Saturday, June 20, 2009

Frequency Band OPT an opportunity

During the next 28 hours we are having a Frequency Band OPT. OPT stands for "Organized Powered Transmission." This is an opportunity to send thoughts of well wishes, well being and healing to anyone or any place in the world you choose to.

These OPTs are an important part of the Frequency Band and they started in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since then, we hold OPTs at various times of the year. We have held them in Boston with several musicians and we also have held them in concerts, including our participation at ETW (Eastern Trombone Workshop) this past spring. It is not a local Boston event, it is for all who would like to participate wherever they may be in the world.

If you are on Facebook, you can check it out and RSVP if you would like to participate. The link is on Frequency Band OPT Event Page on Facebook. Here you will also find some simple explanations and guidance.There is also a Frequency Band video on this page as well. Also you can go to the Air-ev website which is: if you are not on Facebook and you will see the video as well. Just scroll down the page and you will see "Unity Born of Humanity" video.

If you are interested in helping out with in this unique way check it out. There is close to 70 people from all over the world participating. With such a large time frame, 28 hours, it is pretty easy for most folks to find the time to send their wishes for a few minutes. And we believe in the power of thought. Even though it can seem so little, it is huge in its energy when coming from real sincerity.

Here is to your well being and a "Unity Born of Humanity" for all.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Follow Up on TRY THIS!

For those of you who happened to do the TRY THIS! experiment for brass players, I hope you got something out of it. Syllables are created and used in sound production by wind or brass players whether it is conscious or not. What I find interesting is the subtle mix of syllables that are present in the ingredients of any sound not just one.

Players who tend to have low overtones in their sound and the shape of the sound is very open, can sometimes have difficulty projecting. When playing alone this type of sound can sound very full and large in size. But this type of sound if the 'oh' ingredient is not balanced with some 'ooh' or a soft 'ay' sound, it can easily get covered by sounds that have higher overtones in them. (Note: not all low overtoned sounds are open in quality, some can sound almost congested or plugged).

I am sure those who have worked into syllables have discovered the different ranges, pedal, low, mid, upper mid and high and 'super high' can be improved upon with the use of certain syllables. In my own case, it is the low range that I have to be the most conscious of in regards to syllable usage. After low Bb, I need to think 'ay' in syllable shape. This helps me to focus the tone and helps to regulate the amount of air going through the horn which is vital for me in that range because I do not have a large lung capacity.

So much could be said about the use of syllables and my research on it is quite extensive because of working with people for over 40 years and how it is another proof of how different we all are and not everyone can use the same concepts. Plus, we need to keep up with our own changing bodies and concepts if we want to continue our playing when those changes occur. Which makes me think, what a person thinks is a hard fact today, might not be tomorrow. I have certainly experienced this myself!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Some Additional Thoughts on Evenness

I want to add to something I said in yesterday's post on evenness. I was talking about clarity and wrote, "I soon realized that clarity had to do with the synchronization of air, lip vibration and tongue, coming together for an immediate impact of sound, not the hardness of the attack or the note length."

It is about definition of sound. The immediate impact of of sound needs to have its synchrony focused on a specific pitch center. When this happens, clarity is the result no matter how short or long, soft or hard the actual length or attack is.

Of course there is the consideration on the subject of release at the end of the note and what impact that has on evenness. Plus another interesting consideration is how a person thinks when they articulate a note. Many brass players sound like they play with lots of 'down bows'. This can get very labored and horizontal sounding to the listener. It also does not do much to the phrasing in general. 'Up bows' in our articulation add to the movement of the line just as it does to string players. In fact, a teacher of mine told me once that all fine wind players 'bow' and all fine string players 'breathe'.

So when considering the topic of evenness, I find it very useful to examine and experiment with it in the light of the following:

1. Musical context
2. Fundamental command
3. Working on stability

Also, when I do my 'evenness' exercises I listen to the three basic parts of each note:

1. Beginning or 'head' of the note
2. The middle or 'body' of the note
3. The end, release or 'tail' of the note

We also can get into the shape of the note which was hinted at in the subject of bowing, but one needs to find a mental concept for their basic note shape. 'Bricks' is a popular shape but I have found it a stumbling 'block' for some people. I often think of a tubular shape, and again this can change according to the nature of the music or an aspect of articulation I could be working on.

My last paragraph on yesterday's post ended with the thought of if a brass or wind player played with as much sound and articulation variations as some string soloist do what would that do to most listeners of the 'classic' kind and would it be practical to work on lots of variation if we have not 'mastered' the one even color yet. Well, the way I have had to solve this in my mind, dealing with it from a very young age, was from the stand point of realizing that the one even basic sound is just one kind of tone color. It is one of many colors in the timber spectrum. In most orchestral settings there is not a great need for a huge diversity of tone flavors and colors. Yes, of course you need to play with a large volume contrast and to blend with others and different instruments. This requires sensitivity to balance and nuance. But in my experience with what most people want, is subtle variations on a basic acceptable color. Which takes its own kind of skill to do well.

For me, it is fun, broadening and musically necessary to venture outside of that realm. It is important at some point, at least it was for me, to not care to, to much on only that which is looked upon by a majority to be the only valid way. If that were the case, how could anything new ever have a chance to appear?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

More on Evenness

When looking at evenness of sound it becomes quite obvious that the consistency of our impact pressure, articulated beginning of our tone, is a big part of this.
With this in mind, I have also noticed a trend toward less variety of articulation in the quest for evenness. Also, basic note lengths are longer than lets say 30 years ago.

I remember when I studied with Ron Ricketts of the Minnesota Orchestra in the mid to late 1960's, that he was very into short playing especially for faster passages. This was a style of trombone playing, John Swallow also did this to an extent as well, that was prominent and I think often times players associated short note lengths and firm pointed articulations with clarity.

This changed for me when I started to take with Steven Zellmer who wanted there to be more substance and body on any note regardless of whether it was fast or slow in tempo or length. I soon realized that clarity had to do with the synchronization of air, lip vibration and tongue, coming together for an immediate impact of sound, not the hardness of the attack or the note length. With that said, I noticed that the players who can get very 'evenness of sound finicky', do not warm to real short pecky staccato or do not necessarily use a large variety of articulation themselves.

What is interesting, is that many of my favorite string players who are soloists, have an incredible spectrum of articulation and tone colors that if expressed on a brass instrument would cause many of the brass and wind players of the symphonic world to shudder. What is wrong with variety? I think players might think that they need to master the one even quality sound first, and then after that they will have enough control to venture into other colors because they will actually have the control to do it deliberately. My thoughts on that will have to wait until my next post on this subject! Hmmm.....

Monday, June 8, 2009

How even minded are we on the subject?

Evenness of sound is something that instrumentalists have been working on for many years. It is one of the mechanical arts of 'fine' instrumental playing that players strive for, especially in the 'classical' orchestral realms.

However, in recent years it seems to me, it has been getting to be almost an obsession. Certain players just can't 'see' past anyone who doesn't have an 'even' sound in all the registers. This over preoccupation with evenness also affects nuances and timbre variation as well, which of course, are the symptomatic expressions of a player's central government of concepts from where their music comes out of.

Lets look at this 'even' issue. Instruments that are 'built' with a sound, like certain keyboard and percussion instruments, still need the player to develop enough control to articulate evenly in all the ranges. And we all know for example, that different pianists would sound remarkably distinct from one another if they were playing the same piano.

Are some teachers really tough on evenness because it shows a lack of control or a lack of discipline on the students part for not sticking to it enough to develop the control it would take to play evenly? Or, is it that some teachers only see their music from the standpoint of technical mastery and don't really know how to convey or inspire deeper expressive qualities? Or, do they figure that the rest of it is subjective and the only clear 'objective', 'concrete' thing are the mechanics?

It brings me to questions like, "what is important in the balances of our playing?" If it all comes down to "I want a job," then we are at the mercy of the ones that have gone through that process and got the job, and are now considered from others on the 'outside' to be the authorities.

This makes a certain amount of sense on that level. But, if it produces 'clones' of players, and 'cloned' excerpts and performances, let me ask the following question, "what in the world does that have to do with Art and originality? Let alone the deeper human development and creative processes?

What in Nature is even? This is a huge subject, but the forces of Nature, the cycles, seasons, flora and fauna for example, have a motion to them and not always so predictable and 'even'. Maybe the obsession with evenness is a human's way of trying to find perfection and stability. This kind of 'perfection' is not connected to anything in the natural worlds. It will eventually deteriorate because our physiology changes, and not always in clear, predictable and chartable ways. Our physiology is not the only thing that changes really, but whether we the person wants to change or not, our body has a limited life and is changing all the time.

In practical brass playing terms, that beautiful sound we hear in our minds and would like to have for every single note, is temporary, that is if we actually achieve it. The idea for example of an 'open' sound might get increasingly difficult as our bodies change and our internal life changes with living and experiencing what life brings our way. Would we be willing to 'compromise' if it meant giving up our one wonderful even sound so we could continue to play at all?

If 'evenness' is such a huge criteria, could it be out of proportion to the bigger musical picture? Can it be its own type of 'cholesterol' blocking our deeper perceptions out of fear we will not be 'even'?

Hey, I practice my 'even' exercises everyday. But, in no way will I let that be my sole musical government. I still believe that there is room in the job market for those 'less than perfect' players who play with feeling, passion and connection. Of course you can have all those qualities and be a 'perfectly even' player too. Im just trying to encourage those wonderful players out there, many of whom I have heard, that are exciting and expressive players who may not have the 'perfect even' thing down. MUSIC, the essence of it, is an equal opportunity employer!

I'll end this post on evenness of sound by quoting something a great long time friend of mine said who is a terrific violist in a major U.S. orchestra. I was talking to him about this subject of evenness a few years ago. He looked at me and said with a tone of seriousness and a tinge of dark humor, "you take some coffins, you line them up, and their even."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

TRY THIS! Experiment for humans and brass players :-)

As long as we are on the very interesting subject of syllables, I thought that there might be some folks who would like to experiment with this:

1. Sit up right in a chair, relaxed with spine straight and feet flat on the floor.

2. Then say out loud in a full voice the sound 'Oh'. While you say this, imagine the 'Oh' sound surrounding your whole body as if it were a bubble of sound resonance extending out about three feet from your body and encircling it. Do this until you feel you are immersed in that 'Oh' resonance.

3. Then say the word 'La' ( rhymes with 'ma' ) and feel that sound resonance in your heart area in the middle of your chest. Have the 'La' sound have a lot of warmth. Do this until you feel that settled warmth of sound in your chest.

4. Lastly, shut your eyes (you can actually have your eyes shut the whole time of the entire exercise if you wish) and put your attention on your forehead and say the sound 'nim' (rhymes with 'him'). Feel that sound resonance softly near the center of your forehead. Do this until you feel very inward and have a sense of a calm and awake feeling.

This 'exercise-experiment' can be very restful and focusing before we start playing especially if we are mentally scattered or anxious. Also, play with the various sound resonances until they feel natural for you in duration and length.

For all those that are interested in trying this, you are welcome to post your comments on the blog. I would be interested to know your findings and experiences.

Happy experimenting!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

TRY THIS! Experiments for brass players

Play a couple of lines of a simple lyrical legato study using the syllable 'u' ( sounds like 'who'). Notice how it feels in different registers and dynamics.

Then wait a couple of minutes and do the same piece using the syllable sound 'ur' ( sounds like 'fur' or 'her'). Notice how this feels in different dynamics and registers.

Then do this same format using the syllable 'O' (sounds like 'oh') then the syllable sounds 'A' ( sounds like 'hay') then an 'AH' sound. Experiment with these for a week or so and if you are interested let me know your results in a comment on the blog.

My interest in this subject stems from my own playing discoveries and what I am noticing in other people's playing. For years we can go on what we have learned and practiced or on 'instincts' and just play. It is only when we hit a snag or a 'brick wall' or feel that something is not doing what it normally does that we have to figure it out.

This is where using different tools can be very useful. The use of vowels or syllables in wind playing is very fascinating for they naturally incorporate the tongue and embouchure muscles in creating shapes that can enhance or distract from sound quality and register and our air support systems.

I don't want to say to much more until a week or so from now.

Good luck with your discovery endeavor!