Sunday, October 31, 2010

Where does Art stop being good technique?

    This is a question that has been plaguing me for some time, and will have HUGE meaning if anyone could answer it.  I have been listening to a lecture series on early American philosophy.  One of the major topics being the migration of the enlightenment from Europe into American Universities.   I big topic in the enlightenment was how do humans think, where do ideas come from?  Do our ideas come from within ourselves and therefore we cannot actually know a material world, just a perception of our own ideas?  Or do we perceive exactly the material world through our senses?  If the later where do we perceive art? Would we not only perceive oil on canvas?  In music this can be seen as technique and as the music.  We have all heard a musical performance is more important than a technical one, but we have all heard, more often then not, technique destroy musical attempt.  So, where is the line between technique and music?

These are the first ten definitions from, I did not include the last few because they along some others are irrelevant.


1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
2. the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures, or drawings: a museum of art; an art collection.
3. a field, genre, or category of art: Dance is an art.
4. the fine arts collectively, often excluding architecture: art and architecture.
5. any field using the skills or techniques of art: advertising art; industrial art.
6. (in printed matter) illustrative or decorative material: Is there any art with the copy for this story?
7. the principles or methods governing any craft or branch of learning: the art of baking; the art of selling.
8. the craft or trade using these principles or methods.
9. skill in conducting any human activity: a master at the art of conversation.
10. a branch of learning or university study, esp. one of the fine arts or the humanities, as music, philosophy, or literature.
    The first definition is exactly what I want to know, according to aesthetic principles of what is beautiful.  Does this mean we can quantify in technical terms, What is Music? Or does this mean, if everything is in time, in tune, with a good sound, and some phrasing the performance is elevated to Art?  These things are aesthetic principles in music, does the technique define the Art? Or is there something more?  Look at the seventh and eighth definitions, they are both about craft(technique).
    The last few days I have the opportunity to discuss this with Marc Williams and Will Timmons.  They both added a third person that could perceive and react to the music.  Now, this could be the musician involved with the music also, because of course they are hearing the music.  Going along with the enlightenment thinking this makes sense.   The perception of beauty taking place where perceptions are processed, within the self.  Now does this mean we should just stop searching for this answer?  If beauty is processed within an individual how can we possibly quantify artful playing?
    I don't think so.  If we can figure out what is art, we can achieve it more often.  This quest is worthwhile.  In giving specific examples and playing passages we can discern more of musical performance.  But this usually manifests itself with taking about direction, phrasing, and inflection.  We could does this for the entire repertoire, the time implications are insane, and if we did we could simply program a robot to play for us.  I think the best thing is experience a musical performance so individuals can apply the experience to other music.  So listen and perform as much as you can, hopefully technique does not get in the way and every performance can be closer to musical.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Habits of Musicianship

   Will Timmons just shared this link with me. The Habits of Musicianship.  This is a free book and available for download.  The intro is nicely written and professes to have music at the forefront of the conversation.  The book is just a collection of melodies and does not waste time with the usually introductory stuff.  They just jump right in.  I like the idea of teaching by using simple melodies or possibly simple tunes! Thanks Doc, Brad Edwards, Simply Singing.  Simply Singing is much more involved and is great for more advanced students.
   As with any text, I am guessing the approach of the teacher is much more important.  I will be using both of these when I return to Denver.  I am starting a few brass players and I will be continuing the education of a few more.  Hopefully they like these books and hopefully they will actually get them!  After I use them for a few months I will give an actual review, as for now I thought I would share them with all you would be teachers out there.

What is it with brass players?

     L.A. is awesome.  I have been having a pretty chill time just practicing in this wonderful apartment and listening to Marc's extensive music collection.  Right now, I am listening to Jochum conduct Bruckner 9 with Dresden.  Last night Marc pulled out a DVD of Bernstein conducting Fidelio and said I had to watch it because the performance was "blog worthy."  Well, it was 2 am and the bartender was mixing really stiff rum and cokes.  Needless to say I did not really catch the performance but I thought I would blog about it anyway.
      Last night Marc grilled chicken and vegetables at the amazing patio area here, complete with living room sitting, fire place, and pool.  Over the course of the meal we were trading stories and Marc interrupts me, "What is it with brass players and consistently talking about how loud they can play?"  You see Marc is a conductor and automatically drew the conclusion loud does not equal musical. 
     I politely explained that we brass players talk about loud playing because its a macho thing.  I remember several times being egged-on by Joel Baroody and Zek Wardlaw, and well everyone I have ever played with, by using some pretty derogatory phrases usually evolving female genitalia.  However, in my mind I was attempting to be musical, leading the phrase and entering at a balanced level, etc.  Don't get me wrong I have had my moments of immature grotesque bass trombone playing but those are fewer and farther apart as I get older.
     One of the huge points Marc brought up was the incredible volume the New York Phil is capable of producing.  Having studied with Warren Deck this summer I almost immediately took offense. Warren is one of the most musical people I know and he happens to be a great and very loud playing tubist. But, he always had the music in mind.  I spent the better part of the hour explaining that as brass players we just talked about music in that way, largely because, we are written for that way.  Think about all of the orchestra passages that we play, most are large moments in the piece.  And if they are prepared correctly and using a little bit of taste I think we can play pretty freakin' loud.
      Now here is the kicker, Marc has been showing lots of music, most of it being opera.  He really enjoys European orchestras and we have listened extensively to Berlin, Vienna, and the Concertgebouw.  Well most of the time, all of the passages we listened too for their incredible phrasing, interpretation, or string playing, and most of the time they included some very loud very bright brass playing.  One recording we listened to, I thought the balance was a little off and wanted more 2nd horn, well Marc agreed. 
       This made me think about advice one of my teachers gave me once.  Conductors don't mind loud playing, they mind bad playing.  Usually if the playing is relaxed, in tune, and musical a conductor either wont care or simply wont even notice.  What conductors do not want is out of tune forced sounds and they quickly give the trombones the hand.  I have found that the issue is not how loud we were playing but how bad.  But the quickest fix, play a little softer.  I guess we as brass players give ourselves a bad name because we talk about playing loud and others think its not musical to talk about music that way.  Well I say grow a pair!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Travel: Part 1

    Well folks I am taking a week off of teaching to win a job in beautiful San Diego.  Sadly, you will not be reading my musings on teaching this week  Instead the 160Project will serve as a diary of sorts, helping take in the sights of LA and San Diego while I finish preparing for the audition.
    This morning was a little hectic.  When I started packing and reached into my underwear drawer I found only three pairs!  Oh no, a week in southern California with only three pairs of laundry.  Luckily I had enough quarters and barely enough time to do my whites before I left.  Antonio and Nicky Ortiz graciously gave me a ride to the airport.
    On the plane I started to re-read Bill Ayers' Fugitive Days and listen to some music.  First up Neemi Jarvi conducting Copland's Third Symphony with Detroit.  Right when the joyous cacophony explodes in the fourth movement, just before the tender woodwind moment, Mr. Ayers' relived the end of World War II with the bombings of Tokyo, Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.  Instantly I gasped at the exceptional line up of historical events and how Copland may have reflected these bombings in his writing.  Interestingly, Copland's Third Symphony was the first American piece performed in Prague after the war.  Lenard Bernstein took the New York Philharmonic shortly after the fighting stopped.
    Next I listened to Abbado conduct Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony with Chicago.   At this point I started to realize how no one around me could hear what I was hearing.  Often on flights I have this eccentric feeling, the entire time on flights you are very close to total strangers and listening to such enlightened music while no one else is experiencing it is truly bizarre.  I barely, had time to listen to Solti conduct the first movement Mahler's Third Symphony before the plane landed.  I think Mahler may have been listening to Tchaikovsky when he wrote the third, there are some very similar motifs.
    I am now safe and sound at my friends apartment in Downtown LA.  The view is amazing and I a eager to have a leisurely week over looking downtown and USC westcoast.  There is a wonderful music selection, however I think I will be exposed to more opera than normal.  And the reading material is unmatched by normal standards, I have a selection of classics, writings on art, music, cooking, and wine.  I think I will have a great day.  The sun just set beyond Malibu and into the ocean.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mock Audition with a twist.

    One of the biggest struggles I have had preparing for the upcoming San Diego audition is the lack of colleagues and teachers to play for.  Well the teacher aspect was easy fixable, I had a lesson with Warren Deck and I have been playing for my trusty Zoom H4.  Also to continue with the panning for gold theme, I have several teachers within.  Now the biggest obstacles was an actual mock audition, well this afternoon I faced a worst nightmare an audience of high schoolers!
     I did not intend for this to be as helpful as I hope it will be.  Although I was playing for the marching band I spent the last month teaching I had no idea where the band room was.  I also had to drive a half hour to get there. And I had no idea what the warm-up situation was going to be like.  These aspects already made this mock audition more similar to a real audition than all of my past mock auditions. 
    Now there were some aspect of playing for an entire band of good natured youth that I would like to see in a real audition.  Upon opening the door to the band room I was granted by a standing ovation.  Think about an audition committee doing this for every applicant, think about how comfortable it would make a performer.  When I hit the stage in San Diego, I will imagine seeing all of my students smiling and clapping for me.  Now the other aspect my teachers told me to incorporate already.  Before I played each excerpt I gave a brief explanation as to what the piece was and the character of the piece.  Now this should happen mentally between every excerpt, but the actual act of verbalizing in a comfortable environment was for more comforting than trying to tune out the nervous demons.  Also after each and ever excerpt there was thunderous applause.  How comforting, they liked my playing and encouraged me to keep going.
    I had a simple question of my students while I played. I asked them to listen for all the things I talked to them about, rhythm, intonation, phrasing, diction, etc.  All I really wanted was to know if what I was playing sounded good, and well, anyone can do that, right?  For the most part they really enjoyed my playing and made some observations about their own playing.  After I played William Tell, one of my freshman proclaimed, "Wow your slide spotted in every position just like you tell us to do." Well, duh.
     The biggest piece of advice I got today was a reminder of something Tim Northcut once told and a continuing conversation I am having with my good friend Will Timmons.  After I played fountains and took out all the stops, one student remarked, that might be a bit brassy.  So the advice is to bring the opposite to the excerpt, to bring aspects of playing soft into loud excerpt, slowness into fast excerpt etc. So for the next week I will be practicing opposites to make my playing sound controlled.
     So this mock addition came with all the frustration of warming up in a room with other people, finding the location, having no idea how long the warm up would actually be, and performing in a foreign room.  But on the other day it came with all the support that performing should come with and I believe the support the committee would like to convey.  After all the committee really wants someone to play well.

Now for giggles look at what the dictionary say about mock.

mock  [mok]

–verb (used with object)
1. to attack or treat with ridicule, contempt, or derision.
2. to ridicule by mimicry of action or speech; mimic derisively.
3. to mimic, imitate, or counterfeit.
4. to challenge; defy: His actions mock convention.
5. to deceive, delude, or disappoint.
–verb (used without object)
6. to use ridicule or derision; scoff; jeer (often fol. by at ).
7. a contemptuous or derisive imitative action or speech; mockery or derision.
8. something mocked or derided; an object of derision.
9. an imitation; counterfeit; fake.
10. Shipbuilding .

a. a hard pattern representing the surface of a plate with a warped form, upon which the plate is beaten to shape after furnacing.
b. bed ( def. 23 ) .
11. feigned; not real; sham: a mock battle.

12. mock up, to build a mock-up of.
I personally like the first nine definitions, I think the whole idea of an audition should be mocked.  I am going to take George Curran's advice and have some fun.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


       I am having a little trouble staying focused right now. I have done very little in the last two days.  This is very bad because I have an audition in one week.  I am thinking about how I motivated myself in the past.  Mostly I just stayed very busy and had little down time.  The issue now is having lots of time to relax and I feel no urgency to practice.
      Yesterday I had the chance to talk to two friends that really helped out.  Sarah Paradis called and talked for awhile.  She is also in the middle of auditioning for a few jobs, this time she had far less time than she felt comfortable with in order to prepare.  In the conversation I mentioned the early Aspen tapes are due next Tuesday. Well she thinks I should make a tape and send it, not to get into Aspen, but to help prep for San Diego.  Great idea Sarah, I will start after dinner.
       The other friend I just texted.  George Curran of the Atlanta Symphony performed Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin last night.  In his words, "We killed the slut for sure!" Unfortunately, I am battling this feeling as I prepare this excerpt for next week.  His advice on auditioning was, "Have fun and be pissed at the committee."  Well I am already doing that, I love my trombone and always have fun.  My audition is also the day after Halloween, bummer.  His last piece of advice,"If you win, then everyday can be Halloween." 

Well folks, looks like I am winning an audition in 8 days.

What ways do you motivate yourself with?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What music means to me.

      The last 48 hours have been a crazy reminder about what music meant and means to me, as well as everything I share with other people I have made music with.  I have been thinking about this post for awhile; I was simply going to talk about the little moments that allow us to touch the ethereal either through music or in this case through Kate Rojak's Great American Chocolate Cake.  Then I saw the last performance of the Heritage High School marching band after they did not advance at the Colorado State Marching Festival and was reminded why I teach and why I started playing in ensembles in the first place.  Unfortunately, I received word this morning that a friend of mine, Andrew Howell died unexpectedly last night.
       Andrew and I had the chance to make some music while I was in Cincinnati, we played a great deal in Tim Northcut's brass choir and a few times in a brass quintet.  Andrew was truly a gifted horn player, I always hate when very young people are incredible at what they do.  Andrew was also a great person, very charming and he always had a smile on his face.  I was very lucky to know Andrew Howell and even more lucky to to have performed with him.
        The performance of music is truly a mystical experience. Malcolm Williamson asked Chris Dudley about the repeated production of centuries old music this summer at Aspen and I think Chris' answer was a great explanation of the phenomena that is music.  Chris with his new age thinking pointed out, in the performance hall a very unique energy exists.  Everyone in an ensemble wants for the person sitting next to them to be the very best; while this positive energy is being passed around on stage the music is communicating this energy to the audience.  Well everyone in the audience wants a great performance and in turn sends great vibes back to the performers, which is why playing for a sold-out crowd is amazing.  A unique and life changing bond can be made with every performance.  Most of the time, however, the energy is a little weaker than life changing.  But I can assure you performing with someone is knowing them in a unique and difficult to explain way.
        Yesterday was also a very emotional moment for my students and one that made me remember why a started playing the trombone.  The HHS marching eagles are a great bunch of kids and yesterday was their last performance of the 2010 season. I got the impression the seniors will miss the activity very much.  For their sake I hope the continue to participate in music because it only gets more addicting.  But in high school, band was for me less about making music and more about being a part of a really great organization.  I have a lot of really strong memories from that point in my life.  I would probably be a band director right now if music itself had not made such a great impression on me.
        While I was at USC, I sought about performance of every genre simply to listen and find out what it was about.  The change happened my sophomore year as a gamecock.  I heard three performance by some expected and unexpected people that greatly changed my perspective of music.  The first was a performance of Etoile Des Profounduers by Brandt Attema at the Eastern Trombone Workshop.  I know other people at the conference remember the performance by Jim Markey more, but Brandt's rich sound was the first time I realized but people meant by a chocolate sound.  The second was a performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 by the Rotterdam Philharmonic which I heard in Atlanta.  Vladimir Feltsman was the pianist and the Rotterdam Philharmonic changed my goals as an ensemble player.  Feltsman was so captivating a performer and I was so focused on him, that when the orchestra started to play, I was struck by how amazing Feltsman must be to get the piano to sound like violins, clarinets, and horns.  I was transported to another world to say the least.  The third and most profound concert I was not happy about attending. 
          I failed to do my concert reviews for group voice class until the last performance of the semester, 17th century french baroque music.  Exciting, two viol da gamba's harpsichord and soprano.  Well the recital hall was full, mostly of blue hairs from the nursing home, two curious faculty members that were rarely at concerts and two very young student musicians sitting on the last row, Brett Hoffecker and myself.  I was set to take notes and I quickly wrote down the appearance of the hall before the concert.  When the concert was over I looked down and I did not write a single letter; I looked at my friend Brett who simply and we sat there until most of the hall cleared out.  When we left, the head of logistics and the head of theory for the school of music, both harpsichordist, had tears in their eyes.  The performance was a glimpse into the divine even for two experienced musicians who no doubt spent a life time seeking such a concert.  I took a poster and framed it.  Hopefully one day I will be apart of a performance of that caliber.
        Since that concert in 2006 I have been to a few that I would consider close and a few have even transported me other places, Cincinnati's performance of Shosti 8 and the Emerson Quartet's performance of Shosti's string quartet No. 8.  Other genre's of art have also touched me very deeply, recordings of music (Shosti piano concerto No. 2, Copland No. 3), movies (Milk) and food (Hamburgers).  I was very late to Rojak's bass bone dinner this summer, but I got to partake in the best course of the night, dessert.  Kate had made a wonderful cake, a Great American Chocolate Cake.  I had heard chefs talk about bites of food that were life changing, but as a poor musician I thought those bites were far in the future. One bite and I experienced something like what happened to the villain at the end of Ratatouille. Kate's Cake was, simply put, ridiculous.
          For all you young people out there I would be careful what to take an interest in.  Most of what we do can be highly addictive and you might end being a starving trombonist in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  Whatever your relationship with music please continue to participate and be supportive of other musicians.  Cherish as much life as you can and live life with a smile.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Chicken or the Egg

      After teaching today I started pondering the cosmic question, Which came first the chicken or the egg?  In this case I was reconsidering the order in which I teach a piece of music.  As a brass player trained as a music educator this is a very interesting question.  I also have a striking comparison as I work with one band that knows their music very well and another that is just sight reading.
      When I student taught the order was written out for me.  I was to teach, rhythm, style, pitches, intonation, dynamics and then phrasing.  This already is a curious opinion from Dave Allison, my cooperating teacher during student teaching.  This is a rare order because he grouped style and note length with rhythm, most educators would address note length at a more polishing stage.  At the time this seemed logical, mostly because this is a great way to stay sane.  Everything goes into a place and stays there, and there is a progression to teaching and to learning. 
     On the other hand my first major trombone teacher, Dr. Brad Edwards, was concerned first and for most with sound production.  I still remember hours of long tones in pursuit of a sound that would please Doc.  This happened rather quickly, but the aspects of rhythm and intonation are still coming along very slowly.  To produce a good sound Doc, and every other teacher I have had talked at length out breath and air control.  Most of them agreed with using long tones in the pursuit of a good sound.  In Cincinnati, however, a good sound was an efficient sound.  Tim Anderson and Pete Norton jumped right into fast articulation, lip slurs, and high register in order to produce an efficient sound.  Again the logic here was produce a good sound and fit that into the music.
     For most of my education as a brass player, air was at the forefront of the conversation.  Most people agreed and taught that the shape of the air creates note shape and air should be one contentious stream.  This is great, when the air functions this way a great sound is produced and aspect of phrasing start to show up.  However, once a good sound was produced the next step was to continue on to rhythm and notes; phrasing was not actually addressed for sometime.
     If music is the master, as most modern pedagogues claim, and if phrasing is music, why not start with it?  Warren Deck professes air reflects the musical idea, which I would believe all of my teachers would agree with.  So why not teach the airstream and the phrase before an instrument is ever addressed?  I gave this a whirl today at Bear Creek High in Denver, CO.  The result was good sounds and the start of music. Now I did have to excuse some wrong rhythms and some wrong pitches, but the students air was functioning properly.  I think this is what educators mean when they say being musical is more important than getting all the right notes, they just missed the air step.  Chris Dudley teaches phrasing by using one note and having the student reflect the phrase without having to change pitches, maybe this is a great second step.
     Now my order of teaching is and should be, great sound, phrasing, rhythm, pitches, then intonation.  I guess some of Dave Allison's logic is shows up here, phrasing is part of a great sound.  When I taught the other way or worked with bands taught the other way, once the polishing phase starts, air control is already ingrained and very hard to change.  And without a good sound, distinguishing pitch is difficult and intonation is pretty much thrown out the window.  A great sound and musicality should dictate technique and the progression of teaching.

Italian Cooking

       One of the best teaching tools are analogies.  Analogies help relate foreign material to something familiar.  In music we use this a lot, I believe, because the ear is highly underdeveloped.  And this is due mostly to a lack of instruction dedicated to music.  If music and the other arts where taught with the rigor that is dedicated to reading or mathematics, we would have more intellectual understanding of music and the arts.  But this is another topic for another time.  I wanted to share with you two analogies I used in yesterdays rehearsal.
        I was thinking about bricks of sound and how to relate this concept to an ensemble setting.  Now using just one brick seemed a little small for 20 marching band brass players playing full volume.  The section is starting to get a feel for articulation and basic concepts of air and balance.  They still lack follow through and the ability to reliably finish a phrase as a section.  What they produce "looks" something like the roman coliseum.

       In short their note length was not the same and effected their balance on huge fortissimo chords.  Now I have covered a great deal how to make this happen and I am sure they can hear it.  My students are just too lazy to care.  I told them to play how the coliseum looked in Gladiator.  Now I am not sure if they will actually do this, but now I have a short way of reminding them about balance and note length.

        The second analogy came from a philosophy course I found in the local library.  The speaker used the phrase, "Too many chefs in the kitchen and one will start throwing punches."  He was referring to the historical and philosophical war early American thinkers were fighting for the "American Mind."  I started think about applying this to an ensemble setting.
        From my view on the tower, I had a perspective bass trombonist rarely experience.  Thinking like a director I assumed the role of the chef and my students the role of ingredients.  I have one trombone player who is like strong garlic, to much of him and he ruins the soup!  But I also have some trumpets that are like week old cabbage...limp. It is easy to view the conductor as the chef simply adding what he wants when he wants it.   If I, as a performer, prescribe to this, my job is to be the freshest ingredient waiting to add some flavor.  This is why older orchestral musicians complain they have no artistic input.
        What if every player acts like a chef?  In an ideal world you would end up with some like the Philadelphia or Cleveland Orchestras.  In both ensembles very little section work takes place and they view themselves as adding to the overall ensemble.  Their orchestras are the sum of their parts.
        In large ensemble playing the conductor rarely has enough time to spend on dictating every single passage.  At CCM I would hear Mr. Winther say I don't care if you are with me as long as you are with your section.  Mr. Gibson was also a fan of yelling GO at the brass section in energy building moments. In these moments he just wanted to go with us instead of pulling us along.  So what if every section acts like a supporting chef in a kitchen?  The oboe or concert master cast as a sue chef, maybe the horn section is the sauce chef, of course the low brass works the grill.  Of course the head chef makes the recipe and will hold a meal if it is not up to snuff, but one night the steak and potatoes might be just a little more spicy.  Or the cheesecake might have a little more fruit topping.
       To paraphrase Warren Deck again, conductors and colleagues want you to take ownership.  Show some sign of musicality.  If you are persistent enough then other people in the orchestra will follow.  It's alright but be a chef as long as you know your role, don't add to much garlic or you will end up like....

 unless of course you play the bass trombone.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Marching Band, Lessons, and Dr. Suess

         I spent most of yesterday at a high school marching band competition.  I actually had a little bit of fun and made a little money.  The band I work with managed to place third during the mornings preliminary round.  This was a huge feat because Heritage High School is currently the 13th seed for the 4A state marching competition.  My students were overjoyed, in previous years they had problems simply making finals.  For me, however, reality hit me in the face.  With a usual 8th or 9th ranking before the finals moving up a few places is easy, but a ranking at 3rd with only 2 points separating 2nd place from 9th I knew how hard holding on to 3rd place would be.
         The first pit fall was a 9 pm performance time.  Most of the brass members are freshman and sophomores, many spent the afternoon discussing their disgustingly early bedtimes.  Also yesterday in Denver the high was just over 70 and the sun was raging.  With no humidity in the air as soon as the sun went away so did the heat, the low was just under 40.  Great, the band would be dealing with low energy and intonation problems.  Well long story short we ended up 6th after the finals show, which is still the highest ranking they received all year.  Congrats guys.
       Tim Anderson at CCM is fonding of saying, "you are only as good as the last time you picked up your instrument."  Now I think this is great in looking forward and keeps the performer focused.  I know my band will remember the night performance and the feeling of defeat for awhile, however I would prefer they remember the afternoon performance more.  The afternoon show had more energy, better balance, and more confidence.  I believe if they remember that show and how the managed to performer, then in the future they can draw on that experience to help them push through.  If they dwell on the night performance moral will suffer.  Tim Northcut at CCM would simply say go get a beer and get it out of your system, maybe soda would be more appropriate in this case.

     Now the entertaining part of yesterday.
       During other bands performances I started thinking about marching band as a art form.  High school marching band is a great teaching tool, marking time really does help young musicians count.  Marching band is even a great after school activity and makes kids connect with their school pride.  Marching band is also part of the community and people notice the strength of the program.  On a side note, the football and baseball teams from the high school I teach at showed up to support the band at their last competition. All this considered I think the entire activity takes itself to seriously.  Marching band is entertainment!  Now execution still has to be quality but I think entertaining shows should be more popular.
        Two bands to consider. One band played the witches sabbath from the Symphony Fantasique along with some other classical pieces.  The show lacked crowed appeal, the music was way more challenging than the band could handle and there simply weren't any huge moments that got the crowed screaming.  The other band played an "imagination" show comprised of songs from Willy Wonka.  No one in the band was alive when the movie was filmed and I am sure a lot of them had no idea of what the music was like before they started learning the show.  Now the band was alright, but I stopped listening as an educated musician and started having a lot of fun.  Just like Dr. Suess, the show had stuff for the kids but made sure the adults in the audience could still enjoy listening.
      Jokingly, I started coming up with hilarious shows to poke fun at the genre.  Classic Rock of the Pop Generation, Bowling for Soup, Green Day, and Blink 182? The slightly older band director attempting creating a Meatloaf show, I would do anything for love, Paradise by the dashboard light, Wasted Youth?  The best one we came up with would be tricky to pull off without getting fired.  Animated Symphony, the Simpson's theme, Redneck Mountain Town for the South Park Movie, (a tag leading into the third song, Kyles Mom is a B!@#!@3) finishing with the Family Guy theme.  What other shows would be entertaining to actually listen too when performed by high school groups?

I am still having a great time in Colorado.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Highlander and Articulation


          When I sat down at my computer this morning just after breakfast I received a call to go teach an extra rehearsal at Heritage High School.  I did not mind, in fact, I thought the situation was hilarious because I was starting a blog post about HHS and an email to the director Kevin Keena.   The topic of the blog is about articulation and note length with energized air, a topic I am covering with the band and in my own playing.  This summer at Aspen, Deck would describe starting and stopping notes as violent.
           I have been re-watching the Highlander series and thinking about this topic.  I do not believe violence to be un-elegant.  If you watch the Highlander every show is filled with sword fighting, very elegant and beautiful sword fighting.  Of course sword fighting is violent, but Deck was referring to the starting and stopping of notes.  This is simple physics, a body (wind) at rest takes more energy to move.

Think about how much energy it takes to move these swords fast enough to be deadly and to keep them from being deadly.

          This is a topic that I have had other teachers present as well.  The first thing I did for Pete Norton at CCM was to air attack low notes as loud as I could.  This taught me the right air speed for each note and was a great reminder to keep the air behind each attack.  With out energized air there is no good attack.  Then by simply adding a little bit of tongue the attack is clean and clear.
          On a trip to Holland, Brandt Attema had me air attack a series of eighth notes in an effort to keep them buoyant.  This is a great way to lighten up articulation.  Again with energized air being behind each note the tongue simply becomes a defining tool.  The tongue works less and the air works more.
        Describing this as violent is all Warren Deck.  I think this could be a little dangerous and I stayed away from it for a long time.  This can lead people to only air attacking and not keeping a steady air stream.  In my mind giving a little extra push with the abs can really make an articulation sparkle, but obviously this cannot be used on notes that are moving to fast.  A steady air stream is much more important.  Remember this is about getting a clean and clear sound, not about getting a violent sound.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ultimate Deck

       Today was a great day, I had an awesome lesson with Warren Deck and I played a very intense game of 4 on 4 ultimate at 5,300 feet in Washington Park.  The lesson was very involved and expanded on concepts from this past summer.  But this article is going to be about ensemble/section playing instead.
       Ultimate in Denver is rather involved.  I was playing just a pick-up game with young people from all over Denver.  Everyone had cleats, two shirts of different colors, and most played on at least one league team.  I must say it is a step up from pick-up on the Horseshoe in Columbia or on the football field in Cincinnati.  These guys all play with strategy and run consistently.  Even though these guys only played with each other once a week, some only once a month, they knew they could count on their teammates to keep their mark and cut when they needed to.  Much like in section playing, the biggest thing is being able to count on the guy next to you.
      Now the ultimate players had a great mentality, even if someone dropped the disc or over threw a teammate, the others picked up the slack or ran back to play defense as fast as possible.  After the point, win or lose, everyone was supportive.  I have played in various orchestral sections and some were like these guys in Denver and some unfortunately were slightly more hostile.  Now the level of musicianship was similar but playing in a hostile section is much more difficult for everyone involved.  Be like a the friendly pick-up ultimate player.  Warren Deck gave a great speech about this at the beginning of his class this summer.  The talk was very short, he simply asked that we worked hard and together.  He also asked that we rehearsed in sectionals until everyone felt comfortable.  Luckily at Aspen this summer there was a great trombone section and we put a lot of work into Deck's class.
       Ultimate has a basic strategy called the stack.  Everyone has a place and an order to run for the disc.  If two people run for the disc at the same time the field gets clogged and leads to a lot of running around.  Over 5,000ft that is a lot of wasted energy.  The first week at Aspen I played Nielsen's Fourth Symphony with Johnny Elizondo, David Weston, and Dr. Justin Benavidez.  The basic strategy was easy, the theme plays several times and is mostly in octaves.  However we still spent several rehearsal talk about the details.
        There is a "dog fight" section in the first movement (rehearsal 17) and this created some "clogging" in our section.  The section is difficult to play individually and very demanding as a low brass section.  We had to figure out whose turn it was to cut and how far.  I remember discussing this and coming up with some pretty cool ideas for phrasing. The tuba and bass are in 8va (mostly) and 1 and 2 are in 8va (mostly) and the "fight" is between both sets of instruments.  Every beat seems to be and trade off on who can play louder.  But at Rehearsal 18 triplets start and are passed off between both sets almost making one line instead of two.
        This was my first introduction to Deck's famous eye brows.  He used his eye brows to convey musical direction and convince us to move more air.  Ok, he might not have been aware of his eye brows, but frankly that was the most convincing part of his teaching.  He managed to get the four of us to have the same idea of where to go.  He helped unclog our thinking and musical output.  And we were playing way louder.  We were working like a section instead of just four guys on a pick-up game of Nielsen.  All four of us were playing the same length notes, and same style accents, but most importantly had the same idea of the phrase.  A short discussion on strategy can save a lot of wasted energy.  But everyone has to be involved and on the same page.
       My students right now in marching band hear me harp on his all day.  All 20 brass players need to have the same idea of the phrase and go to the same place or their show is not effective.  After their competition on Monday when the comments were being read, more than one student gave me knowing looks when statements about phrasing were being read.  So please be like the ultimate players and hustle back to play defense.

Ramble Ramble Ramble.

Sifting For Gold (Knowledge)

        I decided to take time off of my education to find out what I actually have.  After six years of intense and diverse musical training I have lots of knowledge and I am beginning to get a handle on all of these concepts.  However, I feel a little bit like William Antrim after the Civil War.  William Antrim was Billy the Kid's step-father and a gold/silver miner in the old west.  For him, a young man in the west, he had lots of potential.  His task was easy, go to where the fortune is and start digging. Just like a panner, I have lots of dirt (knowledge) to sift through before I can find the real gems.  Fortunately for me, unlike Bill Antrim, I know there is knowledge to be had.  I am not involved in a guessing game of where the best mines are; I found the best minds and now I need to sift through six years of work to find the ease.  I once told Brad Edwards I showed up to every lesson waiting for the epiphany to happen. He just gave me that goofy smile and said it was more hard work than anything.  He preferred the image of a sculpture using a chisel to carve granite into art.
       Well I worked at carving that granite and now I have a huge pile of dust and I want to know what I have.  My pile of knowledge includes input from lots of teachers, musicians, authors, and musical experiences.  The body of this knowledge is from Dr. Brad Edwards, Pete Norton, and Tim Anderson.  There are sprinkles from many people including James Box, John Rojak, Matt Guilford, Warren Deck, and Per Brevig.  It also includes three music festivals, two universities, seven years of marching band, a world tour, and some amazing concerts.  It would be impossible to name everything in the pile that makes up, not just my musical eduction, but me as a person. I have spent time in places and with people that were overflowing with music and places were I was fighting to find any music happening at all.  But now through my teaching and audition prep I keep finding bits of gold that someone left for me.
      I am going to embark on an article series looking at a very small part of this pile.  Aspen 2010 was one of those places overflowing with music, good humor, and wonderful people.  The week started with a class from Per Brevig, my lesson with Rojak, and class with Warren Deck.  More than once, Wednesday ended and I felt full of knowledge and light enough to practice the hours to make the knowledge sink in.  However, I doubt I came close to practicing enough considering the amount of instruction I was getting.  Luckily, I took notes, lots of them.  So when an epiphany hits while I am reviewing my notes and I will be more than happy to share my understanding with you.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Phrasing and beyond by telling a story

          Recently, I have been teaching marching band in the Denver area and tomorrow I am having a lesson with Warren Deck.  Phrasing is a topic I spend most of my time on in rehearsals and sadly, I am sure, Deck will be spending lots of time helping me with phrasing in my lesson.  To me, phrasing consists of most of the stuff that is spoke of in the abstract when dealing with music.  Often I hear teachers describe this as the "music;" some teachers even think this is the innate un-teachable aspects of music.  I beg to disagree.  As a music educator and one who has worked countless hours on my own musicianship, I believe, there is a way to teach these "untangle" aspects of music.
          In my own teaching and in my early music education, phrasing was simply the shape of the line, almost a mathematical rise and fall of dynamics.  However I believe this is only a very small aspect of what is meant by the term phrase. To me phrasing in bodies "music," or perhaps "music" is the over arching term.  Phrasing is more than the rise and fall of a line, it is the resistance, inflection and diction of a line.  Most teachers I know, including myself, would say listen to Frank Sinatra to figure this stuff out.  I had a teacher who suggested listening to country music but I could not stomach this for to long.  For younger musicians listening to something besides music might be helpful.
        I was thinking about storytellers and how they relate to musical phrasing.  Storytellers do everything musicians do except the technical aspects of music.  If you listen to a good storyteller you can hear inflection. Some linguists might describe inflection as the rise and fall of a sentence.  However, in speech, tone of voice, diction, emotion, and many other aspects of communication are used.  With good storytellers you can hear the build up and resolution of particular tails.  But the same thing with Frank, it's best just to listen than to read the ramblings of a teacher.

She is on a talk show but she is telling some wonderful stories.

      Listen to her voice, notably her sense of form. Think about her inflection, pauses, etc.  How can you relate this to your music?

For you visual learns out there, I had a teacher who related all of this to his morning Tai Chi.  Al Otte teaches percussion at CCM and he also teaches eurhythmics.  His class was probably the best and most complete discussion of music one could possible engage in.  Tai Chi helped him visualize all of the "music" stuff.  In Tai Chi there is a resistance of movement, these people are not just moving slowly.  You might want to try some of this to get a real feel for it.

You can really see the "music"

    Probably the best way to learn this stuff is to listen....constantly. But hopefully these two ideas will help some of you.