Benjamin Coy

Trombonist

Summer Priorities

June 13, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Summer’s a slow time for most musicians. For those associated with a school (either as a student or a teacher), classes are usually out for a couple months. A random lesson or special event here or there may happen, but the schedule is much lighter. Symphony orchestras are also on hiatus, and even ensembles with summer concerts usually have a relatively sparse calendar.

The first thing that means is that a lot of people take a break. A lot of people feel guilty about it, but a lot of people take a break anyway. I don’t think it’s necessary to feel guilty. If your spring calendar has been hectic, a week or three away from the instrument will rejuvenate you and allow you to come back to your practice room without having a nervous breakdown or an ulcer. Balance is important, and if your work-life balance has been upset in favor of work because of a busy spring, I don’t see anything wrong with taking a little time to even the scales.

When you come back from your break, you may not have anything pressing to practice for. This is the time to reconsider everything you’ve been doing. You have the freedom to listen critically to your sound quality and determine whether or not it’s the ideal sound that you’re looking for. If not, why not try making a change to improve it? Because you don’t have to prepare for a performance of Gotterdammerung, you can dig out your old etude books and use them to develop your sight-reading and phrasing abilities. Basically, if you have time available, don’t squander it doing the same things you do normally. Take advantage of the time to make yourself a better player.

When nobody else is telling you what to play, it’s also a great opportunity to play what you like to play. Professionals in any field do work they don’t want to do just because their boss told them to. Similarly, every professional musician I know plays an awful lot of music they just don’t like because they’re paid to. Is there a piece you’ve always wanted to learn but haven’t had the time? Summer is a great opportunity. Are you getting burned out on playing 19th century orchestral repertoire? Take the time to dig into 14th century polyphony or work your way through a brand new avant-garde piece. If you’re tired of sonatas with piano, play some chamber music with friends just for the fun of it. Whatever it is, find the music that makes you love music and play that, regardless of whether it pays or not. After all, nobody’s paying you right now anyway, so you may as well do what you want to do with the time.

With a fresh approach to technique and a reinvigorated passion for the art form, the performances you give in autumn will sound far more brilliant and alive than the endless monotony of correct notes most people hear day to day. Always remember: if you play the right notes in the right order but do not put any human touch into them, a synthesizer could not only do your job, but do it better than you can. You can’t add faster than a calculator and you can’t play more consistently than a synthesizer. But, you can lift and inspire the human spirit, and that’s something a computer has yet to accomplish.

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