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Getting my chops in shape

Photo by Chris Bair on Unsplash

With Easter around eight weeks away, I wanted to be in shape to play trumpet that Sunday, so I’ve been working hard to get my chops in shape by playing as many days each week as I can. From experience, I know it will take consistent practice over the next few months to play my best for hymns and special music that day.

One does not simply pick up a horn and play after months of inactivity, or since the previous Easter. It takes a while to restore muscle tone, breath support and endurance. It also takes some self-discipline to work this into my already busy days. But you know how it is: you make time for what is important to you. Not only is this important to me, but it is still something I love to do.

Today I took my horn to work with me and played through the Epiphany and Lent sections of the hymnal. It is miraculous to me that I can fill an empty, expansive sanctuary with sound from a single horn. The moment I do, something unique comes to life in me as sounds, overtones and melodies fill a room. I played everything up a step. You can never practice transposition too often.

The physicality of playing a brass instrument is addictive. You send a stream of air through the horn from deep within your lungs. The feel of your lips buzzing in the mouthpiece turns into a tone by the time it reaches the bell. In an instant a dot on a staff is transformed into a sound that not only fills a room, but lingers in the air after you stop blowing. But I don’t stop blowing. I need more. I inhale, breathe out and ride the wave of sound that carries out over the rows of seats in front of me, towards the massive cross window behind the altar and rising through the cupola into the heavens. It is a magnificent and glorious experience that words can barely describe.

Once I start playing again, I can never remember why I let myself get out of shape. I enjoy it so much! But life happens, family and work commitments suck up time and music is relegated to the back burner. Without a band to play with, it’s hard to keep practicing. Today it was definitely worth it, though.

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