Home > Brandenburg, Children, Education, Music > Random Thoughts from the Receiving End

Random Thoughts from the Receiving End

August 26, 2008

I talked to my son about writing something from his perspective.  Here is what he wrote.

Random Thoughts from the Receiving End

Kirk Brandenburg, 17 year old senior at Bethel Christian Academy, El Sobrante, CA

Instrument: Let Them Choose?

Everybody should start with piano. You don’t get to choose piano. It’s an instrument that you can start early (six or seven years old), and it plants your musical life for whatever it may grow to be. Yankee Doodle and I’m a Little Tea Pot are a lot easier to grasp than, “Ok, make your mouth into a tight but not too tight circle then blow with steady air through your lips while they’re buzzing . . . and don’t forget to count.” Piano takes care of counting, reading music (both clefs), and note values; so, when a child has matured enough (nine years and up) to handle another instrument, all the basics are second nature. Having a basic knowledge of the piano is critical for any musician anyway. I am not saying everybody should shoot for concert pianist- just get the basics (two or three years).

Once the basics have been covered, you may want to choose another instrument. It helps a lot when the person playing the instrument chooses the instrument. That way he can look back or be forced to look back at who made the decision. The original plan in my family was for me to play trumpet–we had a trumpet, but I liked the sound (a sound that I was able to strive for) of the trombone better. The original love for the instrument helped me enjoy the instrument; it wasn’t a forced, laborious thing.

Teachers

It is my opinion that you will never be able to reach your pinnacle in music unless you get professional instruction. Of course you must work with what is available to you, but since everyone should be shooting for the pinnacle, if you have the means, get the lessons. Fortunately, my parents have made the means possible for all of their children and have put music in great importance in our home. I can not begin to tell the benefit I have received from about 17 combined years of professional instruction. Professional instruction gets you to that next level.

In the beginning years, you can save a lot of money by choosing a capable teacher that does not have a big price tag. In my first four years of trombone, I was able to get excellent teaching for my level for a lot cheaper than what the price is now.

Three areas come to mind when choosing a teacher: (1) credentials, (2) capability, and (3) character. When the time comes to choose a teacher, do not be afraid to try around. If you don’t think the teacher can do the job, say no. In my early piano years, I had a teacher I was deathly afraid of. I dreaded going to lessons each week, but I never told my parents. One day after the teacher had slapped my hand for playing a wrong note, my dad and mom knew I was dreading it, so we immediately moved to a new teacher. It was such a relief to want to go to lessons; make sure your child is comfortable with the teacher’s personality. You learn so much more.

Practice Time

One thing that I hate to see is wasted practice time. If you took the average student musician’s real practice time compared to his overall “practicing,” you would probably find that at least half of the time is wasted. I was talking to a world renowned brass instrument repairman here in the Bay Area, and he said he would rather hear 15 minutes of solid practice than an hour of goof-off practice. That always stuck with me, and, although I am guilty of wasting practice time, I always strive to get high octane practicing. High octane practicing includes practicing the hard parts (not “practicing” the easy ones over and over), reading/following the teacher’s notes, not moving on until I have it absolutely perfect, and never brainlessly practicing (always striving for something better). I always have to limit myself in practice sessions because I find that I can spend a full hour on my technique exercises (in trombone) alone!

Suffering Through

From a family where every child (4 of them) takes piano and an instrument (trombone for the boy, violin for the three girls), it sounds really, really, really bad at first. Count on it. In fact, if your student is always working on the hard, non polished parts, it almost always sounds bad. In my family, there is an underlying disdain for my trombone practice sessions. My sisters always ask if I am done yet. “Do you think you can practice that when we’re gone?” I tend to repeat (and hopefully perfect) the same technique exercises day after day. Not only can I do a full hours worth of technique exercises, my whole family has the routine memorized, and they often sing it back to me. My trombone playing often must be loud and sounds obnoxious. The same disdain goes for some of the family’s violinists’ practice sessions, but . . . we must suffer through, look like we’re enjoying it, and offer our support. If you decide to have music in your home, be ready to endure very unpleasant sounds.

Guys and Piano

I am a guy and I play piano. I have heard that some people think piano is a feminine instrument, but I strongly disagree. Have you never heard some of the great piano concertos? Beethoven, Tchaikovsky especially? I believe that men have a unique sound on the piano. A sound and style that only they can obtain (I haven’t heard the same unique sound with the flute). I have not only heard this unique sound in my playing compared to the women piano players in our church, but I have heard it in the playing of people like Dr. Thomas Corkish (Pastor, Anchor Baptist Church) and David Ledgerwood (well known hymn arranger). I believe that one of the reasons men sound so girly on the piano is because almost every hymn is arranged girly; men are not even given a chance to make it sound manly. I am so thankful for arrangers like David Ledgerwood and Peter Wright because of the manly arrangements they put out.

Something I also dislike is a women accompanying an all male group. It irks me. I love accompanying our church men’s groups because I can sing (through my playing) in a manly way with the manly song. We recently did an all men’s number in church, and our whole church agreed that it had a special quality.

Extracurricular Music

I have gotten the opportunity to participate in outside-of-church music groups. It is a truly amazing experience. The musical training (especially ensemble training) is unparalleled. I find that when I come back to church everything I play is so much easier, and I know I am able to get a better sound for God. Besides it being good for my training, it is super fun. It gives me another outlet to use my instrument. I cannot describe to you the experience, the emotional lift, that occurs when you come upon an amazing part of music. As you may know, I recently toured Australia and New Zealand with the orchestra I participate in. Our last concert ever as a group was at Avondale Girl’s School in New Zealand. It was a very emotional performance. We knew the music the best we ever had, we knew this was our last performance together as that very group, and our conductor had us in the palm of his hand. We were playing the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, The Pathetique. There is one trombone solo in that symphony (probably the loudest in trombone orchestral literature) that gives me the heebee-jeebees when I play it. The orchestra builds to the climax of the movement, and the trombone solo soars in over the rest of the orchestra; it gives me the goose bumps just thinking about how emotional it is. Some of the orchestra members told me that they cried at these emotional passages, and I admit … my eyes did water. This may all sound weird to you, but emotion is an element that I often see is missing in our church music today. People play their church specials, orchestra parts, etc. like robots. No zeal for the message of the song. Instead of playing with passion just to make beautiful music like I do in the orchestra, I play with passion to communicate a message in church. I learned in the orchestral setting to play with the passion I believe should also be felt in our church music. A heartfelt song is greater praise to God, just like anything we do that is heartfelt is greater praise.

The ensemble experience (especially orchestra) is well worth it. My advice for getting involved in orchestra is to (1) look for the youth symphony of your local professional orchestra or look on the Internet–I know kids who participate in youth orchestras in North Dakota, (2) start early (7th grade)- you work up the chain of advancement. I have now played in a total of four orchestras, and I am trying out for a fifth.

Always Bring It Back to What It Is Really About

The most important thing to do with your instrument is to praise god. Get involved in church music. Our church has a six month schedule for every instrument of every musician in our church. This always keeps me working on something musically for God. Participate in church ministries with your music: nursing home, church orchestra, etc. Always keep in mind why you are playing your instrument. Parents, remind your children why they play. Praising God when you are playing in church should be a given, but if you are playing somewhere else, maybe a secular place, remember who is and should be getting the glory. I make a habit to pray to God before a secular concert or practice that he would receive the praise for what I am about to play. Music is something that we should always have fun with and enjoy, but that must take 2nd place to praising God.

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