Friday, May 11, 2007

Relaxed Power

Rarely does the second trumpet player get enough well-deserved limelight! It is sad to say but true. Part of that job, as demonstrated today by Steve Pride in his two-hour masterclass at CCM, is to make those around him successful by using God-given intuition and a highly developed skill of sensitive musicianship. Mr. Pride showed why he has earned the right to hold that chair with the CSO for 27 years.

Loads of tips and ideas were shared that sent us away with a clearer understanding of those basic skills necessary for survival. A stand-out for me was his quote about "relaxed power", not tense forcing, or high decibels just for volume sake. Think about it. Relaxing seems to be the opposite of power, but not so. Every facet of playing improves with relaxation as the starting point. Intonation can settle better, tone improves and blending is a whole lot easier. A relaxed broad sound creates the carpet for others to confidently build upon.

Another was the theme of the afternoon: free flowing air, not static air, but air with direction. How often he would demonstrate the clear precise tongue stroke without the mouthpiece, over and over again. "Teu, teu, teu, teu, teu", etc. We were starting to get the picture: secure and easy tongue strokes with great repetition! Fluid air shooting over the top of the tongue. I also like his practice of a lot of very soft buzzing while driving. (But watch out for those police cams aiming at you from down the through way! Hopefully a mouthpiece in one hand will not go the way of the cell phone!)

"As loud as one has to play, that is how soft one has to play". Loud is easy, he said. The hard part is the soft control with relaxed delivery. I sensed we were already rehearsing this mentally. His mission was being nicely accomplished.

The attack must be thudless! We trumpeters don't want to be live bait for angry conductors to feast on. Our softs must be beautiful and clean without explosive fronts. Exhibit: Bartok Concerto's opening, Academic's chorale, Schumann's 2nd, Fetes, etc. Secure, muscial softs are the trademarks of great musicians, and it pays pretty well too!

Another excellent suggestion: not only make good notes, but take good notes! After all lessons and concerts performed he records key information that must not be forgotten.

Concerning the embouchure, he formed his, and then pointed to the exact point of the tip of the tongue precisely striking the teeth. "The note has to be right there" he said. It begins exactly at the tongue's edge and quickly flies past the trumpet. That little picture is worth chapters in any text book!

We got a good look at the role of a good second player today. He can make or break a first player, intentionally or not. All of those little things of intonation, blend, sensitivity, supporting sound, following the musical direction set by those around him, all serve to make the second job unique and extremely valuable. I am very fortunate to have had such a colleague as Steve for so many years.

"What do you think about while playing?" was a good question. To paraphrase, in private practice it is all about executing proper mechanics with high percentage accuracy. In rehearsals and concerts, the goal is creating the sound and message you already have firmly in mind. Spring training is over. Let the games begin! Have fun and go for the sound concepts you have in your gut and in your heart. That's why we're on the stage. We practice the basics, play the music, and the people will pay.

Thanks, Steve, for your generous sharing and great playing! We wish you many more years of success in all you do.

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