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Summer Reflections
Proof as to why I should stick to violin.

by Holly Mulcahy
September 1, 2008

Crazy things happen during the final weeks at some music festivals, and this summer was no different. I was wrapping up my fourth week at the Grand Teton Music Festival when sudden inspiration hit me. I wondered how easy it was to play the trombone solo in Bolero!

Fortunately, my brother is a professional trombonist and since we were both playing the festival and sharing housing, I coaxed him to play the Bolero trombone solo. I asked if he could teach me, and what started out as a crazy joke turned into much more than I bargained for.

"Let's have you learn this down an octave," he said. He wrote the position numbers down for me, and we went to work. For 4 days at 5-10 minutes a day, I blew various notes through his trombone creating a hackneyed, but recognizable, version of Ravel's Bolero. "Easiest instrument to learn," my brother said while laughing, "hardest to master."

Midway through realizing the mouthpiece was preventing a certain finesse I was expecting, my other trombonist housemate gave me a smaller and easier one to use. Still not good enough. This was clearly harder than I had expected.

But as hard as it was for me to grasp, having my brother and other brass playing friends try to teach me made it more enjoyable. And after the 4 days of "coaching" from my new mentors, I felt confident enough to play it for a few  friends before an orchestra rehearsal. That was where my confidence was crushed by the pressure to do my brother proud.

I was mortified! Not only could I no longer count an even beat as I struggled to find proper notes in their proper positions, I was creating sounds that animals in the wild would be embarrassed to produce. I could easily hear the real version in my head, which only frustrated me more.

Thankfully, being laughed at, or in this case with, was all in good fun. I knew the minimal time I put into learning one of the most demanding trombone excerpts would not yield perfection. But what it did yield would be far superior: a new perspective on my own career as a musician.

Summer music festivals do wonderful things for musicians. Not only do they refresh and rejuvenate them, they also offer opportunities for a sort of cross pollination. There is a gathering and sharing of ideas from various musicians around the country and world. Triumphs and worries about the industry are discussed and successes and failures are compared.

One general worry during this past summer was rather universal. The constant battle to prove or uphold the need for salaried musicians. Some boards or managements across the country claim that orchestra musicians only work 20 or so hours a week, so why pay a full time salary when it is "clearly" not full time.

And truthfully, as easy as it is for me to lay down a Mozart Symphony or Tchaikovsky orchestral work on stage, I worry about the perceptions of audience and boards. If it is so easy, why are we being paid?

My sobering experience on trombone has proven the obvious though. While I have worked very hard on violin, the years went by and it was hard to comprehend what really went into it: years of training, hours of practice and rigid determination. Of course it goes with out saying, but you really don't notice and appreciate until you start over on something unfamiliar.

And while I am refreshed and relaxed from my summer in the Tetons, there is also an new awareness that I have never possessed, a new dimension of appreciation for all the work put into music by my colleagues. Skills that come across as effortless, and the congratulatory comments tossed between us, seem to shine in a different way. Personally, I feel that learning a few notes on trombone has enhanced my own ability to trust my skills even more as a violinist.

And for those that would care to see my ability (or lack of) on trombone, we couldn't resist documenting the final product of my four days of learning on


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