Clinician's Corner - "How to Beat Old Man Winter"|
by TSgt Joseph Bello
12/2/2008 - Bolling AFB, Washington, DC -- Performing outdoors is something that every musician has to do. In many cases, such as a beautiful summer evening at the Air Force Memorial, it can be relatively painless and a musically rewarding experience. However, anyone that has been a part of a high school or college marching program knows that it's not sunny and 72 degrees in December.
When I first joined the U.S. Air Force Concert Band in October of 1998, I really had no idea what it meant to play for the President, Heads of State, or foreign dignitaries arriving into Washington, D.C. Today, much of my job in the Ceremonial Brass consists of performing Full Honors funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. As the cold weather season approaches and with it the Presidential Inaugural, one must prepare both physically and mentally for a trying, but rewarding road.
The winter season tends to push brass players to their limits. Before one can even think about performing in the cold extremities, they must have the proper attire. Most importantly, the performer has to be wearing the right amount of layers under the uniform. I usually prepare to wear some sort of warm, moisture wicking material as a base layer. Much of staying warm is also about keeping dry, and there is a great wealth of manufactured apparel to serve this purpose. If the temperature is less than 40 degrees, I will also wear a long sleeve sweater under my all weather jacket. If your performance attire does not allow this, try thinner materials on top of the base layer. Our uniform parts also consist of a number of small accessories, such as ear protectors, a scarf, gloves and a special "bunny" hat with ear flaps. If your performance uniform does not allow for these accessories, just try to remember to keep your head and ears covered at all times. Once you have all of your uniform parts together, it is very important to mentally prepare for playing your instrument in the cold.
Upon arrival at Arlington Cemetery I visualize what the funeral is going to be like. First of all, it's probably going to be cold and uncomfortable. In order to produce a beautiful sound in the cold weather, I recommend using some sort of plastic mouthpiece. One of the hardest things to convey to someone unfamiliar with our job is that it's not always easy to get the lips to buzz when the temperature is less than 40 degrees. Standing in the cold for over an hour can be very unnerving, but I also understand that we are paying tribute to a fallen service member who has made the ultimate sacrifice. It is very important to keep your performance (or in my case, my sworn duty) in perspective, and in doing so you may find that the weather is not such an obstacle. The service we provide has to be the best musical product, no matter what the temperature.
At the end of the day in the Ceremonial Brass, I know that I can walk away with a heartfelt admiration and respect for our mission. Not everyone can do what we do on a daily basis, and nothing comes close to seeing the effect of our music on the family members of an honored love one.
Stay warm and keep your perspective, and maybe Old Man Winter won't adversely affect your performance.