31 December 2017

Once a Writer, Twice...??

An older friend who has earned the authority to say so tells me (paraphrasing here) that my writing is tantalizing but unpolished. Given the surfeit of mindless positivity in circulation today, I certainly appreciate the frankness and take no personal offense. I also think it is the proper assessment. In the end, though, I don't anticipate bending towards journalistic accessibility as her critique suggests, or at least not with any particular alacrity.

The task of giving concrete voice to inner thoughts must count as an abiding passion of mine by now, actions speaking loudest of all as the saying would have it. Even so, it is not and never will be an identity; definitely not a personal one, and most likely not a professional one either. For better or worse the tuba seems destined to continue in both roles until further notice. Identity being a far heavier burden than passion, the process of making peace with the externally imposed demands of professional instrumentalism1 has been long, slow, and often tumultuous. Not too much has changed since my mother first diagnosed her 4 year-old only child as "stubborn," and so it is that the intervening three decades of psychosocial development have seen the formation and refinement of many elaborate rationalizations for this trait's oft-neglected social utility (and a few half-hearted efforts at personal reform). Tuba playing has nonetheless been the site of my most extensive and compulsory mediation with a society which lets no good deed goes unpunished; and so, having thus given over one life-consuming endeavor to such protracted mediation in exchange for an identity, the mere thought of giving over other parts of myself to this miasma is a bridge too far. Given both where this society has been it has been and where it is going, any mediation with it is destined to be an ongoing, dialectical process rather than a cleaner teleological one, heroic in a Promethean sense rather than the Spartan one that I, like most other professional brass players, would much prefer to known for. (At least I have that in common with my colleagues in the brass world. This has not always always been obvious.)

I should add that relocating to a place where I can actually make a living playing my horn has allowed me to further compartmentalize this uncompromising streak, which to say also to consolidate it. In hindsight, it's clear enough that in my twenties I was conditioned by failure on this front. The material payoff for compromise was then so meager as to not be worth the trouble, and I became less and less sure that professional instrumentalism suited me at all even as my commitment to instrumentalism more broadly construed never wavered. Nonetheless, as I type this I have turned down a grand total of two paying tuba gigs simply because I didn't want to endure them, and needless to say I've accepted dozens which I would rather not have. I remain weary of those self-styled musicians-in-the-trenches who would make such amenability into the single criterion of a classically capitalist musical meritocracy; and yet in my gut I am indeed strangely proud of my record in this department even as intellectually I will always look at such pride as irredeemably perverse and have no less trouble than ever conjuring some pretty good abstract arguments and real-life anecdotes alike to support that assessment.

As for other accounts, my lifetime earnings as a composer are not enough to buy a tank of gas, and my earnings as a writer of words are literally zero. If either state of affairs bothered me intensely enough, I would have done more about it; I've certainly been party to enough facile huckstering over the years that appropriating a few tactics here and there wouldn't be all that hard. For now I have no such inclinations. I have long suspected and now truly believe that relative to the competition I have much more to offer in these two areas than I do as a tuba player. In college I used to ponder this question as one of choosing the right career; now I'm thankful that I made the "wrong" choice back then. As long as I can survive as a tuba player, I can listen, study, and write strictly on my own terms, and I'll be at peace with this balance in a way that I never could be were the polarity reversed.

Of course in my capacity as uncompromising, rationalistic grown-up-only-child, I'm not content to stop there: I have often been left with the impression that others need me to compromise on their behalf more than they really care about bringing me along for whatever world-conquering careerist ride they have plotted out. It is invariably a ride which requires, let's say, a band of other sentient human beings, each one spontaneously grabbing a paddle and commencing to row in proper synchrony as if by magic. (This will certainly be the narrative spun later, whether or not it is the least bit true.)

Having thus gone "further," there remains the "deeper:" I sensed in the discussion which prompted this post (which was offline and one-to-one) as well as in many prior mediations something akin to so many canonical art-historical polemics: form as against content; art as against entertainment; writing for oneself as against writing for the audience; and not insignificantly, refined as against unrefined modes of expression. To wit, I decided years ago that my posture here and anywhere else I might publish my "writings" is most definitely not as a writer per se but rather as a thinker presenting thoughts via the least wretched of the many wretched avenues one has for doing so.

I'm just seasoned enough to acknowledge the puerile aspects of this sentiment, and likewise to stand by it unapologetically even so. Scholar, critic, theorist, analyst...these are at least fit to be personal identities, if not in every case professional ones. "Writer" is, besides being tainted with the stench of Hollywood pretension, too vague in one sense and too specific in another. "Prophet" meanwhile is a rather absurd and value-laden term which is used and abused in much the same vein as is "genius," but one which is thus applied quite often to people whose writerly (and musical) achievements I most admire. Rather than indicating privileged communion with an all powerful creator, it could simply mean one who speaks The Word of a given discipline from a place of great knowledge; who mediates with a body of knowledge in service of society, as opposed to the messier, joyless task of mediating with society in service of a body of knowledge as so-called professionals do. If we can ever agree upon less loaded terminology to indicate that distinction, I will happily put it into service.



1. Spell-check/autocorrect flags this word, hence it's worth clarifying that I mean it to encompass both performing and teaching. To omit the latter would implicitly deny the role it has played in sustaining me both financially and, for lack of a better word, spiritually.

30 December 2017

The Sneakernet of Everyday Life

A couple of years after college I commenced sporadic production of a half-humorous zine as an outlet for various petty frustrations with the world of music and musicians. The focus was more personal and quotidian than on this blog, which I started around the same time. Blogging being public and more or less permanent, I have always maintained that the more personal the content the more interesting and unique it ought to be. Ditto regarding any imperative towards expression as that word is broadly and colloquially construed across The Arts. Seems to me that any such imperative is necessarily colored by several more general features of the society or social group in question, e.g. the degree of shared experience, conformity to norms, obedience to authority, and so on. In other words, most of us are not quite different enough from each other for the public airing of even the most intimate details to be the least bit interesting to our various constituencies. (And if a public airing is to be deemed necessary on purely therapeutic grounds, then the offending malaise must be a particularly virulent and contagious one indeed; on which point I must thereby beg your indulgence in suspending judgment of this meta-airing until its purpose has become clear.)

In any case, as the blog has skewed speculative, the zine has become an archive of the personal, and this dovetailed with the fact of the latter's strictly private and offline circulation. I have recently resumed production after a long hiatus and am finding it quite useful in exactly this way. The reason, however, for writing at length on all of this now is to relate a very practical use, perhaps even a necessary one, which has recently emerged and which never would have occurred to me the day I brought out the first installment.

Employers are demanding to moderate what their employees say about them online, and not even a jazz tuba player can avoid falling under surveillance. This was ostensibly the case with a certain car opera recently staged in and around LA by a company you probably haven't heard of, and it is ostensibly the case regarding my current employment with an entertainment franchise you’ve most certainly heard of. Neither of the organizations in question will ever be mentioned by name here, not by me at least, and not by you either if you happen to know me well enough to put all of this together and would like me to be able to address any new developments to the already limited extent possible under the circumstances. They will not be mentioned because as a condition of employment both demand authority to moderate online content pertaining to them, and because one is known to devote significant resources to this. (And really, what quantity of resources is not "significant" when you consider the implications of such policies and the time-is-money realities of running a business?)

For what it’s worth, I don’t have to start a limited-run, privately-circulated, dead-tree social commentary franchise with which to digest, explore, archive and (usually) exorcise the vicissitudes of such personal experience: I already have one as an existential matter if not much of a material one. What I didn’t have before was real necessity for such an outlet ("real" in this case meaning "beyond the personal")1. Thanks to the new thought police, which, like so many other rhetorical constructions of modernist dystopian thought, has coalesced fragmentarily and incrementally rather than all at once, now I do.

For anyone just devoted enough to my personal concerns to be an earnest and comprehensive reader of both publications, it might be useful to think of the zine as a sort of annotated bibliography in support of the more sweeping generalizations I make here about the professional circles I inhabit, and perhaps also as a way of “blogging” on topics and experiences which would be socially ungraceful and/or professionally damaging to address publicly online. I suppose this betrays my rather cynical view of prevailing norms of social and professional comportment, but unfortunately there is almost always something arising from artists' relationships with employers and/or with each other which really ought to be addressed and brought to wider attention, i.e. for the specific purpose of giving the community a chance to look itself in the mirror. Social grace and professional viability are quite flimsy excuses for forgoing such opportunities: first, because together they amount to very little when compared to the potential chilling effect of the new reality; and second, because, as I am attempting to outline here, it is not impossible to have it both ways given the variety of media and social settings presently at our collective disposal. In any case, there won't be much worldly grace or prestige left to preserve if transparency is ritually sacrificed to branding in this arena as it already has been in so many others. Unfortunately the seemingly ideal online platforms which emerged in the 1990s are in the 2010s now equally ideal for surveillance. Hence the ongoing need for a Sneakernet of Everyday Life.


1. Again, is “personal” necessity ever better than oxymoronic vis-a-vis the act of telling others about yourself? And does the therapeutic value of artistic "expression" really hinge on the act of public presentation over and beyond private creation? Even if the answer is simply, "It depends," these two questions are always worth pondering before hitting the Send button. Ask me how I know.

28 December 2017

Preliminary/Residual Thoughts on Descaling

(1) When even the most specialized of academic specialists cannot hope to keep up with the deluge of publication in their narrow specialty, the result is a new and distinctive kind of social volatility borne of something like information overpopulation. Research findings would then resist synthesis into social action, operating only in fragments scattered far and wide throughout the social system. Many collective advances would remain mere potentialities whose likelihood of manifesting plummets as the system continues to grow in scale. No matter the gross quantity of raw information such gains in scale might beget, the basic unit of social agency (the individual human being) stays pretty much the same. Ditto the system gain from pooling such units into networks (e.g. research teams, political action committees, musical ensembles) which show diminishing returns at scales proportionate to today's information overload. Even the effect of introducing better information into the system is mitigated by diffusion given such vast scale as the current global village (not to mention its Virtual shadow-world) has attained. The tortu(r)ously slow burn of incremental progress seems pleasurable in comparison to the fracturing and anomie which the present situation promises to engender.

(2) The above assumes that an increase in the gross quantity of overall knowledge production begets a corresponding and proportionate increase in the (smaller) gross quantity of competent and constructive knowledge production; this as opposed to merely spreading ever thinner a fixed quantity of collective intellectual potential. This is a very large assumption which may not be warranted; but if not, then we are left with an older, simpler problem: the haystacks grow while the needles and the metal detectors pretty much stay the same. As for the sentient pieces of throbbing flesh wielding the latter device, one can only hope that their dignity is not too closely cherished.

(3) Perhaps then there is something to be said for periodically turning one's back on the great data diffusion and carving out a little extra time to cherrypick the choicest nuggets from the twilight of pre-computerized thought, e.g. in the same vein as Debord but with a dash more childlike curiosity and a tad less puerile obstinacy. Whatever strictly perspectival shortcomings individual thinkers of the recent past might now be understood to have had, at least the economy of ideas within which they were subsumed was of a more just and optimal scale. Even the choicest of today's intellectual nourishment is grown in depleted soil, meanwhile, and thus perspective has become a problem of abundance rather than one of scarcity. If this is not quite a fatal blow to progress, it just as surely has not been adequately accounted for by progressives who merely consider the ostensible quality of information but not the system-level prospects for making any use of it whatsoever. In any event, it promises to be a very long time indeed before ideas are again permitted to circulate in an optimally-scaled intellectual environment; optimally-scaled, that is, not merely for progress but also for dignity.

(4) A recent 30 second junket on Google produces one intriguing and one utterly demoralizing revelation: (a) the term/concept "descaling" has found at least cursory usage in the heavy economics literature; (b) in absence of companion terms to narrow the field, any such Google search is badly confounded by the far more pressing and widely discussed issue of how to clean a coffeemaker.

25 December 2017

First Reflections Occasioned By the Long-Awaited Digital Matriculation of the ECM Catalog

(1) A lot of new stuff suddenly sounds a lot less new.

(2) It is a unique pleasure (not to say an essential one) to encounter severely "dated" music which nonetheless remains compelling.

(3) Only now is it obvious to me that my musically formative years (the late 1990s and early 2000s) had a unique and identifiable sound (the playing, the writing, and yes kids, even the production) which has undoubtedly left its mark. Even ECM's distinctive and consistent house production leaves room for this impression.

24 December 2017

Automation and Autonomy

A friend suggests that live musical performance by human beings could become a species of Vintage Aesthetic when seen against the impending advance of computers and computer-brained robots. No doubt this dynamic has already manifested itself here and there vis-a-vis existing technological leviathans (e.g. "canned" music), and no doubt it will eventually take its place in the canon of anti-aesthetic prescriptivisms alongside moral uplift, the literary imperative, political activism, cultural preservation, and pediatric neural calisthenics. All of which is to say that it promises to have the same chilling effect that such historically contingent prescriptions have always had even as it keeps a lucky few human artists gainfully employed.

To take such a sea change and make it generative rather than prescriptive requires a retreat into the absolute. Indeed, I don't think it is a coincidence that as we perceive the general pace of change to have quickened artistic autonomy has become ever less fashionable, i.e. that feelings of anomie or "normlessness" would beget various desperate attempts to contrive new norms. The word "perceive" is important here, for do we not also see a strong correlation between the more-is-more phenomenon and a certain constitutional fixation on change as against stasis? Change-in-the-air is the supreme rationalization for scorched-earth modernism, whose manifestations range from puerile self-importance to the burning of libraries; hence there is always an important balancing role here for the attempt to step outside the parochial concerns of the moment. I would certainly not place the aesthetic sphere at or near the center of such concerns, but nor does banishing it to the compost heap of history do it justice. Everything is aesthetic, much as everything is political.

We must take the Vintage issue seriously, and certainly the larger one of automation/computerization as well, but only on our (and our art forms') own terms. That is, it behooves any contemporary musician to face directly the formal, technical, and aesthetic questions that automation raises, or raises in the negative, as it were. Fruitful cross-pollenation is inevitable, healthy coexistence is not, and prescriptions are always already constraints, no matter how urgent they might seem to be. Indeed, is it not merely by accidents of history that such urgency ebbs and flows? And is that not a powerful argument for artistic autonomy rather than against it?

23 December 2017

Against The Literary Imperative


literature/the novel: "a lie that tells the truth"

so...

=pre-industrial infotainment?!
e.g. when the latest trove of freshly leaked government records is not nearly entertaining enough to hold the attention of an audience whose record keeping is not quite so thorough. instead, storytime! ergo the collective appointment of mandarin technocrats to digest the proverbial federalist papers on our collective behalf. ergo the offense taken to such appointees, drawing as they do equal attention to our own deficiencies as to any justly-sounded alarms. down with the mandarins! unless they entertain us! (and unless we may continue to reason anecdotally! especially if we are 'oppressed'!) thus is the political colonized by the aesthetic and the aesthetic colonized by the political; thus are the minds and souls of the people conquered, in their own names, so as to preserve psychic domicile over a dead land mass; thus the suddenly-old saying about 'letting the terrorists win' metamorphoses from talk-radio zinger to supremely useful figure of speech to the master narrative of our time; etc., etc. so no more art for art's sake k? cuz that is a lie that just plain lies. and we won't stand for that any longer.


...perhaps more specifically...

=victorian infotainment?!
i.e. for those tough household spills wherein The Truth in its unadulterated form is simply unspeakable. in its place, a little white lie! just this once! for your own good! hence a privileged position for literature among The Arts, the lesser castes aspiring half-heartedly to do what literature does vis-a-vis Great Big Truths and Little White Lies. all hail literary thought, the bounty paper towel of the left, soaking up spilled grape juice a whole glass at a time while the leading national brand just turns to grapy pudding. don't make grapy pudding, kids! make art!


...but...!

this place of literature in The Arts and in Society can (and should) (and must) be deconstructed in the best sense of that term. perhaps owing to the impenetrable language in which this has been undertaken by academics, word seems not to have reached the (wo)man on the street that sometimes (or, uh...perhaps most of the time??) a lie is just a lie. less excusable yet is the effect of such "privileged positions" on the internal political dynamics of the professional art world: as in the wider political and social world, a subclass of Limousine Liberals emerges, an art-ontological Bourgeoisie who not only wield the greatest explanatory power but know it too. hence more is more: more narrative, more amplitude, more ethnicity, more mixing of media, more shouting over each other just to be heard; and yes, ever more consequentialist mendacity in purported service of deferred truthtelling. whew!! damned if you don't have to deconstruct just to get through the day!! damned if a profusion of Little White Lies isn't the most effective concealment of one Great Big One!!


hence the guiding rejoinder to the given truism:
"If truth-telling is so important, why not just do that? What are all these indirect paths we keep hearing about and what is lost/gained by way of each one?"
the aestheticist 99% demand answers.



...to wit...

=an aesthetically nihilist (or at least agnostic) social imperative for literature (and its imitators, all the other Arts)

that is, an imperative to address itself (themselves) to social matters which demand corrective Truth-Telling on account of a prevailing Lie which is presently doing more harm than good. (this is nothing like the Little White Lies that literature tells! those we are proud of!)

but of course there are *other* socially valuable functions for art and literature, and there are *other* aesthetics which have prospective value/potential but which necessarily are at odds with this narrow social imperative. further, wider social imperatives necessarily beget value systems, and any value system grown up around such concerns is bound to reinscribe itself on the narrow internal value systems of artists and artmaking. this, then, becomes the opposite of the liberationist gesture which activist artists would like to posit for it; rather, it clutters the social world of critical and popular reception with arbitrary proscriptions and inhibitions, above all a deep distrust of the ineffable which is anathema to so many extraliterary artistic traditions in so many ways.

21 December 2017

Career Designs: Relative and Absolute Privilege, and the Even Keel

I seldom go long between social encounters with laypeople bent on idealizing my career choice on my behalf, the customary remark being something about "following your passion." Needless to say that my peers and colleagues are rarely quite so saccharine when discussing music as a vocation. The combined effect of these contradictory expressions can be disorienting, though to be sure they both betoken a familiar grass-is-always-greener outlook as well as the facility with which we can put either face on things, not just in our various interfaces with outsiders but also in our own minds. That is, we may reason relatively, as the layperson tends to (think Symphony Tubist vs. Ice Road Trucker), or we may present our real situation (statistically speaking, probably not anything like Symphony Tubist nor anything approaching it) in absolute terms.

There are good reasons for artists (and everyone else for that matter) to keep sight of the relative sense, if not merely to avoid saying something that they might later regret. But if The Arts so broadly construed are thought to have even the slightest objective social utility, then there is, dare I say, a reciprocal imperative on the extra-artistic world to keep sight of the absolute sense in which the vast majority of artists one can expect to meet face-to-face are dealing with much the same mixed bag of joys and sorrows that any committed professional does.

For me, music certainly has proven a potent avenue through which to learn that sources of great joy are uniquely suited to pile on great heaps of sorrow, and are typically also quite happy to oblige. This is a Life Lesson with implications beyond the narrow concerns of any one profession, yet I doubt that someone who has never truly devoted themselves to a calling can meaningfully understand it, particularly because it is a profoundly dualistic statement whose reverse does not hold: sources of great sorrow, as a group, are not particularly likely to also be sources of great joy. There is something in there about the wretchedness of the human condition, I think, but that is another topic for another time. More to the point is that the irreversibility of this fundamental vocational principle is what causes so much of our dialogue with outsiders to remain rhetorically anchored in the notion of relative privilege. To posit this relative privilege as a defining characteristic of artisthood, however, is to commit three related errors: first, by obfuscating its non-exclusivity to The Arts; second, by defining The Arts via what they are not; and third, by failing to account for the fact that this roller-coaster ride of privilege and obligation is quite a bit more than the sum of its parts.

Indeed, this latter reality is why so many of us academy-trained creatives were at some point told by an institutionally-sanctioned mentor not to get "too high or too low." If we were in fact told this, then we were, for one thing, fortunate to have fished out of the academic miasma at least one person who knew what they were talking about, and this in spite of their own relatively privileged position in the selfsame anti-meritocracy which we ourselves ostensibly aspired to enter. This much we may even have realized at the time. Less apparent back then, in all likelihood (and ever more so with "privilege" in seemingly perpetual ascendance as a watchword) was that we were being asked to withdraw from the relative into the absolute, to set our own standards for success rather than triangulating based on the messages being sent to us by the external social world; all of which is to say that every degree of failure to meet these internally-generated standards which is occasioned by an external factor makes it that much harder to swallow the more strident critiques of bourgeois art currently in circulation.

I am certain that my musical mentors were also correct in advising that "You get out of it what you out into it," and I expect that this is a less controversial statement than the one immediately preceding it. Precisely because this is such good advice in all areas of human endeavor, non-initiates of virtually any stripe getting a rare window in on the artist's habitus are bound to fixate on what appears to them as a conspicuous lack of either putting-in or getting-out. In fact you can't even admit to other musicians that you're not available for any reason other than that you already have a gig, and especially not if the real reason is that you've blocked out time to get out of public view and hone your craft. Suffice it to say that I speak from experience on this point. It is a phenomenon which, again, speaks to many larger human concerns which ought not be dredged up in too much detail right this minute. Even if you're not a professional artist, you can probably relate an analogous situation that you've faced, and if so, then perhaps you've also caught yourself thinking that privilege is a more complicated concept than the lowest common denominator of armchair theorists is capable of giving it credit for.

---

Time has a strong existential claim to being the most valuable personal resource, but I for one, millenial that I am, find focus per se to be the scarcest of all, which conventionally and practically speaking makes it the most valuable too. Hence the focus here on what I am calling the even keel. The advent of leisure time has an unimpeachable place in the study of history whereas the subset focused time remains incomprehensibly decadent even to some career academics. Hence the external social pressure to self-flagellate at the altars of myriad political interest groups is thrown into higher relief by the question of focus than by that of time even though the latter speaks to more basic political issues.

For the artist, this pressure creates palpable tension with an outside world which in spite of its boggling diversity of political orientation and worldview is seemingly quite unified in its intent to define art and artists relatively rather than absolutely. I have to think that anyone reading this can readily conjure the vastly different versions of infinite regress that, say, Bernie People and Trump People can be counted upon to summon in this respect. The region along this spectrum where inhabitants risk being accused of harboring an unseemly "relativism" is rather small and remote, yet there is, at the minimum, relativistic thinking in evidence both in the soft-Marxist critique of bourgeois art and in the contemporary red-state contempt for Artsy-Fartsies as against red-blooded, mammal-eating Americans. Both rhetorics cherrypick small differences and explode them into full-blown deviance. There is as well a characteristic distrust of the abstract and the unmeasurable which is a defining feature of the era of sclerotic institutions. (Hey arts non-profit people, can you say "measurable outcomes?") I would love to convince myself that these are essential mechanisms of social accountability upon which artists can profitably draw both in the content of their work and the living of their lives. What I actually stand convinced of is that this relativistic streak is merely a low-stakes commission of several deadly sins with which we are all familiar no matter what we do for a living.

That is to say that those who would accuse me of "following my passion" seem to be saying as much about themselves as about me. If they were merely expressing support or admiration, I suspect the wording of choice would be rather different; and of course if they knew what I actually have done for money over the years and how much of it has had nothing to do with music, they might have bitten their tongues altogether. It is just as easy for me to lapse into idealizing the many other fields I could have gone into; but alas, whereas enabling a select group of artists to live as solid middle-class earners has been an enduring project of the actual institutional bourgeoisie, the rise of the gig economy perversely relegates a great many others to live as only artists used to. Here as always, then, the term "professional" is used literally, reluctantly, and advisedly. Nihilism is the ultimate even keel, especially as human suffering becomes ever more visible; hence no "professional" milieu will ever lack for nihilists. As in most every other respect, The Arts are neither immune from nor especially exemplary of this reality.

20 December 2017

On The Seasons Needing Me More Than I Need Them

If Southern California is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for newcomers, it is hated-until-proven-loved for those who have never actually been here, the latter condition being both cause and effect of some curious and uniquely wayward folk wisdom. To wit, both immediately before and immediately after my relocation, a few ostensibly thoughtful Minneapolitans raised the possibility that I would “miss the seasons” living in a place which, as far as they were concerned, didn't have any.

Given that the only Minnesota season anyone could miss is the fall (and that Minnesotans spend pretty much the entire year missing it), I was not particularly strongly inclined to heed this warning. In fact it was unclear whether it was indeed to be parsed as a warning or just a theory; ergo, I parse it as a projection. The implication that seasons give requisite shape to life and that the quadripartite structure peculiar to the North is somehow inherently salutary in this way certainly betokens a degree of exceptionalism worthy of a much larger city.

Since moving to California I have given thought to the season question every year around this time; that is, when the weather changes. If we are lucky enough to be rained on in any significant amount over the next several months, that will likely cue more of the same thoughts. And certainly whenever the next bonafide heat wave strikes, exaggerating as it surely will the endtimes vibe one often detects here during times of duress and sometimes just because, I will surely be given yet further occasion to ponder the contour that these changes in the weather do give to my year, subtle as that contour is to the point being undetectable by the freshly uprooted Midwestern soma. Because I am imperfect and petty, I will probably also have a private chuckle vis-a-vis the combination of clouded judgment and reliance on outsider mythmaking through which projected jealousy is most facilely projected. But above all, I will most definitely give thanks for the way a subtler seasonal profile works it’s magic without being so damn disruptive.

In cold-weather locales of the post-Christian world, the disruptions tend to come in waves this time of year, so much so that their long-awaited clearing up itself becomes disruptive whenever it finally takes hold. As perhaps you could have guessed from the tone here, this is a roller coaster ride that I never tolerated well or willingly. The just-noticeable contours of Southern California living are far better suited to the purposes of those of us who prefer (nay, require) the open-endedness of slow, steady, incremental, but always-ongoing progress in our life’s work. Think gentle undulations rather than jagged, disorienting tremors, the climatological analog of the work profile you've never stopped thanking your music teachers for instilling in you.

Among those slower-idling Midwesterners who have ventured far enough afield to speak with some empirical authority, terms like "intense," "incessant," and "rat race" are customarily applied to the bigger fish bowls. Somehow I have still never been to New York City and hence know it only the way so many outsiders know Los Angeles, but through many friends' anecdotes communicated to me over the years I have indeed formed an image of it not only as the music capital of the world but also as the world capital of disruptions. As the folk wisdom would have it, some people thrive in such an environment and others wilt, and this is part and parcel of that famous New York exceptionalism that both Midwesterners and Californians know well whether or not they've visited: The City as crucible. Of course New York also has both its cold weather and its holidays, and more (in)famous conflagrations of the two than most anywhere else, but the master narrative I've been lead to construct would simply fold those more parochial concerns into one giant disruption, the proverbial jackhammer at 3am that I might literally have heard about a dozen times at this point.

A hundred years ago Southern California was declared "enervating" by faster-idling newcomers from the east. Out here, that which is incessant is thought to have quite the opposite effect of an early morning construction crew: sunshine, warmth, beaches, scantily clad young things, and so on, a panoply of luxuries thought perfectly designed to numb even the most ambitious among us into complacency. Hence a former colleague of my father's is said to have once turned down a job offer from an institution in San Diego on the grounds that he would never get anything done there. One can only hope, for his sake, that this gentleman was speaking from a place of great self-knowledge and not from the same place of ignorance that so many other outsiders do. For my part I must confess skepticism that the particular diversions San Diego of all places offers up could keep someone who is just that committed to scholarship entertained for more than a day or two. In any case, that is about the longest I ever need to be entertained before going back down the rabbit hole; hence all such questions of how to take a vacation when you already live in a vacation spot, of the ongoing temptation of such amenities on a day-to-day basis, all those questions are moot to me. More importantly, the longer, more comprehensive interruptions occasioned by Seasonal Affective Disorder, Spring Fever, and the like are no longer acceptable to me simply as the cost of doing business.

I for one have found Los Angeles to provide a healthy balance of ass-kicking mishaps and creature comforts. It periodically reminds you that you're alive while actually permitting you to enjoy it on occasion. If there is indeed some hard-wired need for seasonal contour, I have to think that we acclimate to the scale of change just as we acclimate to more obvious swings in temperature. Taken together, those two things solve the imagined problem quite parsimoniously indeed.

18 February 2017

Against Parsimony

If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.

Some things in life, of course, are just plain difficult to understand. Often enough this is their ineluctable nature (and ours); but if a particular subject seems to offer itself up for mastery, try learning as much as you possibly can about it and see if that doesn't thicken the plot just a bit.

The more you know, the more you don't know.

This second piece of popular wisdom carries a very different message from the first: a depth of understanding sufficient to permit the formation of simple explanations is highly destructive of the willingness to accept them; and thus in the ethical sense, I would say, also to dispense them.

Hence there is a third colloquialism which is an essential corollary to the first:

Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

08 November 2016

Waiting For The Singularity

A thought on political dysfunction for this singularly disheartening election season:

Owing to immutable material conditions, the impending technocracy is thought to be already quite well prepared to automate most of what we do with our limbs and yet quite far indeed from automating most of what we do with our brains. Wouldn't we be better off if the reverse were true? Us human grunts have come to so despise manual labor while taking such pride in governing ourselves; and yet we seem to be quite a bit more competent in the former arena than the latter. Perhaps, then, we ought to put the robots in charge NOW, warts and all. Even their not-quite-human level of intelligence should be adequate to notice how close we are to destroying each other and summarily put us all back to work making widgets. Actually, given that "the social animal" is also the cronyist, nepotist, tribalist animal, perhaps being not-quite-human is actually the robots' strongest qualification for the job.



06 November 2016

Opposites Day Every Day

As I heedlessly forge ahead with the transformation from well- to over-educated, it occurs to me that there is great irony in having pursued musicianship within academia and scholarship outside of it. Even as the "mature" one, it would have taken unusual foresight and diligence for my 17 year-old self to fully grasp the tradeoffs lurking in each box of this unholy Punnett square. At 34, meanwhile, I have become a bit more conversant in such matters, and while superficially "the grass is always greener," in reality I'm thankful for and secure in my identity as a disciplined musician + free-wheeling scholar. In fact I'm tempted go even further than that: it's hard not to view both postures as necessary correctives to some troubling larger trends, and as such I'm hard-pressed to conjure any substantive regrets about the methodologies I've stumbled into.

05 November 2016

Escape From The Walled Garden: Honeymoon

I'm typing this latest cursory missive on an Intel NUC i5 running Debian Linux and bearing the full weight of a lifelong desire for a more "stable" computing life than Apple seems willing to provide. Perhaps that's a strange complaint from someone whose 2006 MacBook still runs and has managed to be instrumental in almost everything I've created for the last decade, including this entire blog. My 2001 iMac also ran forever and I expect it would start right up today if I had it handy. But that's not all those two machines have in common: both were left high and dry through planned obsolescence years before any reasonable consumer would have considered replacing them, and I've now had just enough of that song and dance to make a run for it.

In sentiments that I imagine are not particularly unique or interesting, I must confess that I'm not sure what the point is of having superior hardware if the OS and software are designed to stop working with it every few years, and since I've never been willing or able to pay the ever-steeper price of keeping up with the Jobses, the whole thing has been enormously frustrating for a long time. Ditto the wider ambivalence about long-term environmental impacts of all this "consumption," impacts which I trust will come home to roost in a more immediate way just a tick beyond some yet-to-be-understood point of no return. I hate to toe the line of such holier-than-thou hypocrisy, but here's putting it on the record anyway that I've at least considered this side of the issue, albeit while freely admitting that I don't quite have the courage to wholly refuse to participate.

And so while attempting to remain in control of my callow newbie enthusiasm, I'm going to give Linux and it's barely-adequate suite of musical accoutrements a fair shot to prove itself a worthy alternative. Most of that enthusiasm was sapped rather quickly as I attempted to make playdates for my Debian system with various devices, among which the printer and the Zoom H1 have proven amenable while the scanner and bluetooth speaker have not. And yes, gentle composers, I am committing to attempt to survive with MuseScore, at least for a while, and to ponder learning a typesetting program that could handle the thornier jobs. Sibelius has been very much (I'm sure many older folk would say too much) a part of my musical identity since the age of 18, and I'm not sure I've fully grasped what life will look like without it. At the same time, its recent history makes me just as nervous as does Apple's, albeit for rather different reasons; and further, 90% of what I write is "lines and dots" music anyway, even if those lines and dots sometimes come in waves. I will of course be sure to report progress (or lack thereof) as circumstances dictate.

04 November 2016

Armchair Deconstruction: The Sound of Music, and The Silence of Musicians Who Are On Their Way

Before music rescues the von Trapp children from the militaristic tyranny of their grieving father, before it is co-opted to show that "nothing in Austria has changed," and before it serves as a diversionary tactic against Nazi captors frothing at their proverbial mouths, we are reminded, just for good measure, of something we already knew: that the people who actually make the music are quite unreliable in virtually every other way.

In medias res we meet our heroine Maria, lost in song and waxing metaphysical, reciting a relatively recent Alpine gloss on the much more ancient Harmony of the Spheres. It is mid-afternoon by the time her alarm clock finally rings, at which point the daydream gives way to cold reality: She is late. Again. Just like musicians always are.

This prompts the good sisters themselves to break into song and recount for us in exquisite detail the full litany of Maria's dialectical fissures. Neither the abbey walls nor any others can contain Our Lady; rather, she herself is uncontainable, an enigma, as full of good qualities and boundless energy as she is thoroughly unable to harness them to any controlled or rational end, and most especially not toward her chosen vocation. She is a wonderful person, of course, but one we'd rather not be burdened to deal with directly. You might say that it is cleaner and more expedient for all involved that we opt merely to appreciate her from a safe distance in lieu of actually experiencing her in full. We take solace, or so we say, in knowing that such people are out there, somewhere, undoubtedly doing more good than harm, even as we consciously and unconsciously avoid entanglement. After all, "Once entangled, twice a no-show."

Given such a detailed accounting of pros and cons, the unusually sympathetic, enterprising, or just plain perceptive among us may of course be quite capable of drawing their own, more charitable conclusions. Such it is that by the time all is said and done Maria has had her trajectory profitably redirected by an elder who has seen it all before, improbably bringing release (of at least two kinds), nurturance, and mentorship to the von Trapps after such amenities had seemingly died along with their former matriarch. A good-old-fashioned feminist deconstruction would not be out of place here, and it should take priority over the more parochial issue of music's position in society. But like any marginalized group, musicians too can always count on artifacts of mass culture to invoke those timeless archetypes which are most easily recognized by a fearfully conformist bourgeois audience (Seriously, which groups are not marginalized by this demographic?), and indeed to see the fear no less than the archetype itself reflected therein. Here, then, is one more reminder to leave a little extra time in case the traffic is bad.

03 November 2016

Reductionism Lurks at Every Turn

In what goes for recommitment to tuba playing in my world these days, I decided at the beginning of the summer to return to an old incomplete project: the quintuplet, and making it feel and sound natural. This chicken scratch is a (very) rough record of the tasks I devised as they occurred to me.


(Perceptive music-schoolers and others with a taste for flash-and-trash will detect that the Monti Csardas was also on my stand at the inception of this endeavor. Beyond that general confession, I claim the 5th.)

Within the first few days I realized that I'm a very long way from being able to play entire passages in "5 time" against the 2, 3, or 4 time of an obstinate metronome. The need for simplicity and baby steps necessarily led me away from bits of "real" music and precipitously toward material chosen and constructed strictly for it's articulation of the desired rhythmic groups and not at all for its intrinsic qualities as music. And that is to say that this old bugaboo, about which I've spilled so much virtual ink already, applies to rhythm and time as well as it does to pitch material, something I hadn't really stopped to consider until now.

This much should have been obvious, but of course Classical musicians are infamously disinclined to give rhythm its due (specially appointed timekeepers notwithstanding), and even then too often in a mechanical, unaesthetic way. Even in spite of an early interest in jazz, timefeel as an isolable area of inquiry beyond the enforced literalness and rationality of Classical training somehow managed to elude me completely until my brain was no longer plastic enough nor my extremities unbiased enough to facilitate speedy progress. Jazz bass functions have served as a humbling and practical lens through which to attempt improvement, but one very much tied to particular historical styles which I drift in and out of and, sadly, have precious little opportunity to perform. And so in wrestling with fundamental metric modulations vis-a-vis "small whole number ratios," I hope not only to clean up the pulses themselves but also to sear them into my tempo memory as conceptual guideposts between which more fudgy in-between speeds might be located, the latter task being, to me, potentially much more interesting than the Tyranny Of The Grid which seems to prevail among most others who have taken the time to give this kind of thing the attention it deserves.

27 July 2016

Moderating the Tyranny of Specialism

If there is such a thing academically/intellectually as a "young (wo)man's game," the question for those of us so enmeshed becomes: why continue to specialize in middle age?

Galenson's thesis in Old Masters and Young Geniuses supports this thinking. "Experimental innovators seek, and conceptual innovators find," the latter at surprisingly young ages and often never again. Hence, no matter what we've found (or not) as an adolescent, perhaps middle age is our cue to start seeking.

Put another way, it is interesting to consider whether there are discernible landmarks of achievement lying afield of Gladwell's 10,000 hours. Where in the outer reaches of the life cycle might they fall? And what, then, about the relative worth of, say, 50,000 hour mastery in comparison to a broadening of horizons 500 hours at a time? Perhaps the latter might enable the 10,000 hour master to apply his or her already-substantial achievement to a wide range of immediate, human problems; and indeed, to better understand of his or her own accord what exactly constitutes an immediate, human problem in the first place? I will always be the first to make room for supreme achievers in the Bach or Coltrane mold, but I have had to accept that I am simply not wired for that path.

Glenn Gould famously blurted out something that every music teacher has thought to themselves when he remarked that he could explain everything about playing the piano in a half-hour while the student could spend the rest of his or her life applying this knowledge. Certainly 10,000 hours of practice sounds like a good minimum target for aspiring Professors of Applied Music seeking to unpack the technical and historical vicissitudes of their respective instrumental traditions; it is also wholly inadequate when it comes to mastering the composition, delivery, and contextualization of their own half-hour lectures. And so it must not be regarded as a mere formality, as it seems to have been throughout much of American academia for a very long time, that the latter and not the former is what these Professors are *actually* paid to do. Clearly some extra seasoning is in order; and if simply having Life Experiences® was all it took, every washed up conservatory brat would be magically transformed into a master teacher the moment their teenage child(ren) became sufficiently angsty to impose some long-overdue introspection. There would be middle-aged gurus in designer workout clothes falling from proverbial trees. We can only wish it were that simple.

Anecdotally, I have seen many peers (and myself) become increasingly unable to sustain the multi-hour instrumental practice regimen of college music school into early middle age. Those of us who at least met the barest of curricular time-banking expectations along the way and have continued to find smidges of focused practice time on a daily basis eventually backed into rather than charged into the 10,000 hour club, with all of its privileges and obligations, and with no hope of ever reaching whatever further thresholds might exist in the Gladwellian great beyond. When this first became apparent to me I took it as a serious blow to my self-esteem, committed as I was for many years to an intense practice regimen at the expense of virtually every other facet of personal development. I wanted to be a 50,000 hour tubamaster, or at least I had tried very hard to convince myself that I did. Further, though my hands now covered my face, I couldn't help peeking through my fingers at peers for whom the onset of Real Life® seemed to mark not just the end of their musical development but their personal development as well. It was both a shock and a relief to emerge from such twenty-something doldrums to find that my own desire for personal development had not abated along with my inclination to prioritize tuba playing over all else; and so I decided to listen to what my brain and body alike were trying to tell me: "You're already a specialist, and unless you throw your horn off a bridge, you'll always be one. Now go make it your own."

Just as most all of the principal players of the 20th century's greatest orchestras would fail to advance beyond today's preliminary round auditions on account of their individuality, so too would the areas in which many of history's greatest minds made their lasting contributions today be considered "beyond their competence" on account of vulgar credentialism's logic of accountability. To be clear, I do believe that membership in the 10,000 hour club is a necessity, and that eclecticism is a decidedly members-only area. But given that this number is pursued in a timely enough fashion for its own inner logic to hold, there ought to be plenty of life left during which to find a balance that meets your needs and fits your budget. So get to it.

29 May 2016

A Further Thought on Funny Clothes

Even as an avowedly extreme case of the self-reflective introvert with a generous heap of "uncompromising" artist sprinkled in to taste, I have often found it much easier during my first decade and a half of (semi)professional musicianhood to make peace with the various musical compromises which have been foisted upon me than I have with the sartorial ones which have been attached to them.

My parents' longtime friend Gail Olszewski earned a DMA at the U of MN just as I was matriculating there at the undergraduate level and subsequently became my go-to pianist for the myriad hoop-jumping-through rituals of Classical Music school. She therein imparted to callow young Stefan quite a few pieces of seasoned practical wisdom, musical and sociomusical alike. One in particular which stuck with me for its concise irreverence of those pesky social ties which Christopher Small and his pesky ilk like to posit as central to the art form, and also for later enabling me to explain to a perplexed roommate why my degree recitals cost money, was this: (s)he who chooses the music writes the check.

Compromising or otherwise, it is of course no small personal or practical accomplishment for any musical performer subsumed within today's ruthless cultural economy to be on the receiving end of such choices (and checks) with sufficient frequency as to be justified in calling this exchange their profession. To choose the music you want to play and get paid to present it is virtually unheard of, to the point that when people ask me what my "endgame" is I have taken to substituting some other more realistic goal simply to avoid coming off as delusional and/or overly self-absorbed (which as a self-reflective introvert of course I am). That being as it may, I am beginning to wonder if gaining the privilege of dressing myself as I wish at all times, no matter the music I am to be performing nor whom is writing checks to whom, may in fact be not just an equally strong indication of professional success and self-determination as is the content of the music itself but in fact an even stronger one.

18 April 2016

Grandfathered into Hipsterdom


Young man of Athens, your vanity peeps from the holes in your robe!

-Socrates to Antisthenes


Earlier this month, I had two Friday evenings in a row which required hurrying directly from my standing Bavarian gig in Newbury Park to the geographic and cultural center of Los Angeles to give performances more in line with the aesthetics of my life's work: first with a one-off improvising group assembled by Garrett Hickman at the Hyperion Tavern; and subsequently to celebrate the unusual occasion of three Evil Geniuses being in the same city at the same time.

In both cases I chose to remain in my "work clothes" rather than change out of them (no small task) and risk being late. I have previously made a few perfunctory appearances at parties and bars wearing this outfit, and I thereby have learned to expect not ridicule, as I initially feared, but rather adulation, including occasional heightened interest from the opposite sex. The preponderance of evidence coalesced rather decisively one Saturday last summer when two of us wore our full Bavarian garb into the diviest of dive bars, deep in The Valley, complete with "regulars" who looked like death and horses parked outside in a strip mall parking lot. I thought we were not coming out of that bar alive, or at least not with all of our possessions, dignity, and teeth intact; in fact we were literally treated like royalty, were profligately photographed, and were told that our appearance would not soon be forgotten.

On one level I am thankful for all of this, but ultimately of course it merely confirms so much about world and culture that we would change if we could. Any yokel with a few hundred dollars of disposable income can purchase some German clothes and strut all around Southern California wearing them, whereas not just anyone can make something of themselves, or at least not without putting in quite a bit more time and effort. And yet, if you want people's attention and admiration, preliminary results strongly suggest you'd be better served opting for the funny clothes and leaving the hard work of perfecting art and craft to the foolhardy and the narcissistic.

In any case, by the time of my recent calendrical near-collisions, I had long overcome any fear of appearing in my work clothes outside of work. I also knew given the venues that I would probably not be the only one up to some sartorial mischief. In fact, this was the ideal chance to play at being a hipster while ultimately possessing an airtight alibi to any such accusations. After all, those clothes help me pay my rent each month and the cost of purchasing them was a 100% legitimate tax write-off last year. No hipster can say that about their various thrift store raids.

I pulled a similar stunt when the geniuses at PSC decided to strictly enforce the company's grooming policy at Oakwood (incidentally the contract of theirs which undoubtedly boasts the most hipsters per capita, laying bare the obliviousness at play). Thus forbidden from having facial hair below the lip, I resolved to grow the thickest, nastiest cop-stache that heredity would allow. As with the funny clothes, the only feedback I ever heard with my own ears was positive, and as it also forced me to play with less pressure, I discovered a marginal practical excuse as well. (A trombone colleague told me he gets "that mustache sound" under such circumstances and immediately goes to shave, but as with most every other embouchure question, tubists seem able to get away with pretty much whatever we want.)

The very word "hipster" has of course been thoroughly worn out over the past several years, but it is a real phenomenon and we really ought to call it out when we see it. I will always view it as superficial, defensive, and a path of least resistance. However, having somewhat accidentally conducted the fieldwork related above, I will no longer view it as ineffective in any of those ways.

11 April 2016

The Theory-Technique-Creativity Nexus


Editorial Note: I lied, and it was only good for half an exorcism. Therefore, the "frozen essay" is hereby defrosted, prepared, and served. Bon appetit.

-SK

•••••

A talented eighth grade tuba student of mine was asked by his band teacher two months into our lessons how things were going. When told we'd spent most of the prior lesson building and playing triads in various keys, this teacher's response, as later reported to me in an act of unsolicited pre-adolescent candor, was, "You can learn your chords and scales at home. What did he give you for technique?"

Remarks not initially intended for one's own ears certainly have a way of occasioning some instant reflection, but beyond that, this one soon had me thinking about writing those reflections down and sharing them with the greater musical community. While such a task necessarily entails rehashing much territory on which I have written and spoken before1, the above exchange is an excellent prompt to further refine and sharpen these principles based on experience gained in the interim.

Specifically, I have set out here to theorize and advocate for the immense and far-reaching value of applying foundational music theory concepts directly to the student's band instrument regardless of their prior experience in applying them to the keyboard or to the written staff. Concurrently, I seek to connect what may seem to be mere subtleties of presentation therein to larger questions of what music education is, should be, and might become. Throughout, I take pains to address this discussion to all instrumental music students and educators, not just those involved in pre-professional musical training; indeed, I single out for particular scrutiny the notion that the comprehensive approach I describe is not well-suited to beginning and intermediate students. I would be remiss, however, to completely ignore the higher-order facets of this discussion and thus will conclude with some observations of that nature as well.


ISOLATION AND INTEGRATION
I strongly believe that tapping into the intellectual and creative dimensions of musicianship is a primary and essential task for music education even where instrumentalism is the ostensible priority of the endeavor. Indeed, instrumentalism is a fine priority to choose: music is after all not merely something to contemplate but something to do. That is to say that the most comprehensive and reliable extrinsic benefits following from a musical education of any scope stem from the "doing" part and minimally if at all from mere contemplation in absence of it. If you have ever read one of those breathless headlines declaring that music uses more different parts of the brain than most any other activity, I can assure you that the subjects of these studies were not merely head-bobbing or navel-gazing. Distanced scholarship does play a necessary role in "doing" music on a high level, but the two cannot simply be swapped out for each other one-to-one.

Hence, I want to propose that a broadening of the music-educational experience to encompass intellectual and creative pursuits need not come at the expense of instrumental concerns; rather, the intellectual and the creative can and must be essential components of the ways we present and cultivate instrumentalism, that is if we intend this cultivation to be successful. I believe as wholeheartedly in these assertions regarding beginning and intermediate students and hobbyists as I do vis-a-vis college music majors and working professionals. This is without question the most difficult aspect of my argument to support theoretically, but provided I can indeed achieve this, I intend to show as well that implementing it in practice is actually much simpler than it is typically made out to be. It is true that most classroom educators face severe practical limitations, but I believe this is an instance (a rare one, perhaps) where philosophical differences and not logistical barriers are in fact most responsible for creating a culture of expedience in place of the broader and somewhat more rigorous methods I propose.

Attaining a truly symbiotic relationship between the creative and technical dimensions of musicianship is, of course, a lifelong pursuit which even eminent musical minds struggle to meaningfully achieve and maintain. As such, it may at first blush seem too "advanced" a topic for the lower and middle grades. My contention, to the contrary, is that it is only as advanced a topic as is the material utilized to access it. All students are prepared to be creative within the confines of their ability, whether they know five notes or all of the notes. Further, it is well-known that the absence of social conditioning in young children makes childhood an intensely creative time; indeed, it is often easier to get third graders than eighth graders to improvise, and adults are typically the most difficult (that is, inhibited) age group in this way. Hence we may reasonably formulate an obverse statement as well: as adolescents start to feel the pull of myriad "adult" inhibitions imposed from without, it is doubly critical that we nurture their inner willingness and ability to experiment, to fail, to learn constructively from this, and to meaningfully understand that this process is essential to their development.

The time to challenge these students to be creative is not some imaginary day in the future that may never arrive. It is not the day when they can play all their scales two octaves from memory, the day they audition their way into the top group at school, or the day they finally decide to "get serious" about music; rather, that day is today, while we have them in front of us and have been charged with developing them as musicians, scholars, and citizens. We must teach the students that are in front of us, not the ones we project to exist at some unknowable time based on some unknowable set of variables.

The notion that my assertions here represent a textbook case of putting the cart before the horse is one which urgently needs to be challenged and debunked anywhere it surfaces. For one thing, the narrative of technique-as-prerequisite has its origins in an epoch of cultural consensus and musical common practice which has long since fragmented beyond repair. That is not to say this is a good reason to abandon teaching traditional instrumental technique in public schools, but it is ample reason not to assume that we know today the applications our students might later choose for their newly developed technique. Pedagogy which claims to be traditional and technique-oriented without sufficiently engaging students' intellects and creativity is, simply put, pedagogy that overreaches in its assumptions. This is because virtually any music that students might choose to play outside of the school band room will demand more than the passive recreation of written scores. It is very likely, rather, that it may involve the creation of scores and parts, aural transcription, co-composition, extemporization, or some combination of these things. As such, it behooves us as teachers to develop students' creative and aural skills concurrently with their general technique, as well as to ensure that the occasional need for isolation of underdeveloped skills does not work against the integration of these skills into the "big picture." This is not only possible within the confines of a technique-oriented program but in fact is a prerequisite to optimizing its results. There is no zero-sum game here, only a symbiosis which more closely mirrors the dynamics of living culture than any form of rote learning ever could. And to be clear, it does not necessarily entail abandoning the materials or values of the current paradigm, just rethinking how they are presented and in which proportions.

Speaking personally and anecdotally now, and at the risk of ruffling some feathers, I suspect that if a successful high-level professional playing career were a prerequisite to becoming a school band teacher, it would probably be unnecessary for me to make these points so forcefully, and perhaps also unnecessary to have written this paper at all. I am not an old or a wise man, but in my first decade of professional musical life, I have found the notion that technique deserves one's exclusive attention until mastery has been achieved to be mostly a convenient cover story for musicians and teachers who simply don't have much else to offer. It is so convenient, of course, because perfection is unachievable, and hence the carrot of technique can continue to be dangled in perpetuity, or at least until the student graduates or otherwise moves on to trouble some other teacher with their impatience. If I am wrong in this assessment, I must ask what the skeptic would posit in its place to explain why the concurrent development of technique, intellect, and creativity through mainstream classical music education could seem so radical when in fact there are established models for it scattered all across the past and present of Western cultural history? I have already addressed the logistics argument and found it compelling to a point but nonetheless inadequate by itself. Nor is the prerequisite narrative unique to the school band tradition: in fact it has been one of the enduring tropes of jazz curmudgeonry for nearly a century, reaching its apogee when dyed-in-the-wool beboppers reacted against the 1960s avant-garde by positing bebop as the unimpeachable technical and aesthetic foundation of all jazz to come. To be blunt, any musician who believes their music is everyone else's prerequisite is no musician at all, not in a free society at least. Their worldview as well as their work itself has run aground on delusions of common practice and cultural consensus which no longer define Western musical culture as they once did. I have for the most part privileged traditional technical approaches in my private teaching, partly out of personal predilection and partly out of terms of employment, but ultimately I see technique as a vehicle and not as an end unto itself. For some reason, this modern staple of music criticism and reception has not yet made it into many band rooms and private lesson studios in this country.

These are harsh words, and it is always with some trepidation that I release such words into the public sphere where people I've worked with personally might read them and be left wondering if they are to recognize themselves. On the other hand, in the wake of such a release it is unusual that I don't hear at least one unexpectedly positive response from someone I was most afraid of offending in this way. This could indicate that I have indeed underestimated the impact of logistics; that the "philosophical differences" I posited above are not as extreme as I think they are; and that we therefore are dealing with a lack of courage here and not necessarily with a lack of sensitivity. Ultimately I am betting against this explanation, but if I am wrong, I hope that what I've written, harsh though it may be, might then provide my colleagues with some of this much-needed courage.


SPECIALIZATION AND AGENCY
It will come as no surprise at this juncture that I question (as many have and will) the degree of agency afforded students by an exclusive focus on the passive recreation of written music created almost exclusively by career purveyors of educational publications. By the same token, I lament the rarity with which students in such classes interface with primary documents representing the work and ideas of acknowledged masters, a condition which is not and would never be tolerated in "core" subject classrooms beyond the elementary level. I question these things, and yet I am willing, for the moment, to accept them merely as inevitable consequences of collective cultural priorities and greater political expedience. If students are to be prepared to play Mozart by the time they are prepared to read Shakespeare, then their musicianship needs to be cultivated from the same early age and with the same tenacity as are their reading skills. Few would advocate for the necessity of this, even among the most vociferous of arts advocates. It must be said, however, that the alternative leaves music teachers to solve the puzzle of, quite literally, a child's mind in a young adult's body. Contemporary school music pedagogy is quite clearly a reaction to that unfortunate condition, but I do not think it is the only possible reaction.

Nor does the opposite extreme, the pre-professional "conservatory" orientation, necessarily play any better. Indeed, the notion of first isolating technique and only upon mastery of it being permitted to graduate to interpretive and creative work is itself a rationalist fiction stemming from two professionalistic dicta misapplied to the developing student:

(1) you must not reinforce your technical errors by repeating them without correction; if you do, you are "practicing your mistakes," not good technique;

and,

(2) all creativity is derivative, and fertile creativity requires lots of experience and influences; therefore, creating from minimal experiences and influences isn't worth much.

As a working professional I embrace both of these outlooks. I have to in order to stay employed and to fulfill myself as an artist. However, as a teacher of middle school and high school-aged students, I often impose in-lesson activities which virtually ensure students will make a few of the same technical mistakes several times in a row and/or that they will be charged with creating from insufficient musical experience. Why?

On the technical question, my thinking is that students who ultimately become aspiring professionals and/or college music majors will rack up hours of practice in that phase of their lives which ultimately will dwarf that of their early years. Meanwhile, those who remain strictly recreational players or quit after a short time will most obviously benefit more from a comprehensive approach now than from micromanagement of technical foundations they never end up building upon.

As for creativity as a lifelong pursuit, I hope all of my readers can easily agree that the journey and not the destination is of prime importance when it comes to the creativity of children and hobbyists, and that creativity, like success itself, is habitual. Expecting consistent masterpieces from any artist is of course totally unrealistic, but there are two other points we should consider in light of that. First, not every creation need be presented publicly. Great creators are often simply the most ruthless when it comes to deciding which of their creations are worthy of their good name, and this lesson in and of itself is one of great extrinsic value. Second, there are many elements of "craft" that can be taught and practiced even if the "art" part is destined to remain intractable. I am referring to the ability to realize a musical idea on an instrument or to write it down in proper notation; to knowledge of the notational conventions and instrumental ranges and transpositions that govern this latter task; to having heard and internalized enough music to the point that one's creations reflect these influences; to basic knowledge of computer programs for notation, recording, editing, processing, and programming; and so on. There is no reason to attempt to cover all of this ground, but covering none of it simply is not acceptable anymore, and waiting for just the right moment is nothing better than a gamble. Whether or not a given student possesses the inclination and capability to process this stimulation in the particular way that prolific composers and improvisors do is rather beside the point; if they are not at least given the opportunity to process it, then their chances of developing an emotional investment in music-making have not been optimized.

Is mastery of a traditional Western instrument in the traditional Western manner not the foundation on which all of these higher aspirations must be built? I am certainly not here to dispute the notion that it is, in fact, an excellent basis for this task and many more besides. Even so, we seem collectively inclined to underestimate the window for imparting instrumental mastery and, concurrently, to overestimate the window for sowing the seeds of creativity. If I could be permitted one more lapse into purely anecdotal reasoning, I would cash it in here, for I know of many more instrumental virtuosos who solidified their chops in their late teens and early twenties than I do high-level composers and improvisors whose interest and potential was not yet evident early in high school. That could be because technique is purely meritocratic and creativity is an ineffable gift from God, or it could be because of material circumstances more readily under our control. Given my reasoning here I suppose I must grant each reader the salience of their own anecdotes on the matter. My own observations lead me to think that it is never too early to take some modest baby steps down the path of creative development but that it certainly can be too late. Some light reading in the area of human psychology and brain development certainly indicates that the formative years are most fruitfully spent forging a diversity of neural pathways rather than specializing in just a few; that is, that creativity thrives on diversity of neural form and function and just as surely suffocates in the biocultural vacuum tube of specialization. It is one thing to parade around proclaiming music's function as neural cross-training in a politically calculated, reductionist manner, and quite another thing to actually embrace the many-sidedness of the musical experience and represent it in our pedagogy. I can think of no meaningful deterrents to the latter approach aside from the extra effort it requires on the part of those who by no fault of their own were not afforded a model of this orientation in their own educations.

Indeed, I have always insisted and want to do so once more that specialization itself broadly construed is an "advanced" musical topic, the one can that may be kicked down the road in precisely the manner I am insisting that creativity should not be. We must first possess a fair degree of inner certainty that we are choosing to specialize in something important to us before cutting bait with other closely-held interests and embarking on the hard work of consolidation. In other words, we are psychologically prepared to specialize only after we have attained agency, and agency cannot be achieved without protracted engagement in creative tasks. It has been said that you find out what you think about something by writing about it, and I believe this no less true in the realm of aesthetics than in the realm of scholarship.

If this sounds novel or overwrought, consider the place of the study of interpretation, a down-the-road, pre-professional place that comes long after most of what has been discussed here. Why do we study interpretation only then and there? Because it is a highly specialized topic the pursuit of which presupposes a single-minded surety that the chosen material is relevant to the student's long-term goals. General skills survive changes of interest and métier, specialized ones do not, and on top of that, the latter are harder won and thus require stronger internal motivation. This makes it particularly galling to find interpretation (mere interpretation!) being posited as the avenue by which music students might develop their creativity in band class in absence of being challenged to compose, improvise, or analyze. This represents a far more egregious example of putting the cart before the horse than any method I am advocating for.

So, what exactly is "agency" and where does it come from? It arises where ideas and experiences become transformed into beliefs and intentions; where these intentions start becoming increasingly specific and detailed; and where the question of what to do with oneself becomes engulfed by that of why. The whys of life are of course the most difficult, usually intractable questions we ever face. They are bigger than us, and certainly bigger than eighth grade band. They are not, however, like that trombone-toting bully launching spitballs from the back row: ignoring them will not simply make them go away.

Importantly, mastery of a given body of knowledge does not necessarily lead straightforwardly to the attainment of agency, nor does agency necessarily presuppose anything rising to the level of mastery. Pedagogies which prioritize one will, however, necessarily differ from those which prioritize the other. Unlike mastery, agency is something we can, should, and must expect to develop in young musicians whether or not they intend to pursue music professionally. I personally would go so far as to say that it should be our top priority. It is, in any case, one facet of music with implications far beyond the walls of the discipline, and hence no less crucial to the future hobbyist than to the future professional. Many extramusical factors both contribute to and are impacted by its emergence.

Taken collectively, the methodologies and hypotheses presented here represent a two-tiered plan of attack geared toward eliciting agency from the young student. First and foremost, they lay the early groundwork for dealing directly with the aforementioned primary documents (i.e. written scores and sound recordings) which contain students' rightful cultural inheritance. By the time students' "core" classes are leaving behind the shrink-wrapped, mass-marketed, one-size-fits-all consumables that the education-industrial complex dutifully cranks out to nurse them through their intellectual infancy, their musical infancy is, by that measure, just getting started and threatens to go on for a while. I think there is something fishy about that.

Similarly, a comprehensive music education from an early age may occasion the later introduction of academic musical topics truly comparable in intellectual rigor to the student's "core" classes, such as the science of sound, philosophical aesthetics, music production, and the study of criticism and reception history. This is rarely practical or even advisable except in exceptional instances, but I again ask the reader to consider the ever-escalating battlecry from within the arts advocacy world that music is a core subject, and then to consider whether any of their own pre-college musical education in fact rose to anything near this level. Core status is a worthy goal, but one which we are light years away from justifying on either the curricular or the pedagogical front.

I expect that while few school band directors would take substantive exception to these aspirations in the abstract, many will question the practicality of their meaningful implementation as well as their vague, generic, purely theoretical formulations. I can say that the vagueness, at least, is absolutely intentional here, even necessary, a direct consequence of my own belief in aesthetic plurality in arts education. That the specific demands of particular aesthetic orientations necessarily mediate the larger underlying assumptions of the accompanying musico-pedagogical framework goes without saying and is not particularly problematic. I have striven here, as elsewhere, to formulate these tenets in a manner that reflects the resonance I have found in my own journey toward agency among all of the music I am engaged with. It is a wider array of music than most of my professional colleagues, but not an infinite one; like anyone else, I am necessarily limited by the breadth of my own purview. It is true that some of my assumptions begin to break down when applied to the popular and folk traditions with which I am less engaged; meanwhile, experimental music, in which I have never had better than half a foot, eschews most of them completely and by design. Ironically, though, these particular genre labels also denote the Western musical traditions whose primary documents are most accessible. For that reason, the fact that even these documents, to say nothing of the scores of Beethoven and the recordings of Monk, have been crowded out of mainstream band culture by pieces with titles like S'cool Room Chromatricks is particularly inexcusable. Could a group of 7th grade, second-year band students not create a prose score, play-along track, or simple piece of musique concrète out of their chromatic scale exercises that was at least as interesting to listen to, and most likely more so? Would the process not be more worth their time in every way, and not least of all technically? And are there not three measly weeks of an ever-expanding school year that could be devoted to this without irreparably compromising students' instrumentalism?

Of course, the namechecking of all of these disparate styles, traditions, artists, and idioms, each so important to contemporary musical culture and each holding immense pedagogical promise in spite of their wildly divergent technical demands and cultural origins, raises yet another issue of practicality. It is indeed impossible to meaningfully expose every student to every important stream of Western music thought, and indeed it is hardly necessary or desirable either. Seeing, however, that the brain remains plastic into the third decade of life but indeed becomes far less plastic after that, it follows that students have longer than they are typically granted to decide whether or not to specialize, and also that they have less time than they are typically granted to achieve the agency necessary to both their musical and social development. The current paradigm manages to run afoul of both of these truths at once through its longstanding tunnel vision. In reality, there is plenty of useful space between hyper-specialization and overbroad dabbling that we might more profitably inhabit.

In Brain and Culture, Bruce Wexler remarks upon "a central feature of individual human development" that is as tantalizing as it is tragic:

Learning and action are in an inverse relationship throughout the life-span. We learn the most when we are unable to act. By the time we are able to act on the world, our ability to learn has dramatically diminished." (p. 143)

In this case, the vagueness and generality of the statement does not, I don't think, undermine its validity, and as such it strikes me as an unusually prescient and cautionary message to educators of all stripes. It is from this advice first and foremost that the pedagogical orientation I am advocating for here must be taken to proceed.


METHODS
While professional musicians, school music teachers, public-sector arts advocates, educational theorists of both the scholarly and armchair variety, and even standards-based learning models all pay lip service to the notion of developing students' creativity and self-expression through music education, the creative challenges encountered in the typical band room from middle school straight through graduate school remain, to put it kindly, limited and depersonalized ones. I suppose it is simply an unfortunate accident of history that the symphonic ensembles comprising the locus of so much Western musical thought and creativity have also institutionalized such a badly skewed teacher-to-student ratio as well as a top-down creative hierarchy from composer to conductor to performer. My fellow tuba players at least will recall the famous declaration by our pedagogical patron saint that "a limited challenge creates a limited musician." This of course rings just as true for questions of creativity and intellect as it does for those of technique and interpretation towards which Arnold Jacobs originally addressed them.

Just as the private studio has traditionally occasioned the introduction of greater technical challenges for young students, so it may also also fruitfully become the setting for posing greater creative, conceptual, and intellectual challenges; and this, I firmly believe, without subordinating one concern to the other in a zero-sum fashion. Meanwhile, as long as the greater musical community continues to view creativity as the intractable domain of a few innately gifted oddballs, its accompanying extrinsic benefits, which dwarf those of purely athletic music education, will remain mostly untapped. Not everyone is destined for creative brilliance, nor need they be, but anyone can learn something invaluable by making the effort. They should, and we must.

In what remains of this sprawling diatribe, I will begin to temper the vague theorizing, of which there has been plenty now, and initiate explicit discussion of methodology. Some of this methodology is supported by work I have done with students, and some of it is supported only by my own work and accomplishments. I must emphasize in any case that these methods and materials are for the most part so simple and familiar that they hardly bear mentioning, let alone scholarly excursus. It is precisely this triteness, though, that I feel too often leads the full implications of their ontology and provenance to be overlooked or misunderstood. Hence, the bulk of the discussion below deals not so much with the choice of material (which, befitting a creativity-centered pedagogical approach, is quite flexible) as with how it is presented, approached, worked through, built upon, and thought about.

In my opinion, musical patterning is the process which lays most bare for us the dialectical synthesis of technique and creativity hinted at in the title of this essay. It is undeniably the ideal intermediate step between rote execution and free extemporization. However, there is also an aesthetic nihilism inherent in the concept of patterning, a "paint-by-number" approach if you will, which strongly dictates that we must limit our exposure to it. You are what you hear: over time, listeners come to remember and ultimately to prefer that which they have heard most. Therefore, the ways we choose to develop our technique also shape our artistic identities. Any music pedagogy which does not account for the intrinsic qualities of its materials is an aesthetically nihilist pedagogy which thereby misrepresents both music's relationship to external society and its internal social dynamics.

This is not a question of musical style or genre: all artistic traditions produce works of seemingly "pure" inspiration as well as purely formulaic or reductionistic glosses on them. Ultimately this is a spectrum and not a dichotomy, but I believe it is incumbent upon educators that they be sensitive to the distinction anyhow. It seems to me, unfortunately, that very few are, that this is painfully obvious from both materials and results, and that the need for broad accessibility and expedience will continue to be trotted out as a defense anytime this issue is raised. The question then becomes what end, exactly, this accessibility and expedience is serving and whether it is worth the trouble at all.


RECLAIMING PATTERNING
Let's start with the good news about patterns: they repeat themselves on the intervalic level but change on the pitch level, and so the burden of creation is largely mitigated while the burden of realization remains largely intact. Verbal instructions such as "build a triad on each note of the scale" fully determine the notes to be played while underdetermining the means of executing them on the horn. The student is no longer a passive re-creator; he or she now has to think, at least nominally, about what is about happen. Such tasks are not truly "creative" processes; they are, rather, processes of translation from abstract idea to concrete sound. This is clearly a question of technique by any reasonable definition of the term, and as such, the choice of material and playing style can be geared to address almost any technical topic and the endeavor profitably undertaken by players of all abilities.

The lines-and-dots-oriented bandmaster is liable to opine once again that this approach is too applied and too integrative to be of use with younger students, who would most benefit from the isolation of underdeveloped skills. He or she might posit some glorious day in the future, as vaguely defined as it is overly optimistic, when Johnny or Susie has finally done the hard work necessary to be equally good (or bad) at every aspect of technique. Only once these students have sufficiently flagellated themselves at the altar of received knowledge have they earned the privilege of expressing themselves. Indeed, how can they express themselves if they don't know their scales?!

If you think this is just a straw man argument, I have news for you: this straw man has flesh-and-blood progeny and they release thousands of unlistenable jazz CDs each year. First of all, as I have already said, the day never comes when we have our technical houses ideally in order; this is, rather, a convenient fiction peddled by educators who never pursued such a consummation themselves. Secondly, realization exercises do not exactly work against the process of isolation; rather, they are the truest isolation of the improvisor's craft that exists. This can only be said, however, when students are asked to extrapolate a complete exercise from a single instruction. I hope it is obvious why simply writing the exercise out for them does not work the same way. If, on the other hand, it is the student who writes the whole thing out with due attention successfully paid to the myriad notational conventions involved, this is absolutely worth their time too, just for rather different reasons.

One of the wild cards here is that any material will eventually become memorized through repetition. Hence, a given pattern's value as a realization exercise gets "used up" long before its value as a technical exercise is exhausted, and usually before any particular technical challenges have been isolated on their own terms. Memorization is yet another useful challenge students may benefit from attempting, but again it is not at all the goal of any of this. Students may of course stick with certain material after they've memorized it and transition to the traditional mode of technical refinement; indeed, they must do this if they have aspirations beyond baseline mediocrity. Techniques do need to be isolated at some point, and material which is not "lived with" for sufficient period of time will not be internalized or retained. That being as it may, patterns are not the only material available to us, and they are not usually the material that we actually want to "live with" to this degree. As such, they are the ideal disposable materials for realization exercises but far from ideal as long-term vehicles for technical development; for the latter purpose, large chunks of "real" music are the only profitable choice. And to reiterate, "real" music does not mean "hard" music! It merely means music that was created out of an overwhelmingly aesthetic motivation rather than a reductionistic one.

Here is a canonical example of a "disposable" exercise:


As common and simple as this pattern might be, the difference between introducing it as notation and introducing it as a set of verbal instructions is not negligible. Even if permitted to look at a fingering chart or unidirectional chromatic scale during realization, young students still have some extra "figuring out" to do, and of precisely the kind that composers and improvisors engage in when they spin out their masterpieces. To be sure, what I have described so far does not exactly represent a creative act itself, and certainly not a masterpiece either, but it does represent the foundation on which such things might subsequently be built. It should go without saying, though, that there's absolutely no reason why the foundational technical objectives of this ubiquitous exercise cannot also be explicitly remarked upon by the teacher as the task of stand-and-deliver realization necessarily morphs into that of refinement and repeatability.

I hasten to clarify that I am not merely interested in tipping the scales away from written notation and toward aural transmission. What I am describing here, rather, does not truly belong squarely in either category; the central task of the process I have described so far is neither reading nor hearing, but rather thinking, as well as, albeit in a highly circumscribed manner, creating. I for one think we could use quite a bit more of both of those things at all levels of music education and have devoted the bulk of my pedagogical energy (and quite a lot of verbiage) to this end. So much of the early foundational material brass players are introduced to lends itself so well to the task that it almost seems wasteful not to milk every last drop out of it that we can. The past century of American creative instrumentalism attests to the artistic empowerment that a thoughtfully designed integrative approach can achieve, as does everything we know about the bygone ubiquity of improvisation in a European classical tradition which so many college and university music departments claim now to be conserving while conveniently ignoring this aspect of it.

As for the "practicing your mistakes" critique, it is true that technical mistakes are a frequent and inherent consequence of this methodology. Here we arrive at a highly contentious cultural disconnect between musical traditions which value technical refinement and those which permit technical abandon, one on which I fear partisans of each side may ultimately do no better than agreeing to disagree. I myself maintain a foot in several musical circles of each type and can personally attest to the vehemence and thoroughness of alienation that exists between the true believers of each camp. I can at least say that keeping myself happy is much simpler: it involves having concurrent, fulfilling opportunities to express myself in both refined and unrefined technical idioms. There is, of course, no reason to expect quite that much from middle school students who joined the band because their friends did; but then, in that case, there also is no reason to deprive our students of any approach which might more fully develop them as musicians and people simply on account of our own sympathies in one or the other aesthetic direction. That is why in absence of extenuating circumstances I customarily reserve lesson time each week for the presentation both of fully realized material AND creative/conceptual exercises. No student with whom I've been fortunate enough to work for a period of multiple years has failed to eventually achieve aesthetic agency and gravitate rather decisively towards one or the other stream, at which point I invariably attempt to introduce a more focused approach based on their expressed interests and needs, and to lead them on a journey of, if not refinement, then at least consolidation. For me, the task of eliciting such agency from students is no less essential a responsibility than ensuring that they play with proper posture and air flow. Of course this is above and beyond the established role of the private instrumental teacher, perhaps even outside of it in the views of some; but then, who else is there to pick up the slack that a 50:1 student-to-teacher ratio necessarily leaves dangling? Moreover, what good is technique without an emotional investment in its application?

As for that pesky issue of "pure" creativity and the generation of original material, I am not here to claim that it can truly be taught, but I do know that the ability to imitate is a foundational prerequisite that can be nurtured and diversified, namely by exposing the student to as wide a range of musical ideas as possible. Patterning is at once both the best friend and worst enemy of this process, an open-ended, technically and intellectually accessible simulation which is nonetheless a terribly inadequate substitute for exposure to aesthetic history and thought.

To address this deficiency in the process, students who are motivated and prepared to do so can and should "graduate" to greater challenges of realization based on more advanced music theory concepts, and also to transposition of material drawn from "real" pieces they know and love. To make the study of an instrument the locus of this expository-imitative process is not merely expedient in the sense of combining technical and conceptual pursuits into one; rather, this process is itself an essential component of instrumentalism. Any reader who finds that last statement to be an unduly jazz-centric one is again invited to consider the centrality of improvisation to so much 17th and 18th century European art music as well as the more recent propagation of myriad non-jazz improvisatory idioms. And again, I am not saying that every casual student of an instrument ought to be expected to achieve mastery at extemporization; what I am saying is that the non-improvising chamber musician is just as much the historical anomaly as the non-improvising lead trumpet player and that we truly need many fewer of both than we have.


TRANSPOSITION
If I have put forth more than a few seemingly-radical claims about young students, I trust even so that the confluence of the conceptual and the technical is quite a bit less controversial when it comes to aspiring and current professionals. The ability and willingness to transpose large chunks of pitch material is in fact an absolutely essential prerequisite to the refinement of professional-level technique and repertoire. I must be clear that, as opposed to "sight-transposition," I am referring to "mind-transposition;" in other words, to more or less the same "realization exercise" detailed above but utilizing more complex material and more of it.

The reasons for this are simple. First, to be ideally secure with passages in either extreme of register, the player must be secure in the same passage made yet more extreme; and yet if the only interval by which the player is comfortable transposing is an octave, this aspect of preparation is by definition completely unavailable to them. Additionally, in order to truly balance out our playing experience among all keys, we must in fact "practice keys;" that is, we must occasionally have periods where we play lots of material in the same key. (How's that for isolation of skills?) As anyone so inclined can attest, practicing keys is both less productive and less fun when we are limited to raiding IMSLP or our school's music library for centuries-old pieces we really don't care about. If we allow our weaknesses to force us down that road, we in fact miss a golden opportunity to consolidate our burgeoning agency and identity by revisiting music that is important to us and repurposing it. The exposure effect is a good thing as long as we are exposing ourselves to the music we love! The inevitable discovery of quite unexpected, purely technical resonances between familiar pieces and unfamiliar keys is also very constructive.

And so, remember all those technical "mistakes" the eighth grader made trying to figure out simple patterns based on verbal instructions? Remember how combining so many tasks into one worked so thoroughly against the sacred cow of isolation? Well, if it's not too harrowing a thought, let's imagine that he is now a Masters student in an exclusive university tuba studio. He has aspirations of winning a playing job and his practice log has grown to Gladwellian proportions, burying any memory traces of this youthful flailing underneath a heap of more positive technical reinforcement. All of those foundational patterns kept reappearing, though, in his music, in his undergraduate theory classes, and eventually in his own mind. Ditto the full gamut of scales, chords, and pitch sets. This material, all of it, has become so familiar, its technical challenges so inconsequential, and its intellectual demands so seemingly lightweight, that he will not waste one second or make one purely realization-based error when it comes time to practice Bydlo in A or The Ride in B-flat. Some of his classmates only discovered that approach late in college or even in graduate school, by which time their accumulated experience made a midstream change of orientation even more difficult. And so in the time it takes the trombone player two practice rooms down to hand copy the exposition of a Bordogni vocalise up a half-step, our man has warmed up his chops and brain alike by playing it in all twelve keys, low to high, without a hitch, and is on to something more pressing. He has an audition next week and is both training on a wider array of material AND making fewer mistakes in his daily practice than even some of his technically superior competitors; indeed, the ones he cannot outwork he has outsmarted. Nor is he losing sleep over the diagnostic exams for the DMA programs he is applying to: he has long since forged a permanent intellectual connection between his instrument and his academic music classes by immediately applying theory directly to the horn and eschewing the cult of pianism to read through passages of historically important scores part-by-part.

If he had waited for just the right moment to do all of this instead of simply seizing the moments he had, he would not have begun recognizing these same ideas in the music he was performing in band, orchestra, brass ensemble, chamber groups, and solo recitals. And because he was constantly performing with these and other groups, he did recognize them over and over, he internalized and retained the concepts quickly, he was never at risk of forgetting them as long as he was playing regularly, and he didn't have to waste face time refreshing his memory. Most importantly of all, he has not listened to himself practice dry scale exercises for many hours a day for many years; rather, he has listened to himself play a few scales here and there, dwarfed by a tremendous amount "real" music that he chose because he loves it. This means that whenever he composes or improvises, "real" music is what comes out, not the empty technical displays that lead so many listeners to misguidedly condemn technique as an artistically destructive force, thereby truly completing the circle of ignorance that the first published book of scale patterns started.

Anyone who thinks that last part sounds like it issues from the bitter memoirs of a broken down dabbler who loved playing but hated practicing thinks this solely out of fear. They fear breaking with the conventional wisdom that has always been there to comfort them, with the advice of so many teachers they respect and identify with, and with the faith instilled in them by these mentors that scales are The Way. They fear the loss of simplicity and comfort that reductive solutions have always provided and the ways this loss forces them to come to terms with the complexity, ruthlessness, and incomprehensibility of the real world. They fear last minute audition announcements which prescribe scales to be played, announcements which in reality only ever issue from academic music departments and high school music camps whose appetite for expedience and conformity is no less voracious than that of overburdened public school educators, who at least have a better excuse. They fear forgetting how to play their scales because they don't ever think about them unless they are actually playing them; they could have avoided this by taking a creative musician's approach to the horn rather than the trained-monkey approach, but they were spoon-fed the latter from tweendom and were never allowed, much less encouraged, to question it in any meaningful way. I am questioning it on their behalf, then, not out of hate as it may seem but out of love.

The graduate tuba student scenario above is dramatized and idealized, but only mildly. It is partly autobiographical too, but also validated by a great deal of subsequent real world experience. I for one find it hard to believe that eighth grade band is much more than a distant memory for most of us who have subsequently spent years or decades honing our instrumentalism under the tutelage of master teachers; I do know, however, that I have had many academic classmates and professional colleagues for whom the transposition of standard orchestral excepts, and sometimes even of simple tunes, is not so simple a proposition. Unfortunately, the twin conceits of "hire education" and an American meritocracy both fail us rather spectacularly here. If either of these things were real, would all those "master teachers" have so thoroughly neglected to develop their students along the lines I have enumerated? Considering that the vast majority of paying work for tuba players (i.e. teaching or entertaining) can be (and dare I say is) obtained as easily by novices as by experts, there effectively exists no material incentive for us to pursue the avenues I have laid out as thoroughly as I have laid them out. We can no longer expect, if we ever truly could, the material conditions under which we live to create this incentive on our behalf. Meanwhile, the individual initiative and altruism of the self-directed artist are beautiful things wherever they arise, but these are exceptional qualities and cannot be relied upon to initiate change on anything resembling a mass scale.

I more than enjoy receiving the occasional frantic phone call from a bandleader whose tuba substitute the night before could not read or improvise from a lead sheet; I also rely on those calls to keep coming in order to pay my rent. If more tubists could do this as well as they play orchestral excerpts, I would have to make up for the lost work some other way. Even so, as one of those altruistic, self-directed types, it is my greatest wish for any aspiring professionals reading this article, and current ones for that matter, that they might be motivated to stretch themselves out in the ways I elaborate here first and foremost out of a desire to do justice to whatever music is important to them, and only secondarily to be able to get playing work any way they can while waiting for the next orchestra or military band vacancy to be announced. Having said that, if the latter is indeed as decisive a step towards functional musicianship as the classical brass community is willing to take, then we should take it: anything to hasten the collective realization that a more creativity-centered approach is also a more technically rigorous approach.

Until then, I expect that technique-without-scales will remain a man-without-God question for many musicians and teachers, as I am reminded every time I attempt to broach this issue with those given to leisurely paddles down classical music's main stream. My reaction against this state of affairs is of course highly personal, but nothing I'm saying here is either radical or arcane. If it seems to be either of these things, this is merely symptomatic of the advanced stages of a period of pedagogical hyper-reductionism driven ultimately by forces far beyond the scope of this paper. I am occasionally given hope that much of what I've said here simply actualizes good intentions that already exist, certainly in the heads and hearts of many educators I've spoken with in person, and even in some otherwise counterproductive standards-based learning models. There can be no doubt, though, that it is a more challenging road for both students and educators than the various triangulated compromises that have come to predominate in its place. Failure is an essential part of learning, but today it is also grounds for depriving career educators of their livelihoods. In light of that and other such postmodern impasses, I'm inclined to own the "idealist" label here and admit that I'm asking a lot of my colleagues in various other metiérs. I can assure you, however, that you will always find me walking the walk, and no matter which side of the stand I happen to be on at the time.


NOTE
1. See my Operating in the Affirmative (entire) and MFA Graduation Recital Program Notes, pp. 24-33.