Releasing the Musician Within

By Mark Van Cleave
©1997  MVC

As a trumpet teacher, I have always pondered over this question: Is it possible to increase a persons innate musicianship or musical potential. While in College, I recorded recitals as a way of making a little extra money. This afforded me the opportunity to listen to many more recitals and performances than I would have normally attended. Some good, some not so good. Many of these were trumpet recitals.

One of the things that I noticed was that the trumpet and brass recitals, for the most part, were not as polished as many of the other instruments. Many of the these trumpet recitals would end in disappointment for both the performer and listener alike. For a brief moment I thought: "Wow! I wonder if trumpet players are just less musical." This thought lasted for about ten seconds. Then it hit me: "It's not that trumpet and brass players are innately worse musicians than woodwind, string, piano, or vocal performers. It's just that when you play the trumpet (or any brass instrument for that matter) it is more difficult to get the music that resides inside your head to be realized on the other end of the bell." Unfortunately, this is where it really counts. Nothing else really matters. It's all about how you sound

I can't tell you how many performances of the Haydn trumpet concerto I have heard when you can hear the fear of God in the first note; "I hope I can hit that high E flat on the top of the second page." This fear turns into a form of anxiety that affects every note and every breath, nearly taking away any chance the player has of ever hitting the E flat. So much thought goes into the potential disaster at the top of the second page that all of the music has been forgotten. No thought of phrasing, tone, or music enters the performers mind this point, it's all over. Even if they manage to get the high E flat to sound, all of the music before and after this elusive note has been sacrificed and the performance has been ruined.

In spite of the mechanical breakdown that destroyed the following performance, it is rare that it is ever recognized by teachers as part of the poor musical performance. Many trumpet and brass teachers that concentrate on these physical or mechanical aspects of playing end up being regarded as chop doctors or high note specialists that have little to do with music. I have discovered through my own teaching experience that there is a very important order of priority when it comes to what skills are necessary to produce a musical performance. This order of priority starts with the most basic of mechanical skill and ends with musical interpretation.

If you can't even hit the elusive high E flat, there is no way that you will ever make music playing the Haydn concerto. When you have developed the skill necessary to hit this note consistantly, this is when you can actually start thinking about making music, not just hitting notes. If the skills have not been developed, the music can never be released. Even if you have a great musical mind, it is not enough to produce a great musical performance. A great race car driver could never win a race if he always drove junkers.

The quality of the performers mechanical skill determines the percentage of the musical mind that can be released. Back to the original question; I'm not sure exactly how to increase someone's innate musical potential, however, I have found that by concentrating on developing mechanical skills you can increase the percentage of the music inside your head that can be released during a performance. Many teachers and schools push music and literature at the student in an attempt to improve the students musicianship. I'm not sure that this approach alone produces anything other than a well rounded and educated listener.

Learning to release the musician within requires a combination of both carefully developed mechanical skill and innate musicianship.

Remember: A great performance is one that combines both mechanical skill and a keen sense of musicianship. ....It is not the trumpet business, it's the music business!




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