Life Builder: Martin Huerta

Time for another Life Builder post, and since I’m in El Paso, it should be one of the many people from that time in my life…Martin Huerta.

This Life Builder series is something I’ve been doing for several years now, acknowledging those people who have contributed to my success in life. I believe it is a mistake to go through life failing to acknowledge those people who build us up.

Martin is one of those people to me. And this is why…

This is a picture from our trip to El Paso for the Andress High School 50 year anniversary.

This is a picture from our trip to El Paso for the Andress High School 50 year anniversary.

Martin Is a Giver

I cannot talk about how much Martin means to me without pointing out that, of all the people I know, Martin is one of the most generous people I ever met. It’s sad that, in today’s society, we associate generosity with giving money. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Martin is the kind of guy who will go the extra mile for you, give you the shirt off of his back, etc.

Yes, I know those are cliches that people use, but with Martin, I truly believe he really would give you the shirt off of his back if he knew you needed it more than he did.

But it’s the “go the extra mile” side of generosity where Martin truly shines. That’s what he always did for me when I lived here. Martin was the one I could always count on to give me a ride, or work on some music together for our quintet. Martin always included me in things that others would normally not. Things that seem like nothing to other people, but to an extreme introvert like me, it’s nice to be included.

I wish I had more actual examples to cite here, but we are talking about 30 years ago, so the memories are a bit foggy. But yes, that’s how I remember Martin from those days. He actually lived the way Jesus told us to live.

Kindness, Martin and This Series

This series is sort of a spin off from a parent series. I haven’t been keeping up with it much, but I am also writing a series about 1 Cor. 13, the famous love list. The second word on that list is “kind.” According to my study of how the word “kind” was used elsewhere in the Bible, kindness is when you give what is undeserved and/or cannot be repaid.

It’s a nice coincidence that I am writing about this right now because Pearl just shared the following graphic on facebook:

These Life Builder posts are not just a way to compliment the people I write about. They are all wonderful people. But this series is also about describing how their wonderfulness influenced me, and changed my life for the better. And on the topic of kindness, according to the Biblical definition that I derived from the Bible, Martin sets a wonderful example for me to follow. I want to be as kind as generous as he is.

This is my good friend Martin. He didn't know why I wanted to take his picture. I had already begun writing his Life Builder post and needed a picture of him to post before I left El Paso.

This is my good friend Martin. He didn’t know why I wanted to take his picture. I had already begun writing his Life Builder post and needed a picture of him to post before I left El Paso. I’ll post another one when I get home.

Embouchure Example

Another VERY important thing that Martin Huerta contributed into my life was his influence in my embouchure change (I don’t like to call it an embouchure change). When Martin and I met, and for most of the time that I lived in El Paso, my range was extremely limited. I could barely play a high C, and when I did get up into that range, it was a physical nightmare. It was a painful, miserable experience.

Martin, on the other hand, had a wonderful sound in that register and seemed to execute it effortlessly. For me, someone who worked so hard to get that upper register, it was mind boggling to me how he did that.

So I began studying Martin’s embouchure in earnest. I reasoned that, if I could analyze precisely how our embouchure’s differ, I could use that information to improve my own playing.

Studying his embouchure is not the only thing that helped me get to where I am, but I can promise you that I would not have the chops I have today (and I am known for my chops) if I hadn’t done that.

Keeping In Touch

One more thing before I close this post, out of all my dear friends in and from EL Paso, none of them put as much effort into keeping in touch with me as Martin does. Martin has been an advocate for me here in El Paso. He believed in me when few others did. My connection to this, my musical birth town of sorts, may have been severed if not for Martin working to keep that connection alive.

I don’t say so to insult or offend any of my other very dear friends here in El Paso. I understand people get busy, and life happens (something for which I am equally guilty). But that’s all the more reason to acknowledge Martin for, once again, going the extra mile.

Thank You Martin!

So thank you Martin. You are a dear friend and I am honored to have shared so much of your life with you. Thank you for being a giver and teaching me how to be more of a giver myself. Thank you for your beautiful musicianship and the example you set for me thirty years ago. And finally, thank you for keeping in touch. It means more to me than you can know.

It was great to see you on Tuesday. Thank you for coming out to hear us do our thing.

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A Perfectly Sincere Point of View



“I have lately come to perceive that the one thing which gives value to any piece of art, whether it be book, or picture, or music, is that subtle and evasive thing which is called personality. No amount of labor, of zest, even of accomplishment, can make up for the absence of this quality. It must be an almost instinctive thing, I believe. Of course, the mere presence of personality in a work of art is not sufficient, because the personality revealed may be lacking in charm; and charm, again, is an instinctive thing. No artist can set out to capture charm; he will toil all the night and take nothing; but what every artist can and must aim at is to have a perfectly sincere point of view. He must take his chance as to whether his point of view is an attractive one; but sincerity is the one indispensable thing. It is useless to take opinions on trust, to retail them, to adopt them; they must be formed, created, felt. The work of a sincere artist is almost certain to have some value; the work of an insincere artist is of its very nature worthless.”
A. C. Benson

If you are one of the regular readers of my blog, you may recognize the similarity between the quote above and what I have said in previous posts about striving for originality. The quote is over a hundred years old and quite frankly says what I’ve been trying to say all along, but with far more eloquence.

Click here to read one of my old blogs about originality.

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Harlem Renaissance 101 – Cesar Chavez High School

One of the nice things about my career is the variety of different types of gigs I do. Being a self employed, freelance trumpet player means that I need to be ready for anything.

Harlem Renaissance 101

Last Wednesday I had the privilege of participating in a program for and by students at Cesar Chavez High School. The school’s Black History Club hosted a program they called “Harlem Renaissance 101” and hired me to perform some jazz compositions from that era.

I would like to thank Ariann Burley for the invitation.

In Harlem Renaissance 101, the students held class on stage. Three of the students played the role of teacher while the rest of the class sat on the floor of the stage awaiting their turns to recite poetry, sing, give short history lessons, play music or dance.

Meeting New People

I do my share of school performances. Sometimes I work with the students and sometimes I don’t. But when we do work with the students, it is almost always in the context of their band class.

This time it was nice to work with students outside of that environment.

For me, one of the highlights of the performance was sharing the stage with up-and-coming trumpeter, Jacob Newsome. Jacob and I performed In a Mello Tone with an accompaniment track.

Not a typical gig for me, and like I said, that’s one of the things that I like about my career. It’s nice to do something totally different now and again!

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Life Builder: Pastor Don Nordin

The next Life Builder I want to write about is Don Nordin, our current pastor at C.T. Church (C.T. stands for Christian Temple). After Pearl and I left Quail Valley Church in Missouri City, our plan was to look into some of the Assembly of God churches in the area, beginning with the closest. We began with CT Church because it was closer than all the other AOG churches. We went there a few times and knew right away that this was the right church for us. That was about five years ago. So yes, we’ve been there long enough that the church has made a difference in our lives and I feel it’s time to write one of these Life Builder posts about our pastor.

Pastors Don and Susan Nordin

Pastors Don and Susan Nordin

My Life as a Christian

For you to understand why I have chosen to write about Pastor Don as a Life Builder, you have to know at least a little bit of my past as a Christian. I gave my life to Christ at a very young age. I cannot be exactly certain how old I was, because it wasn’t at a church where they document that sort of thing. It was most likely when I was in first or second grade, living in Pennsylvania while my father was teaching electronics at Army school in Virginia. Because I was so young, I have no memory of a life without Jesus.

I’ve been studying the Bible since I was first able to read. In fact, reading the Bible has been a life style that I neglected only rarely since I was a youngster. Because of the fact that my father had to move so often for the army, I never attended one church long enough to assimilate into the local church culture. That means my faith as a Christian is almost 100% Bible based, not cultural. My Bible was the only constant in my life, outside of my parents, moving from one army base to the next.

That’s why it is important to me, extremely important, that any church I become a member of must be in line with what the Bible says. I don’t need a “motivational message.” I don’t need someone to make me feel good about myself. I don’t even need to go to a church where I “enjoy” the music. None of that matters to me. What I need is an oasis where I can “come home to” and be nourished by the Word.

Word Based Preaching

Part of how I make my living is playing at different churches. I’ve been playing professionally at churches since the early 1980’s. I have heard messages/sermons from probably more than a hundred different pastors from all of the major denominations. I know from experience just how far some preachers can stray from the Word. I often walk away from a church shaking my head and thinking, “I could never become a member here.”

It’s funny. Some churches remind me of that old saying, “a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

In contrast, I often say of Pastor Don Nordin that every message I have heard him preach has been in line with what the Bible says.

I am not suggesting that I agree with everything he says. Ha! I’ve never met ANYONE who I agree with everything they say. And really, this is not about agreeing with him or not agreeing with him. It’s about Pastor Don’s messages agreeing with the Bible, and his do! End of story!

Yes, that’s a big part of what I need from a church. No one has read the Bible enough times that they can say “I know it all already.” The more I read the Bible, the more I realize that I need to dig even deeper than I already have. And where I am at this place of my Christian walk, Pastor Nordin has been feeding me at the maturity level that I need to be fed at. He is giving me the so called “meat”, instead of the milk, and as a result I have grown in my walk.

That’s the main reason we are at CT Church and also the main reason I am writing about Pastor Don as a Life Builder. I am not close to our pastors. I don’t want to give that impression. But you don’t have to be best buds with someone for them to make a difference in your life.

Walking the Walk

Another requisite I have for finding a church home is walking the walk, putting things into action. I could not be a member of a church that only preaches, but never actually does what a church is supposed to do. Put your money where your mouth is, right?

CT Church is, as Pastor often puts it, “the most givingest church.” When you look at just how much this church does for the community, it is staggering. Really, in all my life as a Christian, I’ve never seen anything like it.

I couldn’t possibly list all of the things CT Does for the community, but they include giving food to the needy, not just during Thanksgiving or Christmas, but several times per year (I just learned that we give food to the hungry three weeks out of every month – praise God!!!!). Along with giving food to the needy, we also provide free health care. On other days we provide free services to the community. The attitude of giving to the community is a constant buzz throughout the year, not a seasonal thing. And all of this is over and above the typical church stuff, like the special seasonal programs and celebrations, offerings to missions, the bible studies and various life groups (cell groups).

These are people who are making a big difference in this community and in the world at large. I don’t know about the inner workings of the church, but I assume that Pastor Nordin is a big part of the reason why CT Church does all of those things.

So yes, these were always the two most important things for me in finding the right church: the message needs to be Word based and the church needs to be walking in God’s will. CT Church fits those two criteria very well, in my opinion.

Pastors Don & Susan Nording on Christmas Eve 2014

Pastors Don & Susan Nording on Christmas Eve 2014

Thank You Pastor Don Nordin!

For readers who are unfamiliar with my Life Builder series, this is my way of putting into practice part of the famous “love is” list from 1 Cor 13; “love is not proud.” In my two year study of 1 Cor 13, I discovered that pride is when we fail to recognize how God or other people have contributed to our success (when we take credit not due to us). For years now I have been trying to exercise love by acknowledging the people who helped me get to where I am today. Part of the way I do that is through these Life Builder posts.

And yes, Don Nordin is one of my Life Builder. I sometimes work at other churches, so we are not there every week, but we knew that going into our membership here. When we became members at Christian Temple, the Holy Spirit told me that we needed someplace to come home to between adventures. So no, we don’t really know the Nordins very well on a personal basis, but this church has been our home for a little over half a decade. We’ve been here long enough that it has grown to occupy a very important place in our hearts.

So thank you Don Nordin! Thank you for staying true to the Bible. Thank you for your commitment to honoring the fruits of the Holy Spirit. And thank you for leading this Church to be an example of what Churches should be doing in their communities.

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Trumpet Player Advice from Luther Didrickson

The following is a post I recently stumbled on from the I wanted to post it here because I agree with it 100%. I took one lesson with Mr. Didrickson in the late 80’s. The lesson lasted two hours and it ended up being a pivotal moment in my career.

I would also like to thank John Urness for posting it (in 2002):

Luther Didrickson was co-trumpet professor with Vince Cichowicz at Northwestern University for many years. Each year new trumpet students were given a handout entitled “The Trumpet Student at Northwestern – A Supplement to the Departmental Orientation Meeting”. A friend of mine who studied there in 1992-93 gave me a copy of this handout from 1992. Here is some excellent advice from Mr. Didrickson reagarding practice habits and self-judgement.

“It is normal to compare yourself to others, many of whom will appear at first to possess daunting skills and talent. Later, you will find they, like yourself, have areas of weakness alongside their obvious strengths. With the right attitude you will be able to learn much from your colleagues, as they surely will from you…

Eventually we all learn to expect and accept differences (especially as regards varying abilities and weaknesses) in players. What is important for you to do is to focus more on your personal progress and program to develop and improve. In other words, you compare your current playing with your own past history and judge yourself more in this way. What others may have accomplished is sometimes useful for reference but by no means to be used in self-evaluation, especially the negative kind. You, in truth, have the rest of your life to become the performer you wish to be…

One last thing: BE PATIENT. Complex mental and physical skills used in playing music on the trumpet take time in developing and refining. They cannot be forced in any known way that will deliver reliable results. All worthwhile things of this sort in life take time, and therefore so should you. Relax, enjoy your wonderful tone as you play the notes on the printed page with security and confidence, at a tempo that doesn’t cause you to lose concentration or to lock up in some way. You’ll do just fine.”

Words we all can learn from.

John Urness

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ELM Level Chart

Here is a great chart Pearl made that shows the different levels of the ELM modules.

Here is a chart Pearl made that represents the eight levels of the ELM modules.

Here is a chart Pearl made that represents the eight levels of the ELM modules.

The module system at our store basically gives the students access to the exercises they need without forcing them to buy an entire book of exercises, most of which they may never use.

The levels are as follows:

0) Trumpet Hopeful
1) Trumpet Pioneer
2) Trumpet Tyro
3) Trumpet Player
4) Trumpet Apprentice
5) Trumpet Pro6) Trumpet Master
7) Trumpet Virtuoso

For now, the modules are a work in progress. God willing, we see there being as many as a hundred or more exercise and etude types for each level. For now we are focusing on lip slurs, articulation and scales.

For access to these modules, we invite you to check out our store at

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Life Builder: John Nelson

When I first began writing these Life Builders posts, I made a silent decision not to write any about my students. It wasn’t that I don’t see the students as Life Builders. I am one of those who, like my father before me, believes that you can learn from anyone. My father was the one who told me that he learned more about electronics when he had to teach it (at Army electronics school) than he ever learned before. I do learn from my students, and they are a steady source of income for me.  Even though they give me the opportunity to try and perfect my methodology, I decided that I would not write about them as Life Builders.

The reason for this decision has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with misunderstandings I’ve encountered in the past. I remember the day I mentioned to a colleague that I believe each student has at least one thing they can do better than I can. The man’s reaction was to say that I had no business teaching if I believed this to be true. He, and many others I found out later, believe that a teacher must be all knowing, and superior to his students in every way.

So I keep these types of thoughts to myself. And yet, I find myself making an exception for one student, John Nelson.

John Nelson

John is an adult student who began taking lessons with me several years ago. Most of you know that I am a goal oriented teacher and that I help my students achieve their own goals, not the goals that I set for them. It has been John’s goal to become a jazz trumpet player, specifically a jazz trumpet player who plays in the style of Chet Baker.

To that end, John was one of the first to use my new beginning jazz method. He was one of my guinea pigs, one of the students whose progress helped me tweak the method along the way to what it is today. Although he hasn’t reach his ultimate goal yet, if you heard him play, you would not know that he was an adult beginner only a few years ago unless I told you.

John Nelson TrumpetSweet Return

So, as I’m sitting here writing, I’m listening to Woody Shaw on my computer, diggin on his angular melodies, breakneck technique, and extremely advanced harmonies. I’m thinking how sweet it is to be able to enjoy this music again. But I cannot enjoy this music without thinking about John Nelson, because it is John who brought this music back into my life.

This is the first reason why I am making a Life Builders exception for John. Let me explain…

For many years I was a heavy listener to art music. It started the day I bought my first CD player and I continued to listen, almost every day, until November 16th, 2004. That was the day my ex told me she was leaving me. From that day forward, I could not tolerate to have music on in the house.

This distaste for listening to music continued long after I had emotionally recovered from the divorce. It went on for years. In fact, when I began teaching John, I still wasn’t listening to music yet.

Listening Assignments

I am a firm believer that students must listen to the music they want to learn how to play. In fact, I have something of a rule that I often repeat in the lessons, “listening is more important than practicing.” To that end, I actually give listening assignments for the students to do each week. I give them a CD and expect them to listen to the entire CD before they return it at the following week’s lesson.

Yes, it was a bit hypocritical of me, in that stage of my life, to require music listening when I knew that I wasn’t doing any listening myself.

When John began doing his weekly assignments, he had this great idea to offer me a CD to listen to in exchange. He had no idea that I wasn’t listening to music at that point in my life. He had no idea that just the thought of listening to music literally repulsed me. I would squirm and get irritated and never made it through a track or two before turning it off.

But then I was confronted with listening assignments of my own. At first I dreaded listening to the CDs he lent me. I didn’t want to listen to jazz, especially NOT jazz. Of all the music I could listen to, jazz irritated me the most. But I forced myself to listen to the CDs he brought me every week.


Thanks to John, I have been cured now for a few years already. I listen to music just fine again. No irritation. No disgust. Nothing like that.

I will admit that there are some very ugly recordings I used to listen to in the past that I probably will never return to again. The truth is that I never liked those recordings to begin with. I used to force myself to listen to that stuff for educational purposes.

But yeah, having to listen to a new CD each week finally brought me around to where I needed to be in that area of my career.

And I owe it to John Nelson. He probably never knew it, but he was something of an accountability partner for me at that time of my life. I always ask the students what they thought of the assignment. With John, he would always turn the question back to me and ask me what I thought of the CD he lent me.

You know I don’t like to lie. I wasn’t going to say “yeah, it was nice” if I hadn’t even listened to it yet. Right?

And that’s the main reason why I wanted to write a Life Builders post about John.

Very Intelligent Adult Beginners

Aside from just the listening, John is one of the very intelligent adult beginners that I wrote about in my post titled My Favorite Beginners. When we teach the younger beginning trumpet players, it is often very difficult to get feedback. The students don’t typically have the communication skills it takes to tell us what is working and what is not. This makes it hard for the teacher to get into the head of the students.

But John is highly educated…emphasis on “highly.” So when I see that something is not working the way I had expected it to, John can tell me what’s going on in his head. He can tell me how he practiced the previous week and can articulate his overall attitude and approach. We don’t get that with the younger beginners!

I already mentioned that working with John has helped me tweak the jazz method, but he’s done a lot more than just that. He has provided a sounding board. I tell him all of my crazy ideas and he puts them into practice. Then he comes back and tells me how it went.

Because of this type of feedback, my teaching skills and my overall methodology has improved more in the last few years than any other period in my life. No exaggeration!

John Nelson Trumpet

Programming Insights

John makes his living as a programmer. You could say that his life is something of an inversion of my own. He programs for a living and plays trumpet for fun. I play trumpet for a living and program for fun. Only lately, John’s skills as a trumpet player have long surpassed my skills as a programmer.

So it’s nice to have someone in that industry to talk to about some of my projects and ideas.

I am not formally trained in software development. I don’t know how things get done. I don’t know the standard conventions or anything outside of what I’ve read in books. So hearing John talk about how things are done really gives me ideas of how I want things to be in our projects.


As with every other person I’ve written about in these Life Builders posts, this is just a basic summary. There have been other things that John has done to make my life better. He has been to more of my live performances than any other current student. He is an impeccable dresser and has shared some of his thoughts about that with me (like “never be afraid to be the best dressed person in the room”). My father was right, we can learn from everyone, and from John I have learned a great deal.

Thank you John. Thank you for being a good student and for bringing more to the lessons than just your horn. You are appreciated.


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