Saturday, May 26, 2007

Vince DiMartino shares

Trumpet soloist, clinician, teacher, and long time colleague Vince DiMartino, from Centre College in Kentucky, went non-stop at CCM for over three hours yesterday sharing his wealth of experience with the brass studio. Still charged with his unstoppable energy and love for music making, Vince was quite at home commenting, demonstrating, and communicating. That's what he does.

Vince is one of those who not only knows what he's doing in jazz, but is quite comfortable playing and coaching the standard classic solo repertoire. "He knows what he is doing" is a vast understatement. Vince can penetrate and sizzle with his brilliant, gleaming sound, and follow that with beautiful soft lines. His high chops and improvising skills would always blow us off the stage when he would join us in the pops. Vince saved the day for us many times.

He heard students play a variety of solos. Each one improved quickly. Doc Di is good at the quick fix. Sometimes that was accomplished by suddenly picking up the horn and saying, "play it like this!" Repeat after me is often the best therapy for problems. Thorough explanations always accompanied each point made. He has the quick response of a google search engine. Enter in a trumpet topic, and you intantly get boat loads of info!

Home base, as he called it, is holding a high G without the tuning slide. Everything must return easily to that home note. He uses very little mouth movement at all. His embouchure looks like a well-anchored rock, yet with the ability to leap tall buildings in a nano second! Flexibility is fast and agile with his approach. Instead of the usual pencil sized aperture or larger, he recommended a pin hole sized high-pressured air stream. Thus the lips become much less an issue, as the air bears the brunt of the work.

Other topics: Confidence (the trumpet only does what it is told to do. Show it what you want it to do.) Performance (make the audience pay attention. If you don't, they won't. Be convincing, to them and to yourself.) Beginning a piece (set yourself for the highest, hardest part of the upcoming phrase. Be ready to nail it, don't just hope.) Lots o' scales (play very fast with DT and TT.) Play lots of etudes on flugelhorn. Improvise (play around in the style of any piece. Make it up. Just play music like your solo, but not those same notes.) Record yourself early, not at the last minute. Choose your weapons. (Each piece requires an arsenal of attack modes. Define them and use them effectively.)

The afternoon was fun and challenging. Vince's sense of humor and humility along with his enormous talent made the time fly by. As with each guest artist we've been privileged to hear recently, we were sent back to the practice room with fresh inspiration for our mission. Bravo, Vince!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Jay Wadenpfuhl at CCM

Leave it to the horn players to multi-task! Jay Wadenpfuhl, third hornist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra visited CCM today and shared his expertise with the brass department. Obviously in control of his instrument, a wise and experienced teacher, and a fine composer, Jay played, taught, spoke, and conducted. Two hours was just not enough time to absorb a career of wisdom, but it was good, all good.

He provided several goodies to think on. Listening to his three solos performed, I liked the starts of all of his notes, especially the very soft ones. The first note seemed to have already been in progress well before it ever sounded. It was already in motion internally, and became audible with exact precision. He demonstrated that notes must connect and have direction which can be achieved without a crescendo. It's a matter of intensity. He plays very nicely. I would love to have heard more, but there were constraints of time.

Next, his teaching hat. The prevailing theme in response to some very fine playing by Mr. Gardner's students: more air support, a reminder we all need to have refreshed. Tension is the greatest he said, when we are nearly out of air. The lips must then take on the increased demands for sound production. The most ease comes from a full tank of air. Great players survive with 98% air and 2% chops. When the air is flowing in good supply, the lips don't hurt, and artistic creativity is not stifled. Cardiovascular exercise increases blood to brain and lips. This led to his other points of greater volume contrasts, fuller tone, open throat, and relaxed, focused air right on each note. The bigs generally needed to be bigger and better. Improvement was noted quickly as he worked with each student. They were obviously used to fine teaching and were advanced enough to impliment Jay's advice.

Keep your brain involved, he said. Each player has to take charge of himself ultimately. Fix stuff now that needs attention. Don't just blow by it. Another point: find the climax and prepare it for maximum effect. Say something with the horn. Even something off the wall is better than nothing said at all!

No matter what the temperment and personality of the performer, he/she must act and project the appropriate energy intended by the composer. Our knowledge of scores and research should be reflected in the quality and color of our performance. The greater our concept, the greater our chances of entertaining an audience that has paid to hear something that is attention-getting.

Jay ended his session by conducting his composition for eight horns and percussion. No coddling of the horn players in this piece. They worked. Very impressive piece and refreshing to hear him rehearse it. The man is very gifted, and I'd love to hear more of his compositions.

Like other great players who have guested here recently, I was impressed by a quick, soft comment he uttered almost under his breath to himself. Having ever so slightly miffed one or two small notes in an impressive ritard, he smiled slightly and lamented that he could still hear Barrows in his mind, and he just couldn't do it (like that). I disagree. We were quite impressed, slight miff or not. I like that the bar was high, and he reverenced the heros that had so greatly influenced him in the past.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I Think We Have a Winner

Checklist: nice sound, clean articulation, agreeable intonation, dynamic contrasts, good phrasing, etc. Everything's O.K. All of these basics continue to be the goals and the benchmarks for winning jobs. When well executed, they are definitely impressive and win points and big bucks.

I heard something the other day, however that struck me. That music "gave me chills" was the comment. That evaluation came from more than just well-executed mechanics. (Actually there were a few flaws in the performance, but it didn't stop the chilling.) How do you teach chills? I don't remember a "Chills 101" at Eastman. Well-played basics don't necessarily move the spirit. It involves more than the sum total of all of those vital requirements of great performances. Something in the performer(s) provides that spark that penetrates right to the core of the listener and pierces the very soul. The mind can be reached, but what about the heart? It is not one or the other, but the right blend of both.

Something is missing when perfection is the only goal. Satisfaction must be deeper than the appreciation of technical mastery alone. That must be the starting point upon which the artist must then pour out his heart as intended by the composer, no more and no less.

The question is, which comes first, inspiration or perspiration? I think inspiration fuels perspiration. Very hard work has the goal of providing as many "chills" as possible. Each composition has it's thrilling and magical moments. Great performances should serve many on a regular basis. They come in many packages and will impact listeners in different ways. Communication of something that is not average, boring, or lifeless is the key. Artists are gifted to grasp that and just do it. Training needs to trend in this direction.

Fundamentals can be taught. Fantastic life-changing musical communication is rare and is much more difficult to learn. Many can hear and appreciate it, but few do it. The fun challenge in making music and in preparing to perform music, is the high calling of captivating listeners with the greatness that the masters intended. And it begins by being captivated ourselves.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Marvin Stamm

Great musicianship works anywhere, in the recording studio, in the orchestra, in jazz settings, chamber music, wherever. Any seasoned mature talent is obvious, refreshing, and knows no boundaries. It comes from within and manifests itself no matter what the venue. Marvin Stamm visited CCM this weekend, generously sharing the depth of his experience, teaching, and playing wonderfully as he has done for so many years. It was our treat and privilege.

I am always amazed at the language of jazz, the never-the-same spontaneity of it, and the specialized instincts required for this level of music-making. I feel like I am listening to another language, one which I love to hear, but cannot speak. Yet I can understand it when it is done well, and Marvin is a master of fluency and eloquence.

He is classically trained, well experienced, knowledgeable, and a deep source of information. Young players he said should absorb from the experience of older players. Learning only from peers has limitations. He spoke with reverence and respect about the great players who had influenced him from all styles of music. So much he learned from hanging with the older greats in their day. We do well to select our company wisely.

I loved hearing him hear. Several students played for him, and played well. He responded to each one directly, respectfully, and told them exactly the areas of need. Expression rules over perfection, was a standout theme to me. More important than every jot and tittle is the beauty of the phrase. Detail is trumped by musicianship. Yet the details were scrutinized so that their overall effect would enhance the music.

Referring to the splendid playing of Phil Smith, he noted that he is never cautious. Take the chance, go for the impact, jump in, and never play tentatively. Belt it out, play a real forte, he said at one point.

In the all too brief session I attended, I went away impressed by the depth of a great musician. Just to sit and listen to him talk of his music world was heaven. He loves it. It shows. The man is the music.

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.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Power of a Spoken Word

Word came the other day of a very fine trumpet player currently making a name for himself in a prestigious orchestra. He is a top player, well-respected, and a rising star. Not long ago while on tour, things started to go seriously south for him. Consistency and confidence apparently never having been a problem, were suddenly spiraling out of control. The bad dream of not being able to do it was becoming his real nightmare. He had known success, and he had owned the stage. Yet he was fast approaching a brick wall and finding himself powerless to turn himself around. What was going on and why?

A lengthy period of recovery and rediscovery fortunately proved most beneficial for him. With some help, the problem was eventually pinpointed, and he is now back to his great playing in the orchestra again. In spite of all the praise and encouragement he had undoubtedly received from so many all through his past, there remained that one voice in his memory that had grown into a shout of doubt. The source of his problems was the discouraging word from his father. His repeated negative comment eventually began to topple his confidence.

At some point, as he was getting started in his career, his father had voiced a strong vote of no confidence in his son's chances of succeeding as an orchestral trumpet player. Probably trying to be protective and wanting his son to consider the odds he would face, the dad failed to grasp the power of his influence for better or for worse.

Why is it that even one discouraging comment can so easily obliterate all the confidence in the world? So much of life is a mind game! We will play the way we think. Maybe that is one of the many reasons that the Bible warns to guard our heart with all diligence, for out of it proceed all the issues of life. It has been said that we can only draw from the reserve that we have stored. What we take in will determine what we have to give out.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, it says in Proverbs. It is awesome to consider the power and potential of our own influence upon others. Our words can be life-giving, or they can be like daggers. One's future success can be encouraged or greatly discouraged simply by a spoken word.