I just wanted to do a little catching-up and share with everyone what an incredible three weeks I have had while away, both trumpet-related and not. First I will say that all of my flights went smoothly. A miracle these days and I am thankful. The airport security experiences in and out of Atlanta and Brussels were pretty bad, but I have grown accustomed to it. My time in Holland was fun and relaxing. My recitals and masterclasses went well in Belgium. I performed the Tartini, Ketting "Intrada", Persichetti "Hollow Men" with organ and Sachse "Concertino" with the brass band. These works were performed in several of the cathedrals in the region and the acoustics were PRIMA! I also had a wonderful visit with my mentor across the pond and his family. I spent Halloween night in the countryside of Limburg, amongst the pear and apple orchards, a bonfire of burning leaves in the distance and shared a glass of wine with friends while watching a blood orange sunset....it was magical. During my journey I enjoyed much yummy dark trappist beer and dark chocolate. The Belgians rule in those categories. Yummy yum yum. The 10 hour flight home was as smooth as one can be. They are never very much fun, but at least this was one of my better experiences. I was home in Atlanta for five days recovering from jet-lag. I then turned around and hopped a flight to Minneapolis to meet with our very own Manny Laureano for a few lessons we arranged ahead of time. I cannot begin to express what a gratifying, informative and wonderful experience it was. I walked away with knowledge/tools to truly refine my playing and an infectious enthusiasm for the musical menu I will have at my disposal once I have successfully tweaked my playing in accordance with Manny's guidance. Included was a special treat. Manny was gracious enough to give me the opportunity to play a few Monette trumpets. I have never held one, let alone played one and it was a fantastic experience. I had no opinion on Monette's one way or the other, but after playing a few duets on them (they were all C's), I am a believer for sure. The most glaring characteristic -- their efficiency. It is utterly amazing. Another curious occurrence......I brought a Bach C with me from Belgium that Petre wanted me to test out. It is a 239/25H that I had not a chance to play on very much yet. I found some problems concerning intonation and tightness in the upper register. I passed it to Manny and he confirmed what I thought. We were ready to just put it back in the case and say "next" when he had the brilliant idea of bringing in a couple of mouthpieces to try.....just out of curiosity and for kicks. I have been a solid "1" player for most of my trumpet life. These pieces were close to that rim size and after choosing the one I wanted, we proceeded to play the Bach. We were both amazed. The mouthpiece made it into a new horn! I am serious! It opened it up, fixed a lot of the intonation problems and added a wonderful, yet noninvasive, brilliance to the sound while allowing a warm core to remain. It literally transformed the instrument. The other added benefit I noticed at first 'toot' is that these mouthpieces force one to play correctly in a relaxed manner. They don't work to their potential if you try to muscle them, and that is a good thing. I have since been playing on it and pleased thus far. Again, I have to say, having never played a Monette mouthpiece before, I am truly impressed. It is understandable why those of you who own and play Monette's like them so much. They are worth the praise. I want to thank Manny publicly for his graciousness, his generosity, his guidance and his ability to inspire me to do even greater things on my instrument. He was a fantastic host as well. Thank you Manny. And to all of you, thanks for reading my long post. I just wanted to share with you what I have been up to lately and what a great, but intense, ride it has been these past three weeks. And now, the hectic holiday season begins. Whew......here we go!