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!


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?


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!


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!


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?


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!



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.


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!


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.


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?:


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.