Happy Canada day! A round-up of Canadian music for trumpet

Tomorrow, Canada celebrates its 150th birthday. I love this country (warts and all): I’m proud of our arts and culture, our society, our national quirks and I’m especially proud to contribute to Canada’s future by working and teaching here.

Many classical musicians in Canada feel detached from their nation’s composers. I think that’s especially true for those of us “on the fringes” looking for solo and chamber music outside the realm of strings, piano or voice. Today I’m offering a few of my favourite Canadian works featuring trumpet. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive or exclusionary, just a few suggestions and hidden treasures. Continue reading “Happy Canada day! A round-up of Canadian music for trumpet”

Labratour 2008 – exploring a surprising history in brass

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One of the most meaningful experiences of my life as a musician was a 2008 tour of coastal Labrador. Memorial University’s School of Music was my first academic job, and I had only been teaching there for a few weeks before I boarded a very small plane and set off for Happy Valley-Goose Bay with the school’s Brass Ensemble.

The tour was connected to then-director Dr. Tom Gordon’s research of Moravian music in Labrador. The Moravian Church established missions in coastal Labrador (starting with Nain way back in 1771!) and brought European music and brass instruments with them. The Moravians took existing hymns and musical settings and adapted them in Inuktitut. This music lay forgotten in church attics until Dr. Gordon started his research trips to the area.

I performed as a member of the brass ensemble for the tour – we were conducted by my mentor Dr. Karen Bulmer. The concerts were extraordinary: the first half was traditional Philip Jones-style music for brass ensemble, but the second half was Moravian music and hymns set in Inuktitut. The change of language often added many syllables to each word, resulting in some humorous elongation of notes and melodies.

We flew on bush planes from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Makkovik and Nain, and descended through the fjords to Hopedale before flying home. These communities have no road access – it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness life in these communities. As someone who was born in Canada’s north (Hay River, NT) but left before I could form lasting memories of the experience, I found a lot of personal significance in the experience.

The whole trip was documented by CBC Radio’s Francesca Swann and broadcast nationally: Three Years of Provisions and Two French HornsThe title refers to the cargo carried by the Moravians on their voyage to create the first mission in Labrador – for them, music was second in importance only to food.

Twisted sounds

Have you ever made a small error in a concert and thought to yourself, “This concert is a total failure! I’ve completely blown it!” Or have you been in the practice room and thought, “Tomorrow’s lesson is going to be a disaster! I always play terribly in lessons!” Or how about this one: have you ever played in a masterclass and found yourself thinking, “These people hate my performance!”

I’ve experienced these thoughts many times. After nine years of teaching in university settings, I can also tell you my students frequently express similar ideas. Not only are these thoughts unpleasant (don’t we play music because we like it?!), but they can also distance us from our music and lower the quality of our practicing and performing. Even worse, many of us self-identify so strongly as musicians that we create this terrible syllogism: I sound bad therefore I am a bad musician therefore I am a bad person.

Today I’ll show you one idea to help deal with negative thinking. It comes from the field of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and two of the field’s pioneers, Dr. Aaron T. Beck and Dr. David D. Burns. In his 1980 best-selling book Feeling Good, Burns introduced CBT to a mass audience as a tool to treat depression. Since then, these techniques and ideas have been used to treat a wide variety of conditions. Sadly, one blog post does not provide enough space for a nuanced, scholarly assessment of research in the field (academics and psychologists who stumble on this: please lower your pitchforks!). I just want to share some insights I had while reading Feeling Good that I found extremely relevant to my life as a musician. Continue reading “Twisted sounds”

Sunday Scales, special supplement: Brass Day clinic

Yesterday we held our annual Brass Day at Western, where I teach trumpet. Every year I offer a clinic, and this year my class was called “The Power of Scales.” Basically I attempted to summarize this series of articles over the course of an hour. No small feat!

Here is a copy of the handout I used for the clinic – I also gave the audience a copy of Sunday Scales 6: Variations Galore to give an example of practice variations. If you’re just discovering this series of articles for the first time, those two links are probably a great place to start.

Happy practicing!

Sunday Scales 19: À la mode

Last week, we discussed translating major exercises to minor. Now we’ll go a step further and look at some exercises in the other modes.

To me, modes were just a bunch of Greek names I memorized during undergraduate music theory. I never practiced them and I never played them (as far as I knew). But modes are a great stepping-stone to jazz and world music and a wonderful challenge in the practice room.

Let’s take a moment to understand the modes. Continue reading “Sunday Scales 19: À la mode”

Sunday Scales 18: Minor misunderstandings

This week we’re going to talk about minor – I’m sure you know it’s important, but do you actually practice it? In my case, I never practiced it much for two reasons: first, most exercises and etudes are in major keys; and second, the three minor modes make it confusing to translate exercises to minor. So this week, we’re going to look at a few scale patterns from previous article and show what they might look like in various minor modes. Continue reading “Sunday Scales 18: Minor misunderstandings”