Practicing in Airports

Sydney airport

I’m just old enough to remember looking forward to flying on an airplane. Back then, businessmen were dressed in suits, meals were complimentary, and children (like myself) received free toys and/or packs of playing cards! Unlike today’s flights where people wear pajamas and flip flops, the tray tables look like the bottom of a cotton candy machine, and the microwaved cheeseburgers cost $6.00. As a young musician, I used to think flying was one of the more glamorous aspects of being a pro, something only the successful artists could enjoy. Ahhh, champagne all around. I keep waiting for a flight attendant to say, “Congratulations, you’ve made it! Come sit in first class and enjoy the ride.” Any day now this is going to happen to me, I can tell. It feels like it was years ago when I slept through my first take-off. Surely that must have been some sort of benchmark? Even before that, when I began to order tonic water, knowing that you may actually get an entire can instead of a tiny cup, I thought I was a seasoned pro and deserving of some special wink or nod. NOPE. Still sitting in coach, crammed in like a sardine.

Flying is similar in many ways to gambling because the odds are always stacked against you. When gambling at casinos, you know that on any given night, you may win or lose, but in the long run you can keep things about even. When you gamble and win, there’s this rush of excitement plus the obvious financial gain, which could be in the thousands of dollars. When you win, it can really feel good, which could unfortunately lead to a serious addiction. When you lose, money and time vanish, like they were never there. Air travel is similar, but nowhere near as fun. When you win, the best that you can hope for is to voluntarily skip your oversold flight, receive a $300 travel voucher, board a different airplane, sit in the exit row, have a smooth quiet flight, and only briefly chat with the flight attendants at the end of the flight as you taxi to the gate. Even in this idyllic situation, you’re still sitting in a truly uncomfortable seat, (which was designed for the average person. C’mon, how many of us are exactly the average person? It’s like guaranteeing the seats will be equally uncomfortable for everyone), drinking some seriously lame coffee, and wondering who actually buys that crap in the Skymall magazine. But when things go bad and you lose, watch out. (Take this flight for example: I’m writing on one of my many trips back to NYC and there’s a kid behind me screaming and kicking, a big guy to the left of me finishing some sort of seafood salad sandwich, a woman on my right with too much perfume, the person in front of me must be having nightmares, and we’re still on the ground, sitting in the parking lot they call the Atlanta airport, a good hour and a half after the original departure time, gotta love it). I’m not going to ramble on too long; everyone has horror stories. I’ve been at airports with only one gate all the way up to major international hubs. I’ve been on planes ranging from small propeller planes to those big overseas jumbo jets. I’ve been in the air from 40 minutes to 18+ hours… pure torture.

Anyway, one thing that I have come to understand is how to maintain a routine of practicing the trumpet at airports. The key is to play whenever the opportunity arises. I always keep a practice mute in my case, so if there’s a delay, I hit some long tones. Right there at the gate. Sometimes, if I have much longer layover, I head down to an empty gate and actually shed some scales. On the rare occasion that I actually arrive at the airport early, I’ll hang out on the curb and practice. People don’t seem overly concerned with a musician practicing when they’re late for their own flight.

There’s no real secret, playing in the airport is actually really easy. It’s like the Nike ad: Just Do It.

 

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