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.