Aardy R. DeVarque (aardy) wrote,
Aardy R. DeVarque

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Getting back on the wagon

The closest thing I had to a New Year's Resolution this year (since I never actually make any) was to get my chops in good enough shape to be able to play my baritone in the band/orchestra for Easter services.

I'd played for Easter service last year (the first time I'd really played much at all since getting married at the latest) and discovered how far what little ability I'd ever had had fallen off--my mind was going blank on even the most simple things, and I wasn't particularly pleased with the results. (With some last-minute practicing, I was good enough for the service--barely--but there's quite some distance between "barely good enough" and "I'm proud of how well I performed.")

Easter's coming up fast (especially since I'll be out of town at a conference the first week of March), so since I had the day off for Presidents' Day, and Kate was out running some errands, I decided to sit down with my old lesson books and start practicing.

Lunatic that I am, I also set myself a long-term goal of relearning how to play trumpet, now that I have one of my own again. (My sister got "mine" after I switched from trumpet to trombone/baritone due to getting braces. A few months ago, a coworker moved and was looking to get rid of her son's trumpet, since he no longer plays, so I offered to take it off of her hands. It's a Yamaha in decent condition with a Bach mouthpiece, and appears about as "well-loved" as my baritone does.)

I wasn't keeping track of time, but I think I got in about 15-20 minutes of practicing trumpet before my mouth muscles started to give out, at which point I switched over to baritone for a "cool down". Not bad for a first try. After years of not playing, and having not played trumpet in at least 15 years I have nearly no embouchure and no callusses left. My tone on the trumpet is absolutely horrible--think of the scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail where Patsy tries to blow a straight trumpet to announce their arrival at one of the castles; that's better than I sound right now. One's embouchure doesn't have to be quite as tight for baritone, so my tone there isn't as bad, though it still needs work, and I can't reliably hit any high or low notes on either instrument yet.

For those who've never played brass, relearning both trumpet and baritone at once leads to an interesting problem. The two instruments use the same pattern of valve fingerings, but those fingerings are used for different notes. Going back and forth requires keeping two very similar sets of knowledge and muscle memories in mind but also keeping them completely separate, because bleed-in from one will definitely cause mistakes when using the other. (Kind of like simultaneously trying to learn to program using perl and Java.)

I discovered that some of my muscle memory is still there--if I don't think about what I'm doing, I can still play off of sheet music, but if I stop to think or if I get flustered, that memory vanishes and I have no idea what valve fingering to use to get a given note. (I can still read music, because I've been doing that since I was 4 and have mostly kept up that knowledge. I just can't always correctly play what's written.)

I know it will take a few months at least before I'm back where I want to be with the baritone, and probably a year or more before I'll be good enough to play the trumpet in public, so now I just have to make the time to practice a little as often as I can. Rebuilding the knowledge probably won't take too much--even just today was somewhat like getting back on a bike, showing me that I haven't truly forgotten much, I'm just rusty and have problems remembering--but building the muscle strength and endurance back to something close to what it was is going to take forever. (A journey of a thousand steps may start with a single step, but a single step doesn't feel like anything significant until you look back at the line you've made of 999 previous steps. I just wish I could bypass all that walking in the middle.)

Maybe someday I'll get my hands on a full-sized keyboard and get back on the piano.

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
Tags: baritone, music, trumpet

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