Transforming Mistakes

You know you’re not the only one making them, yet you’re still scared that you will miss a note at your next solo performance. Whether it be a 2 measure spotlight at a wind ensemble concert, a Latin blast at marching band competition or a tricky spot in your all-state etude, most players experience some form of performance anxiety. This anxiety comes from what you think will happen, from your predictions of the future. You think “I won’t be good and I’ll miss that high A”, so when you perform and you in fact do miss the high A, you tell yourself you were right. This only makes it worse for the next performance! I decided to write this blog to not only make you feel better, but to show you how the world truly sees your mistakes.

About a month ago I went to the International Trumpet Guild Conference. If you’ve never heard of the ITG or any names I’m about to mention, make sure you check out the links at the end of this blog. At the conference were a lot of world-class players. Some of the most highly regarded players included Phil Smith, Doc Severinsen, Ronald Romm, Jens Lindemann, Rex Richardson, Tom Hutchinson and many more. I watched them perform live, from a few feet away. For me, it was a real treat. Growing up I didn’t have many opportunities to watch famous trumpet players live. I did see Doc and Arturo Sandoval in my teen years, but from very far away and at that time I didn’t really understand the instrument like I do now. At the conference, these guys sounded amazing. They were playing in front of a room of trumpet players who knew the pieces they were playing very well. Talk about a tough audience! Yet, they got up there and played beautifully. I heard many amazing technical feats as well as angelic lyric phrases. Yet the most beautiful sounds I heard from these legends of trumpet…were their mistakes.

They made mistakes. Let me say that a little louder; WORLD CLASS FAMOUS TRUMPET PLAYERS MADE MISTAKES. One missed a note completely, it was just air! [GASP!]. The other cracked a high note! Even the one deemed the lord of all that is trumpet completely missed a few notes here and there! Oh, the nerve!

Every time I heard a bleep in their playing I smiled to myself. And I thought “If only my students were here to hear and see this.” Then I’d look around to see other people’s faces. No one, absolutely no one had payed the mistake one ounce of attention. But why? Because the performer hadn’t either.

That’s where the trick is. See, the performer isn’t worried about a mistake. Their only goal is to speak through their instrument, mistakes and all. We are not robots, we are human! And even in music, making mistakes is not only allowed but expected, they are O.K. I always tell my students the following: “When the mistake happens, make it your goal to follow it up with something truly beautiful.” That’s what these guys did. They did it so well that 1 second after a frack, I had already forgotten about it because I was quickly carried to the next beautiful phrase.

So if you’re ever worrying about making mistakes at your audition or solo performance, remember that mistakes are common and that your only job as a player is to carry the listener from one note to the next, and to always follow a mistake with a beautiful sound. I will leave you with this: do what the pros do; make the mistake loud and clear, and then…move on and make music.

Check out the International Trumpet Guild and visit the THQ page on famous trumpet players. Also, huge kudos to the Cancer Blows charity organization who put on a seriously sweet concert on opening night. Please follow the link to learn about them and their founder Ryan Anthony (formerly with the Canadian Brass.) Finally, check out the following players if you don’t know them: Phil Smith, Doc Severinsen, Ronald Romm, Jens Lindemann, Rex Richardson, Tom Hutchinson.

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