Have you had to take a break from playing?
I’m not talking about a couple of weeks. I’m talking years. Perhaps a major life event kept you from playing, or a career took you on a 30-year vacation from your horn, but now you want to come back and give music performance another try. Luckily for your chops, you have muscle memory and while getting back in shape will not be fun, it will not be difficult either. The difficulty for most is how to get themselves back into the business. How can you start rebuilding a possible career in music without the connections you had years ago?
Accomplished trumpeter and marketing specialist Mandy Marksteiner used this experience as a launching board for her new book Tooting Your Own Horn How to Promote Yourself as a Trumpeter without Being an Obnoxious Blowhard. In a recent interview, Mandy shared her story with us and some tips from her book.
Your original plan was to pursue music. What made you change course?
When I was in college (Lawrence University), things were going really really well for me. I had passed my upper-level jury, and I was on course to start playing in some of the upper-level ensembles.
Then my mom got cancer and passed away. I left school for 6 months. When you’re playing your trumpet at high levels, there’s sometimes this attitude of ‘you have to play every day or else.’ People will say stuff like, “If you skip one day of practice you’ll know. But two days, and everyone will know.” It’s supposed to be motivational, but at a certain point, it can be paralyzing! My playing wasn’t where I left it when I came back and in my mind, this felt permanent. There were freshmen coming in and they sounded amazing. I was thinking to myself… I screwed it all up. I’m done.
I was dealing with so much grief that I just ended my journey in music. I moved to New York and got the first job I could find, as a proofreader. From there I got into copywriting and marketing. I have a dual degree in music performance and English, so I was at a crossroads as to which direction I was going to take. I chose writing. So instead of practicing even just a little bit and doing both, I did nothing. It was sad though. I even lived a couple blocks away from the Manhattan School of Music, and never once stepped foot inside.
What was the turning point for you that made you want to return to music?
My father passed away a few years after I finished college. At that point, I looked at myself and was like, “What are you doing?!?” I realized I can’t just let the things in my life that I enjoy just disappear because life is hard. Life is really hard and it’s not going to get any easier. By not playing trumpet, it’s like I was trying to punish myself.
So I made a commitment that I was going to join a local band (the Los Alamos Community Winds), show up, enjoy myself, and not beat myself up for however much time I could devote to practicing. I had always wanted to take a lesson with Bobby Shew, and it turned out he lived in New Mexico. When I took the lesson with him I told him how stressed out I had been because I hadn’t been practicing the elaborate trumpet routine I used to do. I felt like if I didn’t do all my long tones, lip slurs, etc., that I was failing.
He said to me, “That’s crazy! Just take a sheet of paper and write on one side Things I Know How To Do, and on the other, Things I Have Yet To Learn How To Do. Skip the stuff in the first column and go straight to the fun stuff. The stuff you still want to learn how to do.” I really wanted to play jazz in a bar – I wanted to play music that would be fun to listen to while they drink. He recommended that I skip the elaborate routine and focus on learning tunes. Which made practicing more fun.
Another source of encouragement was when I met Ron Helman, a trumpet player from Santa Fe. Ron was my life coach for several years and I wrote a press release for him when he released his CD, “It Never Entered My Mind.” Ron played all through high school and college and then quit. He worked as a talent agent in New York City, but then he moved to New Mexico and picked up the horn again in his late 40’s. Rather than comparing himself to others, he focuses on what he can do to sound as good as he can, plays music that he loves to listen to and surrounds himself with great players (which automatically helps you sound good).
I was inspired by his path and made a decision to pick the horn back up. Today I try to say to myself when I play, “What can I do and how can I make this as good as possible?”
Stay tuned next week for part II of this interview where Mandy discusses a variety of ways to start marketing yourself and her experiences along the way.
To follow Mandy’s blog or get in touch with her, you can contact her at her website, www.mandymarksteiner.com. You can order her book at www.tootingyourownhorn.com. Or click here to download her range exercise and get on her email mailing list.
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