Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Seamless Playing

Today in both my lesson and in my studio class performance, I was admonished to use "seamless" air. There were too many gaps in my playing. At first I didn't hear it and was confused, but thanks to the technology of recording, I was able to quickly hear the "gaps."

In studio class I played:

Strauss: Don Juan [tutti call, horn 3]
Schubert: Symphony No. 9 'Great' [opening passage; horn 3]
Wagner: Siegfried "Short Call"

The gaps were especially apparent in the Schubert. The excerpt is very soft, and I think in an effort to get the clear piano attack and dynamic, I was making the notes grossly separated. Something to fix...

What I find remarkable is that I can practice all week and look for and practice problematic passages, but then I miss something else. I suppose this is the nature of music performance. There are so many things to be aware of at once, that it is like a juggling act--keeping everything in balance is the trick.

I also find it interesting that everything over the past few weeks has been all a matter of air management or misuse. When it comes down to it, my horn playing is all about the air. Whether it's not breathing correctly (in tempo, at the right musical spot, etc.); not keeping a consistent air stream at all times; or over-blowing certain registers of the horn, it is all about the air.

Focus for spring break...iron out the air issues [admittedly easier said than done]!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sergiu Celibidache & Bruckner 4 'Romantic'

Maestro Celibidache was a very famous conductor in Europe throughout much of the middle and late 20th century. He conducted many of the famous orchestras in Europe, but was infamous for his refusal to record. Celibidache's brief and informal bio can be found here. It is important to remember that Celibidache insisted upon no recordings being made. The AMAZING recordings that are now for commercial sale are live performances (generally live radio broadcasts) from the archives that are being released with the permission of his family.

Celibidache is most notably known for his Buddhist/Zen views. This life outlook affected his interpretation and conducting. Here is the video of a young Celibidache conducting Berlin just after World War II.

The influence of the Zen upon his music is most profoundly experienced in his interpretation of the Bruckner Symphonies. A few years ago, EMI released a box set of Bruckner Symphonies 3 - 9 and Te Deum (released posthumously). My favorite recording/interpretation of all of these is his recording of Symphony No. 4. He unfolds it in such a "Zen" manner that is calm and relaxed, yet deeply moving and even spiritual. The best comparison I can make is this: listening to his Bruckner 4 makes me see a flower slowing unfolding and blooming in slow motion. The work just unfolds so slowly (note the slow tempos he chooses!) that it makes the marvelous harmonies Bruckner wrote come to life--full of so many colors and shapes that the normal, faster tempos conductors take fail to let listeners realize these harmonic changes and progressions.

Before I give you the video link to him conducting Bruckner 4, as a brass player I must note something that has been passed on to me by word of mouth. As you can see and hear in the following video, Celibidache's tempo made the already long phrases of Bruckner almost now impossible to play in the brass. Word has it that when Celibidache was named the new Maestro in Munich, the brass section began Yoga and Tai Chi regimens to prepare for his arrival.

One other thing that was passed on to me is that there were players who left the Berlin Philharmonic to come to Munich and play for this incredible man. That alone speaks volumes of his musicianship and reputation. But let me now abandon dialog and let you experience this incredible work for yourself! (Please pardon the poor quality of video and sound...this is regrettably the best I can find. I do own the box set mentioned above and it is SO WORTH THE INVESTMENT for its amazingly clear sound and pristine preservation of the original recordings!!!)

**The entire Symphony No. 4 can be viewed if you follow the links carefully!**

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Necessity of a Regular Workout for Brass Players

After having not ran for more than three weeks, yesterday I could feel a noticeable "laziness" of my lungs and breathing when I picked up my horn. I have never been one to commit to running EVERY day, but at least two to three times a week is good for me. In my playing, this lung-work is a necessity.

After deciding to go out and "stretch" my lungs today by running a little over a mile, I feel like my lungs have been "stretched" out to full capacity once again. There is a noticeable gain in my efficiency of air intake and prolonged length of exhale. Perhaps what is more notable is the ease of better "core" sound production. Finding the center of the note was "easy" today.

I say all of that to say that I have once again remembered the need for a regular cardio workout. One amazing aspect of music is that it brings so many disciplines of life together. For instance look at the blend of mathematics, coordination, physical prowess, knowledge of history, etc. that it requires to be a "complete, learned" musician. Keeping all of these aspects in balance is what it is all about.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Grooveshark is a really spiffy online music site which allows you to search their online catalog of music and play it back. If you sign up for a free account, it even lets you create and save custom playlists! I used to use several services similar to this called Project Playlist and SeeqPod. Project Playlist (which until today remained on my blog) was breaking the links to many of the songs I had requested it play. Seeqpod has been in a "transition" mode for many months, and I had lost touch with it in the middle of last year.

But today I found the feature which allows me to embed a Grooveshark playlist on my blog!! It is terrific. I hope you are able to enjoy the pieces which I've linked to...Mozart's Fourth Horn Concerto (first movement) and Felix Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture! Many more great songs to come!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Long Time Since...

It has been an incredibly long vacation that I have taken from this blog...

A lot has happened since I last was posting on this page.

I feel a good topic for my first post in a while should give a bit more info about what I'm up to musically these days.

I graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor in Music and was accepted into the Masters of Music program at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I currently study horn with Pittsburgh Symphony Principal Horn, Bill Caballero.

CMU is a place where I am learning much about music from the immersive nature of the music program at CMU. Studying with Mr. Caballero is also such a tremendous experience.

What I have liked about CMU thus far can be summarized as follows:
1. Studying horn with Bill Caballero
2. Hearing the Pittsburgh Symphony on a regular basis (they are world-class!)
3. The Eurhythmics program at CMU is an outstanding area of study that I have enjoyed being exposed to
4. The Life of Bach class taught by Stephen Schultz -- a 15-week class discussing the entire life of Bach and his extensive repertory of music. What a great composer and what a model musician!

So life is extremely busy, but good...good to be back here!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Riverbottom Euphonium Quartet

The Riverbottom Euphonium Quartet played a concert last night and did two masterclass sessions today for the students at OSU. Several points of their masterclass reminded me of several lessons that I have learned recently and bear repeating and posting here.

1. The dynamics that we as performers think that we are playing are probably not what the audience is hearing. For instance, what I think is pianissimo is probably "inaudible" to the audience and makes me sound overly timid and unsecure in my playing. Even though voices scream out to me that I am not playing a true soft dynamic (aka "I can play softer than that!"), it is what the audience or audition committee hears that matters!

2. One member of the REQ mentioned that "when we are rehearsing as a chamber music ensemble, we all choose to check our ego's at the door and agree to both give and accept criticism amongst each other freely." I think that this is not something that we should only do in chamber music. Regardless of whether or not I personally agree with/embrace what someone says about my playing, I should still give it fair consideration. This openness and ability to do whatever is asked of a musician is what will impress conductors and fellow musicians--resulting in a more likely possibility of being asked to play again or more often.

3. Another piece of advice which the REQ guys gave was to record yourself and your chamber music ensembles OFTEN. This is a great idea. You learn new things about your playing when you are able to have a third-person perspective of your own work. Great idea, but as they mentioned, it might be hard to afford for college music students.

4. When slurring and playing legato music, think of the back-end of each note pushing into the next note. This will ensure a smooth, connected sound. Also, when playing legato, make sure that the air never 'dips' or 'wanes'. This is true. We shouldn't let phrasing or dynamic nuances slow or cut-off the air. Keep it moving.

5. When speaking about dynamics, the statement was made that, 'the hardest thing to do on a brass instrument is play soft.' I don't know if I fully agree with that, but what they said about how to fix it is so true with most anything you try to do on your instrument...'if you don't go there each day, then it'll never happen.' What he means is this: if you don't attempt to DO the skill that you are trying to learn ON A DAILY BASIS, then you will never make progress. So if you are trying to gain more dynamic control, then you MUST practice playing soft each day and you will see progress. Simple concept, but buying into it is sometimes difficult.

So, that is what I took away from the Riverbottom Euphonium Quartet!