Life Builders: Dick Schaffer

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Dick Schaffer Trumpet Teacher

I often tell people that Dick Schaffer was the best trumpet teacher I ever had. I have written about him on previous websites and blogs, but those pages are no longer available and it seems fitting to write about him in the context of my Life Builders Series.

For those who are new to this site, my Life Builders Series is an ongoing project through which I acknowledge the people who have contributed to my successes in life. It stems out of a Bible study I did about a year ago on the subject of love as it is described in the famous love list from First Corinthians 13.  You can learn more about the series by clicking on any of the Life Builders Series links throughout this page.

I have had seven long term teachers during my trumpet career starting in sixth grade and continuing all the way into the early 90’s. I studied trumpet privately for almost two decades and the truth is that I don’t know what life would be like without private lessons. My education and my teaching careers overlap by a little over ten years. So when I say that Dick Schaffer is the best trumpet teacher I ever had, it’s not like I only had one or two teachers in my career.

What made Dick Schaffer stand out this way in my career?

When I went to Mr. Schaffer it was with the objective of becoming an orchestral trumpet player. I had a deep desire at that time to play in a symphony and play jazz on the side. What happened to change all of that is inconsequential to this article because for the entire time that I was his student, that remained my primary goal. The time and effort he invested into my playing was “over and above the call of duty.”

In that respect, it is Mr. Schaffer who set the standard that I hold myself to as a teacher. I desire to be every bit as generous with my students as he was with me. That is part of the reason why I do so much more for my students than what most people would consider necessary. It’s also why I have a load limit, because I never want to have so many students that I cannot give them all the kind of treatment Dick Schaffer gave me when I was his student. In that respect, I feel as if I am passing his legacy as a teacher on to my own students. I feel that it’s important that they know who started it all.

Musical Stuff

There are too many musical contributions that Schaffer made to my career to list here, but I can hit on some of the highlights. Probably the most important thing was that he helped coach me through the problems I was having with stage fright. I regret to admit that I never mentioned him in my An Expression of Grace story, but the truth is that he was the one who coached me through it all on the musical side. I still share with my students what he told me about how we should approach auditions. He said that, instead of trying to second guess what the orchestras want and play that way, we should play the way WE play, we should be true to ourselves and going to the audition is just like “taking our goods to market.” He told me many times that, if the orchestra we audition for doesn’t buy our goods, then we pack up and take them to someone who will.

Mr. Schaffer also worked with me on a lot of musicality issues. Once again, there is too much of this to list, but I can tell you that I grew more musically in those two years with him than I did with any other teacher in my entire career. Not only did he hold me to a high standard, but he also had a very clear way of explaining precisely what that standard was.

One of the things we did in our lessons was cover all of the standard audition rep. I am confident that when I left San Jac, I was ready to win some auditions. Fort he excerpts I didn’t already have, he gave me copies of the original parts. The way we practiced the excerpts was contextual and meaningful. They weren’t just exercises. He presented the excerpts as parts of a whole and instilled in me the responsibility of knowing the complete work and playing the excerpt in that context.

The lessons were wonderful. Just wonderful, wonderful times of hard core progress. What an inspiration he is to me today as a teacher!

My Champion

When I first began studying with Mr. Schaffer, I had not written my first book yet. I wrote it for my own students while I was studying with him. When the first copies were completed, I gave him one as a gift and he has been a champion of my publishing ventures ever since. In fact, I can say with 100 % certainty that I probably would not have written as many books as I had if it were not for his enthusiastic support of my efforts.

Dick Schaffer liked my books so much that not only did he practice from them himself, but he also used it in his lessons with other students. Every once in a while someone signs up as my student who had studied with Mr. Schaffer in the past and each one tells me that they used my book in their lessons.

To have someone as well established as Dick Schaffer become a champion of my work was a confidence builder for me. He was a positive, uplifting presence during a time in my life when nothing seemed to be going right.

Twenty Studies

When I was having certain troubles on a few specific excerpts, one of my solutions was to compose etudes that would over exaggerate those problems, forcing me to deal with those issues on a larger scale. I played a few of those etudes in one of my lessons and Mr. Schaffer liked them so much he encouraged me to write an entire book of them. I drug my feet and it took me several years, but I finally finished.

If Dick Schaffer hadn’t voiced his enthusiasm every time we spoke to each other, I probably would have never finished the Twenty Studies book. But he was relentless. For several years he reminded me that he wanted to see that book completed and for several years I procrastinated.

Today, the Twenty Studies book is not our top seller, but the people who buy it are very outspoken about how much they enjoy it. Every time they compliment the etudes, I think of Dick Schaffer because they never would have been written without him.

Passing the Torch

As I sit here writing this blog, I realize that much of my playing and teaching career is an act of me passing the torch to my students and the other musicians in my life. I really didn’t have as much time with Mr. Schaffer as I would have liked, but the time we spent together was absolutely rich in uplifting, educational and musical experiences. Compared to all of the other private trumpet lessons in my career, lesson with Dick Schaffer were like sipping espresso instead of drinking decaf coffee. He he he…

These Life Builders posts are about acknowledging the people who have contributed to my success in life. As I sit here thinking about how much Dick Schaffer contributed, I see more than I could ever write in a blog. It pricks my conscience a little because I don’t acknowledge him nearly enough. But then, that’s what this is for, to formalize that acknowledgement.

Thank you Dick, for being who you are. You make a difference in people’s lives and for that I value you.

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