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? ...fast 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? ...how 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.