Preview of our Interview with Jim Stephenson

This past Monday, I had the pleasure of interviewing composer Jim Stephenson.  I should say composer, arranger, conductor and trumpeter. Prior to becoming a full-time composer, Jim performed 17 seasons as a trumpeter with the Naples Philharmonic in Florida. As a composer, his recent commissions include a bass trombone concerto for Charles Vernon of the Chicago Symphony which will be premiered by the Chicago Symphony under the direction of Riccardo Muti during the 2018-2019 season. The St. Luis Symphony just premiered another concerto for bass trombone by Stephenson with soloist Gerry Pagano. We caught up with Jim while he was in the Washington, D.C. area for the recording of his 2nd Symphony for Concert Band, "Voices," by the President's Own United States Marine Band.  This work was commissioned by that ensemble and premiered at the 2016 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic.  

Our interview covered many subjects, from Jim's start in music to how he had two amazing careers so far as a trumpeter and composer. We spent a great deal of time discussing his compositional process, time management, and what makes him say "wow" when he listens to an ensemble or soloist perform.  

I left the interview feeling inspired and ready to go to work on my own projects, practicing and collaborations.  While our full interview is in production, I wanted to share this clip, where Jim Stephenson discusses the motivation behind his 2nd Symphony.  Immediately after that, I am posting the 3rd movement of the work, as performed by the "President's Own."  Until the full interview is released, enjoy!

Dr. Scott Nelson on How to Practice.

This week’s video blog installment discusses how to practice with advice from our judge, Dr. Scott Nelson, a trumpeter and conductor.

For those who don’t have time to watch the video below this text, here is a synopsis.

“First of all, I think people need to understand how much work has to go into whatever it is you are doing. It is a doing thing.”  Dr. Scott Nelson

He says that he learned how to practice while picking green beans in this mother’s garden. While growing up, they had a half acre garden and that was their chore.  The hardest part was the picking, especially the green beans.  His mother would assign two rows, and each row took about two hours to pick. Once he finished that, he was done for the day. However, if he did not pick it perfectly, she would assign one more row to pick.

To get through the project, he would focus on little bits and pieces – he would take a garden stake, and drive it into the ground as far as he could reach, and the focus only on picking the beans between the stake and him – he would not allow himself to look ahead.

“I don’t think that young people know that that is how you practice.”  Dr. Scott Nelson

Young students need to realize that this is how you practice, perfecting a little bit at a time.  Dr. Nelson also says that as your practice grows over the years, you can practice more in a smaller amount of time, but still, when he gets difficult pieces, he breaks them down into small bits and pieces, very slowly, and works them up measure by measure or phrase by phrase to the playing tempo.

He also mentions that you should not play faster or move on until you play the passage you are working on five times in a row correctly. It also helps to deal with performance anxiety, because you are experiencing nerves on the 4th or 5th repetition because you want to play it correctly to move on.

Dr. Nelson left us with this parting advice.  “If you are willing to work hard, and it is hopefully something you are passionate about, you will succeed.”

Key Points

1.)    Practice slowly, breaking the music into small bits and pieces that you can play.

2.)    Work things up to tempo slowly playing several tempi in-between.

3.)    Don’t move on until you can play something correctly 5 times in a row.

4.)    Don’t look too far ahead, keep your focus on what you are trying to perfect, and eventually, the whole product will come together.

 

 

 

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