The Blizzard of ’11: Good news for musicians
02 Wednesday Feb 2011
I’ve never seen snow like this, and I grew up in Minnesota. My actual driveway is only a suspicion. I should have planted tall stakes with flags on them to mark the corners of it. My snowthrower is going to have a heart attack trying to chisel its way through, oh, 2+ feet of new snow. I’m glad I don’t have to either drive (classes cancelled) or fly anywhere at the moment (two weeks ago it took two days to fly back to the midwest from Boise, and that was in fairly nice weather. I can’t imagine trying to sort out the fourteen umpty-jillion cancelled flights). For those of us who are socked in (read: all of us), choices are limited. Life is simple. Stay home. Stay warm. Snuggle. Sip Glögg. Get in your fuzziest pajamas and stay there. Consider the snowbound hours a sort of gift: you can’t go anywhere or do anything else, so what should we do with these “extra” hours. Bad weather can be a boon to musicians. In those years I lived in bad-weather climates (Alaska and Switzerland [it rains a lot where I was]), I always thought: perfect climate for musicians – you can stay indoors and practice and not feel guilty that you’re missing beautiful weather outside.
Let’s see: snow day activities. Let’s brainstorm in the snowstorm….
1. Moderate your Surfing. It’s tempting lose oneself in the contemporary drug of choice: surfing the net. Checking email, Facebook, Twitter, news sites, hours of Stumbleupon. Don’t. You can waste time like that any old day. Do something different, something that you might not do – or get to – at home.
2. Exercise. I know, I know, you can’t get to the gym. But you know you need to do something. So work in some movement. We all have caveman bodies that were made to move, not sit in chairs (computers, TV, horn playing) ever and always. It’s easy to get your butt stuck in one chair or another on a snow day. OK, there will be some of that. But punctuate with movement. Ideas: put on a record and dance. Push-ups. Sit-ups. Lunges. Squats. Step-ups (stairs or chair). Forward or side holds. If you have dumbbells (a good idea to have around), there are many options: curls, presses, bent over rows, etc etc. Otherwise pick up something heavy: Book. Brick. Pitcher with water in it. Jump rope (if you don’t have one, jump an imaginary rope). Stretch – arms, legs, neck. There’s also isometrics, where one muscle resists another, like hand pushing against each other, or legs against arms (you can use this later on plane rides). You get the idea. Set an egg timer if necessary, but get out of the chair now and then. Or at least pick it up and do some push presses with it now and then.
3. Practice. I know, I know, you practice every day. Since you have this extra “free” day, practice something you don’t get to very often. Pick a minor scale, or better, just a part of a minor scale and take it apart and put it back together again. Or a whole tone scale. Arpeggios: 3 note (triad). 4 note (to the 7th) 5 note (to the 9th). All keys. Major, minor, dom7, diminished, and what the heck, augmented (1 3 #5) too. Change articulations, note values, dynamics, register, timbre. Play only F horn for an hour or two. Play only natural (hand) horn for an hour or two (i.e. one fingering only, e.g. F:1 is Eb horn). Play only Bb horn, etc. Make up some music. Make it up in a fun style (calypso, Sousa march, fanfare). Make it up in the style of the piece that your working on. Play only in the low register for an hour or two. Play simple familiar tunes – in all keys, by ear. Repeat in minor. Don’t play horn at all today: play something percussive and work on your rhythm, rhythms, and timing (a pot and spoon is fine, but you really ought to keep some snare sticks and a practice pad around. A djembe is the king of personal percussion; it’s endless fascination thumping that thing. Or sit at the piano and work on some skills; or not, and make up stuff (pick a chord, make some kind of ostinato in the left hand, then add a melody in the right hand; trying starting the melodies on the “wrong note” and resolve it). It won’t arrive in time, but for future snowstorms, rainy days, just plain fun, or to add pizzazz to your pedagogy, pick up my book Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians or Improv Games for One Player (both published by GIA) (later this year, GIA willing, they will be joined by Improv Duets and Improvised Chamber Music (for 4 players)).
4. Read. It’s a sedentary sport, but when do you ever actually have any leisure just to read something for fun? You could read something horn related (e.g. A Devil to Play by Jasper Rees) or music related (The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross), but you might just want to curl up with something delicious, like a noir potboiler, bestseller (Water for Elephants) or historical biography, or my personal favorites, something by Bill Bryson (his new book : At Home: A Short History of Private Life is utterly fascinating) or the king of nonfiction John McPhee (anything he writes is gold. Start with Oranges; then maybe La Place de la Concorde Suisse and then Coming Into the Country, but really, anything). Or download an audiobook from (e.g.) audible.com and let someone else do the reading (I’m listening to The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg right now).
5. Dig out. I don’t know what your desk looks like, but mine has archeological layers. Worse is the card table in the middle of the room, which has drifts of paper deeper than the snow outside. Time to don a miner’s helmet with headlamp and go paper spelunking and throw out those Discover magazines from 2002 and rescue and refile the stacks of etude books, book books, handouts, etc. On the top layer I see a metronome, a horn mute, a Sky Mall magazine (from the Boise flight), and a yoyo (stocking stuffer). Today’s the day to remove at least the upper layer.
6. Create. Work on that arrangement you started last fall. Compose something. Make a practice groove to play scales over in GarageBand. I have a couple assignments for myself today: write an essay on The Future of Classical Music to send to Wayne Lu for the anthology of such essays that he is putting together, and finish a transcription of a Bach piece for horn choir. Oh, yes, and there are a couple of pedagogical things that have been sitting on the back burner for too long that I need to at least get a start on.
7. Limit your blog writing so you can do this kind of stuff. Bye!
Postscript: What actually happened was I attacked the driveway with the snowthrower. Two and a half hours later, I still wasn’t done, but it was time to change into dry things and have lunch. The snow is actually above the top of the thrower (there is a shelf of snow crust left after I go under it); I can only take about and inch of snow per pass and even then I have to stop every few feet to let the machine digest its dinner. I’m thinking, time comes to replace this snowmower, we’re going to move up in horsepower and blade height to something with more muscle. And maybe a heated cabin, flat screen TV, and internet access. Oh, well. At least I’m not in Boise.