Monday, December 31, 2007

Making Music Alone... with Others

One evening during the holidays, while at a family gathering, I ended up talking with two people who, independently, mentioned that have their own private relationship with music. They both play piano, create their own pieces and just love to play--as long as they have total privacy.

We often can think that music is a social art (playing in a large or small group in front of others, for example), but I (and probably most of you reading this) know many people who have their own very satisfying musical life where no other person ever hears them. So, after talking with these people, it reminded me of my own private musical life that I have always had. And I realized you can be a public performer in a group, a world famous soloist, a schooled musician who ends up doing something else for a living, a self-taught musician, someone who whistles while they work or sings in the car or shower, all have their own personal and private musical life despite the apparent outward differences.

The very wonderful and interesting thing to me in this, in a lot of these people like the ones I spoke with at the family party, is there is no need in them to ever play in front of other people, not even family or friends; (I wonder if that even includes pets or other animals. Hmmm...). The supportive acoustic for them is playing alone, perhaps in a place where they feel very safe and comfortable.

For me, when I play alone, I don't feel alone. There is an odd sense of wholeness and togetherness and a feeling that a something else is listening. For all of you private music makers, maybe you feel that too, that something is listening to your music and supports your art. In any case, know that I think it is wonderful and I support your private music making.

Hey, this makes me wonder, maybe we could all play a concert together in the privacy of our own personal environments. We could set a time and everyone could play their special music together, yet in private, knowing others are doing the same at the same time.

Sound interesting?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

What's Next? Website Links

We recently found out that many people who visit this blog don't know I have a website where you find news about my upcoming performances (including Frequency Band events and playing with other orchestras), master classes, recordings, texts and all kinds of other things. So, Carol has asked me to post a little something here to let you all know that. Here are a couple links:

News page at
Events Calendar page at

We'll soon be adding new things to our Resources area too, as well as to our Catalogue page (including digital downloads not only for recordings but for print music and text as well). We thought many of you might find that useful and especially folks overseas for whom ordering products sent by mail is more difficult (even though we do take orders for CDs, print music and texts on our online shopping cart from anywhere in the world, for those who prefer that).

So, I hope you all are enjoying the posts here, which will continue even more regularly now, and that, if you want to find out other news, you will visit the website too. If there's anything you can't find or would like to see, well, you can let Carol know! :-)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thank You So Much!

Last night was my last concert with the orchestra. I could not even have imagined a warmer and more sentimented send off than that one!

First, hornist Jane Sebring baked a beautiful and delicious cake with an inscription written in icing, "Not again Norman!" This has meaning to several BSO members who remember the time our former personnel manager, Bill Moyer, got a little fed up with me always being the last one on stage. I would get changed at our six minute call and be on stage a minute before tuning. (I would like to point out, for the sake of balances, that I always was at the hall warming up at least one hour before the concert or rehearsal started. :-) Anyway, one time Bill thought I was pushing it, and he announced over the P.A. system, "Not again, Norman!" in an anguished but gentle tone. It was hysterical! Thank you to Jane and her husband, Gus Sebring, the BSO's associate principal horn, for the cake and all the years of meaningful conversations and great music making. Gus has world premiered two pieces I've written and, hopefully, will be recording.

Also, BSO horn player, Jonathan Menkis, brought in some wonderful cookies that his daughters baked for me, accompanied by a very nice handmade card too.

Then the conductor last night was James Orent, who is one of the Pop's assistant conductors and a violinist as well. I enjoy Jim's conducting very much and he has participated in one of our Frequency Band recordings and concerts, as well. So to have him be the conductor of my last BSO/Pops engagement was a real gift. He announced to the audience, in a very sentimented way, that I was leaving and the audience let out a big sigh! Then he gave me a solo bow and, unexpectedly, spotllighted me in the last piece of the program, a swing version of "Frosty the Snowman" that had a big trombone soli in it. I also was given flowers on stage, which was a gift from trombonist (and long-time Frequency Band participant), Darren Acosta.

At this point, I was starting to get a bit overwhelmed because all of this was on top of the special gift and incredible note that Doug Yeo, the bass trombonist and my dear friend (who also has kindly played and conducted on Frequency Band recordings) had given me.

I received many heart-warming well wishes from other colleagues, stage crew members, the BSO driver, other staff, friends, family and even complete strangers that night and wonderful emails from current and former students, other family members and friends came flooding in as well. It was a heartfelt send off from people I really care about.

To everyone who played a part, including members of the orchestra, friends and those closer family members (especially my beloved wife, Carol, who also took the above photo before the concert), I want to say, "Thank You!" May your lives continue to be filled with the joy and wonder that music is and represents!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Then There Were Two

Only two more concerts of Christmas Pops and I will be finished playing with the orchestra. It is really like watching a movie, witnessing certain things for the last time. The process of leaving something that I have done for most of my life brings about an acute state of awareness of the people and the place that have been a part of my life for so many years. And when I think about it, I have spent almost more time with Ron Barron and Doug Yeo than my own family!

Speaking of Ron and Doug, I have learned a lot from both of them in our many years together. We all have strong views about music and life. We all have interests outside of music. As well, each of us has our own musical interests outside of the orchestra. From what I know, we were the only symphony section where each person has made multiple solo and ensemble CDs. As individuals, we have richly contributed to the trombone and brass world and I would say the music world in general. Both Ron and Doug are honorable, quality people. I give them both a resounding "BRAVO!" for all that they have done and will continue to do.

Above is a picture of the trombone section taken just last week by BSO principal oboist John Ferrillo. A moment in time...

In October, shortly after my leaving was announced on the Internet, I wrote a blog post with other thoughts about this process. Here is the link: Beginnings and Endings

Also, on November 23rd, WGBH radio aired an interview with me conducted by producer, Brian Bell, about my time with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras. With WGBH's kind permission, we've posted that interview on our website Audio/Video page. Scroll down until you see the WGBH graphic. Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Most Important Acoustic, Part 1

As a musician, one can develop a feeling for playing in different spaces. Some places feel dry in their resonance, others might feel very boomy. There are many variations on this theme. And like most anything else, we have our preferences.

I have played in many concert halls throughout the world. I have played in many practice rooms throughout the country and abroad. Where do I like to play the most? Wherever there is a supportive acoustic. It can be outside or in a small room with a pet. Or at a relative's house with people who really are appreciative of what I do. Does the nature of an individual piece of music require a supportive acoustic to give it a chance to come alive? That is a fascinating question which we will look into soon.

To start with, I'm sure different music might call for different environments. That would make for a challenging recital! "Ok, we will play this piece in this hall and that piece over there," ...not very practical! This is where our minds can play a key role in influencing the ecology we play into.

If we are playing alone or even with others, we can alter our own "inner acoustics." This can be done by imagining you are playing in another space than the one you are in, more to do with feeling that space inside yourself. We all have a variety of experiences we can draw upon and can replay them. You also can develop this to the point where others can feel your 'creation.'

And this brings us to a vital point. If you are playing for other people, what they generate, in terms of their thoughts, creates an acoustical overlay that can override the physical acoustics of a concert hall. So why not tune the audience? Certain music cannot be received if there is not a place made to receive it. Any farmer, gardener, teacher or therapist knows this simple fact. There needs to be an opening for something whether it is a plant, new learning, advice or music to be received. That is the first step. Better still is having the 'soil' be fertile so when that something is received, it can take root and grow.

Many pop groups have a loyal fan base. When they come on stage to perform, the audience is very supportive and open to what the group will do. The group feels welcome and appreciated from the get-go. Great place to start. But even in those circumstances, I'm sure it can take time to be in a fully in-tune state between audience and performers.

Carol and I have found that speaking to the audience about the music creates a place where the music can be appreciated more by the listener. Telling someone about the harmonic construction of a piece might be of interest to a few people. But, to a lot of the audience, hearing what a piece is about helps them to translate and understand the sounds that they will hear.

The other benefit of speaking to the audience is you have created an atmospheric acoustic which will give the music a path to flow through without as much resistance. This is a subtle science but can be so easily developed and proven if there is the desire. More to come on some practical steps to opening up this subject shortly. Stay tuned!