Friday, December 31, 2010


Here is some inspiration for 2011.

Every musician has nightmares and conversations about not being able to play anymore.  There is an ongoing conversation about focal dystonia or failed dental work.  In these cases, some musicians admit they would stop playing or teaching and some simply state they would learn the piano and stay in the industry.  What would happen if you went deaf?  I do not mean loosing a little bit of hearing from playing in front of an over zealous bass trombonist.  I mean deaf.

During my usual morning NRP listen, I came across Mandy Harvey.  Ms. Harvey lost her hearing while at music school in 2007.  She took a year off, then while playing the guitar with her father realized she could continue to perform.  She briefly describes her fight to perform in the interview of Colorado Public Radio.  Most of the article deals with the production of her second CD.

If dealing with deafness is not enough to motivate you.  Ms. Harvey is only 22.  How about that?  We all hate to see incredible musicians younger than us, but younger and deaf.  Wow.  I need to practice.


Three weeks off the blog since my last regular post.  As most of you know I was quite busy for the first two weeks and visiting my family back east for the last week.  I performed seven concerts and taught in two states over an eight day period.  This was a fun way to end 2010.

My first stop in Columbia was teaching for Michelle Ortiz at E.L. Wright Middle School.  After only four hours of sleep I was in for a day of hard work and pleasant surprises. When I entered the office, I was greeted by Zach, an extremely outgoing sixth grade trombone player, he was my tour guide and helped me find Michelle's room among a campus of a few buildings.  Teaching at E.L. Wright was truly a pleasure, Michelle's students were more advanced and much better behaved than I was expecting.  My goal for the day was to teach her students a better air stream and a better approach to practicing.  We spent time breathing through phrases, play without tongues, articulating on an air stream, and finally playing the exercise.  Hopefully I caught a few of the harder works early enough to make their lives easier.

I also had a chance to play with an old friend Cori Cooper.  The two of us played a Christmas concert in Camden, South Carolina.  The music sounded more like a musical instead of church music.  There was a ton of brass playing and some fast harmonic progressions.  The two us were ready play.....loudly.  Cori and I spent six years together at school playing duets and in ensembles all the time.  We were probably too comfortable with each other, but the constant banter was the only way either of us made it through this gig.

My last visit in Columbia was playing quartets with Brad Edwards, Katie Thigpen, and Ryan Tinker.  The four us rotated throughout all four parts and read music spanning the baroque through contemporary music.  Lesslie Bassett's Quartet turned out to be a fun little piece.  Imitation and homogeneous music interplay with each other giving way to solos in all four parts.  The piece is highly rhythmic and intoxicating.  Altough, there is a slower section in the middle. Check out these guys.  Personally I would like to hear it a little faster.

The importance of listening hits me harder everyday.  This break I added, Pavarotti and Jorgen van Rijen to my daily listening, while Rostropovich made a reappearance.  I think the key is listening to people you want to sound like.

Monday, December 20, 2010

And Then I Turned the Corner

       The last week of my life has been incredible.  I had the opportunity to perform seven concerts, teach at three schools, play a solo with a band, perform several different styles in a number of roles in the section, and I did all of this in two different states.  To top of the my musical year, I played quartets with, Dr. Brad Edwards, Katie Thigpen, and Ryan Tinker.  The reading went well, and making music because we wanted too was a great reward for several years of hard work.  Apparently, my blog is usually too long and a pain to read.  So I will leave you with this interview with Sir Simmon Rattle.  Look for riveting full length entries after the holidays.

Suddenly, (after blogger's stats counts were down) the blog is over 1,600 views. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

YouTube Orchestra

      If you have not heard about the YouTube Orchestra you should check it out.  The group asked musicians to post audition videos on YouTube.  Now, finalist videos are posted on the orchestra's channel.  Anyone can vote on finalists.  (Please vote for McKenzie Allen for oboe please.  He is a fellow gamecock.)  The orchestra is scheduled to play in Australia under Micheal Tilson Thomas.
       When you get to the channel check out the Experiment tab. The YouTube Orchestra has designed a new instrument that uses your webcam to produce pitch.  This is probably good for a few hours of entertainment.  Even if you are not a musician or if you had to pawn your trumpets, you can now have a free instrument that is easy to play right at the end of your iPhone.  Check out other instruments, vote for lots of people, and have fun with their instrument.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Entrepreneurship and Creativity

     Again this morning I woke up and started listening to the Entrepreneurship Thought Leaders podcast out of Stanford. Tina Seeling who normally runs the course was giving a talk, What I Wish I Knew When I Was Twenty. Most of the podcast was retelling stories about her entrepreneur creativity class.  In this class she gives her students problems to solve.  The first problem, make as much as you can off of $5.  The winner of the competition sold their three minute class presentation time to a company eager to recruit Stanford students. 
       The next semester she gave all of her students ten paperclips and four hours to get as much as they could get.  This problem was inspired by a man who took a year to trade a red paperclip for a house.  The winner of this challenge made a sign, Stanford Students for Sale, Buy One Get Two Free.  After talking to people they managed to move up for taking out recycling to leading a brainstorming session for a small company.  They were payed with three computer monitors. Ten paperclips to three computer monitors, nicely done.
     In my current live I feel much like these students.  I spent six years in education only to win three pieces of paper.  My challenge, how do I turn this paper into a freelance trombone career?  For starters I upped the value of my degrees by moving to Colorado.  Here, there is hardly any competition.  In Cincinnati, everyone has a degree from the conservatory, here no one does.  However, this is only a very small part of the solution.
    Ms. Seeling's advice, you need to be able to make your own luck.  "If you go into a room and do not meet someone new, at least you missed out on learning something or making a friend, at most you missed out on a million dollars."  She then told a great story where she started in a grocery store and explained to a foreigner how to make lemonade from concentrate. Turns out the man was to inherit his family company in Chile. When she was in Chile, the man gave her a helicopter ride for the afternoon.  She turned lemonade into a helicopter ride.
     I am reminded about a conversation I had with Nate Siler and Ben "Honeybutter" Clymer about talking to people.  The trombone choir at CCM had played for an art opening, a gig that Nate got for the choir.  The only payment, free food at the reception.  The choir was thrown into a room full of community leaders for about an hour.  Already half the work was done, we were in a room with people who had money and connections, and we were the feature of the evening.  What did we do, talked to ourselves.  Some of the older students did start talking to some of the patrons but not much and not with business cards.  Learning to chat with people is key to getting the next gig.
     I have found every gig leads to the next one.  In my current state, I will get a phone call or email from someone I just met offering me a gig.  The answer is always yes before I ever find out the specifics.  After I make sure I prepare the music I make sure that the people at the gig would want to work with me again.  This means showing up early, chatting a little at the break, and going to the bar afterward.  Sometimes it is hard for me to go to a bar with a bunch of retired band directors, but after they hear a little about what I am doing in town they ask for a business card.  Most of the time this does not lead to a gig, but sometimes it does.  The more business cards I can get out there the more gigs I will get.  My advice, start talking to people, and print some cards.  Get out there and make a opportunity to play.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ghetto Blaster and New Music

     A lot of discussion is going on about the plight of classical music.  Weather audiences are really attracted to the same boring classics and if "new" music is to far beyond a common audience. Recently, I have been preparing for my solo debut with the Rocky Mountain Brassworks Brassband and many of my friends are asking about the concert.  Trying to explain a brassband to someone who's idea of music is listening to jam bands and dancing all night does seem a little boring.  However, I believe there are a few composers out there who are trying to solve this problem.
     The use of prerecorded sound is nothing new in music, Milton Babbitt pioneered the technique in the 1960s.  Pop artists and classical composers have been sampling a verity of sounds for decades now.  You could even trace early attempts at sampling to pieces like Copland's Lincoln Portrait, a piece that samples speeches made by the 16th president.
      Today with all of the technology available composers are doing some really cool stuff.  Check out Jacob ter Veldhuis.  I first came across JacobTV thanks to some saxophone friends at the University of South Carolina.  They were consistently talking about this piece for saxophone and ghetto blaster.  The piece was Grab It. In my junior year the New Century Saxophone Quartet gave a concert of JacobTV's music as part of the South Exposure New Music series at the University.  NCSQ gave the American premiere of JacobTV's Heartbreakers, a piece that samples both sound and video from the Jerry Springer Show.  The work is very touching, using jazz as the genre, JacobTV samples the episode on crack addicted prostitutes.  The concert was amazing.
     JacobTV's work is highly political.  Take a listen to his trombone piece I Was Like Wow. (This is a full recording played by Keith Jackson of West Virginia University). The piece samples interviews from two Iraqi war vets.  The piece also has video to go along with it; the video is incredibly difficult to watch.  Apparently audience members were weeping openly at the premiere in Holland.  You can listen to Jorgen van Rijen talk about the premiere and watch some of the video.

      There are some younger composers that are currently writing for ghetto blaster.  Inez McComas actually wrote me a piece for prerecorded sound earlier this year.  A Quick Trip with Lots of Baggage, uses recorded sounds of luggage, car horns, and trolleys to create a sound one might find on a street corner in San Francisco.  The work is a good length clocking in at 5 minutes and incorporates aspects of melodic content and minimalism.  I performed the work twice, however the piece has already been performed by Dr. Brad Edwards and by Kelly Jones.
     There are some great composers writing in genres that everyone can enjoy.  Listen to people like Steve Reich, and Louis Andriessen.  The key is getting music to the general population.  Projects like Classical Music Revolution are performing music in bars to provide a wider audience with great music. Everytime I hear a recital that uses prerecorded sound, the concert is talked about for some time.  I know my friends who are not musically trained prefer this in contrast to works with piano.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pierre Monteux School for Conductors and Orchestral Musicians

      Please it is pronounced Pea-air Mon-Teu.  I attended the Pierre Monteux School in the summer of 2009.  The experience was nothing short of inspiring.  Nestled away on the opposite peninsula across the Frenchman bay from Bar Harbor the school can claim one of the most beautiful landscapes for a music school.  Monteux is certainly the most remote in the small town of Hancock, Maine.  Monteux makes for the perfect summer get-a-way.

       For anyone who has never been to the Maine coast, I truly recommend it.  The winding coast lined with jagged rocks, covered with fog makes the perfect setting for all those New England fishing stories.  This also makes for really calm mornings, walking through the fog to get to rehearsal.
       The daily life at the Monteux is pretty relaxing with the exception of rehearsal.  The orchestra is made up of about 60 musicians, there is a full wind and brass section leaving a smaller string section.  Some of the musicians are also student conductors.  The conductors are required to play in the ensemble so they can actually see the results of their stick waving.  The only source of authority, the Maestro Michael Jinbo, sits on a huge throne, once occupied by Pierre Monteux* and Charles Bruck, at the rear of the ensemble.  The orchestra starts and does not stop until the repertoire of about 70 pieces is finished.  There is occasional and insightful instruction for both conductors and musicians from Maestro Jinbo.
        On top of weekly orchestral concerts, there are weekly chamber concerts as well.  Chamber music, as well as most of the school, is run by the students.  Chamber music is all voluntary with music coming from individuals or from a small music library in the area.  If you can convince a pianist to play with you, there are great solo opportunities on the chamber concerts as well.  There are also opportunities to play the occasional church gig.
       Everything is run or at least helped run by the students, from cleaning the hall to the school t-shirt to the yearly pig roast.  The board of directors and the executive director, Ron Schwizer take care of everything important and they help out with the extras organized by the students.  The year end banquet is attend by the board and orchestra, even thanksgiving cannot hold a candle to that feast.

      The festival holds true to the Maine lifestyle.  There is no television, limited Internet access, and limited cell phone coverage.  There are plenty of hiking paths, kayak trips, and relaxing afternoons.  Being away from the distractions of normal life you can actually enjoy your time in Maine and get to know everyone in the orchestra.  There are plenty of parties, quiet lunches, and croquet matches.
     I recommend the Pierre Monteux School to anyone who wants to play huge repertoire, practice their ensemble playing, and meet some excellent musicians in a low stress environment.  At the Monteux school you will have the opportunity to play rep that you have always wanted and you will find some real gems that you have never heard of.  During my summer I had the chance to play Appalachian Springs, Sibelius 2, Dvorak 7, and Chausson's Symphony in Bb, along with a ton of other great music.  The lack of individual lesson teachers allow you to actually practice your skills and gain confidence; no one is helping you out with that clarinet solo in Brahms 3.
     I had the time of my life at the Pierre Monteux School.  I met some really awesome musicians and hopefully some life long friends.  I have already recommended the school to several of my friends, but more should go.  Check out the list of alumni, truly impressive.  The concerts are recorded and broadcast on Maine Public Radio throughout the year.  Check out on December 15, at 8 pm est for 2010s performance of Bizet, Hindemith, and Kodaly.

*Pierre Monteux never sat on the 'throne' (he sat on a chair in the back of the viola section, sometimes w/ his instrument in hand.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

160Project Turns 40

    I have been thinking all day about what I wanted to write about in my 40th blog post.  I know since I have only been writing for 10 weeks 40 blogs seems like quite a lot and not so much like a major milestone.  But for some reason, I have it in my head that 40 blog posting is a rather large deal.  I have had the motivation and dedication to actually keep writing.  I think the only thing I have willingly dedicated more than 10 weeks to is my trombone.
     I also spent the better part of the day doing some last minute recordings for ITA.   The recording did not go so well; I will be doing some ultra last minute recording tomorrow morning.  Recording for ITA has brought back some memories from over the years.  The first tape I sent anywhere was of the University Blows Trombone Quartet, my undergraduate trombone quartet consisting of Alex Manley, David Dodgen, Zek Wardlaw, and myself.  That very long weekend was probably the best cooperation the four of us showed each other over the three years that we play together.  We had a couple of late nights in the recital hall at the University of South Carolina.  The best part was the fake tape we recorded for Dr. Edwards, we took the Locus Iste at 35 bpm (the slowest my Dr. Beat would go) and we played the Bach fugue as fast as we could go without stopping.  Well when Doc heard the tape he just smiled with that goofy grin and asked if these were really our best takes, he had no idea we were kidding.

       Another great time we had was working up the Ben van Dijk Wagner for 5 Bones the first time.  The four of us and alumnus Dan Hine were going to play the van Dijk for trombone night.  Dr. Edwards kindly agreed to stand in for Dan during rehearsals.  The five of us (Quartet + Doc) were tuning the Ride of the Valkyries when a squadron of helicopters flow by Doc's office window.  We immediately played the ride as loud and as fast as we could, to this day that is probably the most fun I have playing the ride.  Of course coming that close to recreating the scene from Apocalypse Now is probably the closest any of us will ever get to war.

       Throughout my studies at the University of South Carolina, I had the chance to correspond with Tom Everett.  Mr. Everett is one of the founding members of the ITA and compiled the complete annotated guide to bass trombone literature.  Mr. Everett did a great deal for the trombone and is directly responsible for dozens of premieres. Mr. Everett is the director of bands at Harvard.   Most of our correspondance was about is contribution to the instrument and the steps he took in talking with composers.  I had the idea to ask him what his most cherished musical memory was.  I figured I would get some story about some famous musician, instead I got a very insightful and humble response.

"My most cherished musical moments? I.... a chord played balanced and in tune...there's nothing quite like it! Keep talking with composers. Get out there and play...make opportunities to play. Follow your goals and dreams with commitment and passion!"
~Tom Everett

Hamburgers and Quality

     It is no secret I am in love with the quintessential American cuisine, the Hamburger.  This succulent treat was in fact the first food I ever developed my own recipe for.  My burger has been through several manifestations and now has jalapenos and bacon in the meat, the patties are blue cheese stuffed, their are fresh vegetables for toppings, a fried egg, and the buns are homemade.  I have sampled several burgers from all over the country many of which are marketed "famous" or "best burger in town."  Most of the time I am disappointed.
     Yesterday, while I watched some not so great football, I sampled two more burgers.  The first burger was from the Choppers near my apartment in Cherry Creek. The Flanagan was alright, at the time I was pretty satisfied.  The patty was thick and designed well, the bun was a little small, the egg was overcooked, and the lettuce and tomato a little old. The patty had a lot of attention and really made up for the rest of the burger. The second burger was at Jackson's in Lower Downtown, Denver, I was surrounded by Colorado Hokies.  The Spicy Cabo, left me a little disappointed.  Everything about the Cabo was better than the Flanagan except for the patty.  The bun was huge, the veggies were fresh, and the jalapenos were deep fried.  The patty was bought frozen and thin.  The burger at Jackson's was cheaper and came with fries, I would actually consider both of these burgers above average, however I will not be eating either again.
      Now that you are hungry and want some addictive fat in your diet, what does this have to do with my quest for the perfect sound?  In this context perfect means versatile.  Take a second and think about all the components of both of these slightly complex burgers.  Neither of these are bun + patty, in fact most burgers you will actually pay for at least have veggies.  Of course the bun, patty, and lettuce have to be perfect in order for the burger to succeed. On the other hand if the onion is to heavy, the burger is destroyed.
     Now think about your trombone playing, is versatile in your vocabulary?  Can you play ultra high, ultra low, can you play technical passages, and lyrical passages. This is the easy part, most musicians get to a point where these are solid, except sometimes tenor players whine about low notes and basses complain about high notes.  Now think about your role in the section, can you play principle, second, third?  Do you know how to tune a fifth, a third, and you play with the same style as the trumpets?  A lot of musicians never learn this, most of the time, players in schools get stuck in one of the roles and rarely perform one of the others.  Now think about genres, exactly how comfortable are you playing jazz?  What about lead in a gospel orchestra?  What about soloing, or sharing a bass part in brass band, or supporting a trombone choir.
      For all of you still in music school, what do you think you are going to do when you graduate?  Most of you will say oh I don't play jazz, or I am classically trained.  I have some news, No One Cares.  Freelancing can work, but you cannot be picky.  Someone says you want a gig, you say, "Yes" then ask specifics.
     A colleague of mine, whom I was teaching with, and had never heard me play ask if I wanted a gig, then asked if I am comfortable playing tenor parts.  Yes, of course.  Well, when I saw the music my jaw dropped.  Lead on a jazz chart, awesome.  Yesterday morning was the rehearsal, the gig is for a large church south of Denver.  There is an ad hoc orchestra and a very large choir.  We played everything, hymns, huge orchestra works, baroque, and the dreaded jazz chart.  And I did it all on my huge Shires bass trombone.
    Now I want to look at next weekend, this gig is only one of the three I am playing.  The other two, the Rocky Mountain Brassworks, and a trombone choir.  All three of these have very little rehearsal time and I will playing in no less than seven different styles.  How many of you do that in less than 48 hours?
    The moral of the story, take care of your bun and patty.  Make sure you can play your instrument, then make sure you are comfortable with other styles.  Can someone dress you up with some jalapenos or a fried egg?  Making music is the goal, playing trombone is how you make music, make sure you can make a variety of music.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Once upon a down beat

     The role an instrumentalist plays in a piece of music is often over looked.  Occasionally a conductor might ask someone who else is playing the same line or adjust for balance.  It is imperative that an instrumentalist uses his ears to decide what his function might be. 
      The surface level is to determine who you are playing with.  Are you part of the trombone section? Are you playing with the tuba?  Are you simply the resonator for the timpanist?  Are you playing with the string basses?  Are you sharing a line with the third trumpet.  All of these questions should be answered by the end of the first rehearsal, or even before you arrive.  Knowing this will help you determine how to function within the ensemble.
      The next step is to determine if you are support or melody.  This again should be fairly easy.  Once you realize you are playing a supporting line determine how you can make the melody easier to play.  Focus on the harmony, as supporting personnel it is your job to provide direction. If the melody is gone the music should still be interesting to listen to.  Make the harmonic progression painfully clear.
     The hard parts are the hand offs.  Transitions are often overlooked.  These moments are what make a performance incredibly special.  Ask yourself, where is this line going.  Prepare the next entrance.  Where did you start?  Make sure you enter exactly where the ensemble is.  Transitions are energy building moments, help your colleagues know where you are going.
     Today I was rehearsing a High School brass section.  I have use telling a story as a technique with this band several times.  My favorite is using the Once Upon a Time technique.  More often then not in a transition a group of instruments are preparing for another section to play.  In these couple of measures between phrases if there is no energy building, the music is going to be boring.  Today the entire brass section had a four measure transition into a trombone feature. 
     Sections like these are frustrating for young ensembles.  I spent a great deal of time working with the trumpets, horns, and low brass to get these four measures exciting.  Only after I told them they were preparing for a trombone section did one of trumpets say, "Oh, once upon a downbeat."  Yes that is exactly it, you may feel stupid building a huge crescendo only to stop once the phrase actually begins.  However, this set up the trombones perfectly and allowed these musicians to play with the confidence they needed for the phrase.
     These moments are easily overlooked in the absents of rehearsal time.  Warren Deck, "would tell you it's time to be a grown up musician and actually have an idea."  If you go, your colleagues will go to, but always remember where you are going and where you came from.

New Music

     The next email comes from my friends Marc Williams.  If you do not remember Marc is the conductor I stayed with while in LA.  Marc conducts new music concerts in New York.  He is a great musician, great guy, and is hopelessly in love with "modern" music.  Marc sent me this article, Why do we hate modern classical music? The article is an interesting read.  I am listening to some beloved modern music, Johan De Meij's Symphony No. 1 The Lord of The Rings while I write this post.
      Alex Ross, the author of the article, is pointing out the huge failure of "modern" music.  He discusses performances of the second Viennese school, John Cage, and Benjamen Brittin. He sights examples of mixed response from the audiences and mixed reviews from critics.  Ross spends a great deal of time comparing modern music to modern art and complaining of the success of great modern art museums while modern music has trouble being performed. 
      Keep in mind Alex Ross knows a lot more about music than I do.  Ross is the critic for the New York and has been publishing reviews of music for longer than I have been alive.  He is also the author of two acclaimed books, one of which, The Rest is Noise, I have just put on hold at the Denver Public Library.  Ross would probably laugh at me choice of music as an example "modern" music.
      The examples the Alex Ross provides us with are not "modern" music, some of the music has actually been around for almost 100 years.  None of the examples are from the past 40 years, in fact only some of the barely mentioned composers wrote piece while Mr. Ross has been alive.  More over the main composers he mentions do have a place in the performance repertoire. Also these composers have been devoted a great deal of study in ever music school across the world.  To toss them up as under appreciated is asinine.
      As for the issues of audiences, before I attend a concert I learn as much as I can about the works being performed.  I even listen to the works as many times as possible.  The first concert I heard was the Chicago Symphony playing Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.  When my teacher found out I had never heard the piece, he made me listen to the concerto and Shostakovitch's Seventh Symphony. (Both of which would fit Mr. Ross' time line for modern music and are performed quit frequently). I have noticed when I hear a concert if I am familiar with the work I enjoy the concert much more.  The general public probably thinks this as well which is why performances of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky are always well received.
      Premieres have always been a sticky issue as Mr. Ross points out.  There are not many ensembles that perform new music and even less that perform new music exclusively.  But there are some, in fact I would venture to say a lot more than Mr. Ross points out.  I think the big issue with premieres is again how familiar the audience and the orchestra is with any given work.  Premieres usually are performed drastically under the ability of the ensemble, simply because the work is new, no one has ever played it before.  Phrasing is usually weak and balance is usually off.  Second and third performances are usually much better.
     To borrow from a teacher of mine, Chris Dudley, cream rises to the top.  If the music is good, there will be a second performance.  There will also be room for good music.  Quality music might take some time, Strauss had to rewrite Le Bourgeois Gentlehomme 11 times before he came up with a piece that is performed only rarely.  The first performance of great music received luck warm receptions.  Le Sacre Du Printemps was booed off stage.  Mahler's and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony writen off as long and boring, the reception of Roth's First Symphony was so bad he committed suicide.
     As for the acceptance of modern art vs. modern music.  Visual Art has an unfair advantage, it is a tangable thing.  People can look view the work for as long as the like.  Once a piece of music is over, it's over; at a premiere there is no getting a second listen unless you know someone who can get you a recording.  I would like to point everyone back to the post about Ratatouille, listen to Anton Ego's monolgue.  The danger of a critic comes at the defence of the new.  The New takes time to catch on, and in a world driven by profit, the new often takes a beating.
     Good music will always have a place in performance.  Shocking music will even have a place in performance or at least study.  New Music will even have a place in performance, but only once or twice if the piece is not good.  So support composers, give them time and a chance to produce quality music.  Perform their music...twice.  I have found premieres to be a great selling point on recitals, some people really like the fact music is new and refreshing.

What, what, Da-email.

     As the 160Project enters a new month, I am starting a new series.  I have started getting comments and emails from across the country in support of the 160Project and my life in Denver.  I am going to join the ranks of internet legands like Strong Bad.  I would like more input from my readship, so if you would like to email me for some advice, an article you find interesting, or simply to show your support I would like to post it on my blog.
Whatever misspellings and bad grammar happen to be present don't detract 
from the message. Sort of akin to cracked notes in a performance!      
As far as staying motivated,  I recommend lots of listening and trying to perform in 
any capacity possible.  As far as my own personal experience goes, not being in 
school has motivated my practice beyond anything I experienced in school.  
Not having a concert every week really driven me to work harder in hopes that I'd 
one day have such an active performance schedule again.   I hope to get up to 
Denver to play with the symphony again in the spring.  If so, we'll definitely hang!   
For now, more audition prep.  LA is in a month oh boy!    Take care!

Steve Kilburn

    Steve thanks for the advice.  Right now I am listening to Shostakovitch's second piano concerto. The piece is quickly becoming one of my favorites, sorry I know you probably prefer the first. (Shosti piano no.1 has a sick trumpet part).  As for performance, I am really busy this month.  Right now, this ITA tape is giving me a headache.  Milwaukee at the end of January, hurray for playing the samething everyday for six weeks. Thanks for the advice Steve and thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


   Apparently, My brother, Bobby, did not like my last post about perfection.  I should be more clear, of course the term perfection is undefined.  Only because we all have our own interpretations, what defines perfect for one person is not perfect for another.  And more over perfect technique does not make perfect art.  I guess I mean the term perfection to be synonymous with Art, Inspiration, Divinity, Sublime, that which defies defining.
   This is a difficult task to discuss and has frustrated philosophers for hundreds of years.  Artists have a way of defining it, with their medium.  Not much art is easy to define because it was produced in an attempt to define that which words cannot define.  So tonight, I will use a medium that we can all understand to help me define the
    As many of my friends know I have a soft spot in my heart for film.  In this case I want to discuss a scene from what I think is one of the ingenious films of all time, Ratatouille, the animated film from Pixar.  I think this movie is great because of the depth of the villain, Anton Ego.  Ego is not the main villain but he is the most interesting. Ego is a food critic that loves food so much he eats very little.  When Ego is presented he is very cold and evil; to me he seems like a man who has lost his inspiration for being a critic.  A character that fell in love with food long ago and has forgotten why.

In these 45 seconds, Anton remembers exactly why he loves food.

    Anton Ego is changed for the rest of the movie.  He has a great little speech in which he explains a lot about himself, food, and perfection.  Again I must reiterate, the quest for perfection is the quest for inspiration, thought, and the sublime.  I hope this bit of film with help clear up some of my clumsy ramblings.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


    Many of you have been reading my blog for awhile, a few times I have spoken about what music means to me.  In the sidebar of the blog there is a little description of the purpose of the blog, "the quest for the perfect sound, 160 dbs."  The volume is a little humor.  Seriously the quest for the perfect sound, I think most artist are on a life long goal of something they can call perfection.
    I woke up this morning and started listening to yesterday's library finds.  Blue Highway a blue grass band was first up in my computer.  While I was waiting for my old piece of junk to start up I read the CD Jacket.  I know the job of the jacket is to sell the CD, however I think the writer of the jacket made some great points about music in general.

"As a member in good standing of the Church of Bluegrass,
I believe that perfection is attainable in this life.  It's rarely
encountered, granted-just often enough to keep faith alive.
But when one does find perfection, in a band or a recording,
it's hallelujah, people, and crank up the volume."

    If you talk to professional musicians of the highest caliber, you will find when they talk about why the chose music you will encounter vocabulary like, divine, sublime, ethereal, etc.  They talk about early experiences while listening to music or early performance with phrases like "the music just spoke to me."  They are talking perfection.  You will encounter people that talk about the rush of performing.  Musicians all talk about music in different ways, but the fact of the matter is we were all touched by music and we are all looking to recreate that feeling of "perfection."
    Perfection means different things for different people.  I would direct you to previous blogs about technique and musicality.  But, discussion is usually confusing.  The only way to really know what I am talking about is to experience it.  That means listen, go to concerts, practice yourself, it means being a part of the quest for the perfect sound.  Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on Nature he discusses how useless language is to describe Nature, because that language has nothing to do with Nature.  The same thing goes for discussing perfect performances, words cheapen the experience.
     Jon Hartley Fox, the writer of Blue Highway's CD jacket for the CD Marble town has more insight.

It sounds odd to say of a band that has been around for 
ten years, recorded six critically acclaimed albums,  earned
a Grammy nomination, topped the charts in Bluegrass Unlimited 
and won a combined 11 group and individual IBMA awards, 
but I think Marbletown will be the album that takes 
Blue Highway to that proverbial higher level.

     I know lots of young musicians that have grown frustrated with playing in ensembles.  But look at this band 10 years of playing together, 10 years.  That's a long time, and I am sure most of them had a great deal of experience before they formed a band.  The quest for the perfect sound is a life long goal.  Patients is a quality that youth lack, but I think it is necessary to be a great musician.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dream School

   Recently, I have been thinking about returning to school.  My education only ended at the on August 22 at the end of Aspen.  I have had a full three months with zero classwork, no lessons, and no ensembles.  In these three months I have been practicing lots, thinking more, teaching some, and performing even less.  Most of my time has been devoted to the Denver Public Library and to Hulu.  I am living in Denver and spending most of my time inside.  I have been lucky enough to make all of my money through teaching and through performing, but not lucky enough to buy a pair of boots to go with the skis I received as a gift.  I am doing better than I thought I would be, but not well enough to eat as much as I want.
   I have been doing lots of listening, to CDs, on youtube, to my students, myself, and the performances I have stored in my head.  Every time I listen I want to perform more.  I want to be playing with other people everyday.  I spent the last six years of my education playing with great people, great musicians, and great ensembles. Most students take that for granted, and most students do not know how to participate as well as they should.
   Most of this blog has been devoted to the digestion of 24 years of living, 18 years of classroom learning, 6 years of music school, and 4 years of teaching.  This break I imagined lasting between one and three years, before I return to school to get my DMA.  I wanted this break so I could make the most of a DMA program and contribute to a better music school.  There are a few factors I will look for in a program that I did not necessarily think about when I picked my previous two schools.  And I will look and listen to the entire program before I make any decision.
   On my TED Talk outing for the day I came across this lecture on a Green School Dream.  John Hardy is an environmental activist and is working to develop a green culture that will be sustainable across the centuries.  The school they have built I would have loved to attend.  Basically the kids go to school outside and in between lessons they help with the farming, building, cook, and everything that goes into the life cycle of living.  Andrew Dalton, the principle of the green school, and the staff have developed a dream school for children from 25 countries.
    This started my mind on thinking about Music School Dream.  What would I want in my dream music school?  What would such a school look like?  Who would be there?  Who would teach there? Then the daunting task of finding such a school and inserting myself into it.  I wonder if my colleagues ever took the time to really ask these questions.  Or if the deans I know have tried to make there dreams a reality.
    In my mind Music School Dream, is somewhere where music happens, consistently.  Students should be performing everyday, working with faculty everyday, they should be making music.  Think about the time spent in class at music school not discussing music.  Think about the classes where music is never mentioned.  Now think about the classes where zero singing or playing happens.  In current music schools, music is discussed but rarely happens.  A singing dialogue should be developed.
    There would be a lot less judging involved.  People would be free to practice and perform whatever they like.  Criticism would be helpful and specific.  Students would teach each other willingly and in a positive manor.
   Collaboration would flow from the walls.  Different instrument groupings would experiment with different sounds.  Composers would found new sound scapes and would incorporate new and old music.  Experimentation would happen all over the place, including coffee shops, stripe malls, and downtown.
   Teachers would not be shy about teaching a student of a different instrument or even of a different genre.  Teachers would also be active in the practicing process, knock on a door and help fix a phrase.  Studios would be located in central practice areas with large windows.  Pianist would be at every lesson.  Chamber groups would show up for spontaneous coachings.
    I guess the key, MUSIC WOULD BE HAPPENING.  Music school has become a very rigid endeavor.  There are very strict rules about how a school functions and what defines success.  But do these rules evolve out of music?  A lot my teachers say things like the sound is the most important thing, or the music should determine everything.  Well why not everything.

No Asshole

   I recently started listening to Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast.  This is basically a lecture series out of Stanford that is directed at MBA students.  Their most recent lecturer was Bob Sutton. Mr. Sutton is a teacher at Stanford and a prolific author about modern business.   His lecture was supposed to be on his book, "Good Boss, Bad Boss."  But he ended up talking about his book "No Asshole Rule."
   I was listening to this while I was writing this morning.  I have been thinking about my education and how to grow on that education now that I am not in school.  I happened to be writing about my behavior in classroom classes, instead of thinking about my "musical" education.  I was taken back a few times as I sort of listened to Bob's lecture.  I was an asshole in the classroom.  According to him I would make a bad colleague if I behaved the way I acted in the classroom.
   I realized very early in my education that in ensembles, working with colleagues is key.  We have all heard conductors say the ensemble is only as good as its weakest link.  Ensemble playing is about working with others.  However, we have all sat in rehearsal wishing other players had prepared their part better.  We have all also blown up at people at least every once in awhile.
   The leadership dynamic in professional and student ensembles is incredibly interesting.  In Bobs lecture he points about the toxic tandem, bosses tend to not pay much attention to their underlings.  In other words bosses tend to be assholes.  We have all seen first trumpet players not work well with their sections or trombone sections that do not speak to each other.  Again, this is because musicians do not work well with others.
   Music lends itself to the development of an ego.  Music has been about individuals for centuries, ever since composers started taking credit for their work, and has been about virtuosos since Paganini.  We also like to hear people who sound confident.  However to be a good colleague we need to keep these egos in check.  Don't be an Asshole.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Conversation with Will: Direction

    Today I had another lengthy conversation with Will Timmons.  Will and I attended undergrad and graduate school together and have been friends for nearly seven years.  We are both aspiring pedagogues and players and we are both trying to figure out ways of being better trombone players and better teachers.  Today's topic, direction, not in music but in the approach to the horn and to learning.

    First and foremost a desire to get better is necessary to getting better.  This may seem simple, but they way we often practice does not lend itself to progression.  In my undergrad, Dr. Edwards was huge on a concept he calls Sing Buzz Play.  And I believe this is a great way to refine playing the trombone, playing the tune on the piano gives the ear an accurate model, singing helps get your voice get in alignment, buzz gets your lips get in alignment, and playing gets your trombone in alignment.  Altogether a great concept, however, I rarely incorporated this tool in my practice.  I say rarely but it was probably a few times a week. As I get older this concept is dominating my practice. 
     In my younger days repetition dominated,  I need to be able to play all my etudes, solo rep, and excerpts with the right notes consistently.  So I used the quarter game, start slow and play exercises three times right before increasing the speed on the metronome.  I still use this to increase consistency.  But, we have all heard "Practice makes permanent."  This can lead to playing consistently out of tune, with a bad sound, and weak articulation.  Now, I use several different tools like the above one to improve the concepts of my playing rather than just speeding up what I am already doing.  Proper practice may take longer to get through material but it increases good habits as apposed to fast habits.
      The other desire to get better is mostly mental.  Becoming a professional trombonist is daunting.  Students these days have hundreds of perfect recordings to listen to, most of us develop an inferiority complex.  I have seen this manifest itself in a couple ways, the first is giving up, the second is not practicing seriously because perfection is unattainable (giving up), the third is not performing (giving up).  By this last one I mean, when students do perform more often then not a question comes out of their horn instead of a statement.  We have all heard people sound really timid because they are seeking praise or help instead of presenting the music. I think the best way to battle all of these is simple to have fun and strive for clear musical ideas.  This is mostly an internal direction, being honest with where you are going.

      The second topic we discussed was direction from teachers.  We have all had teachers that prescribe curtain procedures and then counter act the prescription through a different behavior. Or teachers that assign a huge task with little guidance along the way.  Both of these behaviors are incredibly frustrating and send a mix message to the student that often in turn is frustrating and sends a mixed message to the teacher.  However, I do not think either behavior is intentional.
      Lets take a look at the first behavior in the context of sing buzz play.  The act of polishing a phrase takes a lot of time and if you use practice techniques like sing buzz play, varying rhythms and style to work on slide technique or even slowly speeding up a passage you might have very little to show for it at the end of the day.  We have all had teachers that encourage polishing one measure or phrase at a time.  The issue, how many of you have ever had a teacher assign one phrase for a weeks practice?  In my experience one etude, one solo, and a couple excerpts was a light week.  In the quest to get great fast we burn through music instead of polishing and working slowly.  Of course a balance in necessary.
      Another great way to practice is the use of patterns.  How many of you play your scales everyday?  Already this eliminates most music students.  Now how many of you actually apply these to the music you are learning?  Most of us play etudes but do we know why? Brad Edwards wrote is dissertation on etudes that work on different key areas, styles, etc.  If you look at an etude and evaluate the key areas then practice the corresponding scales and arpeggios the technique within the etude will be easier.  Its like practicing the words in the right language before translating a passage of literature.
    Now the second behavior, a huge assignment without much guidance.  In high school we were all asked to read, sometime very large books, at the end of which we were encouraged to discuss passages and themes within the book.  On the SAT test takers are encouraged to read the questions then read the passage to help direct their comprehension. If in high school a teacher layed out a unit before reading, extracting the material would be a little easier.  What if a miner started digging in a mountain before he knew what meneral he was looking for?  We would end up with a lot of dirt that needed sifting! In music the student, weather they currently take from someone or are continuing to teach themselves, needs to know why they are playing an etude, solo, or excerpt.  What is this teaching me about style, pitch, rhythm?  What am I showing, style, pitch, rhythm, articulation, direction etc.  Can you answer this about every phrase of your recital or audition?

    I would like everyone to benifit from this ensight.  These are just observations I have made about my own education.  My approach could have been a lot better while I was in school, and I hope I am honest with myself and the direction I take now that I am a working musician.  I do not mean to call out any of my former teachers and I used Brad Edwards as the example mostly because I was using the sing buzz play method today.  I also know that he is a good sport and will not take this to seriously, although I hope his face turns really red when he reads this last paragraph.  Hopefully I will also give my students lots of direction, of course my students are in high school and need lots of direction.  The tricky part is knowing when to take off the training wheels, we do not need lots of musicians that need exact directions of when to apply curtain practice techniques, styles, articulations, etc. 

Upcoming Performances

     Last month after I posted my schedule I actually acquired more commitments.  I played my first gig in Denver with the Slide Rule Trombone Choir.  This was fun, great for my career, and great for my stomach.  We were fed at the gig!  One of trombonists with the choir happened to be the conductor of the Rocky Mountain Brassworks Brassband.  RMB is the brassband in town.  Last week Doug emailed and asked if I would sub with the band and play a solo. 
      The solo....Frosty the Snowman!  I glanced over the solo and immediately took the gig.  The piece is the Sandy Smith arrangment for bass trombone or E flat bass solo with brass band.  The piece is fun, although has its challenging moments, running through a few variations and spanning three and half octaves.  This performance will be my solo debut! The first solo I played on trombone in 10th grade happened to be Frosty the Snowman.

December 11  St. Andrews United Methodist Church 4pm
December 11  Broomfield Auditorium, Rocky Mountain Brassworks Christmas Concert 7pm
December 12  Slide Rule Trombone Choir, Highlands Ranch
December 12  St Andrews United Methodist Church 2pm
December 16  EL Wright Middle School
December 17  Summit Parkway Middle School
December 19  St Johns, Columbia, SC
December 19  First Baptist, Camden, SC

     I am really looking forward to the second week in December.  As you can see I am doing a fair amount of playing as well as teaching.  I have a few more teaching engagements in Denver before I head back east.  I cannot wait for my solo debut and busy and short visit to Columbia, SC.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Locker Room Jargon

     A few days ago I had the chance to catch up with my friend Marc Williams from LA.  If you remember from my posts while I was in LA, Marc and I had a discussion about brass playing and masculinity.  This conversation was weighing heavily on Marc and needed to clarify.  If you remember he finds it annoying that brass players constantly talk about how loud something is, instead of how musical a piece can be.  In his mind this degrades music from an art form to a locker discussion.  I want to share with you some outtakes from the conversation to help shed some light on the discussion.

Marc: I really dislike when music and music-making is talked about like a sport, being a big sports fan, I now all those cliches and hear them all the time it has no place in music that was what I was referring to and it isn't just brass players was unable to encapsulate it when you were here but that's the essence. I mean, of course there is physical strength that is exerted in everything one does but music-making isn't working outside on a construction project or at the gym with the other jocks lifting weights; it isn't a primitive act it's a skilled activity and we shouldn't demean all of the hard work we put in to make it a sport.

Me:  so we should talk about music like the high art it is?

Marc:  I'm not even making a value judgment on what is high or not high art, I am saying it is not sport. That's all, simple calculus, actually.

Me:  I am trying to think about ways music is a sport, but just to be playful. What about Ives, with two bands playing at the same time?
Marc:  Maybe a mental sport. Define sport or sportish. I am talking about the language associated with working out at the gym. Working out at the gym is one thing, playing Strauss is another
Me:  Dude, I lifted so much weight, it was awesome! But after the advent of programmatic music there are aspects of sports/battles that composers want to convey. Who would Shosti be without WWII?
Marc:  But you're talking about the substance of a story added to the music not the actual music-making.
So during 1812, it is somehow okay to talk about music in that way but not Schumann 4?

Me:  I have definitely heard conductors ask for more uniform volume because "this is war." At that point I think music becomes a little oppressive and shear volume does take over, but in the context of good pitch and articulation but only in isolated moments in the rep. I would not think that for Brahms or Schumann...ever.

Marc:  But as a skilled musician, you should take the metaphor of 'this is war' and create something musical out of it, still in control of what you can do.
Me I think control is what we are getting at here. The object is in performance to be in control, however, that means sometimes pushing the boundaries in practice and sometimes in rehearsal.
Marc But locker room talk about music cheapens it is the extra wrinkle I am throwing in. I am talking about the expanded lexicon that borrows from a locker room.
Me I guess as an instrumentalist sometimes I see the practice room as a gym.  I need to push myself in order to be the best in performance. However, I agree music making is different from practicing technique
and the art of music should be elevated above technique.
Marc:  Exactly
Me:  But the line especially for young musicians can be a little fuzzy some times. I guess that is the mark of a mature musician.
    Sometimes I think taking the locker room jargon out of the conversation is a little difficult because of the atmosphere surrounding the activity.  In high school a high level of competition is formed in order to motivate musicians.  This can be good and can be bad.  I remember a young member of my high school marching band being excited at the possibility of being labeled a Virginia State Honor Band (superior at marching and concert festivals).  When I asked him, "Why, would you be happy with that?"  He got really mad at me until, I told him the activity for me, at that level, was about progress.
   Of course my friends can tell you I have pushed the volume spectrum on a lot of concerts.  And throughout my undergraduate and master degree there was a great deal of talk about "manning up" and pushing through either exhaustion or pushing volume or speed.   We did everything we could to talk about music in macho terms.  Only, after maturing a little and only in small doses would we talk about making music in a singing style, or work on ensemble musicality.  I will do my best to limit my use of locker room jargon from now on.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Best Album Ever.

     Throughout my live I have had many conversations with friends, family and professional musicians. Inevitably, what music I listen to comes up a lot.  This is actually more interesting than you would think.  I used to answer anything besides rap and country.  Most people assume I listen to a fair amount of classical music, which I do, however I listen to a very diverse collection.  Yesterday I listened to, solo mandolin, blue grass, punk rock, ska, meatloaf, the Beatles, Tenacious D and an entire Puccini opera.  I think its less of a question of what I listen to and more of a question of what I do not listen it.  Every time I visit the library I check out 8-10 CDs mostly of people/genres I have never heard before.   With so much music out is there a best Album ever?

         I have asked his question to several people.  The first was Matt Guilford of the National Symphony.  Mr. Guilford gave me my first bass trombone lesson shortly after my sophomore year of college.  After the lesson I conducted a short interview in which I asked what his favorite album was....the answer, Stairway to Heaven by Led Zepplin.  He did ask if he had to pick a classical album but I said no and was shocked by the answer.

        The first time I heard someone describe a CD as the "best album ever," it was a friend of mine, Cannon Fulmer.  Cannon is not a trained musician but he did play trombone in the marching band for 5 or 6 years.  Cannon does not have a huge CD collection or listen to music constantly but he had his favorite.  He has a box set of Chili Peppers Albums, Blood Sugar Magik, Californiacation, and Stadium Arcadium.

     Finally a classical album.  The first time I was exposed to an overwhelming music collection was after the Black Sea Tour I participated in, in 2007.  On my way out of New York I stopped in Queens at the Dunn's house.  Scott and Trish were the conductor and principle flute player on tour.  Their tiny (by my country standards) apartment had several bookcases full of music.  I spent several hours look through there collection and talking about music.  When I was leaving, Scott handed me this CD simply stating, "This is the best recording ever made."  My friends know it well now.  The Symphony is deeply moving and Lenny B. with Chicago is rare enough to make this CD special.  There are parts of some the best brass playing ever.  I think in the quest for 160 dbs, Charley Vernon might be the closest.  Usually I listen to the last 5 minutes laughing.
      There are some incredible recordings out there, pop, classical, or otherwise.  I have not made up my mind but I do go through obsessive phases, San Fransisco's Symphony Fantastic, Detroit's Copland 3, Cincinnati's Rodeo, Bat Out of Hell, Queen's Greatest Hits, and Flogging Molly's Swagger just to name a few.  I think the point is I listen to an ultra diverse collection of music almost without rest.  Listening is the best way to develop style, phrasing, and consistent beat (okay maybe dancing would be better) but listening is just an insane amount of fun.  What are some of your favorite Albums?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Charlie Rose and Valery Gergiev

      I was recently introduced to Charlie Rose by two friends who happen to be conductors.  Mark Williams my friend in LA and I watched a little bit of an interview on my recent visit.  And Will (Jack) White mentioned Mr. Rose recently on his blog.  Will actually mentions this exact interview. Will talks about composition, however, I was very taken by some specific questions from the middle of the interview.
       The first striking question Mr. Rose asks is about natural talent.  Gergiev mentioned that you must thank both your parents if you have some natural ability.  Rose no doubt thought Gergiev was talking about musical talent.  The answer was very surprising.  The natural ability applied to conducting, working with people.  Leave it to a Russian trained during the soviet union to talk about working with people.  In his words he does not want to command the orchestra but inspire the orchestra.
     There is also a section on conducting that I think applies to instrumentalists as well.  Gergiev mentions he has to start ahead of the orchestra, he has to know the music and have the sound in his head before he starts.  Then he gestures, the orchestra plays, and the sound is produced.  I think instrumentalist have to apply this same concept.  In order to really sing a musician has to know what is happening.  In Warren Deck's words, "Create anticipation and deliver satisfaction."  How many times have you listened to a performance where the impact point is not prepared?  All of a sudden we arrive but there was not direction to the journey.

Take a listen to the section of the interview.  I would recommend the section between 18-30 minutes.

     Rose and Gergiev cover huge topics in these 12 minutes.  It is very interesting to listen to a great musician talk about culture, politics, and music.  Gergiev talks about his introduction to the great composers and his approach to understanding.  This section puts my own life and my students life in prospective.  Gergiev at one point says he was listening to Stravinsky and he did not understand.  For him around his introduction to Stravinsky, Gergiev was very frightened.  He would take decades to discover the understanding necessary to conduct great works. How long will it take for me to demonstrate the difference between great composers and to reproduce the music that the composers truly imagined?  Will I be able to convince my students to produce these sounds?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Organic Foie Gras and Music.

   A friend of mine found a series of lectures this morning from the Taste 3 convention in San Fransisco in 2008.  The lecture he sent me was on bread making with a twist.  The lecture was talking about the transformations that happen throughout the life and death cycle of grain and yeast.  This lecture was an intellectual and philosophical discussion of bread making, it was very clever and interesting to watch but did not go very much beyond that.
   Chef Dan Barbar's lecture on humane foie gras was much more interesting and dynamic.  Foie Gras is the liver from an over stuffed goose.  The procedure actually got the food band from Chicago for a time.  Unfortunately, for Chefs foie gras is incredible.  Dan Barbar relates a menu without foie gras to biking the tour de france without steroids, "There are simply are not many people doing that."  There is a long discussion in sports about performance enhancing drugs and in the music about the use of beta blockers.  In daily life there are millions of people that use performance enhancing drugs for everything from ADD to arthritis. Why do we ask professional athletes not to do everything they can to be the best at what they do?  Why are beta blockers for an audition so scary?
     The lecture is mostly about one farmer in Spain that raises geese in the most humane and nature friendly way possible.  The story has many examples on how amazing this farmer really is.  After the tour of the farm Dan gets to taste the foie gras, and he said the taste was nothing short of life changing.  The farmer does not distribute his foir gras or sell it to well know chefs.  When Dan asked about this the farmer simply replied, "Becuase they do not deserve my foie gras."  Chefs would change the foie gras, add spices, make it into a dish; simply, they would destroy the three generations of work on the that farm.  I think this about great music as well.  I think every conductor would do wonders to watch that little part of the lecture.  I have played under a few younger conductors who got in the way either because of bad technique or in the name of interpretation.  Musicians need to realize, their craft has to be so good it does not get in the way of the music.  The best composers in history do not need to be interpreted, just played.  Get the hell out of the way and let the music speak for itself.

Dan Barbar's Lecture

     There are other points about the way we raise our food.  And I think they are important but not necessarily in a musical context.  There is also a point about history and listening to nature for how to raise food.  And I think these are more applicable to music, at least to a music historian or conductor that only conducts Brahms.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Music Vs. Technique: Iron Chef

    This summer at Aspen I had a chance to ask John Rojak about the audition process used by the American Brass Quintet.  In his mind the audition is the most fair audition process imaginable.  Every applicant that is invited gets to play with the quintet for twenty minutes after which the remaining four members discuss the applicant.  Several factors are considered from technique and musicality to blend and how easy the individual is to work with.  Before the finals take place every musician that is advanced receives a phone call from an ABQ member in which aspects of the first round are discussed.  Previously, this might have included asking the applicant to lead more, blend better, or vary styles more.  The final is an hour playing with the quintet, and they cover as much rep. as possible.  This is a great way to get to know someone and their playing.
    I just watched the entire second season of The Next Iron Chef in which highly qualified chefs are auditioning to join the ranks of the Iron Chefs.   In my mind if the ABQ audition were a cooking show it would be The Next Iron Chef.  Throughout the season the applicants go from cooking one dish in a specific style to cooking an entire meal using several styles based on one ingredient.  During the season I was very worried about who the judges might pick.  To be an Iron Chef takes technical mastery and creative ingenuity.  I simply did not see chefs making the inspiring meals I know for the Iron Chef series.  I was actually wondering if the Travel Channel would dare join the ranks of American orchestras and declare No Winner.
    The finale episode I think is relevant to the annoying discussion Malcolm hates, technique vs. music.  In a previous post I discussed needing both technique and musicality to achieve a convincing concert.  I believe these judges feel the same way about creativity and technique of cooking.  Chef Symon even asks, "If you are creative and fail, are you creative or are you just a failure?"  The other every interesting aspect of this discussion is the judges are set up as three working Iron Chefs (colleagues) and three food critics (audience).  I think watching this episode is essential in audition prep.

Next Iron Chef: Season 2 Finale

    In the end the judges pick the more technically sound chef. (Sorry for the spoiler).  But I think in music the more technically sound musician will when if there is an argument like this one.  Of course we all like to hear musical interpretations that are technically sound.  And on the other hand is creativity easier to teach than technique?  Can both aspects be practiced and perfected?  Which is more difficult?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Merlin by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thy trivial harp will never please
Or fill my craving ear;
Its chords should ring as blows the breeze,
Free, peremptory, clear.
No jingling serenader's art,
Nor tinkle of piano strings,
Can make the wild blood start
In its mystic springs.
The kingly bard
Must smile the chords rudely and hard,
As with hammer or with mace;
That they may render back
Artful thunder, which conveys
Secrets of the solar track,
Sparks of the supersolar blaze
Merlin's blows are strokes of fate,
Chiming with the forest tone,
When boughs buffet boughs in the wood;
Chiming with the gasp and moan
Of the ice-imprisoned hood;
With the pulse of manly hearts;
With the voice of orators;
With the din of city arts;
With the cannonade of wars;
With the marches of the brave;
And prayers of might from martyrs' cave.
Great is the art,
Great be the manners, of the bard.
He shall not his brain encumber
With the coil of rhythm and number;
But, leaving rule and pale forethought,
He shall aye climb
For his rhyme.
"Pass in, pass in," the angels say,
"In to the upper doors,
Nor count compartments of the floors,
But mount to paradise
By the stairway of surprise.

Blameless master of the games,
King of sport that never shames,
He shall daily joy dispense
Hid in song's sweet influence.
Forms more cheerly live and go,
What time the subtle mind
Sings aloud the tune whereto
Their pulses beat,
And march their feet,
And their members are combined.

By Sybarites beguiled,
He shall no task decline;
Merlin's mighty line
Extremes of nature reconciled,
Bereaved a tyrant of his will,
And made the lion mild.
Songs can the tempest still,
Scattered on the stormy air,
Mold the year to fair increase,
And bring in poetic peace.
He shall nor seek to weave,
In weak, unhappy times,
Efficacious rhymes;
Wait his returning strength.
Bird that from the nadir's floor
To the zenith's top can soar,
The roaring orbit of the muse exceeds that journey's length.
Nor profane affect to hit
Or compass that, by meddling wit,
Which only the propitious mind
Publishes when 'tis inclined.
There are open hours
When the God's will sallies free,
And the dull idiot might see
The flowing fortunes of a thousand years;
Sudden, at unawares,
Self-moved, fly-to the doors,
Nor sword of angels could reveal
What they conceal.

The rhyme of the poet
Modulates the king's affairs;
Balance-loving Nature
Made all things in pairs.
To every foot its antipode;
Each color with its counter glowed:
To every tone beat answering tones,
Higher or graver;
Flavor gladly blends with flavor;
Leaf answers leaf upon the bough;
And match the paired cotyledons.
Hands to hands, and feet to feet,
In one body grooms and brides;
Eldest rite, two married sides
In every mortal meet.
Light's far furnace shines,
Smelting balls and bars,
Forging double stars,
Glittering twins and trines.
The animals are sick with love,
Lovesick with rhyme;
Each with all propitious Time
Into chorus wove.

Like the dancers' ordered band,
Thoughts come also hand in hand;
In equal couples mated,
Or else alternated;
Adding by their mutual gage,
One to other, health and age.
Solitary fancies go
Short-lived wandering to and ire,
Most like to bachelors,
Or an ungiven maid,
Nor ancestors,
With no posterity to make the lie afraid,
Or keep truth undecayed.
Perfect-paired as eagle's wings,
Justice is the rhyme of things;
Trade and counting use
The self-same tuneful muse;
And Nemesis
Who with even matches odd,
Who athwart space redresses
The partial wrong,
Fills the just period,
And finishes the song.

Subtle rhymes, with ruin rife
Murmur in the hour of life,
Sung by the Sisters as they spin;
In perfect time and measure they
Build and unbuild our echoing clay.
As the two twilights of the day
Fold us music-drunken in.

Threnody by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The South-wind brings
Life, sunshine and desire,
And on every mount and meadow
Breathes aromatic fire;
But over the dead he has no power,
The lost, the lost, he cannot restore;
And, looking over the hills, I mourn
The darling who shall not return.

I see my empty house,
I see my trees repair their boughs;
And he, the wondrous child,
Whose silver warble wild
Outvalued every pulsing sound
Within the ear's cerulean round,--
The hyacinthine boy Definition, for whom
Morn well might break and April bloom,
The gracious boy, who did adorn
The world whereinto he was born,
And by his countenance repay
The favor of the loving Day,--
Has disappeared from the Day's eye;
Far and wide she cannot find him;
My hopes pursue, they cannot bind him.
Returned this day, the South-wind searches,
And finds young pines and budding birches;
But finds not the budding man:
Nature, who lost, cannot remake him;
Fate let him fall, Fate can't retake him;
Nature, Fate, men, him seek in vain.

And whither now, my truant wise and sweet,
0, whither tend thy feet!
I had the right, few days ago,
Thy steps to watch, thy place to know:
How have I forfeited the right?
Hast thou forgot me in a new delight?
I hearken for thy household cheer,
O eloquent child!
Whose voice, an equal messenger,
Conveyed thy meaning mild.
What though the pains and joys
Whereof it spoke were toys
Fitting his age and ken,
Yet fairest dames and bearded men,
Who heard the sweet request, 
So gentle, wise and grave,
Bended with joy to his behest
And let the world's affairs go by,
A while to share his cordial game,
Or mend his wicker wagon-frame,
Still plotting how their hungry ear
That winsome voice again might hear;
For his lips could well pronounce
Words that were persuasions.
Gentlest guardians marked serene
His early hope, his liberal mien;
Took counsel from his guiding eyes
To make this wisdom earthly wise.
Ah, vainly do these eyes recall
The school-march, each day's festival,
When every morn my bosom glowed
To watch the convoy on the road;
The babe in willow wagon closed,
With rolling eyes and face composed;
With children forward and behind,
Like Cupids studiously inclined;
And he the chieftain paced beside,
The centre of the troop allied,
With sunny face of sweet repose,
To guard the babe from fancied foes.
The little captain innocent
Took the eye with him as he went;
Each village senior paused to scan
And speak the lovely caravan.
From the window I look out
To mark thy beautiful parade,
Stately marching in cap and coat
To same tune by fairies played;--
A music heard by thee alone
To works as noble led thee on.

Now Love and Pride, alas! in vain,
Up and down their glances strain.
The painted sled stands where it stood;
The kennel by the corded wood;
His gathered sticks to stanch the wall
Of the snow-tower, when snow should fall;
The ominous hole he dug in the sand,
And childhood's castles built or planned;
His daily haunts I well discern,--
The poultry-yard, the shed, the barn,--
And every inch of garden ground
Paced by the blessed feet around,
From the roadside to the brook
Whereinto he loved to look.
Step the meek fowls where erst they ranged;
The wintry garden lies unchanged;
The brook into the stream runs on;
But the deep-eyed boy is gone.

On that shaded day,
Dark with more clouds than tempests are,
When thou didst yield thy innocent breath
In birdlike heavings unto death,
Night came, and Nature had not thee;
I said, "We are mates in misery."
The morrow dawned with needless glow;
Each snowbird chirped, each fowl must crow;
Each tramper started; but the feet
Of the most beautiful and sweet
Of human youth had left the hill
And garden,--they were bound and still.
There's nor a sparrow or a wren,
There's not a blade of autumn grain,
Which the four seasons do not tend
And tides of life and increase lend;
And every chick of every bird,
And weed and rock-moss is preferred.
O ostrich-like forgetfulnesr!
O loss of larger in the lessl
Was there no star that could be sent,
No watcher in the firmament,
No angel from the countless host
That loiters round the crystal coast,
Could stoop to heal that only child,
Nature's sweet marvel undefiled,
And keep the blossom of the earth,
Which all her harvests were nor worth?
Not mine,--I never called thee mine,
Bur Nature's heir,--if I repine,
And seeing rashly torn and moved
Nor what I made, but what I loved,
Grow early old with grief that thou
Must to the wastes of Nature go,--
'Tis because a general hope
Was quenched, and all must doubt and grope.
For flattering planets seemed to say
This child should ills of ages stay,
By wondrous tongue, and guided pen,
Bring the flown Muses back to men.
Perchance not he but Nature ailed,
The world and nor the infant failed.
It was not ripe yet to sustain
A genius of so fine a strain,
Who gazed upon the sun and moon
As if he came unto his own,
And, pregnant with his grander thought,
Brought the old order into doubt.
His beauty once their beauty tried;
They could not feed him, and he died,
And wandered backward as in scorn,
To wait an aeon to be born.
Ill day which made this beauty waste,
Plight broken, this high face defaced!
Some went and came about the dead;
And some in books of solace read;
Same to their friends the tidings say;
Some went to write, some went to pray;
One tarried here, there hurried one;
But their heart abode with none.
Covetous death bereaved us all,
To aggrandize one funeral.
The eager fate which carried thee
Took the largest part of me:
For this Iosing is true dying;
This is lordly man's down-lying,
This his slow but sum reclining,
Star by star his world resigning.

O child of paradise,
Boy who made dear his father's home,
In whose deep eyes
Men read the welfare of the times to come,
I am too much bereft.
The world dishonored thou hast left.
O truth's and nature's costly lid
O trusted broken prophecy!
O richest fortunes sourly crossed!
Born for the future, to the future lost!

The deep Heart answered, "Weepest thou?
Worthier cause for passion wild
If I had not taken the child.
And deemest thou as those who pore,
With aged eyes, short way before,--
Think'st Beauty vanished from the coast
Of matter, and thy darling lost?
Taught he not thee--the man of eld,
Whose eyes within his eyes beheld
Heaven's numerous hierarchy span
The mystic gulf from God to man?
To be alone wilt thou begin
When worlds of lovers hem thee in?
Tomorrow, when the masks shall fall
That dizen Nature's carnival,
The pure shall see by their own will,
Which oveflowing. Love shall fill,
T is not within the force of fate
The fate-conjoined to separate.
But thou, my votary, weepest thou?
I gave thee sight--where is it now?
I taught thy heart beyond the reach
Of ritual, bible, or of speech;
Wrote in thy mind's transparent table,
As far as the incommunicable;
Taught thee each private sign to raise
Lit by the supersolar blaze.
Past utterance, and past belief,
And part the blasphemy of grief
The mysteries of Nature's heart;
And though no Muse can these impart,
Throb thine with Nature's throbbing breast
And all is clear from east to west.

"I came to thee as to a friend;
Dearest, to thee I did not send
Tutors, but a joyful eye,
Innocence that matched the sky,
Lovely locks, a form of wonder,
Laughter rich as woodland thunder,
That thou might'st entertain apart
The richest flowering of all art:
And, as the great all-loving Day
Through smallest chambers takes its way,
That thou might'st break thy daily bread
With prophet, savior and head;
That thou might'st cherish for thine own
The riches of sweet Mary's Son,
Boy-Rabbi, Israel's paragon.
And thoughtest thou such guest
Would in thy hall take up his rest?
Would rushing life forget her laws,
Fare's glowing revolution pause?
High omens ask diviner guess;
Not to be conned to tediousness
And know my higher gifts unbind
The zone that girds the incarnate mind.
When the scanty shores are full
With Thought's perilous, whirling pool;
When frail Nature can no more,
Then the Spirit strikes the hour:
My servant Death, with solving rite,
Pours finite into infinite.
Wilt thou freeze love's tidal flow,
Whose streams through Nature circling go?
Nail the wild star to its track
On the half-climbed zodiac?
Light is light which radiates,
Blood is blood which circulates,
Life is life which generates,
And many-seeming life is one,--
Wilt thou transfix and make it none?
Its onward force too starkly pent
In figure, bone, and lineamenti
Wilt thou, uncalled, interrogate,
Talker! the unreplying Fate?
Nor see the genius of the whole
Ascendant in the private soul,
Beckon it when to go and came,
Self-announced its hour of doom?
Fair the soul's recess and shrine,
Magic-built to last a season;
Masterpiece of love benign,
Fairer that expansive reason
Whose omen 't is, and sign.
Wilt thou not ope thy heart to know
What rainbows teach, and sunsets show?
Verdict which accumulates
From lengthening scroll of human fates,
Voice of earth to earth returned,
Prayers of saints that inly burned,--
Saying, What is excellent,
As God lives, is permanent;
Hearts are dust, hearts' loves remain;
Heart's love will meet thee again.
Revere the Maker--fetch thine eye
Up to his style, and manners of the sky.
Not of adamant and gold
Built he heaven stark and cold;
No, but a nest of bending reeds,
Flowering grass and scented weeds;
Or like a traveller's fleeing tent,
Or bow above the tempest beet;
Built of tears and sacred ffames,
And virtue reaching to its aims;
Built of furtherance and pursuing,
Not of spent deeds, but of doing.
Silent rushes the swift Lord
Through ruined systems still restored,
Broadsowing, bleak and void to bless,
Plants with worlds the wilderness;
Waters with tears of ancient sorrow
Apples of Eden ripe to-merrow.
House and tenant go to ground,
Lost in God, in Godhead found."