Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Alessi Seminar Notes, Day 2 (part 2).. Masterclass No. 1

Please note:

These entries from the Alessi Seminar are not a literal transcript. I took written notes and then typed them up. I have made every effort to be accurate but, as you might expect, each blog entry is a meager substitute for actually being there.

Remember that many of the things Mr. Alessi says in these masterclasses are in the context of addressing the needs of a particular student and should not be seen as universal mandates to be mindlessly followed.

If you are serious about pursuing musical excellence on the trombone, there is no substitute for actually attending one of Mr. Alessi's seminars. You'll be glad you did.


In this master class, 5 participants played:
Paul Compton - The Pugh Concerto (mvts. 1 &2)
Weston Sprott - The Grondahl Concerto (mvts. 1&2)
Joseph Rodriquez - Gershwin Medley
Louis Bremer - Sagittarius 2
Nicole Abissi - Martin Ballade

Here are some of my notes:


  • Joe quoted Wycliffe Gordon, "You have to be able to sing what you're going to play."
  • Make sure your phrase lead to the last note. When you get to the end, don't give up. Finish the phrase. He gave the analogy of a racehorse slowing down before the finish line.
  • He pointed out that the hardest thing about music sometimes is that we play with blinders on. Take the blinders off and see the whole phrase. He gave the analogy of bad drivers who don't see the whole road around them.
  • Be sure your technique is clean. He pointed out that his teacher harped on him all the time about his slide.
  • When working with an accompanist, lead don't follow. He observed that this is what messes a lot of people up when they audition for Juilliard. "They don't drive the car."
  • One possible cause for playing sharp is a too-fast air stream. "Personally, I like low and slow" Lower pitch, slower air stream.
  • He suggested that the student should try to make the sound reach to the corners of the hall. He then demonstrate and said that, as he he plays, "I'm hearing the hall ring"
  • For the tendency to play sharp he suggested that one should let the sound settle down into the pitch. He also phrased it this way, "Let the notes sit down where they want to go."
  • Joe said in his own practicing he was thinking of incorporating some pitch bending (with the embouchure) to explore the center and find the sweet spot.
  • At one point he advised a student to sing more and take more risks.
  • Regarding phrase groupings and the comparison between the small phrases and the larger phrases: he pointed out that the overall phrase mark is the most important one.
  • At one point he observed "You have to think, 'I have nothing to lose.' "
  • If you want to learn about phrasing, listen to the great singers: Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Nat King Cole.
  • "I think when you're having fun, you don't get as tired."
  • For high notes, don't use a downward pointing body position. Think of lifting your body (and bell) as you play higher. This gives you a little more leverage. Joe talked about Maynard Ferguson's trumpet players and how they would lean back while playing high notes. He suggest doing a tiny bit of that same gesture.
  • One of the keys to phrasing, never do the same thing twice.
  • A recital of trombone music can become very boring if a player plays in only one style.
  • A common musical problem is that we sometimes crescendo too soon. Often you should wait to start the crescendo.
  • Be more aware of the thematic material in the piano part. Know when to back off and let the piano lines come out.
  • Avoid the "car horn" sound where the tone has no musical shape. On many long notes, you can let the sound relax.
  • With respect to loud playing he observed that it's good to show off your stuff but that it should lead somewhere.
  • Regarding slide technique, he observed, "I'm not a "wrist-ey" player. {meaning not so much flexing of the wrist} I like to index with the slide. When I go to a position, I like to have a connection straight from the tone in my brain to my slide."
  • Avoid "panic breathing" in your performance. He described breathing as a chance to replenish yourself. Do this every chance you get.
  • "Be true to the music, not convenient to yourself."
  • Try rehearsing a piece from the ending and work towards the beginning. This way, you have a clear idea of how you want it to end.
  • Bad breathing often comes from trying to frantically rush through everything.
  • For rapid tonguing, he suggested pulling the tongue back a little (in other words, tongue farther back in the mouth.).
  • Have a consistent breath and breathe this one way whenever possible. He demonstrated by playing Bolero and then then Mozart Requiem, pointing out that he takes the same breath in either situation.
  • If you open your mouth wide to breathe, you end up closing the throat.


Wow, all this from one masterclass. I don't know if I'll be able to provide this much detail about every class (especially the ones I'm playing in), but I'll do what I can.


Oh yes, the recital. Well, what can you say......


he's the man



Monday, July 30, 2007

Alessi Seminar Notes, Day 2 (part 1)..The Warm-Up

Please note:

These entries from the Alessi Seminar are not a literal transcript. I took written notes and then typed them up. I have made every effort to be accurate but, as you might expect, each blog entry is a meager substitute for actually being there.

Remember that many of the things Mr. Alessi says in these masterclasses are in the context of addressing the needs of a particular student and should not be seen as universal mandates to be mindlessly followed.

If you are serious about pursuing musical excellence on the trombone, there is no substitute for actually attending one of Mr. Alessi's seminars. You'll be glad you did.



Today at the seminar, things really got cranking. The participants had a group warm-up led by Mr. Alessi followed by the first masterclass lasting about 3 1/2 hours. For me the afternoon filled up with rehearsals and sectionals. The day ended with Mr. Alessi's recital.

The Warm-Up Session

Joe led us through some of his ideas for warming up and maintenance. We also received an 8-page handout of exercises. I wasn't able to take notes during the warm-up itself but here are some recollections.

Breathing:
Joe showed us a breathing exercise which involved touching the toes and then straightening up and lifting the arms over the head as you breathe in.
He made an interesting analogy: air in playing is like pouring gasoline into a funnel. From your lungs you have this ample supply of air but you don't want to pour more into the funnel (lips/mouthpiece) than your lips can handle.

He also commented on how so many trombonists make the mistake of "hammering" away in their warm-up rather than working towards a relaxed, beautiful sound. Don't hammer.

The first exercise was a descending arpeggio buzzed on the mouthpiece ranging from middle B-flat down the pedal B-flat. (then the arpeggio is to be done in lower and lower keys).
A couple points about this: he advised us to scoop into the first note. Also he wanted the arpeggio to be somewhat glissy, not slotting into each note.

The second exercise, played very freely on the trombone, was basically a mixture of sustained notes and legato tonguing. The main purpose here was to find the pitch center.

During the 6th exercise, a slow, legato passage of expanding intervals he spoke of the importance of pitch accuracy and consistency. Here he made an interesting observation..

In any audition, only about 2% of the candidates stand any chance of being hired.
One of the major reasons so many candidates aren't worthy of serious consideration is faulty intonation.

Another reminder as we progressed: don't force or strain. Just get a nice relaxed, beautiful tone.

Incidentally, quite a few of the exercises were lip slur patterns.

Exercise #10 focused on slurring over wider intervals. He spoke of the importance of an even sound without favoring certain registers.
Exercise #13 consisted of a bold two-octave tongued arpeggio (B-flat to B-flat for starters) followed by a descending legato chromatic scale. Joe talked about the importance of mastering the chromatic scale starting on any note for true mastery of slide technique. Exercises 16 and 17 also focused on the chromatic scale both in triplets and 16th's.

At many points in the masterclass, he spoke about the importance of breathing well. As he described it a great breath is just like a sigh. He gave the analogy of losing something and then finding it after some searching. When you finally see it, you might heave a sigh of relief. This, he says, is the perfect breath.

He also introduced a different technique for breathing. Basically, he recommends that you maintain contact with the mouthpiece at the center and breathe in through the corners of the mouth by "stretching out" the corners a bit. He returned to this idea a couple times during the masterclass. Another phrase he used was, "Plug it in first and then breathe"

He stressed that this was an important concept to learn and that, once mastered, should really help with consistency and accuracy.

During the masterclass, I wrote down quite a few notes which I'd like to share with you. Check out the next blog for this...

Milt Stevens, you will be missed

It is with great sadness that I must report that Milt Stevens, principal trombonist with the National Symphony Orchestra passed away very recently.
Milt, who visited USC for a guest recital a few years ago, was a class act. He had a big impact on the trombone world and this sudden death is terrible shock for us all.

Alessi Seminar Notes, Day 1...SING! LISTEN!

Please note:

These entries from the Alessi Seminar are not a literal transcript. I took written notes and then typed them up. I have made every effort to be accurate but, as you might expect, each blog entry is a meager substitute for actually being there.

Remember that many of the things Mr. Alessi says in these masterclasses are in the context of addressing the needs of a particular student and should not be seen as universal mandates to be mindlessly followed.

If you are serious about pursuing musical excellence on the trombone, there is no substitute for actually attending one of Mr. Alessi's seminars. You'll be glad you did.

The first day of the seminar consisted of a reception, an opening meeting and first rehearsals for the trombone choirs.

Mr. Alessi pointed out in the meeting that the main purpose of this whole experience is to learn. He also noted that he learns quite a bit from these seminars.


Notes from the trombone choir rehearsal...

The main reminders in the rehearsal: sing and listen. In other words, never stop that singing approach to your instrument.

Also, never stop listening to musicians around you. Don't get into that mode where you are totally focused on your part and unaware of the group as a whole.

He told us a story about a conversation with a colleague in the brass section. Joe was asking him how he sounded so good in performance after performance. The colleague's reply was to just remember to keep singing. Sometimes he (the colleague) starts to hear those little voices in his head. When he concentrates on singing, the voices go away.

He pointed out that there are a lot of great players but they aren't always great listeners. "It's always easier to play with someone who is really listening."

As many of you know, James Markey just won the bass trombone spot in the New York Philharmonic. Joe made the comment that Markey was an outstanding listener.

So that's the message for today (and maybe for the whole session)


SING

LISTEN

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Alessi Seminar 5 - Day 0 ..Travel Joys

Time permitting, internet access permitting, I hope to make regular blog entries as I attend the Alessi Seminar.

The seminar starts tomorrow (Sun, July 29th). I'm in Denver after my flight was cancelled. At least they put me up in a hotel for the night.

An interesting question arises from this. You see, I've gotten in the habit of checking my trombone as baggage. This began when I flew into and out of a small Iowa airport and had no choice.

How to protect the horn? Well, here's what I do and so far I have had 5-6 successful flights with this. I have a wolfpack case (hard-sided). I wrap the whole thing in bubble wrap and shove it into a large black duffel bag. I usually stuff in a pillow and some towels for good measure. The key is to not be able to feel the edge of the case from the outside of the bag.

Thus, I end up with a large block amorphous blob that I check in that beginning. So far I have never had any damage or anything even close to damage.

Of couse, airlines do lose luggage....

Imagine that, I'd probably be the only participant in history who showed up for an Alessi seminar with no trombone!

Incidentally, I once spoke to a trombonist who had to fly several times a month. He would carry it on the plane, slinging over his shoulder in such a way that the boarding agent was less likely to notice it. If they did, they would ask him to gate check the horn. Sometimes he would even take the gate check tag off the horn as he walked down to the plane and just carry it on anyway.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007