The Day I Walked Away From My Horn…
I am at the point in my career where I’m comfortable taking a day off from playing my trumpet every once-in-a-while. I’ve learned that the world doesn’t end because I didn’t practice for one day. There were so many times that my teachers and colleagues pressed me to ‘practice everyday’ that it instilled a sense of fear and foreboding in me that made me think that I’d lose all my technique just for skipping a 24-hour period.
That outside pressure worked, too! From my sophomore year of high school in 1981 until late 1987 I rarely missed a day unless I was just too ill. I had a forced break of ten weeks in 1987 when I went thru Air Force basic and tech school (basic was 40 days, and Admin tech school was only 30 days) and I picked the horn right back up after that. I’ve had only two other extended breaks since then. I took seventeen days off in late 2010 when I was recovering from cervical spine surgery (they replaced C5 and C6), and another seventeen days off in 2016 when I was recovering from surgery for kidney cancer (lost my entire right kidney). I’m not sure why both of those times ended up being seventeen days. Totally coincidental, right? Maybe.
I push myself really hard to keep my chops in shape. I don’t mean that I abuse my chops, rather, I push myself to keep them in shape for anything that may come up. That means playing Bb, C, flugel, piccolo, and in as many styles as possible, on a daily basis. I make sure to keep my single and multiple tongue agile and clean, my flexibility fluid, my range (low and high), and my pitch centered during my daily practice, among other things. To me, pitch and quality of sound are the things that get assaulted when I play in certain groups, so I have to make sure that I refocus things the next day.
Anyway, back to taking time off. All of the responsibility of staying in shape on the trumpet, coupled with being a father, husband, den leader, scout leader, teacher, performer, business owner, band leader, etc., can and has taken its toll on me in the form of mental fatigue. Along with the practice time I simply exhausted myself. So much so that at the end of April of this year I was actually contemplating walking away from the trumpet for good. It was demanding too much from me. Or, rather, I was letting it demand too much.
As of writing this blog the last time I touched my trumpet was June 1st. That’s nineteen days ago. In those day’s I’ve gone on a week-long camping trip with my family, a week here at the house preparing for two weeks of scout camp, and then finishing that first week of scout camp just yesterday. Was it a cathartic experience? Maybe. Did I have an epiphany? No. What did the time off do for me? It allowed me to focus on what really matters. Sure, I love my family and provide for them with what I do. But, if I’m not really present when I’m around them because I’m too worried about practice time or getting another email out to scouts or my agent, then I’m really not present at all.
After nineteen days how do I feel? I feel great! This is the first time I’ve walked away from the horn voluntarily, and I feel great! My head is clear. I’m refocused and I’m actually looking forward to picking my horn back up today when I finish this blog entry. I’ve had time to clear some stuff out of my life and focus on my family and it has been wonderful. I know that my trumpet doesn’t define me, just as being a scout leader, or band leader doesn’t define me. What defines me is that I know I care more for myself and my family and friends more than anything else. That stuff is what I do, and not who I am. It’s good that I know that and it is good that my family knows that and that they know that I know it, too…🙂
What’s going to change. Not a great deal other than I need to remain aware of what’s really importance and keep my focus on my family. The rest of the stuff will fall into place. I’m good at it and will keep improving at that stuff, but I want it be in the right place at the right time. I love playing my trumpet. When I do clinics it is very often that a student will ask me what my favorite place to play is/was. My answer is always, “right here and right now.” I have as much fun playing my horn with students as I do in the studio or on the stage. I have fun sitting at the back of the orchestra counting rests and messing with the horn section as I do being at the edge of the stage with The Forge.
I’m happy when I’m playing. I’m also happy when I’m not. It’s a cool thing to figure out and be aware of. I can’t imagine retiring from trumpet, but I’d rather lose my ability to play the trumpet before I lose the ability to love my family. I’m grateful to have gained a fresh perspective here as of late.
I know I’ll get my chops back in shape in about a week and I’ll have fun doing it. Now, don’t tell my students that I took time off or they’ll think they can do it, too! Oh, yeah, I’m thankful to have friends and colleagues like you. Thanks for reading this, and I look forward to the next time we get to share in making some music together.