Friday, December 29, 2006


Got an interesting email from the director of the trombone ensemble Bone Therapy. They took my second BoneWeek fanfare and shortened it, nicknaming it the Bone Therapy fanfare. The group's leader even sat down, recorded all 8 parts in Garage Band and posted it on their site.

Here's a link.

I'm trying ( and struggling ) to write BoneWeek Fanfare #4. Apparently the ITA people aren't sick of me yet. I want to make sure it isn't too much like the others but is still pretty listenable and playable. One idea a I've had: I might make it a tribute to Malcom Arnold, who passed away last September. One way to do this: make it somehow connected to the Fantasy he wrote for unaccompanied trombone.

Here's a stunt I'm not talented enough to pull off (but it would be pretty cool): write a piece into which the original Fantasy would fit. In other words, if a 9th trombonist played along on the Fantasy it would fit with the fanfare. I don't think I'm going to attempt this since I doubt the original piece would be all that strong. This idea reminds me of Luciano Berio's technique of composing a Chemin that was designed to envelop one of his Sequenzas.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Hey Santa (part 2)

OK, so maybe Dec. 25th isn't quite the right day for this post but I figure the big guy was booked up in the toy department.

I remember I did a part 1 last year, so I guess this is becoming an obligation.

What do I want for Christmas this year?

Some way for more people to find
live classical music a relevant, vital part of their lives.

(cue: snores, sound of crickets. OK I admit this is a little abstract, maybe I should have just asked for some Slide-O-Mix Rapid comfort and about 30 slide sprayers since I keep losing mine).
But think:
How many of your regular neighbors have attended any concerts featuring classical musicians?

Every year I see those hopeful young students wishing to pursue a career as a performer.

With what job??
How many performance majors are churned out every year?
How many openings are there in jobs paying over, say, $15,000?

(Gee, Brad, Merry friggin' Christmas, ...Scrooge)

I've seen glimmers of hope ...
  • When I lived in Iowa, the local cable company included, free of charge, a fine arts channel. It ran a bit like on older MTV, playing videos either of live performances or just nature scenes with classical music in the background. Of course Time Warner doesn't bother with it here, no profit I suppose.
  • Watch people react when they hear the music from Lord of The Rings. Not often do you see that kind of strong emotional reaction to orchestral music. Were he alive today, do you suppose Wagner would be doing film scores?
That reminds me of a secondary wish (related to the first): could someone get Peter Jackson and Howard Shore to put together a 30-40 minute montage of scenes from the trilogy with an orchestral score to be performed live and THEN make the whole thing available on rental for a reasonable price. I'm guessing that any orchestra programming this would be pretty much assured of a sell-out crowd (*and* a younger demographic).
  • I bumped into a really good PBS series, Keeping Score, which helps people to become familiar with classical masterpieces.
  • A friend of mine, Phil Rehard, is involved with a new kind of concert series in Buffalo, NY. Patrons are expected to buy a subscription to the entire series (individual event tickets aren't available). If I understand correctly, the artists are contracted in such a way that, if the series doesn't sell enough tickets, they can cancel and not have to pay the artists. I believe it has been a big success (no cancellations) thus providing another venue for great musicians and great live music.
We can sit back on our heels and complain about how all the jobs are drying up or we can find a way to do something.

Reach out, become relevant, or watch our art wither away.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Speaking of You Tube (Bones Apart)

A quick word search of You Tube pulled up this Bones Apart performance (in case you haven't already seen it). Come to think of it, I think I was at this concert.

While you're enjoying the fireworks, please notice how relaxed they are. Especially note Carol Jarvis' shoulders during the piccolo solo. She makes it look easy!

It's not Easy Bein' GGGGGGGreen

And now for a trip down memory lane ...
In a previous post, I talked about my spectacular solo debut on "Young MacDonald had a Farm"

Fast forward to my junior high days and a glowing chance to be cool playing in the jazz band. Along comes that Kermit ballad, "It's Not Easy Bein' Green." Big trombone feature and it starts on a G.

Here's the catch: that note was bit of a problem for me. All on its own it wanted to split into two octaves.
"Oh great, now I have to stand up and play a solo starting on my worst note."

(I survived)

I still remember my "angry F-sharp" practice session while working on my master's in Cincinnati. After a lesson with Tony Chipurn in which I couldn't buy a clean attack on an F-sharp, I sequestered myself in a practice room and proceeded to play F-sharp over and over for about a half hour.

Finally, one of my friends knocked on the door, "Hey man, are you alright?"

Fast forward to the present day. Now, I've seen a lot of students and I gotta say, there's something about G and F-sharp (4th partial). I have one student who went through an embouchure change and sure enough those were the notes that gave him fits. Another student was recently playing Hungarian March in preparation for a professional audition. When I got nit-picky about clean attacks, guess which note was the culprit time and again. You guessed it: the G. (best intoned like "Da Bears")

This can't be chance. Is it the acoustics of the horn? Is it a slight embouchure shift? Is it just a big psyche-out? Well I think it's more than just that.

Without any prompting from me, my students succeed in struggling just a bit more on these pesky little notes.

Time for new lyrics?
"It's not that easy playin' G.
Havin' to spend each day pounding away on F-sharp, too
When I think it could be nicer playin' A or F or E-flat
Or somethin' much more stable like that.

etc. etc.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Taliban Habits

This one's been bouncing around in my head for a while.

In teaching, I seem to deal a lot with habits. Bad habits are sneaky little buggers. Just when you think you've gotten rid of that pesky old bad habit and replaced it with a shiny new good habit, the bad habit sneaks back in.

This is especially true under pressure, I think. I just finished listening to all the brass juries and watched my students struggle to bring out those new, good habits.

Some succeeded, others.... oh well.

All this reminds me of the news. We invaded Afghanistan and quickly defeated the Taliban. So why is it that, after such a convincing victory, they seem to be making a resurgence?

We attacked and they faded into the background to lay in wait.

Are habits like that?
They say you never really truly forget anything so I guess it's true that all those bad habits just sit around in your memory waiting to creep back in when you let your guard down.

The really strong ones, let's call those "Taliban Habits." As long as you play, they'll never really go away...not completely.

Only one answer:

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Good LInk: Stacy's Trombone List

Here's a good link with excellent professional audition info. She has some great lists of required rep. from auditions in the past.
Stacy's Trombone List

Monday, December 11, 2006

Gap or Overlap?

I remember Tino.

Tino was this talented, charismatic, annoying, endearing trumpet player I once went to school with. We were in a brass quintet together. It seemed like every fast piece we played, Tino would say, "Guys we need to take that faster, it's right on my break." I would joke that Tino had a great double tongue ... at a metronome range of, say, 136-144. Everything else: on the break.

I'm not blessed with a fast single tongue. Thus I had to learn to double tongue at lower speeds than my friends. I think this has become an advantage.

Where am I going with all this? LEARN TO DOUBLE TONGUE SLOWLY

Instead of a gap (too fast for single tongue and too slow for double tongue)...

...have an overlap:

In other words, have a range of tempos where you can comfortably single tongue or double tongue.

Choice is power.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Masterclass with Alessi and Wycliffe

Most of my students have already checked this out but, in case you haven't seen/heard it, here is a video of a Lincoln Center masterclass by Joe Alessi and Wycliffe Gordon.

It's three hours long, beautifully indexed in outline form and, no, I haven't gotten all the way through it yet. Maybe I'll comment more once I've digested it.


Tying Shoes

What's the most important personality trait of a successful brass player?


I have kids. I've watched them grow and have to learn little things that adults take for granted like....tying shoes.

My college students sometimes get frustrated when trying to build up a new technique (or polish an old one).

I like this parallel:
Your lips are like little children learning to tie their shoes.
You must be patient with them just as you would be with kids.
You wouldn't yell,
"Come on!
What is wrong with you?
Why can't you just figure this out?"

And yet, how often do we internally voice similar frustrations with our body's slowness to master skills.

James Thompson said it well, "It take as long as it takes."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Two Ramps

You probably know the drill. Take the hard lick, slow it down, gradually work it back to speed.

Maybe you've taken a metronome and methodically moved it up one notch at a time.
(A great way to feel virtuous, by the way).

However, it seems that if enough time is spent on the really slow work, the brain "latches on" to the lick and things can take off quickly.

You might get more results by increasing the tempo using more of a "curved ramp."

Something like this...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sight Reading : 10+10 with 10 to spare

Here's a technique to help with sight reading.

First 10 seconds:
Scan the "vital statistics" of the whole selection.
  • What key signature? (Does the key change?)
  • What time signature? (Does it change?)
  • How fast?
  • How loud/soft? (How do they change?)
  • Any odd rhythms?
  • What accidentals?
After 10 seconds (actually a very long time as far as your brain is concerned), look away from the music and try to answer all these questions.

Second 10 seconds:
Memorize as much of the opening as possible. Once again, after 10 seconds, look away from the music and try to play it from memory.

Using just these 20 seconds you'd be surprised how much you can accomplish.

The extra 10 seconds? Well, I believe the South Carolina all-state audition gives you 30. You can use those remaining seconds to carefully look over tricky rhythms.

One other sight-reading tip: keep the time steady. Don't stop and re-start. If you're reading with an ensemble, you can't raise your hand and say, "Everybody please stop and go back for me. I was confused about that rhythm."

One problem with sight-reading. You always need lots of material to read.

Somebody should start a website devoted to sight-reading and lot people contribute to it a la wikipedia. Hmmm ...

I would suggest that material on the sight be broken down by difficulty level and searchable by different categories. For example:
  • examples with lots of sharps
  • examples with wide leaps
  • examples in 5/8 time
  • examples exploring the high range
  • examples with changing beat subdivisions
Submissions should probably by acrobat files (or maybe jpeg scans). Each example should be roughly a third or half page.

If someone pulls this off (and does it right) it will be a huge contribution! Any takers?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Serocki and the Beat

Performers have many options to help them interpret music... dynamics, tone color, note shape, vibrato, etc. But what about meter?

We learned to count and interpret music in which the downbeat note gets greater emphasis.

1 -2 -3 -4 - 1- 2- 3- 4

From what little I understand of music history this hasn't always been the case. I seem to remember a music history lecture in which I heard of an early composer writing the piece and then deciding on the meter. For many of this time period, the bar lines served more as place markers to keep everyone together.

Consider also many many 20th century composers who have implied different meters in their writing. Anyone wanting to argue with me had better look over the trombone part of Stravinsky's Royal March from L'Histoire du Soldat. Obviously he wants the different parts to sound like they are in different meters. I don't think you can read it any other way.

But what about the Serocki Sonatina? A lot of college trombone players are polishing up this piece in preparation for this year's Eastern Trombone Workshop solo competition. Is it possible that one might perform the piece better by sometimes counting in a different meter than the one printed?

This interpretive technique is known as derivative meter: a term coined, as far as I know, by John Swallow of New York Brass Quintet fame. I learned it while studying at Hartt from one of his students, Ron Borror. I don't use it everywhere and, over the years, have had some rather intense discussions with colleagues as to whether or not we performers are "allowed" to count in a different meter than the one printed.
The usual counter-argument goes:
"If so-and-so had wanted it in 3/8, he would have written it that way."

My answer:
"Maybe, maybe not."

(It depends on too many factors to delve into in a blog.)

Anyway, here is a link to an acrobat document I just posted on my website showing 3 examples of derivative meter applied to the Serocki Sonatina. Try it on for size and see what you think.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Nyah, nyah, nyah

Recently a student was playing a legato shift from B-flat to G. Lots of tension.

I tried lots of tricks; nothing seemed to work.

Hmm, minor third. What about that little mocking melody kids use.
"Nyah nyah nyah...(etc.)

Just like that, tension gone.

Take the new...relate it to the simple, the old.
Something you've done for years.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Simple and Smooth: Beat the Bureaucrat

Here's a simple exercise for building tone and legato technique. I've used it in a number of lessons. It's also nice for warming up.

It seems so simple but it can really help. Here's the point: I find many students can blow with a nice resonant tone until they begin to tongue. The air flows happily from lungs to lips until that tongue gets in the way and fouls things up. The tongue is like some bureaucrat setting up a checkpoint saying, "Hold on just a second here. Before you [air] can get to the lips, you'll need to sign these forms in triplicate."

Meanwhile the poor lips are starved for air and just can't vibrate.

Here's the trick to this exercise: start that half note with beautiful flowing air. Now (here's the key) when you start legato tonguing, use the lightest stroke of the tongue possible. Use a light, minimal "d" and make sure the "ah" is unbroken (well, minimally broken).

Listen carefully to your sound. Does it lose fullness when the tonguing starts?

Keep it open. Keep it resonant. Remind that tongue "bureaucrat" that he just isn't that important in the scheme of things.
We really shouldn't use the term "tonguing" at all. Just gives the tongue an inflated ego.

"Look at me. Look at me. I'm the tongue. I'm so important. I deserve the spotlight."

Friday, November 24, 2006

Unsung Heroes

A few random thoughts weave themselves into a thought...

My previous anticipation of teaching a complete beginner twice a week.
My upcoming spring semester edition of secondary trombone class (where I teach budding band directors how to play the trombone).
Briefly bumping into one of my student's students in the lobby of the music school.

The thought: Who are the top teachers for beginners?

Do we assume that the top-flight teachers in the country would be the best choice? How recently has Joe Alessi worked with a total beginner?

We all rightfully admire top teachers of advanced students but I believe teaching (and motivating) beginners is an important art. Excellent teachers of beginners are like the unsung heroes of our trombone world.

After all,if you can get them off on the right foot and instill those good habits before the bad ones take hold, you have saved these young trombonists a world of suffering.

These "heroes" labor away in back rooms of music stores, middle and high school band rooms and in student's homes. My hat goes off to them.

My first teacher was a man who drove from house to house in a VW packed with instruments. I only knew him as Mr, Paul (Paul, I believe, was his last name). He taught my friend his trumpet lesson and then came to our house to set me straight on the trombone. He wasn't young then and I doubt he's still around. As far as I can tell, he set me on a pretty good path.

Thank you, Mr Paul.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Scam? Oh, I'm thinking yes

So about two weeks ago I got an odd email from "Albert" in Belgium. He would like his 14-year son, "Paul", to take lessons with me.

Albert wants to know my fee for 6 months of lessons (two lessons per week).

Man this is odd:

  • a 14-year old son who is just going to pick up and fly to South Carolina to take lessons?

  • the father wants to pre-pay for 6 months of lessons?

But still maybe the son is already here doing exchange study and dad just wants to line up some lessons. Apparently Albert's cousin, "Steve" is in the area.

Then this gets stranger:

  • Albert doesn't seem worried about details of scheduling, he just refers to 6 months, not specific dates

  • Albert informs me that his son doesn't even own a trombone yet. Would I suggest one?

  • When I dial Albert's phone number, there's no voice mail and he never picks up.

Now this gets really strange:

  • Albert sends me a check for thousands more than the fee I quoted him

  • I email him to inform him and, in a subsequent phone call, he tells me that his wife accidentally included the travel agent's fee in my check. To solve this problem he wants me to (drum roll please, this is where the red warning light starts flashing)...wire the money to the travel agent.

  • Apparently all this is very urgent as the son needs to board the plane that very day (now that"s an eager trombone student!)

OK, folks, I may think I'm a pretty decent teacher and all but this is just too much. Time to get off this merry-go-round. That check isn't touching my checking account and no money is getting wired anywhere!

  • Oh yeah, the last two emails from Albert give me the contact info for the "travel agent" and a handy-dandy list of places from which I can send a money order (include all the usual E-Z check cashing joints).

  • Oh wait, it gets even better. At the end of my last phone call from Albert he informs me that it is necessary that I purchase my money order with cash.

I emailed Albert to say that, since Paul has waited 14 years to begin trombone, he can wait a few weeks longer and that I was going to return his cashier's check and wait for an accurate check that really clears the bank.

Funny, no reply to that email......

By the way, here's a link to a web site dealing with scams and frauds. Read through it and you'll see that recently there has been a big rise in phony cashiers checks.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

William Tell: Off the hook?

A quick question to think about: the William Tell excerpt is marked at hn=108. I don't believe I've ever heard a recording at that tempo.
Check out the William Tell recordings on and you'll find they're all doing the run in the high 90's.

Here's the rub. Normally we should listen to recordings to guide us in our excerpt preparation. But what if the recordings let us off the hook??? Do you really walk into an audition and play it at 96 or 100?

Is that being accurate or is it copping out?

(Actually, I'd really like some famous guy to say,
"Oh you should really play that at 96"
thus saving me hours of toil.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A little overtone knowledge is a dangerous thing?

Suppose you're a composer and you want to write a solo piece for trombone.
(stop laughing, it happens)

Perhaps you don't know the instrument terribly well and you want to write in an idiomatic style.
(gotta love those big words)

Perhaps you consult your hand-dandy overtone series chart. Now you can write pieces that "lay well" on the slide.
(although, when it comes to glisses, composers seem...

Sometimes the results are, well...interesting:

Consider this lick from the Larsson Concertino...

If you don't know the piece, let's just say there's ample evidence that Larsson *may* have been thinking our overtone series when he wrote the piece.

However, think about these slide positions...

(Now that's just weird)

But think about it. I'm guessing that's what he had in mind.

So here's the question. If that *is* what he had in mind, should we do it? Is that part of our job in interpreting the composer's wishes?

Before you make a final decision, try playing it a few times. It's odd but it seems to work (in a warped kind of way).

Anyway, some food for thought.

Another other "overtone-y" piece: Hidas Meditation for bass trombone. And how about those runs in the Martin Ballade?
Milt Stevens once told me he plays these runs starting in long positions and just floating in from 6th to 1st and back out. He also pointed out that this made a nice visual image for the audience.
(Hmm, choosing slide positions for visual effect.
Now that's a whole other can of worms)

Saturday, November 11, 2006


One of my students emailed this news story to me.

...reflect on this when you think you've got it tough.

ABC News: Blind, Wheelchair-Bound Student Doesn't Fail to Inspire


Ahh, I remember it first solo performance!

It was an elementary school band concert...a stirring rendition of "Young MacDonald Had a Farm" as I recall.

At one point, right after the familiar refrain, "Young MacDonald had a farm..." the usual E-I-E-I-O was replaced by a lovely trombone gliss (faithfully notated below)

In his wisdom, our band director had me stand to deliver this stirring cadenza.
(In all fairness, the solo happened twice..Howard Danner played it the first time)

I believe I am scarred for life.

It's just like those early conversations...
"Oh, what instrument do you play?"
"The Trombone."
"Oh [pause] [twinkle forms in the eye..arm raises up] beee-reeer-rup"
[you know, that sound made by the average witty joe on the street imitating a trombone gliss].
"...sigh..{ah, such incisive wit, such comedic brilliance}"

I guess all these years I've had something of an anti-glissando bias.

But hey, I'm growing. This semester in teaching, I've rediscovered the pedagogical power of this trombone cliche. A number of my students have really benefited from doing loud glissandos (at last something possibly more annoying than that alto sax in the next room).

In honor of this therapeutic re-discovery, I've added another flow exercise to the basic daily routine on the BoneZone website. Click here for it (a .pdf file will download).

Of course in a recent lesson, as a student and I roared unabashedly through some high glisses, I looked over at the window in my door.

Looking in were a mother and her toddler, apparently enjoying the zoo animals inside.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

A "Killer App" for Aspiring Orchestral Players

In the software world, there is the term, "killer app." A killer app is that piece of software that blows away everything else.

Like lots of teachers, I've talked about the importance of studying excerpts in their context. How many trombonists have labored away on those notes without any idea of how the excerpt sounds in context?

Better yet, trombonists should be able to hear different renditions of the same selection.
Before, this meant repeated trips to the music library (assuming of course they had more than one or two recordings) or spending a small fortune in CD's.

I've even heard of one trombonist who joined one of those record clubs (and had his friends and family join as well) so he could get multiple recordings. I know of another who worked in a music library and quietly borrowed and burned hundreds of recordings to expand his library.

But for most of us this is all a logistical and financial nightmare.

Wouldn't it be nice if someone out there could compile a bunch of recordings of the excerpted passages and place them side by side along with the printed music.

Well someone *has* done it!

I don't who Seth T. Vatt is but I'm here to declare this website as possibly the best resource I have ever seen (at least if you are in the business of seriously studying orchestral excerpts).

Seth's website is such a jaw-dropping stroke of genius that I think somebody should give him an award! I imagine a time not too long from now when a young, serious student will come here to study already having carefully listened to multiple recordings of all the major excerpts. It will never occur to them how difficult this used to be!

It's almost too easy.

Some purists may object, saying that record companies and orchestras are being cheated out of rightful profits. Well, last time I checked, most young trombone hopefuls aren't brimming over with extra cash to spend on recordings!

And frankly, this is such an obvious idea that I say shame on the recording industry for not producing excerpt compilation CD's for all the major instruments (if not for the profit, then as a public service to future musicians....or is everything driven by the accountants these days)

Hooray for Seth Vatt.

(I just hope nobody forces down this wonderful website.
Hmm. maybe I should quickly snag these sound files before everything vanishes)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Happy Fun Time

Here's an addition to the BoneZone website that's just for fun. I've actually been thinking about doing this for years.

Auditions tend to be stressful times for the candidates. Here's some cynical fun to pass the time,
the Happy Fun puzzle page.

It includes a maze, a word search and (my favorite) a crossword puzzle.

(You definitely need to be versed in trombone excerpts to solve the crossword puzzle.)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Warts and All

I've added 6 new live performance mp3's to my website.

Not perfect...actually kind of tough to just throw them up there for anyone to listen to, warts and all.

Especially when I know how picky some of my students are.
Especially when I know how picky I get in lessons.
Especially these days when a professional CD can be edited to such clean perfection.

Yikes, maybe I should just take it all down. Naah. I'll just be happy about the good stuff and let the chips fall where they may.

Also this gives me a chance to let people hear a new piece I've written..
4 Impromptus for Low Bone Alone.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Aaaahh....I've been pedaled !!!

Another Halloween. Out walking the usual trick-or-treat route with my kids. Of course, there's the usual smattering of older kids who have put in the minimal costume effort in order to score some candy.
Around 8, we shut down our sugar operation..lights off, etc. I'm putting the kids to bed when, around 9 the doorbell rings. Oh great, here we go again with the late trick-or-treaters.

Little did I know.... (insert evil "mu-ha-ha-ha" here).

What possesses some of my students to hop in a car, drive 40 minutes out to my house just so life can imitate art...

Yeah, this is a Peterson Project moment.

I should have figured what was up when one of my students calls to ask me my address "for some college applications."

College applications? On Halloween? Will???

So gullible I am.
I wonder if I can sue mapquest?

A beautiful day outside .... for drone rounds?

Ever have a lick that you play over and over, getting stuck repeatedly?

Try memorizing it.

My office has a window.
I sometimes have students "flash memorize" a measure or two and then look out the window and play the lick a few times from memory while "paying attention" to some detail out the window.
When they return to the printed page, the passage hopefully has been transformed into a kind of icon which evokes the memory of the lick.

A little bit like the My Blocks I talked about a year ago.

This whole business of "paying attention" is interesting. A while back, Itzhak Perlman was interviewed by Mike Wallace. He mentioned practicing scales while watching sports on TV with the sound turned off.
Hmm: watching TV while practicing?

So perhaps the scales are on an "autopilot" level so higher level thinking can be directed to other issues..phrasing, the conductor, etc.

Reminds me of a 1987 movie, "Broadcast News." One scene shows the anchor smoothly delivering the news while the producer speaks to him through his earpiece.
Hmm: speaking while listening?

If you haven't done so, check out the drones on my website. Get together with a friend and try this:
The first person begins a simple theme and the second follows in the manner of a round.
Nothing too complex. Maybe something like this:

Player #2 has a tricky job of both playing and listening. Really keeps you on your toes.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A Good Link: The Peterson Project

My students mentioned this website to me. A Houston freelancer who is making some great short films. Fun site ...
Peterson Project

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Tuning, Squacking and that Singer Stuff

I used to teach at Kinhaven Music School. Still, I believe, just about the nicest place I've ever been. Here's a memory I'd like to share...
As I walked around the camp, I could easily hear musical sounds wafting from practice rooms. As I listened to the violin teachers practicing, here's what struck me: how often they stopped to tune so the instrument would "ring."
A friend of mine once switched from trombone to violin. She made the most interesting comment, "I love the violin. It talks to you. It tells you when it's out of tune."

Think of Jay Friedman's comment that he might describe himself as a "professional seeker of resonance."

Another sound floating across the Kinhaven grounds came from the reed room where the oboes would practice. I noticed how often they would interrupt their practicing, remove their reeds and start squacking and whittling. As I understand it, they were seeking that resonant squack..that perfect reed.

We have a lip reed. How often do we stop to buzz in the middle of our practice sessions, looking to maintain that perfect buzz.

Even singers seem to spend a lot of time singing those descending glisses. Let me guess....seeking resonance?

Stopping often to tune ... to seek resonance. Finding that sweet spot where the instrument really rings.

How often do we trombonists do this?
How often do we just try to muscle the horn?

Observe the pusuit of excellence on other instruments.
Adopt the best habits
Teachers are all around you

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Back to the Big Four: F, C, T, D

Seems I've trod this ground before but it bears repeating.
Here are the big four...
  • Do you have a resonant, centered tone in different registers?
  • Can you play in tune with yourself and others?
  • Can you hear the notes in your head before you play them?
  • Can you keep a steady tempo?
  • Can you subdivide correctly within that tempo?
  • Can you begin the notes cleanly?
  • Can you control all these elements as you play.. high and low? ...loud and soft? and slow?
  • Do you know exactly what the piece should sound like?
  • Do you know where you are going to breathe?
  • Do you know where to crescendo? ...whether to use vibrato? much accent to use?
  • Do you know exactly what slide positions you're going to use?
  • Have you heard multiple recordings of the piece?
  • If a solo, do you know the piano part well?
  • If an excerpt, do you know the piece as a whole?
  • Do you know the meanings of all the terms?
  • Can you close your eyes and hear the precise sound of someone really "nailing it?"
  • Are you aware when tension builds in your body?
  • Is your posture well-balanced?
  • Is your playing a natural extension of relaxed breathing?
  • Is your tongue relaxed? Your throat? Your shoulders?
  • Are you so focused on the music that you don't notice what is going on around you?
  • Have you quieted any "inner conversations" about your playing, good or bad?
  • Are you " in the moment?"
  • Do you "disappear into the music" as you play?

I'm sure I missed a few but this seems to be a pretty good list.

Back to ye old performance equation...
P - I = R
Potential minus interference equals result.
Potential = (Fundamentals + Concept)
Interference = (Tension + Distraction)

Hope this checklist helps.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dive Stupid

Recitals coming up this week and next. Pressure.

Think of audition pressure. Having to nail Bolero. Tough, yes?

Think of the olympic diving competition coming up in China. Think of those divers who are probably training right now in order to represent their country on the world stage. A quick google search yielded this article from the Chinese People's Daily.

So, you step up on the platform and, in the next second or two, years of training will either result in a perfect dive and national celebrations...
the slightest misalignment will lead to failure and national disgrace
(or at least disappointment).

Now that's pressure!

I once heard an interview with a U.S. Olympic diver. She said,
"They teach us to dive stupid."

(That's "dive stupid" not "dive, stupid."
A fairly important comma for the poor
reporter's feelings, don't you think?)

In other words, when everything is on the line,
turn the brain off and let the training take over.

Now that's good advice!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Eric and the Tree People ...

In a recent lesson I was working with a student on the last movement of Eric Ewazen's Sonata. One or two passages didn't have quite the right feel. After some fancy finger work with with Dr. Beat, I was able to have the metronome continue with only one click every measure (beat volume up, all others down).

It seemed the feeling of the piece changed before our eyes. Same tempo but, by feeling the larger beat, the music seemed to flow better.

Choosing on which level to experience the beat is an expressive tool that we sometimes overlook. When one thinks in quarter notes, it is more likely the music have a different quality than when one thinks in half notes or even whole notes.

Is this my imagination??

Have subjects learn and play the same passage at the same tempo but one group is thinking in quarters while another thinks in halves and another in whole notes. Have others listen to recordings of these performers. Can they discern a difference?
END DISSERTATION ALERT (Resume normal blogging)

I was trying to think of some story to go along with Ewazen's music. The opening passage (of the third movement) feels like people rejoicing on the ground. Later passages take on a more peaceful quality almost like angels floating above all this commotion.
No, angels aren't quite right. Druids? Monks? Who experiences time on a slower scale than humans? How about trees? That might work...oh yes, what about those tree people (Ents) in Lord of the Rings? They would probably prefer to hear the Ewazen Sonata on the whole note level.

Squirrels on the other hand ....

Of course if you really want to stretch your time scale out, consider some of the concepts thrown out in Greg Bear's creepy book Vitals.

What about choosing a time scale of subdivision other than for the obvious practice utility of rhythmic accuracy? Well, when encountering a slow excerpt like St. Saens 3 or Schumann 3 (or even the opening of Mahler 3 [what's with all these big "3" excerpts] ) I find I play better when thinking 8th notes. It seems to keep the air from becoming stagnant.

Who knows, maybe I'm just giving Self 1 something to do so it doesn't get in the way.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Just in Case...

Alright, time for a gripe.

I did Shostakovitch 7th this past weekend. I'm not sure but I think we managed to save Leningrad again. So there I am at the rehearsal break and I look around me at all these trumpets, trombones and especially horns left sitting out while their owners have walked away. Most amazing to me are the horns which are usually left laying on chairs.

Why do otherwise sensible professional musicians spend thousands of dollars on fine musical instruments only to leave them laying out during rehearsal break? In my career, I have witnessed two incidents where a french horn was accidentally knocked off a chair and another in which a music stand was knocked into a french horn. I've also seen a trumpet knocked off its stand by a less-than-graceful basoonist. A few weeks ago, I nearly knocked horn off its chair but managed to grab it before it hit the floor. Of course I apologized profusely but inside I was thinking, "Why on earth do just leave a $9,000 instrument laying on a chair on a crowded stage???" Yes musicians do make an extra effort to not crush each other's instruments but, hey, mistakes happen.
I, for one, have a personal rule for rehearsals: If I'm not holding it, it's in the case.

The worst offenders by far are the double basses who place their instruments in the most likely path of travel by people entering and exiting the stage. Are they trying to build a bass barricade? Do they look around and say, "Hmm, where will people need to walk? Oh yes, I'll lay my instrument right there."

Should I crack a pun about rehearsal "break" not being a literal term? Naah, too corny.

And don't get me started about my students who travel up and down the elevators and the stairwells with their instruments unprotected (sometimes struggling to get through doorways carrying their trombone and case separately).

grumble, grumble, grumble...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Me and Gilderoy

First of all, for anyone who's actually reading this, sorry that my posts have come to a standstill. There's a reason which I'll get to in a moment.

I had an interesting chat at the end of a private student's lesson Wednesday. She had bought my clef studies book and I was thinking about recommending the lip slurs book as well. She related her mother's comment, "Oh those professors just want you to go out and buy all their books so that can get their name out there." She meant it in good humor but it brought up a valid point.

Thus far I have two books and am working on at least two more. If I succeed, this could create a situation where a student coming to study with me would need to buy 4 (count them, "four") of my books.

This reminds me of Gilderoy Lockhart from the Harry Potter series. Gilderoy was on a blatant ego trip about himself and his books. Am I?

I hope not. So, why do I write these things?

Some of it comes from years of frustration: I've been teaching quite a few private students since about 1990 and I'm always looking for the right tool for the job. I tried the Blazhevich clef studies (and the Fink and the Uber and the Sauer). Maybe I'm just too picky but none of these quite did the trick so I wrote my own.

Some of it comes from creative drive. You know, when a little kid is proud of a picture he has drawn and wants mom and dad to like it. I'm proud of these two books and want other people to like them. I love being creative and I love teaching. These books combine the two and are extremely satisfying to write.

Some of it comes from wanting to build a better mousetrap. Just like the satisfaction in solving a crossword puzzle, I find it intriguing to look at a problem (the flawed materials we end up using) and see if I can come up with a better solution. I just can't help tinkering.

Ultimately, I feel like the stuff I write is "out there" waiting to come in for a landing. I look at the etudes I've written and I don't feel like I was the one who wrote them.

Oh yes, why no posts lately? I'm trying to write a new set of pieces for either bass or low tenor trombone: 4 Impromptus for Low Bone Alone. I'm performing them in two weeks so I guess I'd better finish. Here's the kicker: I have already submitted the program info complete with movement titles even the music isn't finished. The second through 4th impromptus are done but the first one is still giving me fits. I can see how it starts and how it ends but haven't connected the dots yet. So, that is eating up brain power and time later at night when I might normally do a blog entry.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Akeelah and the Bee

Recently, I saw a very inspirational film, Akeelah and the Bee. I strongly recommend it!!!

Here's the movie's website.

There is a wonderful quote that appears in this movie...

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous.
Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us -- it's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others

-Marianne Williamson


While doing my undergrad work at the Hartt School of Music, I played in the Hartt Jazz Band whose director was Al Lepak (also the percussion teacher).

Whenever the trumpets and trombones fell apart on some complex rhythm, Al would simply look up, unlit cigar in his mouth and say in that gravelly voice, "Guys, guys, it's ba-um"

Ba - pick-up
Um - downbeat

Of course his other saying was "Guys, guys, it's um-ba"

It still amazes me how this simple advice worked instantly to fix our counting errors.

Extending this idea a bit .....

I seem to perceive rhythm differently than some of my students and (maybe) most people. I see most rhythms as pick-ups to downbeats (BA-UM or maybe BA-BA-BA-UM, etc)

Think of the excerpt from La Gazza Ladra:

A common rhythmic error is to leave the top note early, thus starting the run too soon.
Instead of perceiving the beginning of that run as "1&2&BA", I think of it as "BA-BA-BA-UM"
Over time, I've learned to know the "feel" of three pickups to a downbeat.

In other words:
You can count a rhythm by relating it to

what precedes

or to what follows

For what it's worth, it worked like a charm in one lesson today.

PS Just like Tabuteau numbers if you're familiar with them.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Two Types of People

Here's a favorite saying. I use it often...

There are two types of people..

Those who pursue success
Those who avoid failure.

Monday, August 28, 2006


After a summer of being able to blissfully ignore my "to-do" list, classes have begun and the maelstrom of details and deadlines has started.

Alas, we have come to rely on our to accomplish our deeds.

Lately it seems some of my helpers are out to get me...

  • I'm about to post my syllabus on the website when Adobe Acrobat (which has worked faithfully for years) suddenly locks up my computer.
  • iCal dropped a bunch of of recital hall reservations creating double bookings
  • MS Word crashes about once each work session (I've learned to hit Ctrl-S after about every sentence)
  • I get 20 - 30 spams a day (Boy, no matter how many times I give them my my social security number they still say my credit union account needs updating).
  • Just as I'm about to really get something done on the computer, Windows announces everything must stop for an update, (or McAfee).
  • When I plug in my iPod for an update it takes about 5 minutes for iTunes to open and begin the update
  • Even my login to got messed up for a while.
It amazes me how much time is spent just trying to help our "helpers" to help us.

And thus, I have a new term:

Unproductive Because Of Technology

(a.k.a. "Where did that last hour go???")

I do have some "star" programs that have chugged away reliably and thus deserve credit:

The PBOT list:
  • Finale 2006. Just got it and love it. Never crashes.
  • Dreamweaver MX. I use it for BoneZone. Fantastic. So good I can't see why I need to ever update the software.
  • Eudora. Trusty, simple, it does the gig although I don't venture into spam filtering (yet).
  • Palm Desktop. Synchs beautifully with the Palm Pilot. The desktop app. is missing some features I'd love to see but, hey, it works day in day out. However, thumbs down to the "Documents to Go" app that synchs MS Word docs with the PDA.
  • CGoban (from Java). My addiction is playing the game of GO online. The applet from the Kiseido Go Server is a faithful friend.
Hmm, look at that list. Anything from Microsoft? Nope.

Not really a trombone posting but, regardless of our specialty, we all increasingly rely on these machines to achieve our goals.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

And Away WE Go!

Happy New Year!

No, it's not January but in the academic world everything is beginning so this may as well be the new year.

I've caught grief from some of my students for not keeping active with this blog over the summer. Sorry. Summer is a time not only to recharge my batteries a bit but to work on those projects that end up gobbling up a lot of time.

The two big projects: continuing to transcribe and edit my own collection of selected etudes ( currently 200 - 300 pages of material), and working on another book, Pattern Building, to accompany my book of Lip Slurs.

Ultimately I plan for these books to be a 3-part (or possibly 4-part) collection of books. Here's the plan:

Underlying everything are the fundamentals (Bone Basics): warm-up patterns, simple tunes, basic articulation exercises, maybe some specialized exercises (like building the high register).
These are exercises which are not progressive. They will be basic "bread and butter" stuff. Many sketches for this book are already done.

The Lip Slurs are pretty much self-explanatory. I'm mostly happy with the book and other people seem to like them. If you're curious, here's a link.

Pattern Building is the latest (and hopefully the final) incarnation in my search for a way to teach scales and arpeggios (Ouch, so many previous tries that just haven't worked). Yes, I know a lot these kinds books are already available but I haven't seen anything that really does what I'm looking for. This book is basically the mixture of scale/arp patterns and rhythm patterns. Any given section of the book, for example, presents a melodic pattern (scale or arp based) to be played from memory in all keys and a collection of related rhythms (almost like flashcards). What follows are 24 "mini etudes," most 8-12 measures long , which are connected to the given melodic and rhythmic patterns.

Why do we learn scales? Not only to develop general technique but to develop instincts that let us rapidly read/learn music. Thus, a complete scale/arp plan needs to have both memory work and reading work. Rhythm patterns aren't really different, the goal is a kind of "instant recognition" ... see the rhythm and instinctively know what it is supposed to sound like.

All this is very similar to learning to read words. One starts sounding out words and eventually moves on to instant recognition.

If the book succeeds, I hope my students will develop much stronger reading skills.

We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Grunts and Moans

I'm doing less teaching over the summer but I do see a few private students.

So often, freshman students arrive with bad habits so deeply ingrained that it takes months or years to turn things around. That's why I like to work with younger students and try to instill good habits earlier in the process.

Here's the big one I'm noticing this summer (not that I haven't seen it before!):


Especially when students go to attack notes, I so often hear a little grunting sound as the throat tenses (often for the attack). In more severe cases, you can actually hear a soft humming or moaning sound along with the playing.

I've even held up a recorder microphone close to a student's throat to help them hear these sounds. Sometimes the effect is kind of spooky, like the ghost of someone's grandfather is humming along with the music.

Remember, the vocal chords help to keep food out of the lungs. But, as they close, this also prevents air from coming out of the lungs.

Some things to think about it:
  1. Higher notes seem to cause more trouble.
  2. Tricky music makes things worse.
  3. You need to notice it in order to fix it. Have a friend stand nearby and listen for those throat sounds.
  4. As your throat relaxes, you might notice your sound getting bigger and notes speaking more easily.
  5. When notes don't speak, I often hear a very significant grunt (makes sense, really..less air going to the lips makes "air balls" much easier)
You can't hold your throat open.

A relaxed throat is an open throat.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ahh, summer...time to reflect on balance

Summer's here and I can just feel my brain going soft. Well, not soft but certainly down-shifting the gears (a momentary escape from the to-do list that threatens to become my identity during the school year).

Being on a 9-month contract at USC, I am effectively unemployed for three months in the summer. I gotta admit, I love it!

This gives me time to reflect on the past year and plan for the next. I'm quite happy with how the year has gone but, of course, it can always go better. Many of the big questions can be reduced down to balancing acts.

Balancing Act #1: Leading or Following/Guiding

In my syllabus I ask my students to do three basic things: show up, prepare and show initiative. It's that third element that is the most interesting. Although asking students to show initiative may lead to unexpected results, it also leads to moments of great satisfaction. I am still seeking that optimal balance between stepping to the fore and saying, "This is the way it's going to go," or hanging back and seeing what will transpire. I am supposed to be the big expert but what little expertise I have acquired tells me that self-motivation is the most powerful force around.
Of course, it is different with each student and from year to year, even week to week sometimes. Some students want me to provide a clear structure. Others insist on finding their own path.
I need to remember a few basic ideas:
I am teaching students to teach themselves.
In essence my job is to make myself unnecessary.

Balancing Act #2: Work vs. Family
As the studio gets stronger, my students naturally want more growth still. Part of me would love to run with them as far as they are willing to go:
Trombone ensemble twice a week with concert tours? ... sure
Daily group warm-up sessions? .. absolutely
Orchestral excerpt coaching sessions? ... great idea

It may seem like a cop-out to my students, but I simply can't offer that level of commitment without short-changing my kids. So, I strike the best balance I can and try not to get down about not being there enough for either constituency.

Balancing Act #3: Technique vs. Music
As a student prepares a piece, so I often I can see aspects of their fundamentals that are holding them back. (The usual culprit: tension.)
Yet I can also see that, quite naturally, they would rather play music than exercises. So, I continue to seek ways to improve technique through good musical selection and to make technical material more musically satisfying. If I'm not careful, I can easily fill an entire lesson with technical material and drive most everyone nuts.

Balancing Act #4: Rising to the Point of Defection
You've heard the saying, "Rising to the level of one's incompetence." Here's an interesting parallel: I work to recruit better students. But as the studio gets stronger, it is natural to enroll students who are eyeing better schools. I have an increasing number of trombone players disappointed that they couldn't get into Juilliard, Eastman or Curtis. When a (usually highly motivated) student tells me they want to audition to transfer to a big-name school or are taking lessons with a prominent teacher/performer, I have to remember not to feel threatened. Ultimately I am here for them and not the other way around. I suppose it is natural that, as students here get stronger, they're going to look around at this music school and wonder if perhaps they could do better. Don't get me wrong, this is a good (and growing) program but I can't deny the significance of that first question asked by almost every top prospect during auditions, "Am I going to have to do marching band?" (Hmmm, maybe if Juilliard had a big-time football team...)

Anyway, a last themes which come to mind about this last year:

Playing is an extension of breathing

Sing it/Say it and you can play it

Play with others frequently

90% of success is showing up

Maintain a teachable spirit

Experience is still the best teacher

Yes, getting enough sleep really does make a difference

Stress lowers the I.Q.

When all else fails, play a pretty tune.

Have a great summer. I'll post from time to time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Support from the Diaphragm? It depends on the black box.

Sometimes teachers tell students to support a note from the diaphragm. This isn't technically correct since, when you breathe out, the diaphragm simply relaxes back to a dome shape. The diaphragm only "works" ("contracts") when you breathe in.

All fine and good but ....

Remember Self 1 and Self 2 from the Inner Game of Tennis? Self 1 thinks, Self 2 does. Try as you might you'll have very poor control of your body if you try to consciously control each muscle.
Instead, your Self 1 thinks of of an external goal which Self 2 interprets into a series of coordinated muscle movements.

Self 2 is a black box, really. We send instructions into the black box and some sequence of muscle actions comes out of it.

What instructions should we send? Well, ideally, it should be the sound we want .... the sound we hear in our heads.
But when you get right down to it, any instruction can work IF if it results in the right outcome.

In theory, you could train yourself to think of a chocolate milkshake and, when sent into the black box, this might result in a warm, smooth legato sound in the low register.

You could think of anything..
ping pong balls,
waves on the ocean,
wind blowing through a spooky cave,
blowing out a candle..

If the thought gets a nice result out of the black box, keep it.

suppose you tell a student to support from the diaphragm and they, in fact, are supporting from the *region* of the diaphragm but actually are using abdominal and intercostal muscles.

What really matters is that the thought of supporting from the diaphragm produces a successful result. No, they aren't actually doing it but, thinking of it this way might cause them to play well.

If so, keep it and move on.

So, while I don't tell my students to support from the diaphragm, I'm not quite ready to blast teachers who say this. Thinking of it this way may, in fact, help.

Of course, it could also hurt.

So be prepared to conjure up some other image in the hopes that the black box will do what we want it to do.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Other 99% of the Note

A simple post on a simple concept.
We get so focused on the beginnings of notes that I believe we tend to view the rest of the note as some kind of "placeholder" until the next attack.

In essence, we focus all our attention on the first 1% of each note rather than on the body of the whole.

The attack is not a separate event but merely the beginning of the tone.

When I listen to Alessi play, I'm drawn to how many of his notes have presence but without the attack as a discernable separate entity. When I listen to him, I don't think about the attacks, just the notes as a whole.

I also find it interesting how many of my students can so clearly hear how well the notes begin but struggle to hear subtle variations in how notes end.

Don't ignore the other 99% of the note.

That's where the music is.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Hearing with Your Eyes

Back in my Air Force Band days, we were reminded to look sharp when on stage. This not only meant keeping our uniforms in order but also meant no slouching or crossing legs while on stage. That's when I first heard it:

"Remember, people hear with their eyes."

At first I took this to mean that our audiences were not always the most cultured group and thus relied on appearances. I haven't stopped thinking about it. There's more to consider here.

I'm a pretty casual person but I can't deny the importance of stage presence. Recently, I adjudicated a student recital by listening to the CD. My voting was more positive than that of other faculty who attended the recital. They saw a number of nervous mannerisms that I couldn't hear on the tape.

It's hard to separate what we see from what we hear. Should we?

When I watch a performer walk on stage, their manner creates an expectation of what I'm going to hear. I'm not sure of the validity of this, but I do believe it's true.

Here's a weird thought. If you adopt the posture and mannerisms of a poised, relaxed, confident performer is there a chance that you'll create a positive expectation for your own performance?

In essence, do you hear your own performance with your eyes?

As an experiment, try playing the same passage twice, first adopting the manner of confident, relaxed virtuoso with every expectation of success. The second time through, adopt the manner of a nervous player with serious self doubts.

I wonder which rendition will be better?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

ETW (part 2)

It's Sunday night, the smoke has settled, and I'm back reflecting on the Saturday session of ETW.

As with so many of these conventions, I seem more keenly aware of what I missed. My two main regrets:
missing the Chicago trombone quartet
seeing only the trombone concerto portion of the US Army Brass Dectet (which many observers described as possibly the highlight of the workshop).

But I do have one big highlight to share...

Brandt Attema first on the contrabass in the morning (especially the final piece, a work composed for solo contrabassoon) then on the Saturday night concert. His performance, Etoile des Profondeurs, was possibly the best live bass trombone performance I've ever heard in my life. It ranks right up there with Matt Guilford's rendition of the Vaughn Williams' Tuba Concerto.

Oh yes, a lowlight of sorts...
The PowerLung display in the vending area. This is possibly the stupidest product I have ever seen in my life!!
In order to achieve this honor, it must be stupid on more than one level. Here's the first level: I used this thing one time and immediately felt a very uncomfortable pressure on my inner ears. If this doesn't bother you, hey go ahead and take your chances.

Next level of stupidity: does the diaphragm muscle need to be strengthened like the biceps? I've never heard of this before.

Next level of stupidity (I'm saving the best for last here): this thing costs around $88!!! Hey, if you want to do resistance training for your lungs, here's a way to save a lot of money. Go to your hardware store and buy a ball valve.

Last time I checked, less than a buck.

Maybe someone can correct me here but until that glorious time comes, I'm calling this powerlung an overhyped, stupid product for fitness losers with too much money to spend.

Whew, it felt good to vent.

Oh yeah, ETW. Here's a great new feature. The army band plans to post archives of all the performances at this year's ETW. Wow!

Click here for a link.

Friday, March 17, 2006

ETW Reflections (part 1?)

I type this entry from the (legendary?) Days Inn just across from Fort Myer, home of the Eastern Trombone Workshop.
I thought I'd share some random reflections, hopefully without offending anyone.
I judged the national solo competition along with..Paul Compton, Jimmy Clark, Phil Jameson, Pete Ellefson, J. Mark Thompson, James McNair, Henry Charles Smith and John Swallow. Lofty company. I hope my comments were worthy.
Some choices were easy, some much harder. Often I was faced with the choice: candidate A is more solid technically, candidate B is more musically interesting. This was particularly true in the finals. Generally I (and the committee) ended up going with the more musical player.
I often found myself wanting to extract the positive qualities from two players and combine them into one "super" player. Not necessary with Marques and Jeremy, though. They both had that great combination of technique and expression.

Each time I hear these great young players I keep thinking, "Thank heavens I have a job. These guys are good!"

As for the rest of the workshop, some personal highlights/observations thus far:

The UT Austin Trombone Choir: such a beautiful blend of sound. Very inspiring.

Very interesting, two trombone trios: Trio Hidas with Nitzan Haroz, Haim Avitsur and Dave Taylor and Tres Bone with Chris Dudley, Ken Wolfe and Matt Guilford. Both groups want to perform regularly and thus are immediately confronted with a shortage of rep. Time to get creative. Makes me want to try my hand at writing a trio this summer (add to the impossible list).

Vibrato lives on: many fine players in a variety of classical genres playing with generous vibrato.

Many ways to play: at some time we are all reminded of the "textbook" approach to playing. It is refreshing to see musical success along with so many quirks: lots of moving around, sometimes unusual embouchures, hunched shoulders. Though, this leaves me with a dilemma: when I see a student doing something off the beaten path at what point should I step in and suggest changes?

Highlight: Jim Pugh's beautiful melodic lines in the second movement of his concerto played so well by Doug Wright. Doug plays brilliantly on a closed-wrap horn with a standard valve, once again proving it isn't the horn, it's the player.

Highlight: enjoying the company of a batch of my students who travelled up for this event. And many thanks to the teachers and conductors who let them go! Though I must say, I see so much of the sure-footed confidence of youthful opinions. How will these certainties stand the test of time?

Highlight: having my new lip slurs book on display at the Hickey's booth. Hey, I worked for years on this project. I don't want to turn into a big-time self promoter but I shouldn't keep my light under a bushel, either.

A frustration: my students asking me to listen to them play with this horn or that mouthpiece in a room crowded with other trombone players all honking away. So frustrating to try to give any meaningful opinion in such an environment. That's the irony of these things: it's your one golden chance to have all these different mouthpiece and horns all in one place at one time but the room is so crowded and so noisy that the opportunity is nearly spoiled.
I've advised my students: if you really want to try out equipment, come over to the displays when a popular event takes place back at Brucker hall.

Time to vent: ETW has a 90-minute open public recital. I don't believe anything of this sort shows up at ITF and I disagree with that. Many other conventions make use of open recitals giving lesser-known players a chance to show off some new pieces. Hello, ITF, could you open the doors of opportunity just a bit more, please? On the bad side, ETW used to have a standard deadline date for applications for this open recital. Not this year. I emailed about it last Fall to be told the the program was already full. I like the old system better.

Bravo to ETW for featuring winning quartets and jazz ensembles, too. Especially bravo to the US Army band for going through all this work to set up a *free* event which regularly rivals the ITF. What a great service to the community.

Yes, there are things I heard that were disappointments but I see no need to go negative on other people. I like my glass house just fine.

Perhaps, after Saturday's festivities (during which I'll once again feel as if I need to be in two places at one time) I'll post up another blog.

Enough for now. G'night

Monday, February 27, 2006

Themes Bubbling to the Surface

What? Two blog entries in a single day? Astounding.
Each semester I teach, it seems that I find myself repeating ideas in different lessons. Enough repetitions and the idea takes on the aura of a theme.
Starting the semester is always interesting because I don't know what themes will bubble to the surface.
We're about at our halfway point in the semester and I believe two themes have arisen:

Play the Hand You're Dealt
This of course is a poker term. Hey, we all want to be in ideal situations. At least some of my students would love have full scholarships to Juilliard with plenty of time to practice every day, good meals to eat, a great circle of friends, inspiring conductors, 8 hours of sleep each night, etc.
Just like in poker, it's hard to lose if you keep getting royal flushes and full houses.
The real question is: how do you respond to a situation that is less than ideal?

I think this is especially relevant in professional orchestras where a young, highly motivated player joins the group and discovers that some of the people around him/her have, shall we say, "lost that spark."

Playing is a Natural Extension of Breathing
So often I need to deal with tension issues in people's playing. I find it interesting that, when someone puts down the horn and just takes a natural, full breath, most of the tension disappears. What is it about the act of picking the horn and looking at music that causes the body to tense up so much? Rhetorical question, really. Obviously these are learned responses that have to be replaced with more effective learned responses.
I like exercises that reinforce the notion that playing the horn isn't so radically different from full breathing.
Here's one idea: try "blowing through" a difficult pattern. In other words, pick up the horn and pretend to play (moving your slide and everything) but simply blow air through the instrument. Make it "musical air" that reflects the phrases you want. I'm guessing you'll find a lot of the tension is gone.

Me and Sasha

As a musician, I love the Olympics. Things have been pretty busy but I managed to watch as much of the games as I could. Having taken auditions, I can begin to relate to the pressure the athletes must feel as they train for so long only to have everything crystalize into one "live or die" moment.
As I watched Sasha Cohan skate her first program, an interesting parallel occured to me, an audition I'd rather forget.
SASHA: Skating a clean first program. Nice jumps. Good confidence.
ME: Good first round. Stuck to my game plan. Played well. (I found out later they almost decided to stop the audition right there).
SASHA: Here comes the press. "Sasha is the leader. Sasha has trouble skating two clean programs in a row. Will Sasha choke?"
ME: The conventional wisdom: he already won a one-year position with the orchestra before. He's the professor at USC. Of course he'll easily win this audition right? In other words, everything to lose, nothing to gain. [Not quite the same as Sasha, I'll admit. Maybe this post should be titled "Me and Irena"]
SASHA: Second program, first jump...she falls. Stumbles on the second jump. Finishes well but it's too late. Now the press hounds will be all over her.
ME: Second round, first note (Mahler 3). I butcher the first note. I have some idea why: I tried to play too loud, I had been messing with lead pipes and a new valve, I was nervous, I didn't warm-up or get focused for the second round. Still, same result: I sent that note to Baghdad with no return address. They should have called in the janitors to mop it up as it lay quivering on the floor. A colleague on the other side of the screen said the conductor's body just went rigid as if some electric shock had been delivered. This was followed by some furious scribbling in his notes. Not a good sign, I believe.
SASHA: Ends up with a silver medal.
ME: I end up losing the audition and having to tell everyone I blew it when I was supposed to coast to victory.

OK, Sasha's a lot prettier and more famous. But, on some level, I can really relate. When the smoke clears, life goes on and we are all older and (hopefully) wiser.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Weblog Backlog: Data Dump Needed

Too busy! Many weblog ideas waiting to be posted!
Reaching critical mass! Must dump ideas!


Analogy: rubato like stretching chewing gum. You know, kids stretching chewing gum outside their mouths. How far can you stretch without breaking the gum? Rubato 16th notes: how far can you stretch until they really aren't recognizable as 16th notes any more?

Visual Aids: music has tension and release. How about making a copy of your solo. Use colored highlighting pens to indicate points of tension and release. How about red for the notes of greatest musical tension and green or blue for points of release?

Trombone Placemat: Remember those laminated placemats with things like a map of the U.S. and diagrams of the planets? To get around those bumps on the Manhassett stand (hard to write on), I have an unfolded file folder on the stand to provide a smooth writing surface. It was only a matter of time until I started writing quick notes/illustrations on it. But wait..a lot of the same ideas come up in different lessons. Maybe I should jot down some of my favorites in advance and then have sitting there ready to go. OK, maybe laminating it would be serious overkill.

Renotating: Some licks become strangely easier to play through simple renotation. Take Elegy for Mippy 2. That swing section in the middle would probably be a lot easier to play if it were notated differently. Once I wrote out the second page of the Creston middle movement using flats instead of sharps. Not only was it easier to read, it seemed much easier to play all those high notes.
Time permitting, I'd like to post some of these renotations on the website.

The Trauma of Sharps: Why wait to introduce sharps to beginners? Waiting only makes the experience more traumatic later. I think it might be better to jump right in with sharps at the beginning when everything is new anyway.


System pressure returning to normal.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hey Cupid (a.k.a. Hey Santa part 2)

OK, so Christmas is over and I never made my second request.
Here's one:
Maybe a special mouthpiece with a little valve at the stem. If you start to use too much pressure, the valve closes.
Actually, hasn't there been an invention like this before (ah, searching through the land of my vague memories)?
Other ways to reduce mouthpiece pressure (the "high blood pressure" of brass playing).
  • While playing a medium-high note, slowly take the trombone off the face. Eventually, the note will break up. How much can you lower the pressure before losing the note?
  • While holding that same note (or higher?) have a friend stand behind you and, unannounced, gently push the trombone off your face.
  • Stand with your back to the wall and play ascending lip slurs. The wall should prevent you from pushing in.
Another Bonetalk? Hopefully this weekend.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Professing, Middle Fingers and Taoism

Students from the music school sometimes see me out in public (like in Sam's club as I'm getting socks). This one student walked by, smiled and said, "Hi, Professor."

It's my seventh year at USC and 10th year teaching college full time and, still, it is disconcerting when someone calls me "professor."

I guess it's nice for my ego. Certainly I've learned a lot and I think I share it well. Still, I've never been comfortable as a big authority figure.

Sometimes my students are surprised when they mention a piece of music I don't know.

I learn from my students. I think that makes me a stronger teacher, not a weaker one.
Here are two new things my students have mentioned:

One of my students shared with me some comments about slide technique from an Alessi master class. As I understood it, Alessi was suggesting that the thumb shouldn't be too flexible. Instead it should be like an extension of the arm.

Another student just visited the Edwards trombone factory to buy a new horn. The factory rep talked about gripping the slide between the thumb and the middle finger (as opposed to the second finger). Apparently there is a tendon that leads through the arm directly to that middle finger. Therefore, one's slide placement should be more consistent.

I never thought much about how to hold the slide. I've always taught: a light grip and keep it comfortable. I even have a section on my bonezone website where I talk about all the "spring hinges" from the shoulder to the tips of the fingers. Hmm, I may have to revise that.

I hope I never stop learning from my students (or from any other source). As soon as I stop growing and learning, I need to get out of this business.

I need to reopen that copy of the Tao te Ching...

Here's one:

Knowing you don't know is wholeness.
Thinking you know is a disease.
Only by recognizing that you have an illness
can you move to seek a cure.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Droning Away

After years of struggle, it appears victory is at hand.
OK, maybe a little too dramatic but it has been years and it has been something of a struggle.

To the point..
Ever since I bought and started using the Bootcamp CD from Tune-Up Systems ( I have wanted to make a basic drone CD. Over the years I've tried many solutions with varying degrees of success.
Now, thanks to some freeware on the web, I'm close to a viable tuning CD. (Boring for you, maybe, but satisfying for me).
Here are the links for the freeware..
Wavepad Audio Editor:
NCH Tone Generator:

I think they've even updated this software over the stuff I've downloaded and am using. Since you can set the tone generator to any frequency, it only takes some patience (well, a lot of patience) and a pocket calculator.
2:1 octave
3:2 perfect fifth (or multiply the root frequency by 1.5)
5:4 major third (or multiply the root frequency by 1.25)
10:4 major tenth (root times 2.5)
I haven't done the minor chords yet but the following math should work.
6:5 minor third (root times 1.2)
12:5 minor tenth (root times 2.4)

Basically, I set up the frequencies I want, record them in wave pad and then mix them together (an option listed under "edit" in wavepad).
A few other comments:
I preferred triangle waves.
On major chords, I mixed the higher voices in at less then 100% so they wouldn't dominate.
In wavepad, I ultimately decided to include multiple octaves of one tone in a single file.
Also, save the files as .wav format, not .mp3. Much higher quality (sadly, much larger file sizes too).

The end result: something to play along with to ensure you are in tune. In other words, tuning with the ears, not the eyes. A little thing, maybe, but worth it's weight in gold. Here's a brief ten-second example of a major chord:

Soon, I'll at least have a CD for my students to practice with. I'm still not sure what else to do with this project. The files are too large to post on the web. Commercial product? Free zip files?

I do think this is a valuable tool everyone should be using.