12. August 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: Ramble

Quite a while ago someone on the IDRS sent in a question about how musicians continue to play at a high level when playing in a group that isn’t quite at the top. It’s a good question; there have been times when I’ve felt that a poor group was dragging me down. There have been times when the intonation was so sketchy that I started to doubt my pitch center and I began to feel like I was the one to blame. (And I am the one to blame if everyone else is out of tune in the exact same way. Say, for instance, they are all playing an A-446. If I’m on A-440 I’m still wrong if I’m the odd one out! Of course if everyone is really that sharp and I’m playing principal I’d be smart to have a little chat with the concermaster to see if we can change things.) There have been times when I’ve played in a group that simply isn’t at a strong level and I have to fight giving up. These problems can occur to those of us who attend churches and participate in their musical events. This can also happen when a professional is hired as a ringer in a youth group or community group. (NOT that all youth groups or community groups are weak; some can be quite good.)

So how does one do it?

For me it’s simply playing my best. I don’t attempt to play the group’s best. Believe it or not, that’s an easy thing for us to do sometimes. (Now if the group is better than I am, I definitely work at playing their best!) Playing less than one’s best really drags a person down, and can lead to some very bad habits. So I attempt to play my best.

Playing one’s best also benefits the musicians around you. And they appreciate it. Really! I try to demonstrate good playing habits and technique without saying a word. I show up, for instance, earlier than downbeat. (When I played for Jameson’s high school musical, I noticed that the majority of students showed up right at downbeat time.) I warm up. I practice parts I struggle with. (I think it’s good for students and non-professionals to see that we professionals do have things we have to work on … very frequently!) I come prepared. I don’t forget things. (I do my “idiot check” because I’m not about to embarrass myself!) It’s all fairly simple stuff. There’s no magic involved.

The important thing for a serious musician to remember is that lowering one’s standards when playing in a less-than-stellar group is only a reflection on that musician, not on the group. It’s also a bad habit that can seep into one’s playing when in a better group. So I try to play my best. Every time I play. That’s all.

Easy, eh?

Well, sometimes. Sometimes not. But I still try to do it!

12. August 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: Quotes

The whole music business in the United States is based on numbers, based on unit sales and not on quality. It’s not based on beauty, it’s based on hype and it’s based on cocaine. It’s based on giving presents of large packages of dollars to play records on the air.

-Frank Zappa