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.