I am a stubborn person but I’m never as stubborn as when people tell me I can’t do something. That’s how I became a professional trombonist – my whole family told me I couldn’t and I did it just to prove them wrong. I did an Ironman triathlon (140.6 miles) a year after having hip surgery just because someone said I might want to consider not running anymore. That’s how freaking stubborn I am.
It doesn’t work as well when I’ve told myself that I can’t do something. In those cases, I believe it harder than anyone has believed anything, ever. I told myself I couldn’t improvise in the 7th grade. Since I graduated college, I told myself nobody would want to play in a trombone quartet with me. Even though most musicians I know have some form of negative self talk, it’s probably a factor that helps drive us to be better. But in my case it became debilitating – a reason to not try. I wasn’t always this way but that’s a different story for another time. I spent the better part of the last decade doing triathlon stuff to distract myself from my career and it worked until I couldn’t swim or bike. My shoulder injuries threatened not just my triathlon habit but my trombone playing. I needed to get my priorities straight.
Since moving to NYC in 2005, I rarely had to improvise. I was a classically trained bass trombonist with a serious big band habit. I paid my bills playing Broadway but what really blew my skirt up was playing The Jazz. At most, I’d be called upon about once a year to “blow” and I’d go running to my very patient husband to help me figure out how to not sound like an @sshole while attempting to improvise. I even took a lesson with the amazing Max Seigel but that fear-based learning didn’t stick. My breakthrough came when I found a tune that I loved. When you love something, it’s not work. I loved a tune so much that I got the changes and started to work on it.
Then, I realized a name that I’d been using as my YouTube username for years was the perfect name for a band – BONEGASM. I loved this name so much that I formulated a plan. As a birthday present to myself, I would commission people I love and respect to write/arrange some tunes and then, dammit, I did it. I got a trombone quartet together and I forced myself to improvise. TWICE! And I didn’t die. Everything I did was pretty elementary but considering that I have never studied melody in my life, I am going to allow at least one pat on the back.
The reason I want to talk about this is because I don’t want you to have regrets. Whether you dream of becoming an underwater basket weaver, an ironman or a lady bass trombonist, you have to try. Meredith Wilson wrote The Music Man to prove to people that he couldn’t write a musical about Iowa. He tried to fail. And you know what mattered most? HE TRIED. Look at how that worked out.
Let’s all try to fail at something soon. Just don’t take as long as I did.