I have an old friend in high school who used to shout “I was born ready” when someone asked if the group was ready for something. I think he may have been quoting, but that’s besides the point.
I was just sitting down with a cup of tea and Bailey Poesnecker of the Dismantling Dissonance podcast to do some co-productive time when a message popped up. A music teacher and I had been unable to make one of her classes work for a performance of Brian KM Live!, and here she was with a message.
“Could you do the show 10 minutes from now?”
The answer, folks? Say yes. If you’ve decided that you’re trying to do something, do your absolute best to make it happen. Was I ready to play? Not really. Stan was on the table, getting ready to organize my photo library. My horn was in the case across the room. I was wearing pajamas and getting ready to call someone about an appointment. What a mess!
Fortunately, this is something that used to happen to me all the time in the military, and with a few strategies, I was able to put together a strong solo performance.
Five Tips for Brass Players Playing as a Surprise
1. Don’t panic
Panic is the enemy of good horn playing. All you have to do is play a concert slightly less ready than normal. There won’t be an open heart surgery during the performance, and if there is, you probably won’t have to be the surgeon. Take a breath, don’t rush through a warm up, and try to be rational. If you normally do an entire scale routine as part of your warm up, accept that maybe you won’t hit your highest notes in your warmup. Take it slow and calm.
2. Let your articulations carry you through, just a little
No, I’m not saying articulations can replace air and good strong lips. That being said, with a little bit of punch behind your articulations, you’ll find an avenue of strength that you might not know you had. Hit notes just a little harder and let the secure feelings flow through you.
3. Compromise when you can
Are you sitting next to a great principal saxophone who is doubling you on an ensemble chord with a whole note? You don’t need to play that. Same thing for octaves. Play half notes just a little shorter or quieter. There are many secrets that only you are holding during a performance. Make some of them work for you!
4. Have a strong foundation. Play most days
There’s no real substitute to having a strong horn foundation. If you play at around six days a week and maintain a balanced regimen, you should be able to, on occasion, pick up the horn and go play well with only a few adjustments. Of course, warm up as able and do an appropriate cool down!
5. Focus on the Music
This makes a bit of a callback to not panicking, but focusing on the music is an excellent strategy to solve quite a few technical issues that may come up when you don’t feel quite ready to play. High notes are often at the peak of a crescendo (or it makes sense to crescendo up to them). If you focus on the musicality of the phrase and try to peak up to the top of it, your chances of hitting notes correctly drastically increases. Playing things musically energizes you and the audience. Use that effect to help you see it through!
Do you want to have me come out to do a show of Brian KM Live!, only with a little more notice this time? Great! Head on over to my booking page or contact me to talk about it!