What Mindset Should You Have For a Challenge?


The great athletes and musicians have something to teach us about preparation. But, probably not what you think.

Yes, they work hard and practice, practice, practice. They have a “day of performance” routine to get enough rest and usually are careful not to eat too much before the event. But as the clock ticks down to the big moment, mindset can be key. Whether competing in a race or playing in a symphony orchestra, “attitude” counts.

For the solo trumpet player who begins Mahler’s Symphony #5, mental outlook is crucial. He plays alone for over 20 seconds and dominates the sound when joined by the orchestra for the next 20. If it goes badly, even the musically uneducated know it. The 70 minute performance has been set on the wrong road and sometimes never recovers. How did the greatest orchestral trumpet player of the 20th century get into the proper frame of mind for this? Adolph “Bud” Herseth, the Chicago Symphony’s principal trumpet from 1948 to 2001, did something very simple.

Adolph "Bud" Herseth

Adolph “Bud” Herseth

According to longtime Chicago Symphony violinist Arnold Brostoff, it amounted to writing a bit on his sheet music. Brostoff happened to be looking at Herseth’s music stand during a break in a Chicago Symphony rehearsal of that piece just as his colleague stepped away for a few moments. What he saw at the head of the solo trumpet passage were two letters, “TP,” in Herseth’s handwriting. There is no musical notation matching those letters, so Brostoff was puzzled.

Herseth returned shortly thereafter and Brostoff asked him what it meant.

The answer? “Think positive.”

If you’d like to see and hear Herseth facing this musical challenge, click on the link:  Mahler Symphony #5.

The first photo is the Red Bull FIM Motocross of Nations 2008, Donington Park, England by Mark. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.