I’ve had some recent encounters with the sometimes-awkward relationship between amateur musicians and dynamics. From my perspective (IMHO), it’s often about brass musicians not playing loud enough – not realizing the impact fortissimo really should make.
I think it comes down to three things: self-confidence, self-perception and embouchure comfort zone. I think those are also in order of increasing ease to fix – i.e. the last on the list is the easiest to fix.
Through a tuba group on facebook, I recently be-friended Panagiotis Kamvisidis (Hi!). He’s principal tuba with the City of Athens Symphony Orchestra in Greece (only just established in 1996?!?). He sent me this video today of his group ‘Too Bass’ performing a Romanian dance by Ionel Dumitru –
Now there’s some great tuba ensemble playing, not to mention solo work! Clear, nimble, articulate and … mesmerizing. That melody is going to be in my head ALL DAY LONG!
But seriously, like any aspiring and growing musician, I’ve got role models I want to sound like. I’m going to keep Panagiotis’ sound in mind when I’m practicing and performing!
I’ve got a favourite recording of Prokofiev Romeo & Juliet excerpts (not the suites) by Montreal and Dutoit that I would have liked to have found on youtube, but I found this instead which is a great substitute –
The start of the march is marked ‘forte’ for tuba and bass trombone. The sound I’m hearing here is a lot of edge from the bass trombone and a solid foundation from tuba. I’ve heard Gene Pokorny play it in person at a masterclass and he made my jaw drop with the FAT sound he was creating – lots of brassy edge and attack and in tune too! So, relating that memory back to this video: I wonder how much of the edge here is tuba. The trombone-tuba edge ratio? 75:25, respectfully?
I’m listening to the Montreal recording on CD and there’s much less edge from the bass trombone but a lot more weight from the tuba. For the big lick though, the three trombones don’t shy off. I’m liking the more-weight idea for tuba. I’ll leave brassy to the cadential low E’s.
Considering the dynamics now (of both performances) – I think it’s more of a pomposo and pesante kind of forte. There’s no missing the bass trombone and tuba in the march. That might sound “too loud” from within the low brass section, but the outer balance should be good. I have to leave it up to the conductor to tell us to back off. For now, she’s worried more about the piece as a whole vs. fine-tuning our balance.
More youtube searching – “prokofiev brass” – and found this from the AYO. The tubist recorded this using his phone. The video’s sideways, but who cares! I’m McLuvin’ his sound.
The build-up starts around 1:30 with low brass in around 1:55 (and again at 3:50). Great tone! Fat sound! Clean attacks! No apologies! I notice he’s breathing a lot but there’s no lack of sound with upper brass sustaining.
I also noticed the lick around 3:36 where tuba backs the trumpet. Low D down to pedal Eb is nice and clean. I want to work with the trumpet who’s got this in OT to make sure we’re together.
Last Friday, I attended a recital-masterclass of the Boston Brass at the University of Toronto. Providence and co-incidences came together to have me attend this. It was on a Friday and I just found out about it on Thursday night while at orchestra rehearsal. There was a snow squall warning for home, so I stayed in TO.
I took notes of some gem concepts for musicians and I got to meet Andrew Hitz! What a fantastic player and monster machine on the tuba. He’s all about listening. His opening greeting to the audience was about taking advantage of the internet and listening to just about anything you can listen to on the web (youtube, spotify, etc…). If you’re not listening and learning, then someone else is and that person will have an advantage over you in technique and auditions.
So today I searched “prokofiev brass” to see what I could find to give me a hand with the Dance of the Knights in orchestra. I found this. 😀
What am I watching for? At time 2:21, the low f minor Knights. I’m looking at his breathing and how it avoids breaking the musical line. He’s not trying to tear down the walls either. It’s musical and forte. Plain and simple.