5 Things I’ve Learned While Traveling with My Trumpets

We are pleased to welcome trumpeter Katie Clark as this week’s Five Things Friday guest writer!

KatieClarkWhen I first set out on my trumpet travels this fall, I was asked if I would like to write a piece for “5 Things Friday” on Brass Chicks about what I’ve learned or discovered while curating my own education this year.

I’ve been blogging about my travels, trumpet, and being gluten free on my blog, Katie’s Trumpet Travels (katiestrumpettravels.wordpress.com), so feel free to find out more about me and my story there!

I voluntarily withdrew from my doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia last spring to attend the University of Toronto’s Master of Teaching program. However, after attending Chosenvale: The Center for Advanced Musical Studies in June, I realized that I needed to make the trumpet my career; I love it. So I was unsatisfied with my doctoral program, no longer wished to attend teachers college, and was forced to come up with a plan. I’ve always said that studying abroad would be a dream come true, but I was hesitant to spend two to four years abroad as I am very comfortable living in Canada and wish to work there one day. For some reason, I did not see it as a road block to spend one year abroad. I guess when you’re determined to make something happen, it happens.

I then decided that I didn’t need a school. I had spent the past seven years in music schools and really just wanted to expand my trumpet technique and proficiency. I needed teachers. I then considered the many teachers that I’ve met throughout the past few years whom I’ve learned a lot from and drafted out a travel plan. In doing this, I was also lucky to stumble across the news of a conservatory needing an extra trumpet performer for a concert in March and found a base point for my European adventure. Considering I was not going to be a full time student, I had a lot of free time to schedule lessons and other classes across Europe during my time abroad. I was also very lucky to have a friend who was taking a gap year between her undergraduate and graduate degrees join me on this adventure because travelling with someone is a lot more fun than travelling alone.

Anyways, too much rambling! I am now five weeks into my seven weeks of trumpet travel in Europe, am a contract student at the Koninklijk Conservatorium Den Haag, and have learned many new things about trumpet, travel, and myself that I will attempt to organize into a clear list. Please note that these are the most valuable things that I have picked up while travelling and curating my own education and that they may be different for you! 

1. Be fearless. (Or at least pretend to be)

I can’t speak for everyone, but at least in my experience, I have often been afraid of failure or hesitant to go play for a teacher if I feel as though I haven’t made significant improvement. I think I am only beginning to realize that this fear of failure has stood in my way in the past. If we can leave our fears at the door before a lesson or a practice session, we are already in a much better mindset for learning and developing as a musician. Investing in a trip such as mine, I find it much easier to put this fear aside as I truly want to gain everything that I can from my time and studies abroad. Of course, fear has not vanished altogether, but it is something to always check in on and assess to learn how it effects our learning process. I also like to live by Amy Cuddy’s motto, “Fake it ‘til you become it”, as discussed in her 2012 TED talk titled, Your body language may shape who you are. Through faking it, we are essentially pretending to be something that we are not and this is a great time to eliminate our irrational fears.

2. Be curious.

A year ago, I would not have believed that I would (or could) be participating in a Stockhausen Masters program. I believed that the music of Stockhausen was only ever played by people who devoted their lives to learning and performing the music of Stockhausen. My new found curiosity for new music has exposed me to a whole new world of trumpet performance and practice. For example, I have learned about split tones, double pedals, and even attempted free improvisations, all of which I never seriously explored before. Have I completely eliminated orchestral repertoire from my practice? No. By being curious and learning about other genres of music, I am simply allowing myself to expand as a musician to become more well-rounded and versatile. I am also at a stage where I haven’t fully decided what I want to do as a full-time career with trumpet, so it doesn’t hurt to explore my options.

3. Things will go wrong.

Planning a trip and micromanaging every detail is almost impossible and you must accept to take it day by day sometimes. Perhaps the train you’re on can’t take you to your destination and then you have to take six other trains to get to where you wish to go. These set-backs must be taken in stride otherwise you are in for a miserable day. Maybe you will have to sprint for your train. These things happen and are transferable to trumpet practice. You might think that you are on the right path to the destination, but then you get turned around and have to take six other paths to get to where you’re going. The sooner we accept this and learn to work around and through our problems, the sooner we get to our end goals. Of course, it is easy to feel sorry for ourselves, but I often find that any combination of food, a nap, or a cry, along with a deep breath can help set me straight again.

4. Journal, journal, journal.

Dear Diary…
Ok, it doesn’t have to be that formal, but definitely journal about everything. Food, cities, people, travel, trumpet lessons; everything! Having been on this trip for five weeks now, I have passed the point of feeling over-saturated and am thankful that I have recorded lessons, reflected on concepts that work, and have written about where I’ve traveled to remember every detail. I have enjoyed organizing my thoughts to truly understand what I am gaining from this experience and I feel this can be applied everywhere. Journal about your practice, about classes you attend, things that make you happy, things that make you mad. Begin to spend more time understanding who you are and what you want to be. I have even journaled about crazy dreams I have had while I’m here, and sketched pictures to go along with them.

5. Be in the moment.

For the first few weeks of the trip I found myself always looking forward to the next thing. We would be in The Hague and I would be excited for Berlin. Or we were in Berlin and I was excited for Florence. As much as I like to plan ahead and be ready for everything, I have had to force myself to live day-by-day and appreciate the moment that I am in. This idea is very applicable to my ideal practice session. How can I find flow and ease to practice or work for an entire day? I believe that I have to first find something I love doing and then apply myself and make the time. Of course, to avoid burning out, it is also important to do something other than trumpet and give ourselves some space from music, but that something must be done with purpose. If you are going to a museum, really ask yourself what it is you enjoy or dislike about the collection. If you are going on a run, don’t hold back. If you just need to watch some television and turn off your brain, don’t look at your phone and iPad at the same time. Whatever and wherever your moment is, just be in it.

I hope that you have found this interesting and applicable to your practice and that you begin to challenge yourself in new ways. Making the decision to leave my doctoral studies was not an easy decision, but it is one I had to make to explore where trumpet performance can take me. Ask yourself what your dreams are and then do everything that you can to help achieve those dreams. Also, keep in mind, that there are many people who are willing to help; teachers, friends, and family. It’s up to you to ask to ultimately pursue your dreams. Your path will not be the same as mine, but it is just as attainable! Best of luck wherever your studies may take you!



Leave a Reply