Performance Anxiety? “That’s a Boggart, That Is!”

I’ve written periodically about performance anxiety over the nearly six years that I’ve been blogging for one primary reason: I suffer from performance anxiety myself! I remember as a student thinking something to the effect of “I can’t wait until I’m really good and don’t have to deal with getting nervous anymore.” At the time, I’m sure I defined “really good” somehow in terms of “has a university teaching position and/or orchestral job.” The problem is, now I have that university teaching position and, at least on a part-time basis, an orchestral job, and yet in some respects my performance anxiety is worse than ever. This makes sense if you think about it—now that I’m “Dr. Everett” people’s expectations of me are higher, and thus the pressure I place upon myself to perform well is greater.

Happily, although my internal experience of performance anxiety has increased I have mostly learned how to minimize its external manifestations and its effects upon performance, and usually after the first ten minutes or so of a “big performance” I settle in and feel fine. In fact, I have sometimes been complimented on just how calm and collected I seem before going on stage (it’s an act!). If you would like to read more about the approaches I have taken in order to realize this amount of success in managing anxiety symptoms, here is a listing of my previous blog posts on the topic.

One approach that I have recently taken more often with myself and with students who suffer from performance anxiety is to encourage them (and me) to face the anxiety and the circumstances which precipitate it, to acknowledge the presence of the anxiety rather than attempt to deny its existence, to accept the anxiety as a more or less normal response to the factors which precipitate it, and then to dismiss the anxiety as a harmless feeling, one which has no power to disrupt performance unless we allow it to do so. Again, far from denying the presence or even the intensity of performance anxiety, by accepting it and then setting it aside we short-circuit the downward spiral in both our emotions and in our performing that comes from trying to suppress the anxious feelings. Once acknowledged and accepted these feelings begin to seem less monstrous, and are eventually set aside.

snape riddikulusIn this way, performance anxiety is a bit like the boggart, a magical creature which appears periodically in the Harry Potter series of novels by J.K. Rowling (b. 1965). We first encounter a boggart in the third novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999). In that story, third-year students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are introduced to a boggart in a controlled exercise supervised by Professor Remus Lupin. Although essentially harmless, when a boggart encounters a person it immediately assumes the form of that individual’s greatest fear, and in the class exercise the boggart is seen to take the form of a giant spider, Professor Severus Snape, one of the fearsome dementors (a much more frightening magical creature from the stories), and other genuinely scary forms. The boggart is defeated by using the spell Riddikulus, which causes its terrifying form to suddenly become a humorous parody of itself (such as Snape suddenly wearing an old woman’s clothing). In other words, once the wizard understands that the boggart is not truly threatening it can be easily banished.

Thus with the musician and performance anxiety. The solution is not to deny its presence, or to run from it, and certainly not to submit to it. Rather, we face it, acknowledge it, accept it, and then dismiss it. Is this approach always 100% effective? No—neither did the Riddikulus spell always succeed on the first attempt—but it is much more effective than cowering in fear. To feel heightened emotions in advance of a big performance is normal, but don’t allow them to keep you from succeeding!

Needless to say, I am speaking of temporary, run-of-the-mill anxious feelings experienced by just about everyone in advance of major performances or other important events, and which dissipate once the stressor is removed. This post should not be taken as denying the existence or seriousness of long-term anxiety disorders, or the necessity of treatment of such by medical professionals.

Posted in Music, Performance Anxiety, Performing, Worry

Only One Trombone in the Pit? Try the Bass Trombone!

For some reason I can remember as a high school student looking at the liner notes to an original cast recording of Les Misérables and being rather taken aback by the small size of the orchestra and especially the fact that there was only one trombonist listed—a bass trombonist. At that time I had no experience in pit orchestra work, so I knew nothing about the logistics of seating in orchestra pits, much less the periodic negotiations between the American Federation of Musicians and the League of American Theatres and Producers, in which musicians and theatre companies argue regarding the minimum size allowed for orchestras in live Broadway productions. Theatregoers—particularly those who travel from “flyover country” and only see Broadway shows on rare vacation outings—might be astonished to know that if some producers had their way live orchestras, which many see as a highlight of these productions, would be replaced by “canned music” and synthesizers. In any case, the small size of some orchestra pits combined with the shrinking numbers in these negotiated “minimums” has led to new shows whose brass sections consist of one or two trumpets, one or two horns, and a single trombonist. While older shows with fuller compliments of musicians are sometimes simply performed with parts missing, a recently more common practice is to have a composer or arranger rescore the program for a smaller orchestra. This generally leads to a more satisfying result than “taking stuff out.”

With both new and re-orchestrated small orchestra programs (including not only musicals but also opera and ballet) the single trombonist usually finds himself playing a chameleon-like role, sometimes acting as an additional horn, trumpet, or bassoon, or assuming the role usually occupied by the tuba. Occasionally he will even play an actual “trombone” part! While some of these scores ask the single player to double on tenor and bass trombones, or bass trombone and tuba, in my experience the part has usually been labeled simply “trombone,” and in any case there is not always adequate space in the pit for additional instruments. I have performed in pit orchestras for several productions like this in the past fifteen years or so, and have nearly always found the bass trombone to be my instrument of choice for these “one trombone” shows, even when the tonal range does not absolutely necessitate the larger instrument. Here are a few reasons why.

1. In these scores the trombone plays a foundational role in the brass section, and to a certain extent in the orchestra as a whole. In the absence of tuba and contrabassoon, and with usually a small number of celli and basses, the single trombonist often finds himself providing the “bottom” for the orchestra. Even when the notes are not incredibly low the bass trombone is still better suited to this than is the tenor.

2. Playing “third horn” and “second bassoon.” While the bass trombone’s heft at louder dynamics enables it to adroitly accomplish the above task, its mellow sound at softer dynamics is an asset when the trombonist is called upon to perform delicate section passages once assigned to now-missing horn or bassoon parts. A skilled bass trombonist will be able to add the additional notes to these passages without significantly disrupting the prevailing “horn” or “bassoon” timbre.

3. The second valve often proves useful. Most orchestra pits are rather cramped spaces and if you find yourself performing one of these reductions you will probably be seated in a back corner with very little room to operate. Alternate fingerings afforded by the second valve on most bass trombones can sometimes prevent extended handslide movements that are difficult in small spaces and even facilitate page turns. I’ll be doing the latter in such a performance later today, using the two valves combined to play D3 in first position and holding the handslide with my left pinky while turning the page with my right hand. This is a handy trick not possible on an instrument with one or no valves.

4. Adding additional low notes. This last suggestion should be taken only rarely and with special attention given to remaining in good taste. Orchestrators writing for a single trombonist often write with the tenor trombone in mind, and leave the trombone in a higher octave at cadences which would benefit from a bit more “bottom.” While blatting pedal tones would not be appropriate sometimes a well-placed note in the valve register fits very nicely. Of course, this should only be done with the (sometimes tacit) approval of the conductor.

There are, of course, instances where the bass trombone might not be the instrument of choice, such as productions with more jazz or pop influence which clearly demand the timbre and nimble movements of the small-bore tenor trombone. Often, though, the bass trombone just makes sense in these orchestrations. I guess that Les Mis orchestrator was on to something!

Posted in Bass Trombone, Music, Orchestration, Performing, Pit Orchestras, Tenor Trombone, Trombone, Tuba

“With Gentleness and Respect”

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:14-16)

I mentioned last week that social media has not been an unmitigated good for our public discourse. In fact, it has in many ways been decidedly bad. Whereas people once shared their opinions on the issues of the day only in appropriate contexts—and reserved sharing more unsavory or controversial opinions for very selective occasions among those who shared those opinions—today people not only demand the opportunity to speak but also claim a right to be heard. What’s more, most of the new fora for such sharing of opinions are of the online variety, where it is possible to deliver spite and vitriol in previously unheard of quantities, all from the safety and relative anonymity of a keyboard behind a computer screen. It is easier to dehumanize one’s opponents when looking them in the face is unnecessary.

I’m not pointing fingers here at those of particular political, social, or religious persuasions. Each of us undoubtedly holds to certain opinions that someone else would find intolerant, intolerable, unpalatable, strange, or even mean. And yet, simple politeness has for generations allowed us to function as a society despite great diversity of views on any number of subjects. Only in the age of social media do we find ourselves increasingly unable to peaceably coexist with those who do not share our views. One might argue that the contagion dates back further, at least to the advent of cable news programs which long ago discarded reasonable argument in favor of having people yell at—and past—each other.

Certainly we can do better, and Christians in particular are called to do better. In an age when biblical ethical and moral standards—to say nothing of the exclusivity of the gospel message—are held in disrepute, Christians who wish to represent their views in the public square and ultimately win converts will do themselves no favors by being harsh, boorish, or mean-spirited. In the above passage Peter calls us to be ready to defend our faith, but to always do so in a gentle and respectful manner. In the following chapter he makes a similar statement negatively, commending those who suffer for the sake of the gospel but not if they are guilty of some crime (cf. 1 Peter 4:12-16). The Christian message is offensive enough on its own without us making things worse through poor attitudes or actual evildoing.

We must also take care to deal similarly with those within the church with whom we might differ on secondary and tertiary matters of doctrine. Just as children (and adults) who are well-behaved and polite with others sometimes treat their family members with great discourtesy, it is possible even for Christians who are careful to treat outsiders kindly to be more harsh and unreserved with fellow believers. I have sometimes been guilty during theological or related practical discussions of a curtness that is unbecoming, and would have done better to extend that same winsome kindness to all. Christ does not call his people to waffle on important matters of truth, of course, but he does demand that we express those truths in the best possible way.

I sometimes think that everyone should have to spend some time working in an environment where their religious, social, or political views are in the minority, as I have done during my entire career as a conservative Christian working on university campuses. Knowing how rare my views are in this context has a way of limiting the manner and occasions on which I choose to opine on religious, political, and social matters. Most of all, it has a way of forcing me to strive to represent my Lord and his people in a way that is endearing rather than offputting. This is strategically advantageous, it follows Peter’s directive quoted at the beginning of this article, but perhaps most importantly it leads me to treat people as the bearers of God’s image that the Bible says they are.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Every human being—no matter who they are, where they come from, or what their views are—bears the image of God. Thus all deserve to be treated with kindness, gentleness, and respect. When we do so, we might even see some of them consider and eventually believe the message of Christ.

Posted in Apologetics, Christian Worldview, Digital Revolution, Practical Christianity, Salvation, Society, Theology, Truth

“Gadgets and Gizmos:” Facebook Groups for Low Brass Players

fbToday’s installment of my occasional “Gadgets and Gizmos” series highlights not a physical piece of technology or other equipment, but rather a fairly recent forum for the development and exchange of ideas with regard to pedagogy, equipment, repertoire, and other matters of interest to low brass players. Despite its now ubiquitous presence in our society, social media in its current form is a phenomenon well less than twenty years old, and few would argue that its influence has been universally good. Certainly even a cursory glance at the present political and cultural landscape will show us that it has perhaps not been a net good, since one can argue that social media has been a major contributor to our present fractiousness.

Despite this demonstrated potential for ill, some individuals and organizations have figured out ways to use social media as a tool to improve relationships, institutions, and professions. For low brass players, Facebook groups have been a boon to the sharing and refinement of ideas regarding our craft. In a way, this is a natural extension of activities we knew going back into the mid-1990s, when the Trombone-L and TubaEuph email distribution lists were in full swing, followed by the development of online discussion forums such as The Trombone Forum and (two sites whose interrelationship is complicated and not worth discussing now), TubeNet BBS, TubaEuph, and others. The low brass community has always had its share of nerds and techies, and that is not a bad thing!

The adoption of Facebook groups by our community has been fairly recent, but extremely successful, not just in terms of numbers of members but also in the fruitfulness of discussions had in these usually well-moderated groups. Here are a few of my favorites, with short commentary on each.

Trombone Pedagogy. This group is, in my opinion, the best of the Facebook low brass groups, with numerous daily discussions covering topics related to trombone teaching and performance. Discussions of equipment, performances, and other matters are relegated to other pages, so the mission of this group has remained focused and helpful. This is thanks largely to an effective moderating team that keeps things on track without becoming draconian.

Trombone Equipment. While the title might suggest that this is a sales-oriented page, it is instead a place where questions and ideas regarding equipment can be discussed separately from the pedagogical discussions on the above page.

Tuba/Euphonium. There are some discussions here like those at Trombone Pedagogy, but interspersed with more performance videos and other “links of interest” rather than having content limited to serious discussion. Equipment-related matters are also discussed here.

Bass Trombone Appreciation Society. Somewhere between the Trombone Pedagogy and Tuba/Euphonium groups in terms of consistency and seriousness of content, but more or less limited to bass trombone-specific topics.

Low Brass Pedagogy. For some reason, this group is not as busy as some of the others, but occasional topics of interest do arise. As the title suggests, this group somehow functions as an extension of the aforementioned discussion forums outside of Facebook. It is not as strictly moderated as Trombone Pedagogy.

Trombone Marketplace and Tuba/Euphonium Marketplace. Buying and selling used instruments—and avoiding eBay fees where possible—has always been a key function of low brass groups online, and Facebook is simply the latest forum for this. There is a certain “buyer beware” aspect of such transactions, of course, though online low brass communities are fairly good at self-policing, warning members about possible fraud, bad deals, and even known unscrupulous sellers.

I’m sure there are other groups like these on Facebook and other social media sites, but these are the ones with which I am the most familiar and which I find most helpful. I would be remiss if I did not also mention the Facebook pages for the International Trombone Association and International Tuba-Euphonium Association, but these mostly serve as places for advertising conferences, journals, and articles, as opposed to the almost organically growing discussions on the other pages listed here. While there is certainly still an important place for high-quality published books, articles, sheet music, and other resources that have been filtered through “gatekeepers” such as editors, publishers, and reviewers, the internet has provided and through social media continues to provide fertile ground from which new streams of information, ideas, and sounds can edify, inspire, and challenge us.

At the very least, it provides a place where I can share these blog posts!

Posted in "Gadgets and Gizmos", Alto Trombone, Bass Trombone, Euphonium, Instructional Technology, Low Brass Resources, Music, Online Resources, Pedagogy, Teaching Low Brass, Tenor Trombone, Trombone, Tuba

“Uncle Micah, Will You Sing?”

CJ Brody

My son, Brody, and my niece, CJ

My sister’s daughter, CJ, is five now, and after a long period of being not all that sure about Uncle Micah has, I think, decided that I’m an okay guy. Or at least tolerable. For the first four or so years of her life she was generally terrified of me. I don’t think I did anything in particular to frighten her, but we only see her a few times a year, and little kids tend to be scared of big guys with dark beards (my beard was still mostly dark back then).

Like most girls her age, CJ is enamored with all things related to Disney princesses, and one of my more successful strategies in the quest to win her affection was to play songs from her favorite Disney movies, by request, on the trombone. A particular favorite was Frozen, and I found myself playing “Let it Go” on several occasions during one visit. In her typically adorable fashion, and not quite knowing how to ask correctly, CJ would sheepishly ask “Uncle Micah, will you sing Frozen?” I was happy to oblige, and like I said, our relationship has steadily improved since then.

frozenOf course, my niece’s request that I “sing” these songs rather than “play” them was a harmless error in terminology, yet she unintentionally hit on a very important concept for successful brass playing. After all, brass instruments are the closest to the human voice in their manner of tone production, the source of vibration being a part of the body rather than a reed, string, or other implement. Our playing is most pleasing to the listener, most natural to the performer, and most enjoyable to all when we are able to move the physical requirements of playing the instrument to what Arnold Jacobs (1915-1998) called “the computer part of the brain” (i.e. the subconscious) and focus simply on “Song and Wind.” In other words, conceive the desired sound in your head, take a big breath of air, and then produce that sound without thinking so much about the body. The result is a very vocal-like approach to the instrument which is most desirable.

Arnold Jacobs (1915-1998)

Arnold Jacobs (1915-1998)

Does this mean that there is no place for long tones, lip slurs, technical studies, and other assorted calisthenics? Of course not; those things are entirely necessary. However, the brass player’s goal in such studies must be to make the technical requirements of playing so automatic, so “natural,” that when playing and performing “real music” he can focus on results, not processes; on expression, not execution. When we do this right, the result is indeed very much like the approach of a great singer.

Yes, CJ, I can sing, and I’m still working to sing even better.

And by the way, if you really want to hear some guys who know how to “sing Frozen” on the trombone (and euphonium), listen to this great arrangement by the Szeged Trombone Ensemble from Hungary. Such a great group!

Posted in Alto Trombone, Arnold Jacobs, Bass Trombone, Daily Routine, Euphonium, Frozen, Music, Performing, Playing Fundamentals, Practicing, Szeged Trombone Ensemble, Teaching Low Brass, Tenor Trombone, Trombone, Uncategorized

Brief Reflections Following the Passing of Billy Graham

As most or all readers of The Reforming Trombonist will be aware, the famed American evangelist Billy Graham (1918-2018) passed away earlier this week, just a few months shy of his 100th birthday. I am normally not one to pontificate online following the deaths of famous people—the internet has plenty of writers and bloggers who do this—but since Graham is a particularly important figure in the recent history of American evangelicalism and one in whom I have always retained more than a passing interest, I’m indulging just this once. Besides, I had already intended to write this week about some topic related to Christianity.

just as i amHaving come to the Reformed faith in my mid-twenties, most of my Christian heroes are individuals of whom I first became aware as an adult. Not so Billy Graham; in fact, I cannot remember a time when I did not know his name. I recall seeing more than a few broadcasts of his sermons when I was a youngster, particularly at my grandparents’ house. (To be fair, this was in the time when rural households typically received only two or three broadcast channels, so there were few other options.) In my mind Graham’s name was always associated with tireless and uncompromising proclamation of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. As a college student I read his 1997 autobiography Just As I Am, and found myself struck by the humility of the man in the midst of an undeniably remarkable life. As a Calvinist and Presbyterian I find myself quibbling with a few of Graham’s ideas and methods—particularly the use of the altar call, a nineteenth-century innovation which can sometimes lead to false assurance and spurious conversions. On the whole, though, his is a life and ministry at which Christians from a variety of traditions can look back with admiration, respect, and appreciation. Here are a few reasons that come to mind.

1. Billy Graham’s life and ministry were free of scandal. Ours is a day in which various figures in the media and online revel in “gotcha” moments with regard to prominent evangelical and/or conservative figures, but one can find nothing like this in the life of Billy Graham. Aside from a few ill-chosen words on a very few occasions (for which he always publicly apologized), both Graham personally and his organization always operated in a way that was socially, financially, and morally above board. This was no accident; Graham and his associates determined even in the late 1940s that they would operate in this way, and by God’s grace he lived a scandal-free life in the public eye for over seventy years. This included what has recently been derided as “the Mike Pence rule,” but those familiar with Billy Graham knew it for decades as “the Billy Graham rule.” This studious avoidance of even the appearance of impropriety is mocked today, but the recent explosion of accusations of sexual harassment by famous individuals in a variety of fields shows the abiding wisdom of this policy.

2. Billy Graham rubbed shoulders with the powerful but refused the allure of power. Having befriended on some level every American president from Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) to Barack H. Obama (b. 1961), Billy Graham had access to the halls of power that many of today’s evangelical leaders would envy. Yet rather than engaging in politics himself or seeking in any large-scale fashion to influence national policy, he instead offered himself to these men as a counselor and confidant rather than as a political adviser. In short, he sought to fulfill his popularly-conceived role as “America’s pastor.” Graham’s later years were marked by an even more marked withdrawal from politics than his early ministry. He deliberately eschewed evangelical political initiatives such as the Moral Majority of the 1970s and 1980s, preferring to busy himself with simple proclamation of the gospel. This is not to say that Graham never expressed opinions on the issues of the day, but when he did so it was with little fanfare and characteristic humility.

3. Billy Graham believed in the unity of the human race, even when this was unpopular with white evangelicals. Billy Graham refused to allow segregated seating in his evangelistic crusades beginning in the early 1950s, going so far as to personally remove the dividers separating “white” and “colored” seating areas. He invited black ministers to share the platform with him, including Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), who delivered a public prayer during Graham’s crusade at Madison Square Garden in 1957. While there were certainly white men who did more to advance the cause of racial equality than did Graham, few did so as early and as publicly…and with as much to lose.

4. Billy Graham was simultaneously winsome and uncompromising, even when speaking with his opponents. I recently saw a video from the late 1960s in which Graham was interviewed by Woody Allen (b. 1935). While Allen’s demeanor was by no means openly hostile, there was a mocking tone toward Graham’s morality and worldview lurking beneath the surface during the entire exchange. Yet Graham stood his ground, and did so not with “hellfire and brimstone,” but with charm and winsomeness that seemed to be a bit disarming both to Allen and to his audience. This is not uncharacteristic of Graham’s public interactions with the unbelieving world. He demonstrated to all of us how people with widely divergent points of view ought to interact, never avoiding the hard questions, but also treating his interlocutors with kindness and respect. Today’s public discourse could use more of this.

5. Billy Graham made little of Billy Graham and much of Jesus Christ. That Billy Graham was able to spend seven decades in the public eye and yet remain humble and scandal-free is remarkable. How was he able to do this (besides, of course, God’s graciously preserving him)? Because the focus of his ministry was not Billy Graham, but Jesus Christ. While so many Christian ministries, organizations, and even churches find their messages becoming diluted over time, Billy Graham retained a laser-like focus on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, always simply directing people to repent of their sins and believe in Him. We can rightly be thankful for a life thus lived, and lived in such a way because, like Paul, Billy Graham “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Posted in Apologetics, Assurance, Billy Graham, Christian Worldview, Doctrine, Evangelism, Politics, Practical Christianity, Preaching, Theology, Truth, Worship

“A Hindemith-ey Sort of Evening:” Complete Performance Recordings

Everett Recital Poster 20180108A couple of weeks ago I performed a solo recital which I entitled “A Hindemith-ey Sort of Evening.” Having been invited to perform both the trombone and tuba sonatas by Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) at the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors conference back in October, I decided to build a full recital program of works by Hindemith and his students, with those two surprisingly contrasting sonatas as the bookends. Canto II by Samuel Adler (b. 1928) is a classic work for solo bass trombone, and appropriating the horn sonata by Bernhard Heiden (1910-2000) as an alto trombone solo was a particular challenge. In many ways my favorite work on the program was Musical Flower Garden with Leyptziger Assortment, a rather comical work that Hindemith originally wrote for clarinet and double bass duo. The lower part works rather well on euphonium and the resulting ensemble sound was very pleasing—enough so that I am going to apply to bring that piece to next year’s NACWPI conference.

As with all live and unedited performance recordings, this program is not without its minor blemishes. I experienced a bit of dry mouth during the first two movements of the opening piece and negotiating the change from larger instruments to the alto trombone was surprisingly difficult. My usual practice has been to place alto trombone pieces at the beginning of programs where I have used it, and I underestimated just how much I would struggle with having it in the middle. Of course, performing a recital of five large works on five instruments—with five mouthpieces—is challenging in any case, and despite the imperfections on the whole I am pleased with the overall musical result.

I would be remiss if I did not again publicly thank my collaborators Stacy Rodgers and Michael Rowlett, who made this big program possible. Multimedia Specialist Charlie Miles always does a great job with recording and mastering, as well as stage management. Also, our music department’s new Program Coordinator, Anna Herd, did a fantastic job with the programs, flyers, and online publicity. We are so glad to have her here!

With that, on to the (pre-recorded) show!

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963): Sonata for Trombone and Piano

Samuel Adler (b. 1928): Canto II (unaccompanied bass trombone)

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963): Musical Flower Garden with Leyptziger Assortment (clarinet and euphonium duo)

Bernhard Heiden (1910-2000): Sonata for Horn (or Alto Trombone!) and Piano

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963): Sonata for Tuba and Piano






Posted in Alto Trombone, Bass Trombone, Doubling, Euphonium, Micah Everett, Mouthpieces, Music, Performance Videos, Performances, Tenor Trombone, Trombone, Tuba, University of Mississippi