The Power of Performance with Shane Cox
Welcome to the Power of Performance
Hours of instruction and practice. Breath work, visualization exercises, and perfecting one’s technique. Why do gifted musicians put so much energy and focus into their craft? To perform!
At MacPhail Center for Music, accomplished faculty dip into their own, considerable stage experience to help students unlock their potential. The power of performance—a sacred, uplifting communion with an audience—isn’t easy to put into words. But we are asking our teaching artists to try.
Shane Cox (trumpet/cornet, trombone, tuba, jazz, theory)
“When I perform, I’m tapping into a child-like state, approaching everything with joy and curiosity,” says Shane Cox, a multi-instrumentalist and band leader in Minneapolis. “I get to be my most untethered, free self.”
As a MacPhail teaching artist, Shane teaches students a range of brass instruments, including euphonium, trumpet, trombone, and tuba. The teaching process involves a lot of work on technique, followed by a great deal of practice. But it’s all in the service of a greater goal: the joy of performance.
Shane knows that joy well: An accomplished local performer and band leader, he’s played on the streets of New Orleans, done performances for the San Francisco Symphony, performed gigs with wedding bands, jazz combos, and music groups across genres like funk, Balkan, cumbia, (and more.), and he’s been seen by millions on the internet.
In fact, new performance opportunities have been the impetus driving him to learn more instruments.
“I started out as trombone player in elementary school,” Shane says. “Then one of the bands I was playing in needed a trumpet player. Basically, I learned it on stage.” Later, when Shane was playing in a brass band in New Orleans’ Jackson Square, they found themselves in need of a tuba player. “I said, ‘Well, I know how to play these other instruments.’ So I learned how to play tuba in front of a crowd of people.”
The idea of learning on stage might terrify some, and as a professional, Shane has put in the hours of technique work that serious musicians undergo. (“The way you get over jitters is a lot of repetition and practice.”) But there’s an element of risk in performance, and Shane’s noticed that new musicians can often feel overwhelmed by it.
“Sometimes I get older students, and I can tell they’re nervous, performing for me,” Shane says. “Fear holds people back. They worry that they’ll be judged. So I have them make bad notes on purpose. ‘Make a fart sound on your trumpet!’”
When the students comply, Shane compliments them on the beautiful note, and they laugh. “The bottom line is good bands are like children playing with toys; It’s about the joy of telling a story.”
And this is something we all need—not just the players on stage. “We express the creative parts of our lives when we perform, and that goes for the audience as well,” Shane says. “When the audience participates, dancing along, they are playing, too. Their imagination is engaging. Mentally, it’s good for the soul.”
Over the last few years, Shane’s expanded his audience exponentially through the live streaming service, Twitch. He’s fully embraced this “new way of doing things”—playing live online, attracting fans all over the world. But this has also brought a new set of challenges, like not being able to hear the audience clapping or see their facial expressions.
“I have to look inwards and tap into, ‘What am I enjoying about it?’” he says. “In a sense, I’m performing for myself. The audience can tell if you are having a good time. If I’m bought into what I’m doing, then that translates for them.”
That said, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of collaborating with other musicians on stage. Recently, Shane was playing tuba in a traditional jazz show, alongside an exuberant drummer named Jay Epstein (“a guy in his 70s, who was having such a good time”).
“But it was the piano player, Rick Carlson, who really got me,” Shane says. “We were all reading music as sort of a road map to play together. But this guy never looked at the music. He was staring at whoever was soloing.”
Carlson implicitly understood what he was there to do: constantly communicate with his fellow band members. It was a joyful conversation, one that Shane couldn’t help but join.
“He was just always responding to what others were saying when they were soloing,” Shane says. “And when he was soloing, he was practically in a meditative state, eyes closed, so ultra-present, overtaken by energy. I can’t help but feel an energy when I’m playing with someone like that. It makes me want to go into the moment even deeper.”
Shane Cox is currently accepting new students. Visit his faculty page for more information.
Shane Cox Playlist
Listen to songs that Shane has arranged and recorded horns (trumpet and trombone) on. (Or, catch him on Twitch)