I have three specific things to talk about this month that apply to most every musician. The first is the concept of the crescendo. I like to think of a crescendo as a sound that gets bigger and fatter as it gets louder. The timbre doesn’t change, it just gets bigger. It’s as though your instrument ate a big meal and got wider. This is the type of crescendo I try to impart to the ensembles I work with. Visualize a different kind of crescendo by taking the index and second finger to form a V and aim them as if you wanted to poke someone in the eyes. This is the kind of crescendo I hear very often that results in a sound that changes from mellow to hard as it increases in volume. A much more musical approach is a sound that grows wider and bigger without that obvious forward push that can assault the listener. Think of a forte that is 100 yards away, and moves evenly closer to the desired dynamic. I often tell students to play something marked forte, piano, and then tell them to play the forte with the exact same sound of the piano. The space in between the two dynamics would be the crescendo.
This technique can be developed by practicing hairpins while maintaining the mental image of the sound getting bigger (coming closer) and not louder. Think of the volume going sideways instead of straight ahead, as if the sound was a bellows and expanded and contracted with exactly the same sound consistently. Imagine the last note of an orchestral piece that has a hairpin for the whole orchestra. It can be played simply louder at the apex or it can be played as though more players were added just for that note. That is the sound you want in a crescendo. You do not have to have a precise understanding of how to do this, just a mental image of what it should sound like or even an idea that it is possible to produce an increase in sound in this manner. As I’ve said before, the brain is a marvelous thing and can show the body what to do, or teach it, even if the body doesn’t have a clue how to achieve something, but only if the brain has a visual stimulus or some idea what it is trying to transmit. Try to imagine the sound that I am describing before you try to attempt it.
The second item on my menu this month is that most beautiful of articulations, the forte-piano. If there ever was a divergence of opinion, listen to the various versions of what people interpret as a forte-piano in an ensemble. No two seem to be the same and yet this is one of the most important tools we have as musicians. I visualize the forte-piano as something like the shape of a comet. It has a large dense, brightly glowing head, which gives off a luminous and long tail that decreases gradually into nothing. Of course there are various sizes of the glowing head, from small and brilliant to large and slightly less brilliant, all producing a beautiful multi-colored tail. No other articulation can result in such a pure resultant sound. Developing this aspect of the musical vocabulary is one of the essential things someone can do on the way to producing the best sound possible on a particular instrument. Being able to produce a pure, round forte-piano in various sizes, meaning various dynamics, providing the forte is always round and pure, never hard or brittle, gives a player a tremendous advantage in sound and style. As with anything, spending time and isolating this one articulation so as to develop it independently, away from normal music making, will pay large dividends.
My third and final entree is learning how, and the importance of, playing to the space you are performing in. A common problem is practicing in a small space (after all, how many of us have concert halls to practice in,) and then playing to the same space when auditioning in a large space. I don’t mean just playing louder either. I mean being able to fill a large space with your sound, just like you fill every nook and cranny (I hope) of your horn. You need to learn to fill a large space without forcing, and this takes thought and practice directly related to this skill. My first item on this months menu would be of help in this regard. Of course the reverse is also true, being able to fill a small space with your sound without overfilling, if you have been practicing in a larger space.
I’d like to clue my readers in on what’s happening with the new Friedman model Bach. Since it’s almost impossible to find a decent Thayer valve these days, we are trying different valves to see which works the best on this horn. It is not only what the valve adds as far as the valve register, but what it doesn’t take away from the rest of the horn, which may be more important in the long run. Someday I’d like to play a fortissimo or even a forte C in the staff in 1st position with the valve, and have it feel and sound like the one in 6th! Is that asking too much? I plan to have the new horn on display at the Bach booth at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago this month.
Which brings me to another subject I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Wouldn’t it be great if when a trombone player wanted a new horn he/she could go to a place where you could try a whole bunch of really good new/old trombones that had been hand picked by someone who really knew what they were doing and cared about the plight of serious players who couldn’t find a decent instrument for various reasons. Most of the places that sell instruments don’t even know what they have, no less if the horns are any good or not. Whether new or used, the best instruments need to be in the hands of serious players and in one place so that someone would have many choices in the same place, to avoid running around on the rumor that someone might have something you wanted. I’d like to see a depot (place) where all kinds of new and used models of really good handpicked instruments were available, for someone to again, hand pick through. Kind of the “cream of the cream.” I’m thinking, I’m thinking……. I’ll keep you informed of any developments on this subject.
Hey folks, here’s a bit of useful info for that perennial problem brass players have of CHAPPED LIPS! Take a washcloth and run it under hot water (don’t burn yourself!) and hold it against your lips for a couple of minutes, repeat and do this as many times as possible, maybe a half hour or so. Then apply a lip balm, I use something called “chopsaver“, I usually do this at night. This enables me to play up to snuff until it heals on it’s own, and has saved what could have been some pretty scary Brahms 1st & etc. entrances.
A final word MUST be said about some of the leaders of our country who are advocating the legalization of torture. They say it would be used only under certain circumstances. We know from history that absolutely no mistakes have ever been made as far as innocent people being rounded up and held without cause. RIGHT! I think the people who are pushing this idea should consider the consequences of this position and imagine them or their loved ones in the hands of the enemy, who knew that the US was routinely engaging in torture “under certain circumstances.” As we have learned from history, every time an exception was made in the application of human rights, it has always been abused, and WILL always be abused. If this sick and perverted idea comes into law, then the US has qualified to join that most distinguished of groups known as the THE AXIS OF EVIL, and the rest of the world will wonder what ever happened to “The land of the Free and Home of the Brave,” except under certain circumstances, that is.
PS–if you are interested in the concept of real freedom, you must see the HBO special entitled, ” I’m Swiss” with Bill Maher.