Blog Numero Uno

They say to start a blog, you don’t need to be good at writing - well I seem to be on the right track from the start! Add to that my lack of knowledge of computers, and we are off to a flyer. Nonetheless, here we go!

Welcome to my first blog entry here at the NZ Brass Foundation. As a trustee of the foundation, I am really excited to be posting these articles and covering many topics relating to music and specifically brass playing.  

I’ll be posting a new blog every two weeks on a range of different topics, and would really like to hear from you about any issues you are having and would like help with.  It could be any problem – air, buzzing, practicing, nerves, study etc.  Just let me know and I will do my best to answer or get someone who can.  I will also be calling in a few favours from time to time to get some different perspectives from other brass players, so if there’s anyone you would particularly like to hear from, let me know and I’ll see what I can do to track them down! 

To get things going, I thought I might broach a subject today that is pretty close to many players around the country - mouthpieces.  Travelling the country, I am amazed how many brass players play with the mouthpiece the instrument came with – that’s like ordering a suit online without giving your measurements, and then just wearing it even though it probably doesn’t fit!


There are many parts of the puzzle to being a strong brass player, and one of the most important is getting a mouthpiece that is absolutely perfect for you, otherwise it’s like running in shoes that don’t fit - it will give you problems.  But how do we know what is ‘best’ for us? 

Well, first up it’s about knowing what is out there. Do some research on the internet, you might find a player who uses a certain type of mouthpiece that they think is great and that’s a good start.  I can also recommend heading to our ‘Ask a Pro’ page and asking some of these great musicians what they suggest - http://www.nzbrassfoundation.org.nz/ask-a-pro/

It’s really important to get a mouthpiece that is the right sized cup and rim - often this can mean playing around with different depths and sizes. Go too small, and you might have a great upper register, but your sound will suffer, as will your lower register.  Go too big and you will be struggling to get through band practice!  The key thing to remember is that a mouthpiece can really help you get the sound and range you want, but you need to try lots of different brands to find one that sits right with you.

 

Also, know how the mouthpiece is made up - here is a diagram of a standard trumpet mouthpiece:

Brass-Mouthpiece-Parts.png

A quick squizz on the Dillons Music site brings up a list of trumpet mouthpieces, this is just one list of the mouthpieces they are selling:

Bach/Bob Reeves/Curry/Denis Wick/Flex/GR/Griego/Hammond/Joseph Klier/K&G/King/Laskey/Marcinkiewicz/Monette/Najoom/Parduba/Patrick/pTrumpet/Purviance/Roger Ingram/Shilke/Shires/Stork/System Blue/Warburton/Wedge/Yamaha....

Wow!  And that’s just a start.

You are probably not going to get the perfect one straight away, it’s a lifelong quest to find that mouthpiece holy grail.  What is the right rim/cup combination?  What lacquer? 1 piece or 2 piece? What brand?  But don’t give up before you have started! Get out there and do some research, ask around, and borrow off people until you find something you like.  

Each brand of mouthpiece has a different feel about it, and may or may not suit you. Some have a sharp rim, some flat, different shaped cups etc. The key is finding the one that suits your embouchure, and feels natural. Talk to your teacher or brass playing friends about what they use, and why they love it. The most important thing to do is research! 

Mouthpieces are like a good pair of shoes - get the right one and it will last you for years and feel fantastic, the wrong one will give you back pain and cause you problems.

Please comment on any questions you have or topics you would like covered on this blog. Look forward to hearing from you.

Regards

Dave Bremner

 

The Brighouse and Rastrick Experience

Ever since I was younger, I always said “ one day I will play at the Royal Albert Hall”. I spent nearly all my time listening to the best of the best, learning from them and knowing that I needed to get there with them. It was one of my major musical goals in life. After several years busting my arse in the practice room, missing classes at school to practice, shedding blood and almost throwing my cornet at the wall trying to make a difference, trying to make one little improvement each day. It made the decision of accepting the opportunity and the challenge of sitting principal cornet in Brighouse and Rastrick an easy one.

Not knowing what I was getting myself in for, I boarded the plane to Manchester and got on my way. Arriving in Manchester I had a real feeling of surrealness, It was just one day before my first appearance at the Brighouse band room and I was surprisingly calm, but that was all about to change. The big day arrived, the day I was going to walk into the Brighouse band room for the first time, I could feel myself growing more and more nervous by the minute. Driving to the band room that night was terrifying but also extremely exciting. When I arrived and walked into the band room I could feel a strong sense of curiosity in the air pulsing from the band towards me, they had no idea who I was, I was just some young cornet player from the other side of the world coming in to sit on the end of their band. It was literally minutes before the baton was dropped and I played the opening solo to the British open test piece, Reflections on swan lake, I was still very unsure what I was in for because the opening solo was unaccompanied, but when the band came in I was in shock. Recordings of these bands just do not give you a real idea of just how good they really are, I had never heard that power before, I was completely blown away, It was a wake up call that’s for sure. Following the first rehearsal I remember driving home with probably the biggest smile on my face I have ever had, that was it, I was here, where I was meant to be. 

I remember thinking “phew, the hard part is over,” but I couldn’t be more wrong. Every day after that involved intense lessons throughout the day with Professor David King. They were never easy, in fact they would have to be the hardest, most stressful and challenging but rewarding days of my life. I learnt what the definition of hard work really meant. 

Aside from practice I needed to have a social life and make friends. I spent a lot of time hanging with people at the Royal Northern College of music where I met some remarkable people, people from all bands in the area as well as around Europe. People from bands such as Black Dyke, Grimethorpe, Faireys, and Fodens. I can say that being surrounded by all these classy players is very inspiring and motivates the hell out of you. It was definitely an environment I was not familiar with. One big thing I first noticed, that was different to the New Zealand Brass Band Movement, is that the British Brass Band scene is such a tight-knit community. Like I said before, just at the Royal Northern College alone there are players from so many of the top class bands in England. Everyone plays and studies together, everyone is friends but also opposition. Just ten minutes down the road from the Brighouse band room is the Black Dyke band room. There are contests after contests, concerts after concerts. It never stops.

After a very intense build up to my first British Open Championships over no more than just a few weeks, it came time to board the bus and get on our way to Birmingham. On arrival to Birmingham we then had our final rehearsal and a pep talk before the biggest day of my life as of yet. The morning of the contest, all the bands wait for a text with draw, deep down hoping for a late one. With Brighouse getting a later draw the band then dispersed for the day until we meet up before its our turn to play. That day felt like a week, waiting and waiting, constantly going over in my head “what if this happened, what if that happened,“ it was tense. The time came to put on our walking out uniform and make our way as a band to the Birmingham Symphony Hall. Sitting in the final waiting room I remember hearing the final chord from the band before us, and the immensely huge raw from the crowd, which was enough to get the blood pumping.  When I walked on the stage and noticed the shear size of the crowd I could feel my heart beating faster and faster, my heart was almost hitting the principle euphoniums head on the other side of the band. The moment that baton dropped we were off. It was truly an incredible, exciting and emotional experience that I will never forget. I would say to any brass bander if you ever get the chance to see the British Open contest then go, don’t hesitate, you will not regret it. 

I remember waiting in the bar after we had played with a beer in my hand nervously waiting for the results. The moment I heard “2nd place, Brighouse and Rastrick” I was like “dam,“ but then remembered I had just played at my first ever British Open Brass Band championships with a band full of incredible musicians and just unbelievably amazing people and felt a sense of achievement, that was a massive turning point for me. Coming 1st is great and of course everyone wants to win, but realising 1st place isn’t for everything, and coming 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on isn’t loosing, its been given the passageway to improve, to fight and keep going no matter what. 

The following morning we returned to Manchester to do it all over again, the build up to National Brass Band championships of Great Britain just one month after the British Open. Back to hours everyday over the test music, concerts almost every weekend, the pressure was always there, it never disappeared. Not once did I think it was getting easier, if anything it got harder because the more you do, the more work you put into something, the more you expect from yourself. It’s a never ending fight.

 Between contests the band does many, many concerts. Thinking back to the rehearsal before my first concert, it was the first time I stood in front of the band and rehearsed a solo. The piece I was playing was, My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose. I was so nervous, it wasn’t anything like sitting in the band playing through the test music. I had played solos with bands many times before but this particular time was different. I was stood in front of worldwide acclaimed musicians listening to everything I did, it was incredibly hard. Playing became a marathon, I was short of breath, sweating, shaking, everything a brass player could do without when trying to play a nice melody. I remember being so ashamed of myself , but the scariest thing of all is that was my first and final run through before my concert debut. When I stood up in the concert a few days later with that rehearsal in the back of my head I was thinking “this is it, make or break, if I stuff this up I’m going home,” but it went better than ever. That was my most favourable concert I did.

After a month of rehearsals and concerts it came time to get back on the bus and head to London for the mother of all brass band contests, the national finals at the Royal Albert Hall. I had to go and see inside the hall when we arrived, I couldn’t believe how enormous it was. When we walked on stage to perform Spiriti by Thomas Doss I couldn’t look out, not until after my solo about three quarters of the way through the piece. Right after my solo there was a passage where the back row cornets are blasting the tune and the solo cornets weren’t playing, that moment I felt the assistant principle tap me on the leg and say “you can look out now”. When I looked out it was truly the most magical moment, it was like everything slowed down for a minute. That’s a sight no one can forget.

Deciding to come home was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever faced. Giving up everything I’ve worked so hard for and dreamed about all my life, but at that time I didn’t feel I had much of choice. I had a two year visa, but finding a job that would allow me to stay longer proved to be very difficult, so I felt there was no other option but to return home to my job in New Zealand Army Band and stand down as Principal cornet of the Brighouse and Rastrick Band. On the other hand I was excited to come home to my friends and family and tell them all about my amazing time in England. I was looking forward to start working again and had a real motivation to improve in all aspects of work and life. After my final performance with Brighouse at the European championship in France, I was sitting there on stage as the audience applauded the band thinking “what have I done,“ I didn’t want to leave, but I had to.

I learnt a great amount during my time in England. It inspired me to keep learning and pushing to be better, that’s why I decided to finish up my job in the New Zealand Army Band and start a degree in music at Victoria University in Wellington. So overall, going to England was a life changing decision that I will always keep close to my heart. I made some incredible life long friends, and I would recommend to any passionate brass player to go and experience it, it will change your perspective of the brass band world and will change the way you approach playing.

Kyle Lawson

Director of Education Sep 2016

I have just arrived home from Wellington Brass Bands UK tour, and am feeling very inspired as I write my first column as Director of Education (for the 2nd time). 

I wanted to write today about a very important topic - Learning. If you ask any player around the world how they got so good, they will generally tell you two things 1) Hard work, and 2) being open to learn new things everyday. We can learn from so much from artists of all types just by listening. Dont close your mind off from being inspired or taught something from a person you least expect to learn from. 

First and foremost we have to make a conscious decision that we want to learn, and keep our minds open, and then we have go out and find the information. We are so lucky to live in an age where we are a click of a mouse away from inspiration and education, even if you have to sift through a bit of stuff to get there.

Every 2 years I like to go away and get lessons, a kind of reset on my playing. I focus on a few different areas that I have been working on, and really challenge the teachers I am getting lessons from for information and ideas to work on. For me this process is vital, its a thirst for information and a thirst for improvement. 

My challenge to you is to think about the way you approach your instrument, and the way you approach music. Is it the same way I have always done it? Is it time for a change? 

Heres a good starting point: pick someone in your town that you respect as a musician and a person, doesn't matter if they are a singer, a pianist or a baritone player. Then ring them up and ask them if you can play for them. Take a piece of music and play it to them, and then listen to them, absorb all the information, no barriers, no defending yourself, just listen and learn. One of the best lessons I have ever had was from a violinist, and it changed the way I looked at music, I urge you to do the same. 

Cheers

Dave 

A Soloists Sustenance by Matt Gee

Back in December I recorded and submitted Pergolesi's Sinfonia to the Prague Spring Music Festival, in the hope that I would be selected to participate in its International Trombone Competition the following May. The competition was to be held over three rounds and while the repertoire was daunting it did not initially appear overly taxing: Henri Dutilleux's Choral Cadence et Fugato and the aforementioned Pergolesi comprised the first round; Ropartz's Piece en Mi Bemol Mineur, Sulek's 'Vox Gabrieli' Sonata and a new work by Ivan Kurz which had been commissioned by the Festival, formed round two while Wagenseil's Concerto per Trombone, and Jozka matej's Sonata completed the final round. In order to participate it was necessary to be released from my commitments with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

In late March permission was finally granted leaving me six weeks in which to learn, practise and polish all of the programmes ­ a tall order indeed ­ seven works, four were completely new, six of which I wanted to perform from memory. I was sceptical about the merits of rushing such an endeavour but after talking things through with a very good friend who has an exceptionally European outlook for a British musician, and experience of participating in these competitions, I was convinced there was much to gain, despite the daunting time constraints. The six weeks leading up to the competition are a bit of a blur, but I learnt more in this period than any other I can remember.

I want to share some of these practice techniques with you, as I can honestly say that they made possible that which I initially feared was not, and have shaped my outlook and attitude towards practice ever since.

The first major obstacle to cross was exactly how to fit the many hours of practise around the RPO schedule, which can be intense at the best of times. I solved this by ensuring that all of my practice during the first two weeks was devoid of any dynamics, in fact it never went above mezzo­piano! This allowed me to drastically increase its duration, something necessary given the amount of new music I had to learn, while not being too detrimental physically, allowing me to fulfil my work commitments. Until I could play all the music within this dynamic I did not move on. There was a period during the summer of my first year at King's College, London, when I practised a similar amount between five and six hours per day, but without such a planned focused approach. While this was still of great benefit I am certain I did not reap, at that time, all the potential such an intensive practice period holds.

My second piece of advice to anyone wishing to brush up on his or her practice technique is to trust your planning. When I came across an especially difficult passage, such as the end of the Ropartz, I would start at a manageable tempo and figure out exactly where I would need to be by the end of every week in order to have the passage at the required tempo five weeks later. The discipline required to maintain and trust such a practice plan pushed me, and my neighbours, to the limit. I cannot stress enough how hours spent in this way practising, analysing and evaluating paid off in the long run. To aid this process, I purchased a small manuscript book, re­composed/arranged these and other awkward passages, simplified them and worked them into a new warm­up. I tried to tick all the boxes that any good warm­up should cover, thus ensuring that every time I picked up the trombone I was doing something positive towards the competition. This, however, created a further problem, that of balancing solo and orchestral playing. The facility and flexibility required to play much of the solo repertoire is far removed from the everyday work of the orchestral trombonist, where for example, a much wider sound is more highly valued. During this period, I remember spending two days with the RPO rehearsing and performing Respighil's Fountains of Rome under Kirill Karabits in the Royal Festival Hall. Just two days of making a wide, orchestral sound put me back at least four to five days 'soloistically'. It was as if my embouchure was so completely focused on the sound of each note and phrase that any leaps in register were incredibly difficult to achieve. It took a further two days of practice before the previously ascertained facility returned. To my mind the dedication of players such as Ian Bousfield and Joseph Alessi is all the more staggering ­ they seem constantly able to walk this fine line effortlessly! This left a few hours every day when I was travelling or having dinner during which trombone practice was not possible. These were spent listening to the likes of Jorgen van Rijen, Christian Lindberg and Branimir Slokar. The colours they create are at times far removed from those typical to the British orchestral school of playing. To my mind the fact that I was going to be playing to a European judging panel necessitated the development and assimilation of certain characteristics of these great players into my own playing, especially with regard to style and use of vibrato, while still maintaining the core sound and legato so fundamental to my own musical identity.

To see the workings of an international competition was very interesting. There is a group of players who spend time every year playing the competition circuit, they all know each other, many of the panel, and had strong pre­competition expectations as to who would proceed to the second round, the third round, and even win the whole competition.

For my part I made it to the second round, but fell short of the final, coming eighth overall. I was a little disappointed; there was some good playing, and clearly some very fine players, but nothing I heard that week had blown me away. In fact, much of it had sounded rather calculated and measured with little in the way of spontaneity. It was as though competitors were afraid to impart too much of themselves into their performance for fear that it would be judged as being 'wrong'. Crucially it seems some players knew how the judges would mark, exactly what they would gain and lose points for and ticked the boxes accordingly. It struck me as highly unfulfilling to be musically shackled in this way by convention.

After the announcement of the second round results I managed to gain some feedback from certain members of the jury. While this was generally positive it was mixed with some strange comments. Playing nearly all the music from memory went down very well, and it seems that they were impressed that I had found such a different interpretation of the Kurz (I went for a much lighter style, think Nelson Riddle/Bobby McFerrin), applauded me for it, and yet took marks off because it had not conformed to their more traditional reading of the piece. To quote the most successful British trombone player of our generation: 'you have grown up with the understanding that “different is interesting”, [possibly] what you encountered was “different is wrong” '. One judge simply said the piece was “too jazzy”, while another called me a “visionary”! It seems I had divided opinion (in which I believe there to be much merit). There were also comments, which to this day, I find hard to understand. For instance the end of the Ropartz was 'too fast'. It is marked Allegro molto not Moderato stringendo, as I heard countless times that day. Surely it has to be played as one complete phrase? Taking a breath before the end is musically criminal!

It has been difficult to draw any conclusions from the remarks that I received that night. With hindsight, there are certain aspects I would do differently given another chance, but not a huge amount, and happily there were also moments I doubt I could replicate in my own practice room let alone on an international stage. Likewise, lessons could not be gleaned from hearing the final as no one won the first prize, nor have they since 1987. This merely proves that winning a competition such as this by no means guarantees a career as a soloist. What matters is that you are an artist that people outside the trombone world respect and want to hear. Personally my closure comes from realising that an endeavour such as this is all about the journey you take up to the competition. The attitude developed and the application to the practice required to make the most out of a project such as this are the real positives.

Vibrato by Steven Mead


One of the most debated topics in brass pedagogy around the world is the subject of vibrato. Not only is there the question of 'orchestral' versus 'brass band' vibrato (it's usage of course, rather the mechanics of how it is produced) but also nationalistic preferences which influence the application of vibrato. I hate to the use the word application as it sounds like adding something unnaturally, like make up on a lady, or plaster on brick work. These two interesting analogies can immediately reveal the dilemma for teachers and players. Vibrato cannot make some ugly become pretty but it can disguise some of its faults!! Tone and vibrato should never be confused. Over the years the expressive singing quality of players within the brass band movement has often been ridiculed by those outside, particularly from those within the hallowed institutions of music conservatories whose sole role in life seemed to be to prepare students a for life inside a symphony orchestra where straight tone was the expected norm for 99% of the time. When we listen to early brass band recordings from yesteryear we can hear how tastes in vibrato have changed; the cornet sound from the 1930s,40s and 50s is different than what we normally hear nowadays. The same of course can be said for euphonium players and many of my archive recordings, although incredibly important in the history of our instrument showcase examples of vibrato that would be considered 'old fashioned' now. It is not to demean the wonderful artists who have gone before but to point out there are clearly trends in vibrato that have changed over the years. The same of course is true when we listen to the great voices of the past such as Mario Lanza or Enrico Caruso whose vibrato was wider and faster than most voices we encounter today.

Today's brass band players may have to play music from Messers Sparke, Wilby, Ball, Vinter and in some cases more contemporary composers such as Pickard , Aagaard Nilsen et al in the same concert. The dilemma we have is, at the top level, whether to vary the vibrato at all for the different repertoire. You and I have probably heard some of our top bands soloists colour their sound in exactly the same way irrespective of the music's style or expressive content. This cannot be right and can lead us to secretly agree with some of the age-old criticism of 'bander's vibrato', where the blanket use of it can flatten stylistic differences and cancel out truly expressive playing where vibrato colouring can be such a potent communicative tool. It has also been said many bands' use of vibrato is deliberated designed to appeal to ageing judges in the box. This is a subject that can be picked up elsewhere but to return to the principal theme of this article, the use of vibrato in the brass band can be a wonderful means to be expressive , lyrical and passionate with our music. The use of varied vibrati, particularly with jazz and big band styles (once we sort out the right articulations, another separate topic!) can also make band's stylistic playing more convincing.

The use of vibrato for low brass instrument creates further distinctions between solo playing and section playing, but less so than for example in a wind band where the use of vibrato in brass instruments seems much more reserved for solo lines (and lyrical ones at that). Just how much more vibrato should a euphonium use than an Eb bass or a Bb bass? As a general rule, the lower the pitch the less alteration of the pitch (I hereby redefine vibrato, temporarily!) and the need for a stable harmonic underpinning of the harmony is required, but should a Bb bass player have a solo marked 'dolce molto cantabile' we could expect even this gentle giant of an instrument to 'sing'.

When used sensitively it puts the human element of warmth, beauty as well as the creation and resolution of tension into our music. For many vibrato is something that just happens, and for others it just doesn't happen!

If you are unsure of the mechanics of vibrato 'creation' for euph/baritone pitch and lower here is a quick five-step guide to the use of jaw vibrato

Repeat over the word 'Yah' (like in a German women's institute meeting),yah yah yah yah
Repeat again but silence the voice so only the jaw action continues
Repeat again but try to keep the lips as fixed as possible so the movement is seemingly at the back of the jaw
Repeat step three but simultaneously exhale strongly a strong stream on air with the lips in the 'playing' position with the jaw creating the messaging effect which is the basis of a rich and controlled vibrato
Take up instrument and play some mid range long tones using the experience of step 4 to guide you.
Then listen and keep listening and refine your sound in the way an artist or sculptor will perfect a work of art. Listen to great singers, be it from the pop world, Broadway shows or opera. We have so many possibilities to assimilate sounds from them as well as great violinists and cellists. But in reality how many brass band players learn this way ? Is our musical world so different ? I leave you with questions!

 

Getting in Shape, Staying in Shape by Steven Mead

Sort out a daily routine on which you can build.

Be determined and focused, your personal confidence will grow from this.

Everything you do must have as reason.

Don’t waste a minute

Always think musically

 

Here are a selection of exercises I know work.

Use them , as much as possible.

 

First things first, get the air moving, relax the body.
Get the lips to vibrate freely
Think positive
Support the air all the time
 

Controlled long tone playing is the secret of the complete player.

Work on controlled pitch, beautiful sound quality and reliable tone production. Don’t mistake good production for accenting notes. It’s the air that makes the notes work.

Use a metronome and tuning machine often with these exercises. They may simple but don’t be deceived.

Listen particularly to ends of notes. Don’t move on until you are completely satisfied.

Open up for low tones, don’t pinch. Think vocally

Here is an example of a range building warm up;

The code is as follows:

H8 = hold for 8 beats

R4 = rest for four beats

Continue the patterns as shown. Try using the exact metronome markings.


for ex.4,5,6,7 start them very slowly and speed them up as they become smoother and easier over weeks.

Keep dynamics constant. No louder than mf and try often to play them p with a good full sound. Think about getting maximum response from the lips.

These exercises really work, but you must do them as written. Don’t pick at them, either do them or don’t bother.

 

A favourite flexibility exercise of mine.

Initially very slow ensure all the notes speak evenly, BEFORE you try to speed them up. A good mf dynamic if fine.

Reduce facial movement as much as possible.

Keep the head still

Good quality long notes.

Make sure the low notes are always as clear as the others

SLOW and ACCURATE first. You’ll be wasting time if its not all perfect

Clear precise tonguing is essential, there are many exercises you can do before attempting this one, look at the Remington studies elsewhere in this little book.

Then use a metronome….NO faster than 100, its easier faster.

Keep the fingers positive and relaxed all the time

Read ahead

No fuzzy low tones

Practice all the difficult bars separately

Reduce facial movement in the extreme bars

 

Lip Slurs – sit ups for your face, but don’t force them. Be patient , aggressive practice defeats the reason you’re doing them in the first place. Think !!!

More air for the high tones – support with the diaphragm all the time and particularly in the high register. Preserve aperture shape. Allow small tongue position flexibility , AW, AH OO

 

Tonguing Pt. 2 – Just one example here of a variety of approaches that are needed

 

Practice some of the bars separately KKKKKKKK etc

Make the transitions smooth. Start with a metronome mark of about 72

Take a huge breath before you start so that air flow does not become a problem and confuse the issue still further. Separate the notes

 

Repeat the exercise about 5 times for maximum effect , at slightly increasing speeds

 

Breath Control

1000’s of exercises for this, here is just one

4 bar phrasing, tempo about 72.

Good tuning is absolutely essential, use a tuning machine often

Make breaths feel easy not gasped !!

Keep the throat open all the time

No accents, even when playing f and             ff. OK?

Sometimes use no vib at all , at other times try a nice warm lyrical approach. Be flexible with your application/use of vib.  One sound all the time is so dull.

 

Controlling nerves by David Bremner

One of the most frequently asked questions I get asked is “how do I control my nerves?” Well, the great thing about us human beings is that we are all completely different. What might stress me out, might not stress you out, and how nerves affect me, might not affect you. So, there is no gospel according to nerves, but there are a few ways that we can help keep them under control.
Firstly, nerves are not completely bad! Ok, so they might make you a little dry, and uncomfortable, but you have to think positively about nerves. If you turned up and had no excitement or nervous energy, you would be flat as a pancake. Nerves help you stay focussed, and they can give you the edge you need to perform well. So, work with your nerves, they can really benefit you.
Secondly, nerves may affect you physically. This can be in many different ways, from a dry mouth, to slightly shaky hands, to breathing heavily, to getting a bit sweaty. The most important thing about these symptoms is to acknowledge them, and to make sure you are prepared for them. Don’t think of them as factors working against you, but think of them as your body trying to gear you up for a big event. I am sure Roger Federer has butterflies in his stomach before a big match. The important thing is to use it to your advantage. Try not to think about these things. If they are physical, say a dry mouth, drink something lemony, this helps produce saliva in your mouth. If it’s shaking of the hands, take some deep breaths, and stay away from the coffee! If you are getting a bit hot under the collar, go somewhere cool, get some fresh air. Everyone is different when it comes to this, you just need to think about what affects you, and then find a way to counter it. Breathing exercises are the best for controlling your heart rate. If you can get somewhere quiet, and spend 5 minutes taking some good long breaths, this will help you immensely. Try breathing in and out over 5 beats at crochet =60. Do this for a couple of minutes, and this will help get your heart rate down.
Most importantly though, don’t focus on your nerves. Think about all the hard work you have done preparing for your performance, and how much you want to show everyone how much you have improved, stay positive, nerves will just help give you that edge that you need to blow everyone away.
 

 

Practicing by Brent Grapes

As musicians, we all spend hours a day in a practice room. From our earliest lessons, it is drummed into us that practicing makes perfect/practice makes progress (depending on your teachers half glass full/empty life view…). We may have even been told a certain minimum number of hours a day we need to spend with what is essentially a piece of metal pipe pressed up against our lips.
It is true that we need to work hard to get anywhere as musicians, and the hours we spend practicing are vital for us to achieve our musical goals. The questions I pose are these: How can we use our practice time more efficiently? And, how do we check whether we are on the right track?
In 2008 I was lucky to spend a year studying with Raymond Mase in New York. For those of you that have not heard of him, I strongly encourage you to check out his extensive discography on iTunes. Whilst simply hearing Raymond play on a regular basis was inspiring, the most revelatory part of studying with him was seeing how methodically he approached his practice, covering off each and every aspect of his playing each day. He never settled for “good enough”, he would constantly be taking every area of his playing up a level. As an example, he would practice his articulation with a table he’d specially constructed; He listed 3 different grades of initial attack, length of note and dynamic leaving him with 27 possible variations, each of which he would practice routinely.
Whilst I’m not suggesting we all need to practice 27 different variations on articulation each day (though it is something to aspire to!) one can take away a valuable lesson from seeing this done. We need to approach our practice with routine and structure to make the most of our valuable practice time. Separating your practice into 2 or 3 separate sessions is a useful starting place, allowing you time to;
Start the day with a healthy warm up that gets your air moving and your sound to resonate
Cover the fundamental areas of your technique that may need specific attention.
Prepare the repertoire you need to perform.
I also like to write down what I intend to do with my sessions each day, and in doing so I give myself something to work towards. This changes day by day, following the repertoire I’m playing in the orchestra that week or if I’ve a solo recital coming up.
I also have 3 rules that I try to obey when I’m practicing.
Learn something slowly and you’ll forget it slowly.
-When we take our time to learn a new work slowly and methodically, we not only learn all the right notes and rhythms, we also spot all the small details that turn our work from a page of notes to a piece of music.
    2. Why?
        - Why am I practicing this exercise/etude?
- Have I been playing this exercise fora long time and is it still making me a better musician, or am I just “going through the motions”? (ps. “my teacher told me to play this” isn’t a reason, ask your teacher why you should play a particular exercise and you may actually benefit from it!)
    3. Stay positive.
- It’s easy to become negative while practicing (“Why is this not better yet? I’ve been working on it for ages!”). Be objective. Give yourself small, achievable goals and if something isn’t working then try something different.
Practicing can be a joy if we choose to approach it with an open, inquisitive mind. We get out of our practice what we choose to put in, so if we can approach it with a goal in mind, then that goal is far more likely to become a reality.

 

Putting together a Trombone Recital by Brett Baker

I am often asked to recommend pieces for recitals that incorporate relatively unknown or different pieces to that of the standard recital program so here it goes.
Normally, a 45 minute program with an encore is sufficient. I will give a variety of suitable pieces, followed by two example programmes at the end of this article. I hope that many of the pieces are unknown to you as opposed to giving a list of the standard repertoire used in end of year recitals.
Balance and interest is important in a recital and playing the standard repertoire, although you may see as a safe option, will not interest the general public, trombone fanatics or those that review such performances. Contrasting pieces should not be just be fast or slow, pieces should be taken from classical, baroque and romantic periods as well as contemporary,  and also taken from different genres such as jazz and orchestral, and for me, wind or brass band pieces as well. Many recitals tend to be dry in nature so I always try to put some light-hearted pieces in with the more serious repertoire especially if this is a commercial recital. In terms of practising the pieces I find I need to run a program through twice without rests during any piano refrains to ensure I have the stamina to get through a recital programme on the day of the performance easily.
The Opener: It is important to make an impact on the first piece and play something that shows off your strengths. I prefer playing something unaccompanied to start, such as John Kenny’s “Fanfare” which you play across an open lid of a piano, or an early piece of music, such as Lindberg’s arrangement of “Dance la Cleve” for alto trombone. Other suitable openers include Giovanni Martino Cesare’s“La Hieronyma” composed in 1621, “St. Thomas Sonata” composed c.1665-1699, or something like Folke Rabe’s “Basta”, which although well-known is rarely played other than in the bravest of end of year college recitals.
Second piece: Normally I try to play a substantial piece with piano. Recently I have selected Sigismond Stojowski’s (1869-1946) “Fantasie”, or an arrangement of an overture, such as my arrangement of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”.
The third piece usually provides a bit of light relief. Typical pieces at this point in the recital include “Salsa Panadero” by Philip Harper, though this is only really effective with a drum kit; Philip Wilby’s “Cool Shades” or an arrangement of his Be Bop number “Jackie” by Hampton Hawes. Alternatively, a Jazz ballad will work well; such as “Stardust”, “Londonderry Air” arranged by Bill Geldard or something like Bill Broughton’s “Sarah”.
At present, I have been researching forgotten solos of the 1820s to 1890s, so at this point in the program I would normally showcase one of these works. A good choice that is the rarely performed Meyer “Concertino”, which is extremely high for a bass trombone solo and therefore perfect range for a tenor trombone, or Josef Novakovsky’s “Concertino”. Both are a delight and virtuosic to say the least.
Predictably perhaps, the fifth solo is usually a classical slow melody solo piece. One of my favourites is “Meditation from Thais” (there are several good arrangements available) or Rachmanov’s “Elegie in Eb Minor Opus 3 no. 1” or Alexander Boradin’s “Nocturne”.
After playing a serious piece I like to throw in another up-beat number, in the form of Pryor’s “Fantastic Polka”, or “Phenomenal Polka” by Frederick Innes, or a newly discovered solo by Gardell Simons called “La Valse Moderne”.
The seventh solo, as a contrast, is normally one of my favourite slow melody solos from the Salvation Army repertoire, such as “Someone Cares” arranged Ray Steadman-Allen or Dorothy Gates’ arrangement of “His Provision” this I have used most recently.
The eighth solo is normally something again classical in nature. Recently, the Wagenseil or Albechtsberger concertos on tenor trombone have worked well, as has Rodney Newton’s “Dick Turpin’s Ride to York”. Monti’s “Czardas” provides further contrast, as does “Atlantic Zephyrs” by Gardell Simons but this I find is better as an encore.
The ninth, and final solo would be a movement from a concerto, or sometimes the eighth and ninth pieces become the complete performance of a concerto. Currently Rob Wiffin’s Concerto, Martin Ellerby’s Concerto or Dan Jenkins’ Concerto are fresh pieces that work well in recitals.
As an encore I would normally do a slow piece such as “Demelza” by Hugh Nash or “Abide with me” by Ken Downie. If I need something up tempo then “Trombonology” by Tommy Dorsey or Cook’s “Bolivar” work well in this part of the recital.
I hope these suggestions are useful to you and good luck with your preparation.