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Musical Moment… Restarts and Norway!

Good morning!

If you saw our service live or online yesterday, you most likely noticed that the chancel choir is back!We had a great day of singing at our fall choir retreat this past Saturday and are ready to take on the fall season. Thank you to all of those who joined the choir for one or all of the “pick-up” choirs the past six weeks while the full choir has been on a much-deserved break. If you have considered being a part of our family, it is never too late to try it out!! We are resuming our weekly rehearsals this coming Wednesday night from 7:00 to 8:30pm in the sanctuary and would love to have anyone new join us either then or on a Sunday morning.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “restarts” lately since Pastor Elizabeth has been talking about them on Sunday mornings, and it has only been recently that I have recognized just how many of them there are. The choir retarting is one big one that I am restarting, but as many of you know, I have recently completed my comprehensive exams for my doctorate (results pending), which means I will be entering a world of no more course work at the university as of today. That also allows me to return to teaching brass and music theory at Lone Star College Montgomery starting next Monday, which I am very excited about. Perhaps the biggest restart, however, comes this Thursday when I travel to Wilmington, North Carolina to perform a concert for the first time since having facial reconstruction surgery on April 15th. The road has been long, and there is still much recovery to be had, but I am still grateful to in a place where I can restart that part of my life.

Since my surgery, I have had to restart a lot of things, like the way I slept, the way I brushed my teeth, and even the way I ate and drank. But the most stressful and daunting of all was restarting, and to some degree, resetting the way I played the trumpet. Throughout my trumpet playing career until the moment I had my injury on March 22nd, I had the played the trumpet essentially one way, with maybe a minor change here and there, but in no way had I had to re-learn how to play the instrument, much less with only a few months before a concert in Wilmington, North Carolina on August 29th at 5pm… On June 1st, roughly 8 weeks post-surgery, I began the process of teaching myself how to play again, and as anyone who has recovered from surgery knows, sometimes the mental side of recovery is often as tough or more than the physical struggles. In this case, I had to cope with the constant thoughts that my trumpet playing career that began in the 6th grade may be over. Most of the struggle was with nerve regeneration on the entire left side of my face, caused by a damaged nerve sustained in the facial fractures, ranging in length from under my left eye to my chin and from the left side of my nose to my jawbone in width. Doctor’s said that the swelling and the nerves would take 6 months to go away completely, which was daunting considering the ramifications on my degree and ability to earn money playing the trumpet. Slowly, my ability to play began to come back and I tried to play more often, with wide and varying degrees of success. I thought, maybe I’ll just pick up the trumpet for a second and see if I can make a sound, ANY sound… then I tried a little more, maybe a couple of minutes every day. Then, I eventually started trying to actually practice regularly, which was hard since studying for exams consumed much of my life in those days. Since returning from vacation this past Friday, I have been able to play and work on playing every day to the point that playing in public this weekend may be somewhat in the realm of possibilities (typed cautiously days before driivng to the airport). 

When an opportunity comes along for a restart of something, even if it arrives via less-than-ideal circumstances like my injury, I try my best to see it as an opportunity to start fresh and approach things from a new perspective. I think sometimes that’s the only choice we have in order to move forward. Even as I wrestled with the thought of never playing the trumpet again, I tried to focus on what else I could do to share music with others through other means, including here at First UMC, and that kept me going and pushing forward. Although there is still much progress that needs to be made in my recovery back to 100%, the past 6 months have made me more grateful, patient, and self-forgiving, all of which are ongoing processes! At the very least, I hope that sharing my experiences, even if that is something I struggle with, will help someone who may need encouragement through a hard time. 

Now… for the musical part of the musical moment! 

The most important thing about playing for me is the sound. I tell my students, if a sound doesn’t sound beautiful and easy, no one wants to listen to it! As I was trying to play, and I mean NOTHING felt the same as pre-surgery, I let the sound be my guide. I also began listening to all of my favorite musicians to regain my own goals of what I wanted to sound like, mostly great singers, pianists, violinists, and yes, a trumpet player or two. Strangely enough, I don’t typically listen to many trumpet players, but one of my all-time favorite trumpeters is a Norwegian by the name of Ole Edvard Antonsen. His sound is something that I have always tried to emmulate, and there are very few that play as musically and as easily as he does. He is also unique, because unlike here in the U.S. where less of the general population follow “classical” music or its stars, Mr. Antonsen is a true rockstar in Norway. 

The piece I’ve picked for today, Brurateven, comes from one of Mr. Antonsen’s lesser known projects, but it is one I have loved for a long time. A proud Norwegian, he always plays and promotes music from his country, and if you know anything about the music of Norway, you know that they have a long, storied tradition of folksongs. More specifically, composers like Edvard Grieg and the composer of the work in this video Geirr Tveitt have long-since incorporated those folksongs into their art music, which has created a treasure trove of beautifuly music that is still being explored. This piece, like many Norwegian folksongs, is an arrangement, which means it is taken and adapted from one instrumentation to fit another, in this case cornet and piano. I love this piece because it combines a tender melody, a beautiful accompaniment, and a sensitive treatment by both musicians that almost puts you in a trance when listening…. which I have done several times this morning while typing this.

Thank you for bearing with my lengthy writing today! I won’t say anthing else but… enjoy!

Justin

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