Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bob Sullivan Master Class at CCM

CSO Principal Trumpet Robert Sullivan led an excellent master class last week at CCM.  It was all quality with not a wasted minute, an especially informative and inspiring event that will not be forgotten. Great stuff was shared that appeared to stick.

Grad students Nathan Sheppard and Dan Arute played some of their Air Force Band Audition repertoire receiving excellent pointers. Bob also coached and joined the CCM Philharmonia trumpet section on portions of the Mahler 3rd Symphony with Adrienne Doctor, Dan Arute, Rico Flores, and Tim Dailey.  The concert will be performed on March 2.  (Can't wait to be there.)

The theme of the morning was How to Practice.  Bob discussed and demonstrated the James Stamp approach as well as sharing a number of stories highlighting major points.  He spoke of the importance of having a secure technical foundation, stressing efficiency, and the need for inspired playing.  He spoke fondly of one of his mentors, the great Armando Ghitalla, former Principal Trumpet with the Boston Symphony.

The following are some notes submitted from a number of trumpet students in attendance:  

  • "The greater the discipline of practice, the greater the freedom of performance." - Armando Ghitalla
  • Build your foundation everyday. Start your day with conditioning and technical exercises. Once you've covered everything you need for the day you will be freer to focus on making music. The image was suggested of a beautiful beach house with little foundation having been totally ravaged by a hurricane. Foundations matter. Point made will not be forgotten.
  • You have to be eager to go back to square one every day. Build a foundation that can weather the storms that will hit your playing.

  • I liked how he talked about having a foundation to come back to. Eventually, something will happen, emotionally or physically.  When you come back to the trumpet, what will you come back to, a washed away house, or a strong foundation still in place? We must have fundamentals to come back to when we lose our way. I thought that was a great point!
  • Lastly, he mentioned fundamentals and building a strong foundation. It easy to overlook that when things get busy and there's a ton of rep to work through.  These sentences don't quite capture how much impact his class had on me and all of us!
  •  "It is impossible to reach perfection, but it is our responsibility to try. " - Armando Ghitalla
  • Don't waste your notes.
  • Double forte is two players playing forte. Triple forte is three players playing forte.  Quality of sound is still essential in fortissimo. Out-of-control blasting is to be avoided.  It also wastes precious energy and doesn't always project.
  • He talked about practicing fast articulations with longer notes and a very clear articulation to help the musical line come out.
  • His relaxed approach was so shocking, in a good way. He was very at ease which was apparent with his clear powerful yet beautiful sound.
  • Practice using slurs or removing them to know how the air flows through the whole passage.
  • Sustaining is more effective than over-blowing.  A sustained note projects better than one with only a huge attack. 
  • Write out the part. We learn more from re-writing.
  • He insisted on having something to say every time you pick up your horn. Being able to make people stop and listen is more important than playing technically perfect.
  • Play the music like there's no time signature while still playing completely in time. The direction of the line is most important.
  • Play the music, not the trumpet. Say something when you play. He recommended Aaron Copland's book, "What to Listen for in Music".
  • Play with character.  This was my favorite!  I tend to just read music and try to play what its written, which is right.  Add the performer's character to it. I guess that is interpretation. Tell something to the audience, and convince them! 
  • The master class was fascinating for me and I'm pretty sure for my colleagues as well. There are many thoughts I had, but several things that I liked and impacted me were - not having to play too loud, just sustain more, and more support from the section. 
  • Mr. Sullivan helped us understand the Stamp method.  I really liked his discussion about how to properly approach the Stamp concepts/book. Thinking up when down, and down when up, helps to avoid embouchure stress, intonation problems, and fatigue.
  • The lost Stampism: play to the stem. Conceptualize the note as being where the stem of the note head is, usually an octave displacement. Do that for high and low notes. In the middle, play to the note heads. 
  • Don't relax on the low notes.
  • Blow down on the high notes (as from above), and blow up on low notes (as from below)
A trumpet player's greatest need is often the ability to organize practice time efficiently, having a plan, a goal, and a mindset to work.  Wise and inspired daily work seemed to be theme of the day.  Our thanks to Mr. Sullivan for a terrific class! 

This Unexpected Bummer!

There you are, all set to go, and now this!!  Oh, those unexpected and unplanned for bumps in the road that effectively stifle anything productive!  Your "this" can take many forms, be it sudden physical ailments, personnel squabbles, conductor's demands, problematic seating, unfavorable acoustics, unfavorable repertoire, a stuck valve, major fatigue, even a square wheel.  You can fill in the blank, but be sure that some sort of "this" is going to happen somewhere, somehow, sometime.

Success is when you have learned to deal with life's "this's". Good luck with that! Once the little fellow trying to ride his bike gets over his initial anguish, he will think clearly to find a solution.

"Dad? Someone? Help!"

"Son, you know that a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor."

"Swell! Thanks, Dad.  I'd like to see you ride this thing!"

P.S. James 1:2-4

Friday, February 22, 2013

Avoiding the Crash

Wow, what a dream house! There it is in its impressive location, high, mighty, and seemingly impervious to the ravages of nature.  But what happened?

CSO Principal Trumpet Robert Sullivan described well for us in his master class at CCM the tragic picture of glorious beach houses suddenly overcome by hurricane Hugo some years ago.  Although constructed high on stilts, they were quickly destroyed by an inevitable onslaught of wicked weather.  Further inland, it was those basic ancient concrete fortresses that easily withstood the nasty elements.  That vivid image serves to remind us of our dependence on a sturdy foundationDaily attending to the state of the structure is our responsibility.

So what is the structure of a multimillion dollar dream house?  Its structure is NOT the lush landscaping, nor the plush expensive decor.  The enviable external facade has its glory for sure, but the lasting structure of any building is unseen and plain, but very strong

A trumpet player may have awesome skills and incredible musicianship.  He/she likely has an array of abilities on call for the thrilling of audiences.  But the real value of the player is the strength and endurance of those basic foundational skills that enable great playing.  Those boring bolts, nuts, beams, screws, planks, and nails are all securely fastened to and part of a sturdy immoveable foundation that is rooted way down deep.

The proper use of wind, articulation, and flexibility are just some of those foundational issues that must be restrengthened every day.  They are not necessarily fun to deal with, but when attended to regularly, they free the player to focus solely on music making.  Well worth it, wouldn't you agree?

It is easy to see only on those outward attention grabbers - loud, high, fast, and faster.  Rather it is paying attention to those unglamorous basic foundational elements that marks the great players who overcome obstacles and who are still playing well after the storm.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bad Chop Fix

"What happened?  I could play last night, but now nothing works!  I've been playing up a storm all week, but now this! What's the remedy for this dreaded dead chops disease? HELP!"

Feels like a horrible dream, doesn't it?  Except that when it happens it is all too real, and slapping yourself just makes it worse. Who hasn't awakened at some point with this scary predicament?

Many have their own therapy for such times. Remedies for an over-worked embouchure include taking a few days off, applying ice, massage, acupuncture, sandpaper, blubbering, etc., etc.  Some have even bullied their way through it by beating their chops into submission, not always a good result however, and not recommended.

One of the most effective ways out of this predicament is also an almost instant cure!  It is buzzing the mouthpiece very softly with a clear tone and perfect intonation.  However, you must insist on the following:  You want instant response.  You want it pianissimo.  You want dead-on accurate intonation.  And you also need frequent rests. 

Remember to use very light pressure on the lips as you buzz your soft perfectly-in-tune melodies.  Keep it simple and keep it soft.  No bravura concertos, just pure clean sounds in tune!  Rest and repeat.  Have a good night's sleep.  You won't need to call me in the morning. 

Friday, February 08, 2013

Sound Rules

What good is a very flashy line of music if the sound of most of the notes stinks?  If sound matters, why not try for the same sound quality as the solo in the opening of Pictures at an Exhibition?  Short notes should not get short-changed.  Sound rules.

#1. Play the first note of your passage with your best centered sound and sustain it for a full breath.

#2. Play the same note while fingering the notes of your passage on the lead pipe.

#3. Play that note once again but articulate the passage as one long note with many tongues.

#4. Now slur the passage maintaining your great tone.

#5. Next, play the passage with the correct pitches but with all long notes.

#6. Add some length to the short notes but keep the tone full.

#7. Gradually approach the correct tempo and articulations of your flashy passage with no loss of your full sound on every note.

Flashy is fine, but sound rules.

A Great Lesson

What constitutes a great lesson?  Is it one that leaves you really impressed with your teacher, or one that gets you totally pumped, or is jam packed with detailed information? Impressions, emotions, and information are each important, but can be quickly forgotten. A good lesson is one that immediately improves your playing and that stays with you. Quite simply, if your playing improves on the spot, you just had a great lesson! 

What makes a great student? One that does not require constant jump starts and repetitions of instructions.  He or she is quick to appropriate information and eager to utilize good musical instincts. The turn around time for hearing and doing is amazingly rapid.  Future lessons do not require constant rebuilding.  The lesson studio functions more like a locker room assessment at half time, and less like a hospital clinic.

Think not of spending 4 to 6 years to improve.  Think that school only lasts for a semester.  What can you get done NOW?  It depends on being a great student who is ready to have great lessons.