Sunday, March 17, 2013

Alex Shuhan: One Year on BE

Alex Shuhan recently posted this on FaceBook:  
Continuing now for slightly longer than one year, to encounter more and more significant change and greater understanding of how to play this instrument…and I can unequivocally say that it is ONLY because of having discovered and experimented with Balanced Embouchure concepts. If you want to learn and are willing to invest some thoughtful energy, you CAN and WILL make similar inroads. 
At no point along the way have I "lost" anything I could do before, experienced any "setbacks," nor been negatively impacted in any way. On the contrary, I have been challenged to address and answer new questions, with a COMPLETELY different perspective that has dramatically improved my playing, at least in my humble opinion. I have flexibility that I couldn't fathom before, range that I've never experienced... before, and, in particular, a smoothness in my playing that I didn't even know was previously lacking. And even though there are concepts in this book that appear to some to be in contradiction with other, more "mainstream" ideas about playing, I maintain that the information in Smiley's book COMBINED with the experience of actually living through the learning process that he prescribes, actually does more to help one UNDERSTAND those "mainstream" concepts than to contradict them. My ideas about endurance, strength, range (high and low), volume and articulation have been completely stood on end—and the future looks and sounds MUCH better from this new vantage point! 
Thank you to my former student, Dana Arbaugh, for introducing the BE book to me, to ValerieWells for all that you've done to further my enlightenment, and to AndrewJoy for his encouragement and support along the way. Onward! 
I've made some enormous stride forward this weekend—been doing more playing lately and then had a great combination of rehearsals and gigs this weekend that have just completely changed everything. Much less tension, outrageously more vibration and ease of production with my upper lip, complementary support from the lower lip making flexibility MUCH better, and the best part has been endurance based clearly on relaxation rather than "firmness" or any other terms that I've previously associated with strength. Amazing!

Bert Lochs commented:  
  • Bert Lochs Apart from the things that changed in my playing, the understanding of why all the things I tried before didn't work was very enlightening to say the least. I said it on the Trumpet Herald a few times, and I repeat it here. BE made me experiment proof. And it is important to be able to experiment to find your way. You can try all kinds of things, and even go very wrong, but BE is so simple and clear that it is very easy to track back where you left off. Since BE I never got into big trouble again and my playing is so much easier and more consistent than before. And yes, of course, there is still so much to work on, I am happy to say .

    • Alex added:  I have no documented proof of this claim, but I believe that many players, who accidentally stumble into the correct set-up and begin playing without the issues that many of the rest of us face, are already experiencing mechanics similar to those suggested by Smiley, but they may not use vocabulary similarly to describe it. For those successful players, all the power to them! But for struggling, aspiring players, in my humble opinion, Smiley's approach offers a real, simple option for opening the door to informed awareness, and by that I mean an awareness based on experiences that work cumulatively, progressively, patiently, over time. In the last week, something has changed dramatically in the way my Embouchure is able to receive and support the air I supply to it...and it happened as if out of nowhere! BUT, I KNOW and can feel that it has just now finally learned a new way of vibrating after a YEAR of gentle coaxing and coercion. And the BEST part is that I UNDERSTAND what is happening, what has changed and how/why it is working effectively. I'm hoping to be able to use language to describe it, BUT, even if I can't, I do know that I have BE to thank for opening that door to possibility. I'm also reminded that Arnold Jacobs admonished that if you introduce a change to your mechanics, it could take 12-18 months before you could expect to experience the fruits of that effort. In the case of BE, I feel like it's a continuous process, so I'm not surprised to have had some revelation now, but it also feels like it won't be unreasonable to assume that the learning will continue. I remember Andrew Joy told me that after his intro to BE, he has felt like his playing has been on a continuous positive, improving trajectory...and this from someone who's had a principal horn career in a major orchestra for 30+ years! That, in fact, was the thing that convinced me it was worth experimenting with BE. Incredibly glad I did! Cheers!