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?

Strings – also good.  The worst you can say is that there is a tuning issue in a section.  Or inconsistent note lengths, articulations or bowings.

These people don’t play notes a 3rd, 5th or octave away from the note requested.  I can play a piece perfectly in a rehearsal, then have a bad embouchure day and dump all over it.  Do you realize how frustrating that is?  Especially on the day of a performance.  Add in performance anxiety and you’re already at a disadvantage.

I warm up before a performance of rehearsal.  A lot.  Too much?  Not sure about that, but I’m questioning this.  Another musician and I were having a conversation and this person revealed to me that they don’t warm up pre-performance.  They don’t want to be tired for the performance.  I was blown away.  You don’t warm up???

Lips to a brass musicians are like arms to a weight-lifter.  Would you imagine a weight-lifter walking into a gym, cold and working out with heavy weights right away?  Of course not.  You stretch and warm up first.  Start with some light weights and get your body movin’.  Same with your embouchure.  Your lips are muscles too and you can damage them if they aren’t warmed up.

In all fairness, I would be intrigued if this musician was a power horse or brilliant all, or most, of the time.  Such is not the case, in my humble opinion, and so I will continue using my ever-evolving warm up routine.

And in ever more fairness, I’m no Gene Pokorny or Oystein Baadsvik.  I was really unhappy with my own performance a few Sundays ago with Orchestra Toronto.  I kacked a C, right in the middle of the staff.  That’s a note I just don’t crack.  It doesn’t happen.  But it did and I was so upset.  Like, really???  Gawd dammit!  I do know that nerves are an issue, and I hate to say I’m pushing myself too far in warming up – I don’t think I am.  I play hard in rehearsals.  Like the high part in Franck’s Rédemption – the maestro worked it over and over on a few occasions.  Only near the end was it wearing me out, so I can take the light load of a concert.

The difference with a concert is that this is my one-and-only chance to play it right.  The pressure is on and adrenaline can cause a lot of havoc.  I’m curious about trying beta-blockers.  Friends of mine have mentioned them, and I’m sure some of the best in the word use them.  The next step after that would be to get counseling on performance anxiety.  Which I would prefer – to conquer and master this without the help of an ingested product.

On the subject of “ever-evolving” warm ups, my embouchure is ever-evolving too.  I’ve been pushing my fff+ dynamics a lot for a number of months.  This past Saturday’s concert at the Newmarket Theatre north of Toronto, my fff B natural was a flutter and not a clean tone.  I recreated that last night in my personal practice.  It’s a shame that it snuck up on me in performance, it’s evidence of my changing embouchure in my push to play louder.  I wasn’t damage, I’m guessing because it didn’t hurt.  Just a transition to a new plateau of playing.


2 thoughts on “Why do we kack?

  1. Bananas contain natural beta blockers. Think about treating yourself neutraceutically rather than with a concentrated drug. Pharmaceutical beta blockers do ground you for sure, but they can also take the exciting edge off a performance. I like the talk therapy route you suggest. One of the things you don’t mention in your blog entry is the enormous pressure and VISIBILITY brass players face in an orchestral ensemble. You can’t hide behind your section, each brass player’s colour is too distinct. Getting a little help existentially with bearing the ‘weight of the world’ on your shoulders during a concert is a good idea. You don’t have to carry the show on your own, and you prepare hard enough to rely on that when it comes time to shine.

  2. Thank you very much for your feedback, Dann. I’m performing a solo today (plus conducting), so I’m going to give the banana route a try. and you’re right about the brass section – woodwinds too frankly, eh? with individual orchestra parts, each of us is a soloist in some regard. That is enormous pressure. and perhaps it is for brass. Woodwinds play consistently through a whole piece (with few exceptions) and so aren’t subject to the “big moment” moments that brass need to be ready for. Like playing fff after resting for 50 bars.

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