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.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Today's listening piqued my interest because I performed the Bernstein Mass in Taiwan this past summer for the WASBE festival.  Bernstein's Dance Suite was his final composition done in 1989.  The piece was written with the Empire Brass in mind to perform, Bernstein had been at Tanglewood and was partially responsible for suggesting they assemble.  The piece was premiered in 1990 at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. 

Dance Suite consists of 5 very short movements and was originally intended to be danced to, however, dancers decided each movement was too short to put any choreography to.   I particularly enjoyed the different styles incorporated in such a short time.  The waltz movement was very different, while it had characteristics of a Waltz, it didn't stay with these characteristics long enough actually get into the waltz style.  I also enjoyed the jazz style in the last movement and the added percussion.

Our discussion also got me thinking a little about the Mass I performed.  The piece was actually commissioned in 1971 by Jacqueline Kennedy and was part of the opening of the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center in Washington D.C.

The work is based on the Tridentine Mass of the Roman Catholic Church. Although the liturgical passages are sung in Latin, Mass also includes additional texts in English written by Bernstein, Stephen Schwartz and Paul Simon.  The work was originally scored for orchestra and choir and the orchestra was split into two parts.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


I'm not sure if this is a rehearsal technique, but I thought it would be a good topic to bring up.  When I was talking about rehearsal techniques with Demondrae Thurman, one thing he brought up was that their group made sure to keep things light.  I happen to agree with this bit of advice.  When you are in a camber ensemble, chances are you spend at least a couple hours a week with these people.  If there is a performance or competition around the corner, even more. 

I am sure we have all had experiences with groups that were all business all the time.  I feel like a rigid, strict rehearsal setting is unproductive, after a certain amount of seriousness, something has got to budge.  It's a touchy subject, because by no means am I saying rehearsals should be a laughing fest.  I think there should be good enough chemistry between members to find a happy medium.  I would be very interested to hear everyone's opinion on this!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Additional Presentation Information

The question had been asked rather or not Malcolm Arnold had been influenced by Leonard Bernstein.  I did some researching and was not able to find any mention of this being true.  He lists composers such as Hector Berlioz and Mahler as influences, but nothing about Bernstein. 

However, Malcolm Arnold was a trumpet player with the London Philharmonic.  During World War II, the group was not able to provide a steady conductor, so they had many guest conductors.  One of which was Leonard Bernstein.  In his book, "The Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold" Arnold mentions his experience with Bernstein and says how he remembered him being painfully conceited.  I thought that was pretty funny!

As I mentioned, the Arnold Quintet was written in 1961 for the New York Brass Quintet.  Not only is it one of my favorite pieces to perform in quintet, but it holds significance as well.  The New York Brass Quintet made it a goal to expand literature for quintet and having Arnold compose for the genre is quite an accomplishment.  Arnold has composed over 100 scores for films and documentaries. In fact, his composition for Bridge Over the River Kwai, won him an Academy Award.  To have a someone who holds "star power" composing for quintet can bring some extra attention.

In addition, this piece is a fantastic standard to have in your quintet repertoire.  It is a very versatile piece and can be programmed on concerts and certainly used for a chamber ensemble competition.  As I mentioned, it was the first significant quintet I ever performed and has stuck with me ever since.

I have the instrumentation for the Grand Choeur Dialogue I played in Class.

Michael Murray - Organ
Rolf Smedvig - Trumpet
Jeffrey Curnow - Trumpet
Timothy Morrison - Trumpet
Joseph Foley - Trumpet
Martin Hackleman - Horn
Ronald Barron - Trombone
Norman Bolter - Trombone
Scott Hartman - Trombone
Sam Pilafian - Tuba
Neil Grover - Percussion

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blog Idea

Well, it's late and I had an idea that I wanted to talk about and will most likely forget, so what better way to remember than to blog about it?

One of my favorite brass CD's is Phil Smith's orchestral excerpt CD.  I cannot remember exactly what he said, but I believe it was in the introduction he speaks about mimicking other people's sounds.  In order to come up with your own concept of sound, find someone you enjoy listening too, imagine their sound, begin to emulate it and then adapt it to your own.  Probably not the exact wording, but it was something like that.

Today, as I was studying for comps, I was reading about Arnold Jacobs and he was discussing how he taught beginners.  He said the first step was playing a few notes on their horn to get the concept of what a good sound was into their ears.  Then he would have the student pick up their horn and begin trying to emulate what was heard.

I believe these concepts can be applied to rehearsing with a chamber ensemble.  One of the first steps to learning pieces should be listening to others perform.  You get an idea of what the piece is supposed to sound like, then you begin noticing things you liked and things you could change.  A performer is certainly not expected to completely mimic a performance, but it is a great starting point.

More to come on this post in the near future!

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Before reading this article and researching for one of my comps questions, I did not know much about Ewald's quintets.  I assumed they were written for standard brass quintet orchestration and I knew they were standards in quintet repertoire.

After reading this article, it reminds me that good and thorough research are essential.  Checking one source or relying on one individuals account is not reliable research.  One must go above and beyond what is thought necessary.  It is incredible to think that the history of such popular quintet pieces was not thoroughly known. 

I think the piston vs. rotary preference gets blown out of proportion.  I have successfully played on both types of instruments.  I believe a mature enough player can make either type of instrument sound how they want it to sound.  That being said, all the big York and Hirshbrunner tubas in the United States are piston....I found it interesting that Germany's preference for piston was directly affected by what was imported from Europe and the United States.

As for the "trombone cannot play legato" statement, I wonder if any instrument can truly play legato.  The air stream is interrupted by the movement of a valve the same way it would be by a tongue.  I guess the movement of a valve is quicker, but it is still interrupted.

After reading the article I am more confused than I was before and it has not helped me with my comps question!  His first quintet that was written for quintet, then for string quartet that was too hard to be played.  Was that the one in B-flat that starts with tuba solo?  I don't know.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Put Your Horns Down and Sing

Over Spring Break, I was fortunate enough to attend a Master Class with Demondrae Thurman, professor of tuba and euphonium at the University of Alabama.  For those of you who don't know, Demondrae is a world renowned euphonium artist and is a member of the Sotto Voce tuba/euphonium quartet.

Following the Master Class, I was able to ask him a question regarding rehearsal techniques.  I asked what he thought his most unique rehearsal strategies with Sotto Voce were.  Demondrae said they really didn't employ any rehearsal techniques which were too outside the box or unique, but their favorite one is to sing their parts instead of playing them.  As much as they tour and are playing, if parts aren't lining up, he said there is no point beating up their lips when it can be solved by vocalizing their parts.

This is a technique I need to use a lot more, since I try to avoid singing as much as I possibly can.  As much playing as we all do on a daily basis, why waste your chops on trying to repeatedly line up a rhythmic passage when it could be sung?  This is one of those "dad was right moments" for me.  Our teachers tell us daily to sing our parts, but we never listen until someone else tells us it is a good idea!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Vary Your Seating

Communication is essential for any chamber group to succeed.  You cannot have your head buried in your music the entire time just worrying about what you do.  If you get into that habit, chances are this will spawn an abundance of late entrances, intonation problems or timing issues.  If you feel your group is getting into this habit, here are a couple things to try and hopefully you are comfortable with your group.

First, try picking a member of the group and establish that you will look at them or signal them or communicate in some way shape or form throughout a run through.  Even making eye contact (though too much could get awkward!) is a great way to communicate through performing.  Just a little acknowledgement to your colleagues can start to get some more cohesiveness.

Second, sit as close as possible to one another.  This gives you no choice but to listen, look and watch what everyone else is doing.  You become more aware of breaths being taken, cues being given or a new passage you may not have known was in unison.

To close, I would like t share a thought I had last night while watching my girlfriend perform with the St. Louis Youth Orchestra.  Chamber ensemble may be the most important thing we do as musicians.  If you break down a wind ensemble or an orchestra, what you have are several chamber groups put together in one room.  A trombone section communicates, breaths together and moves together as do the violins, trumpets and tuba.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Be Prepared for Anything

This weekend I auditioned at the University of Memphis for their DMA program.  At some point in the audition, I was asked to play the infamous tuba excerpt from Fountains of Rome, which I was happy to do.  I played the first few measures and was pleased with what I was playing.  Once I got into the technical section, I came to a realization that I had not unfolded the part on my stand and would not be able to see the back half of the excerpt.  This thought caused a bit of a panic and resulted in a chip note, but I calmly continued knowing I had played the excerpt for memory many times before.  I wish I had handled it without the moment of panic, but all in all, I’m happy with my ability to recover quickly and move on.

I feel that by now I should be unshaken by anything, I have brought the wrong tuba to gigs, had music in the wrong order for weddings and even had a few humorous mishaps at funerals.  The point is, in a performance setting, there we must be ready to handle these and almost expect them to happen.  There is very little room for error and the time for recovery is minimal.  Unfortunately there is way to plan for every incident.  That being said, there are a few common knowledge things we can do to prevent the majority of them.

First is being prepared.  Practice your music as much as you should and an out of order page will most likely not throw you off at all.  There have been times I’ve tried playing things for memory and blow myself away with the amount of music I can remember without even trying.  This way, if you miss a couple bars or drop a piece of music, it isn’t the end of the world.

It may seem like overkill, but double and triple check for your music.  I know I check before  I put my music in the bag, I check before it goes in the trunk, I check when it is in the trunk, I check when I arrive at the gig and I check when I am unpacked.  The earlier you can figure this out, the better.
Bring your practice room with you.  I have discovered organization has a few benefits this year.  Anything I need for a four hour practice session can be reduced into two tuba cases and a bag.  This includes all of my music, valve oil, tuners, and metronomes.

Finally, a concept we were introduced to by Professor Manning is Dr. Distracto.  We are literally in a situation that allows our audience to unrelentingly screw with us and make us mess up.  It certainly is not likely to happen at a gig like that, but it helps improve your concentration when you are trying to make it through a piece with a flamingo hat being placed on your head.  Or if you’re in the middle of a recital and someone is snapping pictures…

Maknig Your iPhone and Metronome Louder!

I always have my iPhone or a little metronome handy when I am practicing.  The little metronomes are inexpensive and do pretty much anything I need and the metronome apps are inexpensive as well.  The only trouble comes when you are in a chamber setting and no one has sprung for the expensive DB-90!  It can be hard to hear these little devices when multiple people are playing.

I have recently discovered and used USB rechargeable speakers!  Most of them have eighth inch jacks so they fit an iPhone and your metronome, as long as they have the appropriate receiving parts.  They also produce plenty of sound to be heard over a chamber ensemble.  Here a couple I use or have seen used.

The first is a speaker by iHome Audio I personally use.  It's compact and produces a nice sound for not only a metronome but for a laptop speaker or music speaker as well.

The second is  called the Chill Pill and has been used by Professor Manning in the past.