Saturday, August 04, 2007

Alessi Seminar Notes, Day 6...Beat Boxing

You might be asking, "What happened to day 5?" Well, that was a day off for everyone.

On to Day 6 (which, by the way, was Friday, Aug. 3rd)

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.

This morning's performers were:

Joseph Rodriguez - orchestral excerpts
Nathan Dishman - Stojowski Fantasy
Nicole Abissi - orchestral excerpts
Jared Lantzy - Schnyder Concerto mvts. 2 & 3
Ben Perrier - Arrows of Time, mvt. 3

Here are comments from my notes:

Mozart Requiem:
  • Concerning the opening arpeggio, Mr Alessi noted that it was fine to take a breath, if needed, in that passage as long as it was done in time. At one point he demonstrated, snapping the subdivisions and suggested that one should "breathe after the last snap," meaning after the last upbeat before the long B-flat. Later in the coaching, he sang the excerpt, demonstrating a very quick breath before the long B-flat.
  • He spoke about the importance of a smooth legato, commenting that, 30 years ago, the legato that was going around "was very caveman." He warned against getting the "wah-wah" in legato, describing this note-shape as being "like footballs."
  • "When you tense up to play soft, you have two choices: don't tense up or don't play so soft."
  • He described that requiem solo in this way, "It's a beautiful little melody. There's not much we have to add."
  • Someone asked if vibrato should be used in this excerpt. He replied that it wasn't really necessary. If you do use vibrato, don't use it too much..."just a little sprinkle here and there."
  • Concerning excerpts, he said that the hardest thing is to be out there and get scrutinized during an audition.
  • He reminded us to "hit those excerpts constantly." (in the context of someone who is serious about winning an orchestral audition).

Hungarian March

  • He observed that the level of reverberation in Avery Fisher tends to expose bad attacks.
  • In reference to the ascending quarter notes before the big run, he commented, "That scale tells a lot." He reminded the student to get the slide to the next position ahead of the note.
  • He used the phrase, "no-man's land" for the gaps between the separated articulations.
  • As for the big run, he spent time demonstrating triads built from the longer notes in the run: C-A-F, A-F-D, C-E-G. These notes have to be very stable.
  • Of the run he pointed out, "You have to keep reminding yourself what is simple about this."
  • When you do any exercise related to an excerpt, be certain to play the exercise with perfect rhythm.
  • Be sure not to "telegraph" the next note by moving the slide early, causing a small gliss.
  • He sang the run while snapping three big beats:

  • Be certain not to slow down at the end of the excerpt. Stay on top of the beat.

(end of Hungarian March comments)

  • Concerning any changes to the embouchure, he commented, "You have to be like a policeman to yourself." In other words, you will need to be constantly vigilant.
  • He went into a demonstration in which the student lay on his back (keeping the feet relaxed) with one hand laying on the belt buckle. He had the student first fill up the lower part of the lung (closer to the belly), followed by the chest. He then had the student place the finger vertically on the embouchure while breathing in. He suggested that we try this relaxed breathing exercise at any time of the day if we felt we weren't breathing well. Upon returning to the standing position, the breath should just as simple and natural.
  • Concerning the placement of the feet while playing, he suggested that we try lining up the feet as if centered on two perpendicular lines on the floor (like a helicopter landing pad). By lining the feet along these line, the feet are aligned and you are facing directly forward.
  • He suggested that we might try videotaping ourselves to check posture.
  • He recommended that we practice posture and breathing first without the instrument. Then, when the instrument is introduced, be certain that we don't revert to a different posture.
  • He reminded us that, as we extend the slide past 3rd position, to be certain the fingers don't reach out for the bell. This causes many trombonists to play sharp.
  • For descending into the low register with a rich sound, he called to mind the rich warm quality of Bing Crosby singing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas"
  • He pointed out that, when the pitch is exactly right, the tone will sound more rich.

Mahler 3

  • When playing the opening notes, count 1-2-3-4 (the quarters) rather than 1-2-3 (the half notes). Later he added that he likes to let the sound bleed a little into the next beat.
  • When you get to the low A's, think 'dah.' "Let the air do more work than the tongue."
  • As you descend into the low range, make the air go slower.
  • When articulating in the low range, watch out for a chewing motion in the jaw.
  • At the end of the first excerpt he suggested that we should "try not to smash these notes. Play them in a singing manner."
  • He reminded us that many other musical elements have to be in place along with a big sound.
Ein Heldenleben
  • He observed that this is one of the hardest excerpts to play, rhythmically.
  • With respect to the occasional out-of-tune notes, he pointed out, "Those few notes start to add up in an audition."
  • He observed that, in practicing, he's happy to just focus in on a single measure and really polish it (to apply what has been learned)
  • As you play, be careful not to look so "student-like." (meaning with a frantic, tense expression in the face, eyes wide-open)
  • It is important to memorize those excerpts that are important to you.
  • Concerning the long low F he said, "If you have to take a breath, that's not the end of the world."
  • He built on this idea be describing the notion of gaining and losing "points" in an audition. If you play something really well, you gain points and this gives you some license. Of auditions he said, "I want to give these players points." (as they begin their audition). He went to note that some players play with a poor tone or faulty rhythm and they don't get those points.
  • If you memorize something and you're able to play well from memory, that means you really know it.
  • Concerning tempo choices in excerpts: choose tempos that are "good averages." Don't choose an odd tempo just because one recording goes at that speed.
  • For any excerpt, you should know the piece as whole well enough to be able to sing some of the themes. Thinking of these themes can relax you. "You have to put yourself in the piece."
(end of the Heldenleben comments)

  • It is important to be able to tape yourself at half speed, especially to study legato and attacks. In discussing the various technologies available to accomplish this, a member of the audience mentioned a website called The Amazing Slow Downer
  • He went into a demonstration of correct hand position when holding the slide. He stressed the important of keeping the thumb straight (like holding car keys as you're about the unlock the door) for better control.
"Beat Box" Demo

Mr. Alessi invited Anthony Barfield to the stage. Anthony composed one of the pieces Joe performed on his recital earlier in the week. Using a microphone, Anthony put on a very impressive display which he referred to as "beat boxing." If you closed your eyes, you would swear you were listening to a drum synthesizer. Joe told us this was a great example of internal rhythm. Joe then got up on stage and played Hungarian March while Anthony provided a "beat box" accompaniment. Everybody loved it! Joe pointed out how it is so much easier to play when you have a beat like this.

Moving on...
  • If we are trying out an adjustment in technique, it might feel strange. In this context, he observed, "Alien doesn't mean bad." In other words, just because a new way of doing things feels strange doesn't mean it's wrong. He recommended that sometimes it is good to explore new things, even if they are alien.
  • While the student was playing a fast, technical passage, Joe suggested that he pretend he was just playing a nice F (the note, note the dynamic)
  • As you descend into the lower register, don't allow that embouchure to collapse.
  • If you are playing a fast, technical passage filled with awkward intervals and tricky rhythms, be careful you aren't "slicing up your air like mincemeat." He also referred to this kind of playing as "hacking and slashing."
  • When you see a difficult passage, don't freak out. When approaching such a passage, Joe observed, "I'm just pretending I'm playing a chorale."
Mini-Lecture on Slide Technique
  • Joe observed that people have to have more "respect for the slide."
  • He placed two water bottles on the stage, each bottle representing (I believe) the exact point in time when a new note begins. He asked us to consider the question, "When should you move your slide in legato?"
  • He used the phrase "within the technique, stay relaxed in your own environment" for the avoidance of tension.
  • He demonstrated a passage of slow, widely-spaced staccato notes with a quick slide motion in between so that the slide was well-placed before each new note.
(end of lecture)
  • When you practice double-tonguing, try emphasizing the "kah" syllable...
  • When multiple tonguing a fast passage, be sure to maintain the right pitches. Later he reminded us to practice technical passages slowly enough to maintain a good tone.
  • You have to respect a difficult passage and take enough time to learn it at a slow speed
  • If a highly technical passage in a solo is marked 'forte' consider not trying to play it so loudly. Don't try to "muscle it out," especially if you are playing alone at the point in the solo.
  • With respect to demeanor during auditions, he recalled a recent audition in which Lisa Albrecht was given the one-year position to replace Jim Markey. He observed that is was amazing to see the difference in demeanor of someone who has been there before.
  • In terms of playing difficult material, he wants his approach to be "like taking a stroll in the park."
  • He demonstrated transposing a difficult passage into the middle range to work on tone quality.
  • He observed that, in a lot of the lessons he teaches, they simply devote time to getting the first note of something.
That's all for now...