February 26, 2012

Lower Partials

Last night I performed Handel's Te Deum with the Elmhurst Symphony and Apollo Chorus on a concert held at the University of Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel.

The church itself was beautiful. Not quite as colorful as Salt Lake's Cathedral of the Madeleine, or as gaudy as churches I'd seen in Europe, but ornate and lovely in a classic and understated sort of way. Rather than every square inch of available surface area being covered in murals, carvings, or mosaics, there was still a lot of bare gray stone to make the portions that were decorated stand out exquisitely.

I especially liked the finely gilt ceiling.

I had never heard of the Te Deum before this gig. Actually, Handel wrote two Te Deums. The one we played, subtitled the Dettingen, was commissioned by King George II to commemorate the British defeat of the French at the battle of Dettingen in 1743. Just like you'd expect from a triumphal victory celebration, the music is absolutely loaded with big bold trumpet fanfares, and I was surprised that this music hadn't yet come up in any of my previous trumpet studies.

As 3rd trumpet I spend the piece blaring away on big fat low notes in D Major...often doubling the timpani while the two higher trumpeters sing away on more melodic material. There's a practical reason the music is written this way, and (contrary to what you might think) it's not because Handel thought his 3rd trumpet player was not as talented as the other two. Back in Handel's day valves had not yet been invented and trumpeters were confined to play only notes in the natural harmonic series...
This meant that to get anything even approaching a melody you have to get up into a register where the partials were really close together...i.e...play really high! Handel's 3rd trumpet part is comprised of only 5 lowish notes in D Major, but it provides the harmonic and rhythmic foundation for the more florid doodlings taking place above. While 5 notes over and over might sound boring, it's actually pretty exhilarating...especially when the other two have long notes and I get to boom away with the timpani on awesome little rhythmic fanfares!

I took this shot while the orchestra and chorus were rehearsing the other piece on the program: Mozart's Requiem. Man, this church is HUGE! And amazingly the place was completely packed for the performance.

One unexpected, but pleasant, surprise was that the 2nd trumpet player on the gig was Brian Reichenbach, a guy I'd met during my summer at the Aspen Music Festival WAY BACK in 1999...that's nearly 13 years ago...sheesh!

February 23, 2012

For a Reflective Day


Today's sunrise was foggy and vague. It looked just about how I felt.

I didn't have a great night last night. A naive and unfortunate miscalculation on my part caused me to let down a lot of people whom I had intensely wanted to please. I went to bed trying to battle away feelings that I've never belonged in Chicago, and that because I have continued to struggle in my efforts to leave a positive impression of myself and my abilities with people I've encountered since coming here, there's no way I could ever hope to stay and make any sort of reasonable living.

I felt jinxed. I felt like there was some sort of tangible entity working to prevent me from representing myself well. I was too angry to cry and too embarrassed to relax and move on accepting that I'd just made a mistake...that everyone makes mistakes from time to time...and that the one I made last night is destined to eventually fade into the background just like everything else I worry too much about.

Some of these thoughts were still swimming around in my head when I made it to the lake shore this morning...though maybe their edge had been dulled a bit by a good night of sleep.

I think the lake is actually quite beautiful on days like today. I watched the water lap and fold over the top of a shallow sand bar feeling as blank and numb as the gray sky above...

I let my eyes relax and fade off into the indistinct distance...tried to find the horizon line as it faded in and out just beyond the realm of easy perception...listened for the sun's muted sheen reflected over the quiet waves...

...and marveled at finely-drawn patterns in the sand that danced and shimmered like an optical illusion...

Sigh...life goes on.

February 17, 2012


One of the classes I'm taking this quarter is Performance Practice and Criticism. The name pretty much says it all. We all draw lots at the beginning of the quarter to determine our two performance times and then each week five members of the class present a piece, up to 10 minutes in length. During the performance the rest of us scribble comments and criticisms that are both turned in later for a grade and also given to the performer at the end of the class period for their reference.

Each week there is a different faculty member that presides over the masterclass and gives spoken feedback to the performer on the spot. We've had a flautist, a bassoonist, a percussionist, a conductor...(the list goes on) and finding ways to constructively criticize players proficient on an instrument other than your own can be a challenge for everyone. As a trumpet player it's tough to come up with useful things to say to a harpist or guitarist. Most of the time I think they just sound good! So the class has provided me great practice in getting my ears tuned in to details of approach and musicality that I might not have otherwise noticed. Conversely, it's always interesting to see what my peers hear in my playing. Advice that I get from the cellists in the class is often quite different from typical criticisms I get from other trumpeters.

Today I completed my second and final class performance and fortunately the video recorder worked this time.

This is Intrada by Otto Ketting...

Though it was certainly not perfect (gosh I wish I could take back the first note!), I feel pretty good about the performance. I think I dealt with the effects of my nerves reasonably well and though it hadn't been the best morning chop wise, I still made most things in the piece basically work. The feedback I got from John Henes--our resident Alexander Technique teacher and former professional trumpeter--was largely positive. He especially liked my entrance and bow--which was great because that's something I worked on with him in Alexander last quarter.

Just to give you an idea of the class, here are some snippets of what a few of my peers wrote to me on their comment sheets...

"Your dynamic contrast is superb. If anything, I'd be curious how soft you could get while keeping the gorgeous dark tone you have in your playing."
--a sax player

"Sometimes when you're holding a longer note to its finish, it's hard to tell if you're using vibrato because it gets a little uneven/airy sounding."
--a horn player

"A few of the grace notes (or quicker notes) sounded too flippant. I missed the effect of the short interruptions in the melody."
--a flute player

"I really love your feel for this piece. Your playing is extremely mature and I really appreciate how comfortable you are taking lots of time in between phrases."
--another flute player

"The way you arrived at the end of the middle section (immediately prior to the recap) sounded perfect for an ending. If you are going to do this, perhaps pausing a moment longer before continuing will create some tasty tension in the audience."
--a trombonist

"Cool ending"
--a euphonium player

"I liked the kind of schizophrenic nature that it had and yet you had such a peace that it all flowed really naturally. But I really liked your sound."

More Spring Ice

It's supposed to get up near 50 degrees today, but intricate patterns of frost and ice can still be found within the little nooks and crannies of shadow kept relatively immune to the day's increasing warmth.

I enjoyed getting some close ups of this puddle in particular. The swirly topo-map-esque patterns reminded me a lot of my own drawing.

February 16, 2012

Late riser

Man...I am TIRED!

I've got so much going on these days that my mind feels totally wasted and sluggish. I slept in a little late this morning, but caught a few photos of the rising sun through some morning fog.

February 13, 2012

I intended to post these sooner, but my day has been frantic.

Sunrise was spectacular this morning.


February 12, 2012

Dawn Mirage

I've just begun my day-long job as "door monitor" for the NOI auditions taking place today at NU. Can you believe it...I'm getting paid $12 per hour to sit in Regenstein's front lobby, let people in the front door, give them directions to the practice/audition rooms, and then let them into the practice room area. Oh...and I had to post signs around the building to label all these spots as well. So far a total of 6 people have arrived and that includes the actual auditioner and one parent. About 30 people are expected to audition between now and 4:00 pm and as I await their arrivals I've got this post to write, a book to read, a CV to tweak, and maybe some music or podcasts to listen to if I start to get really bored.

In order to be able to get all my practicing in today, I arrived at Regenstein a few minutes before it opened at 7:00, and as an added bonus I got to watch the sun come up...something I haven't really done in a while.

The coolest thing I noticed this morning was a striking mirage that stretched between the water and a layer of clouds way off over the distant horizon.

...woo hoo! auditioners # 7 and 8 just arrived. I'm workin' hard I tell ya!


Here are the pictures I took...

And a non-zoomed-in shot of the whole scene...

More good news. I landed a couple more jobs for this week and next.

Brace yourselves...

I'm going to babysit for one of the doctoral trumpet students and his wife so they can treat themselves to a romantic Valentine's Day dinner, and then again for another date the following week. I realized after I agreed to help them out that I don't know how old their daughter is. From a previous get-to-know-you chit-chatting session think I remember him saying she was 2...or maybe 3...hmm...I guess I'll have to ask him later.

When I was a teenager I tried my hand at babysitting in the neighborhood. I was terrible at it. I was so shy at the time that I was usually even scared of the kids I was watching, and if someone's baby started crying and I couldn't get him/her to stop, I usually became so flummoxed that I'd start to cry too. I'm still not all that great with kids--especially babies. I have a terrible time figuring out what to do with them and I'm still pretty intimidated by their smallness and fragility.

My trumpet friend said they'd put their daughter to bed before I arrive and that all I'd have to do was be around to monitor things and make sure everything stays safe and sound. Though I'm a little nervous and already trying to plan my how-to-be-good-with-a-child strategy, the promise of earning a little extra money is keeping me in the "I can do this" mindset.

I can do this...whew...

February 11, 2012


We had a NASTY blizzard last night. Not much snow--maybe a half an inch or so--but the wind!!! UFF DA!!!!!

This morning a departing bank of clouds took center stage above the lake...

It's funny that I still label these occasional morning pictures "daily sunrise." They seem to get more occasional as the days go by. This has been true lately for a couple of reasons. First, as we've had an unusually mild winter this year, the lake hasn't been quite as bizarrely picturesque as it was last year. Without massive ice flows and stretches of sub-zero temperatures that unpredictably change the lake's surface from a frozen tundra to a gigantic mirror within the space of a day or two, I've been a little less inclined to lose sleep in order to make the sunrise.

Second, I've been insanely busy these days finding ways to both hold on to the few pennies I still possess (though I already live so frugally it's difficult to find anything else to cut), and seek out ways to earn more of them. I've been in panic mode because unless I find a regular source of income--even a small one--I'm going to go broke before the end of the school year. In addition to taking part in as many research studies as I possibly can ($6 here and $6 there helps a little) I've submitted countless applications for every entry-level no-brainer job I can think of, still without any luck. The main problem as far as I can tell is that everyone is looking for someone who is outgoing, gregarious, sociable, and "fun", and as I complete the personality-assessment portions of job applications I can't claim to possess those traits and still honestly answer the question that inevitably comes up later on the page, "Do you sometimes lie to make yourself look better?"

About a week ago I heard about a new book just out that looks like it addresses my predicament head on. Quiet by Susan Cain explores the difficulties that natural introverts, like myself, encounter both when applying for jobs and then later as they try to survive within today's typical work environments. Here's an excerpt from an NPR interview about the book that spoke so well to my past and current experiences that it gave me goosebumps:

"We moved from what cultural historians call a culture of character to a culture of personality. During the culture of character, what was important was the good deeds that you performed when nobody was looking...But at the turn of the century, when we moved into this culture of personality, suddenly what was admired was to be magnetic and charismatic."

Here's a link to an excerpt from the book if you are further interested.

Though I haven't read more than the excerpt above, I gather that her argument is not that extroversion is bad and introversion is good, but rather that our current culture is unhealthily imbalanced to favor those who work well in open sociable environments, while those who operate more effectively in calmer spaces and perform well as individuals are shut out or struggle as they are forced to conform to an ideal that grates on their nature. I'm interested in reading more. Hopefully the book will come to my local library soon!

Anyway, though I've been thus far discouraged in my search, I've made it a point to do at least one thing per day that will either get me some cash in the short term or further my prospects for making money in the future. I finally put my name into the NU "gig referral service," I apply for every local part-time job I might qualify for as soon as I hear about it, I have an appointment with the NU career office on Monday to have my resum├ęs evaluated and go through a list of questions I've typed up about how I can set myself up for a measure of success in the days, months, and years to come, I contacted a faculty member from the NU art department who gave me a list of places I can go to see about exhibiting and/or selling some of my art, I'm becoming a research-subject-pro and have signed up to be a "healthy control" for a number of upcoming medical studies--though when or if they'll call me is iffy (and no mom, these do not involve me taking any medication...I would never put my body through that kind of madness), I'VE GOT A JOB TOMORROW making $12 per hour for 7 hours helping out with an audition that's taking place on campus, there's one really great (but temporary) job I hope to apply for that's been getting ALL my extra energy at the moment (more on that later if my application comes together well), and I obsessively check Musical Chairs for any new audition listings from around the globe that are advertised there.

Fortunately I DO have an Easter gig (yay!), I DO have one final loan disbursement that I'll get at the beginning of next quarter (whew!), and I DO have a summer job lined up (I'll be a music librarian at the good ol' IMC again!), so all is not lost...there are a few short-term helps on the way.

So anyway, I hope you can forgive my having disappeared from the radar lately. I'm doing my best.

February 1, 2012


The effects of a warm day on the iced-over Northwestern campus pond...