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Thread: Playing Skills as We Age

  1. While I never stopped playing, I was not a serious student of the instrument. However, after I started teaching HS Math in 2004, I decided I had the ability to manage my time to be able to practice regularly. My goal was to see how good I could become under the tutelage of a good teacher. In fall of 2007 I started taking lessons from an excellent teacher/free-lance tubist, Michael Milnarik. Mike got me back to basics for the first year (daily routine, scales, breathing, posture, use of air, etudes, etc.). For 4 years after that, We continued to work on specific skills as well as new literature that I performed in recitals.

    In 2008, I started going to Wales for the International Brass Band Summer School. In 2009, over beers at the IBBSS, David Childs asked me how old I was. I said 58 years old. His response (along with Dave Thornton) was "It is rare someone at your age gets better. Whatever you are doing, keep it up." <smile!!! Halleluah!> I retired from teaching a year later, and for most of the last 10 years have been able to exercise my passion for playing euphonium to the max. (probably a 1/2 time to 3/4 time job, as it were). Obviously the pandemic has come into play for the last 10 months.

    As I reflect on turning 70, I have come to the conclusion that age is finally starting to become a factor. While physical skills have diminshed somewhat (endurance particularly as well as some range), my ability to focus on the written music (literally my eyes) is also starting to degrade (Sight reading, etc) I have to have very bright lighting on the music to read it well. As a result, I have decided to readjust my schedule to my level of play. I am actively seeking a good community band to become my regular "home", and will be leaving the New England Brass Band at the end of June. I will continue to "sub" for the NEBB and Metropolitan Wind Symphony. I also have two summer gigs that will probably be back up at full volume by 2022 at the latest.

    The point of all of this is that at age 49 (when I had my heart attack), I found myself not only needing to change careers, but also had refocus on being a "student" of music rather than just a casual occasional performer, and set a goal of seeing how far I could go. In fact, I found that I was able to go pretty far, to the extent that I was playing about as much as I possibly could and had a ready made "3rd career" by the time I retired for the 2nd time in 2010. The absolute key to this was to start taking serious (weekly) lessons from a professional, even though I was in my mid-50s when I started.

    So, If you set yourself a goal of improving, there is always room to move forward. Set goals for yourself and please find a good teacher in your area who will work with adult students. Depending on where you live, euphonium teachers are hard to find, but tuba teachers can be good as well. Developing discipline and having a routine are key elements of your improvement. Also having a critical set of ears (not your own) to evaluate your progress is equally important.

    Doug
    Last edited by daruby; 01-23-2021 at 12:14 PM.
    Sterling Virtuoso 1065HGS & Adams E3 Prototype 0.70 Top Sprung valves
    Sterling Virtuoso 1050HGS baritone
    New England Brass Band
    Winchendon Winds/Townsend Military Band

  2. #22
    I am in the same situation. I am not 73 and had stopped playing the Euphonium at the age of 21. I started again a little over 2 years ago. i still work because i like it and it is easy work for me, but i try to get in 2 hours a day at least practicing. My problems are numerous. i have nowhere near the range i had when i was young, my breathing is not up to par as it was then and i do have some arthritis. My intonation needs improvement. i do not think my fingering suffers on higher notes. It is the awkward lower notes that can kill me. Scales and chromatics are easy, but some pieces that jump around lower notes are difficult. I started to squeeze a ball and that seems to be building up my strength and dexterity. I will keep working on that. COVID has hurt my chances of playing with a community band right now, but i live in Florida, an open state, so maybe soon i will get a chance to play, at least maybe with a Veterans band that does not require auditions. I have to improve closer to how i was at a younger age before i attempt to audition with the Orlando Concert Band. Heck, i even need more practice reading music. My eyes do not focus like they did when i was younger. i am actually in good health, so don't get me wrong. I just need to keep practicing. I am just working on Arban's Carnival of Venice now. I will never play it as a solo, but i want to play it well enough that i could. I have my good days and bad days. I definitely tire easily, especially when i play higher notes close to High C. I do remember being young and hitting High C about High C playing a trombone for West Side Story. Those days are long gone. I will continue to practice, even more so if i decide to let someone else in my company take over more of my responsibilities. It is getting close to that time.

  3. #23
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Location
    Smoketown, Pa
    Posts
    229
    John, I think we've had some discussion on this before. I played baritone/euphonium in high school at the request of my band director as he felt my "overbite" was getting in the way of my cornet playing and the baritone would be better for my embouchure. I agreed and was at an advantage because I already could read bass clef being that I also played piano. I played all throughout college as I was a music major. I had the Conn 24I and I must admit I was probably the best they had. Not only could I read bass clef but also tenor as I also played cello in high school and drafted to play it in college. My senior recital was awesome as I did some technically hard pieces. (I still have the reel to reel recording). After college even having a teaching job I was drafted. I applied to the Air Force for their Navy band training to be a band conductor and officer. I went to McQuire AFB for audition. I played a Bach Invention on the piano plus the euphonium. The bandmaster there asked me to play I think is was a diatonic type scale which I really had no clue. I told him I didn't understand what he was asking. He then told me the was sorry and that I had absolutely no musical ability, I just left. My trombone teacher at the time had a close friend who was the commander and conductor of the D.C. Air Force Band. He through my teacher had told me to audition as I had a good shot at it. I had two professors in college who were adjunct to Julliard, my harmony/theory teacher and orchestra, score prof. Later I found that the Air Force Col. in D.C. had some influence to have that officer reassigned. I then chose to be drafted taking a chance I could get into some sort of band. Well they sent me to the infantry and then to Vietnam. I had a college buddy who was playing in the 25th Division band and I went to visit him. The Warrant Officer there auditioned me and told me that when he could see the Division commander, I would get assigned to the band. Well I had to go into the field and was wounded and sent to Japan. When in Japan, my mother found out through our congressman that when I go back to Nam, I'll be in the band. Well I got sent home and stationed at Ft. Dix. Again I asked my major for a transfer to the band as I had gone and auditioned. He agreed and was turned down by post. My major offered me a promotion not to appeal. So I never played in the Army and went directly to my teaching job. For 33 years I never played in a group but occasionally in church getting a lip for that and nothing else. After retiring, still the horn sat in the case until our new church had a brass group. Not only did I begin to practice and play, bought a trombone and joined community bands. I even played a couple of gigs on the bass trombone. Today the pandemic has affected playing in groups. I used to play on my front lawn every Sunday morning until the churches started streaming and opening up. Faced with the arthritis in my hands, I have a B&S rotary bariton and bought a use Wessex Festivo. Sold my 4 valve B&S top valved and will sell the B&S compensator. I still have a bass and tenor trombone and the hand brace for the left hand is a huge help. I'm finding it hard with some finger combinations depending on how the hands work. I won't give up and intend to play until I just can't.
    Last edited by BDeisinger; 03-10-2021 at 09:44 AM.
    B&S 3046 Baritone/Euphonium
    B&S PT33-S Euphonium
    B&S PT37-S
    Schilke ST20 Tenor Trombone

  4. #24
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Indianapolis area
    Posts
    896
    What I've lost at age 69 is tongue speed. I pulled out the Mozart Bassoon concerto the other day and tried to play at the usual tempo of 120. Couldn't get faster than 96 on the sixteenth passages! I also see a lot more jaw movement than I used to when tonguing OR slurring, so something's gotten out of whack over time. It wasn't like I woke up one day and discovered this--it sorta crept up. I wasn't called upon to play any fast single-tonguing in any of my groups, so tongue speed sorta devolved, I guess. I'm actually a bit more concerned about the jaw movement in lip slurring--gotta figure out how to fix that.
    Jim Williams N9EJR (love 10 meters)
    Yamaha 642-II Neo, Wedge 103E, SM3.5
    Yamaha 321, Yamaha 621 Baritone
    Conn 50H trombone
    Blue P-bone
    www.soundcloud.com/jweuph

  5. #25
    Bruce,

    Indeed we have had some discussions before! I am glad to see that you are still at it. I truly believe that playing instrument(s) is a really good thing to do as we age (or anytime actually). It just keeps you going, I think it is good for your lungs (mine are ratty because of smoking for years until 8 years ago), it keeps you engaged, it keeps you socialized (once we can play together again - happening slowly now for me), it gives you something to look forward to, and on and on. I cannot imagine my life without a horn stuck to my face most every day.

    John
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Adams TB1 Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

  6. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by Snorlax View Post
    What I've lost at age 69 is tongue speed. I pulled out the Mozart Bassoon concerto the other day and tried to play at the usual tempo of 120. Couldn't get faster than 96 on the sixteenth passages! I also see a lot more jaw movement than I used to when tonguing OR slurring, so something's gotten out of whack over time. It wasn't like I woke up one day and discovered this--it sorta crept up. I wasn't called upon to play any fast single-tonguing in any of my groups, so tongue speed sorta devolved, I guess. I'm actually a bit more concerned about the jaw movement in lip slurring--gotta figure out how to fix that.
    Jim - I have found that unless I do tonguing work frequently, I definitely lose speed, also. In fact, when working on multiple tonguing stuff, if I haven't been doing it often, my tongue gets tired and sort of sore (probably some more stuff back in the mouth getting sore, too) when practicing. So, I usually try to do some tonguing stuff every day. And single tonguing stuff too, and tonguing in the real low register, because if you can do that, your tonguing in the other registers is that much better. I know a few solos that use multiple tonguing by heart and I play some of those often, at least the intense tonguing parts. And I play scales using single tonguing at least two octaves to develop/maintain speed and to try to keep my chops locked without much movement.

    Something I have found sort of useful for controlling jaw/mouth movement when slurring is to practice slurs say starting on low Bb and try to slur up and down two octaves, hitting all the notes in between along the way. Then go down chromatically until you are doing the two octave slur from low F or so. And keep your chops still.

    If none of that works, try duct tape for reducing jaw movement. It works for everything else!
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Adams TB1 Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

  7. #27
    i had mentioned my situation before. i am 73 and i played through high school and was going to major in music. My senior year i changed my mind and went into physics. I played in a small college band, but never anything challenging any more like i had in high school. I remember i had the ability to play quite high. Then college undergrad ended and in grad school i did not play. In fact, i went 50 years until about 2 years ago without playing a horn. Inspired by a Harry Connick concert, i decided to pick up the horn again 2 years ago. In two years, i still have not developed a high range. I struggle with trying to go above D above High B flat. i remember once hitting B flat above high B flat. After 2 years, i know i have improved a lot, but nowhere near the virtuosos in this Forum. I also am trying to learn the trombone (which i fumbled with in my youth) and the Bass Trumpet (which i find fun playing jazzy tunes). I still work at my choice, so i only get a couple of hours a day to practice (which is more than i really did in Hight School). Arthritis does make fingering awkward when it acts up. My goal is to play in some community bands. I will never be a soloist, but that is OK. When the pandemic is over i will try some local bands. Some require auditions and some do not. We will see where this all leads me. No matter what, playing gives me a hobby when work is slow and i imagine i will retire soon and then spend more time playing. Unlike many in the forum, this will not be all consuming. Heck, i started a large wood carving 20 years ago and it is still sitting in the garage because i am too lazy to spend 3 months sanding it so it can be painted. That will also be a task when i retire.

    Anyway, i do enjoy reading the comments on the forum. It is better than the news lately. And i am getting the Conn Constellation 24i's small dents removed and a 25i bell lacquered. The shop (Osmun) said the horn is really in great shape. I decided it was not worth it to me to lacquer it again. The scratches it does have are on the back side, not the front, so no one would even notice them.

    Now it is time to practice what the instructor i got for the trombone told me to do. Hope everyone stays safe.

  8. John,

    Iím not in the retirement age range yet, but a lot of your post resonates. On a related note, the 2 live performances that stick out in my mind were both by older performers and had very little to do with chops. One was Brian Bowman circa 2014, and the other was Carl Fontana in the mid 90ís when he was in his older years and could really barely play. Both were simple ballads played with great sincerity and authenticity. We forget that what the euphonium does best is make a beautiful sound.
    Martin Cochran
    Adams Performing Artist
    mceuph75@gmail.com

  9. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by cochranme View Post
    John,

    I’m not in the retirement age range yet, but a lot of your post resonates. On a related note, the 2 live performances that stick out in my mind were both by older performers and had very little to do with chops. One was Brian Bowman circa 2014, and the other was Carl Fontana in the mid 90’s when he was in his older years and could really barely play. Both were simple ballads played with great sincerity and authenticity. We forget that what the euphonium does best is make a beautiful sound.
    Martin - What you said is so true, the euphonium is indeed an instrument that makes a beautiful sound. I can enjoy just playing simple melodies on my euphonium every day. If I totally lost most of my technique, I could still enjoy the sound of the euphonium.

    I love/loved the sound of Doc Severinsen and always have. And to still be playing when you're past 90 is pretty cool. So there is hope for all of us making nice sounds with the euphonium late in life.
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Adams TB1 Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

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