Monday, August 20, 2007

More on After a Lesson, Part 2

For those of you who have seen the video clip "After a Lesson" (in a earlier post), here is some more information about it.

At the beginning of the clip, you can hear me say the word "toilet." This came about because John Peter and I were talking about mutes. I was showing him a mute called a "wa wa" mute, commonly referred to in the brass world as a Harmon mute. Many times music calls for a plunger. A plunger is rubber suction that oftertimes is used when a toilet is clogged and will not flush. This is what we were talking about just before the bit on the Harmon mute, hence, the reference to "toilet."

But some very inventive jazz players, usually trumpet or trombone players, many years ago, discovered use of the plunger was a wonderful way to produce really cool effects. One of the sounds it produces sounds like a cry, Wa Wa! This wa sound is made by placing the mute in and out of the bell at various speeds depending on what kind of wa you are going for.

For example, a slow wa can sound like a cry but a series of fast wa wa's can sound like a laugh, especially in a descending pitch sequence of half steps. The Harmon mute can make similar sounds but has a different timbre or tone color. I love playing with the Harmon mute and have written many pieces that call for it. If I can find one that's a sound clip, I'll post it.

[UPDATE 8/29/07: We found a sound clip where I'm using the Harmon mute. Scroll down to track 20 after you click here and you'll find an excerpt from "After A Call" (from "Swallows") on my "Occurrences" CD. Hope you enjoy it!]

[UPDATE 9/30/07: For those interested, the single track MP3 for "After A Call" is available from the iTunes page for my "Occurrences" CD.]

[UPDATE 3/16/08: To hear a sound clip for "After a Call" posted on our website, click here. Also, the print music for "After a Call" is available as part of "Swallows," two unaccompanied solos dedicated to John Swallow.]

Also, I was showing John Peter how the trombone can sound like a didjerido when the Harmon mute is in and you are playing and singing a note at the same time. At the end of the video clip, I mention circular breathing just before the video ends.

Circular breathing has its beginnings thousands of years ago (just like singing and playing at the same time, which I talked about in my last post). It was a common practice on the didjerido for the purpose of having a continous sound. It is a difficult technique to do well. Any good book on how to play the didjerido explans the technique. It is basically this: While playing a note you collect some air in your cheeks. Then you take a quick breath through you nose, at the same time pushing the air out of your cheeks to make sure there is air still going into the horn while you take a breath through your nose! I was lucky to have played with one of the worlds greatest circular breathers, former Boston Symphony tubist, Chester Schmitz. It really helps to watch someone to learn this technique! Get a didjerido video and see!

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