Sunday, April 22, 2012


Make sure you get recordings of the pieces you are playing, they are worth their weight in gold.  Certainly you are not expected to emulate exactly what is on the CD, but it helps line things up.  When time is of the essence, it is so great to be able to have a sense of what the piece should sound like before even stepping into a rehearsal. 

As I recently talked about, I am preparing Diversive Elements for tuba euphonium and piano.  I have been rehearsing with Ben a lot but had not been able to rehearse with an accompanist until today, which for those of you counting, that is less than a week before my recital.  Ben and I had done everything we could to have our parts in order, but there isn't much you can do when the accompanist has a busy schedule and cannot make it.  Well, I found a recording of the piece and have literally listened to it 24 hours a day.  I feel like I could close my eyes and I would know where all my entrances are.

Well, we met with the accompanist today and on the first run through, we were able to get past alignment issues and start fixing interpretation things.  So, moral of the story is to find recordings, the quicker you can work on the music, the better the performance.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Record Yourself

Recording yourself is another one of those simple things that can be easy to forget.  We are lucky enough to have Wenger Virtual Acoustic Practice Rooms that have their own recording devices built in.  I highly recommend before you do your next run through, you reach over and hit the record button.

There are many times we make mistakes while running a piece and swear to ourselves we will remember.  Then after the run through, we make the same mistake again.  It is good to be able to hear yourself without a horn on your face and it can certainly make other things more obvious like timing inconsistencies you may not notice. 

Another thing I have recently been thinking about is who you play for.  I challenge everyone to find new people to perform for.  Go find a string player friend or a clarinet player friend to hear you or your group.  Often times, we are only heard by professors colleagues who have heard us play for years.  Some mistakes are often overlooked because they "know how we play."  I feel like new ears would be more likely to grill you for the one chipped note your friend or professor may overlook.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Successful Rehearsal

As I mentioned earlier, I had a rehearsal with Ben today on our Gillingham piece and I must say, it was the most productive rehearsal we have had in a long time.

Going into the rehearsal with a game plan, really cut down on deciding what to do.  Without hesitation, we started the opening movement.  We also made use of the Wenger recording rooms.  We ran each movement, then immediately listened to it and made markings regarding what we did wrong.  Then we ran it again, and fixed what went wrong.

BRING PENCILS TO REHEARSALS.  I cannot emphasize this enough, how many times have you missed an entrance or played back a recording, the made the infamous "mental note" and made the same mistake the very next rehearsal.

We made use of the loud speakers for the metronome when we were working on the second movement and gradually worked the tempo from a snail speed to performance tempo.  It's really eye opening when we don't forget the easy stuff.  It was almost like we were cheating!

Discussion and Thoughts on New Concepts

Meridian Arts Ensemble consists of brass instruments and a drum set.  A lot of their work is done in the style of rock and grunge.  The brass instruments have microphone in their bells and some of the pieces use effects pedals to distort the instruments.  This group commissions a lot of new works and I am particularly intrigued by this type of work.  

Gaudete Brass, performed a work by Ravel using brass instruments and theremin.  The concept is to take old ideas and adapt them for a new ensemble.  This inspired me to look into how the theremin works and I will post what I found from Wikipedia at the end of this post.  I never knew what the theremin was until my post tonal analysis class.  We listened to a performance done in the 1930’s of a theremin performing classical music, which is what this group is about. 

New Brass Directions is a large brass groups that plays nearly every genre of music.  Their goal is to continue changing the accessibility of brass music and bring it to a larger, more diverse audience.
TILT Brass Ensemble is a contemporary brass group who shares the common goal of exploring new genres and providing new music for brass ensemble.

There are many ways we can help to advance brass music and go in new directions.  Ideas of experimenting with new instrumentation, new genres and new composers are all great ideas.  Rather you are commissioning a work, composing one yourself or finding an old piece to adapt to a different group, all ideas help to further the cause.  I am a firm believer in bringing music to new audiences.  We need to strive to perform in less than common venues and draw diverse crowds.  I feel we owe it to ourselves and the public to not limit ourselves to playing recitals in concert halls. 

I was not a particular fan of the John Cage festival that was done at the UCC, but I am a fan of what was attempted to be accomplished.  It’s possible there were people there that have never heard a symphony band or a bassoon before in their lives.  Hopefully, it inspired someone to attend a recital or watch a youtube video they previously would not have.

The theremin is almost unique among musical instruments in that it is played without physical contact. The musician stands in front of the instrument and moves his or her hands in the proximity of two metal antennas. The distance from one antenna determines frequency (pitch), and the distance from the other controls amplitude (volume). Most frequently, the right hand controls the pitch and the left controls the volume, although some performers reverse this arrangement. Some low-cost theremins use a conventional, knob operated volume control and have only the pitch antenna. While commonly called antennas, they are not used for receiving or broadcasting radio frequency, but act as plates in a capacitor.

The theremin uses the heterodyne principle to generate an audio signal. The instrument's pitch circuitry includes two radio frequency oscillators. One oscillator operates at a fixed frequency. The frequency of the other oscillator is controlled by the performer's distance from the pitch control antenna. The performer's hand acts as the grounded plate (the performer's body being the connection to ground) of a variable capacitor in an L-C (inductance-capacitance) circuit, which is part of the oscillator and determines its frequency. (Although the capacitance between the performer and the instrument is on the order of picofarads or even hundreds of femtofarads, the circuit design gives a useful frequency shift.) The difference between the frequencies of the two oscillators at each moment allows the creation of a difference tone in the audio frequency range, resulting in audio signals that are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.

To control volume, the performer's other hand acts as the grounded plate of another variable capacitor. In this case, the capacitor detunes another oscillator; that detuning is processed to change the attenuation in the amplifier circuit. The distance between the performer's hand and the volume control antenna determines the capacitance, which regulates the theremin's volume.
Modern circuit designs often simplify this circuit and avoid the complexity of two heterodyne oscillators by having a single pitch oscillator, akin to the original theremin's volume circuit. This approach is usually less stable and cannot generate the low frequencies that a heterodyne oscillator can. Better designs (e.g. Moog, Theremax) may use two pairs of heterodyne oscillators, for both pitch and volume.

Putting Everything to Practice

Like any college student, I have become a master of procrastination and it is now biting me in the rear end.  I am less than two weeks out from my recital and one of my pieces is far from being prepared.  I am planning on performing David Gillingham's Diversive Elements for tuba, euphonium and piano. 

Today, I will rehearse with my colleague, Mr. Ben Reid and will employ all of the tactics we have covered in here and then some.  First, I have planned out a rehearsal objective.  We will run the first, third and fourth movements.  Following this, I have picked out two spots in each movement we will rehearse again if they do not line up.  Following this, we will dissect the second movement, breaking it down into small manageable sections and work through each one, followed by a run through.  After that, we are going to rehearse the opening of the fifth movement under tempo.

I have packed with me my iPod, which has a recording of the piece, my metronome, my USB speaker and a score.  By doing this, I believe we will cut our rehearsal needs in half and should be performance ready by Friday, when we will begin our rehearsals with accompanist.

I will report back after our rehearsal and comment on what worked, what didn't work and maybe I could get some suggestions on other things to try!  Happy blogging, everyone!  Remember, we only have one more week before the talented, charming, suave Professor Manning grades our blogs.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Megan's Presentation

I was particularly intrigued by the Hindemith piece in Megan's presentation.  For a Hindemith piece, it was surprisingly tonal and accessible to the listener.  That being said, as Megan mentioned, it did use quite a few rhythmic techniques, which is common with 20th century music.  Just to name a few I heard upon the first listening, irregular rhythmic groupings, mixed meter, polymeter, polyrhythm, ostinatos and simultaneous speeds. 

It was also interesting to hear the Canzona Bergamasca with a bass trombone instead of a tuba.  The other piece that piqued my interest was the Carlos Chavez Soli I for Brass Trio.  I found it interesting that the tempos were specified, yet the tempo could not be interpreted from the music presented.  I am also curious if he used any twelve tone techniques or cell theory.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Planning Your Rehearsal

It is easy to head into a rehearsal setting without a clear plan.  I have found this can often lead to disorganized rehearsals.  It can often take quite a few minutes for the ensemble to even play a note together or it can lead to a plethora or aimless runs of a piece.

Since I began studying at the University of Iowa, organization and time management has taken a priority for me.  Every morning I write down exactly what I need to do for the day and check things off as I complete them.  The same thing should be done for a rehearsal.  Make a list of things you want to accomplish in that rehearsal.  Maybe the goal IS running the piece, but having it written down will make the focus more clear and there will be no time wasted at the beginning of rehearsals.

One of the many things I enjoy about performing in the Wind Symphony under Dr. Heidel is his organization.  Every day I enter the rehearsal room, there are sections of pieces and times written down on the board so there is never a question of what the goal of a rehearsal is.  This can also lead to better structure, if you decide that at 2:15 you will be switching gears to another section or piece, it can get the whole group on track.

While it may not be practical to plan every minute of every rehearsal, I encourage everyone to at least have a concept of what they want to accomplish at the beginning of each rehearsal.