When the Trumpet Player Within Me Died
I have been a trumpet player since I was ten years old. I’m creeping up on my forty year anniversary of blowing through this hunk of metal, trying to make music. In the beginning of that four decade career, what I enjoyed most was the songs we played. Songs were fun! It was exciting to be a part of something like that and I really enjoyed it.
However, as I grew older and became more serious about music as a career, the things I appreciated most about music had more to do with skill and less to do with the actual music. I had a great desire to grow as a trumpet player, to increase my technical abilities so that I could have access to more music. And the better I got, the more I wanted to grow. By 2003, I was so dedicated to this side of our craft that it shaped who I was as a player. I judged my own musician ship according to how well I played the trumpet. I also judged recordings and performances of other players according to their technique on the instrument. The musicians I enjoyed most were those who could do things on their instrument that were beyond my current abilities. I listened to them the way an apprentice would listen to his mentor. This desire to grow dictated who I was as a musician.
Then, in late 2004, great tragedy struck in my life. My wife of eighteen years left me for another man and within months my father also passed away. It was not a good time for me. During the the time of healing that followed, I discovered that I could not tolerate most of my once favorite recordings. At first I thought it was because they reminded me of the pain I experienced, but as time passed, I realized that it wasn’t only my favorite recordings I couldn’t listen to anymore. It was more than just that.
So I went several years without listening to any music. When I began to return to listening once again, I began to see a new pattern to the music I enjoyed most. This new pattern seemed completely unrelated to the music I liked most before the divorce. As I added more new recordings to my favorite list, I figured out that the difference now was more of a musical appreciation, not a technical one.
Where before I enjoyed hearing what people could do most (usually enjoying what they did simply because I could NOT do it), today I enjoy it most when musicians have something genuine to say through their music. And in fact, I’m no longer very impressed by great trumpet playing. I no longer desire to do things on the trumpet that others can do. I no longer stand awestruck by technical feats of any sort.
And this applies to everything in music. I am unimpressed with clever compositions if that cleverness fails to communicate a genuine musical message of some sort. I am no longer impressed by ensemble performances of works that push the envelope just for the sake of making things more difficult. I am no longer impressed with musicians who can do things in their improvisation that no one else can do. When I hear these things today, I cannot even recognize the musicians’ accomplishments anymore because the lack of communication is actually offensive, not only to my ears but to my spirit.
The same is true for my own playing. I have reached a point in my music career where I really don’t care how impressive my playing is. I am not looking for oohs and aahs. My desire is to communicate to the audience in a meaningful way. This does not mean I have turned my back on technique. I continue to work on my own technique. I have always believed that the only way to take technique OUT of the music is to make it a non-issue – simply by having enough technique to play whatever come up. But what I desire to do with that technique has changed. I see it as a tool I can use to communicate to the audience. That’s all.
For that reason, I tell people that the trumpet player within me died in 2004. What emerged from that death was a genuine musician. This transition shifted all of my likes and dislikes in music and I like who I am today.