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I once learned something valuable from jazz legend Rob McConnell. It happened when I was in high school, playing in the stage band.

I was a student at North Toronto Collegiate, which had an excellent and large music program. The school had a junior band, a concert band, a senior band, a stage band, a choir, and an orchestra! The teachers were all first rate, and the level of playing and commitment among the students was very high. (I wonder, in these days of reduced arts budgets, how many similar programs still exist in Canada. I like to think there might still be a few.)

We had our stage band rehearsals on a weekday evening (Tuesday was it?) One night our conductor brought in to rehearsal none other than Rob McConnell. He was to give us a coaching! The band members were well aware who Rob McConnell was. So we were all a little nervous when he came into the room.

I was on first trombone, and in one of the charts my part started with a G above middle C. Not a particularly high note, but at the time it was definitely up there for me and a bit dicey to play. (In fact, I still find that Gs and A flats need a lot of concentration.) So, when we started the chart I went ahead and split the opening note. Not what I had hoped for with Rob McConnell leading the rehearsal! When he stopped the band to rehearse something else, he mentioned the high G I had missed. Now I don’t want to give the wrong impression. He was very nice, and he didn’t make a big deal of it. I honestly can’t even remember exactly what he said. But I do recall that he really managed to convey to me the mindset and preparation I should try for when I had a challenging high note to play. In the end, it was probably even a good thing that I split that note because of the important lesson I took from it. Rob McConnell made me realize that I had to improve my concentration and preparation.

Not surprisingly, it ended up being a great rehearsal and coaching. We learned a lot about style. But what I mainly took away from it was inspiration and the lesson of being adequately prepared.

By Rob Tilley