In 1995, after my freshman year of college, I had my first lesson with Arnold Jacobs himself. I rode a bus all night from Evansville, IN to Chicago. I was excited and nervous, but as prepared as I could be. I knew I was meeting with the master, but I had no idea how it would change my playing and ultimately my life. I did not know much about him or his teaching, but Professor Conklin trusted him. I had heard his students speak and play, and I just knew he was going to teach me how to do what they were doing. I lugged my trombone, a huge bag of music, a large dual-deck stereo component tape recorder, and a microphone into Mr. Jacobs’ studio.

 

I can remember reading the entire book The Art of Brass Playing: A Treatise on the Formation and Use of the Brass Player’s Embouchure by Philip Farkas (Principal Horn, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1936–41, 1947–60) during my bus ride. I studied every relevant aspect of the function of the body and tried to memorize the shapes and pictures of the embouchures that Farkas had included in the book: those of the legendary brass players from the CSO. While I was setting up all of my gear, I casually mentioned to Mr. Jacobs that I had read Mr. Farkas’ entire book; he smiled and nodded knowingly as I finished getting ready. Then with a kind, unfading smile he said, “You should take that and lock it in a drawer.” I was a little stunned and confused at that statement, and Mr. Jacobs must have sensed that. After a moment of silence, still smiling he said, “And if I write a book, you should lock that in a drawer too.” (Heath, 1995) I had no idea how large a part of Mr. Jacobs’ philosophy and teaching style was wrapped up in what he had just declared. He acknowledged the brilliant work and playing of his colleague, Philip Farkas, and told me that it was my approach that was in error. Knowing the contents of Farkas’ book, Mr. Jacobs knew that I was looking for the right physical approach to playing the trombone. He already knew the questions I had, and the answers I was looking for, even before I played a note. He was gently telling me that the book was not where I was going to find those answers. In that first lesson, he said, “As human beings, this is simply not how we function. We function on the basis of product not process.” (Heath, 1995) What he meant was that we need to focus on the result rather than the means of achieving it. Despite the jarring start, we continued on to what would be one of the best and most encouraging lessons I would ever experience.

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