Nemesis notes

From my experience in the amateur musician’s circuit, every musician and instrument combination has a “nemesis note” or two. Sometimes it really is the instrument. But it’s my opinion that a nemesis note is usually one that hasn’t found its centre yet.
Every note has a sweet spot in terms of embouchure. For me, the upper range is usually better (clear and singing) when my embouchure is in the centre of the mouthpiece. And the low range used to be better with the mouthpiece sitting on the right side of my lips. That made for difficulties in quick passage crossing from low to high or with slurs over large intervals. Can you picture me sliding across the mouthpiece as I cross over Bb at the bottom of the staff? What a pain and waste of energy. I had to fix that for sure.

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Say this word to just about any orchestral musician (and many fans of orchestral music) and they’ll know what you’re talking about.  As a tubist, say it to any brass section member and they’ll know exactly what you are talking about:  *the* tuba solo from Pictures at an Exhibition, as arranged by Ravel.  I’m not counting Baba-Yaga here, though it’s also a great solo too.

The meat of the Bydlo solo.

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Lesson with Nick Atkinson

So during my trip to Ottawa from March 25 to 28, I was able to get a lesson with Nick Atkinson – my teacher from when I was going to the University of Ottawa.  At the time, he was the tubist for the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, the Rideau Lakes Brass Quintet, and conductor of the UofO wind ensemble.  Today, he continues to play with the NACO, Rideau Lakes and now the Capital Brassworks (which didn’t exist back when I was going to school).  He no longer teaches at UofO, nor does he play with the OSO – both of those positions are taken up by Martin Labrosse, who was a student of Nick’s way back when.  Nick jokes that he’s getting old, but he’s as lively as ever — and sounds as good as ever.  That man is master of the Eb tuba.

So Nick and I met up at his place for the lesson.  Continue reading

The equipment — my C (and not CC, as it were)

Wikipedia says using terms like “CC” and “BBb” is “based on a traditional distortion of a now-obsolete octave naming convention”.  So I play a C from Besson, in the category of contra-bass tuba, along with a Bb.  Here it is:

It’s a pretty sweet machine.  It’s my second tuba as well — my first being my Besson Eb.  I use a PT-72 mouthpiece with it – though I’m looking to get something bigger.  I got the C in early 2006.  Wow — 5 years ago.  I’ve come a long way playing it.  I remember trying out some tubas with Scott Irvine at Long&McQuade in Toronto.  He chuckled that I sounded like an Eb player on a C.  I can only hope that this is different now.  There is a much bigger and broader sound of this C vs. my Eb.

Thanks to a few pieces in Orchestra Toronto, my low end is sounding pretty good to.  First, it was Vaughan-William’s 2nd symphony with a low D and low E.  Then… um… perhaps it was The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.  The latest was low stuff in Prokofiev’s Cinderella (the suite).  A lesson with Sasha Johnson from the National Ballet helped a lot too (they were performing the full ballet in Nov 2010).  Plus my audition to the GGS had some specific low contrabass tuba – the Dragon solo from Wagner’s Das Rheingold.  I would love to revisit that now.  It used to take me an hour of warming up to get a nice low D.  That time has been dramatically reduced!  It feels great.

One thing I need to work on though, is the higher range.  Being able to pick notes out of the air, 100% reliably.  This is much easier for me on my Eb.  On the C, I find myself going too high.  I think I’ll go back to using the C in swing band.  The endless arpeggios are great exercises.

I’ve had on my mind recently to make a roap trip to Detroit — visit Custom Music for the first time, get a new mouthpiece and get a lesson from the tubist from the Detroit Symphony.  Collin and I could go together and make a little overnight trip about it.  And get some good mexican food in Detroit’s Mexicantown.