on unusual doubling

Well, tomorrow is the annual Three Rivers Community Band Festival. Four bands from the area will perform, and then a "festival band" made up of volunteer musicians from all around the area -- and some from Ohio, too, like my friend Cari who is coming in to play bassoon!

I'm playing with the Festival Band for the second year in a row. Jon played last year, and was going to play this year but was sent to far away places by The Man. I, myself, will only be with the trombone section of the Festival Band for three of the four pieces on the program, and I'll be hanging out by the chimes and vibraphone for the fourth piece.

This isn't the first time I've switched instruments for one piece in a concert, and probably won't be the last. This is actually remarkably common for the AWCB -- three or four people rotate into the percussion section from wind sections depending on the percussion needs of the pieces being played. Two years ago, I played a pretty rockin' bass drum line on Danza Final. I learned to play percussion by pretty much learning on the fly in the University Band at the RLMU, thanks to some very patient sectionmates who frequently had to teach me things like "how to hold the tambourine". I played percussion in that band for three years (and somehow eventually attained section leadership, those fools), and sometimes I miss taking out my aggressions on a pair of crash cymbals.

At any rate, I've never really seen a band that had as much regular section-switching as the AWCB. I'm not sure if that's simply a function of my lack of experience with community bands in general and the practices associated, or if it's yet another way that the AWCB is unusual. At any rate, it gives me a chance to hit something (which may be quite welcome), and rest my trombone chops for a little while at least.


on making mistakes

I came across a quote the other day:

nobody notices your mistakes as much as you do

I think the intended meaning of this quote is simple -- don't be afraid to make mistakes, and don't stress out over them when they do happen. However, I took a different and more trombone-related meaning from it.

When you're practicing, no one can hear your mistakes except you*. So no one can fix those mistakes except you. There's no one to point them out, no one to suggest corrections, no one to stop you mid-phrase and go HEY WHY DID YOU PLAY IT THAT WAY?!

You're it. So maybe the message is not to stress out about mistakes, but another message is not to ignore them either. I'm very guilty of this. I'll flub an articulation or play a rhythm wrong, and think to myself "Oh, I know how it's supposed to be" and keep going. And not fix it. What does this accomplish except giving me reinforcement to make mistakes? 

So -- yes, nobody notices your mistakes as much as you do. That also means that it's up to you to fix them.


On your children following in your footsteps

So I have recently become two things of which I am not particularly fond: a stage parent and a hockey parent. My perfect daughter (age 8 ½) is performing the part of Molly in the local high school production of Annie starting this weekend, and my youngest (age 5) recently started in developmental hockey, and is doing a skating program over the summer. I’ve spent a lot of time since high school playing in musical pits and a bit less time playing hockey of many varieties, so it’s fun and validating to see my kids having fun doing something I really enjoy. Now, to be fair, the kids’ mom has been doing the bulk of the heavy lifting in regards to the stage performance, which has been grueling and hugely time consuming. But even with the handful of rehearsals I have seen and chauffeured for, I am getting a glimpse of things from the other side.

I’m sure a lot of people have heard stories about crazy hockey dads starting fights over pee wee games and the like. And anybody who’s played a high school musical has run into the mom (usually!) who is rabid about getting her kid the lead whether they deserve it or not. The hockey parent who harasses the coach over playing time, or inserting some esoteric scheme that will highlight their kid. The stage dad who thinks the department should do Miss Liberty because their daughter is perfect for the Countess. (Ok, seriously for just a second- find me this dad. I want to have a talk with him.)

Maybe this should be a post about my transformation, coming to an understanding of their behaviors, maybe becoming a little more tolerant of a different viewpoint on the world, but it isn’t. I haven’t run into any really rabid stage parents here, which is a good thing. I have run into some less than ideal hockey parents, the guys that bang on the glass to tell their five year old to remember what he taught them at stick time, which doesn’t begin to explain why that dad isn’t out on the ice helping mold the rest of the next generation. I’ve seen probably a half dozen kids harassed by parents into crying fits which simply does not make for an auspicious start to activities that demand a certain amount of toughness and a lot of resilience. And if you think you know which one I’m talking about, you probably haven’t done the other.

If anything, the last couple of months have reinforced my stereotypes, and made me more likely to lash out against them by being reasonable and as affable as I am capable of with coaches and directors, and by telling the hockey dads as politely and good naturedly as I can muster to buzz off when they start telling me how I should be putting out the cones. The bottom line for me is that I have enjoyed the heck out of most of the time I’ve spent playing musicals and playing hockey, and now I figure my job is to try to maximize the enjoyment my kids are getting from them by using my experiences help guide them along the way. And I’ll keep an eye on the other parents to try to get some more examples of how not to do things, and maybe, if I’m lucky, a few examples of the right way.


on trying new things

Last week, I made this sort of half-assed resolution to try three new things every week. This mostly came about because I figured out that I had tried three new things that week (a new mouthpiece, Mediterranean food, and soy milk) and, since everything worked out nicely, I felt I should continue this pattern.

The new things don't have to be spectacular, but it's all about expanding my experiences. This week is proof of that -- I have tried a new way of taking notes on articles I read for school, I tested out having Maxime Talbot as an object of fannish interest, and...

..I practiced while sitting cross-legged on the floor.

I would not advise the last one for frequent use. I wound up doing it because one day I found myself walking around almost obsessively while practicing, to the point that the walking became almost a time-waster. And then when I sat down in a chair, my cat was like "HOORAY A LAP TO SIT ON" and, despite repeated discouragement of this behavior (including a really loud musical instrument right above her head), kept trying to get on me for cuddles. She stopped at nothing to get up there, even to the point of using her claws on my legs to get my attention (ouch!).

So I plunked down in the middle of my floor, sat cross-legged, and practiced. Admittedly, my leg fell asleep after about a half hour, and my cat wound up curling up in my lap anyway, but at least I had stopped walking around and getting my legs clawed up. The only benefit to practicing in this position is that you quickly figure out just how lazy you are -- elbows on the knees, hunched posture, drooped shoulders. And then after you get all that figured out, it's really mostly just annoying in little ways like having your ankle rubbing against the hardwood floor.

I would much rather practice while sitting on the edge of a table, like I used to do in music school.

What's the wackiest thing you've done while practicing?


On being in a section

I have totally cribbed Lauren's titling style.

This has been floating around my head for a while. I don’t really have anything substantive to say about it, but I want to throw it out into the ether just to see what happens to it.

For a while a couple of years ago, I was the de facto section leader in the AWCB. I’ve never really had any sort of official post in the band, which makes me unique among the people who have been there as long as I have, at least as far as I know. At this point, I kind of run sectionals, but that’s unofficial, and mostly because the more qualified folks plain don’t want to do it. Or maybe they just want to stroke my ego a little bit so I’ll whine less, I’m not sure. But during the time that I was the de facto section leader, I boiled my expectations down to three rules:

1. Tell me what you’re going to do.
2. Do what you said you’re going to do.
3. Don’t be a jerk.
D. Do good, don’t suck.

In my time in the band, we’ve essentially kicked somebody out for violating rule 3, but that’s it. We’ve had some troubles here and there with the other two- and I’ve certainly had my share of violating all three- but I think, in general, they cover just about the whole range of things that can go wrong in a community band. The last “rule” is as much a section motto as a rule; I’m really not sure it belongs there, which is why it’s “D.” instead of “4.”. But it’s essentially the “break a leg” of the AWCB trombone section, as well as a one sentence embodiment of the other three rules, our own succinct summary of our ethic. I don’t remember where it came from, but I remember it coming up a lot around the time that I was playing a lot of gigs outside the AWCB with a trumpet player and our then bass trombonist, and I’m pretty sure that’s where it stuck to the trombone section mythos.

I’ve been in a number of leadership positions in a number of organizations, most of which had huge lists of work rules and ethics codes and all sorts of ridiculous things like that. I think we get along fine with our three. Or four.


51B, day four

Today, I felt truly comfortable on the 51B. Jon heard me play a few licks on it and commented that I don't sound terribly bright like I thought I did, which is a relief. It may just be the overtones in my head...

My staff notes sound great today. Tone was much better all around. Endurance was also much better. After my practice session, my lips ached a little bit, but I feel as though my chops got a workout -- that kind of ache, not the bad kind.

I'm feeling much better about it in general. Some articulations are still imprecise, and my partials aren't lining up quite right still, but if I keep up with the flexibility studies, I think this will improve drastically. I did a little high range work today also, and got tired extremely quickly up there. However, I did get a nice clear Eb at one point, which is a big step! I will keep working in my high range to win back that endurance.

I see no really provocative reason to continue this particular mouthpiece diary unless something truly fascinating happens, so I will quit my daily posts now and restrict myself to posting whenever I have something interesting to say.


51B, day three

Practice was not so great today, mostly because my insides kind of feel like they're about to explode.

However, I did get some face time, and here are my thoughts:

  • Spent a lot of time on flexibility exercises today. Didn't get tired very quickly at all. Feeling a little more confident about how things are working, although I still feel like I am overshooting my partials a bit.
  • Endurance is better. Still had to take some breaks, but I definitely could play for longer stretches and recovered faster.
  • Tone is in the tank today, but I don't think this is because of the mouthpiece. 
  • Managed to barely eek out a pedal F, which sounded good on the 4CL. I'm getting there!
  • Played through the Rimsky-Korsakov just to see where I was. Was starting to get tired at the end, definitely. This mouthpiece really does use less air -- several passages that I struggled to have enough breath to get through before were fine (dare I say... easy) this time. 
  • Sometimes when I opened up and played quite loud, my tone sounded great. Hmmm.
That's all I've got for today. 


51B, day two

Today, I would like to present a basic description of the differences between the two mouthpieces -- the 4CL and the Schilke 51B -- so that perhaps some connection can be made between my playing differences and the actual physical equipment.

Mouthpiece Rim Diameter Cup Depth Cup Shape Rim Throat Backbore
Conn 4CL 26mm Medium-Deep V Sharp Medium Large
Schilke 51B 25.63mm Medium-Shallow U Soft Small Small

(Please note that I don't have exact specs for some of these things, and the "small" and "large" are comparisons to each other just from me looking at them. Someone really needs to make a large, complete mouthpiece chart with measurements! Links appreciated!)

With that out of the way, here are my notes for day two of my mouthpiece trial fun.
  • I think I am really noticing the biggest difference in the rim style. It took me forever to get used to the sharp rim, and now going back is tough stuff. I think this is the source of my endurance issues. 
  • Spent lots of time on long tones today. My chops feel like they're getting used to the size.
  • Bb on the second line and down -- hard to get a good solid starting sound.
  • Bb (tuning note) partial is sounding great. (My biggest complaint from my previous mouthpiece/playing.)
  • It seems like it is easier to play louder, and takes less air in general. Bonus? Also, I think my mezzo-forte is generally louder on the 51B. Probably due to the smaller throat/backbore -- I am used to pushing a LOT of air with the 4CL. 
  • My tone feels very bright. Jon once described my tone as having a bit of a "sizzle" to it -- I wonder if this is more like "dropping ice cubes into hot oil" tone.  
Overall, I like it. More chop time is definitely needed, but lots of things are just more comfortable. I don't feel like I have to work as hard at as many things. Isn't that what we all want, really? 


51B, day one

So, after playing on a 4CL almost exclusively since 2004, I have decided to try a new mouthpiece.

I like the 4CL a lot -- it really mellows out my naturally bright tone, I have great endurance on it, and my middle range sounds fantastic. However, I seem to have hit a wall with it -- some notes in the staff (particularly G and Gb) have a "spread" sound that I can't get rid of, and I can't seem to get my high register to function past C with any success. (Note that I have always had this trouble with my high range, but I've been working harder and smarter at it lately with little-to-no actual success.)

Jon loaned me a gold-plated Schilke 51B. The diameter is a little bit smaller than my 4CL and the cup is definitely shallower and more round. And so, I have decided to present to you all a day-to-day diary of my work with this bad boy... starting today, and going until whenever I feel like I don't have anything interesting to add.

April 7, 2010: Day One
  • Initial reaction: responds MUCH differently from my 4CL -- faster, easier. Switched back and forth a few times to compare. 4CL sounds muddled on initial attacks compared to the 51B. 
  • Middle range sounds thin at first, but warms up. 
  • Vibrato is easy -- almost too easy. I feel like I'm doing it when I don't mean to.
  • Ten minutes into playing mid-range scales and simple articulation patterns and my lips are tired. Taking a five minute break.
  • Post-break: Staff notes are markedly less "spread" sounding. My pedal range is gone. Hard to slur between the D partial and the fourth line F for some reason. Lasted about 15 minutes before having to take another break.
  • Post-break 2: Sounds like ass. Chops are unaccustomed to this new object invading their space. Did long tones until I felt tired again. Should have given myself 45 minutes for the day, but crossed off an hour for effort.
Tune in tomorrow for another installment!


On being harrassed into making a blog post

I must admit to two things to start out. One is that I'm having a hard time getting motivated to do... well, anything. The second is that I asked to be harassed to get things done. Gotta get back on the horse.

The AWCB is getting ready for the seventh annual Three Rivers Community Band Festival. I don't get to play due to work obligations, which is pretty much killing my trombonastical motivation. The program, as far as I know at this point, consists of the theme from the western Silverado, Equus by Eric Whitacre, and the March and Procession of Bacchus, which for reasons I can't quite understand is called Cortege in our edition. (Note: that was sarcasm.)

Silverado is a pretty standard Hollywood type score for the brass: we've got our block chord moments, and a couple of big broad melodies. There are some nice challenging parts for the trombones, and a fun horn lick at the beginning that lays really nicely on an Eb alto.

Equus is entirely my fault. Most of the people in the band at this point know that I'm a big fan of Eric Whitacre, which started with singing a couple of his pieces in a choir a while ago. Equus is a neat little minimalist lite thing- we're having some trouble with some meter changes, but it's coming along. It makes me pretty sad not to be able to perform this one, though.

The March and Procession isn't my favorite piece of music ever, and I won't miss playing it for a fun trivial reason: it's one of a very few pieces of music that I've played on violin, string bass, and all three trombone parts. I've got that one covered already.

But that's what I'll be missing. If there's anybody reading this from the Pittsburgh area that's not already going to this, have a look at the website, and let me know how it goes!


March recap

April means...

March: 24 hours. FAIL.

To be fair, March showed a big improvement over February. I practiced a lot more, and a lot more consistently, than I did before. I developed a plan (and taped it to my calendar -- you can see it in the image at the top) and stuck to it for the most part (although I intend to make a couple of changes for April). I switched up my warm-up and my daily routines, and always tried to keep myself thinking and doing new things. 

In fact, I would have made my 25 hour goal if tragedy hadn't struck on Tuesday the 30th... my beloved cat, Magic, passed away on that day. I buried him on Wednesday, driving 2 hours to my father's house and the family kitty graveyard to do so. It was tough to practice after his passing, because Magic used to sit in the dining room and stare at me and give me commentary as I practiced. But, I'm starting to get back on the ball and into the swing of things, and hope that I can remember his vaguely disapproving meow in future practice sessions.

RIP Magic: The Cat (1994-2010)