Lessons Learned

It is easy to believe that we are enriching ourselves, and those around us, by becoming living content providers. But we need to supplement this presentation of material with some shading of our humanity.

Written By

Nate Wooley


Photo by Michael Coghlan, via Flickr

Very few of us ignited our passion for music through critical thinking. Instead, small moments of enlightenment—flashes of understanding informing our future actions and ways of thinking—fanned the flames of initial interest into whatever inferno our obsession currently takes. It’s the primal urge to create, wherever it comes from, that remains at the center of what we do. And, no matter how we propose to articulate where we are and what we think, we are always coming from that place.

To that end, I see my series of posts this month as an opportunity to focus on my own essential moments of enlightenment and how they continue to affect the outgrowths of my work and philosophy, while steering away from articulating aesthetic, formal, and timbral concerns that live only on the surface of my thinking. In essence, I want to try to discover how the large lessons I’ve learned influence the way I think about and make music.

Natalie Lowrance was my piano teacher from ages ten to eighteen, when I decided to concentrate on trumpet. Mrs. Lowrance was a great teacher in the mold of so many great, underappreciated teachers. She uttered no magical phrase that changed the way her students viewed the world. She did, however, attempt to find an entry point for each one of us—to stoke our interest in music by speaking on our level and listening to what we had to say, creating an atmosphere in which one of those formational moments of enlightenment could be possible. For example, my first period of musical obsession came upon hearing a recording she gave me of Maurizio Pollini playing Schoenberg. It was not music she liked, but she recognized that it was resonating with me. We spent years talking about Schoenberg’s work frankly. We disagreed often, but always made the effort to logically back up our arguments and respect the other’s experience and opinion.

This experience changed the way I learn and is a model of how I want to engage with those around me. It is easy to believe that we are enriching ourselves, and those around us, by becoming living content providers: aggregators that provide information with a few simple comments and very little space for dissenting opinions. But, to provide the kind of entry points that allow other humans to spark a passion for music, we need to supplement this simple presentation of material with some shading of our humanity. We must create context by interacting with others to share the raw data by relating it to our own histories and opinions.

Essentially I’m suggesting we concentrate on the humanity of music by taking part in real discussion. By this, I do not mean “educating the unwashed masses” from a perceived aesthetic high ground, nor do I mean a forum in which everyone’s opinion is correct just for having been uttered. I mean beautiful, bloody, human arguments in which we listen, consider, reconsider, disagree, change our minds, or stick to our guns. Any discussion on any topic will do, as long as the end result is an exchange of ideas in which all participants leave with more to think about than when they entered. To that end, my editorial work with is based on experiments with how to achieve this level of real discussion through a single-curator online publication.

What’s the lesson learned? Embracing the moment of discovery—recognizing what it is and sharing the knowledge we gain from it with others through one-on-one interaction—is an essential affirmation of our individuality and the way we grow as a community. Our main goal as human beings should be to seek out and experience as many of these flashes of understanding as possible. As individuals in a culture, we should strive to be an active participant in creating a collective atmosphere in which these sparks ignite more musical ideas.


Nate Wooley

Nate Wooley
Photo by Vera Marmelo

Nate Wooley was born in 1974 in Clatskanie, Oregon, a town of 2,000 people in the timber country of the Pacific Northwestern corner of the U.S. He began playing trumpet professionally with his father, a big band saxophonist, at the age of 13. His time in Oregon, a place of relative quiet and slow time reference, instilled in Nate a musical aesthetic that has informed all of his music making for the past 20 years, but in no situation more than his solo trumpet performances. He has performed regularly with such icons as John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Eliane Radigue, Ken Vandermark, Fred Frith, Evan Parker, and Yoshi Wada, as well as being a collaborator with some of the brightest lights of his generation like Chris Corsano, C. Spencer Yeh, Peter Evans, and Mary Halvorson.