October 6, 2010

Trombone Lesson

I have so much I could talk about today that I don't know where to start. So (as usual) I'll just begin with what is starting to become your daily dose of the lovely Lake Michigan...

Can you believe this sunrise?!

I had to get up at 5:30 today in order to get to school and observe a trombone lesson by 7:00, and because the shuttle doesn't run that early I had to walk. I'm sure trekking a mile at 6:30 a.m. in the cold and dark hefting a trumpet and shoulder bag sounds utterly miserable to many of you, but I was literally weeping with gratitude when I made it over to the lake shore to watch the sunrise. I know...I'm really over the top sometimes in my worshipfulness of nature, but I can't help it. When I started walking, I glimpsed a tiny sliver of a moon beckoning from the east and the beating of my heart rate immediately increased. I began walking more quickly so I'd be able to have at least a good 5 minutes to stand at the lakeshore. In 15 minutes or so I emerged from the neighborhood and basked in the calm splendor of pre dawn.

The air was crisp and fresh and the only sound was the soft murmmer of moving water and a distant humming as the rest of the city started to think about waking. Overwhelming gratitude is the only way for me to describe how I felt just then. Gratitude that I was forced to wake up early so that I'd be able to witness this loveliness. This week in my Art Song class we've been studying Charles Ives and there are a number of his quotes (both serious and funny) that I've really enjoyed. One particularly fitting to this occasion was the simple observation, "To see the sunrise a man has but to get up early." Amen!

When I arrived at Regenstein the sky was really beginning to glow and I stood along the lakeside walkway in rapt attention as the sun's arrival neared...almost afraid to look away for even a second for fear I'd miss a moment's most lustrous congealing of color. Now seriously, have you ever seen a sunrise so glorious?

Finally I had to wake myself up from the reverie so I'd be able to make my lesson appointment in time. Brass players (well, perhaps musicians in general) strongly dislike playing early in the morning (I am an exceptionally unusual case) so when I met Terry (the doctoral student whose lesson I'd be observing for my teaching techniques class) at the entrance to Regenstein I could tell he was less-than excited about having a lesson at such an ungodly hour. Still we said a cheerful "good morning" (which in his australian accent sounds particularly endearing) and waited around for a couple minutes until the building's doors automatically unlocked at the stroke of 7:00. He showed me in to the studio of the infamous trombonist Michael Mulcahy (who, oddly enough, is also from down under) and began getting ready to play.

Mulcahy seemed pleasantly relaxed and began the lesson by asking Terry to copy some simple slurring exercises--a call and response activity just to get the mind, body, and ear engaged. I don't have time to relate the whole lesson to you, but I have to say it was truly fascinating to observe the process of teaching from a no-pressure position and think about why he chose to do and say some of the things he did. He worked a good deal on getting Terry to play with a continuous "pulse of air" and with assured economy: something he loosely defined as "using the simplest form of energy and the clearest form of thought."

Other things he said that I enjoyed:

"Expecting perfection in the practice room is the enemy of allowing for the license you need to find the best way of doing something."


"Frustration is an expression of ego."

Mulcahy has a pretty set weekly-assignment procedure. Each student is to prepare: one scale (a key of his/her choosing) in as many octaves as possible, the regular arpeggios that correspond with chord progressions in that key, and finally, one lyrical and one technical exercise in the same key. I think that standard excerpts are also usually expected, though he never got to those in this lesson. In general I enjoyed seeing what a major part playing with the student served in his teaching. I thought it was a great way to allow the student to relax while simultaneously demanding a high standard of performance. Terry played all the assigned material very well and seemed to benefit from comments made. Always, whenever there was a needed improvement, Mulcahy played along with him to best illustrate the practice tricks, techniques, and exercises he came up with to address difficulties.

All in all it was a rewarding experience that will likely benefit my personal playing in addition to informing my teaching techniques. I am required to attend a total of 10 lessons this quarter and am looking forward to being exposed to a diverse range of teaching on any number of different instruments. The class itself meets once biweekly to discuss our observations...should be cool!

There's a lot more I could tell you about, but it is a gorgeous fall day--likely one of our last--and I want to get some sunshine on my skin before I have to hit the woodshed tonight.

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