A big band is not a democracy. If it is run like one, chaos will ensue. If everyone feels they can "lead" the band, there will be no direction, too many suggestions and no consensus. It will be like the family getting together at Thanksgiving and every uncle vying for attention. I see this far too often. The big band has a hierarchy and it works well. It is a little looser than the symphony but it works like this. The band leader is just that, the leader. He/she has ultimate control of all decisions and has veto power. During performance, everyone listens to the high-hat (or ride), tunes down to the bass and listens up to the lead trumpet for style. On a micro level, each section follows the style of the section leader (1st trumpet, 1st alto, 1st trombone). When there is a break in the action, these section leaders address the players in the section on issues of intonation, rhythm, style etc. I will reiterate. Far too often, you have players trying to "lead" for the 2nd trombone chair, 3rd trumpet chair etc. by playing too loud, using vibrato, playing a different rhythm, etc. This can not be. In Toronto, you can throw a stone and hit a rehearsal band. I have played in most. The ones that stand out are the ones that follow the hierarchy.
As I write more and more music, I get a little touchy when musicians second guess the composer's instructions. "Oh, he/she did not really want the band to go from piano to forte. That would sound ridiculous." Well, generally, composers/arrangers put great thought into their writing and we should give them a little credit. On the flip side, once you have an arrangement, you are free to interpret the music any way you like. But please, do not tell me that you can get inside the composer's head, unless you have experience performing the music with him/her personally.
I am not sure what the secret is to keeping your sole focus on the music but it is an essential skill to have as an artist. My big band can sound professional, I mean, one of the best at times. At other times, it can sound like symphonic musicians warming up . . . on jazz. Being able to focus for prolonged periods of time is a skill that is nurtured over time, I think. Part of that skill is letting go of, or forgetting about, your mistakes immediately, and keeping your mind in the present. I heard a golf coach say that you have to "bury" the last shot; it's dead, gone and in the past. Whatever the analogy or Jedi mind trick, you must be able to focus on the music at hand and block out other stimuli to play at the highest level.
My career is starting to take shape. As much as I beat myself up, I have to step back once and a while and be objective. The evidence is there: getting calls to perform, requests to arrange, interviews, and job offers (part-time educational positions here-and-there). I will write this so that I can reference it later when I get a little dark. :)
Dr. Michael Kearns
Musician, educator, husband, father, web designer ... my life is like a mosaic with each piece vying for my attention.