Update and Theme Problems

TypingAs you can see, I have had to change this blog’s theme. I updated WordPress to stay up to date with all the new features and such. Unfortunately, the theme I was using isn’t compatible with the new version of WordPress and was causing all sorts of problems on the administrative side of the blog.

I have mixed feelings about this problem. On the one hand, I have had far fewer problems with WordPress than most software (local or remote) I’ve ever used before. That’s a good thing. And to be absolutely clear, the problems I had were not on the WordPress side, they were all caused by the theme – which is a free theme and they have no obligation to upgrade it for free.

But that creates a bit of a problem. For as long as I am using free themes, I will always run the risk of having something like this happen again. Since I don’t make any money off of this site, I really can’t afford to go in the hole to pay for a supported theme.

Another option is to learn how to write my own themes. That way I can make my own updates when I need them. Yeah, right! It’s not that I don’t have the skills to do that. But where would I get the time? If you are one of those who believes that “time is money,” then this is actually a more costly option than paying for a supported theme.

The third option, which is the option I have chosen, is to keep the blog as generic as possible and just switch themes if and when I need to. If I keep things simple, then the switches should be relatively painless.

Now, switching themes takes very little time. But time is something I don’t have much of right now. I am extremely blessed to have so much work to get done in January. But the price I have to pay for that is cutting back on less urgent tasks. Although I do consider this blog to be an important task, it is not urgent. So it has taken me this long (several weeks) to get the theme switched and ready to use again.

That’s what I’ve been up to. I appreciate all the wonderful comments I have received from people who have been enjoying this blog. I can see in my stats that it is NOT a popular blog, but that doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that the people who read it actually get something out of it. And the comments I’ve gotten in the past month or so have communicated this clearly. So I wanted to make sure to thank all of you who took the time to share your thoughts about this blog. It really does mean a lot to me.

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Driving Straight Through Your Sound

Speaking of Analogies

In my most recent trumpet lesson post called Trumpet Analogies, I wrote about why trumpet and other brass teachers use so many analogies. Today’s post is about one of those analogies.

How to Get a Good Trumpet Sound

Straight RoadIn the context of sounding good on the trumpet, I tell my students about how I used to watch my father driving when I was a young boy. I remember how puzzled I was to see him turning the steering wheel on the straight roads. The road was straight and he was driving straight, but he was constantly moving the steering wheel, left, right, left…it didn’t make any sense to me.

How could we be going straight if he was turning the steering wheel?

Of course, the answer to that question was that my father was making minor adjustments while he was driving to insure that the car stayed straight with the road. I remind my students that cars do not drive straight by themselves. There is no position on the steering wheel that will always make the car stay straight on the road. Because of road conditions, weather, and the constantly changing nature of any vehicle, these minor adjustments are necessary.

Stay Straight for a Great Trumpet Sound

These are precisely the same types of minor adjustments we must make while we are playing the trumpet to get a great trumpet sound! The road conditions of our musical journey are constantly changing, so there is no right way to play. Obeying vague instructions such as “open your teeth” and “pucker your lips” is the musical equivalent of trying to hold the steering wheel in one position in hopes that you will drive straight. Playing a certain way all the time and holding to that regardless of the musical environment will eventually take you off the road and into a ditch. You must constantly adjust if you are to sound good on the trumpet.

You Can’t Drive Blind

Another aspect of this concept is that, in order to drive straight, you must have your eyes open to see if you need to adjust the steering wheel. The equivalent to this in trumpet playing is listening to your sound. I am convinced that 90% of bad sounding trumpet players do NOT listen to themselves as they play the trumpet. They “drive blind.”

If you want to sound better on the trumpet, you must first see (hear) where you are going and then you must see (hear) where you are. The minor adjustments you make must be based on the discrepancy between the two. If you know what you want to sound like and you hear that you are not sounding like that, then you must do something to point you in that direction.

Making a good sound on the trumpet is a complex issue. Much of it is physical, but as I pointed out in my Trumpet Analogies article, most of those physical mechanics are hidden from our view. The only way for us to be certain we are driving straight through our sounds is to open our ears and listen to what’s coming out of the bell. If you sound good, when you sound almost like the professional trumpet players you’ve been listening to, then hold all of those mechanics in place. But when the sound suffers, you need to adjust the mechanics until you are closer to that “sound model” that you have in your mind.

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Greener Career Grass

Eddie Lewis - ThinkingThe Green Green Grass of Home

In a recent message our pastor, Don Nordon, joked that the grass is always greener over the septic tank. Ha! Great joke and wonderful analogy. Those people, places and things that seem so wonderful to us from a distance only seem that way because of the “crap” beneath the surface.

In reality, there is no greener grass than the yard our Heavenly Father planted you in. When we envy, it takes our focus away from the wonderful (or wonder filled) lives He has given us and turns our own hearts into stench reeking septic tanks.

This post is part of my ongoing series about 1 Cor. 13, the famous “Love Is” list. To read other posts from this series feel free to visit that series page by clicking here.

Love Doesn’t Envy Other People’s Careers

The following is from the notes I took when I first started studying about Love a few years ago:

I have experienced envy in my life and my career as a professional musician. I had a plan when I matriculated into the University if Texas at El Paso. I was going to follow the proper channels that were certain to propel me into the music career that I saw in my head. When there was trouble during my fifth year as an undergrad, I made the mistake of leaving UTEP to move here to Houston to finish my degree at the University of Houston.

It turned out that the trumpet professor and I didn’t get along very well. Our relationship ended in conflict with him telling me to leave his studio and never return. He then told me that, in all his years of teaching he has only ever had two failures and that I was the second of those two.

As a result, nine years after I began my academic studies, my academic options had expired. With no degree and no financial resources to try yet another university, I was faced with a major career decision. Do I quit or do I try to fashion a career out of what I had, which at that time amounted to almost nothing.

I chose not to quit. I began the professional leg of my musical career with no credentials of any sort. On paper, my career was nonexistent and I was often criticized for it, quite harshly at times.

By the grace of God, I have enjoyed a successful musical career, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there were times when I envied those who had credentials in their careers. I envied the players who went to universities like Julliard and the Eastman Conservatory. I envied the musicians who had toured the world with famous bands. I envied the teachers who had prominent teaching positions in respectable universities. I made bad decisions in my career and I wished I had the credentials they had.

There are people who use envy as a source of motivation. They actually invite the envy to control them because they believe they cannot accomplish anything valuable without that motivation. The problem is that envy takes our focus away from doing God’s will. Instead, through envy we focus on what we think we want, basing that want on the “advantage” that others posses.

What our Heavenly Father gives to other people is not better than what He is willing to give to us. The grass is not greener on the other side. I know people who envy me because I have had a successful career as a professional musician. I have lived the dream of a great many trumpet players, but most of them would cease to envy my life if they knew what I have had to sacrifice for it. Most of them know nothing of the sacrifices musicians must make in the context of their families and their life styles.

When we envy others, we are basically saying that we are not happy with what God has given us. We are not thankful.

Furthermore, envy causes us to be less giving into the lives of others. When we envy what others posses, we feel that we have nothing of value to give of ourselves. We said earlier that kindness is when we give what is not deserved, but when we fail to recognize our own worth, we are then less able to show kindness.

Trusting God With Your Worth

What I learned as a result of my lack of career credentials was that I needed to trust God to be the best judge of my worth (Joh 16:27), not myself and not other people. If God sees value in me, that should be all I need to see value in myself.

With that new attitude, I was able to stand on the strengths He gave me and grow into the career path God set in motion for me (Jeremiah 29:11). Ironically, those things that I previously saw as disadvantages have since turned into advantages (Romans 8:28). His plans for my career were far better than anything I wanted to do when I first made the decision to become a full time musician.

Let God Grow YOUR Career

I enjoy the successful career I do today because God sees value in me, not because I was able to “keep up with the Joneses.” When I finally understand that He sees worth in me, I was able to seek that worth myself and begin sharing that with other people. I encourage you to do the same. Stop trying to be something or someone that God never intended you to be. Stop trying to be “as good as” the other people in your line of work.

Instead, consult the one who set your career in motion. Ask God what your strengths are and what he wants you to do with them. When you align you career with His will, there is no limit to how far you can take it.

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Trumpet Analogies

Looking Inside

Revealing What’s Hidden

If you hang around trumpet (and other brass instrument) teachers long enough, you will learn that we have a tendency to use a lot of analogies. There is a reason for this. In contrast to instruments like the piano, the violin and percussion instruments, most of what we do physically on a brass instrument happens internally. As teachers, we cannot see what our students are doing any more than we can show them how we do it. Everything from the lips back towards our abdomens is invisible to other players.

Those things are not only invisible to other people, they are also invisible to ourselves. What we “feel” is not always what really happens inside our bodies. The words we use to describe what we do or how we play the trumpet are mostly just guesses based on our interpretations of what it feels like. If I want you to play the trumpet exactly the same way as I do, it does not work for me to say something like “raise your tongue three millimeters.” What feels like three millimeters to me, inside my mouth, is most likely NOT really three millimeters.

One of the ways I like to demonstrate the deception of how things feel inside our mouths is to compare trumpet playing to when we lose a tooth. Usually a tooth will feel huge in our mouth as it comes out. Everything inside our mouths tends to feel bigger than it really is. I remember when I was a child that I marveled at how small the teeth were when they finally came out.

Teaching Brass Instruments

Brass instruction is the same way. How are we to accurately communicate to our students what to do with their mouths when they play a brass instrument? Can we instruct them to raise their tongues two millimeters with confidence, knowing for certain that what we think feels like two millimeters will also feel like two millimeters to them? No, I don’t think so.

We tell analogies to help the students get their heads in the right place so that they can make appropriate internal adjustments on their own. Which,  as I’ve pointed out in other blog posts, is the ONLY way they can make those adjustments. Instructions like “open your teeth” can produce all kinds of random responses, and very few of them are musically productive.

When we share analogies, it encourages the students to think a particular way about specific subjects. When it works correctly,  the students’ thoughts lead towards better understanding and this understanding gives the students the ability to make their own judgements about how to play the instrument.

When the students no longer require us to dictate their internal actions, and can make the correct adjustments on their own, then we know that we have done our jobs correctly.

A Wealth of Analogies

The best teachers are often the ones who have the most analogies. One of the reasons we learn so many different analogies is because they each work differently with different students. The better we get as teachers, the better we are able to judge which analogies work best for each student. It’s more than just right brain or left brain, feminine or masculine, introvert or extrovert. Each student has his or her own personality and the more analogies we know, the more likely we are to chance upon the key that will unlock each student’s talent.

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How Times Have Changed

I stumbled upon the following newsletter post while doing a Google search for something else. It’s one of my old newsletter posts from ten years ago. I wanted to post it here because I think this story highlights the changes that have happened in my career since it stopped being “my career” and started being “our career.” Pearl has been part of our team since we were married in 2007 and things have not been the same ever since. I will write more about that at the end of this post.

About a month ago I got one of those calls that was way too good to be true. And my life experiences have taught me exactly what you would think, that if it sounds to good to be true then it must definitely not be true. Even from the time when I first began working as a pro in El Paso, the unbelievable offers were rolling in. We’re going to vegas. We’re making a recording. We’re going on tour. We’re opening up for so and so. To be a professional musician is to be bombarded with these kinds of “deals”. And they NEVER come true.

What was the call?

I was asked to go to St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands for one weekend – three days – and the pay would be a thousand dollars per day. The only catch was that I would have to make all of the weekly rehearsals. The leader is someone who I respect and who has always been on the level with me. I had no reason to believe that this was not a good deal……other than it sounded to good to be true.

Knowing that the leader was reliable, honest and had plenty of integrity, I started day dreaming about the money. Certainly, I didn’t need $3,000 for just bills. I could easily use one grand of that for bills and use the other two for something else. For me, that something else was a CD project. With an additional $2,000, I would finally have enough to record my first CD as a leader (I’ve been saving money for that purpose for about two years). .

As the month progressed my day dreams became increasingly vivid in detail. I was going to record at Sugar hill. I was already lining up players and giving them the heads up because I wanted to get it done before the end of the year. I was narrowing down a tune list and contemplating what to do with those tunes, compositionally. I was day dreaming about art work for the jewel cases and over all concepts for marketing the CD once it was done. This trip to St. Thomas was a source of hope for me. I was finally going to accomplish one of my major career goals.

The first hint of negativity came from the other band members in the first rehearsal. This is a regular band and I was just a sub. It seemed that none of them believed it to be true either. But I had already turned down calls for that weekend so I was in for the long haul.

At the second rehearsal, I find out that our main purpose on this trip is to back up a singer who sings all the old James Brown tunes. The guy running the show was not the leader of the band but a guy who had worked with James Brown’s band for a while. He ran the second rehearsal and we did probably about half of the show that night. The guy was very professional, musically speaking. He ran the rehearsal as if he had done that kind of thing many times in his career.

So I’m having mixed feelings at this point. The guy who’s running the show SEEMS to be very professional. But it’s not the man with whom I originally agreed to travel with. There was room for trouble in this scenario. We were dealing with a big unknown and putting our faith in a man who none of us knew anything about.

I missed the third rehearsal because we were moving to the new house. I felt bad about this.

The fourth rehearsal brings troubling news. We’re less than two weeks from our departure date and we still have no contract, no flight reservations and no information about where we’re staying. To make matters worse, our mystery man doesn’t show up to this rehearsal to ease our concerns. By this time, it’s too late to salvage any work for the weekend (except for my church gig – for which I am extremely thankful). But the group’s usual leader assures us that he will know for sure what’s going on within a couple of days.

Another week passes and I haven’t heard from the leader. I go to the final rehearsal before the trip and when I walk in, the band is “discussing” the problem. Once again, the mystery man is a no show. He is supposedly on his way to the rehearsal, “as we speak”, with the contract in hand. He never showed up.

I left the rehearsal that night and haven’t heard from anyone in the band since.

I’ve lost weekends of work before. You get used to that in this business. And like I said earlier, you get used to these “unbelievable” deals too. This one was just a little bit more difficult to deal with, emotionally. It was one of those “deals” that never let go. It kept a hold on me. There was never a time when I knew for certain that it wasn’t any good. Even the leader’s last words to me were words of hope. He told me that he thinks this thing is going to work out. This was two days before we were supposed to leave. And I never heard from him again.

So I’m back to the daily grind and I’ve pulled my head back out of the clouds. The CD will have to wait, just like I knew it would before this “unbelievable” deal came up. Nothing has really changed. I’m still trudging along and making forward strides…..the same forward strides that got me where I am now. I have no doubt that they’ll also get me where I want to go with my career in the future. And I know now more than ever that there are no short cuts.

Yes, times have changed drastically since 2002. In the piece above, my attitude was basically “that’s how it works in this industry.” When Pearl got here, being the scientific mind that she is, she questioned the status quo. She helped me to understand that this is not how it has to be and we have made a lot of changes to how we operate since then.

One interesting thing to me, when I read this story (I had actually forgotten all about it), was that $3,000 doesn’t really seem like so much money anymore. I can’t say off hand that we have made three grand in one weekend, but the idea of it doesn’t seem so impressive to me anymore.

That’s probably the most important [business] thing I’ve learned since Pearl got here. Our product is worth nothing more than what we believe it is worth. When we work for peanuts, it is our fault, no one else’s. I had to see it from the perspective of a complete outsider before I could understand it. For that reason, and of course many others, I am extremely blessed to have Pearl as my business partner.

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Christmas and Love

This year I feel very different as I sit here to compose my annual Christmas message. For some reason, it just doesn’t feel very Christmasy to me. Part of the reason, I think, is because we’ve been so busy that we haven’t had time to put up the decorations. The tree is finally up but it’s still bare. The ornaments, lights and various decorations are spread across the living room floor. Add to that the fact that it’s 70 degrees outside (21°C), very high humidity, and it really just doesn’t feel like Christmas to me.

So What?

I’m sure that will change soon. The decorations will soon be up and the Christmas gigs will have soon started and I will get all the warm fuzzies that go along with all of that.

But as I sit here to think about what I’m going to write, I am reminded that these warm fuzzies are notwhat Christmas is all about. Christmas is a time when we are reminded that God gave His only Son as a gift of grace, a gift that none of us ever deserved and could never repay.

Yes, the cultural stuff is nice. I enjoy the music, the lights, the food, the special programs on TV. I enjoy the warm fuzzies. But I think we miss the point when we emphasize the cultural stuff and forget about the original gift that started it all.

I know that Christmas is different things to different people. To me it is the time when I am reminded, even more than usual, that I am to love my neighbor. It is a seasonal prompt to actually do the things I’ve been writing about in my “Love Is” series. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying some warm fuzzies from the cultural side of the Christmas holidays, but the best kinds of warm fuzzies you can experience are the ones you get when you know you made a difference in someone’s life.

Christmas Is Everywhere

During the holidays, Christmas is everywhere. We have many reminders to love one another at the turn of every corner. I want to encourage you to use those reminders as prompts to live a life of love.

Love is Patient
When you see the Christmas prompts, let them remind you to endure the traffic and the rude shoppers without becoming angry.

Love Is Kind
When you are reminded of God’s grace when you see the Christmas decorations, use that reminder to motivate you to share His grace with others. Give what hasn’t been earned and what cannot be repaid. Give selflessly.

Love Doesn’t Envy
Remember during this holiday season to recognize your own worth. You can be a blessing to others when you recognize that there is no one else in this world quite like you. You have something to give that is unique to you alone.

Love Doesn’t Boast
Jesus was born in a manger when Israel was expecting him to arrive in in splendor and glory. He later taught that “he who is first will be last.” Use this holiday season as a time to lift other people up with you words instead of yourself.

Love Is Not Proud
Acknowledge those who have contributed to your life. Christmas is a time for you to thank the people who lifted you up to get you where you are today.

Love Does Not Dishonor
Use this Christmas season to make a commitment to live an honorable life. Keep your promises. Pay your bills. Always do the right thing.

Love Is Not Self-Seeking
This holiday season, make a concerted effort to put other people’s needs before your own.

Love Is Not Easily Angered
Make a commitment to stop following in politics for a while. Get your head out of that angry, bitter world and get it in line with the Holy Spirit and let Him sort those things out.

Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs
When you see Christmas everywhere you turn, let it remind you that all of your own sins have been forgotten. Strive to be “Christ like” and blot the wrongs that have been done to you from your memory. Forgive those who have harmed you the same way God has forgiven you.

Love Does Not Delight In Evil
Celebrate Jesus! Celebrate His love for you! Take delight in the love that He has empowered you to give to others.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I’ve been writing this message off and on all day, alternating between writing and putting up decorations. Now our home is beginning to have that Christmasy feel to it. There are plenty of reminders here to live the love that I’ve been “preaching” all year. So thank YOU for being a part of that.

Pearl and I wish you all a very merry Christmas. No matter where you live, we encourage you to enjoy Christmas differently this year. Be a blessing to the people in your life. Let them know that God loves them and be an expression of that love in their lives.

God bless you all!


Posted in An Expression of Grace, Thinking Aloud | Tagged | 2 Comments

Lunch Concert with the Thomas Hultén Quartet

Thomas Hultén has invited all our Houston-based readers to a lunch time concert on Wednesday 5 December. The concert, which will last an hour, starts at noon in the Wortham Theater Center Lobby.

At the Da Camera event titled, “Little Day Music”, You can expect to hear the Thomas Hultén Quartet playing  mostly jazz, with some Christmas songs in the blend.

The Thomas Hultén Quartet comprises Thomas Hultén (trombone), Gilbert Sedeno (piano), Anthony Sapp (bass), and Joel Fulgham (drums).

Entrance to this lunch time concert is free so come out and support local music.

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