Boats, rain and trekking

My view of the back of the bus drivers head did finally end. I will admit that my view turned into a view of my eyelids during a short nap.

After arriving at LaVie Vu Linh Ecolodge we had a wonderful lunch followed by a drizzling trek through the area.

LaVie Vu Linh Ecolodge is a project in creation and bringing back sustainable living and agriculture. You can read about the project at the website.

The kids were able to enjoy a boat ride and a wonderful trek through the commune. Along the trek were eucalyptus trees, fragrant cinnamon trees, a visit with a sustainable farmer, and a small boat builder.

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Now it is time for some rest. Cool breeze, but lovely place to rest. More tomorrow and happy wishes to all from LaVie Vu Linh.

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My View

Today begins a short trip with 14 middle school students graded 6 and 7. We are traveling to LaVie Ecolodge, which is about two hours northwest of Hanoi, Vietnam.

The students began this trip yesterday with basic training in rock climbing. They learned to tie basic knots, fit their harness, and various aspects if climbing at VietClimb in Hanoi.

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Now the fun part of the trip. LaVie Ecolodge while inly two hours from Hanoi takes about five hours by bus. There is not any major highway between the two locations. So, for the next five hours this is my view.

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More as the trip continues. Happy day to all.

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Lather, Rinse and Repeat

A conversation on Twitter today has brought up the topic of practice. For musicians practice can be a bane to ones life. We practice, prepare, exercise, drill, study, recite, rehearse and a multitude of other synonyms to do that which we love, and that is to perform music. By definition “Practice” is the act of rehearsing a behavior or engaging in an activity over and over to improve. Practice is not a method by which one improves as practice is a method of reinforcement of actions that generate an outcome. With that, Does practice make one improve or make one perfect as stated in the old adage that “Practice makes perfect”? I think not.

Most individuals go to the practice room, take our their instrument and begin what they believe is practice. This is not a good way to learn. One needs to have a plan, a guide, or some sort of organized structure to get through and accomplish the many tasks a musician needs to accomplish in a single, or multiple practice session.

Practicing is much like studying. So often individuals are not taught how to study in school, just as most young musicians are not taught how to practice. It is so much more than opening a book, reading, or putting horn to lips and blowing. There are some simple steps one can take to become better at the art of practicing. Yes, I said art, as practicing is a learned skill and an art in itself.

Below is a list of a few items one can do to aid in become better at the art of practice:

  • Schedule your practice time and meet your schedule.
  • Log your practice.
  • Take notes during your practice time and during lessons.
  • Review your notes after a practice session and after lessons.
  • List goals for the week, month, year, and your long-term goals such as auditions, etc.
  • Review your goals and see if you are meeting your expectations.
  • Adjust your goals periodically.
  • Warm up – this is not practice time and never let a warmup become practice.
  • Stay focused on your schedule.
  • Remember the practice room is for practice and to learn.

Below is a simple sample practice routine and should vary depending on one’s ability. This is not the end all and many will have other thoughts:

  • Warm up – This is a warmup and not time to practice. Breathing exercises and time to get the lips going with easy long tones in the middle and lower register.
  • Flexibility exercises – Scales in thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, etc., as well as wide slurs.
  • Scales and arpeggios – These are key to flexibility and learning how to play music.
  • Lip Trills.
  • Work the extremes of the horn range.
  • Now time to settle in on etudes, excerpts, solos, etc.

The above items are just simple thoughts, but if put into place in ones daily life improvement can be great. It is YOU that does the work and not the equipment. Fancy lead pipes, mouthpieces, and more are not what makes a great player as a great player is a player that is disciplined and works hard to learn, and to practice. Setting a schedule, meeting that schedule, making notes, reviewing those notes are so important to being successful in any career. You setup your schedule based upon class schedule, ensembles and other events out of your control and you need to meet the times you setup. Do not be over zealous, but set reasonable times for success. Remember that you set your times and set them for you to be successful in all that you do.

One needs to remember that the practice room is for practicing. Do not sit and play the things that you know so that others can hear you play well. Practice time is the time to practice, learn, improve, and most importantly to make mistakes. Learn from the mistakes but do not learn the mistakes. Practice will never make one perfect if one continually practices the mistakes. Of course, mistakes happen in performance and one cannot stop, but in the practice room it is time to assess and review why you made the mistake. Ask yourself questions. Be bold, be blunt about your playing. Assess, evaluate, find the solution, test the solution, re-evaluate, and test another solution if the first did not work. Take your time … Lather, rinse and repeat.

Yes, those words taken from the directions found on bottles of shampoo are important. Lather, rinse and repeat or play, review and evaluate, and repeat this cycle. It is a cycle or circle that never ends. Play through a simple etude then review and evaluate your performance. If you made a mistake think why you made the mistake. Find a correction, make a change, and use your mind to come up with a solution. Then you start over with the solution in place. The solution could be a simple fingering change, or change to your airstream, where you breath, what you are thinking while playing, and so many other options. Lather, rinse and repeat.

From my past, my mentor made me play through excerpts a minimum of ten times without any mistakes. If a mistake occurred I would have to start over at the first play through. So, playing the opening to Till Eulenspiegal’s Merry Pranks I would play through one time, then two, then three and if I made a mistake it was back to playing it the first time. Never continue practicing when a mistake is made, as one will only learn the mistake. Then that mistake becomes learned and when it comes time to perform it is likely that mistake will happen in performance. Be bold, use your mind, learn, practice in the practice room, perform and perform well because you learned to practice perfectly. Lather, rinse and repeat … It is not drudgery, but fun to learn, and fun to perform well. Lather, rinse and repeat.

Please feel free to ask me questions. I am always so happy to try and help in any way that I can. These thoughts are mine are will be different for each individual. Fine tuning to find what works best for you is an important aspect of learning. Just because one person can play a high c by puffing their cheeks, a squeezing their eyes closed does not mean it will work for you. Happy day to all. Lather, rinse and repeat.

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Summer of New Journeys

What an amazing Summer I have experienced. It is difficult to know where to begin, but to say WOW!!

I met an incredible woman last Winter and this was just the first of many wonderful New Journeys. A lifetime past, but now a lifetime together has given a bright light in my life. Jennifer and I were married on 11 July 2011 and have made the start of our life together with a huge move to Hanoi, Vietnam. I cannot express the excitement that is ever present in each day, hour, and minute as we explore our new lives together here in Hanoi.

Panoramic Image of My Neighborhood in Hanoi, Vietnam

Panoramic of My Neighborhood

Hanoi and the people of Vietnam are incredible. I am so enjoying meeting and learning from every person I come in contact with each day. All have been so helpful to me. This is especially true since my skills in the Vietnamese language are nil. I have learned a few words and am able to greet others, give some basic directions, and a a couple of weather terms. Ah, yes it is a joy to try and learn these few words, and one day I will be able to converse in some basic manner.

I have great respect for all people here on our incredible planet, and feel it is important to respect the culture, society, to try and learn the language, and embrace all that is Vietnam. Thus, I am trying new words, walking up to people asking questions, and being what my Twitter profile states, “…all around good guy with an inquisitive mind”.

Each day this journey has new paths that are unveiled. Choosing a path, has nothing to do with worrying about whether the path chosen is correct, but that one makes a choice and learns. Each path brings about new people, thoughts, sights, sounds, and so many different things that I cannot list in this post. A path is about exploring and I am doing so every chance that comes about. Even the most simple path of acclimating my body to the heat and humidity of Hanoi can be daunting, but to get my running game back on track I must chose that path and learn. The same goes for anything we do in life … a bit of reinventing … never think that one knows all that is on any particular item as all in life is ever-changing, ever-growing, and truly a journey along the many paths of life.

This Summer of New Journeys has been a grand experience with my marriage to Jennifer, the move to Hanoi, and sharing ones life with all in the world. This short post is the beginning of what I hope will be many posts about the many experiences in Hanoi, the wonderful people of Vietnam, and all that exists in this grand world of ours.

Keep checking back for new posts as this is going to be a joyous ride. Also, keep up with me on the various social networking sites as I write, tweet, post about life, share photos of all that I see through the camera lens, and meet new friends around the world.

Cyclist

Early Morning Cyclist

Gardner taking care of the roundabout

Gardner

Vietnamese woman walking on streets of Ciputra, Hanoi, Vietnam

Walker

 

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Found on Facebook – Pillsbury Dough Boy

Please join me in remembering a great icon of the entertainment community. The Pillsbury Doughboy died yesterday of a yeast infection and trauma complications from repeated pokes in the belly. He was 71. Pillsbury DougboyDoughboy was buried in a lightly greased coffin. Dozens of celebrities turned out to pay their respects, including Mrs. Butterworth, Hungry Jack, the California Raisins, Betty Crocker, the Hostess Twinkies, and Captain Crunch. The grave site was piled high with flours.

Aunt Jemima delivered the eulogy and lovingly described Doughboy as a man who never knew how much he was kneaded. Doughboy rose quickly in show business, but his later life was filled with turnovers. He was not considered a very smart cookie, wasting much of his dough on half-baked schemes. Despite being a little flaky at times, he still was a crusty old man and was considered a positive roll model for millions.

Doughboy is survived by his wife Play Dough, three children: John Dough, Jane Dough and Dosey Dough, plus they had one in the oven. He is also survived by his elderly father, Pop Tart.

The funeral was held at 3:50 for about 20 minutes.

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Chillaxin – First Race in the Books

Where does one begin when writing about their first running race experience? All race reports seem to be from the same breath with listings of finish times, course terrain, weather, and swag bags. I will let you taste a small report of that which is the norm, but have other thoughts about the race, and in a later blog post thoughts and conversations with the people I met on the course.

Boomtown Days Half Marathon 2010

Saturday, June 11, 2010 I ran my first race at the Boomtown Days Celebration. The race was a half marathon which totals 13.1 miles of glorious running. I know. You are thinking about that word glorious. Well, running is glorious, fun, thrilling, and can be so enjoyable when one properly prepares. Before I go further let me get to the little devil of my results from my first marathon, and first race to ever participate.

Boomtown Run Finishers Medal

Boomtown 1/2 Marathon Finishers Medal

I completed the half marathon (13.1 miles) in 2 hours 17 minutes 16 seconds placing 145th out of 850 runners that checked in Saturday morning. My time put me 12th in the male 45-49 age group. Those numbers have made me so happy. For my first race and training to tackle a half marathon a 2:17 run is very good. Just sheer joy. While some may not see the joy in this time let me say that completing any endurance race is a a trial of fortitude, will, and training. For me, once weighing 358lbs, this 1/2 marathon is a grand success (See previous blog post: Grunt… Groan… Pant… ).

Thoughts on the Race Course (Course Map & Elevation Graphics)

While I have no other race to compare the Boomtown Half Marathon to I will say this course seemed to be one long uphill run. The course started at 1008ft above sea level, reaches 1070ft at the highest point, and the lowest point is 883ft above sea level. As one can see from the below elevation graphic there were many ups and downs, but a couple a quick downs with a long uphill between miles 4.5 and 7.

Boomtown 1/2 Marathon Elevation Graphic

Boomtown 1/2 Marathon Elevation (click graphic for full view)

Throughout the race I heard individuals commenting about the many long hills. I must admit that I also felt those hills, but tried to get up on the ball of the foot, shorten my stride and keep the pace I had without burning the legs up. Seemed to work well for me, or at least I thought. Upon viewing my lap data I see that all those ups and downs took their toll quickly around mile five slowly my average pace by about 30 seconds to one minute. Not a lot of time, but adds up quickly.

Boomtown 1/2 Marathon Course Map

Course Map (click graphic to see full view)

Lap data showing average running pace at each mile

Average Lap Data for each mile (click graphic to see full view)

Another aspect of the 1/2 marathon was the humidity. Southwest Missouri is well known for its humidity. The last several weeks we have seen temperatures in the low to mid 90′s Fahrenheit and humidity between 70 and 90%. Sure adds to that hot feeling when out running an asphalt race course. I know, a ton of numbers, but as I examine and learn to better interpret it will all help my running. This is especially true since keeping my pace has been one item of difficulty. So much to learn both mentally and physically, but so much fun.

Ending Thoughts ~ It is about being healthy, training smart, and having fun

Many who follow me on Twitter know that I am a happy person. Many may be tired of my “Enjoy all that is” or “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy” statements, but that is me. Not much gets me down, and while I am competitive it is competition with myself and no one else. I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself. This run was just one more in my journey to being and doing all I can to be healthy, fit and happy.

Time for a few random thoughts I had during the race:

  • I am a long way from the start. How did all those people get in front of me.
  • My Garmin keeps beeping and asking if I want to connect to the footpod.
  • No, I don’t want to connect to that unknown footpod.
  • Said outloud: Hi, my name is Michael. How are you doing? Person I spoke to gave me a stern glare. Silent thought to self: Just saying hi not hitting on you. Happy day.  :-)
  • Feeling great! Having fun. Whoa!! What is that in the road. That was a shoe and is someone running with one shoe now?
  • Styrofoam cups suck!! They crack every time I pinch to try and drink. Next time just drink.
  • Okay, drinking from the styrofoam cup without pinching not good. More air than water. Burp!!
  • My Garmin is beeping again. Message reads: Connect to Footpod? No, I told you before not to connect. Someone must be following me.
  • Man my shoes feel great! Yes they do! Could running shoes feel any better? No!
  • Said to self so as to not get the death stare: WOot!!! Hi!! Who are you!!?
  • Okay Garmin you have been told twice to stop it. Now stop!
  • Hill!!
  • Hill!!
  • Hill!!!

I felt great through the entire 1/2 marathon. Yes, some tired moments, silly thoughts, but smiles all the way. Okay, maybe not smiles, but after seeing some photos I had a grin a mile wide. You may ask why the grin. That grin was due to the fact that I had trained well for this run. All the training was from my wonderful coach Jeff Kline of PRSFit. Wonderful person and so helpful. Coach Jeff’s training is all about “being healthy, training smart, and having fun”. I so agree. This is how I live each and every day.

Just approaching the finish line

Almost finished (click graphic for full view)

Slowing down after the Finish Line

Slowing down after crossing the finish line (click graphic for full view)

Eating a Banana

Time for a Banana, but not a flattering photo (click graphic for full view)

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Crossing the Line. Hornist Behind Bars.

Before continuing one moment reading this blog post I would like for you to read David H. Thomas’ post at The Buzzing Reed. David, who I met online via Twitter, is Principal Clarinetist of the Columbus Symphony in Ohio. You will enjoy his thoughts and writing. My post will have more meaning after reading his post My Practice, My Life. Breathing Clarinet Air.

Michael holding horn in front of his face

Behind the bars looking for freedom

Thank you for coming back. I do hope you enjoyed David’s posts, as I know I did. Please check out his other blog posts, videos, and audio files as his thoughts and openness on playing and the “behind the scenes” world of practice are rare. Musicians do not often share their thoughts on practice and preparation. This world is somewhat intimate as we bare all working on the music for performances.

David has found something that I feel is quite elusive for many musicians. What he has found is something I gave up on some 10 years ago. This elusive item is not something a musician needs to perform, but I feel it is something we need as a person, as a musician, and as a being in this world. I know what is running through your mind, “What is so elusive for musicians and is it really important”. Yes!! It is elusive and important not only for musicians, but for all of us.

David wrote two thoughts that struck me. Let me address the first one where David states:

I began to sheepishly admit to myself: as much as I enjoy performing, I actually enjoy practicing and playing music for myself even more! Who needs an audience! I find myself by losing myself practicing a deeply challenging Jeanjean etude, or a musically rich Bach unaccompanied cello suite. Performing almost ruins the spontaneous beauty of it all, with the accompanying high standards one must meet to be approved; and with the perfectionist expectations most listeners have nowadays from hearing so many artificially perfected recordings

Musicians spend countless hours practicing and preparing for performances. The expectations are extremely high in the professional music world. Perfection. No missed notes, beautiful phrases, gorgeous interactions as musicians exchange musical thoughts. Perfection. The expectations are so high and we musicians become so entwined with doing what we do. We perform because it is what we do. Just like you get up each morning, grab a quick shower and something to eat while driving to work, and then work. You do what you do. I, too, fell into this so many years ago and gave up trying to cross that line from doing to being.

The other thought of David’s, which I have eluded to above is beautifully stated:

I had performed because it was what I was supposed to do. I am a clarinetist after all. It’s what I do. Please don’t misunderstand. I have never hated performing, only misunderstood the larger picture of why I do what I do.

The above statement hit me like a hammer. We musicians do what we do and that is perform, but there is so much more and I see how this applies to my past, present, and future musical world. Eyes wide open I now see. I also feel you are wondering what this is all about. Is this not some reiteration of what David so eloquently wrote?

This applies to my own world with this brief bit of my past. In December of 1998 I awakened one morning and did not wish to go to rehearsal. After 10 years with the Air Force Band program I wanted to stay in bed, sleep, and not do anything. Being in the Air Force Bands is quite prestigious and I did not want to go rehearse on the instrument that I had spent my life studying. After 10 years of traveling the world and being honored to perform for so many leaders of our world, and most importantly, performing for the people of the world. What an honor.

I was tired. I just wanted to stay home as I was the hornist behind bars unable to cross that line. Unable to cross that line into being all that is. Music and the musician world is so much more than practicing perfection. We have lost so much in reaching for this goal. I lost. I gave up on the climb to that mountain top that David mentions by letting the stress of perfectionist practice and performance, hundreds of performances each year, and the hours of travel grab hold and throw me down the mountainside.

I had given up on climbing the mountain and placed my horn in its case. I left the mountain growing smaller, and smaller in my rearview mirror. So much has happened in the years since that day. After reading David’s thoughts I am now looking for that mountain that I left so many years ago. Yes, I have played since that time as a professional but still with the thought of it being what I do. Each year I would accept fewer students and performances. Now, I have turned around. Want to face that climb and I am looking for that mountain. Ready to fight and cross that line. Being a musician and being a person in this wonderful world is so much more than doing what we do. We must live every moment. Remove the perfectionist thoughts and enjoy.

David stated:

Follow me if you like. See you at the top.

I am looking for my mountain from so long ago. With arms wide open to embrace that which I let toss me aside. Ready to enjoy all that is. I hope that you too will open your mind. Do not do what you are suppose to do, but love what you do. I am going to breath horn air, and I hope that you breath that which is yours, and enjoy all that is around you. Happy day to everyone.

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