Thomas Stevens

Performance Consistency I

  • For Trumpeters Only

Quotable: "There are no second chances in music"-old and oft-repeated music business aphorism.

The above Quotable may have represented an accurate assessment of circumstances in the “old world” of live concerts and time-restricted recording sessions, but nowadays, with so many diverse performance protocols and environments, the old adage is not quite as valid as it may have once been. One thing is for certain, however: for musicians who pursue professional careers in music performance, especially in ensemble environments (when the latter description is applied to any musical circumstances in which the participation of many contributors is directly involved in the finished work product (music/media producers, recording engineers, musicians, composers, conductors, noisy air conditioners, loud trucks that pass by or airplanes that fly overhead, etc.), consistency of performance is neither foolish nor a hobgoblin (Hardy/Emerson hat tip). It is an implied job description requirement, since even in the low life la-la land of so-called “virtual” performances (where performers simulate the act of performing in synchronization with their own or others’ pre-recorded music) the components must have functioned correctly at least one time at some point during the process to produce the finished musical product being used. A timeless Quotable from the songwriter/producer, Jeremy Steig, during a 1971 “sweetening” rock recording session when the brass section, of which I was a member, couldn’t get the job done: “Relax, guys, it’s a recording-we only have to get it [right] one time.”

Unfortunately, there exist no routine training solutions for performance consistency since it is something learned but not necessarily taught (the old saw about teachers being able to impart knowledge but not experience). Furthermore, the reasons for such inconsistencies are many, ranging from the psychological to the technical/musical.

While working with advanced students at a summer music school during the 1970s, the institution’s music director expressed his disappointment regarding the poor standards he was hearing in performances from his student musicians. He stated he would have expected better from such capable young players.

Later, during a conversation with my faculty colleague, Lewis Van Haney, we decided to conduct an informal experiment with a few of our brass students in the interest of developing some sort of methodology that would address one specific element of performance consistency that could be addressed in a general pedagogical way: (mental) concentration levels during performance.

Some observations and a brief description of the experiment are included in the post that follows (The Experiment).