Some people get an MFA, I got an MHM (Master of "Hard Mode").
My musical training started simply enough. General music in elementary school, recorder ensemble, beginning band. We didn't have much money and the school had a trombone. Reflecting back, my love was always for music in a broad sense, and I can remember dancing to Fleetwood Mac at home, the 8-track player in the car, my older brothers love of metal bands in the 80's. I progressed with a good ear and a genuine interest in all things music. There was evidence that I was progressing faster than my peers even in middle school. Honor bands, first chair- it seemed as if I was on a pace to be pretty good.
When I was 15 years old, I got into a horrible accident on my bicycle- loose gravel became lodged in my face. Typical 15-year old reckless boy stuff. I wasn't studying privately, my parents were not brass players, etc. No one ever thought that scar development in my lips and face might be fine for a while but would hinder my progress 20 years later. It might have emerged as an issue if it hadn't been for my obsessive practicing. I was putting in hours when most were putting in minutes and most likely masking the issues.
I went off to college and had a fantastic mentor- he was like a father to me. There were some cracks in my development, but my obsession for practice grew- 6-8 hours a day. I progressed steadily and no one stopped to question "shouldn't he be progressing even more given the practice time?" I landed an opportunity to travel to London and perform in a new show called "Blast!". How was London? I have no idea. I practiced. 8-9 hours a day. Something wasn't clicking in my playing and as I found myself with better musicians, it became more apparent. The only problem was I didn't know what it was. I was thankful to 'push pause' on my degree to try and sort it out. The answers never really came- and I was willing to sacrifice anything to find them.
This theme repeated itself a few times. Graduate school- 6 hours a day of practicing to try and sort out my limitations in playing. It is not surprising now, but 'more of the same' did not work. I went to a prestigious conservatory and took out loans to help pay for school. My teacher was an amazing player, who offered nothing regarding my technical limitations. I felt a growing cold shoulder which I now recognize was his way of saying "sorry kid, I can't help you- you just don't have what it takes".
Just Call Me Jason
How I "Magic School Bussed" my way to great brass technique.
I ended up transferring to the University of New Mexico. I had a great teacher who was able to confirm that there was 'something not quite right', but really wasn't sure of an effective way of correcting the issues.
After two performance degrees and a few failed auditions, I got an opportunity to re-join with "Blast!" as a performer. It was tougher this time around as I had become quite sedentary for a few years while I obsessively practiced. I quickly realized that THIS time I was going to have to get in great shape in order to be successful. The byproducts of a healthier lifestyle and balanced activity was clearly evident, and I thought the answers I was looking for might be around the bend.
I returned to the University of New Mexico for a conducting masters, but I reached out to several exercise science faculty to try and find answers- both for my new interest in the brain-body connection as well as my limitations in playing. This is where I first found kinesiology.
I wasn't sure if I would find the answers I needed, but I knew they were not back on the trail I had already walked. I did some more touring with Blast!, practiced whenever I could, and made plans to approach my doctorate with a little less convention.
When I applied to doctoral programs, I also applied to master's programs in kinesiology. My plan was to work on both degrees simultaneously and find the answers I needed. I was accepted into several programs and received some tempting offers. I ended up picking the best school and the least attractive offer that would make the journey the hardest- not for the sake of being hard, but where I really felt like the answers I needed may be found. I pursued a doctorate in brass pedagogy and a master's in kinesiology at Indiana University.
After finishing the doctorate, I followed a typical path of gigging, auditions, job searches, and after 20 years of searching for answers, I ended up finding them- in the back of an old used RV!
At the time I was living in an RV, travelling to teach and play anywhere I could. There was something magical about being broke and desperate, highly educated, and in a broken vehicle. I needed to get the vehicle to run to make it to the next gig, and I needed to figure out my face to do the same. I just needed to put it all together and figure it out. It was one symbiotic challenge that would either break me or change me forever.
As life sometimes goes, the hard road had finally started to pay off. I fixed the RV, and a lifetime of grit and creativity helped me get through the tough times. I think I am stronger for it now.
I now teach at Troy University in southern Alabama and have developed a training method for faces that works, even when conventional approaches don't. It has afforded me the opportunity to continue to improve at my own playing (and therefore play with some fantastic musicians and ensembles) as well as teach and give presentations all over the world. It hasn't been the easiest path, but it got me here, and I couldn't change it without changing the journey that came with it.
My hope is I can help you avoid some unnecessary headache (and maybe save a little money too) by sharing what I know. Sometimes it takes a village.