As many of you know, this is Holy Week. I’ve been making preparations all week for the 9 services we’re having from Sunday, March 20th (Palm Sunday) until March 27th (Easter Sunday). While I make preparations, I’m leaving you with an eclectic set music videos that I hope you’ll find enjoyable.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about Easter Sunday services at my church! You can click on this link to find out about the rest of our Holy Week and Easter services at Christ Church Episcopal Parish in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
Redeemer of Israel
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
All my singer friends will know about this choir’s huge wall of sound! Their arrangements are always top notch, and when you have them sing at the Tabernacle with a full symphony orchestra and their five manual, 206 rank pipe organ, it’s quite a sound to behold. This is a triumphant hymn and a simply gorgeous arrangement by director Mack Wilberg.
Everybody Wants to Rule the World
New West Guitar Group
My good friend John Storie and his New West Guitar Group are three incredibly talented musicians who are making some serious sounds. Check out their cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and see why they’re captivating audiences where ever they go.
This is a unique brass quartet that is making even more unique music. To my ears, they create a sound that’s familiar yet fresh and new. See what you think!
What can I say about the Imani Winds that hasn’t been said before? Take a listen to Valerie Coleman’s composition for the group and hear why they are considered the foremost woodwind quintet in the world today!
It’s happened to all brass players at one time or another. Maybe we’ve been doing a lot of playing lately. Maybe we had a really strenuous gig the night before. Whatever the reason(s) might be, when we go to pick up our horn to play, we get that feeling of playing too “spread out.” Our sound is diffused and unfocused, and our lips aren’t responding as they should. If I’m not getting ready for something, I’ll usually put the horn away and try again in a couple of hours or perhaps even the next day.
If I have a gig that I’m getting ready for, I have no choice but to practice. Years ago, I learned this trick from another trumpet player a really good way to get your sound back and to get rid of that spread out feeling that we dread so much. It’s worked for me without fail, and I hope you’ll give it a try when the need arises. Here’s the scoop:
Take a Bb major scale. Play it at about quarter note = 60 bpm, and play it in whole notes ascending and descending. So far, so good? There’s just one catch: you need to play it as softly as you can.
For this exercise, it’s not critically important that you sound as amazing as possible. In fact, you’re probably not going to sound all that great. But that’s not the point! What this exercise is great at doing is helping your muscles and your air get back to center instead of that spread out feeling we’ve been talking about.
When I do this exercise, I generally need about 2-5 minutes on it. After I play a scale, I’ll play something lyrical that doesn’t go too high or too low. The focus should always be on playing as quietly as possible and of keeping your air very steady.
Once you think you’re ready, try playing something around mezzo forte. You should notice a huge difference in your sound and in how you feel. If you’re not quite playing as you should, spend another couple of minutes on it.
Is this something that you’ve done before? Do you have another tip for getting rid of that spread out feeling that brass players sometimes get? Post a comment below and let us know what you think!
A few times per year, I go on a mini-rant on Facebook. It’s more than likely sparked by someone posting how their computer crashed/got stolen/was damaged and how they’ve lost everything. While I feel bad for them, this didn’t have to be a devastating event. When it happens to my musician friends, it’s extra painful to witness, because I have a pretty good idea of the kind of stuff they’ve lost, and much of it is irreplaceable.
Ask yourself: if your computer, tablet, and/or phone suddenly died, would all your files, information, etc. be easily recoverable? Would they even be recoverable at all? For many, the answer for both questions is a resounding, “No.”
It’s not surprising: these days, so much of what we do is online: Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc. Folks often forget that there are also important files that live only on our computers.
Years ago when my computer hard drive died, I lost a composition that was starting to gain some momentum. I really enjoyed working on it, and it was going to be something that might’ve even been performed. Out of all the things I lost on that day, that was one of the few things that I could not recover, and I was heartbroken. At the time, I had various flash drives full of important files, but they were months old. Once I lost everything and had to piece it back together with outdated backups, I started searching for affordable, easy options.
What should you backup?
This is entirely up to you. Personally, my backups fall into four main categories: audio recordings, pictures, Finale files, and other misc. documents (Word files, slideshows, spreadsheets, etc.). I don’t worry about programs/applications because I have legally purchased all of mine (or they’re free), so I can download them anytime I need them.
Take some time to really comb through what you have on your computer. Make a note of what it important and what’s not. My rule of thumb is this: if I delete this file right now knowing that I’ll never see it again, would I care?
Once you’ve figured out what you’d like to backup, make sure and estimate how much space that requires. This is important and will ensure you have enough space, but not too much. Of course, you should always have a bit more space than you need, because presumably you’ll always be adding new files that will need to be backed up.
Backing it up: your options
You have a few options when you backup your computer. Here are a few to consider:
You can do like I did years ago and have some sort of an on-premise backup, like an external hard drive, a flash drive, or another device that you can save onto (like an iPod).
This is a fairly easy option, except that it’s one of the least safe options. If something physically happens to your storage device, that’s it. If it’s stolen, burns in a fire, you’re done for. If you choose this option, make sure it’s not your only one!
Some people I know have an off-premise hard drive that they keep at, say, their place of work or at a friend’s house. This is a good option because if there is a fire at your place, your data is safely stored away somewhere else. The downside is that you have to constantly back up this device in order to keep it up-to-date, which can be a hassle.
For most people, this is the gold standard of backup solutions. It’s the easiest, safest, and most versatile way of backing up your files. There are many, many cloud storage backup options, and all of them have their strengths and weaknesses. Like most things you buy, it’s a matter of researching to figure out what’s going to work best for you.
Services like Mozy, Carbonite, and Dropbox are good places to start. They’ve been around a while, and they all offer different pricing plans. Newer ones (to me, at least) are CrashPlan, SOS Online Backup, Backblaze, and IDrive. Microsoft and Apple offer backup services for their operating systems, and those are worth looking into, as well. The one that works the best for me is SugarSync, and I’ve been using it for several years now.
If you’ve never looked for an online backup service before, starting out can be pretty daunting. If you’re not sure about what you need, here are a few questions to keep in mind when you’re reading about them:
- What’s the pricing plan? Usually, these services cost a few bucks per month, but a few of them have free options that work for many people’s needs. The more space you need, the more you’re going to pay.
- How does the backup process work? Most services nowadays have automatic syncing, which means that every time you save a file, it’ll automatically backup the new version of your file without you having to do anything. I would highly suggest your backup service has this feature available. Other services offer different intervals that they backup your data: daily, hourly, a few times a day, etc.
- Is there automatic syncing to all devices? Some services let you take your backed up files and put them on other computers. For instance, if you had some important documents on your work computer, you could back them up and have them also appear on your home computer instantly. Anytime you were at home or at the office and made a change to these files, they would automatically be backed up and be changed on the other device(s) you have them on. This is incredibly helpful and should come standard with all serious backup services.
- What’s the restore process like? If the unthinkable happens to your computer, how easy is it to restore all your information? Some services will just have you download all your lost info. Others have an option where they actually mail you a portable storage device with all your files on it, and you would simply download it to your new/fixed computer.
- What is the security like? After all, you’re trusting this company to sensitive files (tax returns, personal documents, and other sensitive information). They should use the best security and encryption available today. If they do, they’ll be sure and let you know as you’re researching. The company will often tout their “military grade encryption,” or let you know that “This is the same encryption used by financial institutions.” Anything less isn’t worth the risk.
- How do I designate the files that I’d like backed up? This is key. Some services will force you to move the files you’d like backed up into a special folder. I don’t like this idea because I have a very particular file structure that I’d like to keep intact. Other services will let you designate a file or folder, no matter where it is on your computer.
- Can I backup any file type? Most backup services let you backup any kind of file, but there are some out there that don’t. Make sure you find out!
- Can I access my files on the web? Via an app? I highly recommend that the service you choose has a way to access your files using any web browser and phone app. We’ve talked a lot about having a backup of your files made in case of a catastrophe, but sometimes, it’s nice to have your files available anywhere you go. This has saved me on countless occasions!
Once you have a good idea of what the various services offer, it’s time to start looking into the bells and whistles. Below I’ve listed just a few from various backup services. You may not need these, but they’re something to consider.
- File sharing. Can you share a link of your backed up files? If so, can you give permission to people to edit?
- Remote wiping. If a device gets lost or stolen, can you remotely wipe the info on that device?
- Number of computers. How many computers can you backup? Some services only allow 1 computer, others offer several.
- Automatic picture backup. Sometimes it’s nice to backup the pics that you take on your phone automatically.
- Mirror image backup. What this does is instead of backing up individual files that you choose, this backs up your entire hard drive. Everything. It makes a copy of your whole hard drive so that you could restore your system to the exact specifications that you had it at. If you have a system that you really like and want to keep your settings, this is a perfect solution for you.
It’s easy to get lured in by amount of storage space, but don’t be fooled! When you’re paying for a backup service, you’re paying for just more than a place to store your stuff. You’re paying for an interface, tech support, maintenance, security, additional features, and much more. For me, SugarSync is the total package. Sure, there are other services that give you more space for the same (or less) money, but they don’t offer nearly all the important features that SugarSync does. And for that, I’m willing to pay.
Just to give you an idea of what I backup, my largest files are photographs, as I take them in a high resolution. I’m storing about 16 GB of pictures alone. I have thousands of audio files, over a thousand Finale files, countless Word documents, old college papers, music PDFs, downloaded books from Google Books, and tons of other miscellaneous stuff that one accrues in this digital age. All that adds up about 50 GB. If I left out the recorded music, the space would be about 42 GB.
A good beginning budget is about $10/month. I’ve found that most people can find a backup service they like with the space they need for $10/month, and very often less. If you have significant storage needs (audio files can take up huge amounts of disk space, for example), then get ready to pay a little more. Believe me, $10/month is well worth the piece of mind. Be careful of free price plans: they don’t offer as much space as you’ll realistically need, and they don’t offer all the features that paid plans do.
Compare, compare, compare! Almost every backup service’s website that I’ve been to has a comparison chart that shows why it thinks you should buy their service. Of course, they’re a bit biased, but you can learn a lot, because that’s where they show their strongest and most unique features.
Take the time to Google “online backup services” and really make sure to do your homework. Before you click on a link, make sure that you are reading an article that was written within the past year. The technology changes so fast that anything older than a year will be outdated. There are several articles that review and compare multiple backup services at once. There are also articles and videos that compare two or three services at a time, and those can help paint an even better picture of what you need and what will work for you.
What about contacts? Do you have all your phone and E-Mail contacts backed up? If you lost your phone, could you easily recover your hundreds of cell phone numbers? Some backup services help with this. For those that don’t you have some options (more on that later).
On my last Facebook mini-rant that I went on about backup services, my good friend Jeff Johnson really took it to heart. Apart from being a talented music teacher and musician, he’s also a great photographer. He told me that he had most of his stuff backed up in some way, but it wasn’t comprehensive. He has an adorable little girl and takes the most wonderful pictures of her as well as his lovely wife. After I got him thinking about losing any of those pictures, he said he immediately started doing his research and chose Dropbox for his backup needs. He also now uses a mirror hard drive so that in case one fails, he has another one ready to go.
As I mentioned before, I use SugarSync to backup all my computer files as well as my phone pictures. I use Google to backup my contacts and have for years. This was before backup services started offering features to backup your phone contacts. One afternoon, I sat down at the computer and input a few hundred contacts into Google: phone numbers, E-Mail addresses, etc. I’ve never regretted it. My phone is linked to my Google account so that if my current phone dies, I can get a new phone and easily download all my contacts to it. I can add new contacts on my phone or I can go into my Gmail account and add contacts through there.
All my E-Mailing is done through Gmail’s web interface at gmail.com, so I don’t have to worry about losing any important E-Mails.
Thanks for reading this long blog post! I hope this has nudged you to start backing up your files if you haven’t been doing so. According to one study I found, 40% of data loss has to do with hardware error. Another 29% had to do with human error. Don’t forget about viruses (there are some really nasty ones out there these days). Something will happen to your computer, it’s just a matter of when and how. If you don’t have a backup service in place, the cost of hiring a technician to come in and try to recover your data (no guarantee it will work!) can be hundreds of dollars.
If you’re not backing up your files, start researching today to find the best backup service for you. It’ll save you time, money, and a bit of your sanity!
This will be an ongoing feature on my blog that I’m really excited about. We are so fortunate to live in an era where there’s so much useful technology that can help make us better musicians. I’ve come across some great stuff over the years, and I know you have, too. I hope this will be more of a collaboration than anything: be sure to add your favorite gear, apps, and websites in the comments below. Here is the first of many articles in this series to come!
Metronomes and tuners
Ah, the lowly metronome. It’s not exciting, thrilling, sexy, or captivating. But a good metronome is essential for any musician. Certainly, we can talk about the Metronome Online website. If you just need something to make clicking sounds and you have a mobile device, it doesn’t get any easier than this. I use this quite frequently, and it works like a charm.
Metronome/tunes combos have always been popular. If you’re looking for a simple metronome/tuner combo, I’d suggest the Korg TM-50. I like how you can tap the tempo you’d like to practice at and the metronome will register it and beat it back to you. It has some basic subdivision options which can be a great help. The other cool thing about this unit is that you can use the tuner and metronome at the same time, which can be very helpful!
If you’re looking for some more serious tuner options, we can certainly talk about strobe tuners. When I’m king of the world, everyone will be issued a strobe tuner! They’re great to work with, and really are the most accurate tuners you could get.
Finally, for those who live on their cell phones, my friend John Nastos has created an absolutely fabulous app called Metronomics. It’s available for iOS and Android devices, and the amount of things this app can do is simply staggering. Metronomics is easy enough for beginners to use, but has some serious capabilities for pro players. Read more about what this app can do for your practicing and pick it up at the iTunes Store and Google Play.
Mouthpiece visualizers for brass
This is a great tool for band teachers as well as private brass teachers. Seeing what a student does when he or she buzzes into a mouthpiece is a gigantic help in diagnosing problems. A mouthpiece visualizer helps with just that. This is especially useful for beginning band to ensure students are starting out with a correct embouchure.
Music notation software
I’d be in trouble with my music engraver friends if I didn’t throw this out there! Here’s the deal: at some point in your life, as a musician, you’re probably going to need to writer down some music. It might be a simple melody, chord changes, or a leadsheet: it doesn’t necessarily have to be something big. Finale has several products that are designed for people who have varying needs in their music notation software. From your professional music engravers to a studio teacher who just need to write out some exercises for their students, Finale offers something for everyone. Take a look at their different products and see what will work best for you.
Sibelius offers another great product that musicians can use, too. Both of these are worthwhile investments, so do your homework and see which one is the best for you!
Stand and folder lights
I wrote about having a stand light in my previous blog post, but it’s worth another mention. These days, there are two main types: battery powered LED stand lights and the classic plug-in stand lights. I prefer the Manhasset 1000 stand light, since it’s the tried and true standard. LED stand lights can be a little bright for certain playing situations: evening church services, pit orchestras where the pit is fairly exposed, etc. If you’re still looking for a battery powered light that isn’t super bright, I recommend this little gem from IKEA. It has a clamp that’ll affix to any music stand, the neck is adjustable, and it doesn’t emit an overpowering blue light like some of the other LED models do. I’ve used these in choir for my choir folder as well as on my stand as an instrumentalist. They’re also very inexpensive (just a few bucks), so it’s definitely worth looking in to.
Now it’s your turn: what sort of gear, apps, and websites do you use in your musician life? Post a comment below!
As I wrap up playing in Madison High School’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” I’m reminded that even though I’m one of the hired pros for the show, for many of this kids in the pit, this is their first or second time playing in a musical.
I started playing in musicals when I was 16, and in the many years since then, I’ve picked up a couple of tricks that serve me well each time I got into the pit. I’m sure I’ll miss several, but these are the ones that came to mind first (and they’re in no particular order). I hope you’ll find these of use, and be sure to share your own tips and tricks in the comments below!
Gear to hold your gear
For brass and woodwind players, having something to hold all your stuff is such a huge help!
For example, brass and woodwind players should have an instrument stand, especially if you’re playing more than one instrument. Don’t skimp on the quality, or you’ll regret it! Hercules makes some great instrument stands, as does On-Stage.
Also look for accessory stands and holders. Mute holders are a lifesaver, especially in pits where floor space is limited. Reed players should find holders for their little cups of water that their reeds are soaking in. Speaking of gear….
Be ready to provide everything
You never know what playing situation you’re going to be in. Sometimes, you get a really nice comfy chair, a good music stand, and a stand light. Other times, you’re on your own. In my car, I carry a folding chair that I can tolerate sitting in for a couple of hours, a good folding music stand, and a stand light. If I don’t like the equipment that the employer is providing, I use my own.
Pencils out at all times
Certainly, you should have a pencil during rehearsals, and the same is for performances. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of things, you miss something you’ve never missed before: an accidental, key change, a music cut, etc. Having a pencil on your stand lets you mark it after the song so that you won’t forget it the next time. Speaking of pencils….
Mark everything (well, sorta)
You should never rely on your memory if you’re playing in a pit orchestra. If there is a change that the conductor has made (say, a fermata, an accel./rit., etc.) then you need to write it down. Full stop. In a pit orchestra, there are so many things going on that you may simply forget about something. Don’t ever rely on your memory!
Sometimes, even though it’s written in the music, you may skip over it. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Two solutions that I use are to circle the direction that I missed (a mute change, for example). The other solution is to use small, rectangular Post-it notes to help visually draw my attention to what I’ve missed. Those always live in my mute bag (which I take to every gig), and they’re always within arm’s reach.
Keep track of your staves
If you’re playing off a book that has two parts in it, often times they will cut out a part for a system or two. It can be very visually challenging, so I use system divider markings to help my eyes follow what’s going on.
In rehearsals, take the time to write the last few spoken words before the next song, especially if there’s a long break in between numbers. As you get to know the musical, these become less and less important, but when you’re first starting out, these are incredibly useful to have written in! I also write in a word or two to help me track if we are in the middle of an active section of key changes, meter changes, and tempo changes.
If you miss a repeat or have to add one that’s not in the music, make sure to “give your repeat signs wings,” as an old music professor of mine once said. There’s no way to miss where the repeats are if you vertically extend them.
I have yet to play a musical where the conductor uses the beat pattern that the time signature shows on every single piece. Sometimes, pieces in 4/4 are conducted in 2/2 and vice versa. If what the conductor is doing is different that what your music says, then make sure and write in a note. I use “in 2” and “in 4” a bunch.
That’s about all I can think of right now. Now it’s your turn! What tips and tricks do you have for playing in a pit orchestra?
With Easter on the way, it’s important for church musicians to be thinking about what they need for the big day. The theme of the morning will be robust hymns and joyful music. For many churches, Easter will also bring added musicians to the mix. While this greatly adds to the festivities, it also adds to the amount of preparation that goes into this joyful day:
Do you have a brass ensemble (or another kind of ensemble) for Easter? Let me arrange your hymns and service music!
Do you have a choral anthem that you’d like to add your guest instrumentalists on? I can help!
Do you have musical inserts that you need to put into your service bulletin or need displayed on a projector? No problem!
OK, time to get this webpage back up and going again! Let’s get started with some new (and regularly scheduled) blog content.
I’m playing trumpet in Madison High School’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” The kids have done such a great job of putting the show together, and they should be very proud of themselves!