Friday, April 02, 2010

Fading Gracefully

No, this is not about growing old. Save that for another day. This is about a classy disappearing act. Most brass players are by nature good at boldly and belligerently bursting onto the scene. But it's our ability to gracefully get out of the way that usually needs much practicing. The impressive long diminuendo is our goal.

For example, performing Zarathustra, the Leonore calls, or Mahler 2nd Symphony will be no fun without this valuable skill. Each work requires a lengthy beautiful diminuendo on a single note without losing pitch or quality. At such moments in performance the trumpet player either hangs himself or plays the hero. You want such control on the long sustained notes that listeners stop breathing until your gorgeous sound finally disappears into thin air.

For some reason diminuendo practice seems to be neglected. Too bad. Fermata dims make for fun practice as you don't need music, and fatigue isn't an issue. Practice amazing your friends with your skilled stealth exits. Don't just quit at mp. Go all the way down to absolutely nothing, niente. Count quickly or slowly as you play, and think forward direction rather than just a static note. A goal is to be able to sustain your glorious note longer than necessary.

For practice, pick any note. How long can you hold it before it gradually fades away? Ten, fifteen, twenty seconds, more? Be sure not to get nervous, quivery, shaky, airy, sharp or flat. Have friends inspect your embouchure at close range checking for saggy lips, leaky air, smiley corners, exposed teeth, sputtering, drooling, snorting, or other serious problems. Please document and report issues to faculty.

How about a contest? Post signs around campus: The Longest Note of the Year! Prizes will go to those with the longest diminuendos that stay on pitch and don't get airy or fizzle. The higher the note the better the prize. Remember it must start ff and go to ppp.

How many of these orchestral and solo works do you know that test your disappearing skills? Lt. Kije, Don Quixote, Beethoven 6th, Dvorak New World, and every Mahler Symphony. Don't forget the end of the first and second movements of the Tomasi Concerto. You will want to collect your own notebook of high profile diminuendos for your daily practice. It's OK to be dim-witted.