Big breaths & baby breaths


The week’s gotten off to an interesting start and in a number of different settings, I’m thinking about breath. I’ve been working on a funding application and those can really drain the life-force out of you. But I came across a video of a stranded octopus thanking the man who saved him and that made me feel much better.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Holland and there was a bit of a flight disaster. First, we were put on standby due to overbooking which we quickly made peace with; Schiphol is an OK airport to be stuck in as airports go. And at 5 euro (!) for some orange juice, clearly a bargain. Then, the flight we were on standby for got cancelled and suddenly everyone was trying to get on different flights, not just us. No space on any flight to London for at least 24 hours. So, we got a flight to Leeds. This was fine because we had a Family Band the next day in Durham, as part of the Brass Festival. What wasn’t so fine was that our instruments were in London.

Dave Walker at All Brass & Woodwind came to our rescue and we went into the shop to find instruments AND mouthpieces to use on the gig. Dave makes his own instruments and they play really well. I’m picky when it comes to valves but luckily, Arturo Sandoval had been playing Dave’s horns and had stretched the springs in one of the trumpets to brighten up the valves so felt great to play. Playing on a new mouthpiece and horn for the first time on a gig is a bit mental and it feels like trying to cook something in someone else’s kitchen; nothing’s where you think it is.

An unexpected bonus was that I ended up coming home with a piccolo trumpet. I’ve been on the lookout for one for a while and fortune favoured the flight-diverted so I bought it.

It’s led to me thinking a lot about breathing because it really is a different approach than trumpet. I’m so used to really filling up with air in preparation to play and if you do that on piccolo, all the air gets trapped in your throat with nowhere to go.  I’ve been checking out some helpful stuff on youtube, and someone said that you should approach piccolo the way you breathe while asleep. Sleeping, your lungs move between 40 – 55% capacity. He suggested that if the deep trumpet breath is a reflex, to breathe as you would then expel some air before playing the note. That’s helped a lot. Someone else said a lot of the difficulty with piccolo is psychological and I’m inclined to agree with that, too.

The great thing that working on piccolo helps with trumpet, too and makes you so aware of intonation which can never be a bad thing. So I’m having a nice thing on my voyage of baby trumpet and baby breaths discovery.

The big breaths are coming in handy when faced with difficult emails and business stuff. Some very smart people have taught me always to sleep on sending a response to an email that produces an emotional reaction in you. STERLING ADVICE. Emails are pretty crappy when it comes to important stuff; often unavoidable but still crappy.

Fate doesn’t hang on a wrong or right choice, 

Fortune depends on the tone of your voice.

The Divine Comedy are right. That’s where emails fall short. Alas! This is the world in which we live, so some deep breaths, some perspective and listening to Peter Evans’ album A Quietness of Water is all it takes to get stuff done.

Life is one big sequence of big breaths & baby breaths.


Stranded Octopus Thanks Rescuer

Peter Evans – A Quietness of Water

The Divine Comedy – Songs of Love





Sundays suck (& my thoughts on nurturing creativity)…


Sunday afternoon. I have already hated Sundays, something inherited from my family. In fact, it’s a strong opinion in Scotland, to hate Sundays. A Calvinist overhang perhaps…? Being freelance, one’s relationship with the days of the week all but disappears but Sunday has a special, gross vibe to it. I have two things I really should be doing – booking flights and editing video footage. But I can’t…Too boring.

***I’m currently listening to an album called Tongue In Groove – Joey Baron, Ellery Eskelin & Steve Swell. I’ve never heard it before. IT IS AMAZING***

One of my priorities is how mental well-being affects creativity. When I was ill earlier this year (I had PTSD, it was rough), my creativity took a back seat. Now that I’m back and it’s back, I’m much more aware of it. In fact, I think of it now as a plant or a creature, a living thing that needs attention and nourishment every day. On a day-to-day level, this means –

  • Guided meditation when I wake up and before I start to play
  • Reading
  • Reflection – usually in the form of a written journal

For my guided meditations, I use a great app called Headspace. I usually do a general, 3-5 minute session as soon I get up then use one focused on creativity for 10-20 minutes before I start playing. For me it’s a way to ensure that the day starts well and doing it before practice works wonders for breathing and for focus. I also do unguided meditation, at least once a day. I didn’t even think of this as meditation initially; it was borne out of a need for stillness and calm which I realised was a priority while I was in therapy. I dubbed it ‘sitting nicely’. So I like to sit nicely for a couple of minutes each day, just finding my centre.

I’m a BIG reader. Reading for me feels like the coal I use to stoke the fire; it’s the input I need in order to say anything artistically. Right now, I’m reading a collection of short stories called Oblivion by the extraordinary David Foster Wallace.

A big part of trauma psychotherapy is the process of reliving a trauma. Once it’s done verbally with a therapist, you write it down and read it each day; a process called ‘flooding’. As I’m sure one can imagine, this isn’t a very pleasant process but it does teach you how to write well, how to build narrative. So I figured it was a waste of that skill to only write about horrendous things and started a journal. It’s become a lifeline, a wonderful daily activity to reflect and grow. It was inspired also by sculptor and beautiful diarist Anne Truitt, whose journal Daybook is a must for any artist, or woman, or human being.


Tongue In Groove – Joey Baron, Ellery Eskelin & Steve Swell

Oblivion – David Foster Wallace

Daybook – Anne Truitt

Headspace meditation app