I'm sitting on the open deck sailing past islands in the Mediterranean, finally beginning to slow down. The past 16 months have been non-stop craziness moving my shop to Minneapolis, regular travel for clinics, taking delivery of a new cnc VMC (computer controlled vertical milling center), learning the g-code software language for that machine, re-designing existing parts to be produced on the new VMC rather than by hand or previous machines, designing completely new parts and machining processes, training my latest shop and office assistants James and Paul, all while keeping up with orders, which in 2010 numbered around 200 trumpets and who knows how many SWE accessories.
I am often accused of not focusing on my work, which always comes as a surprise to me. Everyone at HT knows I work too much even when compared to extreme workaholics. Clients, friends and colleagues sometimes see my vacation or work time as too leisurely. For instance, traveling to NYC to give a masterclass at a university involves a half day of travel each way before I get into taxis and onto trains to meet clients and colleagues before and after work activities. Someone wants a lesson downtown, colleagues would like to try my horns in a big band on a recording session in the Bronx, meet a student at Julliard for lunch and a prospective client wants to jam in the village. In reality, my trips are often almost entirely work-related and I usually get most of my down time on the plane. Don't get me wrong, I love my work, but it isn't all socializing and relaxation, I work for a living.
My current trip to the Mediterranean was my gift to my Mom for her birthday(s). Two birthdays to be exact as I offered a shorter cruise last year and due to my work schedule we couldn't take the trip, so I doubled the length this year. She's always wanted to visit Europe and so far she's done nothing but smile. I moved out of my parents' home at seventeen to attend a college we could not afford. I insisted on going to a very good private school with an excellent music program aiming to major in math or science. No one thought I would be accepted as my test scores were high, but grades were average. I worked nearly full time jobs in high school and found the actual school work to be less than engaging, this was reflected in my low ranking at graduation. Outside of music and math, I was not interested in institutional education, but I knew I had to leave home. It was a complete shock to my parents that I was accepted and moved away a few months after high school. So spending 12 days on a cruise with my mom is a treat for us both as we've missed so many years.
I believe today is Monday, the fourth day of our trip, though I can't be sure. The first three days really felt like one long day that may never end. Mom flew in from Billings on Friday morning and we met at the airport for our flight to Atlanta. We met a nice man from Montana who sat next to us with a broken foot. It is always refreshing to converse with people from Montana, which somehow happens often in my travels. Though I am biased, I truly believe that people living in the rockies often have their priorities in order. Family first, and this means you spend quality time with them every day. Work is sometimes your passion or it may be what is necessary to provide for those you love. Either way, you do it with your heart and give your all as good jobs are not plentiful. Take chances and create memorable moments often. Laugh and smile whenever possible and stand up for what you believe even if your ideas are not popular. In short, Montanans tend to think for themselves and act on their ideas. It is a good thing national news doesn't pick up on Montana happenings very often or the world may have an extreme view of a very sane community. One where people tend to reject the ever-changing popular trends in society. If you haven't visited, I encourage you to take a road trip to Bozeman, Helena or Missoula and see for yourself how different life can be when you see the world from a new point of view. Or maybe their perspective isn't new at all?
So this man from Bozeman sitting next to us on the plane had a broken foot and leg. He was smiling ear to ear nearly the entire trip. On his way to Panama for a "work" vacation, his wife was sitting in the back of the plane as he needed a last minute aisle seat with leg room. I asked him if he got hurt climbing or skiing. Nope, he was ice fishing on Ft. Peck lake and accidentally stepped into a hole. So much for his season pass to Big Sky this year! He's already told his friends they can use his pass for the remainder of the season. His kids love to ski and his eight-year-old is the fearless one who picked it up the quickest. He had been to Rome a few years back and gave us tips and suggestions of places to visit. After a couple hours of talking he mentioned that he wished he could get to his bag for his medication. Oh yeah, his leg is broken! This guy had such a great attitude that we were fooled by his laughter and smile. HE IS IN PAIN. I offered him some little blue pills mom gave me that morning to curb my headache. She said they were a generic tylenol and he took them trusting us. At the end of the flight the stewardess offered him wheelchair service and he kindly refused her twice saying he would walk even if it was far. Atlanta is one of the largest airports in the world! That western spirit is more than pride, it is an independence that challenges us to complete a task even when it is unnecessary. I'm sure he would have asked for help in the end if walking became too much of a burden, but he vowed to try to walk before taking the easy way out. This guy left an impression on us and made me personally feel reassured that life and humanity is a beautiful experience.
We arrived in Atlanta on concourse A and our next flight was on E. Go figure, we had the longest span between gates possible. It must be more than a mile, but we walked to get our exercise knowing the next flight will be a cramped 8+ hours. My head was pounding as I had been abusing caffeine in the form of a product known as "5-hour Energy" to get more work done the past few weeks. I had suffered moderate headaches for the previous week as I am not accustomed to caffeine. I remember having my first (and last) cup of coffee my second year in college. I worked 30 hours a week throughout college which was against school policy, but there are always ways around these things. I was a cook and caterer in the private dining room by day and a security guard by night. My overnight shift ran 11pm to 5am, it was the perfect opportunity to practice trumpet, write music and photocopy the entire school trumpet library. A couple of the full-time guys would come by around 3 to open up the cafeteria and have snacks. At the time, I was the dispatcher so being awake was very important and these guys could tell I was wearing down one night so they insisted I have a cup of coffee. I wasn't interested and for some reason always stayed away from it. I had a few sips and it was awful. My eyes opened wide and after half a cup, I threw it out. I did not sleep for two full days after that, no exaggeration. I was wired beyond belief. On the third day, I started getting massive headaches and that was my first real run in with a drug our nation habitually abuses. Back to Friday...my headache was definitely the same I had been suffering continuously all week, a side affect of trying to cut down on my 5-hour energy dependence before the trip. I took two of the little blue pills mom gave me earlier and immediately became sleepy. We had a brief conversation about lightning rods, which I always see on all of the roofs of airport buildings, no matter how short the structure. Why do these short buildings need to be wired so well for lightning strikes? Then we boarded our flight to Barcelona and I couldn't keep my eyes open. I remember the plane taking off just a few seconds before we ran out of runway (should I be worried?) and then I was out.
An hour later, I was awake and ready to talk or draw or do something! Naps are rare and when I have them, I am energized so I was ready to run some laps...on a plane. I intended to begin writing this blog entry, but found myself sitting there thinking about the previous days and months events and happenings. I don't really dwell on past shortcomings, but I found myself considering broken friendships with ex-girlfriends who in the end mis-understood the meaning of my actions. Devotion to a career or goal is not necessarily a lack of interest in a personal relationship. But it seems many of the people I meet in the world are ready to move faster in relationships and slower in career goals than I find acceptable. Getting neck deep into a relationship is easy. Letting your personal or professional goals slip is just as easy. So how do you balance both and live a rewarding personal and professional life? I don't know and at the time it didn't matter as there was an emergency call over the sound system, "do we have a doctor or nurse on board...we have an emergency!".
I was once a trained EMT so I was about to stand up when I realized the woman having trouble was only a few seats away. Several people rushed to the area and I sat back down. A doctor was examining her...whispers of a stroke, now a heart attack and finally a seizure circulated. This immediately brought back memories of a woman who died on a flight from LA where I WAS one of two first responders, but that is another story and there really was nothing that could be done in that instance, she simply stopped living before we could do anything. I had been discussing flight emergencies with mom and the Montana guy on our previous flight and counting two emergency landings, this would now be my fifth in-flight emergency. How is this possible? Maybe I shouldn't fly...
They wanted to lay the woman down as her blood pressure was low so elevating her legs was advisable. Call it random "luck" but they asked mom and I to leave our seats and take our belongings. We immediately got up so she could take our place, which was the three seats in the center of a 767 whereas her seat was a window. We got up with a ton of stuff in our arms, a laptop, journals, mom's cpap unit, pillows, etc. and made our way to the galley at the rear of the plane. Just then the plane jerked sideways, then up, then down...extreme turbulance just as we had to walk around with all of our stuff. So much for me helping the woman get to her seat, I could barely walk down the aisle. One panicked stewardess shouted to mom and I to sit down. Didn't she realize they just gave away our seats? There is no place to sit. Mom was put into the jump seat by the emergency exit and I made my way through the galley around two very unprofessional air waitresses and up the aisle to the open seats where the ill woman (and her husband) were moving from...no luck. Turbulance worsened and I found myself bucking up and down, side to side trying to keep my balance. This went on for several minutes all the while employees were demanding I find my seat. Humor set in with my fellow passengers as they saw my dilema...they saw and heard everything. "Where do they expect you to sit?...they told you to get up...how can you keep your balance?" It was hilarious and I was actually having a good time trying to stay on my feet with my arms full of stuff. I turned around and said, "it's like a rodeo!" and the plane erupted in laughter. Seriously, emergency aside, this was quite fun and the irony made it all the more interesting. After 10 minutes or so, they finally had moved the couple and gave us our new seats and the pilot had found clear skies. Unfortunately, I get motion sick and this had started to set in...why did I eat so much for dinner? They served pasta, bread, salad, brownies, drinks and then I ate mom's leftovers plus snacks right beforehand. Now I as paying for shaking up all of that food in my digestive tract and spent the next two hours focusing on holding it down, which I barely proved successful.
Five hours into our flight, one of the nicer stewardesses came over and thanked us for moving and added 2500 miles to my frequent flier account. That was nice and unexpected. The ill woman had apparently taken a drug by the name of Lortab and had an adverse reaction. After two doctors had examined her, the prognosis was good and the excitement was a memory. I fell asleep, finally, after watching a "true" story about one of the dumbest successes of all time, the story of Mark Zuckerman and Facebook. I respect anyone who has a good idea and works hard, so Mark does deserve some credit. And I have to say I do not know him, nor do I know how much of that story is true, relevant or any of my business. But if it is true, then we are rewarding a young man for feeding our egos while treating everyone in his life very poorly. There was not one single instance in this movie of him being professional, kind, caring, sincere or for that matter in any way human. Just my opinion, but cheating your best friend out of his share of your joint venture is as low as it gets. Of course, I know this from personal experiences. I recently dealt with a friend who made promises to partner on a second location on the east coast only to have my inventory sold without any compensation to me which was agreed upon beforehand. Such is life in business dealings...friends become liabilities and sometimes competitors become friends. I firmly believe that you reap what you sew...just one of the virtues shared by Lincoln and Carnegie, two of my childhood heroes. We all make mistakes and making things right in the end is a challenge we cannot afford to abandon, no matter how difficult this may seem at the time.
Mom woke me to see the sunrise from above the clouds. "Yes, that's nice, I love watching the sun rise and set up here". Then I realized something, she's never seen this...it is all new to her. She's twenty years older and giggling like a kid excited over the sunrise with the clouds below us. Our trip has just begun and she's loving every minute. My Dad has seemingly seen and done everything in this world so I understand why she's so happy. By herself, she can see the world without his input, stories or shared perspective so she sees everything more personally when away from him. I'm very guilty of interjecting my experiences into other people's lives during those memorable moments and have made a great effort to curb this habit in the past few years. No one cares what I've experienced, especially when it cuts into what they're doing that very moment. So now I save my thoughts for those who inquire and let stories of past experiences settle in my mind while listening to others thoughts. People love to be heard so I offered the video camera to mom and suggested she record it...then I fell asleep. I just couldn't stay awake. It turns out she recorded four videos of that sunrise! How cool. My first sunrise over the clouds was on my way back to Montana after my grandfather's funeral. I'll never forget the beauty, the awe and the sadness. I didn't tell mom about this, but deep down it is why I didn't get excited about the moment like she did. Somehow that experience comes back to me every time I see that deep red and orange streak across the skyline from miles above the world.
Flying over Barcelona was worth the nine hundred dollars all by itself. What a beautiful and interesting city on the sea. We passed the outskirts on the north and circled around the eastern hills with jagged white peaks on our left before turning west, then south and finally passing right over the shoreline and downtown Barcelona. So many interesting tall and unusual buildings scattered throughout with six to eight level buildings filling the space in between. The sail-like shape of the W hotel, a huge glass cylindrical sky scraper than tapers to a smooth soft point at the top (looks like a hotel in Dubai), that crazy church with pointed spires jutting into the sky, stadiums, a massive shipping port, an olympic park, an expansive hillside cemetary within eyesight displaying ornate white memorials, an historic Spanish fort above the port and two distant missions or cathedrals on the tops of nearby mountains (hills by Montana standards). This place is amazing and we haven't even landed!
It's 2am at home, 9am here and I'm ready to go explore. First, let's get our luggage and a taxi...or maybe not? We didn't have a plan beyond arriving in Barcelona. I've been so busy getting trumpets built and shipped these past months, that I really didn't think about it until we were standing there waiting for our luggage. I suggested we take a taxi, that's what I do in foreign countries and it usually proves quick, affective and moderately expensive. Mom wanted to call for a free shuttle from the hotel so we tried using the pay phone with a credit card, it didn't work. So we tried taking euros out of the ATM, it didn't work. The she mentioned she had exchanged euros before leaving home (you can do that in Billings, Montana?) and made change at the bank for the pay phone. Again, the payphone wasn't working, so I tried all four...two didn't work at all and the others displayed error messages. I came back to where mom was waiting, she had already made friends with another woman who told her we could take a bus. I knew nothing about our hotel location other than the address so I wasn't sure jumping on a bus would improve our situation. We walked down to the buses and asked a driver who told us to get on the blue bus. We went to the blue bus and that driver said he doesn't go near our hotel. Here we are 45 minutes from where we started when I suggested we take a taxi. And that's what we did. The hotel Renaissance Barcelona is impressive to say the least, only a few minutes from the airport, but still cost us twenty euros. As is common in most foreign countries, the prices of taxis in Barcelona varied as much as the drivers hoped they could get away with overcharging us. We took the same route three times and it cost 30, 20 and finally 14 euros. Still beats walking!
So there we were in our hotel at 11:18am, which is 3:18 in Montana, exhausted exhilirated and suddenly asleep...
thoughts on creativity...
This blog entry is in response to a message from AEG below...
"More from the Einstein's Wife project. . .realize these are not exactly trumpet questions. . .but it is a mind question. . .which presumably partially drives (trumpet) design innovation. Am looking for accounts of internal process of mathematical abstract thought and creativity. . .what is it like when you are designing/creating/implementing. . .is it visual? Instinctual? Linear? Linguistic? An integration of various sorts of thought? Is it a something that is already complete that finds you, and your task is to become intimate with the details of execution? Does the form come first, or the content-or does the content eventually arrange itself into the final form, perfect in the sense of being complete? How much is applied effort/rational thought, and how much is involuntary/intuitive thought? Does an idea run endlessly in your head like music does, for better or for worse? Does it come suddenly upon you like falling in love, seducing you into its own reality until that idea IS your reality? Does it come with a whole family of siblings who also want to be actualized and are noisy and distracting while you are trying to focus on the first idea/project? Is it analogous to musical processes/composition? I'm just a writer/musician and could be totally off with this. . .maybe it's a very literal/linear process and therefore not all that interesting to write about. The people I know who are good at that sort of thing tend not to be the greatest at translating their thoughts into words, and not particularly interested in doing so. Would very much appreciate it if you find these questions interesting enough to spend time on. And you know you can get translation apps for your phone, right? Most people in Europe speak English anyway."
I do find your questions interesting and I am often asked at least some part of your very thorough inquiry. I'm a little of everything I guess. The creative process is not something I see in myself. I mean, I don't think about being a creative person, I just do what comes to mind. But setting in motion the actions necessary to complete an idea often takes years of dedicated repeated approaches to the problems presented throughout the process. The most difficult part of the process for me has been simply learning to be patient enough to see the design process replicated in the production process through all the various stages of miscalculation, mistaken assumptions and the tremendous learning curve of tranforming metal. The ideas represented in my work today are easily 7 or 8 years old. The new ideas may not materialize for years or never at all. I have more drawings and ideas for designs than I could build in a lifetime. So there is much truth in what you said, every idea has a family of relatives that distract me often and I must focus on one keeping the others at bay. I usually write three priority ideas on a sheet of paper and try to ignore everything else and often everyone else. That piece of paper will determine whether or not I visit family, spend time with friends or walk my dog. But if I didn't write three ideas down, I could very easily become paralyzed with headaches and a kind of blindness/vertigo...this happens every 50-60 days. It always happens when I am not focused enough on one project and let my mind wander.
I don't know how to be creative. I sometimes get flooded with thoughts...these could be principles in science or life or flowing shapes and movement. The same happens in my music. I stopped reading music many years ago and now only read on gigs when necessary. I found that fitting into standard swing or bop styles wasn't natural for me so I stopped practicing in those defined genres. Now I pick up my horn and blow, whatever comes out I build upon and then again and again without any conscious thought so far as I know. Sometimes I don't even know what has come out of the horn unless I hear a recording. It surprises me how much more I enjoy playing when my approach has no rules so that's likely why I do it.
With all that said, I should mention that I have consciously and intentionally trained myself to be efficient in my thoughts, maybe because I am so often innefficient. When I was young, say 10 years old, I recall having a continuous flow of ideas that would not stop. I would tell my parents and they would give me feedback, then I'd draw the idea and imagine how it could be made. I would make a prototype (finished product from my perspective back then) from whatever means and skill I possessed or could possess. An amphibious bicycle was one project that saw several reincarnations before it really worked. Sling shots were another. As I became a teenager, I studied industrial and philosophical leaders and soon realized that one must work hard to make ideas reality. And that is when I began training myself to cultivate new ideas and be productive, maybe at 14? I read that you could more easily remember your dreams by waking yourself at random times in your sleep cycles, so I started doing this and kept a notebook by my bed. I remember dreaming of trumpet solos and eventually full orchestral compositions and waking up to sing them into a microphone on cassette tape. The ideas seemed to come more vividly and I suspect I began to blend the dream world with reality at some point. So is creativity a natural process or did I help it along? I would guess both and I believe this is true of all people on this planet. Some help it along and others work to let it go, but it's there for everyone to discover.
Over the years, I began giving myself problems to work out in my sleep and I do this almost every night to this day. I began practicing Japanese Zen minus the Buddhism at 16 and this transformed the way I deal with outside expectations. Studying Japanese martial arts became a part of my life, which is essentially a form of living meditation that removes artificial and material expectations to some extent. I'm not sure I can explain how this works...I tend to be so firmly in the present that the past and future do not exist except in the form of visualizing a new creation or experience. I'm not sure how this may be different from other people, but it must play some part in the creative process.
I mention all of this disciplining myself to be productive because I KNOW my tendency is to run away with ideas! I can very easily think myself into getting nothing done, which would have resulted in creating nothing. I know this is why I am firmly against formal education. There are so many opportunities to crush the creative flow in school and yet how do you teach all the aspects of being a productive, efficient, responsible human being while cultivating a creative mind? I have no idea...maybe raise your kids in a semi truck on the road and let them pick and choose their interests from the real world rather than a text book? Teach them the tools through real life experiences with no clear goal in mind? Who knows, maybe I had a brain tumor as a kid like the doctors suspected and that screwed up my mind? I don't know. What I do know is that having ideas all day long is more of a burden than a blessing even when I think I can be disciplined and prudent.
I have no idea what I have just rambled on about, again the recent past is replaced with new thoughts this very moment. The best way to sum up my answer, which may not be an answer at all, is that I am very careful to be disciplined with the process of producing physical examples of 1 to 3 ideas written on a piece of paper. And I really have no clear way of controlling the flow of ideas, concepts and visualizations (yes, they are usually visual and sometimes vivid clear memories somehow, maybe from dreams?) that come into my mind, they just do and I try my very best to write the 3 most important down and work on them. When playing trumpet, this is very easy as I can usually play whatever comes to mind, but taking an idea through physical production in most mediums is like torture and an adrenaline-filled rush all at the same time.
Finishing the third Gravity trumpet has been a priority the past two weeks. Projects like this require planning from beginning to end and a dash of improvisation or sometimes a full solo chorus with a few unknown chords. The first Gravity design came naturally and I don't recall any complications, but that was two years ago and two years can seem like a lifetime ago when you design something new everyday. Maybe it was difficult and I don't remember? The second design required more hours than I care to admit and this third design was considerably faster, yet still slow considering the numerous design improvements I've made over G2. The brass stock for this trumpet must be special ordered and to my surprise it cost over $400. When the price of gold rises, so do most other metals, I guess.
The Gravity trumpet was designed to offer maximum efficiency while sounding and blending like an ordinary trumpet. This dichotomy poses some very challenging problems. I'll explain...
A standard trumpet will blend easily with other trumpets, brass, saxophones and strings. There is a complexity to the overtone series in all of these instruments that allows your ear to confuse them or let's say, it is difficult to differentiate one from another when an entire group plays the sames notes in a chord. For you non-musicians, the surprise is that THIS attribute is preferable. Musicians want to blend together when playing harmonies (backgrounds) and stand out with a unique voice on solo sections. The dreaded fear is that you may stand out when playing the background or worse, maybe even blend in on your solos. Hence, being a musician is more than learning your scales and playing the right notes on the page. We must listen and fit in or stand out whenever necessary. The first and second trumpet players are often wearing both hats, playing harmonies and melodies back and forth throughout a song. Easy so far, right?
The real problem is efficiency. Yeah, I can improve efficiency in anything whether it be your kitchen aid blender, a jet airliner or your trumpet. But improving the efficiency of a musical instrument often has the adverse side affect of changing the timbre or sound. Better bearings and tighter tolerances in a blender will reduce noise and increase power and speed. On a 747, reducing drag and vibration improves fuel consumption and I'm guessing reduces noise...does anyone have a jet I can experiment with next weekend? And improving efficiency on a trumpet actually increases dynamic range allowing you to play considerably louder and softer. However, incorporate physics in the wrong places and your vibrant vocal trumpet may soon sound like a synthesizer set on a basic sine wave.
High efficiency designs reduce upper overtone complexity, which translates to a dull simple tone. Believe it or not, the reason we love that unique trumpet sound (most of us anyway) is because the instrument's ineffiencies introduce a complex series of overtones or partials into the sound. These are not part of the original design within the mouthpiece, leadpipe and bell. They are artificially added when the brass wall of the instrument is set into motion by vibration, the standing wave. This is where SWE or Standing Wave Efficiency loses its luster and incorporating physics principles becomes more art than science. If SWE were the simple solution to the problem, I would have been done years ago and may be working on 747's today! Great solutions are often simple in principle and quite complex in practice, thus I may never be finished with the trumpet.
So why does the Gravity play so very efficient and yet sound like a trumpet? Well, I could tell you, but that really is a secret I'd rather save for a conversation in person. If you really want to know, ask me when you see me and I'd be happy to show you how and why this is possible. The important thing is that the Gravity design DOES balance both Standing Wave Efficiency AND tone. Previous attempts to produce ultra high efficiency trumpets resulted in unbelievably easy playing horns that sounded dull even when compared to a snare drum. All you guys that joke about me building a horn out of a solid chunk of brass where you only see two holes (mouthpiece and bell taper) are partially right. It would in theory be the most efficient, but it would sound very foreign and offer limited applications.
This sounds familiar...like a competition or sniper rifle designed for high accuracy long distance applications. Long distance can sometimes be hitting a target more than a mile away with sound dissapation masking the source. This is achieved by combining a skilled sharpshooter with high grade ammunition and a well-designed, very accurately machined, heavy competition rifle. The physics principles incorporated into the Gravity trumpet are found in sniper rifles and cell phone towers. Wow, how are all of these related? They are simply designed to reduce energy loss during transmission of the projectile, radio wave or in our case, the sound wave. The Gravity is more like a cell tower and rifle than you may think. I'll leave you with that and move on to playing the Gravity.
Since there are only 3 Gravity trumpets in existence and apparently over 500 people reading this blog, I can safely assume you don't all have the ability to try one of my creations. So I'll give you my personal experience playing this horn and how I approach high efficiency instruments, whether they be trumpets, rifles, blenders or cars.
Playing the Gravity is much like driving a winding mountain road with no headlights. Leaving the headlights off makes things easier, and probably safer, in a car. You see, we don't really use our brains anymore. Seriously, we've learned the structure of the world around us, we know the systems, shapes, textures, smells, movements, etc. and our brains predict what will happen and run on automatic pilot. To demonstrate my this, simply get out of bed tomorrow morning without opening your eyes and see if you have much difficulty getting around your house, maybe to the kitchen or bathroom. You could probably get dressed, eat breakfast and get the keys into the ignition before you ever need to see anything.
We run on autopilot when we play trumpet as well. How many of us pick up our horn and think about anything? Maybe if you're taking lessons in high school or college you think about some things, but is it a fresh experience for any of us? I challenge you to make it a fresh experience everytime you pick up the horn. Imagine what it can do that you haven't tried. Learn to drive at night with your eyes open and your HEADLIGHTS OFF. Do this and you will discover things you never noticed before. And you'll become a better driver. An added benefit is that deer will not be blinded by your headlights and will actually jump out of the way when they see your car. So here's my disclaimer...do this at your own risk and keep in mind driving with your headlights off at night is illegal everywhere, even though it is safer so long as you are the only vehicle on a safe road. Now that I've done that, let me share a secret...I've been driving with no headlights since I was 18. I used to drive from college in Minnesota to my parents' home in Montana a few times a year. Being intimately familiar with the damage done by collisions with animals at night, I became very aware of activity on the sides of the road before and after sunrise and sunset. I started trying new things to see them earlier and then even to deter them from my path. I invented animal prevention systems in my mind on these trips, some elaborate relying on sonar, infrared or even ultrasonic technology. Yet most of these seemed unrealistic due to cost. So one night I was driving my 1976 Plymouth Scamp painted flat black across North Dakota and forgot to turn my headlights on after my last stop for gas. I drove for maybe twenty minutes before a truck almost ran me over from behind, then passed at the last second and layed on his horn. Oh, my headlights were off and I hadn't even noticed! I turned them on and instantly suffered from significantly reduced visibility. I literally could not see beyond my headlights, which isn't far compared to when my eyes were adjusted to starlight. Then it clicked, drive without them...and that's what I've done ever since.
What happened over time was completely unexpected. I started to understand that people were kind of sleeping through life driving with their headlights on. I could see that glazed look in a student's eyes when he was playing in a lesson. How can I wake this kid up? Find a way to force him to listen with new ears. That's the answer, wake up and listen, wake up and think! Some things that have worked for me; earplugs, ambient noise, soft mutes, open a water key AND play the Gravity. Everything you do on this horn is magnified beyond what you know as possible. It's like driving a delivery truck for twenty years, then switching to a Ferrari. Every interval seems ridiculously closer than before...two octaves feels like a fifth, upper register work feels like it's in the staff and playing soft is naturally comfortable and extremely easy...just like driving a Ferrari.
So what is it like to play the Gravity trumpet? Like a completely new experience as if you've never played a trumpet a day in your life. It forces you to wake up and think, no more living from memory, you have to take your skill at this very moment and control everything, but when you do, the rewards are great and the feeling is addictive. I challenge you to wake up your brain and approach everything in life as if it were new, even if it isn't.
So I worked around 30 hours over the weekend, 15 hour days and can't believe how much I've accomplished! I've been putting in extra hours for the past 6 weeks to make up for my absence while in Europe and so far I'm ahead of the game! I revised my ergonomic finger ring programming to run on the vmc with coolant and aggressive feed rates cutting machining time down to an obscene low number I don't dare admit. Let's just say I machined the next 3 months of finger rings in 5 hours. I also finished the cylindrical finger ring programming and cut 20 of those, but that design will need more work next time.
I'm currently finishing up Gravity #3 and this horn is more precisely machined and designed than the first two versions. Also in the works are an Art Summit, numerous other trumpet builds, the new modular leadpipe system for the next round of demo trumpets, modular/adjustable finger rings and several new variations on the finger ring design. The new modular systems will be dovetail joints with a push button release and ball lock. It blows my mind how many details must be just right to make a system so simple work flawlessly. It's fun, challenging and hopefully rewarding.
Other unrelated items...
- easy cheese does not melt on hungry man microwave dinners (i tried twice)
- Oscar is constantly begging for attention so I've resorted to sewing more treats into his plush toys to occupy him while I work long hours
- my christmas tree is still lit in the office and we haven't opened up our "gifts" yet...the three wrapped boxes in the HT facebook photos with bells protruding.
- I've been listening to the latest Charles Lazarus cd and love it. He was in the Dallas brass the summer I attended International Music Camp on half scholarship and made a real impression on me at the time, though I took lessons from Wiff Rudd. Lazarus was only a few years older than me and could play circles around just about anyone even when he was 21! check him out and transcribe some of his solos, they're fun
Time to get back to work. I'm hoping we can ship at least 6 more horns next by the end of next week, so I better go back to my workbench...
Rome, 3 Bells & bore size...
I was watching a video of Eric Miyashiro playing his version of the Medusa trumpet, his has 3 bells. And I realized we both have the same problem. When soloing on multiple-belled horns, you must move each bell into the microphone, which can be a bit awkward on stage. It's possible to whack the mic with the next bell or be too close or too far away for good mic levels, which are just more factors that can distract you from making great music. So I started thinking, multiple mics built into the horn? Maybe. But what about a horn that has one massive flare that is divided in half or thirds with the divisions designed to produce different overtone series? And then fabricate a set of mutes for one or two of the bells. I could do most of the design work on rhino (cad program) calculating volumes, tapers and lengths before I ever cut a piece. Then I could mill the parts in halves (2 bells) or thirds (3 bells) and assemble the parts. I could revise my Triton design to incorporate this idea and the name would fit. Something to jot down and consider in a year I suppose.
So I leave for Spain soon and am wondering how well I'll do since I don't speak any Spanish. Yep, I took French and German and somehow dodged Spanish altogether despite having visited Old Mexico and Baja several times. It will be good to be out of my element for awhile, so long as I don't end up lost. My Mom is my traveling companion this trip and I think she studied Spanish years ago so maybe we'll be okay. I'm excited to go!
We're probably meeting with potential clients as well as a local music store owner who may become a dealer of some of my more standard instruments. And I think there's a masterclass in the works. Then it's on to Italy where I'll be giving a masterclass and showing my horns to some of the best orchestral trumpet players in Rome. Very exciting, but again, I don't speak the language. Let's hope everyone is patient with me. I suppose I can simply play music and they will understand.
I would like to write about the mechanics of trumpet playing and design at least a few times a week so please send your requests or questions.
Today, I'll briefly discuss bore sizes in standard Bb & C trumpets...
There is much confusion and some controversy over this subject. I often hear that you must play a large bore trumpet in orchestra or to have a big sound. This simply isn't true. Although extreme bore sizes can affect the overtone series, it really is unnecessary to design with multiple bores in the Bb/C range of instruments. This is simply because so many other factors affect the overtone series and changing bore size makes consistency more difficult even with a lot of practice. The SHAPE and VOLUME of the following can greatly affect the overtone series whether your goal is bright or dark, focused or broad; oral cavity, mouthpiece cup, throat, backbore, venturi, leadpipe taper, tuning slide and bell.
So why have companies changed bore size so many times? Good question and if you know the answer please let me know. My guess is that they were experimenting with multiple inside diameters of tubing and more than one stayed in production due to customer demand. Rather than developing many of the factors mentioned above, they kept small, medium, medium large and large bore versions rather than trying new leadpipes and bells. In my opinion, this had to be an expensive mistake...more on that another time.
Back to building trumpets...
It is 9:41pm and I just realized I'm hungry. I finished proving a new revision of my ergonomic finger ring program on the VMC and have been pushing aside some strange sensation for hours...it's hunger! I have the shop freezer and refrigerator stocked with food, but tonight Oscar and I are going all out for McDonald's. Give me a number two meal with no pickles and two cherry pies please.
The truth is that I've been eating fast food for years and hear the same thing from almost everyone, "that stuff is so bad for you!". Now I'm beginning to wonder if fast food is really bad for you because I've eaten it at least 4 times a week for about 3 years and I haven't gained a pound. In fact, my fancy scale says my body fat is around 18%. For someone who doesn't work out at the gym, I'm guessing that's an okay number. Does anyone out there know? If so, please fill me in on the facts. I have a lot of energy and have no problem working a 14-hour day so maybe I metabolize all that junk food? Or maybe that food isn't really as bad as they say? I only eat half the french fries and Oscar gets three.
Either way, that reminds me of my college days when I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome or CTS for short. I was practicing my trumpet and suddenly it fell to the floor. I didn't drop it! I picked it up and it was dented pretty bad...from a 3-foot drop. I was surprised how badly it was damaged. I started to play again and it fell from my hands a second time. Puzzled, I thought I was losing my mind and put it away. Then I started waking up in the middle of the night with tingling in my hands like they were asleep from lack of circulation. I couldn't do anything about it.
To make a very long story short (I promise to give the long version another time), after two years of suffering with CTS I started using a form of alternative medicine rather than opting for surgery and I WAS HEALED IN ONE DAY. None of my friends believed what I did could be real. They all told me vitamins and natural remedies were a scam. I even read in Scientific American (once my favorite magazine) that vitamins were a useless waste of money. I stopped my subscription! This was another instance of common knowledge that was obviously not knowledge at all, more like fear of the unknown.
So I challenge you...is fast food really bad for you or could you eat it on a regular basis and maintain a healthy mind and body? Regardless, Oscar and I can't wait to eat those plain little cheeseburgers and baked cherry pie! Is this what happens when you live alone for too many years? ;)
I recently discovered that I have 4 trumpet orders requiring cylindrical finger rings within the next two weeks. This is unusual as ergonomic finger rings are the most popular and I don't make the other types very often. Since I normally cut and finish every cylindrical finger ring by hand and I need 12 total, I did the math and found that my time would be better spent re-designing them to be cut on my vmc. However, this means I need to take the shapes in my head, draw them on the computer in a CAD program, then translate that into tool paths to be read by my vmc along with designing (or re-using) fixtures to hold the stock indexed on two opposite sides. The rings will be cut from one solid piece of 4x12x.25" stock that is then turned over and re-indexed accurate to .002" to cut the opposite side.
This will reduce finishing time and accuracy overall making my life easier, my job less labor intensive and my parts of a more functional design and higher quality.
But all of this takes time, patience and a lot of thinking through the entire process. If you've ever played chess, then you have some idea of what it takes to translate an idea into a finished piece of machined metal...you MUST think through the entire process. Make one mistake in programming/designing the entire process and you could very easily damage the stock, parts, machine or even you! A 15hp spindle motor running a 1/2" endmill at 6000 rpm with travels of over 1000 inches/minute that crashes into the machine could very easily damage all four in less than a second. So, unlike chess, I must be sure of every move before I ever turn the machine on. After doing this for many years, I'm certain my mind is forever changed. I tend to see consequences long before I ever do anything...not that I can do this in every aspect of life, but knowing all the parts of a project before you begin is very valuable. Of course I still make it up as I go as was the case with the original designs for many of my horns like the gravity, medusa, vines, mass, spectrum and dozens of other creations.
This may also offer some insight into wait times when I mention I'm designing a new idea/trumpet/accessory. A simple sheet of finger rings will probably eat up at least 12 hours of my undivided attention and these are very simple parts. Try designing a production process for the new SWE tuning slide and you're in the neighborhood of 180-200 hours before the prototype is ever cut or tested! Move into the realm of designing an entirely new instrument to be cut on a vmc (Elliptiphone is my current project) and you're looking at around 1000 hours minimum staring at a computer screen, measuring parts, checking volumes, tapers, wall thickness, machining scenarios, ordering custom tooling, designing and building custom fixtures and imagining the process to find errors and omissions before they ever happen. This could answer the all too often question people have asked me over the years, "If Standing Wave Efficiency is real, then why don't Bach or Yamaha redesign their horns to be more efficient?". Can you imagine how much longer and the expense involved for a major corporation to do all of this? It could cost them a fortune to research and develop something based on SWE, then the cost of re-tooling an entire mass production line, then branding and advertising the new designs. I have no doubt the cost would be in the millions. I have the advantage of understanding every step of the process so my 1000 hours to produce a new design is relatively quick and inexpensive. That is, if you disregard the 10 years of 80-hour weeks I put in to learning all of these things from square one. No matter how you see the problem, taking an idea through the machining process to a finished product is no simple task. If I could only clone myself!
back to my work...
Here's a video (below) I produced for my family when I first started learning to use my latest VMC, this was a prototype setup, which after many months eventually became a full production process that is quite different today.
Getting things done...
So I have a million things to do and not enough hours in the day, nor enough days in the week. The ITG conference is coming in May and somehow I will hopefully build 100 horns, build out my showroom and recording studio spaces, develop a production scenario for the Elliptiphone, finish designs on the first two prototypes, setup a number of physics/acoustics experiment stations, eat, sleep and possibly even maintain a few relationships in the span of 4 months. How is this possible? I don't know...I guess I'll do what I always do, focus on the project in front of my face, do it right the first time and move on to the next one. Seeing the big picture can sometimes lead to a kind of paralysis.
I remember the first car I bought as a 16-year-old. I couldn't afford much so my Dad said I needed a car and we found a piece of junk that barely ran and bought it. I don't remember the price...$200? It was so loud that I couldn't drive it anywhere and it seemed to be blowing smoke from under the hood. Dad knew what it was before we bought it. He told me to take out the exhaust manifold. Okay...I got out the right tools and started working. An hour later, I went into the house and told him I couldn't get it out. He looked at me with a discerning eye, "what's the problem?". When I told him I was stuck on the first bolt, he told me to try again. I already knew I shouldn't have come inside until I had all the bolts out at a minimum, but it seemed really hard to get that first one out. So I moved on to the next one...stuck. The bolt after that was stuck as well, then #4 broke loose fairly easy...ENCOURAGEMENT! I went back to #1 and with all of my strength, I beat that wrench as hard as I could at a very unnatural cramped angle from inside the hood. Damn 4 cylinder cars never have room to work! The wrench slipped and I smashed my fingers into the engine block, right on a sharp corner...blood, pain and I felt like an idiot. I knew better than to tell my Dad the wrench slipped, nor could I use that as an excuse for not getting the manifold out. I had already been taught time and time again exactly to use a wrench and you NEVER close the grip when wrenching hard or, "you will slip and bloody your knuckles" as he always warned. So my hands were bloody and I thought how in the world will I ever get this stupid chunk of metal out from that tight space? Then I started thinking of the rewards...the car would have a new (used from the junkyard) manifold, which would stop the smoke and the loud embarrassing (and illegal) noise. Awesome, I'll have a car! I don't remember many details after my attitude changed. I do know that it took many hours or maybe even all day to get that manifold out. I also remember it weighing something like 80 pounds, which caught me off guard when I removed that last bolt and it fell on me. If there's a lesson I learned that day it was likely that thinking about the difficulty of a task and obsessing is not finding a solution to the problem. When something doesn't work, try something else. One thing I DO REMEMBER from that day? Dad didn't once get out of his chair to help me and THAT FORCED ME TO LEARN TO DO IT MYSELF. Thanks again Dad!
I just play-tested my HT30 trumpet, which we have put up for bid on Ebay. I've played this horn several times before and this was a simple video we recorded for our facebook page. THIS HORN HAS SURPRISING SIZZLE! Now, the sizzle is no surprise to me as I designed it to be a focused, screaming lead horn to make the Calicchio 1S/2 and Schilke S42 feel like toys. But I have always wondered how it came to be that so many misinformed trumpet players assume an efficient horn with mass cannot be bright, focused and perfect for lead. I have heard hundreds of times statements similar to, "I could never play one of your horns since I mainly do lead work" or "those heavy horns are too dark for my taste". Well, this is simply bad information. The weight of a trumpet really has almost nothing to do with the vibrancy of the tone, its suitability for lead work, nor does it affect much of the upper partials in the overtone series with the exception of amplitude. I have been building great lead horns as long as I've been build any horns. And the HT30 is an exceptional lead horn that I would choose over anything built in a factory.
I also recorded a short video on Acclimation Exercises and my personal Embouchure Exercises. I have recorded similar clips before as I teach these in my lessons and offer this service with every consultation. But this time, I played them on the latest Gravity trumpet. All I can say is, "I want one!". The Gravity is so incredibly efficient that it takes me a few minutes to adjust. I have to literally think about putting half as much effort into playing or I am over-blowing (and hurting everybody's ears). And in these videos, I was playing very soft, yet the recording is really loud. I'll hit on embouchure exercises again and again, especially if you ask for more information as these are a key to playing efficiently.
So what else is on my mind today? One of the comments on my first blog caught my attention...from AEG:
"Please excuse/ignore question if inappropriate. Am working on libretto, "Einstein's Wives", and generally intrigued by question of relationships between highly creative people (the Curies, Marilyn and Miller, O'Keefe and Stieglitz, etc). Any thoughts on this?"
I have to say this has been a difficult area in my life and I'm not sure I know how to consistently give what is often required for a healthy relationship. I deserve some credit for trying as those close to me know that I probably want a family more than anything in this world, but time and time again, it doesn't work out. I can't really compare myself to Einstein, which was the basis for the poster's question. But, as was common for AE, I disappear from the world working on a project or several projects for weeks or months at a time. I give my all in a relationship, then I go back to my work remaining completely focused, then back to the relationship and it is back and forth like this until my girlfriend loses her mind and leaves me. Wow, that brutally honest and unexpected, but what can I say? That's how it happens. Sometimes I blame myself entirely. I know I'm intense and this can create the illusion that I'll be maintaining this intensity on a daily basis, but at this point I am careful to explain this will not be the case. Regardless, your question is less likely aimed at my lack of success with relationships over time and more an observation of my personal traits. From my perspective, I give the same effort, energy and love in my relationships as I do in my work. Life is about living in the moment, making things happen, creating exceptionally memorable experiences even while making a homemade pizza or a trumpet with 4 bells. It's all the same to me and I love it.
I hear that my VMC stopped running, time to go setup another project...
As you can imagine, Mondays are crazy at my shop! I usually come in 2-3 hours before the rest of my team each day to make sure I have things sorted out and everyone is productive. Today, James will be cleaning solder and brushing two Summit trumpets and then he will degrease and run them through the ultrasonic before putting them together for me to test tomorrow. Paul has a massive assortment of emails to answer, everything from how to clean a trumpet to explaining the physics of SWE. Paul has been with me for a year now and is really the reason my customer service has improved so much. He's taken it upon himself to understand everything I do and communicate that to our customers. Jen will be revising various parts of our website. It has been one of my goals for years to create a custom trumpet website that is easy to navigate, informative, yet massive in information, resources and eye candy. Our latest effort, which began almost a year ago, has been to divide the site into a student/parent "HT" side and a custom/pro side, both of which address the needs of each type of player and eventually lead to all of the same resources. However, doing this is not so simple as Jen and I have so many various projects that it has to be pieced together over time. Besides web work, Jen maintains our Facebook and Trumpet City pages and will eventually take on Twitter. Facebook alone is a full time job as we receive an incredible array of feedback on our page and through chat sessions and messages. Writing or calling Paul is always the best and quickest way to get a response from us as Jen really doesn't deal in the specifics of trumpet orders anymore. And of course I will be working today as well. On my docket...play test a few trumpets for Paul to pack and ship, possibly record those horns for our upcoming audio section of our website, mill 2 billets of ergonomic finger rings, build a Summit trumpet, mill the last art pieces of the New Orleans ART trumpet, answer customer questions and last...pay bills!
Have a crazy fun Monday!
Inventor, Musician, Educator and Founder of Harrelson Trumpets, Trumpet Momentum and Harrelson Momentum.