12.31.2009

Youtube o' the week!

My brother always gets me a dvd for Christmas. Well, at least for the last several years he has. This year, it was a copy of Rachel Portman's opera The Little Prince, based on the book by Antoine de St.-Exupery. I really enjoyed it, especially the amazing work by baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes as the pilot. The audio is a little out of sync, but this is the scene shortly after the pilot meets the Prince, and the two come to an understanding about the nature of sheep.

12.30.2009

On the Prayer of Saint Gregory

Of the pieces I’m working on right now, Alan Hovhaness’ Prayer of St. Gregory is probably the least well known among trombonists, owing to the fact that it’s really written for solo trumpet. It started life as an “elegiac intermezzo” for the opera Etchmiadzin, although I have never seen a recording of the opera, or even Hovhaness’ 21st symphony of the same name. Arrangements exist for trumpet with orchestra, organ, and band, and recordings are plentiful (relatively speaking) for all three versions: it is more difficult to find a recording of anything by Hovhaness without the Prayer on it than with.

It is, I admit, a fairly odd choice for me to be working on, but from a musical and interpretive point of view, an exciting one. There are only a handful of markings on the page, and most of them simply follow the line: crescendo as the line goes up, decrescendo again as it comes down. The peak, both in terms of dynamic and pitch, happens on the root, which usually works out to A4. There is a lot of room to work here in terms of markings, and not a whole lot of guidance from the composer. The sheer number of recordings available means a lot of precedent is available. But this simply means it is up to the performer to make some choices!

There are some more interesting aspects to the piece on a slightly deeper level. The “solo” part accounts for a mere 50 bars out of 130, which seems to diminish its importance somewhat, turning the piece almost into an organ solo with trumpet accents. However, in the places where the soloist plays, the organ is holding chords: the solo becomes quasi cadenza, although there are once again scant indications of presupposed tempo variations. Another crucial aspect of the piece is in the resolution. While the solo lines always resolve to the A, either as the peak of a line or as the final resolution, the resolution at the end of a line is delayed half a beat, with a G on the downbeat resolving to A on the upbeat. This weakens the cadence and the resolution, and is repeated until the final statement of the solo part. In the last statement, the G is played at the end of the last figure leading to the resolution on the downbeat of the last measure: the resolution is more firm, grounded.



The solo and accompaniment parts taken together, the piece sounds like a journey to me, and works best slowly, with an eye towards introspection. The solo parts come through as a pause in travel for reflection, perhaps on some eternal question that St. Gregory might have carried with himself in his reputation for scholarship and contemplation. The answer doesn’t come, but the journey continues: resolution is delayed, and the moving lines in the accompaniment begin again as soon as the solo ends, and is given much more time than the solo. Or perhaps the message is that the journey, and the question, is more important than the answer, or the destination. But this is all reflected in the final note. There is no dynamic marking, and is not the high dynamic mark for the piece: once again, resolution is found, but the weight and importance of that resolution is left up to the performer.

12.25.2009

a holiday post

Today is usually my day to post something meaningful to this blog. However, I am busy, having just gotten in from a trip Back North, cleaning my little apartment in preparation for visits from family members, listening to the local jazz radio station and anticipating good times with family and friends.

So with all that in mind, I sat down here for just a moment to wish you, our readers, a Merry Christmas. Even if you don't celebrate, try to take some time tonight to turn out the lights, put on your favorite music, sip some tea or cocoa, and enjoy some calm. That, to me, is truly what the season is about.

12.24.2009

Youtube for the holidays!

I missed my post for this week due to pie and such, but I ran across this on my favorite blogs and had to share. It's the beloved Penguins talking about what they want for Christmas. Marc-Andre Fleury wants Mario Kart and a Ping-Pong table, and Max Talbot got a Guy LaFleur dvd. The first hockey player that really impressed me, before I realized the Penguins existed, before Mario Lemieux came to town, was Guy LaFleur. I remember watching him on French language tv from vacation someplace in New England, tearing down the right side with his hair trailing in the breeze behind him unleashing the original goalie-hatin' slapper from above the right circle, and making goalies look foolish. And now here I am making occasional strange blog posts about how much I dig the Penguins! I wonder if Max would lend out the dvd when he's done with it.


12.20.2009

"quodlibet"

The MAotW is:

quodlibet


This is a Latin term meaning "what pleases" (said "kwode-lih-bet"), but the musical meaning can only be described as "a piece made up of a bunch of familiar stuff". Bits and pieces of popular melodies can be knitted together in a musical composition to make up a quodlibet. I've never actually seen this word notated on a piece before, but it's a word I always wished I had to describe pieces like Instant Concert, the piece in the video below. And here, like an early (winter holiday of choice) gift, the word appears, ready for use!

Note: I chose this version of this piece because of the unforeseen wackiness factor of the Australian police!


12.18.2009

from Starship Troopers

I haven't been able to play much recently due to an injury to my upper lip, plus getting some horrible sickness, so little trombonery content from yours truly today. In lieu of that, I wanted to share an interesting passage that I encountered in Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (pages 77-78), an unlikely place to read about the role of amateur musicians in society. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, this passage comes from when our narrator is a fresh recruit in boot camp in a futuristic society, training to fight against an alien invasion force. I found this passage particularly striking.
It’s nice to have the band play; it picks you right up when your tail is dragging the prairie. We hadn’t had anything but canned music at first and that only for parade and calls. But the powers-that-be had found out early who could play and who couldn’t; instruments were provided and a regimental band was organized, all our own – even the director and the drum major were boots.
It didn’t mean they got out of anything. Oh no! It just meant they were allowed and encouraged to do it on their own time, practicing evenings and Sundays and such – and that they got to strut and countermarch and show off at parade instead of being in ranks with their platoons.

(…)
We couldn’t take a parade band out on route march, of course, because no special allowances were made for the band. Tubas and bass drums had to stay behind because a boy in the band had to carry a full kit, same as everybody, and could only manage an instrument small enough to add to his load. But the M.I. has band instruments which I don’t believe anybody else has, such as a little box hardly bigger than a harmonica, an electric gadget which does an amazing job of faking a big horn and is played the same way. Come band call when you are headed for the horizon, each bandsman sheds his kit without stopping, his squadmates split it up, and he trots to the column position of the color company and starts blasting.

It helps.

12.15.2009

Update from the mothership

So those of you who read this blog regularly (all three of you) may remember that about six weeks ago, I posted a list of goals. Those of you who don't read the blog regularly can click the link! Anyway, I've been cracking on these pretty hard the last couple of weeks, and I just knocked off a pretty solid practice session, so I thought hey, let's update the mothership goals!

1. The trombonery is actually going fairly well. I've been paying close attention to beginnings and ends of notes, and while I'm not completely happy with them, I think they're getting better. I think I could almost perform the Prayer of St. Gregory, although I would need some time with an accompanist. I think the Tuba Mirum is coming along nicely, I can play it well enough to play it for an audition for the level of ensemble I usually play for probably six out of eight times I practice. Still a little ways to go on those!

The Grondahl is coming along, but is not perfect. I still have trouble with endurance, especially with popping out the E-flat in the ossia in the third movement consistently, and with that lovely string of high Cs at the end of the piece. But if I'm careful about where in the practice session I work on them, I can get through any of the movements straight through and play most of the notes in the right place with some vague semblance of musicality. Much better than it was!

I am still having some note issues with the Ride excerpts. That's probably because of my general dislike of the excerpts; I'm just not taking them as seriously as I should be. But I've been trying to pay attention to things like accents and dynamics, so I'm making progress anyway. I've been thinking a lot about whether I like a brassy, brash tone for the B-major section, or just an oppressively large fortissimo. I've been working on trying to play it both ways, as well as trying to play it like comic relief on horseback. That's definitely an interesting mental exercise!

Bolero's a pain in the neck. I used to knock this off all the time and get ridiculed for being a showoff, and now I just can't pull it off. At least I'm having problems with the hard parts. I added some more lip slurs in the high range to try to help with the string of D-flats, and have been working slowly through the falling sixteenths to try to get that down.

2. I've gotten through Blood+ (which I really liked), Romeo x Juliet (which I also really liked) and the first Evangelion movie (which I thought was not as good as the tv show, which I didn't really like in the first place). I've started His and Her Circumstances which is fantastic and a complete surprise for a Gainax show, and Spice and Wolf, which I am really liking. Victory on the sitting around watching cartoons front!

3. I've cleaned most of the mothership, but have not yet ventured into the hold. Still some work to do there!

4. I haven't even started FFVIII yet, but I've been working on Half-Life 2. Does that count for anything?

12.13.2009

affrettando

Today's MAotW is brought to you by DayQuil.*

affrettando


affrettando (sometimes misspelled "affretando") means "rushed or hurried", and in music is used to indicate an accelerando that is to be done with an impatient or nervous tone to it.

Or, in the case of the AWCB's Christmas concert today, describes how Lauren plays the entire gig when she's hopped up on cold medication and, therefore, has an incredibly slow response time.

*Note: DayQuil actually did not sponsor this MAotW, but it was the cause of it!

12.11.2009

on a goal for the future

So while in Lake Placid, the GACB played Italian Rhapsody, written by Julie Giroux and commissioned by our conductor Colonel Gabriel. While some bits of the piece seemed to be regurgitated from another Giroux piece we had played before (Husaria Cavalry Overture), it was overall a very challenging but fun piece to play.

The second trombones sure got a workout. The entire last page and a half of the piece (starting at about 4:22 in the recording below) was full of quick runs that, if I had a couple of weeks to practice or the chop strength to practice outside of rehearsals while we were there, I might have had more success with than I actually did. The gentleman sitting next to me shook my hand when it was all over and said "We made it!" That was about the best we could do.

This piece inspired a goal for the future for me, though. If you listen below, at 1:54, you can hear a trumpet duet (just barely, but it's there). The players stood up and you could see their fingers flying across the valves as they played their duet.

The secret? That duet is written in the first and second trombone parts. I wanted to give it a shot, but the other members of the section wussed out; we had no chance to even try it. It's fast, but I firmly believe that it could be done by a pair of hardworking and competent trombonists. Whether "hardworking and competent trombonists" includes a certain pair of bloggers, I'm not sure, but it is my goal to at least give it a shot sometime... which means getting this piece on the AWCB's list. Let the games begin!



12.10.2009

YouTube o' the week- jazz winter style!

If there's anybody on here who is also on my Facebook, and actually pays attention to it, they might have already seen this, but I thought it was really pretty cool. I always dig it when they show the band! But what did the poor drummer do to end up in a little isolation box all by himself?

12.08.2009

And this is why you work outside of your comfort zone

If Lauren went home in Lake Placid, I went to strange, scary new places. By the time Lauren and I got to the first Great American Community Band rehearsal, there were two spots open, a second trombone, and the last chair in the section. According to time honored tradition, placement was determined by rock paper scissors, which, as always, I lost: for the first time in my life, I would be playing bass trombone. Well, unless you count a couple read-throughs with trombone quartets, where we passed all the parts around and everybody had a turn. I have never considered myself to have a good low range. I've turned down a handful of gigs in the past couple of years because a bass trombone was called for, and I wasn't comfortable in that register.

But last summer, the AWCB played a few tunes where the firsts had some pedals and a little bit of work in the trigger register, and I got tired of flubbing the couple of notes in the Grondahl that get that low. So I started working harder in the trigger and pedal range, long tones, scales. I've been working on attacking, playing quarter note/quarter rest scales from Bb 2 down to the pedal, turning on pedal A, and back up. Paying attention to attacks, intonation, all the usual issues. It obviously helped a lot in the low register, but I think it also helped me center the middle and high ranges, and helped with support throughout my range.

So while I'm pretty sure I didn't make anybody forget Doug Yeo, I think I played the part that was given to me reasonably well. And while I'm not going to start searching ebay for a Holton TR 162 any time soon, if somebody's desperate for a third trombone, I might just take the gig.

12.06.2009

"con islancio"

The highly nuanced Musical Annotation of the Week is...

con islancio


You have probably only seen this annotation in one place: the last section of Chance's Variations on a Korean Folk Song. Wikipedia tells me that con islancio means "with impetuousness", and my usual online musical dictionary agrees. 


Well, at the rehearsals of the Great American Community Band, we heard something different. Yes, Variations was part of our concert lineup, and when Colonel Gabriel came to the con islancio section, first he made a jibe at younger conductors who tell their bands that this marking means "like the islands", but then he explained to us the meaning of this annotation in a much different way.  I can't quote him directly, but I can give you the gist of his explanation.
"islancio" is like a lancer, or someone throwing a lance. It builds up -- starts with slow muscle movements in just the fingers, then the arms, then the shoulders, the torso, the legs; eventually the whole body is moving until the lance is released
 If you listen to the very last variation (3:10 in the video below), the instruments add in one by one until, finally, the bass trombones and lowest brass drop in on a Bb -- this is the release of the lance.

And now, a recording with a figure skater, because if you're like me you never conceived of this piece as a skating routine, but now you will never be able to think otherwise.



12.04.2009

on returning home

It's amazing how much one's ear can change in just a couple short years.

I flourished as a second trombonist for a long time. First just isn't my bag, although I have been sitting first in the AWCB since fall of 2007 (mostly because nobody else would do it, iirc). I dearly adore playing third trombone, although it frequently makes me sneeze (more on that later). Second, for me, is where it's at.

In Lake Placid, I sat second trombone for the first time in two years. It took me a good three hours of rehearsal to get my second trombonist ear back. It's hard to play those middle notes and be in tune. It sucks that half of your sustained notes are Gb (or, at least, for this particular gig, they were). I had forgotten where those notes even were, so used to being on the top of the chord or wailing away up in the "higher" range. There's so much more that you have to do as a second trombonist that I had become sorely out of practice with.

First: always listen to the firsts.
Second: always listen to the horns.
Third: always listen to the thirds.
Fourth: always listen to the guy next to you.
Fifth: figure out what the hell kind of chord it is you're playing and adjust, because chances are a little adjustment by you will make the sound "gorgeous" instead of "pretty good".
On and on and on...

Listen, listen, listen. I think I hadn't realized how much I had stopped listening.

And now I've come back, sitting first again in the AWCB, and I've forgotten all the things that a good first player needs to do. As my substitute stand partner would probably attest to if he had been around two years ago, I failed almost as badly at being a first player during rehearsal on Monday as I did when I started in 2007.

So what makes the list for a good first player? A second? A third?

12.01.2009

While we were away

So I'm sure the three of you who actually read this (hi, mom!) noticed that there haven't been any new posts for a while. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is the Thanksgiving Holiday, but another is that both of us were gone for a weekend performing with the Great American Community Band in Lake Placid, New York!

For those who aren't familiar with the gig, it's a group formed from adult community musicians by application. Everybody gets together on Friday and Saturday to rehearse, with a concert on Sunday, and a few social events in the middle. There was not a lot of down time, but what we had was spent wandering Lake Placid, which is a pretty little town whose main industry appears to be Olympic Winter Sports Training. We stayed in a bed and breakfast with a woman trying out for the Canadian bobsled team, how cool is that? There are a number of potential post topics here, so expect the trip to be post fodder for a while!

A highlight of the event from a musical point of view was the conductor, Col. Arnald Gabriel. There were a lot of very impressive aspects of his handling of rehearsals and the music that I'm sure will come up in subsequent postings, but the first thing that stood out was that he conducted without a score. I know there are a lot of people that do that, but he had the music down to measure numbers and note names in individual parts. I was impressed.

The band itself was solid, and improved dramatically from the first rehearsal to the concert. The trombone section consisted of your two Faithful (if Sometimes Infrequent) Bloggers, a couple of folks from the Repasz Band of Williamsport, a local, and a fellow who came in from Illinois. We had previously (and favorably!) encountered the Repasz Band when the AWCB went to the American Concert Band festival in Corning, New York, so it was nice to reconnect with them, even if we hadn't actually met any of them back then! Overall, a good bunch on the back row as usual.

But that's where we've been, and what's coming up. Stories will ensue!

(and by the way, that was a lie, my mom doesn't read this.)

11.15.2009

"tailgate"

Today's MAotW is:

tailgate
Wait, what?

 "Tailgate" is not actually Italian, believe it or not, but it is actually a slang term for glissando (also known as "glissing" or "smearing"), or the unique ability of the trombone to slide between two notes. This term is used to denote a Dixieland style of smear. The Virgina Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary gives this etymology for the term "tailgate":
The name tailgate comes from the late 19th century when the trombone performers in Dixieland bands would often perform sitting on or over the "tailgate" of a horse-drawn wagon, facing backwards, while the other members of the band sat in the wagon bed in a parade or in a procession on the way to a funeral. By sitting on or over the "tailgate", the trombone player had ample room to move the trombone slide while performing frequent glissandos of the Dixieland jazz that often require the performer to extend the slide to its maximum length.
And here you thought tailgating only had to do with football gameday activities. Hah!

11.13.2009

Concert Review: Rodef Shalom

So in trying to figure out what to post this week, I realized that I had forgotten to write a review of the AWCB's yearly benefit concert for a local food pantry. And thus, you have my post for the week.

For this gig, I was lacking my usual stand partner (::coughbloggingpartnertoocough::), so I got the pleasure of sharing a stand with Trombone Andy (named thus to differentiate him from the 200 other people named Andy in the band). Aside from the awkwardness that comes with having someone not understand the inside jokes written as musical annotations, it was an excellent experience to play next to him, and I would do it again! As for the performance, in all it went extremely well -- plus we managed to raise a sizable donation of canned goods for the food pantry, which is the ultimate goal. The only musical complaint that I heard was "the saxophones were too loud", but this is a pretty standard complaint when it comes to saxophones... wait, did I type that in public?

The concert was set inside a social hall in a Jewish temple in an upscale neighborhood, and even though there is no stage or traditional concert lighting, most people in the band agree that this is one of our favorite places to play. The audience sits relatively close to us, we all have amazingly cushy chairs, and the acoustics are incredible. Combine all that with free cookies after the show and you've got a bunch of happy musicians.

Musical highlights: the trumpet section nailing the opening of Shostakovich's Festive Overture as the first sounds of the concert, an incredible solo horn performance in the Rondo from one of Strauss's horn concertos, the trombone section generally not failing at playing swing style licks, and the narrator for the piece A Nation's Strength forgetting (I think) that he was supposed to narrate during the piece and not just read the poem beforehand and walk away. Oh well -- it was a nice poem, and the music could stand on its own.

Did I mention that we played Shostakovich? \o/

11.10.2009

Driveby anime review #2: Princess Resurrection

It’s taken me a long time to get through Princess Resurrection, for a lot of reasons many of which have nothing to do with the anime itself. However, the fact that it’s a bizarre show that doesn’t seem to know what its audience is has a lot to do with the number of times that I’d go weeks in between viewings as well.

The basic plot is this. Hiro, a kid of indeterminate age (could be anywhere from 10 to maybe 18, thanks art department!) dies trying to save a blond haired hottie from certain doom. She turns out to be the princess of the underworld, and resurrects him out of some sort of twisted sense of… something. We’re never really clear on why she would do something like that. The show takes on more or less a monster of the week format after that, kind of a Scooby-Doo “I’d’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for your attractive female retainers!” kind of feel, as various supernatural beings try to take over princessship of the underworld. The problem is that it has this juvenile structure with dialogue and execution to match laid over some pretty suggestive character designs and occasional plot elements, like it’s directed at the “18-35 year old male who never matured past 13” demographic. Ok, sure, I guess that constitutes most of the anime fans I know, but still. At points it almost takes on a reverse harem feel for all the women fighting over whom Hiro needs to serve. Add to all this clich├ęd cacophony some poor animation, and you’ve got an ok show that just doesn’t quite click on any important level.

Bottom line: pretty good idea, should be a solid show, but never seems to figure out what it wants to be. Lots of fun with maid outfits, though.

Obligatory haiku:
Gothic robot maids
Underage slutty cat girls
What does huga mean?

11.08.2009

"ffz", "sffz", and "sff"

Today's Musical Annotation of the week is actually three annotations, but we'll start with...

ffz

I think most musicians get the idea when they see two Fs together, and when there's a Z involved, it usually means to smack the hell out of something. 

ffz is an abbreviation for "forzando" or "forzato". It basically means to play the note at the indicated dynamic (ff in this case) but with emphasis, as though it had a strong accent mark over it. 

Now, this term can be confused with two others:

sffz


sff

sffz is an abbreviation for "sforzato", which is to play at the dynamic level written (ff) and with a strong accent and at full duration, as below.


sff is an abbreviation for "sforzando", which is to play at the dynamic level written (again, ff) but with a typical accent mark, as shown below.

 So just remember -- if it's got a Z, it means it's a strong accent (Z looks kind of like a backwards S, and even the sound Z makes sounds stronger than an S, right?). If it's got an S and a Z, it means to play a long, strong accent (because the abbreviation is longer, and has that Z again). If it's just got an S, it means to play it like a regular accent (strong, but not as strong as a Z).


11.06.2009

on "ee"

My old friend from the OMEA Northeast Ohio Honors Orchestra, John Shanks, made the following comment on Facebook regarding my post a couple of weeks ago on "ta" versus "toe" :
A problem with "toe" is (and I have struggled with this) that if this isn't specifically taught as a "low" concept, it can really mess up the sound in the high register. The oral cavity should not be the same for C5 as it is for C2. Mine was, and it was making me engage the throat to reduce the size of the air column, and that added way too much complexity. "Tee" for C5 is much simpler than "toe".

tl;dr - articulation is separate from vowel sound which should vary according to range

 I've been really thinking about this and working with the concept in my practice sessions lately. Wouldn't you know it? All along, I think my tongue has been screwing up my high range. I have written before about my issues with my high range, and Jon has too, and one little comment on Facebook has really made a big difference. I started raising the back of my tongue when I ascend in my range, and not only is my sound clearer and sweeter up there, but the notes come out much more easily. I was even squealing away on an F5 today like I haven't spent months trying to find it.

Training myself to put my tongue in the "ee" position will be the hard part, but at least I'm on the way.

11.05.2009

YouTube o' teh... what the...?!

This clip is entirely worth it to watch Jordan Staal (of my beloved Penguins) talk about his brother Mark dressed up as Pippi Longstocking. Also, what's up with Alex Goligoski and the porn 'stache?

Hockey players talk about their childhood Halloween costumes here:

11.03.2009

Greetings from the mothership: a partial manifesto

This one technician who formerly worked for me used to joke that I would end up in my basement writing a manifesto someday. Well, I'm in the attic, but otherwise, here we are!

So I'm on the mothership. It's nice here, except somewhat filthier than I had imagined, a little more Vogon than Federation of Planets. But I'll get to that. We get pudding every now and then, if we're good, and colon scrubs from the head reptoid if we're bad. (I don't like the head reptoid, but don't tell, because I like the colon scrubs less!) And we've got wifi, which is pretty cool, although I'm not completely sure that the wifi isn't also some sort of mind control. I mean, you've got to have a pretty serious business router to get any sort of decent connection from low orbit, but that thing looks like it could double as a thoroughly impractical troop carrying tank like thing.

Anyway, I have a few things I want to accomplish while I'm here, and I was thinking, hey! I ought to blog about some of them! In public even! So, here's the list of things I want to do that might actually end up on this blog, although I do not guarantee that they will.

1. Prepare the Grondahl Concerto for Trombone, Hovhaness Prayer of St. Gregory, and excerpts from Bolero and Ride of the Valkyie as if I've got an audition coming up. Expect ruminations on these. I know, everybody plays the Grondahl, and yes, I'm thinking about Bolero because I'm a showoff, but there actually have been auditions for community-level groups around here that asked for Ride and Bolero, so it's practical.
2. Chew through some of my anime backlog. I've got a ton of dvds sitting around wondering why I don't love them anymore. And since I've been reduced to my cd and dvd collection by some people (cough) I might as well deserve it, right? Expect some driveby reviews.
3. Clean the mothership from stem to stern, from keel to topsail. With fire, as necessary.
4. Start, and maybe finish, Final Fantasy VIII. And beat that lousy bastard in the undersea research complex.

There are some other, broader, more important goals, but I think those are the ones I'm likely to talk about here. So without further ado... I'm going to go do something.

See you next time the reptoids aren't looking!

11.01.2009

"singhiozzando"

Today's MAotW (Musical Annotation of the Week) is:

singhiozzando

In my time as a trombonist, I don't think I've ever seen this marking, but perusing my dictionary this week I found it there waiting for me. It means to play the marked passage "in the manner of sobbing", usually characterized by a gliding between notes. 

The trombone being what it is, you'd think we'd get to play singhiozzando at least sometime -- we're pros at gliding! Maybe composers just don't think we can pull off the "sobbing" effect. Sigh!

10.31.2009

Bill Watrous on Samantha

I know Jon usually posts the YouTube of the Week, but he's informed me that his posting might be sporadic for a while, so I've decided to step in where I can to keep things regular around here.

I was inspired to look up Bill Watrous on YouTube by my friend Joe, who recently saw him play live in Houston. I came across this recording of Watrous playing "Samantha", a beautiful ballad, and the video (while grainy) gives some amazing shots of his use of slide vibrato. Enjoy!


10.30.2009

on productivity

I just had the most interestingly productive practice session. This is how the span of about two hours went:
1. Picked up the horn and warmed up using my usual routine.
2. Walked over to my computer and answered an e-mail.
3. Picked my horn back up and did some flexibility exercises.
4. Checked on my applesauce which was cooking away in the kitchen.
5. Played some high range exercises.
6. My cat demanded to be played with, so I made her chase her feather toy for a few minutes.
7. I played through the second movement of the Kelly Sonata.
8. Potty break.
9. Worked through some tempo issues in the Kelly piece.
10. Answered a phone call.
11. Played through the whole second movement again, much better this time.
12. Put the horn down.
My chops lasted much longer doing this, and feel better afterwards, than if I just play for an hour straight -- and I probably got just as much accomplished, if not more. This reminds me a little of a typical rehearsal in any band -- you play for a few minutes, then you listen to the conductor tell you something, then you play for a little bit longer, then you sit there while the clarinets are being worked with, then you play again...

I have always heard that taking frequent breaks during practice can help the practice session be more productive. Joe Jackson writes that practicing in short, varied sessions is one of the seven habits of highly effective trombonists. It's difficult to do this when your only venue for practice is a practice room somewhere, but I have taken to leaving my horn out on its stand in the dining room to encourage myself (and anyone who happens to drop by) to pick it up randomly and play something. So far, it's made a big difference -- maybe I'm finally learning how to practice.

10.28.2009

You are not alone

I'm just going to go ahead and point out that I, Jon, and not Lauren, wrote this, in order to save some Facebook angst later. (lolz!)

I'm late again. But I've at least gone from thinking nobody reads the blog to being afraid to post because I always manage to tick somebody off. That's progress of some sort, right?

I take a great deal of solace from the idea that no matter how screwed up I think things are, no matter what grotesque emotion is gnawing at the frayed edges of my benumbed psyche, there's a song for it. Which means that at least one other poor sap had the same problem, and some other poor sap thought enough people had that problem to finance the record. In that spirit, I offer three songs that are speaking to me right now.

"No More", from Into the Woods, by Stephen Sondheim. It took me until I was about 30 before I realized how brilliant this show actually is, although part of that is that I usually can't brook Sondheim for all his clever antics. Although right now I'm cycling through the last three songs in the show: this one, "No one is alone", and "Children will listen". Also, I had never heard of this Kevin Dozier character who's singing in that clip until I started trying to find a decent youtube of the song, but he's pretty good!

"If I Didn't Believe In You", from The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown. A song about a guy desperately trying to shore up his wife and failing miserably for his own hubris. Don't we get to be happy, at some point down the line? (Apologies for the bad video, but Norbert Butz is awesome enough to put up with the poor quality.)

"Bruised", The Bens. That's Folds, Kweller, and Lee. I expect to take some shit for this one, because it's not a great song, and doesn't get into any sort of depth of emotion, but the hook has got me right in the emo pants: love just leaves you bruised.

10.25.2009

"stfu"

Today's Musical Annotation of the week is...



Yeah, that's right. STFU. While this does not have a direct translation into Italian, nor is it a common marking in printed music, somehow it seems to be a common penciled in notation in the first trombone music of the AWCB.



No, really.

 

"STFU" is a very nuanced marking. It does not merely mean to play quietly, but it is usually used to mark something that one feels should be played loudly, but really isn't supposed to be. 

 

(Some part of me wonders... in twenty years, will someone else be handed this music and raise their hand and ask the conductor "I have 'stfu' penciled into my part, what does that mean?")

10.23.2009

on language and trombonery

How did you learn to articulate? When I was first picking up the horn, I was taught "ta ta ta". When I got to college, my instructor beat "ta" out of my head and taught me "toe toe toe", and "low low low" for legato.

Obviously, the difference here is the vowel. /a/ and /o/ are both pronounced in the back of the mouth, but /a/ is lower than /o/. That is, your tongue is farther down in the back of your mouth when you say /a/ than when you say /o/. Try saying both "ta" and "toe" and stick your finger in your mouth and feel where your tongue is and the shape. The tongue kind of curves up in the back when you say /o/.

This seems counter-intuitive. Why would you want your tongue in the way of your airstream? However, the location and shape of the tongue has another effect. Try saying "ta ta ta", and put your hand on your chin. Your jaw moves, doesn't it? Now say "toe toe toe", and feel your chin again -- not so much movement, right? One thing you don't want when you play is a lot of jaw movement -- it moves the teeth, interferes with the placement of your lips, and can generally muck up your embouchure. By using "toe" instead, with less jaw movement, we learn not to move our jaw when we play just by thinking of a different syllable.

Try holding the horn with your left hand and articulating while feeling your jaw with your right hand. Think of saying different vowels when you tongue, and feel what happens.

10.22.2009

Youtube o' my misbegotten youth!

And here I admit how old I really am. The Thompson twins (not twins, not named Thompson) were one of my favorite bands when I was very young. I used to sit and listen to my sister listen to these guys. You have to understand- my sister was evil. Like, probably read The Prince and was disgusted at Machiavelli's timidity and lack of imagination. So she'd sit in her room with her stereo and her hundreds of records and I'd sit out on the stairs where she couldn't see me and listen. I remember going to some store- probably the Gold Circle in Braddock Hills that hasn't been there for a while, and wanting to buy a copy of their album The Gap but having my dad refuse to let me because my sister had a copy, and I could just listen to hers. Sometimes parents really don't understand. the nice thing about these guys (and songs from the early 80s in general) is that most of them are so old that they don't have any painful associations: those start in about 1987 with this lovely piece of pop... brilliance. And if that doesn't make them come for my music snob card nothing will!

10.20.2009

I can't believe I almost did that again

We've all done this, right? I can't be the only one.

You run into somebody you used to know, a former best friend, and ex. Somebody who was once special. Somebody you loved at some point, and then at least thought you didn't love anymore, or maybe that they didn't love you anymore if they ever did. But all you want to do when you see them is throw your arms around them, give them a rib cracking hug, tell them how much you missed them. Thank them for the good times, forgive them for the bad times, beg them to never leave your life again. I never do it. I'm always afraid that the hurt was too much, or that there was some sort of imbalance in the way I remember them and the way they remember me. There is always something that paralyzes me, and I either do nothing, or stop way short of what I want to do.

And it brings me back to that whole note, the one that I wonder if I could use to tell somebody I love them. Somebody told me a while ago that when I play, it sounds like I love my horn for everything it's worth. That's pretty much right: I love playing. I love the sounds a trombone makes, I love being part of a section, or a band or an orchestra. I love parting the hair of the unfortunate sap sitting in front of me when we play the 1812 Overture, or having the best seat in the house for all but the first and last movements of Beethoven 9. I love listening to players better than me run the gamut of brass sounds in the chorale from Mahler 2.

All I have to do is play one note.

Just one whole note and I'm back.

Ok, I can do this.

10.18.2009

"ben"

Today's Musical Annotation of the Week is an adjective:

ben

I encountered this in the context ben sost. which I took to mean "ben sostenuto". I've also seen it in ben marcato and ben attaca as well as in many other directives.


Little did I know, ben is an abbreviation for bene, which means "good" or "well". But something like ben sostenuto doesn't mean "play good and sustained", it means "play well-sustained". What's the difference? ben sostenuto means to play the best sustained you can manage -- if someone were to look up sostenuto in their musical dictionary, there would be a recording of you playing this ben sostenuto passage. 

I must emphasize, however, that this does not mean that you can play "mediocre sostenuto" whenever you don't see a ben next to your sostenuto, or whatever annotation you're currently working with!  

10.16.2009

on best friends

It's 2:30 AM on a frigid December night. Across the snowy grasses, you hear a single solo trombonist playing Bordogni #10, accompanied by the echo of an large empty room.

She keeps going over and over the key change into G major (at about the 1:58 mark in the video), as though she's missing something. The notes are there, the intonation is there, the tone is there...

A voice stops her, followed by the creak of an ancient wooden door. It's an older man who she's never seen before. He's carrying a guitar case. "What are you trying to do?" he asks her.

"Feel G major," she says.

He shakes his head. "You're not feeling G major; you're feeling G minor."

Baffled, she says, "Yes, the first half of the piece is in G minor."

"No, no," he says, laughing. "You're not practicing in here in the middle of the night because you want to. You're spending time with your best friend." He gestures abstractly to his guitar case. "If it's a G minor kind of night, it's a G minor kind of night. Don't force it."

He yawns, bids her goodnight, and leaves. Ever since then, that trombonist has always wondered...

...do we make our mood match the music?

...or is it the other way around?

10.15.2009

Bryn and Ceci sing Mozart

Not so weekly youtube o' teh week #2!

I just love watching these guys. Two of the best singers on the planet, with a heap of stage presence and charm. An innate ability in each of them to not take themselves too seriously while performing impeccably. I totally named my cat after Cecilia Bartolli, and never admitted it publicly until now. Huzzah!

10.13.2009

sometimes they're like that

My perfect daughter (age 8) recently drew a picture. This is not unusual, there are very few pieces of paper in the house that she hasn't drawn something on, including things like bills and newspapers I haven't read. This picture, though, was all in shades of blue, a blue house with a blue sidewalk and a little blue girl with medium length blue hair and a blue hobo sack, and was titled (in blue) "leaving forever". Naturally, this caused some concern, so I gathered in the perfect daughter for a talk.

I started by asking her what the picture was, and she hemmed and hawed and avoided, a skill that she has learned from me, and very well. When it became clear that I wasn't going to get an answer, whether because she didn't want to tell, or couldn't tell, we went a different direction. I told her a little bit about how I thought that art, or music, was good for showing things that were hard to say. I said a little bit about how I thought you could tell a lot about how a person was feeling or what they were thinking about by how they played a piece of music, if you paid very close attention. And we talked about how you can learn important things about a person from the pictures they take, what they choose to take pictures of, which pictures they show people, which pictures they keep in little boxes just for themselves.

And then I let her go, told her to go draw more pictures. I'm still not sure who was leaving in that picture or why.

But it brought me back to a question I've been asking myself for a long time, and to an answer. Not a good answer, or a final answer, but an answer. The question is, "Can you tell someone that you love them through playing a whole note?"

And the answer, for now, is, "Not if you don't play one."

10.11.2009

"vivace"

Today's Musical Annotation of the Week is:

vivace

Usually when I see vivace, something along the lines of "HOLY CRAP FAST" goes through my head. A lot of people, in my experience, confuse vivace with presto. presto is what I'm thinking of when I think "HOLY CRAP FAST"; vivace has a much more subtle meaning.

vivace means "lively" or "brisk"; often times, this goes along with a quick tempo. vivace is more about style than speed, however, so it frequently appears with a tempo marking like allegro vivace. I've never actually encountered presto vivace in my recollection -- but someone must have used it sometime!

While I was writing this post, the first example of vivace that came to mind was the first section of Brian Balmages's Summer Dances. I cannot quite recall if this piece is actually marked vivace, but the style is certainly what I think of.


10.09.2009

on practicing in an apartment

So I live in a one-bedroom apartment in an ancient apartment building in close quarters -- to the point that I know exactly what my neighbors' daily routines are -- surrounded by fairly quiet people from all walks of life who only sometimes blast their music.

I rarely hear anyone else practicing a musical instrument, much less one that can shake the foundations of a building like a trombone. I actually had a noise complaint filed against me in the first year that I lived here because I was practicing after 6:00 PM. Since then, I've been working under the following constraints:
  • Always after 11:00 AM but before 5:00 PM (so many people will be at work and not have to deal with me).
  • In the corner room farthest away from adjoining walls (I actually choose my dining room though it’s not on the corner, because it has fewer windows facing directly into other apartments).
  • With a mute in when I’m woodshedding. I only take out the mute when I feel like I can play something beautifully enough for my neighbors to consider it “music” and not “horrible racket”.
  • At mezzo-forte or below.
 I wish that circumstances were different and I could really open up and play like I mean it. I also wish that I could practice in the middle of the night, because sometimes the urge does strike me. But there are neat things too -- like how my Russian-speaking neighbors who otherwise can’t communicate with me like to show their appreciation when I finally nail a Blazhevich etude.

10.08.2009

Not so weekly youtube o' the week!

So I guess Lauren finally got tired of me sending her Youtube links, because she suggested I post them here rather than send them to her! Since one of the things I do when I'm bored or avoiding doing work is troll through Youtube, starting with something specific and clicking the related links until I find something really neat. So when I do, I'll dump it on here and publish when I find something!

First link is a band I really dig, the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. A lot of the stuff they do is in fact ska, or at least a logical relative of ska, but they do a lot of stuff that comes more directly from jazz, too. One of my favorite parts of youtube trawling them is that the seem to actually improvise their solos, and most of the clips of them playing the same song have different solos. Anyway, this is a clip of them playing Natty Parade live. I dig how the trumpet player drags out Frere Jacques, and the trombonist pulls out the Baby Elephant walk. Very nice, stuff I wouldn't personally think of, although I am a horrible improviser. Check it out, it's cool!

10.04.2009

"a la barcarolle"

New weekly segment here on tVftBR: the musical annotation of the week! Each Sunday we'll present something that may be written into a musical piece that might confuse or astound the average musician. In some cases, it'll be something that we think we know, but we really don't.

The first one will be the one that inspired me to this endeavor:

a la barcarolle

a la means "as in" or "like", but what the hell is barcarolle? As it turns out, it's an alternate spelling of "barcarola".
barcarola: a style of music sung by the gondoliers in Venice, Italy, typically in 6/8 or 12/8 meter to simulate the motion of the boat moving through the waves of the water with the rhythmic rowing of the gondolier.
And here's an example of a famous piece a la barcarolle, "Belle Nuit" from Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffman.




10.02.2009

on stretching

I've been recently thinking about my state as "a trombonist who was once a very good player" and my continuing quest to get back to the state of being a good, solid player. It's a hard road, but one thing I've been considering is: what was it that I used to do when I was a very good player that I don't do now?

One thing I've realized that I've stopped doing is stretching. Why stretch? Playing a musical instrument is a physical exercise. For the trombonist, we're moving our arms, wrists, shoulders. We're holding up something heavy using only half of one hand. We're breathing, stretching our lungs and midsections. Stretching not only prepares the body for playing, but also gets the blood flowing and readies the mind to focus.

I've decided to start stretching again as much as I can before I play, whether it be concerts, rehearsals, or individual practice. My sequence is simple:
1.) Raise both arms above your head and inhale as deeply as you can, then lower your arms and let the breath out slowly. Do this five times. This stretches your breathing muscles so you can take deeper, faster breaths.

2.) Put your hands on your hips and turn your torso to the left until you feel the stretch, then to the right. Don't move the legs while doing this. This stretches your middle back and, for me, my shoulder area a little bit.

3.) Extend the right arm and then rotate at the shoulder, making a big circle with your hand. Go clockwise first five times, then counterclockwise five times. Repeat with the left arm. This is for the shoulders and upper arms to get you ready for holding the horn.

4.) Extend both arms straight in front of you, palms facing flat away from you. Using your left hand, bend your right hand back toward your body slightly to stretch the wrist and palm. Repeat using your right hand to stretch your left hand. This readies the wrist and elbows.

5.) Lean your head on your right shoulder, then roll your head forward and around until it's leaning on your left shoulder. Roll it back and around until it's back on the right shoulder. This stretches the neck, helping with breathing.
Sometimes I do some other stretches if I have time, but these are the major five. Start with these and build up a stretching routine that works for you -- to be physically ready to play the moment you pick up the horn, not ten or fifteen minutes into your playing.

9.29.2009

Return of the Drive By Anime Review!

I just found a bunch of these that I wrote a long time ago, and thought reviving the practice might be a cure for my tendency to either talk too much or not at all. The game goes like this: 200-300 words of anime review (no less and no more!) and a haiku. Forever and ever amen. So, without further ado, here goes!

Il Teatrino picks up more or less where the first Gunslinger Girl left off, but doesn’t really seem to know where it wants to go from there. The first series focused mainly on the relationships between pre-pubescent female cyborg assassins (just let that digest for a second… ok) and their 20-something male “handlers”. It basically asked the question “dude, how messed up would it be if they really…” and came back with the answer “pretty messed up, brah”, and thereby took the entire “girls with guns” genre and stood it on its head.

With most of the meatiest questions already asked (if not necessarily answered), the second season is necessarily less existential, falling mostly into fairly standard action/suspense plots. The main mover is a terrorist group being hunted by the Girls, featuring a “normal” (that is, non-cyborg) male child assassin called Pinocchio who may or may not be too much for them to handle and has a really weird relationship with a guy who may or may not be his uncle. The plots remain serviceable, and the brilliant introspective self-awareness of the first season makes an occasional appearance. There are some interesting “origin” type plotlines; these rarely excite me, but eh, some folks dig them, so whatever. Fanservice. The animation is a bit of a disappointment, and is a downgrade from the first season. The director, however, made good use of his budget, spending the money on action sequences and some neat artistic effects in flashback sequences. I am also pleased to report a reasonable number of views of the underpants of the underage girls, which is to say, none. The music is ok, but nothing really matches the first season’s killer OP by the Delgados. It's mostly standard classical lite stuff, although the one episode centers around Tosca, and actually uses a couple of arias from the opera.

Bottom line: starts slowly, a definite downgrade from the first season, but by the end, a reasonably good successor to one of my favorite series of the last five years or so.

Obligatory haiku:
Oh no he didn't!
Will Triella recover?
We can rebuild her!

9.25.2009

testing audio uplink

This is a clip from the AWCB's recording from the 2009 Three Rivers Community Band Festival. It's an annoying click-through, and you have to push the play button for it to play, but it's the clip, it's up, and it's a start.

If anybody's got a better place for hosting audio files, let me know!



On the history of the trombone

I wanted to share a link that I got from Brad Edwards's blog -- a timeline of the history of the trombone, put together by Will Kimball. Here's the link!

My favorite part of the whole timeline (I've only read through the 16th century so far!) is what is possibly the earliest incident of trombonists causing trouble.

1467—Siena, Italy: A trombone vacancy in the palace wind band is filled by Frenchman Petro Tristano da Valenza. He begins with a monthly salary of L. 8, but receives a raise to L. 12 within months. Upon ...the first anniversary of his appointment, he is promised another raise, this one to L. 16, on the condition that he acquire and wear the required uniform worn by the other band members. He apparently refuses to do this, as he is replaced a few months later (D’Accone, Civic Muse 538).


I have to wonder what it is that he was wearing instead. Speculations?

9.24.2009

Best drive-through window ever!

I'm back in the place where I can't imagine anybody caring about what I have to say. I'm trying really hard to come up with a blog post, but after a couple of weeks that have amounted to being told a lot about what I'm bad at, I just can't conceive of anything to say that's helpful, interesting, witty, or otherwise worth sharing with the three of you.

So how about this. For a while there, I didn't just play trombone for the AWCB, I also sang in the Second Best Choir in Pittsburgh. But back when I was fourteen, my older brother (whom I idolized at the time) made fun of me because my voice cracked while I was doing vocalise, and I didn't sing a note for five years. What can I say, I've always been kind of fragile, especially with people whose opinion I value.

I started again because a young woman whom I very much wanted to impress said something along the lines of "you used to be such a nice singer, and I miss being in choir with you!" And entirely because I wanted to impress her, I started singing again. Which eventually lead me to the SBCP, where I had some of the best musical experiences of my life, met a lot of great people, and actually got some trombone gigs to boot!

I'll admit it, I don't take compliments. At all. Let alone well. Nor give them, although that's a different post entirely. And if somebody said something like that to me right now, I'd probably think they were lying or at best question their motives. I don't think I saw that girl again; she was one of those flighty, once every four months if at all kind of rehearsal goers. But if she hadn't said that, I probably still wouldn't be singing.

But seriously. Somebody standing next to you could probably use a compliment. Not one of those contrived "oh my what nice shoes!" kinds of things, but if they're doing a good job, tell them! It might make more of a difference than you would think!

9.18.2009

Five Pieces of Trombone Jedi Wisdom

Every now and then, I will try to post learnings from my time spent as a trombonist, which is what I call "Trombone Jedi Training". Some may be relevant to the trombone, some not so much.

1. Don't work so hard! And furthermore, don't look like you're working so hard!

2. When you're unsure, it's better to act like you're confident. That way, if you really have made a mistake, no one will notice. And if you haven't made a mistake, no one will notice that you were unsure.

3. If you are turning a page, always use the hand closest to the stand. This means that if you're sitting on the left side of the stand, use your right hand. If you are sitting on the right side of the stand, use your left hand. (Note: this presupposes that you have equal page-turning dexterity in both hands. If you don't, try to sit on the side that will make you use your dominant hand, or get your stand partner to be the page-turner.) If you are just turning one page, as though opening a one-page sheet into two, you must grab the lower right corner and open in one motion; if you are flipping a page, grab the lower corner closest to you, and turn it in one fluid motion. It helps if beforehand you have turned down a corner to make for easy grasping!

4. Don't move around a lot. (Note: this is actual Trombone Jedi Training from Joe himself, originally said during a trombone choir rehearsal, referencing the fact that parents who have daughters in middle school should not move from city to city because it's tough on young girls, apparently. I borrow the general concept -- the more motion that you have, the less solid your playing will be.)

5. Take the same breath to play pianissimo as you would to play fortissimo. Breathe the same way all the time. Consistency is key. You will play better at pianissimo with air support behind it, and the notes will speak much easier.

Stay tuned for more random bits of Trombone Jedi Training, and feel free to share your own!

9.15.2009

This is not a post about hockey.

So here it is, after an amazing long three months that have seen my personal world absolutely turned upside down and inside out, with some of the highest highs and lowest lows I can remember in my three plus decades on our collective dustball: my Beloved Penguins begin their first title defense since 1992 against the Currently Inconsequential Columbus Bluejackets in somnolescent preseason action. This is where I hope I have indoctrinated Lauren correctly, and infected her with the Pens Bug, and she doesn't somehow realize there's a team from Columbus and switch sides; I don't think I could handle losing her to another hockey team. Er... I mean, our relationship's complicated enough with the RLMU/PTC thing, the Cleveland(ish)/Pittsburgh thing, the Conn/Bach thing... eh... well, maybe that's it for significant differences? Scary.

But I'm lying about the Conn/Bach thing anyway. This mystifies me. For the non-trombonists (::cricket::) reading the blog (::cricket cricket::) there are two major warhorse models of trombone for the orchestral tenor trombonist: the Conn 88, and the Bach 42. If you're playing jazz, there seem to be a lot more acceptable choices. (Although people still rant about the King 2B, but that's another post by somebody who knows more about it than I do.) But for a long time, and certainly for anybody looking to drop less than $4500 on a trombone, those are the major choices. And people get uptight about the differences between the two!

I mean, really. It's like Coke or Pepsi, or being able to roll your tongue - I'm sure there's some genetic component to it, something that just can't be helped. Or maybe it's just random chance that's induced by whatever teacher you happened to have when somebody talked you into paying real money for a decent trombone.

Why fight about it when there are more important things going on in the world, like hockey? And the random chance of being indoctrinated into the fandom of the best hockey team EVAR through the luck of happening into some of the best hockey of the last ten years, and having the home team take home the big prize!

But that's completely different, right?

9.11.2009

On woodshedding

I've been working up the Rimsky-Korsakov Concerto for Trombone lately -- for what purpose, exactly, I'm not sure, but this is one of those pieces that I have always wanted to play somewhere.

I've been woodshedding the third movement. Today I was working on the passage leading into N, which is deceptively tricky for me. Here's the passage I was working with (6:03 in the video):



It doesn't look like much.The first thing that gave me fits was getting those Gs in the fanfare-like second line to speak. I had to reorganize the last four bars of this excerpt in my brain so that each G was connected into the following Cs like a pickup note rather than being just another sixteenth note in the line. That worked nicely, giving definition to the lower pitches (it's amazing what a little psychology can do!).

Then there's that happy little sixteenth note string at the end of the first line. The attempt to transition from the C at the end of the first line into the Gs in the next was messy, and attempts to psychologically reorganize the line only made that E-natural disappear into the ether. Then I remembered the age-old advice: "Relax and blow." I turned off the metronome. I closed my eyes, I relaxed, I blew, and it came out. The only problem is that relaxing makes me drag -- but yet, when I turn on the metronom, I find it impossible to relax enough to get the sixteenth string out with any clarity.

One trick that has helped me with this is changing the metronome to beat in half notes instead of quarter notes. I was running this passage at about 100 bpm -- turning the metronome down to 50 like it was being conducted in 1 really helped my ability to relax first to get the troublesome sixteenth note strings out, but to also attend to playing in time. Try it -- maybe it'll help you too!

9.09.2009

Glossary

So because we don't always take time to explain ourselves, here's a little glossary of some terms used in this blog that might not be intuitive. We will be updating this as necessary.

9.08.2009

Jon actually talks about trombonery

So I don't think I'm a very good trombone player. I point this out because I all the time say things like "I don't think I'm a very good trombonist" and people act like I'm fishing for compliments or something, but no, it's simply true that I don't think I'm very good trombone player. So when we started this blog, I made some vague commitment to providing a post every Tuesday, and talking about trombonery among other things. But because I think I'm a lousy trombone player, I have been a little reluctant to actually say anything practical about trombone playing. So it took a little coercion, but here we go: it's my first discussion on how I work on trying to become a non-sucky trombonist!

One of the downsides of being your own worst critic is it's hard to narrow down stuff to work on when you're practicing- everything sounds bad! So every now and then I go and take a lesson with somebody smarter than me, and we concoct a practice regime that prioritizes some of the things I have trouble with. The last time I did this, the two problems that we focused on were range and dynamic contrast. For now, I'm just going to go through range, and just on high range, or we'd be here a while.

Back a long while ago, I had a really solid high range, brought about by lots of fights with obnoxious trumpet players. As it turns out, I squeaked out a lot of high notes through some massive embouchure shifts, which is ok as long as you don't have to shift rapidly through shifts. I started running into serious trouble playing some of the standard trombone literature- for example, I couldn't make the leap from E (right above middle C) to C# (an octave and a half step) above middle C in the Guilmant Morceau Symphonique, had a hard time with the jumps in the Grondahl concerto from Db in the staff through Bb and Db up to the high Bb, and Couldn't make any of the runs in the David Concertion. I simply couldn't make the transitions that fast. I had similar problems in the lower register- but we decided to focus on the high range, since I was closer to having a decent high range than low range. There definitely seems to be an argument made that you need to work in both directions, but once again, I'm ignoring that for the sake of brevity.

So the practice routine we came up with involved two major points. The first was holding the embouchure in place- no shift at all! This is accomplished by working on intervals. When I started, I did half steps: F-F#-F, slowly and in time, holding the second note as a long tone, then up to F#-G-F#, and up as high as possible. After half steps, I would do the long intervals, up to octaves. I've heard of people doing this exercise up to two or three octaves, but I've never had to play over those sorts of intervals, so I skipped it This exercise is to explicitly link the various ranges together, to get to the point where the different intervals can be played with the embouchure in the same setup.

The next exercise is pretty standard: all it is is rising fifths, F-G-A-Bb-C-Bb-A-G-F, again holding the high note and the last notes, and again going up in half steps. This is supposed to help with both flexibility and, again, linking the whole range.

The last part exercise is probably the toughest, although it could be tough because I do it last. This one is a slow gliss from sixth position up to first, starting usually on high F (a fourth above middle C!) and glissing up to high Bb in first position, and repeating several times. After that, start on G, A, and so on, still starting in sixth, playing as high as you can and while maintaining control of the embouchure and the notes coming out the other end. The point here is to feel the way the embouchure changes over that range, now that it's been established and linked to the lower range and a single set.

There are some other things I do, like playing Rochut exercise in tenor clef, that I think help significantly, but the exercises above are the basis of working my range up. When I do them, I actually end up pretty pleased with the high range- things like the Morceau or the Grondahl are not a problem, although I've still got some (a lot) of double tonguing work to do for something like the David. But it's a start, and something that I've got some positive results with!

9.06.2009

tVftBR on location!

Lauren here, reporting from the music school at The RLMU (link to a feature done by a local paper about this place, and please note that the "faculty member" talking in that video was, in fact, my trombone professor in my time here).

Sitting here gives me a strange feeling of mixed nostalgia and foreboding. I wanted to go in and see what's new, but the door was locked -- one of the excuses that I used to not practice on the weekends while I was here, but this time it's actually true.

I have been thinking of the grand lessons that music school taught me -- that music is a sign of culture, that teaching is not for the faint of heart, that Bach kills a kitten every time you write parallel fifths, that you do not mess with tuba studio. I did get my music degree while I was here, but only as a formality -- my heart wasn't in it after my second year, when I became disillusioned with the performance lifestyle and realized that I couldn't stand children enough to be an educator. I had the requirements to get the piece of paper, but I have (obviously) pursued other career paths -- through it all, music has always been here with me, even after I realized that it wasn't working out as a career possibility for me.

After all that, I think the most important lesson that this school taught me was:

If you love something, set it free;
if it comes back, it's yours;
if it doesn't, it never was.

9.04.2009

Mini concert review and post-concert strangeness

So the AWCB had this gig on Monday at Friendship Village, which is a retirement community in the suburbs. I'm pretty sure the band outnumbered the audience, and it felt kind of like playing inside of a cardboard box, but they were definitely a receptive audience and we chose just the right music for them. (Playing selections from Annie was a much better choice than, say, Hazo's Ride.)

After the gig, we collected a small number of people to go out for fries and pie. Jon and I first met The Treasurer (loving nickname for a sectionmate) at a local restaurant and proceeded to sit down and order, not knowing how many would be joining us. We sat at a booth, with Jon and I sitting next to each other on one side, and The Treasurer sitting on the other side.

The waitress came over, took our orders, and then looked directly at Jon and asked "Will this be one check or two?"

...I have, apparently, been ruled out as a potential bill-payer by virtue of my gender and my seating location. I wonder if the waitress would have asked the same question if Jon and The Treasurer had been sitting on the same side.

Nevermind that the next time the waitress came by, Jon was making a completely facetious remark starting with "So I was at this strip club..."

Also, is that Mussorgsky I hear behind the cute kitten video?:

9.01.2009

Comfort in times of need

It's been a tough couple of weeks, but doggone it, this week I will be on time! And in order to do it, I will resort to a cheap trick: behold, a list of music that make me feel better when I'm in a really bad mood! In no particular order.

Come thou fount of every blessing

An old American hymn- I'm particular to the Mack Wilberg arrangement. Those who know me now will be mildly surprised at this, those who knew me when I was 16 probably won't, but I don't think that any of the latter actually read this blog. But there's something hopeful about the hymn, the idea that you can screw up and all is not lost.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, Oh take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above

Come, Come Ye Saints

Another hymn, but this one's full on Mormon! Again getting back to roots that some might not suspect for me. This one reminds me (and a lot of other people) that life is hard, and it always has been, in a relatively subtle "man, you think YOU have problems?" kind of way. I mean, things were so bad, they had to write a whole verse about how dying isn't so bad:
And should we die before our journey's through
Happy day, all is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow too
With the just we shall dwell.

That's hardcore. And it makes the fact that I'm whining about having to load the dishwasher again pretty petty. And sometimes you just need to kick your own ass!

Dona Nobis Pacem, Ralph Vaughan Williams

Especially the last movement. The piece was written between wars, when There's something almost desperate and resigned about the whole piece, right up until the end. The angel of death is abroad throughout the land, and then all of a sudden the baritone soloist: O man, greatly beloved, fear not! And the orchestra builds through a series of biblical promises of peace to an exuberant chorus of "Open to me the gates of righteousness, I will go into them!" Wonderful moment that always puts me in a better mood.

Symphony #9, Beethoven. Yeah, that one.

A lot of people I know are going to say something like, "But we expect you to dredge up all sorts of esoteric brilliance, not this mainstream stuff!" Well, screw you guys. If you can get through the end of Beethoven 9 and still be in a bad mood... I dunno, man. Consider a visit to a head doctor.

Karelia Suite, Jean Sibelius

Ok, is this one better? For real? The Alla Marcia is so peppy it's fun, and has a great trombone part. Also, it reminds me of high school orchestra and saying MARCIA MARCIA MARCIA every time we played it, and getting the sigh and rolled eyes from the conductor.

8.31.2009

A VftBR Special Report: Your faithful bloggers prepare food!

From the View from the Back Row test kitchen:

I was going to say "cook", but that wouldn't be quite right.

A while back, Lauren and I played this gig for the director of the AWCB. In the course of making small talk, I pointed out that I had a cantaloupe that was going to go bad if I didn't eat it pronto, and the director gave me a recipe for cantaloupe soup. Well, last Saturday, Lauren was presented with a large, very ripe cantaloupe, which sounded to us like serendipity and opportunity. Thus, we decided to try the recipe, and blog about it. Because well... why the heck not, you know?

So to make this stuff, you need:



a cantaloupe
some other fruit
lime juice
yogurt
cinnamon
nutmeg
a blender.

Lauren also had some peaches, so we used those. I got some vanilla yogurt, mainly because you've got your choice of plain or vanilla in the quart buckets.

It's really pretty straightforward. First you cut up your fruits:


Although you need to cube the cantaloupe so it will fit in the blender. And then... you dump it in the blender! What we did was put in about a third of the cantaloupe with half a peach and about a quarter of a cup of lime juice, and blended it on low speed until the volume went down. After that we added maybe a cup and a half of the yogurt, with some cinnamon and nutmeg. I didn't measure, so I'm not sure how much! Just go by taste anyway. With everything in, we just blended it until it was mixed, and a nice even color throughout. After that, just pour out and serve! And maybe add some extra cinnamon and mint leaves to make it look pretty.


It ended up about the consistency of potato soup, but was enormously yummy. Although my silly kids wouldn't eat it, but they won't eat anything.

Next time, I think we might try some different things. Pineapple would be great in this, as would using a higher peach to cantaloupe ratio. Fresh mint (as opposed to dried flakes) would be a nicer garnish. And I think using a flavored yogurt, even if it means getting a couple of the little tubs instead of the quart! And everybody kind of wondered what it would be like slightly frozen, or maybe with some ice blended into it.

Overall, this recipe is a major win: quick, easy, tasty, and full of wonderful vitamins! It's cold, so it's really nice summer food, right when cantaloupe is in season.