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Monday, May 3, 2010

Trombone Conundrum

I was at orchestra rehearsal last night and during a particularly rousing brass part in Vaughn-Williams English Folk Songs Suite my playing cut out and I suddenly realised I was unable to play the notes. This was at once bizarre and terrifying. I took the trombone outside and tried to blast a few notes, but it wasn't working - nothing was working. I've been playing for around eleven years now and played with three trombones and four mouthpieces, but I have never encountered this problem. I felt so helpless, like a runner who suddenly loses eyesight. I've Googled the issue and there are problems associated with brass playing, ranging from a broken embouchure (the position of the mouth to play the instrument) - the severest and career-ending malady, problems with the lips (swollen or chapped), nerve damage in the mouth, muscle damage in facial muscles, facial fatigue - a lot of scary sounding things! I have to play in a concert on Sunday, so I'm having a rest and hoping (and praying) the problem resolves itself. My reason for posting this is just to relay a bizarre event - something I've never thought about, I've always just picked up the 'bone and blown, all-of-a-sudden has fallen apart! I'll keep you posted...


  1. Hi Mat

    Sounds like it was at the rousing moment when you needed to come to the fore that the problem occurred.
    If nothing physical is the cause, it leads me to think it was likely to be a panic attack. If you are unsure, then you should see your GP.

    Were you aware of your heart racing and a sense of panic? I guess your breathing became shallow and fast, hence you were unable to play. Panic attacks are very common, they can occur out of the blue for no reason. Attacks do not necessarily repeat themselves, but can lead to avoidance of places/situations where they occured.

    Forge ahead and if it happens again, tell yourself that whilst it feels awfull, you are not going to die, focus on, and practice slow deep breathing (breathe in to the count of 3 and out to the count of 3).
    Have someone at the concert who you can confide in and talk to who is prepared to stay with you if it happens again. See

    All the best!

  2. Someone else suggested that; however I'm still unable to play proficiently 3 days later. Someone else has suggested it could be stress manifesting itself in this way - I really don't know, but as time goes on I'm finding it harder not to get worked up about it. I'll look into what you posted and see if it matches.

  3. Sorry to hear about this incident. Just to relate it to technology in education (which is probably the last thing you want to hear about at the moment, but I'll say it anyway!) - does anyone ever wonder what will happen if one day we pick up our computer and it doesn't work? What happens when technology fails us? Will the world fall apart - how would we adapt! Just a thought :-)

  4. I went ahead with the concert and the results weren't good. At any rate I have a chance to rest up now. About computers: my desktop computer died and I hadn't backed up some important stuff (I've since managed to recover it), but I'm still a big believer in keeping paper copies of things because who knows what could happen.

  5. Wow, Matt, sounds like a scary experience. Stress can have the strangest effects on people, though, and seems to manifest itself differently in everyone. Hope things sort themselves out now that you can have a bit of a rest.