Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Alessi Seminar Notes, Day 2 (part 2).. Masterclass No. 1

Please note:

These entries from the Alessi Seminar are not a literal transcript. I took written notes and then typed them up. I have made every effort to be accurate but, as you might expect, each blog entry is a meager substitute for actually being there.

Remember that many of the things Mr. Alessi says in these masterclasses are in the context of addressing the needs of a particular student and should not be seen as universal mandates to be mindlessly followed.

If you are serious about pursuing musical excellence on the trombone, there is no substitute for actually attending one of Mr. Alessi's seminars. You'll be glad you did.

In this master class, 5 participants played:
Paul Compton - The Pugh Concerto (mvts. 1 &2)
Weston Sprott - The Grondahl Concerto (mvts. 1&2)
Joseph Rodriquez - Gershwin Medley
Louis Bremer - Sagittarius 2
Nicole Abissi - Martin Ballade

Here are some of my notes:

  • Joe quoted Wycliffe Gordon, "You have to be able to sing what you're going to play."
  • Make sure your phrase lead to the last note. When you get to the end, don't give up. Finish the phrase. He gave the analogy of a racehorse slowing down before the finish line.
  • He pointed out that the hardest thing about music sometimes is that we play with blinders on. Take the blinders off and see the whole phrase. He gave the analogy of bad drivers who don't see the whole road around them.
  • Be sure your technique is clean. He pointed out that his teacher harped on him all the time about his slide.
  • When working with an accompanist, lead don't follow. He observed that this is what messes a lot of people up when they audition for Juilliard. "They don't drive the car."
  • One possible cause for playing sharp is a too-fast air stream. "Personally, I like low and slow" Lower pitch, slower air stream.
  • He suggested that the student should try to make the sound reach to the corners of the hall. He then demonstrate and said that, as he he plays, "I'm hearing the hall ring"
  • For the tendency to play sharp he suggested that one should let the sound settle down into the pitch. He also phrased it this way, "Let the notes sit down where they want to go."
  • Joe said in his own practicing he was thinking of incorporating some pitch bending (with the embouchure) to explore the center and find the sweet spot.
  • At one point he advised a student to sing more and take more risks.
  • Regarding phrase groupings and the comparison between the small phrases and the larger phrases: he pointed out that the overall phrase mark is the most important one.
  • At one point he observed "You have to think, 'I have nothing to lose.' "
  • If you want to learn about phrasing, listen to the great singers: Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Nat King Cole.
  • "I think when you're having fun, you don't get as tired."
  • For high notes, don't use a downward pointing body position. Think of lifting your body (and bell) as you play higher. This gives you a little more leverage. Joe talked about Maynard Ferguson's trumpet players and how they would lean back while playing high notes. He suggest doing a tiny bit of that same gesture.
  • One of the keys to phrasing, never do the same thing twice.
  • A recital of trombone music can become very boring if a player plays in only one style.
  • A common musical problem is that we sometimes crescendo too soon. Often you should wait to start the crescendo.
  • Be more aware of the thematic material in the piano part. Know when to back off and let the piano lines come out.
  • Avoid the "car horn" sound where the tone has no musical shape. On many long notes, you can let the sound relax.
  • With respect to loud playing he observed that it's good to show off your stuff but that it should lead somewhere.
  • Regarding slide technique, he observed, "I'm not a "wrist-ey" player. {meaning not so much flexing of the wrist} I like to index with the slide. When I go to a position, I like to have a connection straight from the tone in my brain to my slide."
  • Avoid "panic breathing" in your performance. He described breathing as a chance to replenish yourself. Do this every chance you get.
  • "Be true to the music, not convenient to yourself."
  • Try rehearsing a piece from the ending and work towards the beginning. This way, you have a clear idea of how you want it to end.
  • Bad breathing often comes from trying to frantically rush through everything.
  • For rapid tonguing, he suggested pulling the tongue back a little (in other words, tongue farther back in the mouth.).
  • Have a consistent breath and breathe this one way whenever possible. He demonstrated by playing Bolero and then then Mozart Requiem, pointing out that he takes the same breath in either situation.
  • If you open your mouth wide to breathe, you end up closing the throat.

Wow, all this from one masterclass. I don't know if I'll be able to provide this much detail about every class (especially the ones I'm playing in), but I'll do what I can.

Oh yes, the recital. Well, what can you say......

he's the man