Saturday, August 03, 2013

Son of the Curse of the Revenge of the Return of the Trumpet Meta Strikes Back 2: Trumpet Meta-er



Hello internet! Long time, no see! That's right, I'm back, I'm ready to go, I'm a new person. Kind of. And... wow, I've had a hell of a couple months. I'm gonna be back to the regular minimum-one-post-per-month-and-maybe-more-if-I-feel-adventurous way of doing things, STARTING TODAY. So, sorry for the hiatus, but considering how many page views I got over approximately three months of not posting, there might even be some pretty good traffic coming in over the next little revival.

July. July was... well... July was quite the month. July changed me, for the better. What happened, you ask? I attended two different summer music programmes: a brass seminar with world-renowned international faculty members, and an orchestra camp that, though less well known, taught me a surprising amount more than I was expecting at the beginning. And my approach to practicing is completely different from what it was before.

First, the brass conference. And where I usually keep things anonymous, I figure the bigger the event, the less relevant keeping it anonymous is. I attended the Domaine Forget brass seminar in Saint-Irénée, Québec. In particular, the trumpet masterclass-givers were Thomas Rolfs, principal of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Eric Aubier, considered one of Maurice André's most successful students. And both were amazing for different reasons. Aubier is one of the most musical players I've ever heard, without a doubt. Everything he played, no matter how angular or modern, sounded like a dance. And he seemed to have every single piece of music memorized, whether Tomasi or Jolivet or Bohme, and demonstrated pretty much everything he talked about, always wowing the students. Rolfs, on the other hand, is probably the most powerful player I've ever heard live. I've never heard one of the "great" orchestras live, but I've heard countless recordings, and thought I had a pretty good idea of what a principal trumpet sounds like. Then Rolfs played the opening of Mahler 5, while sitting less than three feet away from me, and my presuppositions were completely shattered. It was a sound unlike anything I had expected. Rolfs' classes were almost entirely focused on breathing, as he's a Cichowicz (YEAH SPELLED IT RIGHT ON THE FIRST TRY) student, and that was kind of Cichowicz's thing.

Throughout the masterclasses, I quickly realized that being the principal trumpet in my little town meant nothing. Out of twenty-six trumpet majors, I was easily in the bottom five. Part of the curse of living in the out-of-the-way cities that I have for more or less my entire life is that I lose a proper sense of scale, and now I have a much better idea of what trumpet students who take their art seriously are supposed to sound like. If there's one thing I "knew," and definitely should have known, but learned for the first time, it's to never let yourself get away with anything. As Rolfs said more than once in masterclass, "You just proved you can play with a good sound, why would you chose to play with anything less?" There really isn't a reason, especially when practicing, to let any note that comes out of the bell sound worse than the absolute best note you can produce, and that's a philosophy that I'm trying to implement absolutely every time I pick up the horn.

The event also came with a student gala, where we were put in chamber groups based off of our placement auditions. Most of the top-tier students got quintets, and I ended up being put in trumpet ensemble. I hesitate to call it a lower level ensemble, since all of us are top students in our respective schools, but if I'm being honest, I'll call it a mid-range ensemble, for the musicians present. But you know what, I really enjoyed it. The fact that we had all traveled to this explicitly to make brass music meant we were all much more dedicated than a random pile of university students of various music-related majors that many smaller schools have for ensembles. We all learned from each other, we all gave it everything we had, and we sounded pretty solid come the concert. Oh, and though I usually don't like trumpet ensembles, we played the one piece written for them that I love forever, which blogger isn't letting me embed for some reason: Ewazen's Fantasia for Seven Trumpets.

The faculty concert. THE FACULTY CONCERT. Sounds that I didn't think were possible happened. Two sounds in particular. First, Jesper Sørensen, second trombone in Berlin, played excerpts from a Schumann song cycle (I forget which, but really want to say it was Dichterliebe (YEAH TWO FOR TWO IN SPELLING WEIRD THINGS RIGHT)), as well as a Schumann Romance, and... I don't think I've ever heard a sound that beautiful. Not from a trombone, not from a brass instrument, not from any instrument... no natural sound. But man, he did it. And second... this thing:

Next up, the orchestra camp, PRISMA. Actually, I think I might leave a lot of my discussion about this for a separate post, since I have a lot I want to say about the trumpet sound that I've thought about because of that, and since then. But I will say that the third movement of Tchaik 6 sounds amazing in full brass sectional, and we can probably just forget about the rest of the orchestra.

But yeah. I guess the coolest thing about these programmes is... you meet people who are GOING places. The trumpet students I met at Domaine aren't barely passing undergrads who are falling through the cracks. These players are the future of the orchestral trumpet scene. I'm confident that over half of these players will have established themselves in performance careers in the next five to ten years, and some of them may even make the major orchestras.

That brings me to one moment from PRISMA that I do want to address now. One of the scarier moments was when we had a discussion, full students and faculty, about auditions. When people asked the faculty about their audition experience, it turns out many of the string faculty members were offered big-names jobs almost freely, or won concertmaster/principal positions on their first audition, or were active orchestral musicians before they hit twenty. And that had me (and probably several other students in the room) scared... how could we ever hope to do THAT?!

Thankfully, the next day, the brass faculty asked if we wanted to veto sectional in exchange for a brass-specific audition discussion, which all us students agreed to. And hearing their stories was... a relief. These players, all fantastic musicians, had to go through our struggle. They (and their students, colleagues, and mentors) played dozens of auditions before getting their first gig, had to go through the brutal audition circuit, and face orchestra politics. They told us stories of people in our situation, with our level of skill, who made their careers happen through determination, motivational drive, and enthusiastic, disciplined practice. They made us realize that people out there were once just like us, and that if we care and apply ourselves to our MAXIMUM potential, we can do the same. And that's something everyone needs to hear.

So yeah, I think that's enough for today. I have one or two more related posts I'm planning on making based on my summer adventures, and then back to the old norm of alternating stuff about my playing life with random continued featurettes that I do. Thank you for your patience, dear internet, and I'm glad to have you back! And I hope you continue to follow my little pointless drivels as I keep writing them! I'm going to send you off with this, a lovely concert that I know more than one person would refer to as "brass porn" (not NSFW at all):

Until next time!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Take that! Triple Concert Finish!

Because vague-but-not-actually-vague nerdy jokes are a super effective way to title these monthly updates!


So, the three biggest concerts of the term just finished up as of last weekend: solo recital, orchestra, and quintet recital. And y'know what... I'm okay with how each of them went. None of them were perfect, of course, and I can't say I truly feel that any of them were ideal, but... I can't say I'm disappointed in any of them. I'll give y'all a recap of what I actually thought. About me, I mean. Not saying anything about the other players, positive or negative, because I don't want to offend anyone, either directly, or indirectly by omitting for them what I praised someone else for.

First off, the recital. In order: Bach Cantata 51 (first movement), Arnold Quintet (first movement), Ewald Quintet no. 3 (third movement), Clarke Side Partners, and Horowitz Concerto, with Scheidt Galliard Battaglia as an encore. First thing I noticed is, I managed to draw a really nice crowd. It *might* have been the biggest crowd to a first-year grad recital this year, it was hard to tell with all the spotlights pointing at me. But I'm pretty sure I won out, in terms of attendees. Opening a show on picc is terrifying, and it took me a couple lines to get settled, but once I did (about halfway through the first A section), the rest kinda just went. It felt really natural, but part of that may have been because I was thinking more about the ensemble than what I was doing, myself. Maybe that's why I like playing in orchestras so much, if I let all my concern wash on to other people, I just play and my autopilot does a better job than I would have. The quintet stuff was a preview for our concert, and both of those went really well. The duet was also really well-received, as was the Scheidt, with the same trumpet player (it started with just us, and the quintet walked on stage before the first big tutti, making that opening super awesome).

As awesome as that recording is, I'm afraid that playing the Scheidt in the original mixolydian mode has forever ruined the major/ionian version for me. The lowered sevenths just sound so much... BETTER. Anyways, the Horovitz was the biggest piece, and I think it perfectly summed up the good (and bad) things about my playing. My articulate playing has improved significantly from where it was a year ago, but still isn't where I need it to be to be a competitive trumpet player. My sustained, lyrical playing still needs a LOT of work. And... endurance. Endurance is always a factor. The last page, before the couple bars off on the third-last line, was INCREDIBLY rough. I felt like I was throwing mostly airballs those last two lines of that section (so I guess fourth- and fifth-last of the page). But, y'know what, it's done, and the audience loved it.

Next was the orchestra concert. We opened with a Mozart mass thing that only had us in the first and last movements, and I played second. It was pretty brainless. Next, I was lead for the Bernstein Chichester Psalms, which was actually a really nice one to do. I was afraid it'd be hard, as there's a lot of high things, but Bernstein always sets you up so that you can't fail... meaning of course I missed the second concert C. Which I didn't miss in any of the rehearsals the week leading up to it. I hit the first one, but there was a scratch in it, so... I still have some work to do. The infamous last note might have been the best thing I did all show. Don't tell anyone, but the secret was... get a really soft mute, and let yourself play just a HAIR louder in the show than in the rehearsals, it'll sound gorgeous.

The second half was Pictures, and if you haven't watched that video yet, do it NOW. The first half is like a mini-documentary, and Solti's insights are really cool. The second half might be the best recording of that piece, like, period. I don't think I'll ever get over their sound in Great Gate, especially the syncopated chords leading up to the last melody.

How did I do? Well, I'm still yet to play the opening in a way I'm satisfied with. The first half of Schmuyle went really well, but the second was quite rough, and I had to drop a beat when it went up. Usually, if I absolutely need to drop a beat, it'd be the repeated C#s, but... life'll throw you curve balls sometimes, you just make do. Great Gate, with the exception of the third and fourth bars, felt really good. HOLY BACH THE FIRST BAR WAS LOUD. Like... we were totally planning on saving some so that the end would be louder than the beginning. We didn't. Communally didn't. It was kind of immature. It was very awesome. I enjoyed that.

And last, but definitely not least, and possibly the one I was more excited for than my solo recital, was the quintet concert. Ewald 3, Cousins, Largo al Factotum, West Side (arr. Gale), and Arnold. Holy Mahler, that was a long programme. I played first for Ewald, Largo, and Arnold, and the breaks were super-appreciated. And y'know what... we did a damn good job. The Ewald in particular went stellar. Cousins was (in my opinion) the best the soloists had done it. Largo was... much faster than me or the soloist wanted to go, but actually really solid, and we got a couple laughs out (he managed to sneak some of the Vaughan Williams into the cadenza, which caused the tuba prof to chuckle). West Side was hella fun, though it made me wish people clapped between movements, so many of them had really boisterous, huge endings. And... I could have played Arnold much worse. I DO have to realize that I put one of the most prolific quintet pieces ever written at the end (I REALLY didn't want to play anything after that), so considering that... which I shouldn't even be considering, because real musicians have to do that all the time. Gahh. Pieces like that make me feel so conflicted... do I feel proud for what I accomplished, because few other students here could have done the same? Or do I admit that, in a couple years, I'll be competing with people who totally could have finished it much better than I did, and I'll be expected to be able to do that as well, so I need to up my game? I don't know. The quintet as a whole did really well, though, and I think we showed the audience that we're pretty legit, for a bunch of brass students.

Oh, and I transcribed this for our encore. Actually.

L8er boiz!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Remember the days when this used to update more than once a month? Didn't think so.


It's been a while, but I suppose that's what grad school does to you. I've come to the realization that us musicians are clinically insane: we lock ourselves up alone in small rooms and repeat the same thing over and over, hoping for different results. Well, the smart ones don't repeat it exactly the same each time, but I'd like to think no one is 100% smart, because I feel like I have a chance that way.

It's almost high time, guys. My first-year recital is coming up in just over two weeks. On one hand, it's kind of nerve-racking. Though I've known all the tunes for a while, getting them together with the other players has been very last-minute. The worst offender by a mile is the Horovitz concerto, my big piece and highlight. I don't know if any of you have ever looked at the commercially available piano reduction, but it is literally unplayable. In that it is not a reduction, but merely every note of the orchestra score condensed into two lines, with no editing. There are moments with more notes than fingers in the human hand, moments with two contrapuntal lines in one hand almost two octaves apart, moments with a melody occurring in the same range as the chords accompanying it... it's a mess. Twenty-five gruelling hours of Finale later, I made a playable version, and the pianist I'm hiring to play it has been pretty solid in getting it ready. I just need to make sure I don't blink for the last two pages, or else we're sunk.

The last school orchestra concert featured Mendelssohn 5 and Capriccio Espagnol. The Mendelssohn is actually a really sweet piece, the outer movements in particular. I don't know what it is with Symphony no. 5s, but they usually seem to be right on the mark (Except Tchaik 5. It just seems so... overshadowed by 4 and 6). The Capriccio is one of those pieces I just keep loving. Like, I could listen to it on a loop for hours, it's so good. So campy, but so fun. Just... don't ask me about that cadenza. I had a long day... WHO CARES, NO EXCUSES. I've been pulling the "long day, stressful week, bad start to the morning" cards way too much recently, and I need to STOP IT. As I keep telling other people, and should really follow myself, the audience doesn't care what your day/week/life was like. The audience only cares if you can deliver. SO GO DELIVER ALREADY.

Being a musician is one of those funny things. I know for a fact that my playing now is the Vegeta to the Nappa that was my playing when I started this blog (what is it with those two popping up in here? Look out, I sense a running gag coming on), but little things are bugging me more and more. Obviously, the big things are annoying, but, as Yoda's pointed out to me on many an occasion, your ear will improve in big leaps, while your abilities have to progress at their slow, hopefully steady pace. So you start to hear more and more details, while your abilities aren't catching up at the same speed.

Because I'm insane, I've actually started to think about what I want to put on my recital next year. I was originally going to open with Ewazen's Fantasia for Seven Trumpets, but I've since scratched that in favour of his Sonata for Trumpet and Piano, and I think I'd like to open with Gabrieli's (I think I have this right) Sonata XX a 22. Yeah, you heard that right, 22 parts. Except I'd like to double specific parts such that (wait for it) the ENTIRE brass studio is involved. Then my baroque piece, which is still undecided, but it'd be nice to do the Leopold Mozart, or maybe that one Vivaldi violin piece that brass players seem to love doing. Hopefully I can get my same string players back. I've booked our kickass violist over a year in advance, and the cellist is being forced to play against her will if need be, so that's two of the five right there.

Other than that, I'd need a quintet piece, probably one more big solo work, and maybe time for a smaller solo or duet. Our quintet's thinking about Bozza for next year, so that's a possibility (I don't actually know how it goes, I should probably go listen to it). I've been toying with the idea of the Jacques Hetu Concerto, it'd be great for some Canadian content. And then just one more thing, possibly super-left field and modern. Oh dear Bach, do I really have this planned over a year in advance?

I have one more audition recording to do tomorrow... OH. This wouldn't have made the blog yet, since it was February. I had a moment, while recording the opening solo from Mahler 5 for a summer audition. I started to play, and as I began the first line, I just got this huge feeling of... understanding. Like, I GOT it. The piece made so much more sense than it ever had. Sadly, it wasn't a flawless run (cracked the first top line F#), but there was so much more vibrancy and emotion in the sound than I've ever heard myself produce before. My second take wasn't as enlightening as the first, but I can almost re-capture that same feeling now.

Jeez, I really do tend to ramble here. I'm gonna leave it at that for now, you don't need to hear me balk on for hours about things. Once April rolls around, I'll likely be posting more frequently, in that I'm a relatively anti-social person and don't do much when school's out, so it keeps me occupied. Until next time, peace out, and seriously go back and click on that Vivaldi video you skipped. I'm pretty sure "brass porn" is an appropriate label for that kind of performance. Until next time, fellow internetters!