Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Alessi Seminar Notes, Day 8.."Jaw Droppers"

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 began with the usual warm-up sessions (ours was led by Paul Compton) followed by trombone choir rehearsals. After lunch, we boarded buses and traveled to St. Paul's Lutheran Church for our second concert which consisted of soloists, chamber groups and both trombone choirs.

In the evening, Joe gave another masterclass. The performers were:

me - a maestoso etude followed by Mahler's 3rd
Casey Thomas - Castereded Fantasie Concertante
Miguel Rivera - Morales Fantasy for Trombone and Piano
Josh Bynum - excerpts


Once again, I don't have notes to share from my own coaching. Here the notes I wrote down from the remainder:
  • Joe discussed the problem of excessive tension in slide technique. He suggested that, sometimes, you need to just let go. Just play it.
  • He noted that many times he tells his students to do something and they tend to overdo it, going too far with a suggestion.
  • He gave the analogy of great athletes and how they stay so loose.
  • He referred again to the idea of a "dead man's float" (floating in pool, completely relaxed) as he discussed staying relaxed in a performance.
  • He suggested, "Try to wean yourself from the music." Don't be so dependent on the music as you perform. For a demonstration, he moved the music stand farther and farther from the student. "I think that's a good test as you learn a piece. Do you have to be so dependent on the music?"
  • In faster passages, relax the slide more. Don't try to stop the slide in each position. "It becomes more of a glide." He demonstrated, playing a repeating chromatic scale at faster and faster tempos to show how the slide action becomes smoother as you speed up.
  • To free yourself up while tonguing rapidly, let the tongue come back. Don't try to spit out every note. "Start thinking 'dah' "
  • When killing time with colleagues from the NYPO, they chat about everything and sometimes talk shop. His colleague Phil Smith (Principal Trumpet) likes to use the term "the gully" to describe that spot on the roof of the mouth where one should place the tongue when tonguing rapidly.
  • Some passages you should know so well that you can wake up in the middle of the night and play them. While the student was playing a challenging, fast passage, he also suggested that one should make phrases out of the notes.
  • He demonstrated a scale exercise he likes to do, suggesting that we do this every day with the metronome:




  • When a student played a rhythm that wasn't accurate, he said, "You cannot lie about rhythm." He gave the analogy of someone who cheats on their golf score.
  • He praised the UNM Wind Ensemble Conductor, Eric Rombach Kendell, because he makes his students sing their parts. He then gave a short demonstration singing and conducting in strict time.
  • He talked about playing a Bordogni vocalises in 5 ways:
  1. As is
  2. Tenor Clef
  3. An Octave Down
  4. An Octave Up
  5. In Tenor Clef Down Two Octaves
  • He began one vocalise and expected the student to be able to play along with him from memory.
  • He pointed out that, in particular, there were two Bordogni etudes that everyone should have memorized and be be able to play in those five ways without using the music. This, I believe was the one, he was playing with the student:




In a humorous moment, after playing the first etude with the student, he asked audience to sing the other Bordogni every trombone player should know. Sure enough, we all started singing:






  • In talking about high range he said, "The higher you go, the sweeter you play. That's my motto."
  • He suggested that a good way to develop the high range was to get a fake book and start learning some of the standard jazz ballads. Be able to play them in the high range.
  • He observed that, when he goes into the high range, it's easier if he eases off a bit. "Let the note go up there by itself." He also said, "I almost try less."

Although I have been trying not to interject my own opinions into this blog, I do want to point out that, as he was making these comments, he was demonstrating some of the most beautiful, effortless high playing I have ever heard. I think it's fair to say that a lot of jaws were dropping.

  • Concerning long practice sessions, he said, "You can play ten hours a day but I don't think it's going to do you any good." He went on to note that he doesn't get his endurance from playing ten hours a day.
  • As you descend into the low register, be sure to maintain an embouchure. There should be no air escaping.
  • If you rely on single tonguing for too long, the tongue is going to get tired. He sometimes will alternate between single and double tonguing.
  • He gave another demonstration of tonguing while accenting the KAH syllable (tah-KAH). He pointed out that if you really want to develop strong double tonguing, you need to practice it very slowly. He also pointed that you can practice it while walking down the street.
  • He pointed out that, at faster tempos, the syllables "da-da-ga" worked better (than "ta-ta-ka")


Mozart Requiem

  • In the opening figure, he talked about 'air management' suggesting that one option was to go a little faster.
  • Many people have the problem of using a different tempo for half notes and the quarter notes.
  • Concerning intonation, he said that you have to microtune. Every partial is in a different place.
  • On the legato arpeggios (beginning on low B-flat) he advised the student to let the last note of each arpeggio relax a bit. I believe he meant to not clip those notes off.
  • He advised the fourth position D as passing tone in the legato lines to avoid 'sawing.' He demonstrated repeatedly jumping back and forth between first and third positions as a sawing motion.
  • At one point, Joe and the student played through the excerpt together for pitch. This was a common practice with many of the excerpts presented at the seminar. With other students, he would sometimes play along playing from one of the section parts from memory.
  • With this excerpt, the pitch has to be right on. You just have to listen more.


Hungarian March

  • On the ascending quarter notes, he suggested starting with the trigger B instead of 7th position for better intonation.
  • To help with timing, he had the audience sing the opening tuba arpeggio right before the big run. After we did it, he joked, "You guys are late."
  • Since he had already worked on this excerpt with the student in a private lesson, he had the student recall some of the concepts presented in the lesson:
  • Joe had suggested "symmetrical breathing," meaning taking breaths in the same places rhythmically.
  • In the ending of the excerpt, he had suggested using the D in the alternate 4th position.
  • On the opening scale, Joe had noted that most people tend to use too much tongue and not enough air.


The Ride

  • He praised the student for playing the excerpts from memory.
  • He noted that, when playing this excerpt, he hears rhythms from the piece in his head. He sang the rhythm pattern of the accompaniment and one of the singer's lines.
  • He suggested these slide position choices for the opening of the ride (the minor version):





Someone asked if, in a live hall, would he bring down the pitch of the last A-sharp (given that it is effectively the third of a major chord). He said that he would bring it down a bit.

He suggested a sequence for working out this excerpt with respect to intonation.

First, play the long notes (beat 2 and 3 of each measure):





Next, practice the excerpt without the dotted rhythm, using straight eighth notes:






Or, if this is giving you trouble, you could practice it this way:





He suggested also practicing the excerpts using subdivisions:






As a demonstration, he had the student play the original excerpt while he played the subdivided version.

Another practice technique was to isolate portions beginning at each 16th note.






Concerning breathing, he suggested two-bar phrases.


That's all for now.

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