-Playing straight horns versus attachment horns.
-Summer music roundup.
-Notes about recordings.
-Bye bye Scott and Sarah McElfresh, how will we replace you?
-Ideal first/second/third players?
-History of fries and pie.
-Purpose of fries and pie?
-Best concert you've ever played.
-Concert attire.
-What's in your case? What are the things you carry around all the time?
-Horn cleaning 101.


on marching band memories

Temperatures and heat indices have soared here in the past couple of weeks, making practicing in my tiny apartment something of a challenge. And by "a challenge", I mean "nonexistent". No matter how many curtains I close, where I put my fans, or how much ice I put in my swamp cooler, my apartment is still unfortunately hot.

The swamp cooler: doesn't quite make the apartment a practice-encouraging temperature. 

This all reminds me of the days during summer break from high school when I would set about memorizing my marching band music in my sweltering hot upstairs bedroom at my mother's house. We had an air conditioner, but we ran it in the downstairs living room, and all of the heat rose... to my bedroom. I spent many a night sleeping on the couch in the cold, and many a hot summer afternoon torturing myself by playing the trombone in a hot room.

Why? Well, to prepare myself for mid-August marching band rehearsals, of course. True, we had them in the morning, so it wasn't at the hottest that it could be, but it was still hot -- and in Northeastern Ohio, it was humid. I was no stranger to endless stretches of 100% humidity days, with the sun beating down on our only-sometimes-sunscreened heads, girls wearing as little clothing as they could get away with and boys going shirtless. Several times, all I wanted was to march the drill barefoot.

To be quite honest, I miss it. I miss the farmer's tans we all inevitably got (especially the poor flute players with those armband lyres -- ugh!), the avoidance of certain people who sweat a lot more than everybody else, and the water breaks when we'd all run to the small section of shade on the far end of the field. I miss using AOL trial diskettes as extra spot markers, keeping stashes of  SweeTarts for my squad- and section-mates, and carrying drill sheets rolled up and tucked into the back waistband of my shorts. It was hard work, and I loved every second of it -- even the hours memorizing music in my sweltering hot bedroom.

Ah, motivation. That was when I had it. Now what reasons do I have to practice in my ninety-degree apartment? Absolutely none. I'd rather just sit in front of my fan and play video games.


CD review!

I've been on a "pick random CDs from my local library's collection and give them a listen" kick, and with that I bring you a review of John Adams: Century Rolls / Lollapalooza / Slonimsky's Earbox.

Weirdly, we talk about John Adams in this blog fairly regularly (well, what counts as "regular" for us, anyway). In case you haven't caught on, he's a prolific modern American composer who usually writes in a minimalist style. His stuff isn't the epitome of classical music, but rather often a fun excursion into the many things that music can simply do. That, and he writes operas about such personalities as J. Robert Oppenheimer and Richard Nixon, which makes him way cool in my book.

This particular CD is most notable for the piano concerto Century Rolls, performed by none other than Emanuel Ax and the Cleveland Orchestra. Listening to this work is truly a musical experience; the first movement, aptly named "First Movement", is inspired by a mechanical piano, featuring the orchestra acting like percussion instruments beating a solid, robotic backdrop to the piano solo. The second movement, "Manny's Gym", could not be more different. It is a romantic song in 3/4 (I think!), with a free tempo and beautiful expression by both Ax and the orchestra. My favorite movement, however, was the third -- "Hail Bop", named after a mishearing of the name of the "Hale-Bopp" comet. It has a jazzy feel to it at times, combined with frenetic tempos and disconcerting brass punctuation. Sometimes, it feels like an eight-minute-long musical chase scene.

Lollapalooza, for orchestra and a kickass low brass section (I just made that up, although writing that in the score would probably be helpful), was the highlight of the CD for me. As a linguist, I love it when composers try to play with language in their musical themes. In this piece, the main theme is a five-note loud brassy thing that mimics the stress pattern in the title word. It comes out at expected times, and some unexpectedly as well. It's almost a cacophony of themes interwoven, but make no mistake -- the brasses are in charge of this piece, even though the timpani has the last word with a single stoke in silence at the end. I would dearly love to see this piece played live.

The last piece, Slonimsky's Earbox, didn't really catch my interest. It is a tribute to Nicholas Slonimsky, who wrote a book of scales and modes called The Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, which Adams says influenced his work. It has a number of scalar themes and modal games, which might interest those of you with an ear for theory. I did enjoy the wild ending, but the rest of the piece pales in comparison to the other offerings on the disc.

I would highly recommend giving this CD a listen if you're in the mood for some musical fun. This isn't a relax-around-the-house CD, nor is it something I'd want to do spring cleaning to, but if you've got an hour to experience some work by a modern composer, definitely check this one out.


on not posting for a while and small horns

Boy, we have been away, haven't we? Trust me when I say this was totally unplanned. Oh, what, I wasn't supposed to tell them that? Err... well, gentle reader, trust me, we had this planned all along.

So in honor of Summer Concert Season, and the inevitable boredom it brings with playing marches and cheesy Broadway medleys, Jon and I have broken out some... unusual horns. I'll leave him to discuss his, but for the moment, I'll discuss mine. You can almost see parts of it in the picture below!

This horn is colloquially referred to as the Dumpster Trombone, a name which fits since it describes how I acquired it. Its real name is Henry, named after Henry Fillmore, who wrote the first piece that I ever played on the horn. (This is, coincidentally, how my other trombone got the name Dmitri. Guess who!)

When I found Henry, he (it?! pronoun failure!) was tarnished all over. I didn't even know that was silver under there, since I thought it was all dirt. I polished it as best as I could, but the slide was in terrible condition. (It kind of reminded me of a horn I played at the RLMU, but that one stayed tarnished and didn't have a slide lock. Coincidentally, that horn went missing for a few years after I graduated... maybe someone threw it in a dumpster, too.)

Anyway, Henry sat in my closet for two years until Jon proposed that we try straight horns for this summer's concert season. I dragged Henry out and reminded myself of how terrible the slide was, and promptly took him to Volkwein's Music. The pros there fixed up my slide so that now it is infinitely more playable (even if it still has a slight hitch to it at times), and even buffed it up so it's nice and shiny.

This horn sounds incredible. It's a small bore, and so my volume has skyrocketed, but combine the volume with the silver and... mmm. The sound is so different from my Conn 88H-CL that I can't even compare them. I'm having trouble blending a little bit, and by far the biggest problem I have is with third and fourth position. The slide on this horn is long, and shaped differently from what I'm used to. The practical upshot of this is that I have no idea where third or fourth position really are at any given time. I have had to play around a lot with my intonation to figure out what was going on at all, and I just haven't had enough face time with the horn around other people without a tuner staring at me.

Then, today, I picked up my 88H-CL and played my warmup on it. Ahh... it felt like coming home. It's almost as if I relived the switch all over again.


on recordings... again

I'm sitting here waiting for my car to be repaired, managed to steal a WiFi signal, and so I thought -- what better time to update the blog?


I mentioned last time that the AWCB was doing a recording session. The first round of it was this past Monday, we will take a week off for the Memorial Day holiday, and then we'll come back and do another recording in the first week of June. I expressed that I was worried that we were under-rehearsed, and my fears were definitely confirmed. We did several takes of each piece, especially Suite of Old American Dances. I was personally disappointed in my own performance in our recording of this piece, and I think most of the band wishes we could have a collective mulligan.

There were, however, really good parts of each take we took of that piece. I am hopeful that by the miraculous tactics of recording engineers, they will be able to crib together a version that somehow incorporates the good parts of each take and eliminates the bad parts. Now, I can't wait to hear the final version of the recording, and I will make absolutely sure to post my reaction when we get the final product.

I do enjoy that piece very much, especially since someone had the bright idea that the first trombones should have a chance to play really loudly in the meaty range. I think Jon and I nailed that particular lick very nicely on one of the takes, and I hope with a musician's sometimes-futile hope that they keep THAT version for the final copy.