Saturday, July 27, 2013

Trumpet Playing and Weight Loss by John Almeida

Weight Loss and its effect on my Trumpet Playing By: John Almeida

 Deciding to become healthy was a major life change for me. At age 61, I weighed 266 lbs. and my height is 6’ 1 ½’ tall. My excess weight grew into a burden upon my health and I decided to alter my food consumption and eating habits. One year ago, my wife and I joined Weight Watchers Online and this decision has helped me to shed 81 lbs. and I feel so much better about my health. I have increased energy, especially when physically active. Who would have thought that becoming physically healthy would have an adverse effect upon my trumpet playing?

Nothing significantly changed in my playing until I lost approximately 50 lbs. About that point in the weight loss, I began to notice that my playing endurance started to decline a bit sooner than usual and that I was working a bit harder while playing in the upper register. It seemed that my sound had begun to lose a considerable amount of color and resonance. These issues became more pronounced as I lost more weight, especially as I grew close to my goal weight of 185 lbs. It seemed as if I had lost cushion in my upper lip. In addition, my lips would spread as I played at loud volumes, which resulted in no sound coming out. I couldn’t determine what might be causing these issues – maybe I had changed something in the way I was playing or had somehow developed some incorrect playing habits. But I just couldn’t figure out what the problem was.

I had lost 81 lbs. PLUS a Perfect 4th of my upper register – no High F’s or above! High D’s became uncertain, as did playing for a number of hours before becoming fatigued. In May 2013 I was scheduled to perform two solos with a high school band. One of the pieces was the first movement of the Neruda Concerto for Trumpet. I always perform this piece on Eb trumpet and NEVER have difficulties getting through it. I had reached a point where I could no longer be sure of playing any of the higher pitches with consistency. The second piece was Leroy Anderson’s Trumpeter’s Lullaby and the same issues presented themselves in this piece; which only ascends to a High A. I was within two weeks of the first rehearsal and was considering canceling the appearance. I turned to Gary Radtke and Brian Scriver at GR Technologies for help.

I’ve been playing Gary’s custom mouthpieces for close to twenty years and he knows my playing and teaching ideologies very well. I explained the predicament I was in and Gary understood right away. As it turned out, he knew of players that had experienced the same problems as a result of considerable weight loss. In fact, Brian Scriver, who is a fabulous lead trumpet player, had experienced the exact same issues as I. After discussing the problems and undergoing a “Face Time” video conference with Brian, he and Gary determined that some modifications needed to be made to my 66.5M GR mouthpiece.

Gary made the new mouthpiece immediately and shipped it over night. When it arrived the next day, I played my regular warm-up routine on it and I instantly noticed a huge difference in response and sound quality. When I began playing the Neruda, it was just like the “old me”. No problems with attacks, response, endurance, or upper register playing.

The same was true with the Leroy Anderson composition. I knew that this was not going to be the only step in recovering what I had lost, but with Brian and Gary’s understanding and guidance, I knew that I was going to OK. I went to Key West the next week, where I played four rehearsals and a concert – all without any problems what so ever!!!

 At Gary and Brian’s suggestion, I have begun weekly sessions with a qualified personal trainer whose husband happens to be a wonderful trumpet player. She totally understands my predicament and works on building my core strength, as well as my overall physical strength. She agreed with Gary and Brian that as I lost weight, I also lost muscle strength and tone. As a result, my breathing and my ability to move air correctly had weakened significantly. My trainer says that my physical health and strength is improving each week. I can’t believe that I am able to perform each exercise so consistently and with greater ease as each week passes.

I am happy to report that I am definitely on the mend and those diminished abilities are consistently improving. I have Gary Radtke and Brian Scriver to thank for helping me to find my way back.

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