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! 


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