Staying in the Game

Hang In ThereI am hearing a lot of comments from my musician friends that times are rough right now. There’s very little work, which is typical for August in Houston, but they say things are worse than ever this year.

I’ve been making my living in music, in Houston for over two decades now. I have seen plenty of these ups and downs. This is not the first time I’ve heard other musicians say that this is the worse it’s ever been. They’ve been saying that since I got here.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to say that it’s all in their heads. I know the tough times they are speaking of because I went through all of them right along with them. Those tough times are real and a serious part of making a living as a professional musician.

So the question is, “What do you do about it?”

My answer has always been to just hang in there. The downs don’t last forever (nor do the ups). There is always an upswing with better times ahead. During tough times we plow and sow our fields so that the next good times, that are just around the corner, bring us a greater harvest. This means practicing more, writing more originals, networking, and even spending more time with our families.

This is where the people who have to be paid for EVERY little thing go wrong. If you can’t see the connection between the work you do now and the profits you make two years from now, you will never be as successful as you could be. Don’t worry that today’s gig doesn’t pay enough to invest twenty hours of rehearsal time. Those rehearsals will pay off down the road. Don’t worry that today’s gig doesn’t pay enough to justify a full fledged marketing campaign. The marketing you do during the hard times is worth ten times that same investment during the good times.

Invest in your art. Work on your craft. Tweak your business. Now is the time to move forward in your career, not back.

Hang in there!

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Book Review: The Complete Solfeggi

Title: The Complete Solfeggi
Composer: Giuseppe Concone
Editor: John Korak
No. Pages: 144
Copyright Date: 1998


Thirty Daily Exercises, Op. 11
Fifty Lessons, Op. 9
Twenty-five Lessons, Op. 10
Fifteen Vocalises, Op. 12
Forty Lessons, Op. 17


Includes a “Glossary of Foreign Terms” and “Listing by Keys”.

My Comments:

For the past several years, I have ended my “Daily Routine” each day by sight reading at least one lyrical study. I was able to read through about six lyrical books and still felt like there wasn’t enough material to keep up this daily habit. Then I heard about this book, a collection of well over a hundred lyrical studies by Concone. Problem solved. This book kept me busy for quite a while.

The reason I end my daily physical routine with a lyrical study is to sort of bring all of the physical elements of playing into one musical package. It’s a daily reminder that all of this physical and technical work is for a purpose and it helps me to make sure that my technical studies don’t cause me to stray from that objective.

The comments above are from the original review I wrote in 1999. I would like to add that my thoughts on this topic have matured over the past decade. I commonly tell my students and those who seek my advice that all physical work should be done for musical reasons. Today I understand why this statement is so true. They say we can only think of one thing at a time in the foreground of our minds. The same is true with music. The Daily Routines and Physical Trumpet Pyramid books book help us to push most of the physical aspects of our playing into our subconscious minds, but we need to spend time playing real music to push it the rest of the way down. It is so very important that we are able to focus completely on musical thoughts when we perform and that the physical stuff should be almost forgotten and automatic.

Practicing lyrical etudes is our first step in that direction.

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The Physical Trumpet Pyramid

The Physical Trumpet Pyramid is a method I developed in the mid 1980’s. It is the concept behind my Daily Routines and Chops Express books and the foundation for the physical side of my trumpet teaching. Interestingly, the original edition of The Physical Trumpet Pyramid was a flop (compared to what I had intended) and a key factor in motivating me to write more. Daily Routines was written only a year later and all the other books followed.

In 2008 we decided the pyramid book was an important part of our catalogue and we wrote the third edition. It is important to believe in what you sell and we believe in this third edition. It rings true, more so than the previous editions ever did.

The concept is a simple one. In the book, I refrain from explaining what to do with your lips, etc. Instead, I focus on how you should practice. In that way, the Physical Trumpet Pyramid book tells you how and why to practice a certain way, then the Daily Routines and Chops Express books give you the actual material to practice.

Some friends refer to the Physical Trumpet Pyramid as the teacher’s guide. Yes, I do recommend that all the teachers who teach out of the Daily Routines book should buy and learn the material in this book, but other people have benefited from the pyramid book as well. This is especially true for people who are self taught.

The Physical Trumpet Pyramid is available at our Tiger Music site and also at

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Texas All-State Jazz Trumpet Etude Two

Here is the second jazz etude for this year. This is the one that I composed:

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All-State Jazz Trumpet Etude One

This is our first time venturing into the world of video:

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Written in Red

It is a rare occasion when I get to plug a CD that my mother is on. In fact, this is the first time ever. My mom, Ruth Lewis, sings with a number of local choirs in the Phoenix area. One of those choirs, the East Valley Chorale, recently recorded a CD titled Written in Red. It is very well done. I’m listening to it now, for the second time, while I do my morning chores.

I must say that I am proud of my mother. It’s not just that she stays busy. Of course that’s good for her too, but I am a firm believer in living a righteous life. She is one of the few people I can look up to as an example of someone who does just that. She has lived a life of selflessness, a life devoted to God, to her family, to her friends, and for that she has been blessed.

You know, now that I’m thinking about it, I’ll bet that most of the good she does in other people’s lives goes unrecognized. She is mostly a quiet woman who doesn’t boast about the good things she does for people. She just does them and often time she does them in secret.

I think my favorite track on the CD is How Great Thou Art. The arrangement begins with traditional four part writing and progresses to a more modern sort of Camp Kirkland sound. The entire CD presents a blend of traditional and commercial styles. All of it is sacred. All of it is pleasant to listen to.

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Davy Crockett

Standing in Confidence in God’s Will!

Davy CrockettOn a recent trip to El Paso and Phoenix, Pearl and I stopped in Ozona for the night. In the morning we took a stroll over to the Davy Crockett museum (which was closed for construction, unfortunately) and we posed for pictures with the statue which serves as a local landmark for the area. At the bottom of the statue is the inscription, “Be sure you are right then go ahead.” Crockett was famous for this phrase, but for me at this point in my life it served as an exclamation mark to a very important life lesson I have recently learned.

The Bible says, “Ask and you shall receive.” (Luke 11:9) I believe God does indeed give us what we ask for, but I think a lot of people take that verse out of context. It’s important to look at the full story that this verse belongs to:

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Luke 11:5 – 10

Think about it. What is the friend in this story asking for?

Consider an alternative scenario:

It’s 3 am. You are asleep at home with your family and your friend calls and says, “Dude, I’ve been up partying and playing Halo all night and I got some serious munchies. But I’m out of money. Can I come over right now to borrow money for some Jack in the Box tacos and a milk shake?”

What do you think your answer would be in this scenario? I think most people would be extremely annoyed with the friend. They say that a good friend is someone you can call on at any time for any reason, but that welcome is soon worn out when it is abused. Most people are likely to tell that “dude” no, and if he persists, they will hang up on him for sure.

Praying Selflessly

Look at the difference between the alternative scenario and the story that Jesus told. The friend in Jesus’ story was actually doing a selfless deed. He was trying to find food….not for himself….but for someone who had been traveling and was probably hungry. Remember, there weren’t convenience stores or twenty-four hour fast food chains. It’s quite possible that someone who traveled in those days traveled by foot and had little or nothing to eat all day. The friend in Jesus’ story was trying to fill a need in another person’s life.

In His story, Jesus is telling us how to pray. He says that when we pray selflessly, our prayers will be answered. He is not saying that every little thing we ask for, regardless of the reasons why, is going to be given to us. That promise was never made and never even insinuated.

I learned long ago that praying selfishly does not get your prayers answered. I remember going to bingo with my grandparents when I was in elementary school. I prayed to God that I would win, maybe even win the jackpot! But I didn’t win. God didn’t answer that prayer because I was praying for something very selfish. To me it wasn’t about the money. I didn’t really understand money very well at that age. I wanted the thrill of being the one lucky person in the whole building to be singled out and praised for hitting the jackpot. It would have been so glorious! Looking back now, I thank Him for not giving me what I prayed for. It was a lesson in humility.

Now fast forward thirty years to my father’s last fishing trip with me and my brother, Gerald. By that time I had learned about which prayers we can expect God to answer. My prayer on that day was that my father would catch the most fish and that he would have a wonderful time with us. That prayer was answered. It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t catch much at all and that didn’t bother me one bit. It’s a different kind of pleasure that comes to us when we see selfless prayers get answered. There is a deeper sense of satisfaction.

Standing in Confidence

When it comes to day to day confidence, the same principle applies. If what we are doing is based on our own selfishness, it is almost impossible to stand tall and in confidence. As Christians, we know that we cannot do anything good without God. When what we desire is selfish, when we put our own wants and needs above others, we step outside of His will for us. We turn our backs on the gifts He wants to give us. In that sense, we are spiritually all alone.

But when we know in our hearts that what we are doing is based on selflessness, when we put other people’s needs above our own, then we CAN stand confidently knowing that God’s strength is behind us. When we are selfless, God lifts us up and gives us strength. When we are selfless, God makes a way for us. He clears a path and blesses us with everything we need to make that selflessness work. When we live this way, God answers all of our prayers and we can walk forward in our lives with the confidence of knowing He is with us.

I was reminded of this life lesson when I read the inscription at the bottom of the Davy Crockett statue. Be sure you are right, in God’s eyes. Be sure that what you are doing is going to selflessly bless people, then DO IT! Do it in confidence knowing that God is behind you all the way.

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