on that post I made last week

So last week I talked of being inspired by Mark Twain and deciding to practice unmuted in my little apartment for a while.

...this did not work out so well this afternoon. I began to practice at about 5:00, as I usually do, warming up with my usual routine. Suddenly, the people upstairs seemed to be totally unable to handle this fact. The sounds of three or four people jumping up and down on the floor and stomping were heard, followed by what sounded like throwing books down on the ground as hard as they could. This abated for a moment, but was soon followed by what sounded like two televisions turned up all the way and a radio blaring static, followed by more stomping.

Are these people really this impatient, or am I really that bad?

I still got my hour in, as usual, but wow did they make it hard on themselves. Now instead of listening to their downstairs neighbor play some Bordogni (and very nicely, I thought), they had to listen to two televisions and a radio blaring, and probably wore out their shoes and made a mess by throwing things around their apartment. How sad.


"l'istesso tempo"

We've all probably seen this one a billion times, but I remember making fun of it in high school.

l'istesso tempo

This literally means "the same tempo". A tuba player and I looked it up in high school and laughed -- "why would you need to tell us it's the same tempo?", we wondered. This term, however, comes with a connotation to it -- that being that the meter is going to change, but the conductor's beat should stay the same. That is, when one is switching from a 2/4 meter to a 6/8 meter, the beat will be at the same tempo but with different subdivisions.


on a bit of inspiration from Mark Twain

I have posted before about my issues with practicing in my little apartment. Since I have been practicing more and more lately, I've noticed some very unfortunate things happening as a result of one of my restrictions -- namely, the need to play with a mute in all the time.

Besides screwing with my articulations and my intonation, which is something mutes do anyway, I've noticed that the simple weight of the mute added to my horn must be too much for me to support entirely with my left hand. I've begun subconsciously shifting weight to my right hand -- the slide hand -- which does all kinds of crappy things to one's tone. Most noticeably, it's made my slide movement slower, resulting in glisses between the notes. However, if I consciously attend to moving the weight of the horn back to my left hand, my arm gets very tired after about twenty minutes.

And so, deriving some inspiration from Mark Twain, I decided to let my neighbors know the true meaning of the opening line,
If it please your neighbor to break the sacred calm of night with the snorting of an unholy trombone, it is your duty to put up with his wretched music and your privilege to pity him for the unhappy instinct that moves him to delight in such discordant sounds.
I took the mute out. I still practice at reasonable hours of the day, and I try to sound nice, but the whole exercise has really helped. My high range opened up, my weight and balance issues vanished, and what's more, I've developed a whole new sense of confidence. I make these people listen to me flub all those F5s I've been working for, so maybe they won't mind listening to me drill the syncopated lines and running sixteenths in Eric Whitacre's Equus until I (or they) puke.

The only response I've gotten so far is my upstairs neighbors turning up their television. It's a fine trade-off for improved performance and confidence!


YouTube o' the Not So Deep as Hades

Lauren actually sent this to me after a discussion on my struggles in the low range. It's Alan Raph talking about an alternate embouchure for getting really, really low notes. Not quite contrabass trombone low, but close.

I'm always a little wary of shifts and alternate embouchures and other things that could be considered "cheats". I had some trouble back in high school where I had this killer high range, but it came from a pretty major series of shifts that essentially made it impossible for me to play things like the jump from E3 to C#3 in the Guillmant Morceau or a Bb3-Bb4 jump for a solo in Somewhere Over The Rainbow that became a locally famous euphemism for horrific, mortifying failure my junior year.

But that said, I have been trying Mr. Raph's suggestion here, and I've played down to a pedal D. The interesting thing is that working out with this goofy embouchure has actually tightened up some of the regular pedals on a regular embouchure. I can get down to the F fairly well now, if it's still weak. I can't play E or below at all without the shift, and it takes the shift to get any kind of credibility on a G, but that's an improvement over where I was a couple of weeks ago!

Oh yeah, the video:



Today's MAotW is brought to you by Jon, who apparently encountered this term while reading about the Carpenters. (Wait, was I not supposed to post that publicly?)


At last, all that Ancient Greek comes in handy -- this term is clearly very Greek, as it parses into pro+thalamion, pro meaning "in front of" and thalamion being the word referring to the "woman's chamber" of a house. Nevermind that in the ancient world, women were "kept" on the second floor of the house, with a ladder that their husband could remove once he was sure that his wife was in bed...

But anyway: yes, this is a marriage song. It can also be referred to as epithalamion, which means essentially the same thing. It can also refer to a poem celebrating marriage. And now, an example, brought to you by our friend Purcell.


on taming the elusive F5

So yesterday, I managed to squeak out my first F5 in years. I've never really had a solid F5, nor an even passably useful one, but back in about 2002 I was actually able to squeak the note out a little bit from time to time. I haven't heard anything from it since then.

How did I get it? I've been doing my range exercises faithfully, "do-re-mi-fa-sol" starting on tuning note Bb and moving up by half steps until I can't take it anymore. When I started these exercises, I managed to get up to a C before my chops gave out. Slowly, doing these every practice session, I've been making progress. Once I got to the D, the Eb came easier, and the E was almost immediately ready, and then yesterday, the F5 just popped out of nowhere.

And then, today, it's gone again. I suppose I will just have to keep trying to tame that elusive F5.

The key to taming it for me, I think, is building up stamina in the upper register. I get tired extremely quickly when playing anything above F4. I cannot make it through even half of one Bordogni etude taken up an octave. So in order to tame the F5, it seems that I need to tame the E5, the Eb5, the D5, the Db5 and the C5 first.

...so much more work than I had in mind, but you know, playing the trombone isn't easy.



One of the terms I remember having a small argument over in music school was...


This was the marking in an etude I was playing once in a lesson. I took it to mean what it looked like -- "graveness" -- so I played the etude with a sort of heavy sounding dirge style. However, when you look gravita up, the definition is "with gravity or majesty"; my problem with this always was that those two words mean quite different things... but do they really?

Gravity, aside from being that thing that keeps us all on the ground, means something like 'serious behavior'. My American Heritage Dictionary tells me that one of the definitions is 'solemnity or dignity of manner'. One of majesty's definitions in the same dictionary is, 'royal dignity of bearing or aspect; grandeur.' 

Here I thought that majesty usually would indicate something like 'splendor'. It is the mental image I get when listening to Pictures at an Exhibition: The Great Gate of Kiev (with obligatory cute kitten video, as per tVftBR rules).   

So my advice is that if you ever encounter gravita as a musical annotation, tread carefully. No, really; each note should be deliberately placed, like a queen walking to her coronation


on more orchestra horror stories

Jon's post inspired me to write about the only time I ever got a seat in an ensemble completely by accident.

For a while when I was a youngster, I played with the Cleveland Youth Wind Symphony. One day, that group was rehearsing in a different place than usual, which was the music building at Cleveland State University. I got horribly lost trying to find the right room in that building, and was happy to hear the sounds of music coming from inside a rehearsal hall I passed. Figuring that this was my band, I walked in.

No, I had actually walked in on the rehearsal of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra (most famous these days for its performance with Styx in 2006), which I had never heard of. I was carrying my trombone case, and immediately realized that this wasn't the right ensemble, and turned around and walked out -- only to be chased by Eric, one of the group's assistant conductors.

He then proceeded to explain to me that his orchestra had only one trombonist and could really use another. He told me of the music they were playing -- the music of Joan Tower, including "For the Uncommon Woman" -- and basically begged me to join. Please note that he had never heard me play; all he knew was that I was some sixteen year old girl showing up with a trombone case. Finally, I agreed.

I never auditioned; I just showed up and started playing. This was the first orchestra I had ever played with, and they were playing decidedly weird music. I sat solo bass trombone on Tower's "Concerto for Flute", being the only one with an F-trigger. I got to play "Fanfare for the Common Man" from the rafters of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and hit a few tambourine licks in "Riders on the Storm: The Doors Concerto" (there were no brass parts). It was a pretty good experience, for being completely underprepared for a task that I received by accident.

The thing that Jon's story reminded me of was how these guys stiffed me in the end. At the end of the season, they demanded a $150 fee to play in this group -- allow me to remind you that I was begged to come play with them. My name also never appeared on the program. The CD I ordered from them of our Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance never came in the mail, and when I called to ask after it, they claimed that I wasn't in the orchestra. All I have to prove that I was ever with this group is a faded long-sleeved t-shirt, which I am wearing right now.

Worthwhile? Probably. Learning experience? Definitely. A little bitter about it? Hell yes.


Youtube o' the Depths of Hades!

I know what you're thinking. Ok, I really don't.

But this is kind of old, but I found it while looking for something else. It's Murray Crewe, bass trombonist of my beloved Pittsburgh Symphony, talking through the history of his Conn contrabass trombone. The first amusing thing to notice is that they go hunting for him in the bar across the street. The second amusing thing is the sheer size of the instrument.

He's using it to play the famous impossible gliss in the Bartok concerto for orchestra- the gliss goes from B natural to F, an octave below the second partial on your average Bb tenor trombone, which doesn't quite hit any of the partials for a regular bass trombone, but hits the second partial on a contra. There's a brief discussion of the gliss here.


You only love me for my trombone parts.

A few years ago, I subbed for one of the local community symphonies. I did not enjoy the gig. It was a long, hard concert, that required me to play a lot of hard, high, music. I had to borrow a small bore horn to cheat my way to the endurance necessary to get through the concert. My performance was judged (unfavorably) by a single missed high note. I thought the orchestra, as far as an orchestra can have a personality, was haughty and condescending way beyond their collective ability to perform. And then they stiffed me on compensation on a technicality.

After that wonderful experience, I got a call from their personnel director asking me to audition for the principle trombone chair. I’m sure any rational person reading this is thinking that I would jump on the chance to ignore them, but no, being an irrational, borderline psychotic “pleaser” personality, I asked for the audition list. The first thing on the list was “Ride of the Valkyrie.”

That’s it.

Now, the trombonists in the audience (and those reading who were present for this debacle, or some portion of my rants on this debacle) know that there are no fewer than two possible excerpts from Ride that are often played at auditions. The measure numbers vary by edition, but the bottom line is, there’s a B-minor section and a B-major section, both of which are obnoxious on their own merit. I’ve seen the B-major section asked for on its own: it goes that half step higher to A-sharp, and varies in dynamic marking from forte all the way up to fortissimo. Makes you hit almost the entire compass of what is expected from an orchestral tenor trombonist, except for the whole playing at levels that don’t offend the cellos thing.

There are a lot of better trombonists, better musicians than myself making commentary on the excerpt on the internet, although darned if I can find all the ones I’ve read. (Could they possibly have been in actual bound printing?) I think at my level of playing, the keys to the B-major section (beyond not lousing up the key of B!) come in two aspects of the piece. One is to not play it the way Elmer Fudd sings it: he gets more of a quarter/two sixteenths feel, but the actual marking is a dotted eighth/sixteenth/full eighth. This actually came up in the AWCB a number of years back, and I actually said that to the section: “Don’t play this the way Elmer Fudd sings it!” The second is in leaving yourself enough top end to get louder at the end without letting your tone get brassier than you (or whoever you’re playing for) likes. There are actually three dynamics in there: a fortissimo at the beginning, which cuts back to forte, back to fortissimo, then a rinforzando of the fortissimo at the end. The way to approach that depends as much on the ensemble as the trombone section, but in an audition setting, it’s up to you to make sure you’re placing yourself in a range that allows enough dynamic contrast to fit the intended effect.

This rankles me a bit, I have to admit. I know that’s what we do, we sit on the back row and passive-aggressively wait for our opportunity to remind people that we’re there, and we can play. And the trombonists I know revel in this: we’re all fans, to some degree, of Mahler and Wagner and Bruckner. Find me a trombonist that really likes Harold in Italy, and I’ll find you a violist who really wants to saw away unheard at the peak of Bruckner 8. And when was the last time you heard somebody rant about the trombones’ delicate, sensitive entrance in the last of Strauss’ Four Last Songs or some such?

But anyway, I called the personnel director and asked, “Which Valkyrie excerpt do you want?” and received several seconds of awkward silence on the phone. Then he said, “Well, if you don’t know that, maybe you’re not the right fit for the orchestra.”

I had a lot of things run through my mind at that point, but most of them aren’t fit to reprint. What I actually did was agree with him, thank him for his time, and politely decline the next three times he called to ask me to audition.


false notes

Today's MAotW is something a little different.

false notes

I encountered some of these suckers in this solo piece I've been noodling around with, Variations on a March of Shostakovich by Arthur Frackenpohl. Here's what they look like:

The directions in the music say, in Courier New font: "half-valve type sound, slap palm on mouthpiece or snap fingers, etc". I have been working at trying to make a "half-valve type sound", mostly by wiggling my trigger while trying to play these notes. I've found that a F in the staff with a trigger half-pulled makes a really unusual sound, but I do have a hard time accenting it. I may settle for a Joe Alessi-style yell or maybe make some linguistic clicks

My music dictionary tells me:
A muted or dampened notes that has rhythm but often no discernible pitch. It is often thought of as an implied note in a musical phrase and can be not performed or performed only faintly for effect. (...) The false note is indicated by a (parenthesis) around the notehead or with an "X" in place of the notehead, indicating that the note is to be played very quietly, as a ghost.
Trombonists have another use for the term "false note", although I first heard of them as "frog tones". This term refers to a sort of "ghost partial" between low E and pedal Bb played without the trigger. You can sort of make the notes half exist, with a thin sound and overtones that feel a little strange, and you can lip these notes to approximate the pitch. Some more advanced trombonists can produce false notes on and around a triple pedal Bb. Other brass instruments can do this too, as evidenced by the YouTube video below of a guy playing what sounds like the Meow Mix theme song on false notes on a tuba.


on resolutions

So it's 2010 -- wow, when did that happen? And, coincidentally, it's also my day to post to the blog. And so, here you go, obligatory New Year's Trombonery Resolutions.

1.) Have F5 solid by the end of the year.
2.) Practice 25 hours a month.
3.) Get the quartet back together.

How do I plan to accomplish these things?

For the F5: I will keep going as I have been going. I've got a shaky D, which is a lot farther than I was last year at this time when I had a shaky Bb. I figure with upping the practice time and with already extending myself into the upper register, the F is a feasible goal.

For 25 hours a month: I plan to obtain a calendar and hang it in my dining room where I practice. Couple this with a Sharpie and I have a visible timekeeping system that will help me keep myself motivated. I figure I will give myself a mark for each half hour practiced each day, hopefully with two marks on most days.

For getting the quartet back together again: This really depends on the other four people. (Yes, we have a five-person trombone quartet, hush.) I really think the others enjoyed our rehearsals and we had an excellent thing going. Unfortunately some external unpleasantness forced us into hiding, but hopefully it will soon be time to get past that. I have an eye toward March, when spring starts again, and when Easter gigs may be a possibility.

So now it's your turn. What are your New Year's Resolutions, whether trombone related or not?