February 03, 2010

Feeding that Furnace

My eldest boy is in the school Jazz Band, the only freshman. They needed a bass player and although he wasn't really up for it, they took him. (He didn't know how to read bass clef and had been playing his instrument a short time.)

Compared to everyone else? He sucks. He just doesn't have the time on the instrument.

But he's trying. I get email from the band director that he really is doing well, but the fact remains, he has to practice a lot, just to feel like he's coming close to keeping up. His bass instructors tell me he is very very good considering in particular the short amount of time he's been playing. "Baptism by Fire" as one of them says with my son being in Jazz Band.

He feels incompetent. He hates it.

He had a performance today and yesterday he was freaking out. To make it worse, or better, the band director had called the previous year's bass player, a freshman in college, to come back and help them out.

So part of him was happy and the other part somewhat humiliated that he needed help. Add to that the vast quantity of homework he had... and you can guess the mood he was in.

So bad was it, I wanted to offer him a crabby patty.

Him: Can we stop for a snack?

Me: No. I've got too much to do. I have to go to Publix, you can get something there.

Him: They never have anything I want.

Me: How was Jazz.

Him: I hate it. I can't play half the music. I feel like a jerk. They're calling Nick back in to play and I don't want to go to Palm Beach to do this.

Me: Do you want to quit Jazz band?

Him, looking out the window reflectively: I don't know.

I didn't say another word. Anything I said was going to be met with resistance or anger or something, so we rode in silence.

I saw a Burger King, I loathe fast food, and I pulled in and ordered his favorite, a double cheeseburger with mayo only. He was surprised but appreciative.

I let him finish his sandwich.

Me: So. Do you want to quit Jazz band?

Him: No.

Me: OK, then. Practice and let's move on.

Attitude. It's all about the food.

Posted by Boudicca at February 3, 2010 09:42 PM

For your son:

I empathize - been there, done that, got several t-shirts.

I've been a musician since 5th grade. I'm not a professional, but it is a big part of my life. Trombone, guitar and most recently bass guitar. Been thrown in the deep end several times in the past 30-some years, often voluntarily. Occasionally I ask myself, "Why am I doing this?" Later on, though, and with few exceptions, I realize that I got something worthwhile from the effort, whether it is contacts, exposure, or just more experience. It doesn't mean I liked it, though.

The fastest I ever learned was when I had to play with others who were better than me. Not just because I didn't want to be "that guy," but because I could hear and see what good players do to be good.

Put a radio on stations you never listen to and play along with music you don't know. Play along with commercials. When you can't play along, think about what you might play when you hear something.

Part of the stress is just plain discomfort at being in an unfamiliar situation, whether it is the music you are playing or where you are or what you have to wear. I know few players who don't want to do their best, and who don't beat themselves up when they play below their own expectations. This is good to a certain point, but can be self-destructive. There is a big mental jump from knowing you can't do something to being unprepared to do something.

In short, it stinks when you think you came up short, but don't let it drag you down.

Whenever my kids or the kids in the praise band in church start stressing, I always tell them, "You know what your part is supposed to be. The audience doesn't. Keep your rhythm above all else because a good note at the wrong time is worse than a bad note in time. You'll remember your clams, but the audience won't. When someone says, 'Nice job!' say "Thanks," and don't tell them otherwise."

This part of being a musician is the first step in paying your dues. The step up from here is when you go from playing the music to Making Music. When you start to see that, the fun-factor goes way up, and all the time in the woodshed seems worthwhile.

You have my e-mail address. Drop a not if there is anything I can help with.

Posted by: Versatek6 at February 4, 2010 01:06 PM

He is male right? It is always all about the food :) haha

My daughter would encourage him - she loves it when there is someone next to her better than she is so she can learn from them - it's like a free lesson. This will all make him killer good much faster - if he doesn't hate it too much :)

Posted by: patti at February 4, 2010 07:29 PM