Sunday, February 18, 2007

Secret Weapon

One summer in the pit, rehearsing an opera that didn't feature any loud, showcase trumpet parts, we kept getting the annoying hand from the conductor that says, "you guys are way too loud!" You know the insult to one's personhood that is! Well, after over an hour of this contest, our stubborness vs. his hand, we thought we'd show him just who could hold the upper hand.

Our strategy: play everything as soft as possible, I mean everything! He seemed relieved to be able to do something with his left hand besides waving it to shush the brass. (Actually, I don't know if he knew what else to do with it.)

As uncomfortable as our new defense was at first, it began to yield amazing results, not only for the orchestra balance, but for me! The discipline of very soft playing, although with the wrong motive, was developing super-sensitivity for the chops! Having to play consistently under the radar with a tiny decibel level was just the needed therapy that most of us brass jocks resist by nature! The conductor wasn't dumb, and surely saw through our immaturity. Nevertheless, he accepted our game plan opting to have less brass rather than too much, (in his view).

The bottom line of our antics, rebellion, immaturity, pride, call it what you will, was that an important component of brass-playing was being practiced. And that is soft, pp control. Isn't this first-step to technique-building plastered on every page of the Clark Technical Studies? We so easily miss it, and therefore miss out on the benefits.

I remember Mel Broiles confiding to me years after I had studied with him that the secret weapon of great trumpet players was soft playing. This surprised me coming from him. I had always respected his power and endurance. To play softly seemed unnecessary. It just wasn't an important part of our arsenal! Fireworks and knife blades are the attention-getters, not the delicacies of soft woodwind finesse. It's all about pizazz, man, not pianissimo! (or so we thought) Not quite.

He also said that trumpet players get too late smart! Oh to have been alert to that "secret weapon" sooner! "Balance Mahler with Haydn", he would say. "Practice Mozart when you have to play Strauss." He left it to us to figure it out.

Didn't someone say, "Speak softly, and carry a big stick!?"

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