Friday, January 29, 2010

Joe Burgstaller at CCM

Joe Burgstaller
visited CCM last week, taking time away from his busy performing and teaching schedule to lead a two-hour master class. Joe is well known for his terrific work in the Canadian Brass and as a soloist and clinician. He is currently on the faculty at the Peabody Institute teaching trumpet and chamber music. His newest release is a must-hear, Mozart's Blue Dreams & Other Crossover Fantasies.

Mr. Burgstaller heard the Gregson Concerto (DMA student, David Wuchter) and Koetting Intrada (Senior, Paul Futer), and followed with a quintet coaching. Both solos were played impressively. Joe shared many neat ideas and perspectives on performance and music-making. His time with us was very motivational and thought provoking. Here are some of the highlights shared by those who played and attended.
  • Favorite concepts from his master class: honesty, and being willing to face uncomfortable performance situations. Since it's impossible to lie on stage and there's nothing we can do to change that, we may as well learn to soak it in and enjoy it.
  • I really enjoyed what Mr. Burgstaller had to say about performing - about making yourself more open and vulnerable to the audience. The whole idea of leaving your center of energy there for the audience, instead of hiding behind a stand. I found his entire master class very interesting!
  • I liked the time-line Joe Burgstaller gave in his master class. He slowly side-stepped across the stage, emphasizing total focus on playing well in the present. Worry about the next step when you get there, not before.
  • I liked his encouragement to stop being absolute slaves to the printed page.
  • He was able to encourage a freer sound and approach to playing.
  • A successful performance involves more than just the notes. Communicating is only 30% verbal (or notes) and 70% energy (stage presence, posture, body language, countenance, etc). The show starts as you walk on stage even before a note is played. You can't lie on stage. Your bow, posture, and facial expressions matter. What you are comes across. No walls are allowed.
  • Embrace the audience. Don't ignore them, but play to them. They can be a scary mass of people, so don't make them nervous.
  • Don't think about your notes. Think about the story behind your music. You MUST emotionally connect to this story.
  • Have energy right from the first note. Your first phrase is the most important and will get you going.
  • Overdo EVERYTHING on stage. Appear confident to be confident. Remember your five P's - Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.
  • Don't hide yourself from the audience. Get away from/lower the stand.
  • Practice constructive self-criticism. Remove negative words from your vocabulary.
  • Practice technique: find ways to make difficult passages more difficult (slower, faster, softer, higher, etc.)
A few cool one-liners:
  • Musicians are special.
  • Dynamics are colors, not decibels.
  • Before the audience can be sold, you must be.
  • Learn to grab all the music you can from the printed page.
  • Good intonation is more than pitch-adjusting. It involves tone-matching.
  • Put air on the first note.
  • If you're not creating line, you're creating boredom.
  • Say of your playing, when appropriate, "That was really good!!"

Sunday, January 24, 2010


What are the deadliest three words in the audition business? After working diligently for months on your list, you do your best to survive all the travel stress on the big day, and then wait for hours trying to stay ready. Finally you get your 8 to 10 minutes, only to get rudely stopped by those three dreaded words, "Thank you. Next." The committee may as well have shouted "LOSER!" and then laughed out loud. Oh, the sting of it!

So, you give up? Change professions? Not so fast. Keep in mind that not winning can be the start of some great music-making on your part, if you want. Why be discouraged? That's normal. Anyone can get depressed. Here is your chance to learn from your loss and to manage your emotions. A defeat does not define us, it should propel us.

Consider your discouraging audition experience a vital part of the growth and refining process rather than a personal insult. Take inventory. In the heat of your audition moments dross (unwanted tendencies) rose to the surface and now waits to be skimmed off. But more importantly, have a new focus. Instead of despair, you have a fresh list of highlighted items to address tomorrow, not only negatives to reduce, but many positives to add.

It's the positives that make winners. Maybe it's not what you did wrong that disqualified you as much as what you did not do enough of. Consider that the committee really was rooting for you, but they didn't hear enough musical moments to advance you. Instead, they may have heard indecision and lack of confidence. Practicing being convincing is your first goal. (Or, if you were a little too convincing, perhaps tone it down a bit. That is, over the edge in style and dynamics, not likely to fit in, overdone, too exuberant. Most need to turn up the heat. Some need to cool it.)

Auditions also have a nice way of reacquainting us with much needed humility. After all, who do we think we are to have every one of life's rewards handed to us at every turn?

Another perspective: Others are watching to see how our loss affects us. Learning to handle adversity may well be the most important achievement of the day. Winners must learn how to lose. A gracious loser is better than a proud winner.

Lastly, life is bigger than an audition victory or loss. It's not life or death. Keeping that in mind can relieve some of the pressures of performance. The quality of the person is more important than the position held.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

All Ears

French was not my thing in high school simply because I did not feel like studying for it. I liked the sound of it, but was not willing to do the work required to be conversant. As a result I nearly flunked, yet our teacher said that I had the best ears in the class! How could that be?

I could take down every syllable of a French dictation assignment accurately, but it made no sense. Phonetically it was perfect, but perfectly wrong when one tried to read and make sense of it. Even though my hearing may have been awesome, my fluency and study habits were awful.

Excelling in Music 101 is no different than excelling in French 101. Aptitude is nice, but it must be matched with diligence. Intense listening is just as important as efficient and sufficient practice. The tempting trap for us trumpeters is too much lips and not enough ears, or as Mel Broiles used to say "a little less blow and a lot more brains!"

Hearing is critical, but for too many of us our hearing is in critical condition. We just don't pay serious attention to others or to our own playing. Consequently our ear never gets fully developed, and so goes our quality. Is that a talent issue or a character flaw?

Most of our mistakes may be be traced to careless listening. More than an assignment, it must be a passion and an obsession - constantly feeding on the best playing and demanding it of ourselves. If all we give to our ears is mediocrity, that is what they will learn to tolerate. Ignore your hearing and it will go away.

Audiences won't know that you excelled in music history, or that you aced every theory test, or necessarily that you just finished 5 hours of practice. What they will recognize and expect is to hear quality playing. Should not we be as picky?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Don't Get Blown Away!

We shouldn't be easily blown away. If we are frequently shocked and awed by great trumpet performances, something is wrong. Yes, we admire, respect and appreciate exciting trumpet events, but each one should not be a wake-up call. Quality is to be expected, not a surprise and not foreign to us.

When all we listen to is ourselves, we reduce expectations, lose inspiration and quickly become out of touch. Each time we hear an inspired performance it should quickly have an affect on our playing. Response: "I can do (some of) that. I get it, and can't wait to try it!" Osmosis should be happening daily. With all the listening tools and opportunities we have available to hear top level playing, there is no excuse for not improving at a very noticeable rate.

Great players are not on some other planet. We inhabit the same world. Our job is to connect with what they do and absorb how they do it. Improving is as much about the student's initiative as it is in the training by the teacher. Critical listening in generous daily dosages is key. If you're not getting better fast, you're getting blown away.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kiradjieff at CCM

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Assistant Principal and Third Trumpet, Christopher Kiradjieff led an excellent two-hour masterclass at CCM today. Never at a loss for great comments and very helpful suggestions, Chris heard four students play some of those familiar excerpts that never seem to go away. He followed with a very productive coaching of the full student trumpet section, extras included, on Pines of Rome.

For any note-takers, there was no lack of material shared. Here are just a few keepers that I captured. First up . . . .

  • Clarity is more important than speed. Individual, distinct notes is the goal.
  • Slow-and-clear is better than fast and not-so-clear.
  • Once it is clean, then speed can happen. Speed is the last item to add.
Bartok Concerto for Orchestra:
  • Movement I: icy smooth and soft, secure starts, no vibrato, phrases must have direction, think crescendo between bars
  • Fugue: strong and uniform, marked articulations, proper length of opening quarter, emphasize notes that tend to get lost
  • Movement II: mechanical, clock-like, more obvious dynamic contrasts, don't be afraid of doing "duts" when needed, instead of all "duhs"
  • Discover the "leaning, heavier" notes in the chorale.
  • Movement V: 16ths clearly nailed dead in time, very steady, strong and articulate, drive the triplets
Gershwin Concerto in F:
  • Don't be afraid of taking control, be soloistic.
  • Develop the long notes immediately.
  • Louder, more schmaltz
  • Not too soft
  • Wail, and be generous with the vibrato.
  • The huge intervals become a non-issue when big, singing vibrato notes are what it's about.
Mahler 3, Chorale from Movement VI:
  • Slow, soft and connected
  • Come on in clearly on the first 2 notes, and then sail.
  • Bring out slightly the "leaning" notes.
Isolated practice suggestions in general: slow, segmented practice; fluttertongue the hard stuff; use different rhythms; exaggerate the weak notes. Your playing has to be distinct at a distance.

Paraphrasing some highlights: Details are all good. The audience will notice. The integrity of the section, the whole ensemble and of the performance is at stake. Everything in the part matters and must be brought out. Rhythm, clarity and musicianship must rule! Exaggeration, projection, great sense of rhythm, knowing the key notes to be emphasized in a phrase, staccatissimo - all of these must be able to happen. Sound has to be full and secure. Instinctive, steady rhythm must dominate.

Chris has a gift for making the mechanical demands musical demands, which makes his approach fun and gets nice results. Little needed to be said about trumpet technique because the musical goals were clearly communicated and got the job done. It's like: "Here's exactly what we want. Now let's do it!"