anticipation of the Bryce excursion continues to mount, it felt good to confirm that I could still identify and focus on interesting sights and operate the telescope without too much trouble.

The one issue I had is what prompted the title of this entry. While trying to refamiliarize myself with the visible constellations, I ran into some difficulty when I saw what my memory told me was the first bit of Scorpius coming up over the horizon in the South. Looking at my maps things didn't seem to be lining up right, but I'd look over and, "No, that really does look like Scorpius": three starts pointing up and to the West and seeming to radiate from a brighter 3rd star in the East, "though that little star couldn't possibly be Antares could it?". I continued to confuse myself until I finally found Patrick and Bruce Grimm and asked them, "So, that's Scorpius, right?". They both busted up and said "What!? Have you been drinking or something? That doesn't look anything like Scorpius!"

Apparently, I'd humiliated myself by mistaking Corvus for Scorpius...Jeeze! Well, I'll admit, it is a fairly big mix up...well, really, I should know better, but as Rob pointed out to me when I called him a bit later, "You are hanging out with some real geeks!"
I felt a little better later when I found Dave and he agreed that indeed, the two groupings of stars resemble each other. Embarassment aside, I was glad to be corrected and finally catch my bearings.

All in all it was a good night. We were treated to flyovers of the International Space Station and later the Space Shuttle, and the skies remained relatively clear with only an occasional interruption by stray bands of cirrus clouds.

After a few hours of viewing I joined a bunch of folks at the local Denny's for "advanced training" (astronerd humor), and then went back to SPOC for some deep sky viewing on the Grimm scope (a 32 inch reflector good at zooming in on the "faint fuzzies"), and some further aid with my constellations. Dave and another club member pointed out the "toes of the dragon": two stars that give a little foot to Draco, and "the three leaps of a gazelle": similar "two toed" pairings of stars that could be either the toes of the Big Bear (Ursa Major), or an interesting asterism all on their a little antelope had in fact bounded across the sky leaving its dainty prints among the stars.