Surviving a Three-Service Day

nutcracker_coverDecember is a busy month for musicians, especially brass players. With frequent Holiday Pops concerts, Nutcracker ballets, and church performances, double and even triple service days can and do happen. A “service” is usually defined as a 2.5 hour rehearsal or performance, and while many orchestras and other ensembles have contract language limiting the number of them in a single day, all bets are off if you accept work from multiple organizations. Here’s what my schedule this past weekend looked like:

  • Friday
    • Orchestral Rehearsal, 7:30-10:00 p.m.
  • Saturday:
    • Orchestral Rehearsal, 10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
    • Church Service Rehearsal, 2:00-4:30 p.m.
    • Orchestral Concert, 7:30-10:00 p.m.
  • Sunday
    • Church Service performance, 10:30 a.m.-noon
    • Orchestral Concert, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

I’m happy to report that I made it through the weekend relatively unscathed, with chops intact! However, these being my last professional engagements for the year, I’m looking forward to a few light days of horn playing. If you wind up with some double and triple-service days in your schedule, here are a few recommendations to help deal with them. Some are specifically related to brass playing, while others are more general and pertain to overall well being. If you have any suggestions based on your own experiences, feel free to comment below.

  1. Be in good shape: Going into a busy month like December, I try to make sure that my playing fundamentals are in shape. If you are working through any chop or breathing issues, recovering from a playing-related injury, or coming back from an extended hiatus, I would strongly advise against accepting double or triple services in a single day. Heavy playing sessions with relatively little recovery time between them will only magnify these challenges.
  2. Allow time for a good warm-up and warm-down: Some light, easy playing before and after a heavy day can do wonders to limber up or even prevent a stiff embouchure. Be aware that your lips may feel swollen just after warming up, so make sure you have plenty of time for them to loosen up before rehearsal begins. I personally like to warm up 30-45 minutes before rehearsal begins, and take at least a 5-10 minute break before the rehearsal.
  3. Get adequate sleep: The optimum amount for an individual will of course vary, but the usual recommendation is from 7 to 9 hours per night. For more information, see here.
  4. Drink lots of water: Being properly hydrated will help you stay focused and alert, among many other benefits. For more information, see here.
  5. Alternate Warm/Cool Compresses:  In the case of very stiff and/or swollen chops, alternating heat and cold can be helpful. For more information, see here. Other remedies I have heard of but not had much experience with personally are ibuprofen (for pain and/or swelling – if you have concerns, check with your physician first) and, believe it or not, popsicles.
  6. Know when to say when: Playing through pain or discomfort is NEVER a good idea, and it is  wise to lay out or at least back off on dynamics well before hitting your personal playing limit for the day. You only have one set of lips – take care of it!
  7. Make time for recovery: After all the services are finished, try to take it easy for a couple of days if at all possible. This means different things depending on the individual; for me it means a warm up and brief routine for 20-25 minutes for the next day or so after several days of heavy playing. I rarely take days off, but have found warm-up only days to be very helpful.

On that note, I’ll bring to a close my final post for 2015. Best wishes to everyone for safe and happy holidays, and a great start to the new year. Be sure to check this site in January, as I have several posts planned for 2016: more reviews, thoughts on time management, and an update on Solo Training for Horn, my forthcoming etude book from Mountain Peak Music.

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Monroe Symphony Orchestra: John Williams Spectacular

This weekend the Monroe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will present an all John Williams concert, featuring music from some of his most well-known film scores. You can see some of the titles in the image at right, and here’s a complete list.williamsprogram

  • Superman March
  • Call of the Champions
  • E.T.: Adventures on Earth
  • Jaws
  • Harry Potter Symphonic Suite
  • Hymn to the Fallen from Saving Private Ryan
  • Raiders March
  • Selections from Star Wars, Episodes 1-6 (Main Title, Duel of the Fates, Across the Stars, Battle of the Heroes, Yoda’s Theme, Imperial March, Throne Room and End Title)

There are lots of great parts for the brass, and especially the horns. Along with many other horn players, I grew up listening to the iconic themes played by the brass in Superman, Star Wars, and E.T., to name a few. This promises to an exciting concert, and I look forward to getting in a great workout! While preparing this music over the last few weeks I gave quite a bit of thought to the endurance factor. A lot of the playing is high, fast, and loud, but with the help of an assistant and the rest of my section I know we’ll make it to the end in good shape. When faced with a challenging program like this one I’ve found it helpful to follow a few basic principles.

  1. Relax, and play with an easy, unforced sound whenever possible. Yes, there will be times when the section really needs to push things dynamically, but when playing accompanying lines it’s much more efficient to lay back and just play with a beautiful sound. In section tuttis there’s no need to be the loudest person – instead go for blend and style. Principal players have to lead by example, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to play louder than everyone else. Let the air do the work!
  2. Make use of  an Assistant. I am fortunate to have an assistant on this concert, and the reality is that we’ll be trading off quite a bit. I’ll be playing any solos and the more exposed parts, but my assistant will get plenty of playing on the tutti melodies and accompaniment passages.
  3. Relax mouthpiece pressure in the mid and low range. It probably seems like a no-brainer, but with taxing programs it’s very easy to fall into the trap of using the same amount of pressure in the mid and low range as in the high range. This can be a recipe for disaster when it comes to endurance. Even if you can’t get the mouthpiece off your lips (which you should do as often as possible), you can still relax and regain some blood flow by backing off in the lower range.
  4. Know when to say when. It isn’t a competition, and it isn’t a race. Everyone has a physical limit, and forcing oneself to go beyond that limit can cause serious issues. We only get one set of chops, so it’s best to take care of them!

How do you prepare for chop-busting concerts?

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