Blog # 110: The Student and The Teacher
It's now August 29th. I'm fully aware that I don't write blogs as much as I used to, it's not like nothing has been happening, I think I've just had an evolving relationship with technology(Twitter, Facebook, Blogging, etc) and am trying to filter what I say a bit more.
It's been an interesting month and a half since my last blog entry. For starters, I've come to terms with the fact that how I view the trumpet has now dramatically changed. With my former teacher Laurie gone, there is no safety net. I'd always thought that if any sort of accident happened to my chops I'd have her there to fix me. That sounds simple, but the level of care, value and love with which I think of that with can't be understated. With her gone, I am now the teacher AND the student…maybe that's the natural evolution of things, maybe it's the spot we all find ourselves in eventually…after all I already had students prior to this.
For starters, since her passing I spent a lot of time going through my notes from the years of lessons I took with her. The beauty of that period was that I just put my total faith in her, did the exercises and knew I would get better. Part of the amazing thing in that method was that I didn't have to think; that was Laurie's job. While I studied with her, she gave me an assignment each week, putting the sheets in a binder which I kept. When I'd show up, she'd look over what I did the previous week, ask me to play something and then give a revised version with a minor tweaking. She once told me: "If something ever happens to you, you'll be able to look through this binder and build yourself back from anything that goes wrong." So I now look at this binder as one of the most valuable things I own. It is part of her mind made tangible.
Since Laurie's passing, I went through the binder and saw week by week what she was doing in an analytical way for the first time. I really gave thought to the 'why' of her method, and it was clear to me looking at the big picture of her work how much of a genius she was. Looking at the whole thing, I totally understand what she was doing: it's like seeing an incredibly complex math formula that boils down to just a few simple principles and how they effect everything. It is a simple solution that explains all.
It's human nature to settle into what's comfortable and avoid challenging oneself; after all that requires taking yourself out of your comfort zone. Thinking a lot about Laurie's method, I came to the conclusion that it really is endless. Looking at how the exercises evolve, there is no limits to it. You can extrapolate a pattern and then create the next in the series of drills. I can cultivate the skills to play anything, it really just becomes what is any student's particular musical focus and goal. If its pure technique, I could even create a student with technique far greater than my own, it's a simple matter of using the right set of exercise.
I've had essential two routines I've done over the past few years; a long one(2 hours; her "integrated warm-up"), and a short 1 hour one. I alternate the two daily. I usually hit some of her articulation exercises and caruso 6 note variations later in the day too. I'd been going through them just as a way to maintain my chops, but since Laurie's death, I've realized this was the wrong mental attitude to have. The approach should always be "growth." If you're not challenging yourself, you won't grow. So in the past few months I've viewed this set of trumpet exercises differently. I now think of myself as two people in the room. One is the student, one is the teacher. The student version of myself plays the exercise without judgement, without attachment and without thought. The teacher version of myself listens, without attachment, and doesn't let the student ever become comfortable or complacent. He gives the next exercise, he creates something just out of reach. He raises the bar. It is a never ending process. The teacher is my memory of Laurie, through my knowledge of her method and approach. A good teacher knows that they are a student also in this endless journey. It has been interesting and intense, but I'm noticing changes already. I've gone through her other book Flexus and have noticed some REALLY advanced exercise that I never got to with her that go into the extreme upper register, and in the past month, based on her development process, I've added them to my routine in a controlled fashion. Progress is never ending. Technique can go as far as the mind can conceive it.
This is a never ending process. Laurie is gone, but I can't let that change anything, if anything it means I need to step up, and raise the bar. I need to conjure her approach and her process. That is what I take from her; the endless journey. Now that I've studied and had time to think about it, I understand what she was doing. I am the student and the teacher. The best tribute is to keep working, keeping her method alive and evolving it with my students. It can grow infinitely.