Monday, January 21, 2008

Birthday Surprise and Thank you!

This past Thursday, January 17th, was my birthday. But when I got up that morning, I had no idea what I was going to find.
As I've mentioned in a previous post, my wife and partner, Carol, has been going wild with Garage Band, putting new great sound clips on our website. But what I did not know was that she actually also was planning to release, as our first digital down load, "Long Live Symphony Hall" to honor my birthday! I was totally surprised and absolutely delighted!

It is, thanks to Carol, our first release of recorded music since 2002. We have so much music waiting to be released. And now, we have a little more time to have it actually happen. But, Carol NEVER ceases to amaze me with her ongoing dedication to find new ways to transmit the signal of what music, art and life means to us, so others, who may be interested in this approach, can have a better chance of knowing about it.

Carol told me the story about all the different people she had to get in touch with to help with the various components, so it could actually be ready by my birthday, because it didn't just take posting the music. She listed the 'cast of thousands' with a twinkle in her eye and a smile but I know she was up till midnight the night before my birthday and made it all happen just in time. PHEW!, is what I feel just thinking about it. I am very touched when people go through so much for others. In this case, I am the other, and am blown away by it!

This piece, "Long Live Symphony Hall," was the last piece we performed on our concert in April 2001 in Jordan Hall with the Frequency Band. This concert was the finale to an intensive first time ever, week long, international Frequency Band retreat. We had people come in from Denmark, Holland, France and New Zealand, plus people from other states and, of course, many from New England. It was a powerful week, filled with self discovery that, in many ways, stretched the limit of everyones preconceived ways of going on.

The recording that Carol and the team has made available is very potent and uplifting, with a majestic strength and accessibility. It was the only piece written for Boston Symphony Hall's centennial celebration.

For those interested, I highly recommend this for your upliftment and enjoyment. It is a wonderful way to hear the Frequency Band in action, and what we mean by "music as a living thing"! What a fantastic birthday present.

My love to all who made it possible, with an extra dose to my extraordinary wife.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

To vibrato or not to vibrato, is that the question?

[Where's the video?! A video will reappear in an upcoming post about 'kinds of vibrato.' In the meantime, this post is about the vibrato debate itself. Enjoy!]

If you ask 50 different brass players about vibrato, I'm sure you will get as many different answers about when vibrato should and should not be used, as well as what kind is acceptable as well as what is the "correct" way to produce it.

I developed a natural diaphragm vibrato at age 12. I remember hearing string players with vibrato and loved it. My teacher at the time was Ronald Ricketts and when he heard it, he thought I would have more control over jaw vibrato, because he heard that it can be hard to shut off diaphragm vibrato. He also wanted me to use the kind of vibrato he himself, and a majority of brass players, used. (He had a beautiful vibrato.) At that point, I learned jaw vibrato and, in a short period of time, it felt very natural and was an integrated part of my lyrical and expressive aspects.

When I studied with Steven Zellmer, I asked him about vibrato and he thought it should not be technically contrived. He believed it naturally would emerge out of the player as an expression of certain music. So he never talked about the mechanics around the production of vibrato. He did say that vibrato, at certain times, tended to cover up the purity of the trombone sound.

I've also heard woodwind players speak of diaphragm and throat vibratos, often in terms of the right way and the wrong way. I can tell you, from my experience, that I have heard wonderful vibratos made in a variety of ways whether it was produced by the throat, jaw, diaphragm or other.

Many European players that I know do not use vibrato. Many soloist do, no matter what part of the world they are from. So the question arises: "Is there a time and a place for vibrato?" My response is, it is all in the interpretation and inner feeling life of the musician, regardless of the different schools of playing that can have their rules about what constitutes proper vibrato etiquette.

Since I have played in a variety of musical formats, orchestral, chamber music and solo, all covering a broad range of musical styles, including Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic and right through Big Band, Pops and Contemporary, I have used vibrato at some point, to varying degrees, for them all. Was that right? It was for me. Did everyone like it? Probably not. Is that my criteria? No.

At this point, I use six different kinds of vibrato based on what I feel will get me closer to what I am musically seeking. Those kinds are: jaw, throat, diaphragm, slide, 'U' syllabic oscillation, and when using a plunger or a Harmon mute (the 'wa,wa' effect). Of course, within each one of those kinds, there is a spectrum of naunce that is possible, ranging in intensity and subtlety.

If someone says to you to NEVER use vibrato in the orchestra, I hope you will realize that you are the one with the choice, unless, of course, the conductor or your section leader has another idea! Obviously, it is wise to blend in and go with the flow in certain ensemble situations, yet you can still have your own views based upon your ongoing discovery of art and its expression.

There are many ways that something can sound expressive. Just because someone uses vibrato doesn't mean they are expressing very much. Sometimes vibrato can be used like whipped cream to cover up a dry cake instead of as an enhancement and compliment to the quality of experience.

In the end, you can't please everyone, and that, in my view, should never be the government in your music making. Find your ways to build a relationship with the music and it will reveal to you what it wants through your own way and style.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Special Sound Clips and a Story

Carol, my wonderful wife and partner, has gone wild with Garage Band and has put some new sound clips on our website. She wanted to post sound clips that would actually give an experience of the essence of the music. Something that could be felt at a greater depth whether somebody bought any music or not. She wanted people to have the experience of possibly being touched by what it is we are trying to do, the humanity of it.

And guess what? She did it! It's "a work in progress," she says, but she's redone most of "Occurrences" and "In Living Continuance." I listened to them and felt the potency of the music in those bits. But it seemed timeless. Music can be so transforming in a short period of time if one is open and will allow themselves to receive it. I encourage those interested to check it out.

I want to tell one story about one of the clips, "The Blue of Neptune." This piece was inspired by an amazing picture of Neptune's deep, rich blue cloud cover. I was so absorbed in that color, that I started feeling the music form inside me quite soon after looking at the picture.

One day, a former student of mine named Joe Branco, who played bass trombone, was having a lesson with me. We started working on "The Blue of Neptune" in a connective manner by really letting ourselves feel the deep blue and sensing the planet as best as we could.

As we kept playing the piece and getting more immersed in it, we started to get inside a very different state of mind. We did not realize how different we felt until we left the practice room and went outside. We felt as though we were functioning at a totally different speed and mental reactivity to what was around us. We felt really good but odd, until we both looked at each other and realized we had just 'taken a trip' to Neptune and had not yet fully come back to Earth!

Enjoy the sound clips!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Tributue to My Teachers:
John Swallow

It was around my 12th birthday when my mother bought me a recording of John Swallow. I believe it was on the Crystal record label and on the front of the record jacket was a big picture of John smiling and holding his trombone. I used to stare at the picture while I listened to him play. And boy, did he play!

I loved every piece on the recording and, of course, the way in which he played them. It sounded so free and clear with a wonderful variety of articulations and nuances. When I listened to "Blue Bells," I could not believe a trombone could play that fast!

I remember falling in love with the Alec Wilder sonata. I would try to play along with the recording and did not realize, until I saw the music years later, that my record player was playing it up a half step. Every time I would hit the high E flat at the end of one of the movements, I said out loud to my mother, "I hit the John Swallow note!" (which, of course, was supposed to be a high D). So, for quite a while, I called high E flat "the John Swallow note"!

As you can probably imagine, I was very excited when I had my first lesson with him at the New England Conservatory. It was October 6th, 1973. When I saw him, I was a little shocked because he had longer hair than on the front of the album cover, where he had a crew cut!

He was very friendly and warm, with a certain spark in his eye. I knew we would get along! He taught very differently than my former teachers and opened up new areas of technique and sound. He was not fixed on 'standard' orchestral concepts and I loved the opportunity to broaden my musical pallet. Even though most people thought of him as a great chamber music player, teacher and soloist, he was, by the way, a terrific orchestral musician, having played in major symphony orchestras like Chicago and Utah as well as the New York City Opera and Ballet orchestras.

For many years after I left the conservatory and was in the BSO and the Empire Brass Quintet, I would go to him for advice and friendship. We would go out to dinner, quite frequently on Monday nights, times I remember with great fondness.

I had the wonderful opportunity to be with him on his 75th birthday when I was on sabbatical from the BSO and was teaching at USF in Tampa. His wife, Myra, Carol, John and myself went to lunch. It worked out because John and Myra were in Florida visiting one of his sons and his grandchildren.

When I found out that we were going to actually get together, I wrote him a piece that morning for solo trombone, called "Happy 75th, John!" which I gave him at his birthday lunch. I also wrote him another solo piece a few months later, after I got off of a phone call with him and named it "After a Call." The two pieces together are called "Swallows." I recorded them both on my "Occurrences" CD. He was very touched and was very encouraging of my compositional journey.

I hope that I can go out to dinner again with him. He was certainly one of my musical mentors.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

What is "The Box"?

When the expression is used, "out of the box," the question arises in me, "What box?" or "What is the box?"

The simple answer is: The box is a usual or habitual or standard 'fill it up with regular' way of going on. It is, no matter what the subject matter might be, a common and accepted way of doing something.

When looking at the arts, for example, it appears that there are many boxes, the reason being there are so many kinds of art. Even in one branch, there are many different schools and methods of training, not to mention numerous ways of approach!

If no one went beyond the accepted style of the times, nothing would change. Change is a part of life on both a small and a grand scale, but it is interesting to see how hard it is to change something in ourselves or in a society even if that something is harmful. We get used to things and become comfortable with our familiar ways and that brings a certain security. This is why I believe it can be very difficult to change something in ourselves unless we have some compelling reason to change.

If someone is interested in change for the reason of personal growth, it is best done slowly and under the guidance of someone who has proven to be knowledgeable in that area, someone with a track record of success working with other people. When entering unchartered waters, it is comforting to know you are in good hands. Even pioneering types look for guidance in one way or another.

It all depends on what you want. And of course, that can change....

For me, music is a living thing. And what makes it alive is my need to use music as a medium to transfer various aspects of life and what it means to me. But more importantly, I want to be an instrument myself for the parts of life that find me a suitable instrument to work through. That's because I believe the human has huge potential and each person has the ability to affect the whole of life no matter how small it might seem. The question is, "How do we want to affect it?"

For me, I wish to be a musical conduit for that which is more enhancing and elevating in life. And that can take many forms such as healing, inspiration, encouragement, beauty, humor, reverence, awe, appreciation, honor and much more. In order to be in a state of synchrony with those areas that I wish to flow through me, I have to be closer to where they live, and that is a journey of personal growth. But it is worth the work and effort because I have to be truthful with myself and feel what is out of tune in me that could prevent those more elevated qualities from passing through my music.

I have to be willing to get out of my box, to change an attitude or habit, which takes work and time. Not always easy, but then again, if I want to grow, it is easier to deal with the rough times if I know why I am doing it and believe in it.

I believe we were made to always grow, deepen and enrich our lives. So in that light, I am willing to break out of one box after another, for the sake of being in tune with the bigger picture, which is infinite in its dimensions and possibilities!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

More Trombone Sci-Fi

"One more time, Oscar, and keep the slide charged to the very end of the vein stem," Mr. E. Lewiston said. "Now, lower the bell and keep the intensity of the 'U' syllable."

Oscar was following the directions his 7th degree mentor was giving him, but his mind was also focused on the 'Olanim' chant. He did not want any frustration or anxiety to move through him and activate the 'AIM' device.

"You seem a bit slow, Oscar. I can adjust your sensor-helmet if you think this would help," said Mr. E. Lewiston.

"No thank you," replied Oscar. "I think it is just getting used to being back on top of a heavy workload."

"I'm sure it is," agreed Mr. E. Lewiston. "But we have no time to relax. We are preparing to go to the ISTP competition this year. That means it is only four and a half months from now! All competitors--I signed you up to participate by the way--need to cut their sleep to only two hours a night and increase their dietary supplements to four times daily with extra EMF stimulation engagements."

"With all do respect, my mentor, that is impossible with my current workload at the Academy. On top of all my studies and practicing, I have maintenance work at the Hall of Events and working three times a week at IDAL," said Oscar with concern in his voice timbre. " I can't do all that, I'm not sure who could."

Mr. E. Lewiston looked at Oscar. "I know you are under a lot of pressure. Maybe I can talk to director Kline about cutting down your workload."

"That would be much appreciated sir," said Oscar.

"However," continued Mr. E. Lewiston, "that time would be filled with extra rehearsals and practice tests working towards the ISTP competition."

Some anxiety was building up in Oscar, so he immediately started mentally chanting 'Olanim' with a slow tempo, mid pitch and mellow, hollow timbre.....

This is another excerpt from my book, "The TAC Legend Writings,
Book 1: Journey To Freedom." Here are links to other excerpts:
Trombone Sci-Fi
Excerpt from "The TAC Legend Writings"
Blinded by Sound
Another Excerpt from "The TAC Legend Writings"
More from "The TAC Legend Writings"

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Follow Up: Playing Alone Together

It's been great to receive some responses from folks who are interested in this unique concert experience of playing alone with others. I am also very interested in this as well! It is very warming to think of sending supportive acoustics from anywhere in the world to anyplace in the world. This is something that Carol and I have done for years in the Frequency Band, but not in this exact way.

For others of you who are interested in this performance together, let me know. I will keep you all posted as more develops.

Happy, soulful music making to you all!