Why do we kack?

Listening to musicians in Orchestra Toronto, I wonder:  why do brass players kack and crack notes?  Why are we the ones most prone to these mistakes?

Noru, the first clarinetist, plays so beautifully.  Danielle too (second) – I can’t recall the last time they squawked a note.  Bassoons, flutes, oboes too.  They are all reliably good musicians.  Or are they playing reliably good types of instruments?

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Fernandez – Batuque

This is an intense piece.  It’s subtitle “Danza di negri” – which would be a little racist to literally translate it as “Blacks’ Dance”.  It’s tribal and driving and becomes more frantic near the end.  It’s pretty exciting to play, despite not being a really interesting part for tuba.  Here are the opening lines and 100% of the variety of notes played:

The entrance at rehearsal 2 is tuba with trumpets.  The accented low ‘C’ is practically a solo.  Trombones only join in at rehearsal 3 with a repeat of section.  And notice the jump to ‘ff‘.  Don’t give it all up just yet, but be pretty liberal about volume and articulation.  ‘Allegro pesante’ is the header here and the articulation can stand to be on the rougher, more aggressive, side.  In other words, don’t be timid.  And don’t slow down.

Here’s the next section:

The pencil mark of ‘ff‘ after rehearsal 10 is not mine, but it’s true (bass trombone has it pencilled in too).  Combine that with the accent marks and that bar really rips!  Put in context with the bars that follow which are an octave lower (IMHO, the mid-range where the tuba has less impact) and no accent marks.  I let lose in this bar with at least ‘fff’ and very aggressive articulation and Maestra Lisboa has not called me out on it.  I know she wants passion and raw energy from us in this piece.

As you approach to rehearsal 12, articulation gets smoother while not slowing down.  Pairing those two up is a difficult urge to resist.

Final bits – not shown here is the ending — repeated 8th-note low ‘C’s with accelerando.

Franck – Morceau Symphonique

My first impression of this piece? BO-RING. Yeah, that’s two syllables. It’s definitely not a challenging piece for the fingers. It’s slow but high. And mostly unison with all the trombones except for a few chord hits and the last two bars.

The challenge: embouchure. Thank gawd most of the part for low brass is fortissimo. Lots of chance to breath in and let it all out! The only problem is the amount of waiting time until the first high entry. And until the next major entry. Here’s the opening spot (apart from a lonely little 8th-note ‘A’ earlier):

The tempo is pretty slow and the movement of the low brass melody is pretty deliberate.  Liszt does stuff like this too from my own personal listening experience.  Big awkward melody lines.  But the more I listen to them, the more poised and grand they sound.

So – it’s loud.  That’s the easy part if you’re taking in enough air and moving it out just as quick.  The hard part with this lick is getting the pick-up A accurately.  Practice – practice -practice.  Also, after playing this high, I found, using a tuner to keep me honest, the ending A of this melody was too high.

This motif repeats two bars later in the key of C with the same scale degrees – i.e. a tone down.  Then a snippet of the melody (last bar + pick-up) in Bb minor and again in C# minor (down to the bottom of the staff – not back up high – which was something to get used to, especially when the conductor wanted to practice this whole section over and over:  embouchure goes numb from the high range when it’s not used to it).  Then there’s this:

The fortissimo leading up to this is pretty loud anyhow and should be held back a little in order to give room for this, but in-play with a strong trombone section, this can be really loud.  The key is judging as you go to make sure this fortississimo is louder than what you just played.  I found it tricky to make sure I played this with a sustained dynamic (no diminuendo) and suddenly play mezzo-forte.  Wind is flying through your instrument at ‘fff‘ and suddenly slowing down for ‘mf‘ isn’t as easy as it seems.  And for what it’s worth, you could easily drop to piano and not hurt the interpretation.

The last two line of music have just a few minor things to consider.

(nb. that pianissimo is the ONLY quiet note in this piece.  lol)

That first fortississimo ‘A’ in bar 3 feels a tad too loud.  Like maybe it should have been a plain old forte to lead up to the second ‘A’.  In general guidelines of interpretation, the 4th beat get lots of emphasis here because it’s the end of a phrase.  The first note of the next bar also gets a lot of emphasis because it’s the start of the motif.  What to do with that little ‘A’ pickup?  I found it hard to find it in my embouchure in early practicing so I needed to work on its accuracy.  It would often be an accidental F#.

Surprisingly, I was finding the ‘E’ (last bar, first line, and four from the end) hard to center.  First, with the trombones in rehearsal, but I was blaming that on bass trombone playing an A just above me.  The interval of a 4th felt like a dissonance that made the ‘E’ hard to place. But even at home – after playing ‘ff‘ on V-I-V of D major, it was hard to play the tonic of ii.  My embouchure was not expecting that ‘E’.  Repetition at home has solved that – again, for me, it was the act of making my lips used to the physical requirements.

Finally, the last three bars – it sounds a little like a cheesy high school band piece ending with the pick-up-after-pick-up layering from low to high culminating in the final pickup to the second-last bar.  I’ve put in an ‘fp‘ and crescendo in the third last bar to let the other entrances shine through and then full ‘ff‘ for the last hit.  Resonating just a hair after the final cutoff is a thing of beauty for the ears – bass overtones cover up minor tuning issues.

For the record, here is a recording with Daniel Barenboim and the Orchestre de Paris – at a decent speed too (the first clip from above starts at 5:50):

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You know a funny thing that happened in rehearsal for Morceau Symphonique?  One night, none of the trombones made it.  It was just me and I knew this ahead of time.  I was not going to give up the chance to test myself with this tough part alone.  No safety-in-numbers crutch.  Just me playing ‘ff‘.  I nailed just about all of it!  So much that the principal oboe came and introduced himself at the break.  That was honestly really touching, and some fantastic validation of what I was doing: mainly dynamics, I think, but more than that. It’s performance passion.

I was really trying to projection a heavenly ‘redemption’. Heralding some profound good news. I put myself ‘out there’ – high and loud. I find this to be such an essential element of performance, but it takes a long time or racked-up performance hours to be able to do this. To put yourself on the line takes confidence but when you do it, the audience can feel it.  Always play like there’s a hall full of people listening (and wishing you all levels of success).

The start of a new season

A new concert season is well underway and I’ve finally got a minute, or weekend even, to post as update. As usual, there’s lots going on: a few gigs already, including the best Highlands Swing Band gig ever at Camp Wanakita. The chemistry and the acoustics were undeniable!! Blam!!

But the big thing new for me is conducting the new Highlands Chamber Orchestra! Wow. It’s a lot of fun! Glen Carter conducted the inaugural concert in the spring and now I’ve got the reigns. It’s such a fantastic musical and learning experience for me. We’re performing Finlandia, the Great Gate of Kiev (from Pictures at an Exhibition, Tushmalov’s version), Peer Gynt and a double concerto by Bruch for clarinet and viola. The concert is November 18th in Haliburton village.

Finally, Orchestra Toronto has expanded their season this year to include two additional concert which are repeats of the first and third programs. The year’s highlight for me is Tchaik 4 in February (and one of the repeated concerts which is great). For the first concert, I’m included in a piece call Morceau Symphonique from Franck’s Rédemption. Not a blockbuster, for sure, but a catchy tune and a chance to play some high stuff on my Eb – in unison with trombones. I’m going to post a separate entry on that piece alone as part of my series of rep for tuba. Keep an eye out for that in the next few days.

Oh — a final thought on Montréal: I was genuinely shocked to find out the Canadian audition yielded no winner. It’s gone international. I could have continued to practice for it! Lol