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