Five Second Memory (Issue 720)

In which we are reminded to learn quickly and move on after mistakes. No brooding!

Clad in theater black, the three teenagers – a French horn player, a trombonist, and a trumpeter, together, Chicago’s Merit School of Music Honors Brass Trio – stood stage left, responding to questions from Christopher O’Riley, host and house pianist of NPR’s popular radio broadcast, “From the Top,” which features rising young (sometimes VERY young) stars in classical music.

Playing in a serious brass trio is extraordinarily demanding. The high expectations of precision and the accompanying intensity of preparing, listening, anticipating, reacting to visual and aural cues, and disciplining one’s butterflies in performance far exceeds that required of us in sales calls.

And, players make mistakes. In competitions and performances, mistakes are obvious and unrecoverable, and the margin for differentiation from competing brass trios razor thin. Players can’t go back and rephrase entrances or high notes with “…what I really meant there…” A single mistake in pitch, timing, or intonation can make the difference between winning honors and going home without, emotionally drained and deeply disappointed.

O’Riley, addressing 18-year-old horn player David Sweeney, said: “The French Horn is a VERY risky instrument. Difficult to control. And yet, you learned something from your baseball coach that helps you?”

“Yes,” replied Sweeney. “Five second memory. When I would make mistakes on the baseball field, I would feel bad about letting my teammates down. Coach said, “’Five second memory. Analyze it, figure out what to do differently, and move on.”

O’Riley laughed and responded, “Yes, better that than carrying the mistakes around with you into your mid 50’s.”

Or even to the next day or next week.

“Yes” to that!

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