You sigh

I haven’t been sleeping well recently, for what I assume is a variety of reasons. It’s a weird experience, as I usually have no problem sleeping till arbitrary hours, but I’ve been waking up several times a night. And I’ve never been good at remembering my dreams, unless I try really hard (which I don’t). So normally they evanesce, and that’s that.

But now, as I wake up over and over, my dreams integrate themselves into my conscious memory, and only several hours later, as I mentally reconsider recent happenings, do I jarringly realize that some of them are entirely made up. It’s like anti-deja-vu: instead of feeling like I’ve been there before, I realize that I’ve never really been there at all.


Speaking of places we’ve never been, chances are overwhelming that you’ve never been to San Sharma’s blog. I shamelessly promote his blog because he so kindly referenced mine, and also because he’s a good bloke and I like the way those damn Brits write.

So I had a couple of rants and observations* that I wanted to write about, but I’m not in the mood now. Here’s another reminiscence.

The other night I was listening to one of my Empire Brass CDs that I hadn’t heard in a long time. (Empire Brass is a great brass quintet. By way of analogy, Empire Brass is to Canadian Brass what Ed Witten is to Stephen Hawking: the real deal, the talent, the product, as compared to the publicly-adored yet inferior alternative.) So I was listening, and they were playing Faure’s Pavane, a heartbreaking piece that, like so much good music, defies written description (fie on you music critics!). The arrangement featured a gorgeous lead trumpet line, and was played to perfection with a dulcet vibrato.

Vibrato (to me) conveys feeling, emotion that’s un-notatable but somehow realized by your personal performance of the music. On some instruments, like the violin, vibrato is so routine that skilled players will often add it to nearly every note. On others, it’s more spontaneous, but you still have to make an effort for the vibrato to come out; for instance, when I play guitar, I have to move my hand back and forth.

As a wind instrument, the trumpet is a bit different. Most lines do not require vibrato. Some lines call for it; you can feel which ones those are, and you just will it to happen: you breathe the vibrato. Some people can fake it by moving their jaws. But the good kind of trumpet vibrato is the kind that just emanates from your body, carried by your breath, the kind that’s produced with no discernible physical movement. It just happens.

It’s been several years since I’ve played my trumpet, and I honestly don’t even remember how I did it. I’m not very good at expressing my feelings with words, but I remember during the best passages my heart clenched as I played, and the vibrato sang. I sat there that night, just listening but feeling the same feeling, my lips unconsciously pursed. It’s weird to think of that phase of my life as over. Why are words never good enough?


You know, I have to dredge myself out of this maudlin state of affairs. My next entry will contain exactly zero nostalgic references, I promise!

It seems like The Verve’s “Lucky Man” is a good song from which to derive inspiration: lyrics | the song.

* by “observation” I mean “the standard crap that I usually mention in my blog that is patently obvious to the average person but that I nevertheless find fascinating”

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4 Responses to You sigh

  1. ccho says:

    don’t worry

    Then there’s vibrato that comes from being tense. :)

    Remember when you claimed that 80% of a skill could be relearned with a little bit of effort? I’m sure if you keep practicing it will come back to you. I don’t think it’s something like your voice changing (somehow a skit from SNL with Elijah Wood comes to mind) or getting arthritis but rather muscle memory that will return with practice.

    As an aside, I wish I could sing with a decent vibrato.

    • aj says:

      Re: don’t worry

      You’re right; I just don’t see myself picking the trumpet up again in the (near) future. It’s a physically painful instrument to play, at least when you’re getting started again. Not sure if I have the fortitude for that.

      “As an aside, I wish I could sing with a decent vibrato.”
      Dude, me too! I bet we could take voice lessons or something like that :)

  2. Anonymous says:


    That’s interesting how vibrato works on the trumpet. I only know about vibrato when singing and on the vibraphone, and the latter probably shouldn’t count :). I think vibrato is kind of the same with voice as with the trumpet (the voice is also a “wind instrument” in some sense), except that maybe it’s harder to learn? For me, vibrato has always just happened as a natural part of my voice. I’m not sure how much of that natural feeling you can get through practice and lessons. But, maybe it’s hard to learn on the trumpet too. Anyway, cool post. -Manu

    • aj says:

      Re: cool

      Yeah from what you wrote it seems like they’re quite similar. It took several years of practice to get enough control over my body while playing for it to happen, but at that point it seemed to just happen. It’s been a long while, though, so I might be forgetting months of hard work in there, but I don’t think so :).

      Also I’ve noticed some people create vibrato while singing by moving their jaws, the same way trumpet players sometimes move their jaws, or even the trumpet itself. I wonder if this iscommon (or accepted).

      Anyway, thanks for the “eprops” — too bad this isn’t Xanga :)