SITTING IN ROOM. BY YOURSELF. GETTING A LITTLE BETTER. VERY….SLOWLY.
Written August, 2014
This Morning’s Practice Room (6:15 am)
I walked into the Creative Arts Center at West Virginia University tonight after a long day of packing, cleaning, and helping get my parents prepared for a move from Morgantown, the town where I grew up, to Cincinnati, the city where I live with my family and teach at the University of Cincinnati. I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately, it’s been over 30 years since I graduated from MHS and almost thirty years since I first started making the nighttime trek up the hill to find a place to practice. Even after leaving Morgantown in the mid-eighties, I still made the pilgrimage to the CAC (pronounced KAK) whenever I came back to visit my folks from grad school, theme park gigs, cruise ship gigs, the road, the military band, more grad schools, more road, teaching gigs, you name it.
Even when it was time to start bringing my kids to see their grandparents, every time I’ve come home, I’ve gone back to that music school (now, often along with my horn playing wife) to practice my horn, usually late at night or very early in the morning. As expected, it still smelled the same as it always has, but it still sends the memories flooding back. Maybe I’m a bit more reflective this time since I know that these trips are nearing an end as my parents prepare to leave my hometown forever.
In a way, these practice sessions have served as personal musical check ups for me as I’ve gauged my progress over the years against that of some earlier version of myself who seemed to struggle to find a way to do something that was never quite clear to me. Regardless, I’ve always looked forward to coming back to where my journey started.
So this time, without really thinking about, I was taking it all in. I have to admit, it was a pretty good session. Eveything I played seemed to flow as easily as anything I’ve ever played. To me at least, the sound of my horn could not have been more in line with what I’d always wanted to sound like, it was one of those effortless nights when everything jumps out of the bell, seemingly on command. There I was, completely happy, in a classroom, in an empty music building, in the middle of summer. As I played in the empty building for nobody, something occurred to me.
For thirty years I have been doing some version of this routine in mostly empty music buildings, or at 5:30 a.m. in hotel hallways (with a practice mute,of course), on the band bus late at night, on the rope deck of cruise ships very late at night after the production shows and after the midnight buffet ice sculptures were tossed overboard, sometimes in unoccupied theater dressing rooms, stairwells, dormrooms, middle school cinder-block practice rooms at “zero hour” before 7:20 am morning band classes started, airplane hangars converted to band squadrons, anywhere I could find a quiet place to keep my chops up. And here I was, still doing it.
I’ve been very fortunate to have had a varied and interesting career as a musician and as a teacher; the kind of career (I’ve been constantly reminded for as long as I can remember) that just wasn’t possible, because everyone knows there are no more jobs or meaningful work in music. There never have been, if you just ask. It’s just not possible to make a good living, you know, all the reasons to not just pursue, much less commit to for an entire life, to doing what you really love.
So here it is, after playing my horn for some 36 years and I can’t say what the secret is, but for me at least, it has always started with finding and sitting down in some quiet solitary place, long after everyone else has called it quits, or long before everyone else gotten started and trying to get just a little bit better-today. Why stop now?