Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Alessi Seminar Notes, Day 3 (part 1)...Aim and Fire

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 day began for the participants with a group warm-up led by Peter Ellefson. He generously gave us handout for not one but three warm-ups. He commented that he likes to update his warm-up every few years and that one shouldn't play the exact thing year after year (although it does work for some). Click on the link above and you can see these warm-ups, I blieve. Once again, I wasn't writing notes at the time but I do have a few recollections:

Pete recommended two books: The Brass Player's Cookbook and Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs.

When breathing, he recommended that you "keep the jar open" at the end of the inhalation. In other words, don't close off your throat.

He talked about the "4-1 disease" When playing a passing tone between 4th and 1st, many players play a convenient halfway position between second and third.

He included a wonderful exercise for playing extremely soft and stressed the importance of playing your very softest every day.

He spoke highly of an out-of-print book, "55 Phrasing Studies" by Jaroslav Cimera.

Lastly he threw in a very nice thought, "In order to be a quality musician, you have to be a quality human being."


The warm-up was followed, once again by a masterclass with Joe. We began the session with a moment of silence in memory of Milt Stevens.

The performers were:

Stephen Lange - Creston Fantasy

Jared Lantzy - Schnyder Concerto for Bass Trombone

Ben Perrier - Arrows of Time, Mvt 2

Quartet (Dishman, Abissi, Johnson, Brady) - Debussy Trois Chansons

Orchestra Section: Mahler, Symphony No. 2


Here are some notes:


Alternate positions present a trade-off between tone/pitch and facility.

When playing fast passages, don't worry about those little intonation adjustments (B-flat in sharp 5th and so on).

If you want to learn something quickly ... you can learn it twice as fast if you write in the positions, even the obvious ones

When demonstrating triple tonguing, I noticed he was using the T-T-K syllable pattern.

"Go for the gold, don't go for the silver."

In phrasing, your should try to earmark certain notes that you're going to go for.

When taking a breath, try to color the note before. "Think about what you're leaving in the hall"

You have to take risks. He commented that he is more impressed by someone who takes a chance even if they mess up rather than someone who only plays it safe.

Get used to placing the stand lower so the audience can see you. Don't have the stand blocking you. Also, don't let page turns distract from the music.

He suggested that we should play off to the side of the stand not right behind it.

He suggested that you should point your bell so that you're "bisecting the hall" In other words, straight out into the middle of the hall.

Many players need to move the air more slowly.

"The way you breathe affects the way you blow. It's a mirror." He demonstrated a breath with throat tension to show the sound of a bad breath. He again reminded us that the best breath is just like a sigh.

He pointed out that when you create friction or make a sound as you breathe in, you're closing off the throat.

On the old T.V. sets, you would use a dial...uhf, vhf, and you had to dial it in. In a similar way you have to dial in the note to find a sweet spot on notes.

If a new thing feels awkward, that may be good (he used an analogy of golfers who change their grip.)

"When you introduce the melody, let the melody speak for itself. You don't have to add a lot to it."

He used an interesting analogy concerning alternate positions: It's like going home and everything has changed in your neighborhood.

As you taper off the note, taper off the vibrato, ending with a straight tone.

A good practice technique for the high range is to play the passage down an octave and get it to sound the way you want. Then take it back up the octave.

"The higher the passage, the more you have to breathe deeper."

"Deep breathing does not mean making this sound (he demonstrated a somewhat noisy Darth Vader-like breath), I think that's a misconception."

For tonguing the high B-flat, he used the syllable "tee"

He also repeated (many times throughout the day) "Aim and Fire" as advice for hitting a high note.

All good quartets should try this exercise: close your eyes, then start and release together by listening to the first player.

He told a great story about Phil Myers (principal horn of the NYPO). Myers always wants to know is going on in everyone else's part. He takes the time to re-write each first horn part in Finale, adding complete cues for the other instrument parts. "When he walks into rehearsal, he is more prepared than anyone."


That's all for the morning masterclass. More to come ....

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