Start Strong, Finish Strong

“Good morale in cycling comes from good legs.”   – Sean Yates

After a few decades away from playing my saxophone and bass clarinet, I got back into music in the past several years.  I play in the Abilene Community Band on Monday nights and in our church orchestra on Sunday mornings.  We have just completed our Christmas concert season and it was one of the easiest to endure since getting back into playing.  Bass clarinet parts usually involve a lot of sustained playing throughout all of the pieces.  With a repertoire of 10-14 pieces for our Community Band programs, it is common to play almost constantly for an hour or more during our concerts.

Until this year, I’ve always had problems with my mouth being in good enough shape to maintain a strong embouchure throughout the concerts.  Air starts seeping out of the corners of my mouth, my mouth muscles get tired and fatigued, and I sometimes have to pause from playing during some of the pieces in order to stretch my cheek and mouth muscles to have enough stamina to finish the songs.  I don’t like that.

I’ve realized that playing only on Sunday morning and Monday night is not enough to keep my embouchure in shape.  In the weeks leading up to this concert season, I began playing at home almost nightly to build stamina.  I’d play my clarinet, saxophones, and even brass instruments on a regular basis to build and maintain strength in those muscles.  It REALLY helped.  I don’t recall having any endurance problems in any of our performances.

As we’ve been preparing for our ninth long-distance bicycle ride, I’ve made a connection between developing and maintaining a strong embouchure for playing my bass clarinet with strength and endurance for our upcoming cycling adventure.

With the way we ride on our cycling trips, you don’t have to be in top shape to hit the road.  By riding as a team and (potentially) taking turns on the bikes and in the support car, it is possible to ease into the experience with lesser miles on the first few days and more miles toward the end of the ride.  A solid base-level of conditioning is required, but we’ve also come to realize that we get stronger on each succeeding day.  That strategy works better on longer rides.  On shorter rides (5-7 days), you don’t get to enjoy the benefits of being in really good shape for long before the trip is over.  On the Canada rides, you can ease into the adventure for 3-4 days and still have two weeks of strong riding.

This upcoming trip is loaded with veterans who know how things work.  They will either be in shape or will slide into ideal shape over the first few days.  The newbies have been encouraged and prompted to ride and build endurance.  Everyone on the team will undoubtedly have the strength to get started and enjoy the ride (maybe for just a few “musical pieces” at first).  I’m hoping that everyone has been working on building their endurance over time.  From experience, I know that it will be a more full and enjoyable experience for everyone if they start strong and finish strong.


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