A new challenge. My story could be your story!

As I write this latest Blog, we are in some form of lock-down, due to the Corona virus. Our daily routines and activities have certainly changed beyond all recognition and many people have used this enforced spare time, to invest in projects and activities that they’ve often thought about doing, but never really got round to, due to lack of time or inclination. Attics, gardens and garages everywhere have never been so tidy!!! It’s also been an opportunity for people to re-evaluate what is really important to them in their lives e.g. friends and family, good health, the ability and freedom to come and go as you please, job satisfaction and career choices, as well as hobbies and pastimes. Having something that is precious taken away from you only highlights how much we value it.

Lock-down has also given people time to think and assess what they want from life post Covid-19, when we can return to some semblance of normality and this period of reflection will perhaps ignite a desire for change and the pursuit of a new challenge?

I had one of these “Saul on the road to Damascus” moments some 14 years ago, at the grand age of 39, I decided that I needed something new, something different and something that would kick-start my enthusiasm for life in general. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t doing too badly for myself. I had a nice house, a job that I really loved doing and was managing to pay the bills each and every month. So what was the problem? The answer was, that I simply needed to be doing something that I’d never experienced before, that took me away from the “same old, same old” and perhaps out of my comfort zone, to where I couldn’t put my feet on the bottom of the pool and had to swim a little harder to stay afloat.

From a somewhat pessimistic and negative viewpoint, I felt I had ticked as many boxes as was possible in terms of my music-making experiences (particularly on a professional level) and that there were no more “Everests” remaining that I was capable of climbing and that I should be happy with what I’d already achieved. “So what changed?” I hear you ask.

Following a chance encounter with a friend I was encouraged to consider joining the Army Reserve as a Musician. I’d always been interested in all things Military ever since I was young, but the concept of playing in a Military Band – no change that to a Military brass band (as at the time it was the ONLY brass band in the British Army! – and getting paid for it fried my brain somewhat. Over the years, I’d been used to the concept of attending band twice a week (increasing in the run up to a major competition) and getting zilch for doing it, other than the huge amount of pleasure of performing at a high level and at some of the top venues around Europe.

The Principality Stadium, Cardiff

Having done my research and then attending a few rehearsals at the Barracks (to get a feel of what I was potentially letting myself in for) and asking hundreds of questions such as “what if…?”, “how many…?”, “will I have to do this….. will I have to do that?”, I was reassured that this was a good move and would be a decision that I wouldn’t regret.

Fast-forward 14 years and I now can say that this was one of the best decisions that I ever made. I discovered not only a new “Everest” to climb, but my “K2”, “Kilimanjaro” and many more peaks, with new ones still emerging even now. This new challenge brought a new dimension to not only my musical world, but to my personal and life experiences too and at the same time, I got paid for doing it and it brought me new career pathways too, as all these years later, not only am I a Sergeant and a musician, I am now the Recruiter for that Band – the Regimental Band of The Royal Welsh.

Corps of Army Music Short Term Training Team – Uganda 2015

Words cannot begin to describe the new horizons that I’ve encountered over these 14 years, but suffice to say that if you’re currently bored, feeling unfulfilled, craving something new or just plain curious to know “what if…..?” then go for it! Ask the question and see whether it is for you.

Whether it’s learning a new language, deciding to do a triathlon or joining a Regimental Band in the Army Reserve, then follow your dream and see where it takes you!

WW1 Commemorations, Thiepval Memorial – France 2016

For more information about the Regimental Band and Corps of Drums of The Royal Welsh, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/royalwelshband/

Last Post – Belgium 2019

Thanks for reading the Music for You blog.

Mind games. Musicians and mental health.

In my last blog “What’s the point?” I discussed the dilemmas and motivational issues I was negotiating with, regarding maintaining a regular and meaningful practise regime throughout this Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the last few days, I’ve seen other musicians posting on social media that they were putting the instrument back in the case and waiting for things to show signs of returning to normality, before they started thinking about getting “back on the horse” and doing some serious practise once again.

For me that isn’t an option, for a number of reasons. Firstly, my sanity – I need something worthwhile to do! Secondly, I actually enjoy playing, albeit that playing at home is not the same as being alongside other musicians in that team environment. Finally, I need to maintain my core skills and technique. I’m not one of those “natural” players who can let it go for a few weeks and then pick it up as if it was yesterday.

So imagine my frustration, nay panic. Yes, PANIC, when things aren’t going at all well. I’m not talking about clipping a top C a couple of times, or not being able to play that tricky passage in the Allen Vizzutti Etude in that God-awful key that involves the third valve more times in one bar than you’ve played all year! I’m not on about an “off day”, where the chops are a bit bruised and battered from an over-enthusiastic session the previous day on the D/Eb Trumpet and carelessly omitting a proper warm-down afterwards.

No, this is when day after day for the last week or so, I feel my “chops” aren’t responsive at all, the tone is thin and airy, the range is non-existent and pieces that you enjoy playing sound like a proverbial zoo on fire! Yes, I warmed up properly each day. Yes, I played lots of long notes quietly. Yes, I accept it can’t sound perfect every day, but no I can’t accept that it can be consistently this dreadful for so many days on the bounce.

This serious confidence “wobble” all coincides with the recent push within the brass band movement by Tabby Kerwin regarding mental health awareness and at the same time, a friend – a string player – mentioning on social media, that he was dealing with nerves whilst performing.

4635880938_151x241

The Three P’s – Tabby Kerwin

Ask any musician and they will tell you that the demands of any performance are 50% physical i.e. the core skills and mechanics of performing the music and 50% mental, namely dealing with the stress, nerves, anxiety which then however causes physical problems affecting the mechanics, such as breath control, tremors or shakes, sweating etc. Some will disagree on the percentages, but all will agree that the mind has a very strong bearing on the successful (or unsuccessful) outcome of any performance.

To keep things simple, I’ll generalise and call the affliction “nerves”. Whilst nerves (in moderate doses) are a perfectly natural condition prior to and during a performance, in excess these can ruin perfectly good musicians and can reduce the most competent performer to a gibbering wreck in a very short space of time, if not dealt with immediately and correctly. It only takes one “off” performance or a few unguarded comments from another person to sow the seed of doubt in an individual, before those gremlins start their evil voices of self-doubt in your head and you enter a downward spiral of catastrophic proportions.

So for me, when the gremlins do rear their ugly heads every now and again, I revert to Howard Snell’s fabulous book “The Trumpet”, which has a Chapter dedicated to “Anxiety Control”. He prefaces the section as follows “For many players, the control of anxiety seems virtually impossible. As they see it anxiety represents an impenetrable barrier to achieving full realisation of their talent. In most cases the use of straightforward routines will comfortably control anxiety.” He goes on to advocate a number of methods and techniques which can tackle nerves/anxiety head on and shows that with a controlled approach, you can overcome this and you will prevail. The quote below certainly caught my attention!

93055265_664044204156990_4055982787230957568_n

The Trumpet – Howard Snell

“When anxiety is an habitual problem for a player, it is futile to say that more effort, discipline and hard work are needed. While these attitudes are essential to building quality playing, anxiety needs to be dissolved rather than confronted. Habitual anxiety points to imbalances within the player’s overall approach. Realism, mental balance, patience, persistence and awareness are the key attitudes.” Howard Snell

Mental health issues are far more at the forefront of peoples’ minds nowadays, including musicians. There are many ways to address any problems that we might have, including Alexander Technique, yoga, hypnosis, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and a whole raft of publications, however talking to other musicians sometimes is just as effective and helps highlight that it’s not just “me” struggling to overcome issues. My friend the string player drew a number of friends and colleagues into the conversation and it was surprising to see how many people were admitting to having their own personal battle with anxiety, in ts many guises.

For me, this period of chaos is a blip. A brief hiatus where things aren’t going well. At least I very much hope so! Thankfully, I don’t suffer from stage anxiety (touches wood!) and my current issues are home-based, however it wouldn’t take long for it to morph into a bigger problem. It’s happened before and perhaps a couple of days off and a few binge-sessions of CSI New York or The Yorkshire Vet will give me some rest and space to clear my head and bounce back, as if nothing was wrong? That usually works. As Mr.Snell says “Realism, mental balance, patience, persistence and awareness are the key attitudes.”

If you have an “issue”, remember #itsgoodtotalk – get things off your chest, you’ll be amazed how much support and resources are available out there to help you with this!

Here are just a few links that may be of some help to you:

Tabby Kerwin: Mode for Publishing

Charlotte Tomlinson Performance Coach 

Howard Snell The Trumpet

Excerpts from “The Trumpet” (It’s Practice and Performance, A Guide for Students) by Howard Snell (published Rakeway Music) kindly authorised by the Author.

F33A6686

The Trumpet. My greatest pleasure …. and my greatest enemy!

Thanks for reading the Music for You blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and if so, please feel free to share. Stay safe and stay healthy!

What’s the point?

It’s sounding a bit of a cliche now, but these are truly unprecedented times. Not only for me, but for millions of people all over the world. The Covid-19 (Corona Virus) pandemic has affected us all in ways that we could never have imagined possible and has made us re-evaluate the things that are truly important in our lives.

A quick trawl through my social media channels has highlighted the very best and also the very worst traits of the human species. These have ranged from kindness, bravery and self-sacrifice to selfishness, arrogance and sheer idiocy. We have suddenly become virtual prisoners in our own homes – that is if we’ve been true to Government guidance about self-isolating and social distancing – with boredom and a lack of freedom to do what we want, when we want to and where we want to being the major focus of our lives. Unless you count stockpiling ridiculous amounts of toilet paper sufficient to deal with a worldwide dysentery a major worry!

Thankfully during this period of virtual lock-down, Mrs. Wife and I have been perfectly safe and secure here at “Trumpet Towers” – with sufficient (but not excessive!) quantities of pasta, tinned tomatoes and loo rolls to keep us away from the shops. She is an avid reader – a book a day is not uncommon – and I have my music to keep me going. Thank God for my music!!!

It’s funny how music always ends up being the “uniting force” or “glue” that brings communities together and puts a smile on peoples’ faces during times of adversity. Footage of residents in Italy (subject to lock-down) standing on their balconies and singing was broadcast all over the world and my friends at the Cory Band featured on national television, when their players recorded remote individual recordings of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”which were was then skilfully combined to make a complete band performance online, which vent viral (no pun intended!) overnight.

For musicians, whilst there is no replacement for performing together in public to an audience, or in a rehearsal, there is great comfort and satisfaction still to be derived from playing or singing at home on one’s own. Granted, it’s not the same, but it does fill the void and those endless monotonous days pass with less pain and angst, than those who don’t have a meaningful and fulfilling pastime to fall back on.

F33A6686

Tools of the trade (Stomvi and Eclipse Trumpets)

So despite having my music – this saving grace, my refuge, my mental and spiritual sanctuary – this week having realised that I’d missed 2 consecutive days of blowing my trumpet, I had a moment of real full-on “what’s the bloody point?” The mind goes into over-drive. “I’ve got plenty of books waiting to be read, the attic needs clearing out and that box of archived memorabilia and “stuff” desperately could do with a sort out. Why bother practising? I don’t have any gigs in the book, there are no rehearsals I can attend, I don’t get paid to practise. Why should I bother?” So I didn’t and binge-watched “Murder 24/7” on Sky Crime or something similar.

The following day, having maxed out on my TV fix and now being thoroughly conversant  with Police custody procedures, forensic techniques and how much of a mug’s game crime actually is, I had a large reality check and got that Trumpet out for my daily parp.

Why? Because I realised that life without my music, in whatever form it takes – group, individual, home, abroad, practise, performance – is just a part of me. The period of no gigs and not being paid are (sadly) part of the territory, even when there is no pandemic to worry about. Indeed if musicians charged clients for the work “off camera” and “behind the scenes” in terms of preparation and maintaining standards we’d all be blinking millionaires. Imagine a builder excusing themselves from the family viewing of “Sound of Music” on Christmas Day to go and lay a few rows of bricks because they need to keep their hand in, as they’re building a wall on Boxing Day!

That said and done, it’s what we do, it’s who we are and it’s what makes us tick. Therefore by writing this blog, it’s been a cathartic experience. I’ve answered my own question really! The point is …… because we’re musicians and we love it!

PorthcawlPavilionBigBandPictures016

The Phil Dando Big Band Trumpet Section in action.

So the next time you ask a musician how much they charge for performing at a Wedding or to provide music for a Corporate Event, you’ll know that the fee doesn’t just cover the 3 hours the musician will be at the engagement, or the travel time and costs, or even to purchase the music, to arrange that special tune you requested or for buying that very shiny Trumpet. The cost reflects a lifetime devoted to the pursuit of excellence (I’m still chasing it incidentally!) and maintaining those extremely high standards, rightly expected by clients but demanded of the performers themselves.

I hope that all of you stay well and safe during these strange and difficult times and look forward to that first rehearsal or gig, whenever that may be.

Car Practice

Needs must! Martini practise session – “Any time, any place, anywhere”