Saturday, June 20, 2009

Your Cutting Edge

What do you think? Which is more important, being able to produce clear, well-defined fronts of your notes, or having a voluptuous sound? Actually, both are part of the same thing. If it's a quality note, it starts that way.

Like percussion instruments the trumpets must be able to function as rhythm kings. Good drumming is about definition, and so too the brass needs to be clear, energetic and on the beat, not blurry and behind. As attractive as a pleasing tone is, most conductors can be satisfied with clarity and precision from the brass.

We've played the 10-second game before for audition preparation. That is, playing only the first phrase or so of each excerpt in order to gain instant control. Now we need to play the split-second game. That is, play only the very start of the first note, nothing more. A warm up note is not allowed. The first note must be a winner.

Here are a few pictures that might help sharpen up your entrances: the beating of a snare drum, the banging of the glockenspiel with a steel-balled mallet, a pin prick, the uncorking of a wine bottle, the tip of a sharp long thin sword, the tongue of a rattlesnake, the anchor point of a compass, the tip of a syringe, etc. You get the idea. It's about nails, sharp ones. A cotton ball penetrates nothing. Choose a dart. Don't think about the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Think Dracula! Unleash your killer instinct as you perfect the clarity of every note.

So, go ahead and have your nice sound, but put an edge on it and be able to slice it up into tiny pieces able to project well into the audience. Before sauntering onto the stage, catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Frown a bit, stick out your tongue as far as it goes, and bring it to a point. That tiny tip is about to do battle. It's the one instrument that didn't cost you anything, so train it, sharpen it, and use it!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Benefits of Feeling Lousy

You don't have to be inspired to improve, but you do have to be organized and improvement-oriented. If you always wait until you are fired up with your concert face on, you will likely be doing more moping than practicing. Moments of awesome music-making are probably not going to happen every time you open the case. So get used to it, and plan on making improvements regardless of how you feel.

This should be good news. You can build your playing even on a bummer of a day. Feelings don't have to govern progress. Decide what issues need addressing and plan to cover them wisely and consistently. Now, rather than a checklist to complete, your daily goal is improvement and consistency. Your assignment is to get better as fast as possible. If you are not getting better at a noticeable pace, practicing is a waste of your time.

Let's pick at random three typical "issues" that you can work on no matter how good or bad you may be feeling. First, everyone must have a good DT. How about mastering an even double-tongue by next week! Why spend a whole year trying to remove it from your Nemesis List? Fix it now so it is even and clear, with your tongue front-and-center. Get your K to sound like your T. You don't need 20 teachers. Just do it. We have so much material for reference. There is no excuse for faulty tonguing. Lots of dumb players have mastered it, so it is doable.

Next, let's take on the Tubby-Unfocused-Dead-Sound problem. You're most likely dispersing your air stream rather than focusing it on a smaller target. Tighten corners, direct the air straight ahead, no blowing down, and no puffy cheeks. Buzz the mouthpiece at a mirror. Try to pin a $20 bill to the mirror with only your buzzed note! Next, create a nice fog on the mirror with as high a note as you can. Think more Lazar, less tuba. Whatever it takes, you must conquer the TUDS problem. Also, a less heroic, more conservative mouthpiece cup size could make a big difference.

Finally, there is the Universal Fatigue Disease. Make this as uncomplicated as possible. Stop playing before you observe symptoms! Don't go where the disease is rampant. Keep chops healthy. Don't make them work so hard. Develop endurance without getting sick. Build your strength zone instead of venturing into the danger zone every time you play. More brains, less macho. UFD can be avoided. See to it.

Don't feel like practicing? You're missing the point and the chance for progress!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Summer In Attack Mode

Exams' in the can. The grades are made, and the horn's in the case. Right? Hope not. This is the time for a few months of stress-free uninterrupted practice that can elevate your playing and make you competitive! Put the pressure on. No one else will. It's just you and these summer days.

What do you want conquered by fall? Brandenburg? Start climbing, but be careful. It's a long way up. Don't fall. And don't get hurt!

Excerpts? Listen to the recordings. Listen again. Then listen to recordings.

Piccolo solos? Practice your piccolo. Play mostly other stuff. Master the horn first. Play the solos later. In the meantime, study the solos.

Poor sight-reading? Play a bunch from the Develop Sight-reading book. You can work on this without the horn probably better than with it. Either way, do it and don't ignore it. You must do this very well on any playing job.

Limited solo rep? Stack your stand with 20 or more solos. Organize your plan of attack and begin.

Horribly slow transposition? Make friends with the 100 Studies of Sachse and Caffarelli. Put the horn down and work the fingers. The problem is page-to-brain, and brain-to-fingers. The lips don't have to transpose.

Crummy attacks? Do thousands of starts. Maybe millions and millions.

Wavy, out-of-control vibrato? Do none and then very little. You have to be able to pierce like a Lazar. You can quiver like a sax some other day.

Awful intonation? Get your tuner, listen, sing, correct.

Bad rhythm? Live with the metronome stuck on on.

Sloppy embouchure? Look at Dick Tracy. Don't be chewing all over the place. Put it up there and don't move. Move inside only. All parts of the lips should share the work load.

Unmusical and boring playing? Check out CDs of great opera people. Sing. Conduct. Make gestures that fit the music. Then sing some more. Don't play boring. Please!

Always playing everything forte? Insist on ppp all the way to fff and back. Do it all. You'll need it.

Clumsy multiple tongue? Open Arban. Go slow and go fast. Do it. Then do it faster. Even faster. Now double tongue scales as fast as possible. How about your chroms? Polish 'em up before September. You may need some valve work done at a good shop.

Crippled arps? Double and triple the arpeggios in Arban. Very fast, no stops. They're everywhere. You might as well master them.

Be your own teacher this summer, or pretend you're being coached by the stars. You don't need to go somewhere, but you do need to go somewhere in your mind and in your progress.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Night of Remembrance

CSO Principal trumpet Robert Sullivan gave a wonderful recital at CCM last evening to a large audience. The program included beautiful playing (of course) of Bernstein's A Simple Song, Copland's Quiet City, Jack Gallagher's Remembrance of Robin, Joe Turrin's O Come and Dwell in Me, and Eric Ewazen's brand new Eternal Spring. The program was full of moving and brilliant music performed in honor of Robin who succumbed to Sarcoma.

Chris Philpotts complemented Bob on the Copland, matching nuances and phrasings perfectly. Cristian Ganisenco likewise supported Bob in Turrin's poignant duo for trumpet and trombone. Julie Spangler was an awesome accompanist in each work, playing very difficult piano parts as easily as her quite natural improv skills on the Danny Boy encore. It was a great evening of music-making and tribute.

We can thank Bob for pioneering a few more very neat pieces for the trumpet repertoire. The Gallagher, Turrin, and Ewazen pieces are here to stay and worth getting a hold of as soon as possible. The Remembrance is a toughy, and indeed challenging, but was made to sound doable last night. Cristian and Bob were in sync and demonstrated soft beautiful blend and control in the Turrin.

Finally, Ewazen was Ewazen! How could one not like his stuff? It is always enjoyable at first hearing! The music to Eternal Spring arrived only a few days before the recital, like 3! One would never have known that months of prep had not preceded the show. Lesson: learn it and be able to sound great immediately! Other lessons taught last night: control, intonation, clear articulations on the fast stuff, range, and most importantly, communication. They were all nicely in play last night. Bob's heart-felt flugel-playing on Danny Boy was the perfect closer for a very special evening of musical rememberance.