Sunday, January 19, 2020


There are spotlights on certain moments as I look back over the last couple of years, highlights on accomplishments and lessons underlined.  
The area where I have the steepest learning curve is playing the French horn.  It requires a strong embouchure (and even one day of missing practice shows up here), deep and focused breathing, coordinating embouchure, breath and fingering, as well as a constantly expanding familiarity with complex rhythm and note combinations and above all, an emphasis on producing those golden tones for which the horn is celebrated.  Barry Tuckwell, who was the premier horn soloist in the world for most of my adult life, began as an organist, and at 19 was challenged to take up the horn by another horn player, famously said, "One note at a time, piece of cake!" But anyone who has heard him play Giovanni Punto's Horn Concerto #11, particularly the third movement, the Menuetto, where he is undoubtedly triple tonguing for long passages, might debate that!
Two years ago, I was trying to master a particularly difficult solo written for soprano saxophone, which I had transposed originally so I could play it for the choir when we were rehearsing it for a concert, since the professional musician who had been hired would only be there for the dress rehearsal and the concert itself. The timing was extremely challenging, with grace notes into 32nd note runs, but it was a good exercise both mentally and physically for me.  One night when we were rehearsing, I played the final slur from middle C to high C and the director had me sustain it much longer than even the hold mark would seem to have indicated.  When he finally signaled the release, he told me my tone was so beautiful he didn't want it to end! As Mark Twain would have said, "I can last two months on a good compliment!"
There are days when I can see the progress I'm making on the horn, in my writing, and even in getting my desk cleared off.  There are other days when I've left a poem I'm working on in the middle of my desk and the next morning realize it has just added to the piles I have to sort through.  When I take the piles off my desk so I have a clear space to work, I am still very conscious of them, as if they were lurking behind me, ready to pounce, the minute I take my mind off them.  And trying to juggle all the different projects I'm working on leaves me off balance much of the time. 
As I set timers and work on my different projects on different days or calendar blocks, I remind myself of what Janie, one of my dear companions in my coaching group, said, "I'm staying balanced by reminding myself that I chose this, it's fun and I like the work."

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