Female brass band composers and arrangers

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Brasspenguin, Apr 11, 2017.

  1. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    I think that point was clearly understood by the young man who asked the question, Dave; it certainly was by me.

    There we'll have to disagree. In some jobs, such as the example of my friend the librarian, her taking a number of years out was not a problem, either for her or for her employer when she returned to work. But that is not the case in a number of jobs in such fields as science and engineering, regardless of how accommodating the employer is - which is precisely why my friend chose library work! If you knew her, you'd certainly be under no illusions that the possibility of being 'the only girl in the class' would put her off - no chance! She could more than hold her own, in any company.

    Bear in mind, as well, that the engineering company I worked for at the time was not at the cutting edge of technology. It was well behind the times, and the management was reluctant to embrace any kind of change - yet, still, my work changed that much and that frequently. What do you think it would be like in a company that really was pushing the boundaries?

    Sorry to keep harping on this point, but taking seven or eight years out in some jobs does not involve a certain amount of catch up - it takes an enormous amount. Companies can and will give young trainees and apprentices the time and training they need to learn the job in the first place, but they're only paying them trainee or apprentice wages, aren't they? I can't honestly see somebody paying a chartered engineer's salary to someone who might need several months and a lot of help from colleagues to get up to speed, after taking years out of the job - and that's no exaggeration.

    I worked in the Medical Physics Department of the University of Aberdeen for a couple of years. It was attached to Forresterhill Hospital, and did pioneering research and development on - amongst a lot of other things - radio-therapy treatment of cancer, and ultrasonic scanning for pregnant women.

    A major project one team was working was equipment to monitor electronic signals from sensors taped onto patients, and combine the results for use in medical diagnosis of various medical conditions, so that the effectiveness of different therapies could be assessed. The equipment was new, and so was the diagnostic approach. There was constant interaction between the medics, PhD students, and the electronics staff; the medics would come up with a request, "Can you change this part of the equipment so that we can monitor that patient characteristic in this way?"

    So the electronics bods would redesign that bit of the circuitry, build it, test it, and see what it did. But, equally, when a new integrated circuit came out, or when a new family of CMoS integrated circuits arrived, the Med. Phys. team would go to the medics and say "We can now do this for you, which we couldn't do before, and make that circuit give you results with 15% better definition." The main unit was built in modular form, such that the hundreds of modules which went into it could be pulled out and replaced with updated designs very easily - and that process was going on continuously. I can assure you that there was NO way somebody could leave that team and come back to it seven years later, on the basis that "I just need to do a certain amount of catch-up, boys, and I'll be fine." He or she would be, as near as makes no odds, starting from scratch.

    You're assuming that my friend settled for second best - but, from the way she spoke to me about it, she didn't see it that way. She focused on what was most important to her - and that was not 'having a career', it was having children! And who am I (or you) to even suggest that her choiuce was second best, and that she should have made a challenging job her first priority? You pointed out that "Some of the most brilliant people I've had the fortune to professionally encounter came late to the field"; when my friend returned to work, there was no reason why she shouldn't have made a career change if she'd wanted to, as my sister did when her boys were growing up. But my friend was happy with her job in a library - so why shouldn't she stick with that?

    I've had two jobs, both of which probably seemed very good 'career' jobs to other people, but which made me miserable to the point of utter despair. One, I left; from the other, I was sacked - and I was over the moon about it! I felt as though I'd been released from prison.

    Again, we'll have to disagree on that point. In many jobs, it's not a professional handicap; in others, it is - and a very significant one, too. Would you like to have open heart surgery done on you by a surgeon whose training and knowledge was seven years out of date?

    From the fact that her children are now grown up, it's obvious that she made her particular choice quite a few years ago - but what makes you so sure that girls leaving school now are not thinking along the same lines? You may be convinced that the only reason so many girls are not going into engineering and science is because they are put off by perceptions that "those are jobs for men, not women". I don't believe that girls these days are so timid and unsure of themselves. Have you seen the way they ride horses cross country? Or in point to point races? Or ride mountain bikes down the most hair-raising slopes at break-neck speeds? Shrinking violets they are not!

    As for composing and arranging music, and girls and women being reluctant to 'put themselves forward'; are you kidding me? Have a look at current popular music; have a look on the TV, the X Factor, Britain's Got Talent, whatever - women and girls who are still in their teens, getting up on stage with loads of people watching every move, writing and performing their own songs, and having the guts to face the possibility of complete rejection - do you see any sign of them needing anyone to "help them really believe that they can do it"? I'm blowed if I do.

    I don't believe it's possible to make anyone believe anything if they don't want to believe it - and certainly not about what they can and can't do. You can give them as much encouragement as you want, and set them a personal example - but if they don't want to believe it, you're stuck. Ask anyone from Alcoholics Anonymous, and they'll tell you the same. Until and unless an alcoholic accepts for themselves that they are an alcoholic, it doesn't matter how much their nearest and dearest try to convince them that they have a drinking problem - it's just water off a duck's back, and there is nothing that anyone can do which can make them believe it.

    That's your perception - but you've offered neither concrete nor anecdotal evidence to support it.

    Hm. Back before the Great War, when Baden-Powell set up the scouting movement, they were Boy Scouts - girls weren't even considered. Then the Boy Scouts held one of their big jamborees, and along came a group of girls. When asked what they were doing there, they replied, "We're Girl Scouts!" - and they flatly refused to clear off. Those teenage girls were the start of what became the Guides. My respects, ladies - and thank you for what you had the guts to start!

    Yes - because I can assure you from personal experience that girls aren't the only ones who get "sneered at for asking too many questions" of obnoxious lecturers; nor are they the only sex to be hit with sarcasm from the MDs of some bands that I've heard about. That, as they say, is human nature - plenty good, but some bad, wherever you go. And I'd remind you of how you started your post, Dave, about "Who's stopping them?":

    "Nobody but themselves."

    With best regards,
  2. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Fair enough. I simply wanted to emphasise the important things lurking behind those two words, which strike me as crucial to the interesting small area where minds are failing to meet here (we are in agreement on much, after all, though your post makes me think that you think that we are in greater opposition than we actually are). No slight to your deduction was intended.

    Indeed. I don't much like standing on my professional context, but I do work at a cutting edge physics research centre as a physicist - this is not news to me. I have watched people come back after years away to care for young children, and then put in that amount of work to regain their former standing. It's hard work, but the people who want to find a way to do do it - and what I am saying is that they will find that employers are coming in recent history to be a great deal more obliging about finding creative ways to help enable it to happen. Of course also, the bigger the employer, the easier it is for them to absorb any short-term costs that this might involve. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to humans.

    But of course it is a harder proposition to go and then return after a long break than it is never to leave at all, and not everyone has the confidence to attempt to do so when it involves plenty of catch-up. If more women than men in couples are valuing childcare over career, then there will be a consequent gender-based offset in the statistics. If that's so (and every reference I've ever seen to the question has suggested that it strongly is), then there are further interesting questions to ask, which rather move beyond the scope of this thread.

    So there are ways to work this without finding oneself employing someone deskilled on a high wage. In that position, I would certainly be extremely eager to be doing ample preparation in my own time where possible, and observing those currently doing things before going back on the clock. If you like, I can have a chat with our local Athena SWAN representative for some info. I did just knock on her door to ask how this is usually done, but she's on holiday this week.

    You're assuming that I was talking about your friend. This is a wrong assumption; I was talking in general terms, and very deliberately so. And so...

    ...you're berating me for something I haven't done, but I see that my placing of a specific question about your friend after this general point likely misled you into thinking that I was being rude about her. I'm totally down with your friend's priorities. I am the last person to hold up the maximising of 'career' (whatever that might mean) as a yardstick to judge all against. There is so much more to having a life worth living than your job, and for many people producing a family is a huge part of that. But I do not want to see the career route made systematically harder for a group of people than it needs to be.

    Am I making myself clear? It's all too easy in these threads to generate more heat than light.

    It seems to me that you aren't disagreeing with what I was saying here; rather returning to your above point. I wrote It has to be very widely perceived that taking time off to start a family is not a professional handicap of any significance before it actually ceases to exert this effect.
    This is a more general point than one about whether a long-term professional handicap actually should be expected to exist on skills grounds or not. Let me rephrase:

    If everybody thinks that taking time off to start a family will create a professional handicap, then the general expectation that it will do so will mean that when the return is attempted, everyone will accept that the returning person will be labouring under a persistent disadvantage. This will naturally feed forward into future prospects. On the other hand, if everybody thinks that coming back after a break implies firstly a period of readjustment, then a resumption of things as they previously were, then any retardation of future prospects will look strange and suspicious.

    It's a general point about company and employee culture and expectations, not one about whether someone might struggle initially when coming back.

    There are other possibilities than the two polar positions: "All girls and women are brimming with confidence" and "No girls or women have any confidence". We're talking about the interesting distribution of real humanity in the middle of those two extreme positions here.

    We're talking about brass band composing and arranging, not pop. It's striking quite how few pieces one plays in a brass band with a woman's name somewhere at the top right, at least in any band I've ever played for. Is it different in your band?

    Sure. "Make" was probably the wrong word to use. What I wish to see is an environment where a 'natural' response to growing up female in it is to feel that society (and members of it) has no interest in you feeling limited in this way. "Make" was shorter, but not precise enough.

    My impression is that it's your perception too? Bit puzzled here; my apologies if my phrasing was misleading. If greater numbers of women than men are systematically taking a break from the workforce and thus not all coming back to the same roles at the same levels (I don't think you disagree with this proposition?), then it's tautological to say that them not trying to come back is due to them not feeling that they are able or keen to try to come back.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2017
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  3. Euphonium Lite

    Euphonium Lite Active Member

    Dave – some very well put points and I’d like to say how great it is to see the Moomin of old back on the board - a sign perhaps that the past few months of uber trolls are behind us on this board. Hopefully anyway

    I would pick up on one point though – you mention ” We're talking about brass band composing and arranging, not pop. It's striking quite how few pieces one plays in a brass band with a woman's name somewhere at the top right, at least in any band I've ever played for.”.

    However the driving force behind the original campaign –which the original posters’ band have decided to follow – is (from memory – Im currently sitting at my work desk and cant be seen to be trawling through band-related stuff….) around the lack of females in the general music and performance world – so not just bands, but pop too.

    It’s a generally admirable concept, however my main issue with this particular campaign is that there are so many “holes” – they are looking primarily at Brass and (being a brass band) primarily at the Brass Band world – but then they go on to list several orchestral composers that have written for small orchestral brass groups. They also name composers and songwriters that have had items arranged for band (usually by men, admittedly) such as Katie Moss (Floral Dance) – but then they miss big modern names like Adele.

    If they had pushed young and up-and-coming composers/arrangers then I think there would have been no argument. They could even have pushed females to the top of the list, as long as they included males in the same sphere. But they have tried to mount a campaign where most bandspeople don’t believe there is a problem – most of us like or detest a piece of music regardless of the name at the top of the page.
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  4. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Indeed. I don't much like standing on my professional context, but I do work at a cutting edge physics research centre as a physicist - this is not news to me. I have watched people come back after years away to care for young children, and then put in that amount of work to regain their former standing. It's hard work, but the people who want to find a way to do do it - and what I am saying is that they will find that employers are coming in recent history to be a great deal more obliging about finding creative ways to help enable it to happen. Of course also, the bigger the employer, the easier it is for them to absorb any short-term costs that this might involve. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to humans.

    Dave, I echo Euphonium Lites sentiments on your return and his hopes that the Trolling of the past does not return.

    I'm not going to challenge your post but wonder a little about the applicability, to the wider world, of your particular experience of women in your particular workplace. No offence is intended, let me comment further please.

    My experience of working in engineering and in companies that want to be seen to be doing the 'right' thing (for whatever of many reasons) is that some (i.e. not all) Physics based engineering companies will almost bend over backwards to attract and retaining female engineers, physicists and mathematicians. I don't believe that that positive stance is the case in both all engineering companies and in other industries, and very occasionally there is some possible discrimination in favour of men instead (Primary Schools like to have some 'token' mem in what is almost an all female profession).

    Might you like to review whether your experience is valid across many other employers and industries? I've come across quite a few ladies over the years who couldn't get back into their old profession or retain engagement with their old company when they left to manage a career break. It's definitely been the case for them that there were younger and cheaper pairs of hands available to do the work, and that those younger people needed comparatively little investment in them to be capable of doing the job. Once even temporally off of a career path it can be exceeding difficult if not impossible to get back onto it.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2017
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  5. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    I agree; but the attitude behind the initiative (the starting point of this thread) suggests to me that those who started this campaign are of the latter opinion. If they thought that a fair proportion of women and girls do have both the ability and the self-confidence to compose and arrange music for brass bands, surely they would have seen no reason for their campaign, would they? Unless, of course, they thought that the real problem was sexist bigotry on the part of players and MDs, rather than a lack of confidence on the part of female composers and arrangers?

    In fairness to myself, I quoted the examples I did to make clear that there are plenty of women and girls around who do have self-confidence - but if you read my post and thought I meant that was the case for all of them, then I obviously didn't make myself clear. I'm as aware as you are that attitudes - in both sexes - cover the full spectrum from 'full of confidence' to 'none at all'.
    I've no idea - because if a piece of music which our band plays is headed 'Composed, J. Bloggs, arranged by T. Brown', how are our players to know whether it was composed by Joe Bloggs or Jane Bloggs, or arranged by Tom Brown or Tina Brown?

    Although I'm only a learner, I regularly attend main band practises (as suggested by our female 1st baritone), because there is so much that can be learnt from doing so. There is a lot of discussion and comment about each piece; parts that different people like, or dislike, find easy or hard, discussion about points of interpretation - but the sex of the composer or arranger? I've never even noticed a hint of concern about that.

    As for our band; two of the four percussionists are female, as are the solo horn, second horn, third horns, solo trombone, second trombone, bass trombone, first baritone and one of the seconds, one solo cornet, rep cornet, one second and one third cornet - though the principle and sop cornets are both male, as is the flugel horn and both euphoniums. The mix of male and female is 50:50 - but all of them were selected on merit, not according to any quota or 'positive discrimination'.

    For me, Euphonium Lite sums it up perfectly:
    I couldn't agree more.

    With best regards,

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  6. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Looking back, I see that I posted my last post in this thread last Wednesday at 4.41 PM, taking a few minutes after the end of work to write it. What happened after that (literally the very next thing - the time I've been giving medical people for the occurrence is 4.45) was interesting; I turned my computer off, reached up to stretch, and felt what turned out to be my gallbladder go pop... Much much pain, ambulance, hospital, emergency surgery later, I'm back at home now (day before yesterday), on recovery leave for a while. I was on holiday leave for a week straight before this happened - hopefully I won't have to relearn my role when I go back, or be replaced by a younger and cheaper model ;-) Mind you, there aren't many cheaper models out there...

    So apologies if any of this is lacking in sparkling insight; I'm not on the toppest of top form at the moment.
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  7. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the compliment Paul. These days I sometimes feel like my voice here is treated by the group as one of provocation or even one of ideology, not of reason. This is not my aim, and it minorly frustrates me when it happens. But then the personality of the group here shifts from year to year.

    Yes, the link between the foundational campaign ("Women Make Music", which is run by the PRS Foundation, a music funding body) and the tie-in that the Harrogate band are making to it is important here, and rather getting glossed-over thus far in this discussion. Does it even make sense for the band to describe what they're doing as a campaign? It feels to me more like a concert tie-in with some fringe stuff in aid of an existing campaign run by others than an actual "we all pledge our bodies and minds to the cause", which is why my gut reaction to people talking about taking offence at it above was to want to roll my eyes. I guess the band must know what image they wish to project on the subject better than we do. But are they projecting what they think they are to people? Given some of the 'digging-in' kinds of negative reactions above, perhaps not. Surely a major point of such an initiative is to create meetings of minds, not to persuade people to pitch in for a disagreement, and if the mere announcement of it causes that, I tend to suspect that it'll be felt to have been a bit mishandled.

    Regarding whether pop (which is of course a very vague and nebulous label covering vast ranges of musical activities) has a problem too - the PRS foundation campaign website linked above has some interesting stuff on it. It's not germane to a discussion on whether having a brass band have a concert tie-in to it is appropriate, so I'll simply note that they supply evidence that the pop industry has large systematic gender problems, and leave that at that. I agree that it is a cause with a very wide focus, so much so that it struggles to look 100% coherent when one compares widely differing activities that fall under its umbrella.
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  8. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Yes, you're right; I'm very sure that I have with my personal eyes seen only a small and specialised corner of the world of work from the employee perspective. And I'm sure you're correct in saying that you're sure that there are still places that retain old problems. I am fortunate to work somewhere that accounts to governmental representatives rather than to a profit-driven bottom line - 'moral' and 'profitable' can be hard to make point in the same direction at times. But my point was that the incentivising of employers to go out of their way to make these things work and a resulting culture shift to a place where not doing so is seen as unacceptable is a recent phenomenon, one still ongoing; examples from some years ago were not from the same corporate world. If you like, when I am back at work, I can have that chat that I offered to Jack above with our Athena SWAN representative, who is a very clued-in person about this kind of stuff; she could supply me with the graphs. But I'm enforced off for a few weeks now, so it'll have to wait.
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  9. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    It seems clear to me that everyone relevant in and out of the room, including campaigning people, is 100% clear that people's qualities occur on a smooth distribution curve. Nobody is missing the obvious, not you, not me, not the Harrogate band, not the PRS foundation. As talked about above, there are two levels of campaign being referenced here; the general PRS foundation "Women Make Music" campaign, and the Harrogate band's tie-in to it, which to my eyes seems largely a flag to tie onto the corners of concerts (and none the worse for that - good on them for initiating the conversation). I think it best if we're always clear which of these we're talking about.

    The link given by Gavin in the first post in this thread to the Harrogate band website page on the subject tells us explicitly their logic in its first words: "Brass Bands wouldn't exist without women and yet barely any music is ever performed that has been written by a woman, very few female conductors exist, hardly any women adjudicate brass band competitions. It's a situation that is persists largely without question."

    They are observing that there is a very marked inequality of outcome, far more marked than could be waved away with thoughts about systematic child-rearing effects. My personal observation over having seen huge numbers of band concert programmes listed over the years certainly supports their assertion. Anyone want to register disagreement with it?

    It is a difficult thing to get your work onto band concert programmes - I know, I write and arrange myself, and it almost never happens. But there are those that do succeed in getting their work out there, performed regularly by bands that buy it. It is a difficult process, one that often benefits from a strong dollop of mentorship from a figure on the inside. It's personality-driven, and as happens whenever many people have a lot of talent, who you know and how they regard your future counts for just as much as what you know. Even now I only see a small proportion of female writers (notably smaller than even the unequal numbers of female players at that level - see below) being used for the new arrangement slots at such marquee occasions as 'Brass in Concert'.

    Regarding conductor and player numbers, Wendy posted in response to an older thread in the last week or so ("Women in Brass Bands") in which we managed to tread some gender ground fruitfully despite some initial antagonism; I'd like to reference some statistics that I compiled (from BBR) and posted in that thread (which was in 2014), detailing participation of female players and MDs at various contesting levels:

    Overall M:F gender balance of players in 1-10 (i.e. 'Europeans quality') ranked UK bands 2014: 240:49 (83:17)
    Same for players in 51-60 (i.e. 'solid championship section quality') ranked UK bands 2014: 202:74 (73:27)
    Same for players in 101-110 (i.e. 'championship/1st section quality') ranked UK bands 2014: 183:86 (68:32)

    Same for principal players in 1-10 ranked UK bands 2014: 80:19
    Same for principal players in 51-60 ranked UK bands 2014: 70:19
    Same for principal players in 101-110 ranked UK bands 2014: 57:22

    2014 area contest female MDs: 20/501 (4%)
    2004 area contest female MDs: 15/507 (3%)
    1994 area contest female MDs: 15/488 (3%)
    1984 area contest female MDs: 7/432 (2%)
    1974 area contest female MDs: 2/229 (1%)

    The original thread is currently easily found a few down in The Rehearsal Room.

    So I've written a fair few words in response to that sentence. In summary, both ability and self-confidence are part of a complex broth of attributes that cause and are caused by the situation. Equality of opportunity is the big thing. "A-ha!" you may say, "but we've solved that one, and you agreed that above!". To which I would draw a verbal picture in explanation...

    Think of becoming a brass band composer or arranger whose works are performed and known widely as the exercise of climbing up a long chimney - a difficult thing taken slowly, requiring continuous exertion and considerable ability-based fortitude. We've carefully organised the queue at the bottom to attempt it - anyone can queue and enter the chimney who wishes to. We know that most that attempt it will fail to emerge from the top, regardless of who or what they are; it's a big challenge. So far so good.
    But once underway, the climb is different for different people. Some find many hands reaching down to pull them up. Some even find that an experienced climber bears them on their back. Others find that the handholds are very unsuited to their grips and no-one is helping to pull them. When we see who emerges from the top, we find that very few women have made it. We need to find ways in which helping hands are not being evenly offered (and I underline that there is no badness in offering a helping hand), and offer helping hands of our own where we can. This, it seems to me, is exactly what the Harrogate band are doing here.

    I hope I have above convinced you that there are more possibilities than these. I see zero implication of sexist bigotry in any of this. That is a conversation that has largely been put to bed in our country these past 20 years, though strange hold-outs will always exist, I'm sure.

    Experience and research. If it says "J. A. Greenwood", a minute's looking online will tell one that renowned band conductor, composer, and arranger John Ambrose Greenwood lived from 1876 to 1953. If you want to post some unknown examples, I'll happily share anything I might know. I don't think I've ever in practice encountered a brass band piece with an initialled credit where the initial was part of a woman's name, though I'm happy to be corrected. After all, the practice of using initials in this way is now rather old-fashioned, dating from an era when women just didn't 'do' banding in any numbers.

    This segment I think illustrates the disconnect quite nicely. You are talking in terms of refuting allegations of old-fashioned basic-grade sexism. I think it's great that it just doesn't exist in your context, and we've noted this. But what's being dealt with here are the more subtle effects that I've talked about above. Reacting as if one is being accused of something culpable when no accusation of the sort is occurring makes it very hard to talk about the subtleties of what is actually happening.

    Everybody in and out of the conversation is on board with trying to make one's little bit of the world a fairer place genderwise. You, me, the other conversationalists here, the Harrogate band, the PRS foundation. Literally none of these people are alleging sexism. To think that anyone is is causing conversational hiccups.
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  10. Mesmerist

    Mesmerist Well-Known Member

    I'm glad to see you are resting and taking things easy Dave! As usual, excellent posts from an extraordinary brain. I'm really pleased to see you on here and hope you are feeling much more comfortable?
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  11. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Ouch, ouch, OUCH!! Oh, golly, Moomin Dave - having had my own gall bladder blow up, many years ago, I really can and do sympathise. "Not in the toppest of top form at the moment"? No, I bet you aren't.

    I can only wish you a speedy recovery, and no after-effects.

    With best regards,
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  12. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Thanks Jack! I hope your occurrence wasn't too awful... Feeling a lot more human by now, but doctor's orders are to basically not do anything at all for another week, and not to blow trombone until the end of May. It was very nearly a lot worse than it came out to be in terms of after-effects.
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  13. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    It was over 40 years ago, Dave, but my memories of how it felt are still crystal clear. Unfortunately. It was several gallstones, but that was long before they had ultrasonic gear to shatter them, so it was a complete surgical removal job. Not nice. The only upside was that I was working for a blacksmith at the time, shoeing horses - and I was as fit as a butcher's dog - which helped my speedy recovery no end.

    Good-oh :)

    Please take that as a sound bit of advice, Dave - you've only got to look at the mid-section of any brass player when they're even playing mf, let alone ff, to see just how much pressure they're exerting with the diaphragm; and I understand that it's the most powerful muscle in the body.

    With best regards,

    PS: if I should discover any of these self-improvement places which do a crash course in patience, I'll let you know - so far, though, all my searches have proved fruitless . . .

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