Monday, July 30, 2007

Alessi Seminar Notes, Day 2 (part 1)..The Warm-Up

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.

Today at the seminar, things really got cranking. The participants had a group warm-up led by Mr. Alessi followed by the first masterclass lasting about 3 1/2 hours. For me the afternoon filled up with rehearsals and sectionals. The day ended with Mr. Alessi's recital.

The Warm-Up Session

Joe led us through some of his ideas for warming up and maintenance. We also received an 8-page handout of exercises. I wasn't able to take notes during the warm-up itself but here are some recollections.

Joe showed us a breathing exercise which involved touching the toes and then straightening up and lifting the arms over the head as you breathe in.
He made an interesting analogy: air in playing is like pouring gasoline into a funnel. From your lungs you have this ample supply of air but you don't want to pour more into the funnel (lips/mouthpiece) than your lips can handle.

He also commented on how so many trombonists make the mistake of "hammering" away in their warm-up rather than working towards a relaxed, beautiful sound. Don't hammer.

The first exercise was a descending arpeggio buzzed on the mouthpiece ranging from middle B-flat down the pedal B-flat. (then the arpeggio is to be done in lower and lower keys).
A couple points about this: he advised us to scoop into the first note. Also he wanted the arpeggio to be somewhat glissy, not slotting into each note.

The second exercise, played very freely on the trombone, was basically a mixture of sustained notes and legato tonguing. The main purpose here was to find the pitch center.

During the 6th exercise, a slow, legato passage of expanding intervals he spoke of the importance of pitch accuracy and consistency. Here he made an interesting observation..

In any audition, only about 2% of the candidates stand any chance of being hired.
One of the major reasons so many candidates aren't worthy of serious consideration is faulty intonation.

Another reminder as we progressed: don't force or strain. Just get a nice relaxed, beautiful tone.

Incidentally, quite a few of the exercises were lip slur patterns.

Exercise #10 focused on slurring over wider intervals. He spoke of the importance of an even sound without favoring certain registers.
Exercise #13 consisted of a bold two-octave tongued arpeggio (B-flat to B-flat for starters) followed by a descending legato chromatic scale. Joe talked about the importance of mastering the chromatic scale starting on any note for true mastery of slide technique. Exercises 16 and 17 also focused on the chromatic scale both in triplets and 16th's.

At many points in the masterclass, he spoke about the importance of breathing well. As he described it a great breath is just like a sigh. He gave the analogy of losing something and then finding it after some searching. When you finally see it, you might heave a sigh of relief. This, he says, is the perfect breath.

He also introduced a different technique for breathing. Basically, he recommends that you maintain contact with the mouthpiece at the center and breathe in through the corners of the mouth by "stretching out" the corners a bit. He returned to this idea a couple times during the masterclass. Another phrase he used was, "Plug it in first and then breathe"

He stressed that this was an important concept to learn and that, once mastered, should really help with consistency and accuracy.

During the masterclass, I wrote down quite a few notes which I'd like to share with you. Check out the next blog for this...