Saturday, November 29, 2008

Trombone Talk

If I remember correctly, when I was younger, my basic criterion for picking a horn or mouthpiece was tone. If it had a tone that I warmed to and identified with, I would try to play it, even if it was not the easiest equipment for me to play.

But over the last several years, this changed. My first and foremost criterion is if the equipment is comfortable to play--meaning ease of response, range and articulation. BUT, I do still need to identify with the quality of sound. The problem is, different equipment fits different music; so, at times, I will change bells or mouthpieces to 'assist' my efforts to produce the qualities that I am seeking.

The other interesting and, at times, annoying feature is my own changing physical needs. Sometimes, a heavier bell section feels right; sometimes a light bell section feels right. What to do?! It makes me just want to pick the equipment that 85 to 90% of the time will feel pretty good and forget about entertaining the idea of frequent changes in equipment. So, my present criteria for equipment are:

1. Ease of:
_a. response & range
_b. articulation
_c. flexibility
2. Tone quality
3. Endurance

The list is not really in order of importance but related keywords are "easy" and "natural," i.e., what is going to give me the least fight, so I can make the most music.

If I let myself be totally absorbed in loving one type of sound, it would take too much of my energy, if the equipment was not 'cooperative' in all the other aspects of playing. I want the majority of my attention and energy to be in the 'life pulse' of the music, the spirit of the music. Tone is only one part of it.

I have noticed that some equipment will 'not allow' a player to have flexibility in timbre and nuance changes. These instruments can be excellent for stability or specific styles but are often not very malleable. At this point, I need an instrument that will bend with me. But of course, this can change!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Frequency Band!

On November 17th 1993, the Frequency Band® was born and made its appearance known to a group of trombone players from 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM that evening in the chorus room at Symphony Hall, Boston.

What a night it was! The atmospheres and the deep affect on the people were nothing less than profound. That night might seem like a distant dream to some, but for Carol and me, it was confirmation of the extraordinary possibilities of the human connection expressing itself through art, in this case the art of music.

It was total proof, to us, that the most important "A's" to tune to are Attitude, Awe and Appreciation. This was true intonation. A unity that was bound by the essence of the music, through our shared connection, based in openness, sincere intention, trust and respect. It bathed us all in its various frequencies; we were 'in it' and 'it' was 'in' us.

The beauty of this great gift is that it still happens in the Frequency Band! And, of course, it can happen elsewhere too--and we hope it does, often! But, in the Frequency Band, we deliberately explore ideas and techniques to more reliably and consciously encourage this kind of connection.

The Frequency Band, on one level of looking at it, is a vehicle designed for traveling into the deep regions of Art, especially those that resonate with such things as human qualities, intentions and contemplations; aspects of nature; compelling features of ancient and more recent cultures; and so on. Then, from inside a connection to these domains, play (transmit) from the mental alignment that what is transmitted is not just the musical notes, no matter how well executed, but a sense of the domain itself. Almost like a spacecraft taking pictures of stars and galaxies and transmitting the pictures back to earth. Whether one thinks this is real or imagination, to set aside ones limiting thoughts about it and openly come inside the storyline is to partake in the difference such connection can make, for art.... and humans.

Because the Frequency Band is not solely about exploring the potential of mental tuning and connection within art, in and of itself. The Frequency Band is about humanity, first and foremost. The core of the Frequency Band is based in the idea of a "unity born of humanity." That is at the basis of everything we do--to try to find the unifying part in us all, regardless of all of our various differences. This, at times, can feel like a long journey into space! But, actually, it is so close (so VERY close) that we can often miss it. But it is there, in all of us, and the greatest treasure for us is connecting to and transmitting this most special essence into the world, to boldly and humbly go where some others too have gone before and where we all can feel and recognize the most basic, unifying tone of all.

With deepest gratitude to our teachers, mentors and the many Frequency Band participants throughout the years.


Friday, November 7, 2008

You Become What You Practice or Rehearse

This is an interesting subject, so there will be all sorts of opinions on it, which is great!  It promotes deepening.

Let's be clear.  Life as we know it cannot exist without repetition. Think about it-- your heart beat, breathing,  walking, planetary rotation, eating and sleeping, the list goes on infinitely. Tempo itself is based in repetition.

Repetition does work as a technique in rehearsals. But the question is, "What kind?" 

For example, if two people are dating, they usually don't say to others, "Sally and I have been seeing each other repetitively." It is usually called dating, which means seeing each other on a regular basis to get to know each other. So the value of repetition in rehearsing or practicing is to get to know the piece more intimately, which is building a relationship with the piece. 

Once a relationship with the piece is built, which of course can deepen over time, there is the possibility of interacting with its essence, and having a richer communication with it. 

Just because someone is doing something on a repetitive basis, whether its rehearsing or seeing another person or having been at a job for 30 years, does not automatically  give rise to profound insight or result. It does give experience, but depending on what the person's motives, reasons and sentiments about life are, it can provide ever expanding perception and greater understanding or an attitude of "time to make the donuts." 

Also, it has not been my experience that the reason why student orchestras sound more connected at times is because of lots repetition. I think it happens in spite of all the repetition because of the enthusiasm and freshness of the attitude they bring to it. It has not become stale, it is still new.

As a great mentor of mine used to say, "Its not what you do, its the reasons why you do it."

Contemplation: You are what you practice.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Comment on the Comment

This is in reference to the comment I got to the post "Repetition-Redundant-Rut....New Route." It was an excellent comment/observation of something I'm sure many people experience!

Here's my response:

To start, let's remember that a conductor is a human being! Sometimes this is forgotten. They are trained the same basic way any instrumentalist is trained and have been or still are instrumentalists themselves. 

Many times a conductor has a strict schedule to maintain and the quickest way for them to rehearse is by repetition. so the orchestra 'machine' is well programed and the notes and timings are programed into the musicians. Lots of this kind of rehearsing could be diminished if the players knew the parts better before rehearsal.

Let's know look at the word "rehearsal." Rehears-al or rehears(e) al(l). In other words, to listen over and over again, to be intimate with as many aspects of the score or part as possible.

Now, the problem, oftentimes, is that the conductor is so preoccupied with making sure that everything is correct or note perfect that the deeper aspects can get overlooked. When this kind of relentless repetition happens it can turn into a re- HEARSE-al(l)! This is very unfortunate because what unifies a group the quickest and most effectively is a unified purpose and concept. When this vital element is at play, all aspects of ensemble (blend, pitch, intonation, dynamic contrasts, phrasing) can almost magically come together in a living way--an art that s not always put into practice. 

The art, the art of connecting to the essence of the music, is not taught by many people. Therefore, it is not taught to students whether they be instrumentalists, singers or conductors. It is, seemingly, more 'abstract' than whether something is out of tune or not in rhythm.--which can too readily translate to "too abstract to deal with."

One of the values of repetition is comparison. If we have in use the comparison of when something is connected (closer to the essence) as opposed to just playing it well, then we have a different standard. It is a matter of how someone is educated and what they are exposed to. This is something the Frequency Band tries to offer, but if it is not applied (regularly into practice), then it will not become part of a persons skill and art.

The next time you are in a rehearsal and this 'repetitive, not going anywhere' stuff is happening, ask yourself what you can do to help. Listen to your own playing and your section's playing and be connected to your feelings about the piece, regardless of what might be going on around you. I know that can be tough! But give it a try. It could, through your repeated efforts, make a difference and be contagious to others--even the conductor!

Monday, November 3, 2008

A New Twist on an Old Saying...
...from Occasional Carol

[My wife and partner, Carol Viera, is always coming up with interesting comments. Today, she told me something I thought would make a good blog post. So, this is her first "visit" to my blog - but I hope it's not the last.]

I read something today by Gair Maxwell (The Seamless Brand) that I thought was really funny but also a gem of wisdom, namely: "Anything worth doing ... is worth doing badly."

Now, that may seem, on the surface, to contradict what Norman and I try to promote, but not so fast. Because what he's actually encouraging is to just jump in and try something, anything, if you value what it is you're after, even if, at first, you make a mess of it; just get something moving, rather than be stopped and frozen by the fear of making mistakes or of playing a note that is less than perfect. No human can rise to that kind of perfection and those who appear to, don't, not really, not with complete reliability, if you really keep track. But the illusion, and it is an illusion, has had a strong grip for a long time and puts, I believe, a straightjacket on art--and on many who otherwise would aspire to it. Sounding more familiar now?

So, as Norman would say, "start with what you 'can do,'" but for goodness' sake, start! ;-)