In the spring of 2005 I was wrapping up my final months at Muhlenberg College in Allentown PA. While my time there did cultivate a serious enthusiasm for Music, 4 years without a trumpet teacher and a decade of bad habits left something to be desired with my trumpet chops. I was dedicated and disciplined but had no idea what exercises were helping me and which were hurting me. I could only practice about 2 hours a day before getting tired and my range topped out at a G on top of the staff. I was totally lost and knew if I was going to continue playing and possibly make a career out of music I'd need some serious help.
Laurie Frink was a legend. I'd heard about her for years and it seemed whenever I'd read an interview with a trumpet player I looked up to, they'd always credit her as being someone that saved their playing. So that spring I made up my mind that I was going to move to NYC and try to study with Laurie. Make no bones about it, in my mind this was do or die time. I wasn't sold on a life in New York City, but I knew if Laurie couldn't fix me, no one could. So I applied to just one grad school, one I knew she taught at; NYU, luckily I got in.
I moved to New York City, started at NYU in the Fall of '05 and began taking lessons with Laurie. They were simple at first, just a few seemingly easy drills that usually proved impossible, until you did them every day for a couple weeks..at which point she'd replace them with something new and slightly harder. I put all my faith in Laurie, I believed 100% from the start and I felt the progress as I kept working every day. Building brick by brick, soon I was doing 2 hours of her exercises a day, and after 2 years I was now practicing 5 or 6 hours a day, everyday. In the end I added nearly an octave to my range. Early on I remember one time giggling while doing one of her drills and trying to keep the mouthpiece on my lips. I was laughing because I was so excited that I could feel the exercise working. She shouted jokingly 'There's no laughing in trumpet playing!'(referencing the line "there's no crying in baseball" from the movie 'A league of their own.' The method was working.
One day after having a great week of playing I showed up for a lesson and was surprised at how bad I sounded in her office. I desperately said "I was playing so well this week I don't know what's happening!", she calmly said "Jon, in this room the worse you sound, the more I can help you." This changed the way I viewed both taking lessons at the time and how I teach now. Another time when I was struggling with something in the upper register she told me to 'Stop trying to be so perfect', which was exactly what I needed to hear at the time and really lead to a breakthrough on the horn. She was part psychologist, part technician and part Zen master.
I'm sure I was not her best student when I came to playing ability, but she once told me 'a great teacher doesn't take students that are great players, a great teacher can make ANYONE a great player.' Laurie didn't throw around excessive praise, which was one reason I respected her so much. She was kind and disarming and made you feel like you were in good hands. Her office was a place you felt safe. One time I showed up for a lesson and she said she was having one of those 'I can do anything on the trumpet' days, I told her that when I feel that way I just have to play all day because I can't resist and then pay the price the next day. She smiled and said "People like us just can't help ourselves." After 2 years of study, I remember a conversation with Laurie where she told me she was proud of me, that I hadn't made a big fuss about it, but that I'd just kept my head down and did the work and she was happy to see how much progress I'd made. Coming from her, this meant a lot to me.
After I graduated NYU I would stop in and get a lesson every few months, and then tapered it back to a 'once a year check-up.' Towards the end of that time Laurie told me that she had showed me everything and that I could "Self-Medicate" now....I still went back occasionally though.
Days before I recorded my 2nd album my chops were a mess. My tone was distorted from a series of loud gigs and a short tour and I was panicking. I sent Laurie an email and she responded immediately with an exercise to do, then told me to come in the next day. She calmed me down, walked me through the drill and basically put me back together mentally and physically. She didn't even charge me for the lesson, which she'd occasionally do by refusing to take my money. That was just the kind of person Laurie was.
I hadn't seen Laurie for more than a year, since she was usually just teaching lessons ALL DAY EVERYDAY and that was the only way to see her, but I had heard The Festival of New Trumpet Music was celebrating her this past fall at Cornelia Street Cafe giving her the Lifetime achievement award, obviously I was going to attend. She sat in the back, uncomfortable with being the center of attention. I sat in a dark corner, as I usually do, waiting for things to calm down after so I could say hi. There was a great photo montage of her giving the middle finger to the camera in various places, her sense of humor was another reason we all loved her. She got up at the very end when she was finally forced to talk and just said "This has been great, it's like being able to attend your own funeral and hear all the nice things people say about you!" It was a good night for close friends to thank Laurie for what she's given to us and for her friendship. I know it meant a lot to her. Once people had left I told her that I missed spending time with her since I was no longer taking lessons at that point, and we made plans for me to come up and have a picnic lunch at her apartment. Sadly, as these things go, I got busy and sidetracked, kept pushing it back and it never happened.
I will miss Laurie Frink; my 'trumpet mother'. She was someone I owe so much to, someone I looked up to and wish I had more time with. I play the exercises she showed me everyday. I think about her every time I teach and when I see the things that she showed me work for my students. Above all else, she was my friend and I will miss her.