Saturday, November 29, 2008

Buerkle's Brass Festival a Hit

The drive to Kettering was worth it. Brian Buerkle did it again. It was the perfect venue for an Organ and Brass Festival at the Kettering Adventist Church just outside of Dayton. A total of fourteen brass players from near and as far as Colorado shared in the glory of brass and organ favorites. Some very nice playing by everyone contributed to a great concert experience. Trumpeters John Rommel, Justin Bartels, Jon Kretschmer, and Wesley Woolard joined Brian in covering C, piccolo, and flugel parts cleanly. An appreciative audience filled the large church.

Adding class to the program were nice touches of color and perfect poundings from the percussion guys. CCM's mezzo-soprano Brittany Wheeler beautifully sung the gorgeous solo part to the Urlicht by Mahler. Ravishing is the only word for that movement, and the brass shared the many solemn moments beautifully.

Bravo to maestro Buerkle for envisioning an ambitious project and seeing it through successfully! We heard not only very fine trumpet playing by him and his colleagues, but also witnessed skills in organizing, leadership, arranging, and conducting, as well as mature musicianship. There was a lot of talent on display, but that was not the focus. His humble but quite confident presence was perfect for drawing our attention to great music. Thank you for that!

Organist Jerry Taylor spoke well with humor about the French organ composers represented. His playing on the Franck Final was brilliant. His instincts for dramatic flair were perfect as he was thoroughly enjoying the music which eventually climaxed in the most grandiose ending imaginable! Total immersion by musician is always special for audience. Well done! (Brian, you have to arrange that one for antiphonal brass forces next time!)

The horns nicely finessed the many runs and flourishes with impressive sizzle and tone. The trombones were appropriately sensuous in the Shostakovich Jazz Suite and gave the trumpets a comfortable cushion for their lead moments all through the concert. They also had many fine trombone moments of their own. I thought the highlight was Wagner's Gathering of the Armies from Lohegrin with all juices flowing in sync. Off stage beltings were just as they should be - strong and confident with Brian conducting accordingly. He managed the likelihood for distance/delay problems well.

That Gabrielli Canzon has got to be about the all-time best showcase for the back of the orchestra ever. It gives reason to put us up front permanently! The competing choirs did a great job of friendly combat. The original score must have said something in the fine print about each group trying to outdo one another. Choir A keeps laying it down, only to be defiantly answered by the reply of Choir B, with each insisting on dominance. This is as it should be, and it continues until they all cross the finish line together to the cheers of those in the stands. You gotta love Gabrielli!

And then came the Finale from Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony. Who needs strings and reeds to hide in! The piece works just fine without them. Brian's arrangement was a toughy, but they got it done. This program showed what inspiring brass music is all about. Where would orchestras be without it? Nice show, Brian!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Season's Matchings


Bad Solfege _2_
Has an 18-note word _10_
Mahler 9th _7_
Scale down _5_
Bengal _1_
ESPN Theme _3_
1812 _4_
Environmentally-conscious cuffs _8_
Scale down _6_
Mahler 4th _9_


1. Snow Man
2. Deck the Halls
3. Bridge to Sleigh Ride
4. Same Old Lang Syne
5. Joy to the World
6. Away in a Manger
7. White Christmas
8. What Child is This?
9. Jingle Bells
10. Angels We Have Heard

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trumpet Works in Toronto

Andrew McCandless, principal trumpet of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, is the Professor of Trumpet at the Royal Conservatory's Glenn Gould School of Music in downtown Toronto. Not unlike Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, the G.G.S. accepts only the best talent, and takes very good care of its four trumpet majors. Proof: recent grad Adam Zinatelli is just about to land the Principal Trumpet position in the Calgary Philharmonic. School's mission accomplished!

The school is part-way through a massive building project which will include a new concert hall. There is already an impressive fusion of the old school masonry with sharp new century design. Just next door, however, an alien high rise appears to have crashed and adhered itself right onto the front of the nineteenth century fortress! The Conservatory's new music building should easily offer a more subtle, yet bold presence, reflecting traditions while implanting the new.

Professor McCandless has a lot to work with, and his students have a lot to draw upon. He brings to his studio his on-the-job experience with the orchestras of Savannah, Kansas City, Buffalo, Dallas, San Francisco, and now Toronto. His training credentials include Boston University and the Eastman School. Andrew is an excellent soloist who also has an unashamed love for teaching. The word is that he is also a sought-after speaker!

Yesterday was one of the days the school generously offers an outsider to participate. It was a day full of solos and excerpts. I was privileged to throw my deux cents into the mix. We heard nice displays of Arutunian, Hummel, Hindemith, and Honegger, (no Haydn. Without the H's, we'd lose half of our solo repertoire!) Solo class was then followed by a good look at a dozen of those pesky standard excerpts that never seem to go away. Some efficient nailing happened.

I was reminded that successful training is never painless. If it is, it isn't happening, or else we have a genius on our hands. In addition to all the normal requirements, Andrew's lesson agenda includes regular doses of transposition and sight-reading! Duets are also part of each lesson as they stimulate vital ensemble instincts. How easily these three are neglected!

For music school hunters and/or trumpet recording geeks, Toronto offers a fantastic experience. As many orchestra budgets have brought recording projects to a standstill, the Toronto Symphony is already thriving with a bunch of CD's that, along with the music school, serious trumpet students ought to check out.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

So, what'll it be, boys?

"Hi, boys! Back again? Let me take your order. Today we've got some tantalizing appetizers, tempting side dishes, and plenty of devilish desserts. Now which will it be?"

Does eating have any relationship to trumpet practicing? It may be a stretch, but maybe not if you consider the importance of discipline for improving in both areas. We make decisions every day that affect us for better or worse. Whether you're opening up the Arban book or the menu at Applebee's, you are faced with choices. We tend to order up what we want, not what we need. Do those decisions matter, and is there a relationship between good nutrition and good performance? You decide.

With life's bar 'n' grill serving up its daily specials, it is difficult to maintain a balanced diet of anything. There are lots of attractions and distractions. Keeping in mind our goals for top physical and musical health, some things have got to go. We must make decisions that will leave us in better shape at the end of the day. Suggestions:

Control over those shakes just might help us with control over our shakes. We could start substituting scales for ales. Shed the gin, and head for the gym. Do flies, not fries. Less spaghettios and more arpeggios. Tonics are for playing only. Less pizza and more pizazz. (Sorry).

Moderation, discipline, and self control are issues that affect all areas of life. Being out of balance in one area could jeopardize our success in another. Control in one area should help us with control in all the others. If our trumpet really matters, so must our discipline.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hold On!

Few have the patience for this kind of practice. It's too boring and unmusical. Besides, it takes too much time and can be embarrassing as it makes others think you must not be very advanced. The truth is that this practice is excellent therapy for what ails most of us. How so? It helps intonation, tone, breath control, endurance, and even articulation all at once. To ignore this practice is to show up for your very first rehearsal unprepared. We're talking long tones, holds, fermatas.

One very long note can be a whole lot harder than a string of fireworks. Somewhere in every piece you will hear at least one. Often Trumpet I is called upon to demonstrate to the world how it's done. For example, take Zarathustra, both Leonore calls, Mahler 2nd and 10th, Rienzi, every Brahms Symphony or Strauss tone poem. Second players are not exempt. Beethoven and Brahms made Trumpet II the king of low, long and soft. Put on your fermata or long-sustained-phrase glasses and you will discover them everywhere. This gives us new motivation for daily fermata practice. You know you're going to need it!

This week add a good dose of long ones to your practice agenda. Just think organ, sostenuto sempre, Bruckner's molto adagio movements, bagpipes, air raid sirens, swimming under water, bullfrogs, puffer fish! Whatever works for you, think it so you will do it. Come up with your own strategy. You could have a long-note lottery. Pick a note, any note - loud, soft, high, low. Time yourself. Try them with dims. Try them with crescendos. Have someone mercilessly conduct your one note until you're totally out of air. We get paid by the note. Pretend we get paid by the length of the note. Grab a good breath and hold on!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Picture This

Every day during practice sessions in the basement, I would pause to gaze at my gallery of trumpet heroes on the wall. Each day they were there, staring at me through their picture frames, watching, listening, and some smiling as I slowly proceeded to blast my brains out. If I stopped playing long enough to listen, I could hear them. They had all at one time influenced me both by their words, of course by their notes, but also by their lives. But with the passing of time, their only help was in what I could recall.

Actually that is not true. When I looked closely at their embouchure as they were playing, I could still get a free lesson. Watching can be almost as beneficial as listening. My own embouchure had been a bit dysfunctional especially in early years, and many problems had to be overcome by sheer willpower. It was my way, the only way, and the hard way. Being coaxed and advised was not as helpful as observing other players - something about a picture and a thousand words. A wiser student would have heeded instruction as well as seeing it in practice, but that is a topic for another time.

Looking at those guys on the wall, I could see that each embouchure had a natural placement of the mouthpiece on the lips. It just looked right. Corners were firm, center free to vibrate, and the rest of the face appeared to focus on the blowing process. Air was directed straight into the cup, with no detours. Both lips shared the work load with an absolute minimum of strain. At least, it looked that way. Upper body was relaxed and upright while the air made its unhampered passage directly to the audience. The mouthpiece looked like it belonged there!

We study the art of music, but we also must learn the art of controlling its vehicle, the air stream. Behind every great trumpet performance there is a well functioning embouchure whose job is to manage air flow. Call him the quarterback, the point man, the executive officer, or the busy air traffic controller of your playing. If he has been trained to handle all that passes his way, you are good to go. Don't be at odds with your embouchure. The quality of your music depends on how well he functions. I was always amazed that so much great music could travel through such a tiny aperture with such efficiency and ease!