We are Athletes!

I love running. I never used to, I was always a bit lazy, but then realised one day that I needed to do something to burn off my excess winter padding. The idea of understanding my body was something very foreign to me, even though I was transfixed reading Arnold Jacob’s ‘Song and Wind’. The idea of understanding my body was far more interesting than the reality of it. 

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Nevertheless, I forced myself to get on the treadmill - 1k here, 1k there, and before I knew it I was up to 5k. The interesting thing was that I started to hear my body talk to me, the aches the pains, tiredness and lack of enthusiasm to get out on the road. The more I listened to my body, the better I learnt about how to get the best out of my running. Now running is something I look forward to everyday, even on tour when I have to drag others out with me so I dont get lost! 

 On tour in Europe with Luke Spence, Kevin Hickman and Tom Davey

On tour in Europe with Luke Spence, Kevin Hickman and Tom Davey

Where am I going with this you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked. 

The interesting thing about brass players, is that we are athletes, but we don’t apply the same amount of focus and research into the muscles we use for playing, the same way runners would with their specific muscles. We don't listen to our body giving us information about our tiredness and fatigue. We soldier on, day after day, smashing the lips and wondering why we continue to play Russian roulette with our performances. How many times have you woken up the morning of a performance and wondered how your chops are going to feel today? What if you knew your muscles so well that you could sleep with confidence that you are going to feel great the day of a major performance. 

In brass bands in New Zealand, we start out 2 nights of band a week around 3 months before contest. Then closer to the time we add in weekend rehearsals, building up the bands ensemble skills and strength, as we inch closer to D-Day. Then 10 days out, we start smashing the chops, sectionals, band practices, long weekends - every night of the week. Even the day before the contest there will be a solid 2 hour rehearsal. Now think about this for a second. If a runner was going to run a marathon on Saturday, would they run for 2 hours on Friday? Probably not…

If we listen to our chops, we start to understand what we need to do to get through the day of rehearsals or performances. We tend to do the same routine everyday regardless of how we feel, and we are also reluctant to take a day off. 

Today is a day off for me - and I love days off! The last 10 days has been full on playing, probably between 6 and 10 hours of playing a day, with rehearsals, concerts and practice taking up a huge amount of the day. For me, the day off playing is as important as my biggest practice day. The value that I get from letting my chop muscles relax and recover is invaluable to the next weeks playing. 

I urge you to go and read ‘Song and Wind’ you can buy it here - https://www.amazon.com/Arnold-Jacobs-Song-Brian-Frederiksen/dp/0965248909 - or get the kindle version and always have it with you on your iPad or kindle. Learn about how your anatomy connects with your instrument and then treat this process seriously. I guarantee you will see benefits in your playing if you learn about the process of making the sound you make. 

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Here are a couple of rules that I live by when it comes to getting the most out of my practice and performance. 

1 - Breathing Exercises - these are invaluable to me to get my air moving and connecting with my sound. Even better, get up early and head off for a jog at 7am - way better than breathing exercises and awesome for your health. 

2 - Stretch - do some Yoga - or even find some yoga poses that you can do before you practice. Find a way to open up your breathing muscles. Hold the poses and take 10 good breaths in an out. Make this a part of your warm up. 

3 - Warm ups - take your time! - find the time to ease into the day with buzzing and low register work. Try and do this early in the day and think of it as stretching your muscles before a day of playing. 

 4 - Be Healthy - the best version of you the musician, is only possible if you are also the best version of you the human. Think about what you eat, what you drink, how you sleep, and make your health a priority. 

5 - Take a day off from time to time - Days off are not the enemy! They can be hugely beneficial. Try and take a day off every 2 weeks, and dont even look at your instrument.

6 - Practice with someone - find someone you respect and like to listen to, and try and get together and play excerciese back to each other. I use the Joe Alessi Studio  - http://alessimusicstudios.ca/ - it costs $100US for adults and $50US for students. The subscription lasts a year, and you can warm up with Joe Alessi and listen to his classes and talks. Its an incredible resource and worth every cent. 

 Joe Alessi Studio 

Joe Alessi Studio 

The more you understand your body, the more you will forge ahead in your playing. Dont underestimate how much you need to listen to your body, and dont forget - you are an athlete! 

Regards
Dave

Banding vs Orchestral

Over the past few years at the NZ National Brass Band competitions, I couldn’t help but think throughout the week how far the relationship between orchestral and brass band players has come. I have had many teachers over the years telling me that their students shouldn’t be playing in a brass band because it is bad for their orchestral playing. Now playing in a brass band might be bad for your liver, but for your orchestral playing? I don’t think so.

As a student I always looked forward to band in the evening as it was a good chance to have a decent honk after often long days of rehearsing works in the Uni orchestra with long passages of rests. I found that band was a great chance for me to work on three aspects of playing that often needed attention.

Solo playing – Playing the trombone solo out of Phillip Sparke’s Year of the Dragon would obviously be approached differently to playing the solo in Mahler’s 3rd Symphony. Sitting in band was a chance for me to think about that style and how I could manipulate the music to get the most out of the line, which had a positive impact on the way I would look at orchestral solos. The soloistic approach of a band trombonist is often a lot more romantic to what you might get away with in the orchestra. I have always loved trying to push the boundaries of what an orchestral conductor might tolerate…

Stamina – This is something we are always working on which was a constant issue for me as a student. Getting through a band practice was a real struggle, so using the band to develop that strength and stamina was really great for my playing. The key to this was making sure that I didn’t pick up bad habits on the way – I was always conscious of not changing the way I played throughout the range regardless of how tired I became.

Changing the sound and style – an often-neglected skill. Players often feel that the sound they make is the only sound they make. Well it shouldn’t be! You should have a range of sounds that you can produce; the sound you need to make to project in a brass band is very different from the one you would use in the orchestra. I have always enjoyed the challenge of adapting to the environment I find myself in, whether I’m playing with a jazz ensemble, a brass band or an orchestra, as a soloist, or in a small group where I need to hide in the texture from time to time. Playing in the band helped me realise that I couldn’t make the same sound all the time, it just didn’t work, so I found a way to adapt, and develop my sound. This was the opening of a door in my mind to many other processes in my playing that I constantly think about.

So, is playing in a band bad for your orchestra playing? I absolutely do not think so. Playing in any ensemble creates a change of environment that is always a positive, you just have to find these positives and stay disciplined.

Over the years brass bands have developed and adapted to their musical surroundings, and the sound of brass bands has also evolved along with developments in brass teaching around the world. I firmly believe that the orchestral method of teaching is the strongest form of brass education as it teaches the instrument first i.e. the basics of producing sound – air, buzz, concept, technique and projection. Many other teaching methods put the music first and the instrument and player equal second.

Over the years we have seen more and more students from brass band backgrounds heading off on a tertiary journey studying orchestral brass and later returning to bands with that information. We have also seen more and more orchestral players taking the reigns of brass bands. This has seen a change in the overall sound of bands, particularly in Australasia, where bands have become an extension of the orchestral brass section. There are pluses and minuses with this that are obvious. The most prominent change is in the rounder and richer sound of the bands – there is a stronger sense of the basics, so intonation and balance have improved out of sight. The downside is, and this is really a question I raise rather than a statement, are we losing our identity as brass bands? When you listen to the traditional band sound there is a rawness to the sound, a brightness to the trombones, vibrato a plenty in the cornets and euphos, and more passion than an episode of Downtown Abbey. Are we in jeopardy of losing this identity? The orchestral influence on banding is generally a positive one, as long as we take the best of the teaching, the best of the quality, and keep our traditions and identity intact.

National Youth Band blog

On January 20th the National Youth Brass band convened for a week of music making in the upper South Island. The management team had organised a program full of rejuvenating ideas for the band including a concert which included both musical and theatrical forms of audience engagement. In order to make these concerts a success we began our week with four full days of intense rehearsals. We focussed mainly on our two major works, “Aotearoa” and Le Carnival Romain” spending some time also on our smaller concert items and working with our stunning soloist Kyle Lawson. The pieces were all so enjoyable to play that, generally they came together very quickly under good direction and the band’s desire to play pieces they enjoy, to the best of their ability. The band also spent quite a bit of time in section rehearsals with a team of exceptional tutors, Anthony Smith taking the front row, Alan Spence taking the back row, Kevin Hickman with the Horns, Steve Miles with the Eupho Baritones, Mark Davey with the Trombones, Phil Johnston had the basses and Grant Myhill with the percussion. This incredible lineup were instrumental in making each section come together to play accurately and stylishly. So for that guidance we really thank them!!

 Trombones with their Tutor Mark Davey

Trombones with their Tutor Mark Davey

 Section of the Year - Euphos and Baritones

Section of the Year - Euphos and Baritones

 Phil Johnston working his magic with the Bass section

Phil Johnston working his magic with the Bass section

 Grant Myhill working with the Percussion section

Grant Myhill working with the Percussion section

 Kev Hickman pondering the Horn Sections next move

Kev Hickman pondering the Horn Sections next move

 Assistant Music Director Alan Spence working with the back row.

Assistant Music Director Alan Spence working with the back row.

Whilst doing all of this practice we were well looked after at Nelson college, with exceptional food and great facilities. Despite the weather consistently being in the upper twenties and Dave keeping the heat on us in the band room the entire week the band managed to stay cool most of the time thanks to the help of the school pool. Most of the band’s free time was either spent there or participating in organised activities, this included an afternoon of sports planned by Sue Ford (at the expense of  Logan Ford) which allowed the many sporting inclined members of our band to showcase their extraordinary talents. Once the band was suitably exhausted it took us several hours of rest and recuperation by the pool before our next event; a bowling and quiz night tournament. Kindly hosted by the Tahuna Bowls Club once again we were able to demonstrate our sporting prowess, with Alan Spence even hitting a record high for incorrect Biases and his team mates for a record number of times yelling “Come on Spencey”. After this the annual quiz night took place with the Euphoniums, Baritones, Trombones and about four tutors simultaneously getting away with such  an advantage and winning the entire competition quite convincingly.

After our four or so days of intense rehearsal it was time for our first concert in Nelson at the Annesbrook Church where we practiced our routine and costume changes in the morning and performed in the evening. Our routines involved changing from overalls, to suits, to traditional British band uniforms, then from marching gear to our “Jazz” outfits. Over the course of the next three days our costume changes would become more and more convincing although the first performance only saw one big error anyway; when the band was changing out of our overalls into our suits the lighting crew moved to early and when our name was read out to introduce us to the audience they clapped to a completely dark stage. This performance was livestreamed and we put on a good show for both the live and livestreamed audience, with both the theatrics and musical aspects of the performance coming off well.

 Guest Soloist Kyle Lawson wowing the band

Guest Soloist Kyle Lawson wowing the band

Following a post performance debrief kindly hosted by the Ford’s the band was to hit the road the next day, we were on our way just down the road to Blenheim, with a short detour to Westport! Upon our arrival in Westport we unloaded at our accommodation and then had a great meal hosted by the Westport band. The committee and band members put on a great spread and we enjoyed exploring their bandroom and seeing their rich history on the bandroom walls. Next was a well executed yet particularly sweat inducing concert at the balmy NBS theatre. Once again a post performance debrief was held at the band room and the following day we were on the road again. It was awesome to travel around the beautiful south island however some of the scenery seemed pretty familiar by our second day of travelling. Our performance at the Blenheim ASB theatre was going to be a highlight, the new theatre was hyped up considerably by the Marlborough contingent of the band. However they did not disappoint as playing in that theatre was a highlight of the whole trip for me and I certainly am looking forward to playing there again this nationals. The best of three very large audiences saw our band playing the best we had all week and finish on a real high. We were hosted once again brilliantly by the Marlborough band both for dinner and our debrief.

 our rehearsal space/sauna room

our rehearsal space/sauna room

On our final day we were hosted by Marlborough band again in the beautiful ASB theatre to record our CD. This proved to be both a long yet rewarding day for the band, especially the members of the band who have never recorded an album before. It was tedious at times however a very interesting insight into how these sorts of recordings come about. I look forward to the release of this and to hear how a band on top form sounds! Our annual prize giving ceremony concluded our week and many of the band were deservedly recognised for their exceptional contributions to the bands performances and behind the scenes work. Finally a night of celebration ensued and several faces looked very ‘sad’ getting onto the plane the next day.

 Putting the finishing touches on our CD

Putting the finishing touches on our CD

This years youth band was so incredibly well thought out, planned and executed and I’d love to thank all those that made it possible. The Nelson, Westport and Marlborough bands which hosted us so graciously in their towns, the places which we had for accommodations which put up with all of the racket we made in the band room (and otherwise) and to our exceptional management team. The tutors for their expertise, Dennis Teeling for his huge help as stage manager this where so many things were going on on stage for him to think about, our exceptional soloist Kyle Lawson for his professionalism and presence at the camp and to Leigh Martin for his support and expertise behind the scenes as assistant manager. Finally a big shoutout to Dave Bremner and Mike Ford for their incredible work planning, organising, choosing and running this band. No minute of the camp was wasted yet at no point of the camp did anyone feel overtired thanks to Mike’s balancing skills and the polished final product which I know our CD will be is a testament to the skills and musical brain of Dave.

 

Thanks to everyone involved for an incredible week.

 

Lachlan Spence

Life in the Army

As an eager 11-year-old picking up the trombone for the very first time, I had always been blown away by the stories, my dad told of his time in the New Zealand Army Band. Fast-forward 13 years and here I am, the Bass Trombonist for the NZ Army.

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The Army Band is much different to the band that dad was in in the 1970’s but some things remain, the location, and the retro carpet, even Graeme Bremner is still there!

I joined the NZ Army Band in 2012 after I studied Classical Performance at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington and was a member of the Royal New Zealand Air Force Band. Both the Air Force Band and School of music were awesome experiences and totally help transition me into a full time musician for the NZ Army. Prior to joining I was under the impression that the Army Band was a mediocre ensemble, I couldn’t have been more wrong. There are some amazing musicians in the band, all who work extremely well together to make this unique and really entertaining group.

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I spent four years at the New Zealand School of Music and graduated with a BMus and PGDip Mus in performance. I had considered more study but money played a big role in my plans. I had the option of free-lancing in Wellington plus working part-time somewhere to raise funds to study, or audition for a position in the NZ Army Band. To me it was a simple decision, trying to find gigs and working at KFC or earning a comfortable salary actually playing trombone. I originally planned to be in the Army Band for two years to save to study further, however I have enjoyed it so much, after 6 years…I’m still here.

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When I auditioned, I flew down to Christchurch to spend three days with the band. The most nerve-racking part of this was the requirement to bring running shoes for a fitness test….I probably hadn’t done any exercise in over four years, and my god-like body was more like Buddha than Zeus. On run day, I took off for a sprint at the start, but after 300m I slowed. With 2.1km left to go, I soon realized that I had a lot of work to do. Luckily they accepted my run, and I just had to pass the musical audition.

It was audition day. Unlike some other auditions I had been a part of, It was just myself auditioning. No screen, and it all seemed very relaxed. It all started with being in the band room with the whole band and joining in morning rehearsals. The Band was preparing to perform a marching display for Her Majesty the Queen. I was blown away by the complexity of the music in which they were marching to, it made Colonel Bogey look more like page one of my tune a day book from school. After rehearsing the music the band went outside to rehearse the marching, I got to spectate. I am not the most coordinated person, so watching the band cross through each other, and marching backwards all while playing that incredibly difficult music completely blew me away and I was desperate to be a part of it.

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After lunch it was my turn to play for my main audition, everything was relaxed low key, which really helped with the nerves. My audition consisted of two pieces of my choosing plus some sight-reading. To my joy, I passed and was soon to become a member of the NZ Army Band.

I moved to Christchurch in April 2012 and was straight into performing with the band. One of my first gigs was back in Wellington at Government house. Still trying to impress the band members, I was very gung ho with the set-up and ending up taking a chunk out of a freshly remodeled door of the ballroom. So embarrassing! Thankfully this didn’t become a trend, and the next six years in the Army Band has become one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

The Band tours a lot and at a huge range of events, from extremely formal parades for Government and Defence Force Chiefs, to 1000’s of screaming punters at festivals like Hokitika Wild Foods. Whilst touring can be hard, it’s amazing how much of New Zealand and even the world I have been privileged to travel for work. Since I have been in the Army Band, I have been to Switzerland, England, Scotland, Germany, China, and of course Australia to perform.

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Being a member of the NZ Army Band doesn’t just consist of playing your instrument, and a day is very rarely the same. We are regular force in the Army, which means we still do some “Real Army” things, like weapons training and qualifications, promotion courses, and of course the dreaded fitness test. The Army Band also has other roles within itself. All our members do other tasks to help the band run efficiently. We have teams who promote the band via social media, teams who arrange music for the band and many more. I am lucky enough to be an Arranger for the band, as well as help recruit, but my most rewarding role is being an instructor for the Army School of Music where I get to teach theory to all the musicians to meet the requirements of the band. We also play lots of sport; mainly touch rugby, and running. We are all really active so finding the motivation to go out and exercise is relatively easy and we all seem to stay in reasonable shape.

To me, joining the Army Band was one of the best decisions I have made in life, I have grown as a player, and seen places around the world I never thought I would have seen. I have made life long friends, and more importantly made some great music.

If you are interested in what the Army Band can offer you, please get in touch with the band via army.band@nzdf.mil.nz or follow the band on Facebook to see when we are next in your town.

Cheers

Joe

Careers - David Bremner NZSO Principal Trombone

Happy New Year - hope you had a fantastic festive season, and are ready for a great 2018. 

Throughout the year, we are going to be bringing you lots of different blogs, covering various topics. But I thought a thread that we might keep going throughout the year is about careers in music. Many of us are incredibly lucky to be able to make music for a living, and I have asked a bunch of musicians around the country to write about their experiences in their chosen music profession. 

I thought I would kick start this thread, with my own personal experience being a member of the NZ Symphony Orchestra. Throughout this series we are going to hear about careers in Orchestras, Forces Bands, Brass Bands, Jazz Bands and many more. 


I joined the NZSO in 2002, as a pretty green 26 year old.  I had been Principal Trombone of the Auckland Philharmonia for around 12 months, and loved playing with such great people and musicians there. The APO is such a friendly and welcoming place to make music, I couldn’t have been in a better orchestra for my first job. 

The Principal chair in the NZSO came up in 2001, and I was very excited to be able to audition for the position. 


Many of you may not know the process that takes place to gain a position in an orchestra, but I can assure you it’s a pretty rigorous one, and not particularly enjoyable! 

It starts on audition day.  All the candidates are backstage warming up, and getting ready for their audition. The management of the orchestra will tell you your time to turn up, and then you need to be ready and warmed up for when your time comes. 

My audition for the NZSO was in a small concert chamber in the Wellington Town Hall, and I was backstage ready to go.  I went in, and there is just silence in the room, even though you know there are 20 odd musicians sitting behind this massive screen separating those in the orchestra from those wanting to be. It’s normal to play a solo work, usually the first page of a standard concerto, and then around five excerpts. 

It’s impossible to know what they are thinking or looking for, so I just focused on what I was trying to do, and then when you walk off the wait begins!  Waiting to find out if you have advanced to the next round is horrible, second guessing yourself on how you played, and finally convincing yourself that you have stuffed this up, and wasted an opportunity.  Finally someone comes around and lets everyone know those players who are advancing to the next round - and we do it all again!

At the end of the NZSO audition, two candidates were offered trials with the orchestra. A trial is a chance to do the job for a month or so, so they can see how you go within the orchestra.  A month is a long time not to stuff up! The other trialist was one of my best friends, so to say the process was stressful is an understatement. 

The whole process takes around a year to complete, and then you get the good or bad news. 

I started my time with the NZSO in July 2002, and my first concert was in the Michael Fowler Centre with a performance of Mahler's 3rd Symphony.  Talk about a baptism of fire!  This is the biggest trombone solo in the repertoire, so they definitely knew after the first day whether they had made the right decision (still not sure).

 NZSO

NZSO

The following 15 years have been amazing, life is never dull in the NZSO.  We are a touring orchestra, so we are on the road a lot.  Travelling is pretty gruelling, especially with more than 100 people in your tour party. Queuing up for flights, hotels, buses, backstage at the hall, you name it we have waited for it.  It’s not always glamorous, but it is a privilege and one I never ever take for granted.

What is a normal day in the NZSO? No day in the NZSO is normal, but if we are at home we are either rehearsing or performing at the Michael Fowler Centre. 

If we are travelling, it requires being up, packed and off to the airport by mid-morning.  I usually grab a coffee at the airport (the first of many coffees in the day…) and then off to wherever we are performing that night.  The bus picks us up from the airport and takes us to the hotel, where we usually have a few hours before needing to be at the hall for rehearsal.  I have two things that I like to do on tour, running and practice. So as long as I get those things done, I feel good.  If the weather is good, I head off for a run, sometimes with colleagues in the orchestra, and sometimes by myself. Matt Allison is a good running buddy on tour, as is Bridget Douglas, but Bridget runs a bit fast for me, so I prefer Matt. I have running routes for all the cities we travel to, and love getting out and about in this amazing country we live in.

Then it’s practice time - never a huge session with a concert in the evening, but maybe just an hour and a half of studies and warm ups.  The orchestra usually has a 30 minute rehearsal in the hall before the concert and then we are off. 

After the concert, we usually have a debrief at a local establishment, and then off to bed to do it all again tomorrow.

We also make the odd appearance overseas. Since I joined the NZSO, we have toured the UK, Europe, Japan and China. I can tell you that touring with the NZSO is a lot of fun, I would say 'what goes on tour stays on tour', but you can go and see Jeremy Wells Documentary of our European tour to see what happens when we are away for a month in Europe. Head over to - https://vimeo.com/106246377 - for a very funny doco on our tour a few years ago. I make a few (embarrassing) cameos. 

 Very excited to be on stage in Vienna's Musikverein

Very excited to be on stage in Vienna's Musikverein

There are so many great halls in NZ that we are so lucky to be able to perform in throughout the year.  The NZSO also does the odd ballet and opera, as well as film soundtracks, CDs, education concerts at schools, and some pretty cool crossover concerts.  We have been lucky to perform with artists like Sting and Wynton Marsalis, as well as incredible classical artists like Lang Lang, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Pinchas Zukerman, and Janine Jansen. 

 Me and Sting - I think I told him a joke...

Me and Sting - I think I told him a joke...

 Chilling with Wynton - the most incredible brass player I have ever heard

Chilling with Wynton - the most incredible brass player I have ever heard

 

No two days are the same in the NZSO, whether it’s changing repertoire, or a different city to perform in, there is always something to keep us on our toes.  I know a lot of people say this, but I am convinced I have the best job in the world, and wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world, except maybe the Fiji Philharmonic….

You can go to the NZSO’s website at www.nzso.co.nz and see when we are coming to your town. There are lots of great concerts throughout the year, and there is definitely something for everyone. 

Might see you out on the running path in your town soon!

Regards

Dave

Gadgets under the Tree

As we are firmly into the festive season, it's a good chance to look back on the year that has been, and be thankful for many things. We are so lucky to have tools and opportunities that were not available for many generations of brass players.

So, today I am going to write about some of the things I am most thankful for in the world of brass.  And perhaps there might be a few things you hope Santa might drop off to you, or are under the tree!

First up - I am incredibly thankful for the amazing range of mouthpieces on the market at the moment.  I look at lists of brands on websites and feel a huge wave of Christmas warmth that there is most definitely something out there for everyone.  Whether you want a screamer jazz trumpet mouthpiece, or bucket tuba mouthpiece, there is something that will bring out your best and help you develop into the player you want to be to nail all those Christmas carols.  Check out the brands that your local brass dealer stocks, and go and try a few out.  Also, next time you are at a festival or brass band contest, spend some time trying mouthpieces at the trade stands.  Don't just try and play the highest note you can, but actually focus on the feel of it, and your sound, you will be amazed at the difference a good mouthpiece can make to your playing.

Next - my lifesaver - the Sshhmute practice mute! I don't know where I would be without this little gem to help me practice in every nook and cranny around the country. Whether it’s in hotel rooms, on the side of stages, anywhere! I have one in my touring box at the NZSO, one at home, and always one in my suitcase. This little gift will keep the noise police at bay! Head over to https://bremnermusic.co.nz - where you will find a completely kiwi made practice mute that is the best on the market. 

I am grateful for the apps on phones that can help my practice time.  I use a tuner/metronome called TE Tuner – it’s fantastic for seeing my tendencies on pitch, and also has a great drone that I do my scales with. The metronome has many features as well. There are plenty of these apps on the iTunes site, but I have found TE Tuner the best.  Cleartune is another good one.  Other apps that are useful are iTunes and Spotify for listening to plenty of our favourite brass players - listening is one of the most important aspects of learning, and with all this music at our fingertips we have no excuse not to be completely immersed in the world of brass out there.  And finally, you can record yourself on the phone, using apps for hearing those tricky passages you are struggling with.  Don't be afraid to utilise the capabilities of your smart phone to get the most out of your practice. TE Tuner can be found at - http://tonalenergy.com/

The breathing bag is a tool that I am incredibly grateful for, and one of the most used accessories in my case.  We just don't do enough breathing practice, and having it in my case constantly reminds me to do 5 minutes a day.  It's a great visualiser for seeing if I am using my full capacity, and its always on my stand when am practicing.  You can buy breathing bags from https://www.abi.co.nz/

Under the tree there might also be a small strangely shaped present from you - the B. E. R. P.  The Berp is a one of the best practice devices, and it clicks onto your instrument for easy use.  When you are struggling with a passage on the instrument, you can put the mouthpiece into the berp and buzz the passage while still moving the slide or valves.  It's a great tool for practicing your buzzing whilst still going through the actions of playing.  It’s perfect for isolating that little group of notes you are having trouble with and seeing if there is something going wrong with the buzz or air.  This is one of the best practice aids out there.  Head over to  www.berp.com to read about it, and then keep your fingers crossed for one under the tree. 

And lastly, everybody wants gadgets from Santa, and the most useful gadget I have is my iPad.  I have all my music stored on it, so wherever I am in the world, I have a library of study books, music for upcoming concerts, and of course the internet, which is a great database for downloading music.  I am always scouring the site http://www.imslp.org for free sheet music to work on.  The iPad is a quick and easy solution to avoid having to carry a suitcase of books and music on tour.  I scan everything, and put it into iBooks and then away you go - everything you need for practicing at your fingertips.  I have a mini stand that the iPad sits on, so if I am backstage or in a hotel room I have a ready-made music stand and library!

As this is the last blog from me for the year, I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.  I am very excited for the projects we have here at the NZ Brass Foundation in the pipeline, and I look forward to sharing these with you in the new year.  In the meantime, feel free to make a donation to the NZ Brass Foundation at - https://givealittle.co.nz/org/nzbrassfoundation - and visit the website - http://www.nzbrassfoundation.org.nz/ - regularly for articles, and brass related information. 

Regards

David Bremner

Post Turkey and Gravy practice...

 

After the turkey and gravy has been digested, the focus turns to our New Year’s resolutions. I spoke recently around the country about the need for goal setting and how we can use summer as a chance to think about the aspects of our playing we can improve on. Carrying on in that vein, today I thought I would talk about building our range and stamina.

There are always solos that have a note that seems like it’s unattainable - it’s like trying to birdie the hardest hole on the golf course. Sometimes it’s easier than we think, and often it’s as simple as thinking about it from a different perspective. We put so much emphasis on high notes, and how they might make or break the piece, but the reality is that they are no more important than the lowest note. By simply changing our perspective on how much pressure we put ourselves under, we can suddenly relax into these higher passages, and not get so stressed about that Super H at the end of the piece!

Working on range and stamina are two very different but vital aspects of practice. I tend to work on them both at the end of my practice time, and never on the same day. Range development is the art of slowly building up those notes at the end of your range with the same technique and ease as those in the middle. Stamina development is being able to do that for a long time.

 

Range

The key to a strong and efficient upper register, is a strong and efficient lower register, and vice versa. Don’t think you can have one without the other! Work on your low register with as much vigour as you do on your upper register. I find the best way is go in and out from the middle of the range to the extremities of your range, i.e. start in the middle and work downwards, concentrating on your sound, embouchure, air and facial expressions all remaining the same - calm and relaxed. Do this in a comfortable mf dynamic. As you do this into the upper register, keep the sound calm and even. Use your scales as a good way to practice this, going down or up a semitone at a time. As you get to the edge of range, repeat these scales many times, but don’t go further until it feels comfortable. You may feel something changing in your setup, so head back to the comfortable area and remind yourself what you need to do.

 

Stamina

This aspect has to be done carefully and always with a good long warm down afterwards. Building up your stamina requires shortening the amount of time you need to feel fresh again – i.e. you play a high phrase and feel tired, you rest for 5 minutes and then you can do it again. Ideally you want to get this down to a matter or beats or bars rather than minute.

I use an Etude book, and I play the Etudes in Tenor Clef (they are written in Bass Clef), this makes them quite high, but you can use other methods as long as you are doing sustained playing in the upper register. I will start at number 1 in the book, and play until I am spent, the point where I can’t pitch those notes any more, and I take a 30 second break. I make a small asterisk at the point and then go again from that point, I repeat this 10 times. The amount I can play is getting smaller, but over time those amounts are increasing. Don’t force anything, keep it natural and calm, and stop when you are really tired - but ultimately the harder you work, the more benefit you will see. Make sure you do a good warm down and some low buzzing at the end of this one, it hurts!

 

Building your range and stamina takes time and patience, and ultimately discipline. Keep working hard and correctly and you will go a long way.

 

Happy practicing

regards

Dave

Tongue and Cheek

Hi all,

I have spent the last few weeks travelling around the country, talking in band rooms and meeting lots of brass players across Aotearoa. I have been so inspired by the turnout at these events, and how eager you all are to listen and learn. 

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the remaining articles this year will each be dealing with a different facet of playing that we can work on over summer, and Neil Cording asked about some tips to do with tonguing techniques.  So Neil - here we go! 

There are so many opinions out there regarding tonguing and articulation, and I am not going to muddy it up too much today.  The most important thing is that your mouth and tongue are unique to you, and the way you produce a note will be heavily influenced by your mouth cavity, your teeth, your tongue, your lips and so on.  It’s important to remember this, as you can read a million books about tonguing techniques and none might work for you. 

So the first port of call for dealing with tonguing is to analyse your setup and work out how you are fronting the notes - where is your tongue at the articulation point?  What is the syllable that you most commonly replicate (da/ta/tha)?  Is your articulation fluid or is there tentativeness? 

Once you start to get an idea of what you are working with, then it’s important to remember a few things before you start producing the note.  One of the most important factors in tonguing, that is often neglected, is AIR.  Think of air as the petrol to your articulation - too much petrol and you will flood the articulation, not enough and the articulation will splutter to get going. 

Someone once told me that to make a good start to a note, you need to think about blowing out the flame on a matchstick.  You don’t need a lot of air, you don’t need a big explosion of air like you might do for a birthday cake, but just a small puff of air and the syllable TOH.  You can practice this without the mouthpiece or instrument, and focus on the air and tongue coming together at exactly the right time with the perfect amount of air.  Every time you start a note, think of this technique - not heavy but light, and just the right amount of air.  If I have a fluffy articulation in the orchestra, I will immediately do a few of these to remind myself of the correct technique, and it makes a huge difference. 

As far as improving our efficiency of tonguing, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter how fast you go, as long as the technique remains the same.  If you change the technique as you get faster, clarity and definition will be lost.  It’s important to think of tonguing like diction - if you mumble no one will understand you, but with correct diction (like a thespian) you will be clear as day, and the audience will understand every note. 

So make this the basis of your tonguing practice - technique first, then speed.  Sit down with a metronome and start on a G (concert F) playing 2 bars of semiquavers at crotchet = 40

Try and do this twice with the same clear articulations, before heading down a semitone.  Focus on clarity and the air before getting faster.  Try and go down an octave to a low G and keep the same diction all the way down.  Write down the tempo you were at, and then tomorrow move the metronome up a couple of clicks.  Remember that it’s not a race to the finish line, it’s about keeping the technique the same and controlling the clarity.  If you need to, record yourself doing this, and make sure that all the notes sound the same.

You can also integrate your scales in the tonguing exercises, but doing each exercise in a different style of articulation – i.e. staccato, legato, accented, marcato, etc.  Try and mix it up when playing the scales, whilst still focusing on the basics of the articulation that we have talked about. 

For double and triple tonguing I use the good old Arban book - there are plenty of fantastic exercises in there, but again remember that the key is ‘slow and steady wins the race!'.  Take your time and build up slowly, making sure you have complete control over your technique at all times. 

Let me know if this helps, or you need some more exercises - and any suggestions for the next topic are very welcome! 

Happy practicing

Regards

Dave

Sun, Surf, BBQ's and Practice...

I love summer, it’s such a great time in New Zealand - sun, surf, BBQs and practice - WHAT! Yes, that’s right, that dreaded word practice.  I love practicing over summer, it's usually the most productive time of the year for me with no concerts coming up or specific music to learn - just focusing on the basics.  It’s so easy to put your instrument away and forget about it until the new year, and then you spend the first month back playing catch up.  I have a different approach to the summer practice regime, and if you do the same, it might make 2018 a year to remember for you as a musician. 

First of all, it’s great to have a break over Christmas and have a few days away from the instrument, so don't be afraid to stick the instrument in the garage for a week - you deserve a break!  But if you take too long, it’s going to be a hard grind to get back to where you left off. 

A great way to help make the ‘break’ not too long is to do a detailed plan to set your goals for the upcoming year.  Setting goals will help you push yourself, and doing this over a few days off also gives you inspiration - and will probably make you want to go and get that instrument from the garage and get stuck into achieving those goals. 

The best way to approach setting goals is to do a complete evaluation of your playing, outlining your strengths and weaknesses - be honest!  Sit down and work out the areas you need to work on, and then set goals for the coming year so that you always have an idea of where you want to get to. 

Then instead of spending summer doing the odd practice session every so often, make summer the time to refine your basics, and work on those areas that you want to be stronger at in 2018.

Make a list of the fundamentals of playing a brass instrument - sound, range, articulation, tonguing, flexibility, air, etc., and try to make progress with each of them every day you practice.  Think of it as a spring clean of all those important aspects where some may be in good shape, and others a little rough.  Make it a goal over summer that you are going to make headway on these basics, and then you will be in great shape as band starts back, and your conductor will be very pleased with you!

Practicing can be fun over summer, find somewhere sunny and inspiring, even go outside and practice.  Listen to lots of playing that inspires you, and think about how strong these players are in the areas you are working on.  They sat exactly where you are now working on the basics, and now it’s your turn. Positive and motivated practice will give you a feeling of achievement, and you will start to see improvements in all these areas. 

Violin soloist Hilary Hahn recently did 100 days of practice, posting a 1 minute video on Instagram each day.  Her approach to practicing inspired many musicians out there, and she worked on various basics in her playing. Check out the article below:

http://stringsmagazine.com/hilary-hahn-commits-to-practicing-for-100-days-in-a-row/

What a great goal to start with!  100 days of practice - posting a photo from each session to inspire others to do the same. I might give that a go!

So, make this summer the most productive one you have ever had.  Of course enjoy the sun and the beaches, but connect with yourself musically as well.  Set out your goals for the year ahead, what you want to achieve, where you want to be at the end of 2018, and then get going on the practice - start a new routine and challenge yourself to stick to it.  Maybe it’s 100 days of practice.  Or 6 days a week of practice.  Perhaps it’s even starting to practice! 

The remaining blogs this year will cover some of the basics that we can work on over summer - perhaps you can let me know which ones you would like me to start with?

Happy practicing!

Dave

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.