This article is from the brilliant ‘Secrets of the Musical Mind’ where you can hear the full pod cast and many more great interviews with musicians around the world. Freedom for Musicians would like to thank the team for sharing this article.
By James Newcomb
Larry Meregillano is a Bach artist/clinician. He started his professional career playing in big bands in San Diego
in the early 1970’s. In 1976, he was hired to play in Tom Ranier’s Show band at Disneyland.
A year later, Mr. Meregillano joined the gospel group Truth and soon after went on to perform and tour with The Bill Gaither Trio. While traveling and recording with The Bill Gaither Trio, he also recorded with Sandi Patti, David T, Clydsdale, Ron Huff, Don Marsh and many others.
In 1980, Larry returned to California and became the lead trumpet player
for the world-famous Disneyland Band. In the late 1980’s, Larry was hired to play in the PTL Television Orchestra with Jim and Tammy Faye Baker. From there he joined Princess Cruise lines as Musical Director.
After many years, Mr. Meregillano moved to Orlando, Florida, where he performed with many bands at Walt Disney World, MGM Studios, Epcot Center, Universal Studios and Pleasure Island. He has also been the Musical Director and performer for many cruise lines including the world-famous Queen Elizabeth 2.
Larry has toured with the Temptations and The Four Tops, and has been a sideman for Rosemary Clooney, Joe Williams, Jack Jones, Bob Hope, Celia Cruz, Frankie Avalon and many, many others. Mr. Meregillano has recorded with many artists including Hubert Laws, Latoya Jackson, and Rick Dees.
Mr. Meregillano can often be seen playing with The Tom Kubis GWC Big Band and is a busy freelance musician playing recording dates, theater and stage shows in the Los Angeles area and around the country.
JN: This podcast is about the psychology of peak musical performance. And in order to talk about performing at our best, sometimes we need to talk about times when we weren’t at our best. So can you tell us a story of a time when you expected to play well but it didn’t work out as you thought it would? And then how you dealt with it.
LM: When I was 19 years old, I was a featured soloist in my father’s church. I had decided to change my mouthpiece just a couple of days before. So there’s always a learning curve when playing a new mouthpiece, and when I got up to play the solo, I couldn’t make it halfway through. There were a few hundred people there. My lips just collapsed.
So how did I deal with it? For all the hours and hours of practice I had put in to that point, I felt as though my trumpet had let me down, that I had let myself down. So I slammed my trumpet down in the case, marched out of the church and walked the 5 miles home. I was so upset (laughing). Today, I deal with things like that a little differently. But that was progbably the worst moment of my young career. I was so humiliated and so let down.
The problem with the trumpet is no matter how good a musician we are, if the physical elelments are not happening, we simply can’t get the music out of our bodies. No matter how much we study, how much we know the style, intonation, how music should flow. If we don’t have the chops to produce the tone, we are nothing. That’s why trumpet players are notorious for calling themselves slaves to the instrument. WE always have to practice every day, certain rudimental aspects of playing. Otherwise we could very easily make a fool of ourselves, no matter how high up the ladder we might be.
JN: What was the difference between your old and new mouthpiece in that story?
LM: I think I was playing a Bill Chase Jet Tone. Remember this was the 1970’s. Bill Chase was all the rage and I wanted to sound just like him. So ultimately, I just didn’t have enough time to make the adjustment physically in that particular case.
JN: Not everyone listening to this is a trumpet player, so not everyone knows that the slightest chance in any part of the mouthpiece can make a tremendous difference in how it feels to the player. It usually takes a little while for your body to get used to a new mouthpiece. So looking back at that experience, aside from the obvious of playing a new mouthpiece before you were used to it, what could you have done differently in that situation?
LM: The way I handle it today when I’m not 100%. The fact of the matter is the audience had no idea I was struggling. I should have been more gracious, put my horn down, smiled and got on with my day. That’s the way to handle it. As long as you’re doing your very best at any given time, you’ve done your best to prepare, you’ve done everything you can do to make a good performance, there’s no reason to feel bad about missing a few notes. I probably remember it worse than it really was.
So how I handled it then as a new pro player was a lot differently than today. Today I would just laugh it off. But then I internalized it. I got mad, I stomped 5 miles home.
JN: Perhaps there was some slight ego issues you had to work through.
LM: I don’t know if it was ego or if I was just so disappointed in myself. I had tried so hard, practiced several hours a day. But today, you realize that your worst is still at a level that’s acceptable. You just relax and roll with it. Collect your check and go. You split a note, you might miss an entrance. The best advice in such a situation is when you’re not feeling well and not up to par, hide what you can’t do. Let them think you can do it. You don’t have to show them if it’s not written.
Sometimes we’re just too hard on ourselves and we want to sound like Maynard Ferguson when all we’ve got is Herb Alpert. No disrespect to Herb Alpert, but I want to sound like Maynard!
JN: What’s the highest profile gig you’ve ever done?
LM: It’s hard to pick one out, but since this podcast is on the topic of performance anxiety and such, let’s go back to 1980. At the time, I was working at Disneyland and I was chosen to be the lead trumpet player of the Disney show that performed there for their 25th Anniversary. We took the show to New York City with part of the United Nations delegates. I got so nervous. Here I am sitting with the top guys on Broadway, all these high profile figures at a black tie event in at Lincoln Center. I’m 23 years old.
My mouth was getting dry, so I drank a bunch of iced tea before the show. Fortunately for me, the show didn’t last that long. I nailed it, but I don’t think I’ve ever had to go to the bathroom worse than I did during that gig. It was rather painful (laughing)
After the show, one of the top Broadway players came up to me back stage and said, “Larry, come move to New York. I’ll put you to work right away.” I’m just a kid, 23 years old. Scared to death of the Big Apple. I often wonder how my career would have ended up had I taken him up on his offer. But I was working quite often at Disney and I really didn’t need another job.
Another high profile gig was for the opening of Pocahantas, again in New York City. They had several acts on, and I was up there with a rock and roll band from Disney World. And there were 450,000 people there at this live concert. I’m having fun, no dry mouth, no issues at all. I just had a great time. I play a jazz solo, and I’m having fun until I look over my left hand shoulder and who’s watching me play but Wayne Bergeron? He’s just staring at me.
Wayne was lead trumpeter with the Disneyland band, this is early in his career, so that didn’t bother me too much. But then I looked over my right shoulder, and there stood Arturo Sandoval. He’s staring at me too. I suddenly started shaking in my boots.
So the huge crowd didn’t bother me, but those two people did. Interesting how that goes.
JN: What do you think the difference between this time when you’re playing in front of 450,000 people with no problems, and playing at your dad’s church where you fell apart in front of 300 people?
LM: I was 19 years old when I fell apart. By the time the first gig I mentioned came, I was 23. I had grown a lot, had a lot more experience. And at the second gig, I was in my 40’s. So as you grow as a pro musician, you just learn to adapt this mindset that you’re as comfortable as you are in your own living room. Doesn’t matter who you’re playing for.
In the 80’s, I was one of the trumpet players in the TV series, “PTL Show” with Jim and Tammy Baker. Every day, I’d have to remind myself that at the end of my microphone were as many as 68 million people listening on a live cast. There’s no taking back a clam. So it’s okay to have a little bit of edge, a little bit of stage fright. It’s motivation to heklp you concentrate on what you’re doing. So we’d get comfortable, laughing with each other and all of a sudden the producer is saying, “5,4,3,…” And you’d better play that note correctly.
JN: It’s just a matter of making those nerves work for you rather than against you.
LM: Absolutely. A little bit of nerves is good for you. You’re on edge, you’re concentrating, ready to go. The worst thing you can do is be in a situation like that and be lethargic. That does happen to us as professionals. Day after day, it can get lackadaisical, you’re not concentrating.
JN: Larry, you are now on the Hot Seat. Do you think you can stand the heat?
LM: I think so.
JN: It’s 5 minutes before you go on stage for an important performance… What are you doing?
LM: It depends on what I’m doing, whether it’s a Broadway show or an entertainer I don’t know. I’m looking at the book. What will I play, what are the key changes, how should I pace myself? I’ll do an instrument inventory, mutes, oils, right mouthpiece, etc. Most important is the mental preparation. You can rehearse the show in just a few minutes by flipping through the book. Make sure it’s in order. Every aspect of musical performance I’ll review prior to playing.
JN: What’s the best performance-related advice you’ve ever received?
LM: Think before you stink.
JN: Can you share one tip for our listeners to help deal with stage fright? (Physical, mental, etc.)
LM: I struggled with this for a long time. What I’ve learned is just relax. Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness. When you’re prepared, you have confidence you’re not going to clam up, that your chops are up to par, that you’ll play what you need to play. If I haven’t practiced before a performance, I’ll be nervous because I’m not 100% sure how it’s going to go. But when my guns are loaded and ready to go, I have confidence to know it’s okay. I can do this.
JN: Imagine you’re on stage. It’s the end of the performance and the audience is on its feet, applauding. They don’t want any more and they don’t want any less. Everything is perfect. What have you just done? Give details: Venue, repertoire, band mates, etc. Get Creative!!!
LM: One of the most poignant memories I have in my career was a Latin weekend at Disneyland and Celia Cruz was there. I was doing a trumpet battle with a friend of mine at this show. We went back and forth, Celia is calling for us to keep going. We kept answering each other and we ended up on a double high D together. And spontaneously, the entire crowd stood up on their feet, yelled and cheered. That was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. That was a special moment, and I’ve had many that are similar to that.
JN: Larry Meregillano can be found on the web at trumpetlegacy.com. Larry, thank you for being on the podcast, and for bringing us one step closer to understanding the Secrets of the Musical Mind!
LM: Thank you for having me. It’s been a real honor!