And here we go!!!

We’re just a few days from September and the start of the 2013-14 music season and I’ve started already. A few weeks ago, Orchestra Toronto held a summer audition for two applicants for the open music director position. They were both pre screened and so were both really good. So much that the orchestra never sound so good. But boy, am I out of shape… especially for Tchaik 4. Whoa! Back to breathing and buzzing exercises!

Yesterday, I was a guest speaker giving a tuba techniques talk at Steve’s Music’s annual band clinic for school teachers. I talked about why I picked up the tuba in grade 9, why I loved it and what it takes to make great and quick strides on it when you’re starting out. I got some good questions from posture and position for small kids, to what to do about a really wet embouchure. And I got some good compliments too! It was fantastic! I can’t wait to do one of those again.

I also got the rental package for “Rhapsody in Blue” in the mail. Highlands Chamber Orchestra rehearsals start a week from today. I’m VERY excited about it. RiB is going to be a challenge to prepare for the November 23rd concert, but I know that the musicians are going rise to the occasion. They are as excited as I am!

Plus, at Steve’s, I picked up the scores and parts for “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” and “English Folk Song Suite” for the Highlands Wind Symphony. Both are band favourites of mine so I’m really looking forward to conducting them!

Next week, we kick it into high gear… Thursday, Orchestra Toronto is auditioning two more conductors and the Highlands Chamber Orchestra kicks off their season. It’ll be great to see everyone again and officially welcome Fall together!

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Application for Apprentice Conductor

Well, hello there blog!  It’s been a little while.  I’ve missed you.  🙂

So here’s some big news – I’ve applied for the position of Apprentice Conductor with Orchestra Toronto.  It was announced last week and I started on my cover letter right away!

But as it turns out, the current music director for OT, Danielle Lisboa, is leaving.  She’s moving to Edmonton, I hear.  This puts a little kink in the plan of Apprentice Conductor – they will hold the applications until the fall once they [hopefully] have a new MD.

In any case, I’m super stoked about it!  It’ll be a great opportunity for me to learn with an experienced conductor and get some hands-on time with a large orchestra – especially it being OT because I know so many people.  The familiarity will make me really comfortable in auditions.  And, if I get it, at the discretion of the director, I could conduct a piece in concert!  Booyah!  And all I’d be learning I’d be taking back to the Highlands Chamber Orchestra.

Yay!  🙂

Tchaik 4 with Orchestra Toronto

We’re on to the next rehearsal schedule for Orchestra Toronto and the main piece on the program is Tchaikovsky’s 4th symphony. This is a powerhouse piece for brass, even with us only really involved in the first and last movements. Sure, there’s some cute stuff in the third movement for all brass (except for tuba), but it’s nothing compared to the power in the opening and closing.
I got familiar with this symphony because it was prominently featured in the audition list for the Montreal Symphony. There are countless important licks for tuba here and just about all of them are double- or triple-forte!! So when I saw the draft for this year’s program last year I got really excited. I printed the part off the Internet and started getting familiar with it. Oh, I almost forgot, I have snippets of the part in my excerpts book and I had considered playing them for my audition to the GGS a few years ago.
So I was super excited to get back to OT rehearsals after the holidays. The first two rehearsals were good. We read through the outer movements really slowly. Especially the first one. Between the counterpoint and the emphasis away from the downbeat, it’s not a cinch to put together.
More importantly, I was looking forward to the big brass sectional of the season. This would be our second year at it. Last season, we had a sectional for Holst’s Planets and Ravel’s La Valse. Trumpeter Guy Few was our coach and he was fantastic. This year, we had some trouble booking someone in advance because many were busy on that Thursday night. We finally confirmed with Rupert Price, principal trombone with the Windsor Symphony. That night, just this past Thursday, we spent 2.5 hours on Tchaik 4. He had some great advice on articulation, style and interpretation. All which made it easier for me to play. It was fantastic to get his view on the piece, and the brass section sounded fantastic with he suggestions. I’m sure my ears took a hit in that boomy room, but I loved every minute of it. I’m looking forward to hearing it all put together next week with the rest of the orchestra.
In terms of my musical career, the opportunity to play Tchaik 4 is very important to me. In the world of community orchestras, I might not have another chance to play in a good number of years. I’m definitely happy with the brass section we have right now. We have some recent additions from UofT who are contribution a lot to the brass section and we’re all gelling well. We’re going to bring the house down on this one!

2012 Year in Review

It’s the final day of 2012. I’ve been thinking about this blog entry for a number of weeks now. How would I sum it up? Then this morning, a friend on Facebook put up this status:

In 2012 well I learned a lot. lost a lot. gained a lot. Must say hardest year to date but I’m still smiling happy new year everyone and a happy 2013 to all!

Nailed it! Continue reading

Wrap up of the Holiday Season Concerts

Yesterday was the last one.  I suppose I didn’t do that many, really, but it’s been an intense few weeks of rehearsals and driving around.  I subbed into the York Symphony’s holiday concert (plus 2 rehearsals leading up to it) because their tubist suffered an injury and needed surgery on his knee.  Ouch. Continue reading

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