Bill Adam

An excerpt from Zen and the Art of Trumpet Playing © 1996

By Mark Van Cleave
©1996 MVC

“There’s always room at the top”.

-Bill Adam

            Growing up in Indiana,there was only one real choice for music schools if you wanted to be a performer.  Indiana University School of Music.  Not only is it a state University with low priced in state tuition, it is also the largest music school in the world.  If I was to study music in college, this would be the place for me to do it.  This is where I met Bill Adam.

           When I showed up at I.U. in 1978, Bill Adam was already somewhat of a legend.He was the first studio teacher hired at the school. He had also been there longer than any of the other studio teachers.  He also taught more students each semester than any of the other studio teachers. This guy was motivated.  This motivation had a way of rubbing off on his students. 

           This motivation could be seen by the number of his trumpet students that could be heard practicing from early in the morning until late into the evening.  Because of this, the third floor of the practice building became known as the trumpet floor.  If an unsuspecting freshman woodwind player or vocalist would be assigned a practice room on the third floor, it wouldn’t take long before the roar of trumpets would convince them to practice elsewhere.  There was such a demand on these rooms by trumpet players that you would have to get there before seven a.m. in order to guarantee an available practice room.  This was motivation.  This was also motivating.  It wasn’t difficult to become caught up in this practice fervor. 

           This kind of motivation is hard to make happen. You can’t force it to happen. This kind of motivation has to be inspired.  This is what Bill Adam did.   

           His studio was on the third floor of the building. On sunny days in the spring, you could look out and see third street buzzing with activity.  A combination of automobile and pedestrian traffic was in constant motion. 

           I’ll never forget my first lesson with Bill Adam. When I walked into Bill Adam’s studio for the first time, I saw old horns in his metal cabinet, a picture of Bud Herseth, the stack of old coffee cups that stretched from floor to ceiling, and I also saw Bill looking out his window. It was a sunny day and third street was predictably busy.  Bill said: “Come over here. Look out at all those pretty girls”.  He went on to point out some of the sights as well as the busy automobile traffic. After about a half an hour of sightseeing, he said:“You know, you have to keep your mind on what you’re doing around here! You could be out there on third street trying to cross the street and see a nice looking young could be hit by a car could be killed!  You have to keep your mind on what you’re doing, young man”!

           My horn didn’t come out of the case.  At first I was a little put off by the lack of apparent trumpet related content in this lesson.  However,after getting to know Bill and his method a bit better, it became very clear that, in fact, this was a very important lesson:  You have to keep your mind on what you’re doing!  This was the way Bill taught; direct but rarely obvious.

           One of Bill’s favorite phrases was: “Analysis is Paralysis.”  This was, in a way, the corner stone of his teaching method.  Always think about your sound.  Everything emanates from your sound.  Do not get bogged down with analysis.  This is extra and unnecessary baggage.  If you could put the Adam method into one sentence, it would go something like this:  It’s all in the sound.

© TPO 1992-2014