“But I’m a Music Education Major!”

My apologies for failing to post anything here last week. April is a busy month in all university music programs, I’m sure, and ours is no exception. Given the volume of work and the lack of available time, to forego last week’s blog post was an easy and necessary decision. While I’m sure no one fretted about not reading my weekly ruminations last week, it seemed apropos to explain last week’s silence.

As my thirteenth year of teaching applied music at the university level nears its end, I continue to ponder the necessity and importance of applied lessons on a major instrument for music education students (i.e. those preparing for careers as school music teachers). The majority of students that have come through my studio over the years have been aspiring band directors—in fact, I can count on both hands the number of performance majors I have taught regularly over the course of my career thus far. In most respects, I am happy that this is the case, as I find it impossible to in good conscience release a large number of performance students into a job market that simply does not have a place for all of them. I even actively discourage undergraduates from majoring in performance, telling them that the music education degree, with its associated teaching license and higher likelihood of future gainful employment, is a much better option (unless, of course, they hate children). If they wish to pursue graduate training in performance they can still do that with the music education degree provided that they practice sufficiently (that path worked for me, at least).

While I am happy working primarily with future band directors, this is not without its frustrations, particularly as students advance in their studies toward teaching observations, score study, and teaching practica of various kinds. Advanced music education students sometimes begin to question the importance of applied lessons and individual practice. This questioning is rarely verbalized and perhaps not even conscious, but is evidenced by a reduced commitment to lesson preparation on the part of some students. For my part, I continue to emphasize the importance and even the practicality of major instrument study for music education students. While there are many arguments that can be brought to bear on this question, those that I use most can be grouped under one of the following headings.

1. Development of Comprehensive Musicianship

Perhaps the most important benefit of applied study for music education students is the development of comprehensive musicianship. I have over the years read arguments that music education curricula should be altered so that instead of spending three or four years perfecting skills on a single major instrument, each student instead spends a year or so of in-depth study of at least one instrument from each family, perhaps culminating in a recital of intermediate-level works on all of these instruments. While I understand the rationale behind this argument, I disagree with it, not because it threatens my livelihood (it wouldn’t; I would simply spend most of my time teaching intermediate-level lessons), but because it eliminates the primary forum in which students develop advanced expressive and interpretive skills. To be able to play “musically” on an instrument requires mastery of its technique, and changing “major” instruments every semester or every year would rob students of the opportunity to gain sufficient technical mastery to even begin exploring advanced interpretive ideas, ideas that can be effectively transferred to the student’s future work on the podium. The various “methods” classes that are part of every music education program should be sufficient to give students rudimentary playing skills on all instruments (suitable for demonstrating for beginning players, at least). When teaching advanced players, though, the ability to pick up one’s major instrument and beautifully demonstrate a phrase from any part of the score can be an effective part of one’s rehearsal technique. Major instrument study is what gives our students the opportunity to become the best musicians they can be, with an interpretive “toolbox” that will serve them whether they are playing or conducting (or, for that matter, writing, arranging, or doing any number of musical tasks).

As an aside, I do not think it is a coincidence that some of the best band directors I have known have had advanced degrees in performance….

2. Development of Rehearsal Technique in the Practice Room

Students should be encouraged to think of their preparation for each weekly lesson as a forum for developing and refining rehearsal technique. Ken Lewis, my band director at Delta State University and professor in my band conducting and band methods courses, told us that effective band directors follow a three-step process to correct problems with an ensemble: “Detect, Diagnose, Remedy.” First, hear the problem. Then, identify the problem and its likely cause or causes. Finally, based upon this diagnosis, prescribe a remedy. An ineffective director often will skip the middle step. He will hear the problem, and then without diagnosis immediately proceed to the “remedy,” which is, more often than not, to “do it again and hope it’s better.”

Similarly, those students whose work in the practice room consists solely of “playing it a few times and hoping for improvement” rarely get very far as players. Those who hear a problem and then take the time to figure out what the problem is and what is causing it before proceeding are much more productive in the practice room, and this skill set transfers directly to their work as band directors. Perhaps this is why I have known a number of successful band directors that were never more than “okay” players, but I have never met a successful band director that during his or her college years did not learn how to go into the practice room, fix problems, and emerge having made some real improvement.

3. “Side Gigs” Are a Good Thing

The first two items on this list are the most immediately applicable to the future music teacher’s preparation, but the following three are also reasonable, if less important and treated more briefly. First of all, everyone likes to make a little extra money, and the music teacher that is a proficient player can in some markets earn a sizeable side income performing in local churches, with regional orchestras, teaching private lessons, or in other venues.

4. Non-Hypocrisy Also Is a Good Thing

This one might seem like “low-hanging fruit,” but I think it has some validity. I personally find it impossible to tell my students to do something that I am not willing to do myself. I tell them to play through a comprehensive daily routine each day, and I do so, as well. I tell them to play through an extended sequence of scales and arpeggios in at least one key each day, and I do so, as well—in fact, mine is more than twice as long as the one most of them do.

Likewise, the music teacher that admonishes his students to practice regularly, and yet never did so himself, has a credibility problem. I’m not saying that every band director should be practicing two hours a day—in fact, I know better than most applied teachers that finding *any* time for regular practice is a challenge given the average band director’s schedule. However, being able to say, if only to oneself, that “when I was a student I practiced at least as much as I am telling my students to practice,” lends a little bit of “moral authority” to one’s admonitions.

5. You Never Know…

Finally, “you never know.” When I started my undergraduate studies I had every intention of spending my career as a school band director, and I was well into my junior year before I decided to “have a go” at graduate degrees in performance and possibly a career as an applied teacher at the tertiary level. Because I had already established effective individual practice techniques, I was able to simply increase the amount of time I was practicing and the breadth of literature covered and found myself able to successfully audition for graduate school, be awarded a teaching assistantship, and start along the path which led to my present position. Had I used my ambition to become a band director as an excuse for insufficient practice habits, that door would have been closed to me. Music education students that are even entertaining the possibility of a career path other than that of a public school teacher should especially strive to develop their playing skills. After all, “you never know….”

Applied study of one’s major instrument is an important and necessary part of the future music teacher’s preparation. I hope these thoughts will be helpful for applied teachers who sometimes struggle to convince students of the importance of individual practice, and for busy students who might find themselves wondering “why do I have to do this?” There is a purpose, and this will contribute to your success. Get to work!

Posted in Career Choices, Daily Routine, Education, Higher Education, Music, Music Education, Performing, Playing Fundamentals, Practicing, Scales and Arpeggios, Teaching Low Brass

“Live in the Now:” A Brief Addendum to My Thoughts on Performance Anxiety

In my essay posted two weeks ago I addressed the topic of performance anxiety, and judging by the statistics regarding that post a number of people found it useful, or at least worth reading and discussing. In thinking and talking about this topic with a few students over the course of the past week I have thought of an additional item that I would like to bring to my readers’ consideration. Stated briefly, one might entitle these thoughts “Live in the Now.”

Quality performance recordings are of great importance to musicians. The application process for graduate programs often includes the submission of audio or video recordings of live performances. After graduation, a quality “demo” CD or DVD is even more important for those seeking employment as performers or teachers of performance. Professional performers and college/university teachers alike use live recordings to market themselves to contractors and prospective students. Indeed, in every solo performance one hopes not only to make a good impression upon the live audience, but also to obtain a (near-)perfect recording for future use.

This desire for a great recording is normal, understandable, and perhaps even laudable, but it can be poisonous to the performance anxiety sufferer. Already fearing the opinion that the audience present in the room might have if any part of the performance is subpar, the nervous musician sinks even further into his anxiety when he considers that he is not only playing for that audience but is also seeking to produce a recording worthy of being heard by prospective employers, contractors, and students. There is only “one take,” and pondering that reality makes a nerve-racking situation even more so.

I know this because I have experienced it. As I said in my earlier post, I am writing this as a “pilgrim on the way,” not as one who has overcome, at least not entirely. Still, I have a suggestion for addressing this cause of performance anxiety: learn to enjoy the moment. “Live in the now.”

In several of my past writings, including that of two weeks ago, I have emphasized the need for the performer to entertain and serve the audience. Focusing upon “what they think of me” is not a healthy attitude, particularly during the performance itself. Likewise, thinking of “how I can use this performance for future self-promotion” is unhealthy, and can beget additional anxiety. Let go of all of that, and remember that you are there to entertain, to edify, and to serve the audience there in the room with you. Remember that playing music should be fun, and allow yourself to enjoy the moment. Remember even that the audience wants you to enjoy yourself and play well, and is unlikely to notice minor errors if you do not draw attention to them.

And if there are imperfections in the performance, learn what you can from them, but don’t dwell on them. Use the best parts for your “demo” recording and discard (or archive) the rest.

Compiling a great “demo” recording of live performances is extremely important, but this should not be in the forefront of the performer’s mind while on stage. To do so only increases anxiety and robs the present audience of the attention it deserves. Enjoy the moment, serve the audience, make great music, and repeat. Perform well and often and you’ll have no difficulty putting together a fine recording.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)

Posted in Performance Anxiety, Performing, Playing Fundamentals, Practicing, Teaching Low Brass, Worry

What Theological Education Has Done for Me

In April 2009 I began a nearly two-year process that has shaped and continues to shape my spiritual life and thinking on theological matters: I pursued and eventually completed a Certificate in Systematic Theology from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, though distance learning. At the time I was looking for some additional direction in my theretofore self-directed theological study, and was even considering leaving my present profession and entering the pastorate. Because my wife and I were childless then and both working full-time, I had the free time and financial means necessary to take up this pursuit. I chose PRTS because its promotional materials and available sample lectures communicated a combination of rigorous academic requirements, warm piety, confessional orthodoxy, and to be honest, low tuition that I found more appealing than its rival institutions. Additionally, its certificate programs required only 18 credit hours of coursework, while those at other schools required 30 or more—really the equivalent of a full master’s degree in any field other than theology. While PRTS was and is a young institution and was not accredited by the Association of Theological Schools at that time, I was assured that they were pursuing that accreditation. The seminary has since been fully accredited by ATS.

It has been more than three years since I completed this program, and life now is substantially different. I was just about halfway finished with the certificate when we adopted our son, and I know full well that both time and finances would prevent my entering such a program at this time in my life. I am teaching at a university with greater requirements for performing and publishing than my previous one, which also limits the time I have available for outside study. Furthermore, my family is now part of a larger church, and opportunities for putting the results of my studies to use in a formal setting are rightly slow in coming as we continue the process of finding places of service and involvement here. (That said, one might argue that my present position teaching preschool Sunday School is the most important teaching role I have ever had in the church!)

All of that said, given the opportunity, time, and money I would gladly continue my formal studies through PRTS or a similar institution. The benefits of the studies I was able to complete have been many; here are just a few of them:

1. Greater appreciation for the work of the pastor.

Taking 18 credits of systematic theology will certainly give one an appreciation for the “academic side” of a pastor’s initial preparation, as well as the myriad considerations and hours of study that are part of the development of every sermon. Given the pastoral bent of the professor for all of my courses, Dr. Joel R. Beeke, I also received a glimpse into the practical challenges that are part of the pastor’s work. While “bi-vocational” ministries are sometimes necessary for pastors, they are far from ideal—it’s a full-time job!

2. More informed opinions on theological matters and related subjects.

I entered this program largely hoping to enhance the teaching ministries I had already enjoyed in several churches. Unsurprisingly, after 18 hours of systematics I know a whole lot more about theology, the Bible, and how these ideas apply to practically every area of life. However…

3. Greater appreciation for how much I don’t know.

Strangely enough, I have found myself less willing (really!) to voice my opinions about matters of theological discussion and controversy than I once was. I entered the program at PRTS having already read the Bible through several times in multiple translations, and thought I knew things pretty well. After hundreds of hours of listening, reading, studying, and reflection, I came to realize that even after these formal studies I had barely “scratched the surface.” Learned men have been plumbing the depths of God’s Word for centuries, and their findings, expositions, and reflections occupy thousands upon thousands of pages. The Bible alone yields new treasures upon every reading, while the thoughts of godly and erudite scholars give further “food for thought.” I know a great deal more of this than I once did…enough to be even more aware of what I do not know.

4. More awareness of the historical context of theological ideas and debates.

American evangelicals, like practically all people living in advanced societies today, tend to be very “present-minded.” Even those of us that are lovers of books tend to fill our shelves with the works of recent authors, and the result is an unhappy intellectual myopia. By its very name, PRTS displays a fondness for the works of sixteenth and seventeenth-century authors, and those men were in turn quick to cite sources extending back to the earliest days of the church. Reading and learning about the debates, circumstances, and struggles of the past is enlightening regardless of the subject area; when the subject is God and His Word, such study is humbling and inspiring, as well.

5. A “reticent eagerness” to serve.

When I began my studies I truly believed myself ready to serve the church in the office of elder. (I thought I knew a lot, remember?) While I am eager to serve the church in whatever way I can, I find myself much more tempered in my view of my own readiness for its highest “lay” office. Not only do I realize how much I have yet to learn about theology and the Bible, I realize even more just how much I have yet to learn about the challenges of bringing the teaching of God’s Word to bear upon the lives and struggles of real people. Maybe the Scriptures use the word “elder” to describe this office for a reason….

6. A removal (perhaps) of my pastoral ambitions.

I really did consider for a time leaving the music profession and the secular academy to become a pastor, and Dr. Beeke was kind enough to speak to me on the phone about it and offer his counsel. His advice: “If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of it.” He reiterated the difficulty of the work and the need for a real sense of calling if one was to persevere. For my part, I came to realize that loving God’s Word and enjoying the study of theology do not by themselves make a pastor. After completing my formal studies with PRTS I thus redoubled my efforts at pursuing my present vocation in a manner that glorifies God and edifies my students, colleagues, and others.

Still, in the back of my mind I sometimes wonder…and consider…and pray….

7. Exposure to pastors and theologians who continue to shape my thinking.

In other writings I have discussed my transition from Southern Baptist to Reformed Baptist to Presbyterian. I began my studies at PRTS in the middle part of that journey, and the men whose writings and sermons I came to know through those studies have been instrumental in furthering my growth in both understanding and piety. While I came to PRTS already knowing of many of the top pastors and scholars in the Presbyterian tradition, through my studies I first became aware of the Dutch Reformed tradition and the rich heritage that is there. My iTunes podcast list thus continued to grow, and my bookshelves become ever fuller. I only wish that the English translations of Dutch works were not as stilted as they sometimes are.

8. An informed opinion regarding distance education.

I cannot adequately say how thankful I am for these studies and how much I would encourage any Christian with the necessary desire, opportunity, and means to undertake a similar course. However, distance education (regardless of the field—not just theology) does have its limits, and I became keenly aware of these over the course of my studies. The spontaneous interactions with faculty and fellow students before and after classes, in the hallways, and elsewhere are an important part of the educational process that is not adequately replicated in online courses. The lack of access to a theological library (or a library with resources for whatever field one is studying online) can also be problematic; in his lectures Dr. Beeke would at times refer to a book chapter or article that students should read beyond those listed in the syllabus, and while on-site students could simply go to the library and do so, I had to purchase or otherwise procure those additional sources. The building of relationships with future colleagues is also an important part of post-secondary education in any field. For seminary students planning to enter the pastorate, classmates become that initial and sometimes lifelong “support group” when the difficulties of the pastor’s work begin to take their toll. These relationships don’t happen online! The same is true to one extent or another for professionals in every field. Finally, students must be very self-motivated to succeed in online courses. Often there is no set schedule, no regular class meeting time, and no reminder of due dates (if fixed due dates exist at all). I have seen many college students fail online courses because they simply forget to do the work. If you lack the drive to complete coursework without regular reminders to do so, distance education might not be for you.

If you love God, His Word, and His church, and have the means to do so, consider some kind of formal theological education. There are on-campus and online programs available at numerous institutions representing every denomination. For most folks, distance learning is the only viable option, and while imperfect, it can be both enjoyable and edifying. Still, if you find yourself considering the pastorate, an on-campus, residential program is definitely preferable.

Posted in Bible, Calvinism, Confessionalism, Distance Education, Doctrine of Vocation, Education, Higher Education, Instructional Technology, Practical Christianity, Presbyterianism, Providence, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Theological Education, Theology

Performance Anxiety

While a precious few of my readers are blessed with having no personal experience with the matter I am discussing today, most performing artists know it and know it well, and for some it can be debilitating at times. Performance anxiety is a frustrating challenge. Sufferers know it to be irrational and unpredictable, and yet most are unable to eliminate it entirely. Indeed, both I and my students have found “managing symptoms” or even achieving “remission,” to invoke concepts from the medical profession, to sometimes be more plausible goals than “cure.”

When I first began teaching university-level applied trombone lessons as a graduate assistant nearly thirteen years ago, I very self-consciously sought to hide any and all weaknesses in my playing and teaching. I am still a few months shy of age 35 now, so in the early years of my career I was usually very close in age to my students, and in a few cases I was younger than them. At that time I feared that admitting any weakness or ignorance would somehow damage my credibility in my students’ eyes. These days I am a little more “seasoned” and a lot more comfortable, and have discovered that being honest with students about areas with which I struggle or have struggled in my playing is very helpful to them in that I am able to speak from experience about steps that they can take to address the same issues. Today’s subject is an area in which I have made a great deal of progress, but still have some distance yet to go.

And so, in addressing the subject of performance anxiety I write very much as a fellow “pilgrim along the way,” not as one that has entirely “overcome.” Here are some ideas and steps to consider when dealing with this issue. Most of these can be tried simultaneously, and any can be modified as needed to fit a particular person or situation.

1. Practice. A lot.

Musicians accept as axiomatic the need for plentiful, rigorous, and daily practice, but perhaps few consider how much this helps one to manage performance anxiety. The more times one has successfully played a challenging piece or passage, the greater the likelihood of a successful performance. Furthermore, with greater practice comes greater honing of the physical structures and movements used in making music. The more “in shape” one is as a player, the more likely he is to be able to overcome the physical manifestations of performance anxiety.

2. Strive for Efficiency.

When practicing, and particularly when working on playing fundamentals, note any and all extraneous or inefficient movements (or, conversely, areas excessive tension or rigidity) in the body, and seek to eliminate them. These “nervous habits” often become magnified in stressful performance situations, and quickly go from being meaningless “quirks” to real liabilities.

3. Learn to Relax.

I have often noticed that when I am “just messing around” in the practice room I can play some difficult things very well and very efficiently, but then struggle with similar passages when actually “working at it.” Many of my students have noticed the same thing about their own playing. Why can we play certain things when we aren’t taking our playing seriously but not when we are? Often it is because we are not “getting in our own way” by introducing the useless nervous tensions that we often employ when we are “really trying.” While relaxation is no substitute for regular and diligent practice, I have found that making a “mental note” of the way that I play when “having fun” and then trying to replicate that way of using the body in a more stressful playing situation is very helpful.

4. Address “Problem Areas.”

Even the most nervous players can be successful on stage when performing repertoire that exploits their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. It is the weaker areas, the ones that sound fine but feel insecure in the practice room, that will both feel and sound poor on stage once “nerves” are introduced. Work extra hard to turn weaknesses into strengths!

5. Choose Repertoire Wisely.

As a follow-up to the previous point, when possible, choose performance repertoire that accentuates areas in which your playing is most secure, while drawing less attention to areas of difficulty. During his group warm-up session at the Eastern Trombone Workshop this week, SFC Sam Woodhead of the United States Army Band noted in passing that (I am paraphrasing here) “Even the best players in the world have ‘chinks in their armor,’ so to speak. They just do a good job of covering them.” I’ve been pondering that statement for a few days now, and I realize that I do a very poor job of applying this principle. Thinking back, my most successful solo performances (and, incidentally, those that were most enjoyable and least affected by nervousness) have been those in which I played repertoire that did not require me to “expose” any areas of significant weakness in my playing. While there is a place for practicing and sometimes even performing repertoire that forces one to address weaknesses, there is something to be said for choosing works that make you sound good. I have a habit of choosing music that I like without considering whether or not a given piece is a good piece of music for me, and this is a habit I will endeavor to change, beginning now.

6. Perform as Often as Possible.

An unhappy result of performance anxiety is that those that suffer from it become less enthusiastic about performing publicly. And yet, why do we become musicians if not to perform for others? Performing more frequently is an important part of addressing anxiety not only because there is no place in the profession for the “non-performing performer,” but also because fewer performances can lead the anxiety sufferer to believe that the “stakes are higher” for the performances that he does have. This leads to a spiraling cycle of increasing and debilitating nervousness. Performing more often, conversely, causes one to become more comfortable, to enjoy the increasing confidence brought by repeated successes, and to be able through honest appraisal and evaluation of experiences on stage to identify causes, symptoms, and solutions for specific instances of anxiety when they occur.

7. Be Humble, but Confident.

As a Christian, I reject as incompatible with my faith the arrogant type of personality both on and offstage that some associate with “great artists.” However, while Christ commends humility, there is a difference between humility and self-deprecation, the latter being unhealthy. Despite the haughty attitude that society sometimes expects of them, I have noticed over the years that the very best performers, regardless of their belief systems, carry themselves not with arrogance, but with what I will call a “settled confidence,” simply performing with a secure idea of the sound they wish to produce and with the expectation that the desired sound will in fact be produced. Cultivating this kind of outward demeanor, even when one’s inner emotions are full of nervous turmoil, helps with performance anxiety in two ways. First, it causes the audience to have better expectations; when they see nervousness they expect to hear it, and are more likely to notice minor blemishes as a result. More importantly, confident behavior can sometimes beget the actual feeling of self-confidence, with predictable and positive results.

8. Entertain and Serve Your Audience.

As performers we always hope that the audience will “like us,” but we must strive to make the performance not so much about us as about the audience. We are there to present great music for the audience to enjoy, and should strive to play in a way that is entertaining and uplifting for them first of all, and only secondarily fulfilling and gainful for us. Anxiety is in many ways a self-centered attitude, rooted in the fear that the audience may have a negative opinion of us. When the performer’s primary desire is shifted from the promotion of self to the edification of the audience, performance anxiety sometimes lessens as well. Perhaps paradoxically, the performer’s reputation receives a “boost,” as well!

9. “It’s Just a Trombone.”

The first International Trombone Festival I attended was the 2001 event at Belmont University in Nashville. Despite the passage of time, I still very clearly remember a talk given by Jim Miller, Assistant Principal Trombonist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. In that talk, he described his dismay at his inability after multiple auditions to move from a “middle-tier but still full-time” orchestra to a position like the one he now holds in one of the top orchestras in the country. Without repeating his entire story here, the discovery that “it’s just a trombone” was central to his renewed success, as he realized that he was taking himself and his career so seriously that he was unable to regain the skill, confidence, and enjoyment that were needed for him to enjoy the greatest success. For those of us that suffer from performance anxiety, the message here is to remember that “it’s just a trombone” (or whatever instrument one plays), that the negative impact of a poor performance is almost nil “in the grand scheme of things,” and that to be able to play and perform for others is a great privilege afforded to relatively few people. Don’t dread playing. Enjoy it!

10. “It Will Be Okay.”

The message of this last point is more suited to one of my occasional posts related to my Christian faith, and so I will leave expounding upon it at length for another day and another article. Suffice it to say for now that I am comforted by the promise that the God whose providence extends even to the smallest birds and to the hairs of my head will always care for and sustain His people (Matthew 10:29-31). Resting upon that promise always provides both perspective and relief in the face of anxiety.

Again, I write today not as one that has “arrived” but as one that still struggles from time to time with performance anxiety. Happily, those occurrences are less frequent and less severe than they once were, largely due to application of the ideas discussed above. I hope these thoughts will be helpful to musicians and others with similar struggles.

Posted in Eastern Trombone Workshop, Education, Higher Education, International Trombone Festival, Performance Anxiety, Performing, Playing Fundamentals, Practicing, Providence, Teaching Low Brass, Worry

“Gadgets and Gizmos:” Smartphone Apps to Improve Low Brass Teaching and Performance

The development of smartphones and other hand-held computing devices has brought rapid changes to the ways in which we live, work, and play. Not all of these changes are positive; I doubt I’m alone in reporting that I am more distracted and find myself less able to focus on long-term mental tasks (such as long periods of time reading difficult texts) than I did ten years ago. “The jury is still out,” as they say, regarding the benefits and risks of allowing young children to use these devices.

For now, though, it is enough to say that these devices are here, they’re not going anywhere, and they might as well be put to good use in brass playing and teaching. In today’s short post, I’ll present six apps that I use in my practicing and teaching, some on a daily basis. While there are many other such apps available for both iOS and Android devices, these are the ones that I have found to be the most useful.

1. FrozenApe Tempo, $1.99.

FrozenApe Tempo

FrozenApe Tempo

Long gone are the days when students needed to go to the music store and spend $10-20 or more on a small metronome with limited battery life and an amazing ability to be lost or stolen. Those that wanted advanced functionality would have to be prepared to pay well over $100. Now any student with a smartphone can purchase and use a metronome app with many advanced at a fraction of the cost, and with the benefits of a rechargeable battery and of “always” being with him. While there are other—some free—metronome apps out there, I have found this one to have the ease of use and volume produced that I want. While I don’t use the advanced features very much at all, there are a number here for those that are so inclined.

2. Peterson iStroboSoft Tuner, $9.99.

Peterson iStroboSoft Tuner

Peterson iStroboSoft Tuner

While at nearly $10 this tuner is pricey for a smartphone app, it offers the precision of a strobe tuner for what is still a fraction of the cost of the “hardware version.” As a low brass player and teacher, I am always looking for tuners that will accurately “hear” the lowest notes on the tuba and bass trombone, as many handheld tuners do not. This app does, which is a major selling point for me.

3. TonalEnergy Tuner, $3.99.

TonalEnergy Tuner: Waveform

TonalEnergy Tuner: Waveform

At first glance, this app might seem redundant, or perhaps it seems to make the previous two so, as it includes both a metronome and a tuner, in addition to a pitch generator and waveform analysis. It is the latter two functions which I find most useful here. The pitch generator can be useful to players that want to perform singing or mouthpiece buzzing exercises with a correct starting pitch while they are not near a piano or other instrument to provide that pitch. The waveform analysis is particularly helpful, as it gives players a visual indication of whether they are producing steady tones, and how many overtones are being generated.

TonalEnergy Tuner: Success!

TonalEnergy Tuner: Success!

I do not use the metronome function of this app very much because I find the FrozenApe Tempo app to be quite superior in that regard. The Peterson iStroboSoft Tuner is a marginally better tuner than this one, though I enjoy seeing the “happy face” that this app yields when I am in tune! Like the Peterson app, this one also can “hear” the low partials on tuba and bass trombone.

While there are other apps that perform certain functions better, this is the closest thing to a “do everything” app for musicians that I have found.

4. Randomizer Wheel, $0.99

"The Wheel of Doom"

“The Wheel of Doom”

This “virtual roulette wheel” can be programmed to randomly decide among the items on any list the user programs into it. I use it in each lesson to decide which of twelve scale routines the student will have to play for me, leading students to affectionately dub this app “The Wheel of Doom.” By using this app in lessons, I have created a situation in which the student is as likely to have to play an “easy” scale routine as a “hard” one, and I am thus prevented from “going easy” or “coming down” on a student for any reason. While I don’t use this app in my individual practice, some players might find the introduction of some “chance” into their routines to be beneficial.

The above four apps are the ones that I use the most frequently; I mention the two below simply because I find them interesting.

5. Decibel Meter Pro, $0.99

Decibel Meter Pro

Decibel Meter Pro

Honestly, I purchased this app because I wanted to see “objectively” how loudly I played at fortissimo. While there was an observable difference between dynamic levels, it was not as great as my ego had hoped. Still, this could be useful for demonstrating to students that their dynamic ranges are not as wide as they should be, or even for determining when noise levels in a performance space are too great and some sort of acoustic shielding is in order. Granted, such shielding is usually placed in front of the trombonists, not behind them….

6. iBone, $2.99

I have yet to think of a genuinely useful purpose for this app, but it’s still fun. This guy is much more skilled at it than I am!

Posted in "Gadgets and Gizmos", Education, Instructional Technology, Low Brass Resources, Music, Online Resources, Playing Fundamentals, Practicing, Scales and Arpeggios, Teaching Low Brass

Professional Organizations: Why, and Which Ones?

As a teacher, I am sometimes too reticent to direct students to spend money, with the exception of necessary sheet music purchases. Knowing how much the price of tuition has increased since I was in school and how indebted many students are, I can sometimes be far too slow to recommend or insist that a student invest in a new mouthpiece or even a new instrument, even when doing so would be hugely beneficial to the student.

While I like to think that my concern for my students’ financial well-being is a positive trait, my desire to avoid having them spend money can sometimes be taken too far. One area in which this is the case is that of professional organizations; more specifically, the fact that I too rarely mention them or recommend that students join them, despite most having significantly reduced membership fees for full-time students. I have been a member of most of the organizations I will mention below for a number of years, some since I was an undergraduate student. Membership in such organizations can provide even young students with a number of benefits, including the following:

1. Professional journals.

Most professional organizations, whether in music or another profession, produce a quarterly journal. While these vary in the quality of material included and in the “production values” of the publication (quality of printing, graphics, etc.), I have consistently found that each issue of every journal I receive will have at least one article that is useful or interesting to me. In our age of increasing digitalization, organizations such as the International Trombone Association and the International Tuba-Euphonium Association are making archive copies of their journals and other materials available online for members. This is a huge boon to research and study. Moreover, most of the benefits I have listed below are communicated at least in part by way of each organization’s printed journal.

2. Knowing who the “movers and shakers” are in a certain area of the profession.

When introducing certain ideas in applied lessons I sometimes mention the names of famous players or teachers from whom I learned certain ideas or that I know to be advocates of similar approaches. I do this, without shame, in order to establish credibility or increase the likelihood that students will immediately accept those ideas because of associations with such well-known individuals, and am disappointed when a student doesn’t know of the player to whom I am referring. Granted “famous” is a relative term, and being well-known in a small professional circle does not indicate that one is a “household name” beyond that limited group, but students should know who the main “movers and shakers” in their chosen profession are. Through their websites, journals, conferences, and other means, professional organizations help us to know “who’s who.”

3. Finding out what your peers at other institutions are doing.

Some professional journals print recital programs that are submitted to them. This is a great way for students (and faculty) to know what their peers at other institutions are playing, and to learn about new materials as well. (Confession: I am very bad in this area, and rarely remember to submit these programs myself.)

4. Learning about new “stuff.”

Whether through paid advertisements, news items, reviews, or some combination of these, professional journals help us to keep abreast of the newest sheet music, recordings, instruments, and other products and accessories that can help us in our work as players and teachers.

5. Learning about coming events.

There is lots going on in the music world, and our professional organizations are the leaders in advertising and in many cases organizing festivals, concerts, and other events that are of interest to us.

6. Discount rates for attending conferences.

Speaking of conferences, members of a given organization usually receive discounts to their registration fees for attending conferences sponsored by that organization. The discount isn’t huge, but every little bit helps! Students can sometimes have their fees entirely waived by applying to serve as a student worker or intern at some conferences. This can be a great way to meet some of those “movers and shakers” I talked about.

7. Making a name for yourself.

Most of the conferences I just mentioned also host competitions for students of various ages. Many of the professional players that have developed some name recognition in our communities in the past thirty years or so first began to establish themselves through these competitions. These organizations can provide other means of boosting one’s résumé, though. Although they may look like top-flight organizations run by large professional staffs, in the brass world at least, most of our professional organizations operate on a shoestring budget and are staffed mainly by volunteers, sometimes scattered throughout the country or in multiple countries. Moreover, they are frequently looking for folks to help out, whether by writing reviews, soliciting advertisements, or sometimes working in some larger capacity. To those beginning careers in academia in particular, these kinds of roles can help one’s C.V. to at least make it past the first “cut.” Look for these opportunities to be advertised both in the journals (you should be reading them, you know) and on organizational websites.

So, if you’re convinced that joining professional organizations is a good idea, which should you consider? Here are a few that will be of interest to low brass players.

1. International Trombone Association.

Founded in 1972, the ITA is “dedicated to the Artistic Advancement of Trombone Teaching, Performance, and Literature.” With over 4,000 members, the organization welcomes trombonists of all ability levels, including professional performers and teachers as well as amateurs and enthusiasts. The ITA Journal is a quarterly publication mailed to all members (or it can be read online!), and contains both scholarly and popular articles, in addition to sheet music and recording reviews, recital programs, and more. The International Trombone Festival, an annual event sponsored by the ITA, brings together trombonists from all over the world for concerts, masterclasses, exhibits, and competitions.

2. International Tuba-Euphonium Association.

Formerly known as the Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association (TUBA), the ITEA “is a worldwide organization of musicians whose purpose is to maintain a liason among those who take a significant interest in the instruments of the tuba and euphonium family – their development, literature, pedagogy, and performance.” The ITEA Journal is a very fine publication which, like its sister publication for trombonists, can now be read in print or online, and contains similar material. ITEA conferences include the International Tuba-Euphonium Conference held biannually, with regional conferences held at multiple locations during the “off” years.

3. Historic Brass Society.

“The Historic Brass Society is an international music organization concerned with the entire range of early brass music, from Ancient Antiquity and the Biblical period through the present. The history, music, literature and performance practice of early brass instruments such as natural trumpet, natural horn, early trombone, cornetto, serpent, keyed bugle, keyed trumpet, early valve horn, 19th century brass instruments are some of the main issues of concern to the HBS.” The HBS Journal is by far the most scholarly of brass professional journals and, unlike the others, is released only yearly rather than quarterly. It is a book-length publication, though, and contains articles of substantial length and scholarly acumen.

4. National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors.

NACWPI is a smaller organization than any of the individual-instrument societies out there but is older than practically all of them. Its quarterly journal consists mainly of pedagogical articles but occasionally contains historical or biographical writings as well, in addition to a few reviews. The level of scholarship is normally between what one finds from the Historic Brass Society and from the ITA or ITEA journals. While the NACWPI Journal is less “flashy” than the ITA or ITEA journals, I find its simplicity to be refreshing, and the insights from colleagues playing and teaching other instruments to be often helpful.

5. National Association for Music Education.

Formerly known as Music Educators National Conference (MENC), NAfME is the primary professional organization for music educators in most states through its affiliated state organizations. Its monthly publications are geared primarily toward music educators serving in the public schools, from elementary through high school levels. As such, I have not maintained membership in this organization in recent years but recommend that students pursuing careers as school music educators consider doing so.

6. College Music Society.

For graduate students pursuing careers in academia, membership in this organization is a must, if for no other reason than to get the weekly Music Vacancy List, which includes advertisements for music positions in colleges and universities, including some that are not advertised elsewhere. CMS also maintains up-to-date listings of faculty in music schools around the world, and until recently published a hefty annual journal, College Music Symposium. CMS has recently moved its publication activities entirely online, a move which I suspect is only the first of many to come in the future.

7. Publications not connected to professional organizations.

I obviously consider receiving professional journals to be a primary benefit of membership in their associated organizations, and would be remiss if I did not mention a few worthy publications that are not associated with a particular organization.

The Instrumentalist magazine has a long history of producing quality articles, announcements, and reviews geared toward school band and orchestra directors. Its contents tend more toward the practical than the scholarly, and each issue can often be easily read in a single sitting. The editors compile the best articles on given topics into anthologies, which are updated and republished every few years.

School Band and Orchestra Magazine is a publication to which I have never subscribed and with which I am not very familiar, but I feared it would be remiss if I did not mention it. Its contents appear to be similar to those of The Instrumentalist, but with perhaps a bit more “edgy” presentation.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is the publication “of record” for those working in or interested in academia. Its job listings and many of its articles are made available free of charge to non-subscribers, but a subscription (online only or print+online) must be purchased in order to receive the full contents. Many of its articles are of limited interest to musicians, but some are worth reading.

I’ll end today by saying that while I am an advocate of professional organizations and believe that students should join as many relevant groups as they can afford, I do not believe them to be a panacea. Some professional players care little for the ITA and ITEA, believing them to be too “academic” and not sufficiently connected to the “real world.” All of these groups are subject to the charge of having a “good old boy system,” in which “who you know” is as important if not more so than “what you do.” While I don’t believe that such behavior occurs purposefully, people in general do tend to prefer dealing with those they know, which can be a barrier to greater involvement in such organizations by newcomers. Moreover, with the plethora of online resources today, none of our professional organizations is any longer “the only game in town” for a given field.

In spite of these caveats, I still believe membership in relevant professional organizations to be beneficial. Students, consider yourselves encouraged to join any and all of these groups today!

Posted in Conferences, Education, Higher Education, Low Brass Resources, Online Resources, Professional Organizations, Teaching Low Brass

On Choosing a Church Home, Part Two

After publishing Part One of this short series back in September, I had hoped to take up the topic again in October. The brother of our Lord warned his readers to always consider their plans to be tentative at best, and dependent upon whether or not it was God’s will to bring those plans to fruition (James 4:13-15). While it was evidently not His will that I complete this series in October, I am pleased to be able to do so now.

In my previous post on this topic I focused primarily upon things that one should and should not look for when choosing a local church; today I will discuss what one’s disposition should be toward his church home once it is chosen. To be part of a local congregation is the duty of every Christian (except in the rarest of circumstances), and brings with it certain privileges as well as solemn responsibilities. Let us consider some of these responsibilities.

6. Be available.

First, availability. While I concede that strict Sabbath observance is often rendered difficult or impossible in our secular age (even for me), every effort should be made to be free of other responsibilities when the church gathers for corporate worship, and one should strive to be present at these services except under the most extreme of circumstances. In Westminster Shorter Catechism 88 we read,

The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

It is in corporate worship that we hear the Word preached, receive the sacraments, and unite in prayer, and thus it is of primary importance that we be present, attentive, and engaged when the congregation gathers for worship.

Still, there is more to being part of a church than being present for Sunday services. Every church is dependent upon the efforts of its members to carry out its various responsibilities. Sunday School classes need to be taught, benevolence ministries need volunteers, and outreach efforts need hands and feet. More mundane needs such as cleaning floors and making coffee must be addressed. Prayer meetings need to be attended and the various needs of the church’s leaders and membership, as well as concerns of the broader church, state, and society must be brought before God on a regular basis. More informally, individual Christians require fellowship, encouragement, the meeting of physical needs, and occasionally admonishment. While each of us has different gifts and circumstances that will enable us to be more or less engaged in the work of the church at any given time, we are all responsible for doing what we can.

7. Be committed.

Secondly, one should be committed to the church one chooses. As I mentioned last time, the “perfect” church doesn’t exist; any church you visit and join will be full of sinners! Redeemed sinners (one hopes), but sinners all the same; sinners who at their best are warring against their own tendencies toward hypocrisy, gossip, selfishness, immorality, and any number of more “obvious” sins while also struggling to maintain orthodoxy of belief and practice. You are unlikely to be in any church for very long before someone says or does something that “rubs you the wrong way,” and perhaps even the leadership of the church will take a position with which you disagree regarding some matter of secondary importance. Nevertheless, one must resist the urge to “jump ship” at the first sign of difficulty or disagreement.

Americans are, to a fault, an individualistic lot, and Christians in our land have little difficulty with abandoning one church and finding another whenever something is not to their liking. This should not be the case at all! It is not the responsibility of the church to do everything “your way.” Rather, the task of all in the church is one of mutual submission. Remember Paul’s words to the Philippians:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Of course, there are times when one must leave a church, but these should be exceedingly rare. Our commitment to the local church should not be fickle, but enduring; one in which fellow Christians are willing to, when needed, set aside their preferences and pet ideas in a spirit of love and humility, always seeking the good and the growth in grace of each and every member.

8. Be submissive.

Though this directive can be unpopular, believers are commanded to be subject to the leadership of the church. The author to the Hebrews wrote,

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

In the church government prescribed in Scripture we find a type of republican government. The congregation chooses its leaders (cf. Acts 6:3) according to the qualifications for each office as presented in Scripture (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). Once chosen, these men bear ruling authority (in the case of elders) or authority in managing the temporal affairs of the church (in the case of deacons). While the members of the congregation have some “say so” in who their leaders are, once duly appointed these men have an authority and solemn responsibility which is deserving of respect, submission, and, most importantly, prayer. After all, while office bearers are worthy of honor, they also will give an account of their service to God.

Christ’s church is not a democracy. The Lord Himself is our King and Head, and those that serve as church officers do so as His ministers. Unless those officers are demonstrably guilty of some gross sin or teaching erroneous doctrines (both circumstances which are to be addressed according to the instructions of Scripture), we are to dutifully and joyfully submit to them.

9. Be thankful.

Fourthly, be thankful for your church, its leadership, your fellow members, the meeting place you have, and for the opportunity to gather to worship the risen Christ. If you live in the United States or in another land where Christians are free to assemble openly without fear of persecution, be thankful for this. American Christians in even medium-sized cities have a plethora of local churches from which to choose, and as I mentioned earlier, are sometimes too quick to move between these assemblies for the flimsiest of reasons. Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters in some places endure great hardship and sometimes travel great distances to find even one faithful church. Instead of complaining (whether verbally or in your own mind) about minutia that aren’t to your liking, be thankful for the church you have, and for the ministers and office bearers that take responsibility for the care of your soul.

Most of all, be thankful for God’s gracious provision of eternal life in Christ for all who believe, and for His mercy in enabling you to both hear and believe the Good News.

10. Pray!

Finally, pray. Pray for the growth of your local church both in numbers and in faithfulness to Christ and His Word. Pray, again, for the men that God has raised up to care for your soul and for the souls of others in your local congregation. Pray for the spread of the gospel in your community, state, nation, and world. Pray for those that endure suffering of various kinds for the sake of Christ. Pray for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the members of your congregation.

And, yes, pray for yourself, that you would have opportunity and willingness to serve Christ and His church in whatever capacity to which you might be called, and for wisdom and courage to see and to seize those opportunities, whether great or small. Remember the words of our Lord, “One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much….” (Luke 16:10)

Posted in Bible, Calvinism, Christian Sabbath, Confessionalism, Doctrine, Evangelism, Lord's Day, Practical Christianity, Predestination, Presbyterianism, Providence, Redemption, Salvation, Theology, Worship