It can be jolly hard work being a brass musician. To produce a good sound, you need to be generally relaxed, with the exception of your mind, which needs to concentrate on where to put your notes both vertically (pitch) and horizontally (time). There are also parts of your body that at times require great strength, which is normally built up over years by practising numerous exercises. Learning to be very calm yet focused is a destination that can be approached from a variety of paths. Some musicians practise yoga or T’ai chi ch’üan, take a bicycle ride or go for a swim. Others may drink alcohol, go skipping, take prescription medication or indeed, find homeopathic solutions such as peppermint tea or bananas.Whatever your preference, once a state of mind and body that is supportive of artistic excellence is achieved, it needs to be nurtured. Of course, surroundings in which to practise can make a difference to artistic output. We had a music room at most of my schools and in some cases, we were lucky enough to have official practice rooms. Finding a place to practise a brass instrument can be challenging. It can cause problems at home when other people are trying to rest or focus on work and it can get the goat of stage hands at 8:00 am when they are preparing a concert hall or studio for a day of symphonic rehearsal. Finding somewhere to have a blow while on tour is a complaint I’ve heard from many of my brass-playing colleagues. Hotels, reasonably enough, are often shared with air crews and other professionals who really need to sleep.
If you are one of those lucky people who don’t seem to need much practice, perhaps none of this concerns you overly. However, I’m not one of these privileged souls so I practise religiously. As soon as I decided I wanted to make my living playing the trumpet, I dived into study books such as Jean-Baptiste Arban’s ‘Cornet Method’, John Ridgeon’s ‘How Brass Players Do It’, Herbert Clarke’s ‘Technical Studies for the Cornet’ and made friends with orchestral excerpts using books such as the Probespiel.
When I’d get home from school, I’d get a couple of hours done before anything else. Almost every single day from my teens until well into my 20s, this was something I just had to do, and I’d get seriously upset if my routine was disrupted. I know loads of musicians who’d relate to this obsession.
What do I need to do to at least stay as good as I was yesterday? There are mutes specially made for practising on brass instruments, which are great. I’ve found that 10 minutes heavy blowing a day on a practice mute can really help to fill out my tone, but just like a Royal Marine doing circuit training, exercise needs to be balanced. Personally, if I do any more than 10 minutes a day on a practice mute, it’s not long before my tone deteriorates.
So, where am I going to practise today? At the moment, on Friday the 23rd of August 2019, the answer is ‘The Shed’.
This Shed/Garage is believed to date back to the late 1970’s and benefits from sitting in a pleasant, level concrete garden with two well proportioned breeze block walls to the left and right of its front. Overall the property does require some modernisation to bring it up to a modern-day standard, this may expose further hidden features and will certainly enhance the property. The cottage and outside space appeals to those seeking a practice space in a quiet/noisy town location, with great potential to create a lovely spare room. The shed has been a friend of mine since around February 2015 when I was evicted from my previous practice space. It belongs to my delightful mother-in-law who charitably lets me settle there from time free of charge. I am on occasions, granted permission to enter the house near to the shed but, it is rare to do so whilst holding a trumpet.
Shed has, on occasions, witnessed excruciating artistic frustration over the last half decade which commonly manifests itself in utterances of expletives. To those who overhear such foul rantings I apologise unreservedly. However, the shed understands completely. It is a host to substantial effort and is sympathetic to those who try.
The Shed isn’t lonely. Over the years there have been plenty of spiders, flies, wasps, rodents and stays drifting through its openings. Every week, people enter to find tools, frozen food, oversized toys and furniture. Somehow, no sooner have articles been removed from The Shed in a well-meaning clear out than they are quickly replaced with other redundant possessions.
Soon, The Shed will undergo cosmetic surgery. Gone will be the noise of long-haul flight, roaring cars on the road outside, bellowing birds and chattering lawn mowers. Damp-induced chest infections and weather-inhibited dexterity will become challenges of the past. The Shed will soon come of age and emerge into its new incarnation as an all-mod-cons practice space/office.
May I please thank my lovely wife for encouraging this change and converting her mum’s garage into a delightful room x.