Northwestern University

The message sparkled right there at the top of the bulletin board, written with silver thumb tacks: “WE ARE WHAT WE PRACTICE”. A student almost needn’t unpack to play for his lesson. Just take some solemn minutes there while gazing at the writing on the wall. Think about it. What’s the status of our musical health? What have we been taking in, and what kind of quality are we giving out?

I felt like the guy walking through the gallery in Pictures at an Exhibition. Everywhere you looked there was a story, a lesson, a song. You could almost hear it all. There was a pic of the Chicago brass section, complete with Phil Smith (with long hair), Charlie Geyer (with more hair), Will Scarlet (with less hair), and of course the master himself, along with all the other brass masters in Chicago for so many years. Everywhere a huge chunk of trumpet history, a quote, an historic program. If only the walls in the NU trumpet studios could talk, or play! But indeed the halls are still alive with music and brilliant teaching. No need to herald the success stories of their grads.

But I digress. The subject: practicing. At one point Barb Butler commanded a student: “When you wake up, the first thing is, When will I practice today? Organize the day for that priority, and structure the practice to cover all the items on the agenda.” Not “just do it”, but “you must do it”. I laughed to myself, thinking: You will have fun whether you like it or not! Obviously, the students are getting the message and seem to be much enjoying the ride. That is what the audiences will pay for, and it all begins with practice.

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