Friday, September 02, 2022

ONE-SENTENCE LESSON #21

"Intonation, trumpets!" Panic! I know I'm the problem. It's me who's out of tune, but am I sharp or am I flat? That's the question I asked a colleague in Cleveland years ago, to which he coldly replied, "you're not sharp and you're not flat, you're just out of tune." What?

Instead of mentally adjusting the notes and trying desperately to please the next guy, just place the notes exactly where they belong. Use your musical gut, not your questioning mind.  Your sense of pitch should be developed so that you can depend on your instincts to play in tune. 

Don't follow, lead! Find the core of each note and drill it down the center. This should fix your intonation problems. 

Our one-sentence lesson: Don't chase the notes, place them! 





 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

ONE-SENTENCE LESSON #20

This one got my attention! Mr. Robert Vernon, former principal viola of the Cleveland Orchestra and amazingly successful teacher had this to say:

These are the five skills that win jobs: Sound, Intonation, Articulation, Rhythm, and Direction.

It was hard to tell which job he was best at, orchestral principal or college professor at CIM. A who's who in the viola world will show that many of his students currently have prestigious orchestra jobs. Consequently, any advice from him is gold.

An audition committee listens for a beautiful sound, unobjectionable intonation, clear and appropriate articulation, an excellent sense of timing, and musical sustaining of phrases. 

Daily practice lists should have check boxes for each item. Consistent and fastidious attention to these five elements of music will put you in the finals. Check each box constantly. Keep a sharp ear for these job-winning skills. It pays well. 




Wednesday, July 27, 2022

ONE-SENTENCE LESSON #19

"That sounds like it's really hard to play!" 

That was the response after my valiant attempt at the difficult slow passage near the end of Strauss's Death and Transfiguration.  It's supposed to be smooth, lyrical and flowing even though the melody line jumps all over the place and demands some very long sustained high notes. But no. My most critical listener, my wife Sandy, had the correct assessment. "That sounds like it's really hard to play!"

Yes, it should look easy, but much more importantly it must sound beautiful and effortless. It should look like we are playing a single long tone, but it must sound smooth, singing, and expressive.  

Clarinet players always have this skill on display with every lyric line. Take their solo in Pines of Rome, the one accompanied by the chirping birds. No matter how wide the intervals, they dazzle the audience with seamless legato technique. That's the goal: no bumps, no fluffs, no questionable intonation, and no strain! 

So, that was my most recent one-sentence lesson. Don't let others know that it's difficult. Instead, we want to hear, that's fantastic, and it sounds easy! 



Wednesday, July 20, 2022

ONE-SENTENCE LESSON #18

"Great trumpet players can play soft!" That was the advice from one of the most powerful players on the planet, Mel Broiles, first trumpet at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 45 years. 

I remember him for the three P's, passion, power and pizzazz. Endurance, transposition, and volume were the goals at every lesson. A well-bruised embouchure came to be the mark of honor for all of his students.  Nothing was to be played with tentative shyness. He exuded a confidence that was off the charts. I left those lessons loaded for bear and ready to unleash electrifying heroics for the neighbors! 

So, to hear this one-sentence lesson from him some years later was a stunner. I wish he had stressed the soft end of playing as much as he did the aggressive dynamics. As we all eventually learn, the soft stuff can kill us easier than the blasting. Good quiet playing will actually help the loud playing. 

A few notes on practicing the soft stuff:

  • Increase your amount of quiet practice.
  • Don't lose expression when playing pianissimo. Increase it.
  • Go from loud to soft constantly.
  • Practice fortissimo passages in pianissimo.
  • Pretend you're practicing so as not to awaken the baby.
  • Rest more. Take a day off.
"Great trumpet players can play soft!"


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

ONE-SENTENCE LESSON #17

 

A disaster of monumental proportions was about to happen to me in the summer of 1966 at the Interlochen Music Camp. It was time for our weekly challenges for section placement. By a majority vote it was either "move him up or move him down."

I had reigned in the coveted first chair position all summer. On that dark day in July, however, I received the dreaded verdict: "MOVE HIM DOWN." Dethroned in an instant! I felt like the kid in the movie Christmas Story who not only got pummeled by the neighborhood bullies, but also had to endure "awh, what's the matter, kid!" 

Not handling the setback well at all, I moped around all week fuming about everything. Finally, a wise counselor pulled me aside and offered some much-needed advice. What he told me didn't stop the emotional bleeding at the time but has helped enormously in the many challenging situations that followed.

"Phil, a chair doesn't determine your value."

He also pointed out that I was no less of a musician in the second chair. The vote he said was correct. I not only needed technical improvement on the trumpet, but also a healthy jolt of humility. Maturity doesn't come without many painful trials. 

Sometimes a defeat is our best teacher! Whether I sufficiently learned my lesson that week or not, I reclaimed the first chair the following week!

Pictured below: Ken Gross, Doug Myers, Jim Thompson, Doug Sturdevant, Larry Hodges, me, and Mr. Robert Grocock. Dr. Gorden Mathie tallied "the vote" in the photo above. Mr. Grocock was rightfully annoyed at the guy playing backwards in the bottom pic. Note: Jerry Hey was third in line in the first pic. Wow! 






Thursday, May 26, 2022

One-Sentence Lesson #16

The Promenade from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is the trumpet player's signature excerpt and the one usually heard first on every audition. That famous opening solo is expected to sound great, to be in tune, in time, and flawless. Hence, our total focus on polishing every one of those 54 notes! 

After recording a recent practice session of this excerpt, I asked for some feedback. I heard this comment. "It sounds like you don't want to be in the art gallery."  

Definitely NOT the advice I wanted to hear! Yet that honest assessment was the one-sentence lesson I needed. The opening requires not only secure technique, but a bold splash of vibrant sound expected by the rest of the orchestra and by the whole audience! More drama, less trauma. 

It should sound like you are thrilled to be there!   

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

ONE-SENTENCE LESSON #15

 

The conductor looked annoyed and kept tugging at his ear as he glared at the trumpets. Finally, he stopped the rehearsal and said: "One of the trumpets is sharp!" My colleagues knew who it was, but wisely refused to look at me. Gulp. I received a painful but effective lesson that day!  

So, how do we fix our faulty, bone-jarring lack of correct intonation?

First, acknowledge that the problem may actually by our own, not the other guy's. 

Next, determine to examine each note with the honest help of a tuner. 

Then, correct the pitch without losing the rich core of the sound.

Play musically but play in tune. Playing musically but out of tune is not playing musically. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that must be relearned daily. 


Wednesday, February 09, 2022

The Problem with the Trumpet!

The problem with the trumpet! It is unmusical, it has no sound, rhythm or brains. It's dumb! It just lies there lifelessly in its case, smugly defying its owner to conquer it. It seems to enjoy frustrating and stifling inspiration. What's worse, it never practices!

The good news is that it can be brought to life and made obedient! Consider Frankenstein's monster, springing up after a few powerful jolts of electricity. Pinocchio similarly became a real boy when controlled by his inspired and caring master. Frosty also began to bounce around jovially once all the kids expected that he would. Simple examples but think about it: a few powerful jolts from a caring owner who believed his lifeless puppet could come to life!

So, what's the magic potion? It is an enormous musical stockpile, continuously infusing greatness into a lifeless instrument. A huge reservoir overflowing the banks of the dry land. A musical fortress that can be strengthened to withstand all challenges. 

The instrument will always be lifeless, but the player has the joy of providing all that's needed to bring it to life!

 

Saturday, February 05, 2022

ONE-SENTENCE LESSON #14



I once asked a veteran oboe player in the Cleveland Orchestra how often he felt good about his playing. I expected a response like, "every time, man!" I was stunned to hear him say, "I feel great only about 10% of the time." 

It sure didn't sound that way! His playing was always musical and flawless. I wish I had asked him how he did it, but I suppose the answer is obvious. It's why he had that job. 

So, what's the takeaway? 
  • Be encouraged that you can learn to sound great even if your heart isn't always in it. 
  • Fool your listeners. Act the part.
  • Always bring your performance face.
  • Don't depend on feeling great.
  • Turn boring into "bravo!"
  • We all have our 10%. Learn to be convincing on the 90%.  

Saturday, January 29, 2022

ONE-SENTENCE LESSON #12

"Greatness is the perfect mixture of technique and artistry." 



Related thoughts:

  • Guarantee purity!
  • Secure your technique for the purpose of flawless expression. 
  • Faulty technique will not contribute to great artistry.
  • Artistry requires technical control.
  • The purpose of great technique is compelling drama.
  • When artistry rules, mechanics can obey. 
  • When mechanics obey, artistry can emerge.
  • Passionate drama is well-organized. 
  • Emotions must be skillfully controlled.
  • Accuracy needs artistry. Artistry needs accuracy.


Friday, January 28, 2022

Only 1 Lesson!

Sometimes it only takes one lesson to make a lasting impact. 

In 1974 John Ware played a two-octave scale up and down for me. That was all I needed to hear. But it was the way he did it, starting pianissimo with a crescendo to fortissimo, and returning to pianissimo. Or it can be done with the reverse dynamics with a variety of articulations. Really quiet and really loud, without forcing or pinching. Always with a fabulous tone! 

The rest of that lesson was inspirational for sure, but the details have been forgotten. What I remember today however, is the ease and finesse with which he released a superior sound!

Lesson 2 was watching him play first on the Planets in the Philharmonic. It was the same thing: power and finesse all in one player! Articulations exploded out the bell. We heard exciting dominating trumpet playing from a rather small, mild-mannered gentleman. 

Of course, who cannot be amazed at the beauty of his Posthorn Solo in Mahler 3! His gorgeous playing still rings in my mind every time that excerpt comes up. He said very little that day, but his playing said everything I needed to hear!  







Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Overcoming the Nerve Monster

Great news! The NERVE MONSTER is not invincible! The dreaded adversary can be overcome or rendered ineffective and no longer a dangerous opponent.  How great would that be!

To be able to resist the onslaught of nerves requires a strengthening of your message. There should be no enslavement to crippling bouts of fright every time you take the stage! 

For this to happen, something more powerful than fear must take control. When it does, a successful performance or audition could actually happen. How great would that be!  

A public speaker who was known for his effective speaking before large crowds once admitted that were it not for one thing, he would be a nervous wreck every time he approached the podium. Nervousness was an admitted obstacle until he remembered why he was there!  

So, what turns hesitancy into confidence, fear into boldness? Answer: a total focus on your message! 

When there's much to share, there's no room for self-consciousness. An effective performer concentrates on his music, not on himself. Confidence comes from a sustained passion to deliver a great product. The audience pays to hear the music, not your attempt at an error-free zone. Plunge into the drama and avoid the trauma. How great will that be!

 





  

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

ONE-SENTENCE LESSON #13

Stop! Hold on! Slow down and listen! You need to play the Floating Fermata Game!

Imagine a fermata hovering over each line of your music as you play. It dances freely until it stops suddenly over one of your notes that needs your attention. It says, "There, hear that? Now fix it!" 

There's no point in ignoring the floating fermata. It's very sensitive and easily provoked. Any of the following will set it off:

  • Intonation violations
  • Quality malfunctions
  • Legato offenses 
  • Final-note sloppiness
  • Blundered entrances, etc.
The floating fermata is your best teacher!