Tuesday, 10 July 2012

One step back, two steps forward

I started playing the trumpet at 11 years old and by 18 I had worked my way through the various examinations, attaining the final and most advanced level 'with distinction'.

Needless to say I felt rather pleased with myself. 

On the back of this success I applied for and gained a place at music school. Again I felt rather pleased with myself.

My trumpet tutor was a past co-principal trumpet with the London Symphony Orchestra: very highly respected.

I played for him. He listened intently and when I had finished playing he said, 'We need to rebuild your technique from the bottom up. We need to start by working on your breathing and the way you place the mouthpiece on your lips.'

No gentle easing into things. No mention of the intricacies of the music or my interpretation of it. It was an instant and gigantic step back to basics.

Suffice to say I no longer felt that pleased with myself.

At first I was crestfallen. It took me a week or three to come to terms with it all. The amount of work I was going to have to do! The things that I had taken for granted that I was going to have to relearn! The bad habits I was going to have to overcome!

But over the next 3 years and with the expert help and support of my teacher I was able to rise to the challenge. I learnt how to breath properly, pulling the air down into my stomach. I practised this until it was completely natural to me. I repositioned the mouthpiece upon my lips, putting more emphasis on the bottom lip and less on the weaker and less mobile top lip. This took a while to get used to as it meant that I had to build up a completely new muscle structure around my lips and mouth and within my cheeks. But again I just kept practising until it all merged comfortably into place.

By the time of my final trumpet recital I was a changed player. By taking a step back I had, eventually, taken at least two forward. My tone was fuller than before and my stamina, very important for a brass player, was much improved. Also, I could play high notes that were previously unattainable for me.  

Now, after 3 years hard work and having taken a significant step towards my degree, I had earned the right to feel somewhat pleased with myself.

Sometimes the best way forward is to take a step back. It can feel disheartening at times, but if you stick with it the dividends you eventually receive can be well worth it.

Taking a less senior job, going back to school, resitting examinations, restarting a project: all of these present opportunities to rethink your approach to things. How can you add to your knowledge and expertise? How can you take advantage of interesting opportunities and creative options that were missed first time round?

So the next time you are presented with a challenge that necessitates a disheartening backward step, do your best to focus upon the specific opportunities it could present:

  • Now that you have a valuable second chance what will you do differently?
  • What new avenues or approaches will you explore and try out?
  • How will you build upon what you learnt first time round?
  • Which areas will you pay more attention to and work harder at?
  • Which areas do you wish you had taken the time to enjoy? How will you make sure you do this?

Friday, 6 July 2012

Do the simple, silly thing

Years ago, I used to play the trumpet. One of the ways I ‘warmed up’ before a rehearsal or performance was to pick up my mouthpiece and play it by itself. This Spike Milligan like raspberrying never failed to gain a smile from anyone passing by, even if they were seasoned and professional musicians. Its silliness always seemed to appeal to people at a very instinctive, almost childlike level.

It was my turn to do the smiling when I heard the 2nd Trumpet Concerto by H K Gruber. During a concerto it is usual for the soloist to make a memorable and grand entrance. Gruber subverted this characteristic by making it memorable but comic. The soloist made his first entrance by playing the mouthpiece alone. It was a simple, silly thing to do but it brought a smile to my face and immediately engaged me in what proved to be a very complex and difficult piece of music.

Gruber achieved an extremely effective and original opening to his concerto by having the courage to do the simple, silly, perhaps even childlike thing – and it worked wonderfully!

One of the greatest blocks to our creativity is our inability to appreciate simple, childlike, apparently silly or naïve approaches. Our serious, grown up way of thinking blinds us to their potential usefulness and smothers any childlike glimmers of interest we may fleetingly show in them.

If we are serious about wanting to address problems creatively we need to allow ourselves to be silly, to explore the childlike simplicity of naïve approaches. If we allow ourselves to do this we are likely to uncover ideas and approaches previously censored from our minds.

We may even find that some of the so-called silly or childish ideas are in fact the most simple, straightforward and effective ones to implement.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Music is creativity in the air!

Music is creativity in the air. It surrounds us like a second aural skin.

We desire the beat of its crashing waves of energetic sound and the calming strokes of its softly undulating tones and rhythms.

Music mirrors our lives: it has a beginning and an end; it quickly shifts from mood to mood; it is fast and slow; it has highs and lows; it works itself out as it flows along. Sometimes, we can hear it struggling with problems set deep within its beating heart.

If we open our ears and minds, music can offer us much: we can share in its creativity and apply its logic; we can benefit from its discipline; we can experience thoughts and emotions not easily expressed in words; we can learn invaluable lessons from the people who practise, perform, conduct and compose it.

Here, I will explore how we can absorb music's creative principles and practices into our lives and work: how we can develop a "musical sixth sense" that will strengthen our creativity and open our minds to innovation.