Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Be a World-Class Trumpeter (Or Anything Else You Pursue)

There is a fine, fine-line to follow to be a World-Class Anything.  Although I won't blatantly say it (I may blatantly think it), musicians may have a steeper incline to climb on their way to the top.  I have played the trumpet off-and-on (through high school, college, grad school, and law school [performing in groups and bands at all stages]) for 15 years.  I am in no-way a world class trumpeter.  But I have again returned to the horn to prepare for an expected debut at "The Phoenix" in Downtown Kansas City, Missouri.  I have seen remarkable increase in skill this time 'round.  I've seen more increase this time than any other time.  The lessons I've followed are the secret to becoming a World-Class talent in anything you pursue.
Eliot Elisofon painting found at Art.com

1.) Don't Care How it Sounds - This is counter intuitive and nearly impossible to do, but it is a REQUIREMENT for success.  When you are practicing your talent you must ignore the ugly sound that is coming from your instrument.  You're getting an ugly sound because your body has not been strengthened to handle the stress that playing requires.  Like any skill, that skill must be developed and honed.  Once the skill is developed the sound will change.  Playing will become easier, the sound will be musical, and your body will be strengthened to continue building.

The example that illustrates this is doing push-ups.  If you haven't done push-ups in a while (or EVER!) it will be difficult to finish 10.  But you can't worry about not making it to 10.  You know that next time you'll do 6 . . . and then 7 . . . and then 10!  And you will be heading towards 20 before you know it!

This is the same in leadership, business, law, engineering, ballet, baseball, mathematics, etc. (whatEVER you do!).  Your first few attempts will be ugly and unrefined.  You will feel inadequate and feel like you're attempting something outside of your giftings.  Ignore the sound and keep playing.  You'll begin to become skilled.

2.) Don't be Afraid of the High-Notes - Other trumpeters will understand this immediately (even though every other trumpeter out there is cocky to a point of nausea (yes, even you and even me).  The higher notes on a trumpet are harder to play.  The lips must be tight enough to restrict the air-flow increasing the pitch while pushing through enough air to make a sound.  Strong muscles and intense air-flow create a higher note.  I see a note above the staff and I freak-out.  I think, "Oh man! This is going to take a lot or I'm going to mess up!"  The failure is what scares us cocky trumpeters.

found at ilearnmusic.com
As I've been practicing alone, knowing that the high notes will be hard, I've had to decide I will not be afraid (and not care if it doesn't sound good - see how that works and why its fundamental).  I decided to embrace trying.  The more I attempt to reach a note, the more my muscles will recognize when I do it again and again.  Eventually I'll hit that note with ease.  I've actually been playing Gs and As above this high F pictured (which I haven't before).

The Application? Ok, ok, be patient . . . High notes are the trumpeters glory.  Whatever you're pursuing has a pinnacle of success that says, "When you can do this, you've arrived."  Think about what you want to achieve in your field. That is your high-note.  Do NOT be afraid of going for that high-note.  When you go for it, don't care how it sounds and understand your first attempts are strengthening your resolve to reach it later, which you will.

3.) Play to Failure - As I'm practicing and my lips get tired, it becomes harder to keep playing.  The higher notes become the sounds of silence and my tone suffers.  When I attempt drills and the last few notes of the drill are nothing but wind, playing to failure becomes my mantra (although it is hard to recite this over and over with a hard piece of metal jammed against my lips and teeth).

Playing to failure is the only way to increase your ability.  When those sounds stop, and my wind and mouth are still going, I'm building the skill to play longer and harder next time.  The next time I'll be able to play a few notes further, and then further.  But I CANNOT care that my tone is bad (or even silent).  I must FINISH the drill or measure of music.  Stopping in the middle ceases the muscle growth and halts progress.  I'll rest for 15 seconds and do it again.  This time I play higher or longer.  I don't quit because my instrument quits.  My instrument is only as good as I am.  I keep going, and growing, and succeeding.

In your pursuits, you WILL absolutely fail.  You should begin to understand that this is your only path to success.  Every time you fail you should be excited for the growth during the last few notes of silence.  Every time you fail you should rest and pick up where you left off.  You will continue to perform longer and higher.  You must play to failure.  Your failure will transform into excitement, your excitement into success.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Love that Conquers All

From NFL.com
The National Football League (NFL) is on the receiving end of antitrust litigation.  The players, unionized under under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) as the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), are suing the league owners to enjoin them from a lockout.  For the remainder of this post I will assume that you reader, don't understand this topic.  I normally give much more credit than that, but for some reason the NFL/NFLPA disputes are shrouded with mystery and intrigue.

The NFLPA filed to decertify themselves as a union and then filed a lawsuit.  Decertification may sound like the players are disbanding and will not play again!  But in all actuality, it is required for the players to use the courts for relief. Under the National Labor Relations Act a group of workers is allowed to form a union and negotiate using an elected official.  Both parties (in this case the team owners and the NFLPA) must negotiate to form an agreement called a collective bargaining agreement.  Both parties must come to the table and negotiate in good faith.  They don't necessarily have to reach an agreement, but they must fail in good faith.  Neither side can go to the courts while negotiating a CBA.  This is why the NFLPA decertified.  It doesn't mean they are going on strike. It means they can now pursue legal remedies available to a group of plaintiffs that are not available to a negotiating union.  Once the NFLPA decertified, the owners locked the players out. The infamous (as in The Three Amigos definition: "More than famous") Judge David Doty of the United State District Court of the District of Minnesota will again determine the fates of the new American Pastime.

From Blecherreport.com
A lockout is a stoppage of all league activities.  No trades, no negotiation, no planning for next season . . . nothing.  If a lockout continues, the 2011 football season will cease to exist in the NFL.  Why such extreme measures?

The NFLPA wants to increase the salary cap (the amount each team can spend on player salaries), keep the season at a 16 game schedule, and increase the retirement pension benefits paid to retired players from the owners (there are many other demands not listed here). They would like to have a revenue based cap that increases as the teams revenue increases.  Basically, as the players bring more money into the team revenue, they have the opportunity to by paid more (that makes sense in a performance-based, capitalistic society . . .).  The NFL is a $9 billion a year industry, a player's average time in the NFL is 2 - 3.5 years.  The owners seem to have a secure financial horizon, whereas players can be removed quickly from the industry that is on their backs.

From Schooloan.org
So here comes the big question: Why would either side risk SO much money for their demands?  I think that both sides realistically understand that there will be a 2011 season.  I think both sides will give in before it comes to not having a 2011 season.  The players do not have the time to strike and the owners cannot sustain not having a $9 billion industry.  Actually $9 billion is only the amount the NFL sees.  What about countless pizzas bought on Sunday night, Monday night, or Thursday night? What about countless beers consumed through the time frame of a televised game? What about enormous amounts of money poured into Sunday afternoon wing parties at Buffalo Wild Wings, Wing Stop, and Hooters?  How about the fuel costs to travel to your rivals city to jeer the home-team fans?  And the body-paint, posters, ink used for programs . . . And don't forget about the big-screen TVs purchased for "The Big Game" (the NFL has attempted to receive copyright protection of the phrase "The Big Game" and I'll probably owe money from this blog post).

The owners? The players?  What about our economy?  I don't think our economy can sustain the failure of the NFL and NFLPA to reach a new CBA.  I hope the NFL and NFLPA figure out they cannot afford to not play.  I hope their love of money conquers their stubbornness.  I hope they agree to continue pleasing us with bone-crushing hits, nail-biting 2-minute drives, and relationship building (and ending) fantasy football office pools!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Off With His Head!

"The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. "Off with his head!" she said . . ."
John Tenniel's Queen of Hearts
found on Wikipedia
~Lewis Carroll

According to the New York Times, and reported by the ABA Journal, a Louisiana prisoner was surgically castrated this past week after being charged with sexual assault.  The man accepted a plea bargain and agreed to the procedure (this also happened in Chicago in 2000).

I can imagine the uproar and upheaval that will come from civil liberties groups accusing the judicial system of "cruel and unusual punishment."  The phrase "cruel and unusual punishment comes from several places, including the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  This has been debated over and again, but I think everyone can agree this refers to torture and other socially unacceptable forms of criminal punishment (some have even broadened it to mean "humiliating" punishment . . . which probably wasn't the intention when put in place).

I'm not going to argue whether or not castration is cruel or unusual (I don't think it is, and I may commit a post to the reasons why, but I'll save it for later).  I do think this piece of news brings up a few issues that should be discussed by those legislating for our nation.

The first issue is the whether a convicted sex offender should have a choice, plea bargain or otherwise, in the punishment.  Realistically, what message are we sending to sexual deviants with our justice system?  After the sexual assaulter is convicted, serves a little jail time, and is put on parole, they register their names in a database.  A database that must be searched out.

Recidivism is very high among sexual predators.  Many sex offenders return to molestation immediately on release.  And then they go through the same motions as before.  They may serve a little more jail time, but essentially, they'll be out on the hunt again.  Should they be allowed to choose whether they will be castrated? Does our system believe that a multiple conviction deviant has a right to choose the punishment when countless victims were forced to receive cruel and unusually deviant assault on their innermost physical and mental sanctums?  Are we, as a nation of laws, really going to tell sexual predators that the worst that could happen to them is castration . . . if they so choose?

The second issue contains a broader debate that may not have a resolution.  I'll explain it in an example.  If all punishments for all crimes are the same severity, it nearly incentivizes committing the more severe crimes (for if stealing a pencil receives the same severe punishment as stealing an automobile, it makes it reasonable to try for the auto).  If all punishments are equally passive, it incentivizes the same direction (for if stealing an automobile receives the same light sentence as stealing a pencil, it makes it reasonable to steal the auto).

If sexually molesting a 9 year old girl receives the same punishment as writing a number of bad checks (three months of jail time, with 12 months of a suspended sentence, future parole) then a message is sent to sexual predators.  The message? "If you're going to break the law, break it in a way that satisfies your deviant mind and ruins, nay, TAKES the lives of many."

By the way, the prisoner that was castrated was charged with 6,000 counts of aggravated oral sexual battery and molestation of a juvenile, with accusations of molesting young girls for more than 20 years!  He plead guilty to 3 counts . . .