The not-so-simple-and-easy-to-play

I’ve been working my butt off on my C lately – warm ups; harmonic series slurring; low range long tones; and orch rep – Prokofiev’s R&J Suite 2 and Holst’s Mars and Jupiter.  My rep focus has been on the low f minor Dance of the Knights:

Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet: Dance of the Knights

  • where, when and how to breath to make it through the 4 bars
  • tone quality on the opening low Fs, and last one, plus the accent on the C in between

So I sat down in orchestra last night, all warmed up and ready to go.

Then I spot it.

The tubist’s meat and potatoes since highschool band:

Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet Suite 2: The Montagues and The Capulets

oy!  The Prince’s Command – 8 beats of sustained low F at fortissimo.  Dissonant and dramatic.

Part of me feels like a total woos for not being able to play it, but alongside the trombones and rest of the wall-of-brass sound, I also feel like I’ve really got to put out for this.  And so the air flows out like it’s going out of style.  That’s good, no?  The very first warm up sheet Nick Atkinson gave to me contains the words “blow to empty”.

My thoughts are, either, that I’m playing too loud and I should back off, or that this is your run-of-the-mill naive composer thinking a tubist can 8 slow beats of a pedal F at fortissimo.  In Mahler’s 1st [symphony], the tubist’s first note is 13 bars of a held low F at ‘pianississimo’ … aka triple-piano.  Needless to say I had to mark multiple spots where I could refill my lungs with the least disturbance.

Anyhoo — back to Prokofiev.  I think I need to pull back my dynamic just a little so that I can make a fuller sound without any diminuendo and break the tie to sneak a quick-but-deep breath in.  The second bar is the consonant resolution – that much of a change in chord character will mask my short absence to the audience’s ear.  Plus, with a consonant resolution, we can collectively back off the dynamic some.

Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill?  Probably.  I just thought it interesting that the Dance of the Knights was such a focus for me when I still needed to think about the simple stuff.


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