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.


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.


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.


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.



The MAotW is:


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!


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.


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?



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


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!


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!


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?


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.


"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.


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?


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.)