On getting "swing".

Imagine it: it’s 8:00 on a Wednesday night in a rural town in Ohio, and a 15-year-old, brash, confident, yet ultimately quite na├»ve trombonist is finishing a lesson with her infinitely patient trombone instructor. She’s standing there looking over his shoulder as he decides what to assign her to practice for the next week. The secretary waits impatiently at the desk, eager to lock the studio for the night and go home.

And all of a sudden, Satin Doll starts playing from under their feet.

This is not entirely unexpected; the music studio is on the second floor of a building that may have been constructed prior to radical ideas like “indoor plumbing”. The floorboards creak with every move, and the two trombonists have been hearing people filing into the rehearsal hall underneath for the past half hour.

The young trombonist sighs, realizing that her instructor has closed his eyes and is pausing, listening to the music from below them. “I don’t get it,” she admits over the saxophones. “I don’t understand swing.”

He opens his eyes, staring at her. “It’s about dancing,” he says, putting down the Bordogni book he’d been leafing through. “The motion of the music, you just…” He’s clearly struggling for words.

She shrugs.

He grins, reaches forward and takes her hand, puts his other hand on her hip. She laughs, putting her hand on his shoulder a little awkwardly – but he steps and she steps with him, slowly to half the tempo of the music below. She has no idea what she’s doing, but he twirls her under his arm and suddenly the steps don’t matter anymore. The floorboards creak like an added instrument, they dance in the lobby, and suddenly she understands.

Three months later, just after her sixteenth birthday, she finds herself sitting third trombone in that same big band, playing that very same arrangement of Satin Doll.


Concert Review: Cranberry!

The AWCB performed tonight up in Cranberry, which is on the other end of the world from where either of us lives. It was raining a little bit, which thinned the crowd some, but we got almost as many people as are in the band, and some that we didn't even recognize! Brave folks. We salute you, true fans of the band, for sitting under umbrellas to listen to a bunch of amateurs.

And now, a review of the concert in the style of a symposium, from the two authors of this blog.

Lauren: So Jon, what did you think of the concert?

Jon: I know this says bad things about me as a team player and etc., but the most prominent take home message of the concert for me was that I clammed the hell out of a part that I practiced very hard. We put together a little trombone quartet thing, and I shedded it all week, got to the concert, got consumed by a case of nerves and not wanting to let my esteemed section mates down, and completely blew it. I can play it, I know I can play it, I just... didn't. I went behind the bandstand and blew through the lick after the concert and yep, I can play it. I just... didn't. God, I'm so ashamed.

Lauren: The trombone ensemble piece gave me a set of nerves also -- the first I've felt in years and years. Even though my Trombone Jedi Training has been kicking in during rehearsals, all of a sudden in the performance I realized that I am the harmony line and need to tune and blend, and it caused my hands to shake. I think I did alright despite this setback (if we don't think about that high part in the shout section), but I'm an optimist by nature. (Also it wasn't as bad as Jon claims it was; some notes were missed, but who doesn't miss notes? Eh. Maybe I'm too zen. I thought it sounded great.)

Jon: Otherwise, I thought Fiesta sounded really good. Nice job by the trombones playing the pedals in the middle (i.e. not me) and on those wonderfully nasty glisses at the end. The horns did a nice job in the 3/4 pesante section right before that, too. (Funny side note: we call the section before that, the delicate part with the flutes and clarinets, the "Dance with me" section, after Princess Tutu's signature line.)

Lauren: I did alright on those pedals until I started sneezing. ::sigh::

Jon: And it's always nice to trot out Ride for something that we all know how to play and are comfortable with.

Lauren: I personally thought that the highlight of the night was the medley of tunes by Chicago. The French horns were rocking, and I observed from my place directly behind them that they were really into the music, and everyone in the band sounded like they were into that piece at that particular moment in time. Notes were clammed, rhythms were screwed up, but there's nothing like a little slide vibrato and squealing trumpets to turn a normally boring piece into a good time. Plus our audience of 18 rain-soaked people really loved it.

And we'll cut off the symposium conversation there before it devolves into something about anime and kittens. You're not ready for that yet, gentle reader.

Next concert is Ligonier, on the Square, Sunday the 2nd at 7:00. Ice cream and commentary to follow.


Jon likes to make lists #1

Since there was no rehearsal this week for the AWCB, and therefore no back row shenanigans to comment on, I present a list that I keep in my head and update pretty regularly. The criteria should be fairly self apparent. The order changes probably daily, and the pieces on the list change most often when I actually get to play them, although there are a couple that have been on there forever and might require me to actually haunt somebody, which would kind of be a drag.

Five pieces of music I need to perform at least once before I die, or I’m coming back to haunt somebody:

1. Mahler, Songs of a Wayfarer. I have not invited any of my friends snobbish enough to correct me on the title. I’d love to be able to sing well enough to do this and have somebody care about it. Then again, maybe I just want to be Thomas Hampson when I grow up.

2. Shostakovich, The Tale of the Priest and his worker Balda. This covers a lot of ground: it’s Shostakovich at his sardonic best, and it’s incidental music for an experimental satiric cartoon (this whole post is worth it just for that link) by Tsekhanovsky based on a story by Pushkin- does it get better than that? I admit it, I had never heard of Tsekhanovsky before this. But it starts off with a cracking trombone solo with straight mute, and just has a lot of fun after that.

3. Bach, B minor mass. I did the St. Matthew Passion a couple of years ago, and it remains a highlight of my musical career. (Well, except for that idiot with the cell phone stepping on that glorious suspension in the oboe at the end. Jerk.) There’s some great stuff in the Mass, though, and part of the reason I want to perform it is to get into the nuts and bolts of the piece the way I only can when I’m preparing something for performance.

4. Morten Lauridsen, Lux Aeterna. This would be hard for me- the tenor part is too high, the bass part is too low, there isn’t a string bass part, and the trombone part wanders around in that annoying mid/high trigger range that I’m so bad at. When I muck around with range extension, pieces like this are why. (Side note: I’m agitating to perform Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium in the AWCB, so we’ll see how that goes!) At some point I’ll need to do a post about how my obsession with settings of the Requiem does not indicate an unhealthy obsession with death.

5. Brahms Ein Deutches Requiem. When paring the list down to five, it’s a tough call between this and the Mozart- what self respecting trombonist wouldn’t want a crack at the Tuba Mirum solo? But today at least, the idea of sitting in a group of 50 or so musicians singing the pianissimo opening of Denn alles Fleisch is the difference. Trombone parts are pretty awesome, too.


On introducing... um, me!

What’s this about holding noses? I think I’m already in the water…

Hi, I’m Lauren, and I’m the other half of Jon’s stand -- you know, the one who takes care of the inopportune page turns. I’ve always been a page-turner, even back in my days in music school at The Ridiculously Large Midwestern University.

Oh whoops, I mentioned that I went to music school. Crap, my clever disguise is ruined. Yes, I suppose, I have a degree in music… but my day “job” is a linguist of the Ph.D. student variety. I study language, gender, sexuality, and video games, and teach undergraduate classes – generally, I think about language a lot. I’m also a geek (as if it isn’t obvious by the fact that I academically study video games) for science fiction and fantasy novels, photography, and general Internet culture.

My first love is my trombone, however, even after all the trials and tribulations through the years. I started as a flutist because, as my elementary music school teacher put it, “girls don’t play the trombone”. I picked up the trombone in my freshman year of high school because of an intolerable crush on a boy in the trombone section -- I never got anywhere with the boy, but wound up falling in love with my horn. Even the torture of music school – ten classes per quarter, practicing until 3 AM for lessons, and six hours of rehearsals on Tuesdays and Thursdays – couldn’t break our bond. We did have a little falling out, but after six months of being apart, I realized that we couldn’t live without each other. Every good relationship needs a bad breakup, right?

In fact, I think I may love it now more than ever before. I suppose that’s why I’m in this award-winning community band, and co-writing this blog today.

Let's... um, start, or some junk.

I have a feeling that the only way I'm going to do this is to hold my nose and jump in, so here we go.

So let's see. Anybody who knows about this blog will probably either know me or Lauren, so hi, I'm Jon. People have been telling me to start a blog for a long time, although I think it's mostly so I can leave them alone and put all my ramblings in a place that's easier to ignore. I guess we'll find out.

Lauren and I share a stand in a little community band in Pittsburgh, playing trombone, which leaves us a lot of time to sit around and philosophize on topics ranging from stuff that nobody cares about to stuff that people probably should care about, but usually don't. We sit in the back row, which is where the name comes from. This gives us a pretty unique view of the band, where we can see a lot of what goes on, but aren't really in a position to comment on it without yelling down to the front.  Excuse me- we play in an award-winning community band in Pittsburgh.

I'll probably end up talking a lot about music, because I do that. I don't really know what I'm talking about, but I rarely let that stop me; I just put a ton of disclaimers in front of whatever I say. (eg, I don't really know what I'm talking about.) I also have a proclivity for watching the Japanese cartoons, especially the bad ones from the early 90s. (There were some good ones in the early 90s, I just have a lot of fun with the bad ones!) There's a good story, reproduced very briefly in the sidebar, about how Lauren and I realized common interests because I made an offhand comment about how Wicked was shoujo-ai- it will have to be told in depth at some point. So next time I see one of those gloriously bad 90s anime, you'll probably see a post about it. I'm also thinking it might be fun (!) to talk about my struggles with low range as a trombonist, since my low range is awful and I'm working pretty hard to correct it, although not making a whole lot of progress. And there's a pretty good possibility that I'll put up funny stuff that happens in band!

So I guess that's me. Now, on to content posts!