Monday, February 14, 2011

Of the Muse and Gas Tank... (Note to conductors)

I got to play bass trombone in a very enjoyable concert this past weekend.
Suffice to say that it was a good orchestra, good hall, good conductor. However, this good (very musical) conductor made a mistake which I have seen many, many times.
At the end of one section, we landed on a nice, fortissimo octave in the low brass. This was our second performance of the piece.
As you arrive at such a big "forte fermata" moment, you have to make that judgement call...

My air isn't unlimited. How am I going to pace myself here?

Let's assume the following:
  1. You want to start strong.
  2. You want to finish strong (and avoid that anticlimactic fade out).
  3. The note is long enough that you won't be able to to manage it in a single breath.
So you have choices:
  1. Fade in the middle so you don't have to breathe.
  2. Choose the least bad moment to grab a catch breath.
However, here's the giant unknown:
How long will the note last????

As a performer, my decisions hinge on that critical question.
However, highly musical conductors are sometimes moved by their muse to hold out that glorious chord a bit longer than in rehearsal. (or, in the case of this recent concert, longer than the previous night's concert). As a conductor, you may be basking in the glow of that magnificent chord but, if you hold it too long, you are putting your brass players in a difficult situation.
So, conductors, keep being inspired BUT please let us know how long you intend to hold out those big final fermatas.

Our lungs thank you.