Saturday, December 31, 2011
A couple of years ago, the ASO started recording the works of George Tsontakis. An incredibly imaginative composer with a gift for orchestration, I was captivated especially with his percussion concerto Mirologhlia. Dramatic, with a powerful narrative and a uniquely varied color palette, I began to imagine a concerto for trumpet by this incredible voice.
We recorded Mirologhia with wonderful percussionist Colin Currie along with George's first Violin Concerto with Cho-Liang Lin and October, an orchestral portrayal of the transition of seasons in the Catskills. Check this fantastic recording out at amazon.com
I am extraordinarily honored that George has agreed to write this concerto and that the Albany Symphony Orchestra has commissioned it for me to perform. The recording will be paired with another concerto by Tsontakis for Clarinet, Anasa. We recorded this in May 2011 with the incredible clarinet virtuoso David Krakauer. Hearing what George made David do was frightening! Holy crap can that guy play!!!
George had me out to his beautiful home in the Catskills in the early summer where we explored sounds and colors that were possible from the trumpet. I brought along a ton of mutes and even brought along multiple horns. We discussed music, our favorite works, personal connections to it, my background growing up and my early training in jazz and commercial music. From our work together with me playing his music in the Albany Symphony Orchestra, George had a very good grasp of who I am as a player. Early on, he talked about a sound and power piece. Combined with his gift for orchestration and long lines of surprising contour, I was eager to see what he would come up with!
In mid November, the first sketches arrived in short score form. I was incredibly excited to finally have some notes to play! What struck me first was that the lines he wrote were challenging but so vocal. Imagining the textures underneath was more challenging with only a short score, but it showed all the makings of George's unique voice. Practicing the lines was fun but frustrating without the context of the orchestra.
Just this week, George and I met again in the Catskills to play through the piece together and make some decisions. Now complete with the prelude, "True Colors" is ready for orchestration. We made some mute decisions and he was able to clarify some gestural ideas for me. Much as I hated to admit it, much of it will be much easier with a conductor!
It is meant to show my true colors and I think he has captured me well. We will meet again out in California at the end of the month while he is working out the orchestrations. By this point, I hope to have the hardest passages mostly in my ears and fingers and ready to do some more refinement. Then it is just a few more weeks until the premier and recording. I can't wait to put it all together with the orchestra!
Monday, September 19, 2011
With our lives increasingly busy, we tend to cram practice in the midst of other stresses. Real practice takes a focus and clarity of thought that demands our complete attention. Finding the time is hard enough. Once you have scheduled it, make sure that you get the most out of it. Find a way to leave all other thoughts behind. It is often easier to find this focus when you have a regularly scheduled practice time within a well-budgeted calendar. Optimally, find several shorter intervals during the day to keep your mind sharp.
Once you have a good space with plenty of focused time to practice, you are ready to build the new trumpet player within you. My goal is to help my students become as physically efficient and musically informed trumpet players as possible. Help set the stage for great practice before you begin.
1) Have adequate fuel for the machine - make sure that you have eaten a meal to fuel the brain. A grumbling stomach will distract you from the task at hand.
2) Have a notepad with you. Should distractions of "to-dos" arise, you can jot them down and continue.
3) Turn off notifications on your smart phone. I am guilty of being tied to my email.
4) Get rid of any other possible distractions that you can. Life does intervene, but do your best.
Now you are ready to begin.
The purpose of practice for me is simple: I want to improve the process of getting the sound in my head out through my chosen tool, the trumpet, so that it can enter the listener's ears and we can share that sound together.
Arnold Palmer, the great golfer said, "Practice with INTENTION and ATTENTION." These are wise words from a master, which truly apply to us as trumpet players. Amateur golfers often hit the driving range and just hit balls and watch where they go. For Arnold, there was always a clear target in mind and a purpose for what he was doing. How many of us have gone through our lives practicing scales mindlessly in front of the television?
For a long time, I was concerned with "putting time in". There is no doubt that at some point in all of our lives, we need to spend time developing the muscles which help us produce a sound. However, if we are not careful, the incorrect muscle memory that we develop early on can remain a burden throughout our careers. In many ways, some of the repertoire that I learned first is the most challenging for me now. The haphazard practice of youth ingrained habits that remain difficult to re-program. As a sort of vaccine against these habits, Norman Bolter, the fantastic former trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and educator counsels his students to approach everything like it is their first time, even if it is a solo or etude they have played for decades.
I do a fun exercise with my students every once in a while. Just as they are about to play, I pull the trumpet away and ask them to sing the first note. It is amazing to them when they actually play the note and hear how far off they are. So many players get in the habit of just blowing into the horn and waiting to see what the note sounds like. This is backwards!!!
Imagine for a moment the creative process of other artists. Don't forget, you ARE an artist. A painter doesn't wait to see what the brush does, nor does a poet wait to see what words come out of his pencil. The creative process must begin with the intention in your mind to communicate a sound, an image, a texture etc. Years ago, I asked a young student named Madeleine to define music. Her response has always stuck with me. Even as a 6th grader, she understood; "Music is talking without words." We must always have a clear image of what we are trying to communicate or we are just potters throwing our clay on the wheel and hoping for the best.
That sound in your head is the target that Arnold Palmer was always hitting to on the range and on the course. It is that INTENTION to communicate the sound in your head that begins to make the physical process work. The rest of practice is ATTENTION to the details of what you are trying to communicate as well as to your physical habits. More on both to come!
Sunday, August 28, 2011
It was in this space that the most dramatic improvements I have ever made in my playing happened. What I found in those magical days was not only a space which made me sound good, but a place where I could truly remove myself from all distractions and focus entirely on the task at hand. Practicing at home or in my office has always been difficult with the constant reminder of and ease of access to the rest of life. There are always emails to answer, laundry, dishes, and the worst distraction of all, the television.
- It is for your own protection: As trumpeters, we produce a lot of sound. Mike Keough, a former UMASS student, during a semester abroad, did research on noise levels at the Royal Academy of Music in London. This was due to the European Union's new standards for workplace noise levels. Upon his return, he gave a fantastic presentation to the entire student body on the result of his findings. Trumpet and trombone rank as the loudest acoustic instruments and cause the most damage to our hearing. The most interesting thing to me was that the person suffering from a lead trumpet the most was the player him/herself, not the bassoonist in front.
- A larger room helps you hear your sound more realistically. The physics of the trumpet do not allow us to accurately hear our own sound directly. We must wait until the sound is reflected back to us to hear it. (or better yet, record ourselves - more on that later) In most small rooms engineered for practicing, the environment is acoustically dead. I spent many hours in these rooms and didn't realize that I was playing louder and working harder to get the sound I wanted to reflect back to me to no avail. (To avoid this pain when you need to use one of these rooms, I recommend using ear plugs and tune in completely to the sound in your own head. You would be amazed at what you can accomplish!) In contrast, the church in Brighton had a 4 second reverb that allows one to play arpegios and hear them ring as a vertical chord. Nice way to find out if you play in tune with yourself!
- Chromatic Drone
- Amplified speakers or headphones
- A matched pair of Rhode NT-5 small diaphragm condenser mics mounted across the room from where I sit or stand.
- These are powered by a small M-Audio DMP-3 two channel microphone pre-amp.
- An old Realistic powered mixer which I use to channel, balance and control volume from a metronome and drone.
- Matrix MR-800 Quartz Metronome (This is the loudest metronome I have ever found. Even a brass quintet playing mezzo-forte can hear this!)
- Korg Master Tune MT1200 Chromatic multi-temperament tuner - this is overkill for most purposes except for piano tuning, and it is no longer made, but I own it and it allows full chromatic tone generation.
- Seiko ST1100 Chromatic Tuner - this is the tuner that I prefer and is always in my case. The response time is quick, but not so quick that the needle never stays still. Also produces full chromatic tone generation. In my office, I prefer the Peterson V-SAM Virtual Strobe tuner.
- Pair of Fostex PM-1 MKII ACTIVE 6.5 inch powered monitors. These produce a large volume of sound and are helpful if playing with Smart Music or any play along system.
- M-Audio MicroTrack II digital recorder. I have had this for many years and it records great to .WAV file.
- Audio Techinica ATH-M40FS Studio Headphones - these are relatively inexpensive but very true sounding. I listen to playback of my practice through these to hear more objectively.
- Matrix MR-800 Quartz Metronome - anything with a headphone jack works
- Seiko ST1100 Chromatic Tuner - anything with a tone generator and headphone jack works
- Sony Stereo Microphone - I have been using it since I was in college and it has held up great. It is a discontinued model similar to ECM SM957. I set it across the room with a 16 foot extension cord from Radio Shack
- M-Audio MicroTrack II digital recorder. There are many great recorders available now. I only recommend that you insist on user variable gain control. Otherwise, you will have high dynamics lowered and soft dynamics raised on your recording negating all of the good work you do creating dynamic contrast.
- Shure in ear monitors. These are a discontinued model similar to the Shure SE215 - use the best headphones that you own.
- A few small cables and adapters from Radio Shack to make a small mini-mixer. To do this, insert a headphone volume control into the tuner and metronome (I have older, cheap radio shack versions of these) Then plug each of these to one of end of the 1/8 inch stereo plug to two mono splitter. By then inserting your headphones into this, you can control the volume of each the drone and tuner for practice purposes.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Thursday, August 18, 2011
After settling back in to my home routine after a fantastic summer in Boulder, I am beginning the annual process of documenting the past academic year, known here at UMASS as the Annual Faculty Report. Upon reflection, it really has been a banner year!
As the host of the 2007 International Trumpet Guild Conference, I infused it with my own personality by featuring new music of my favorite composers and commissioning new works specifically for the opening concert with the US Coast Guard Band. Composer James Stephenson and I both had the privilege to study with former BSO Principal Trumpet, Charles Schlueter at the New England Conservatory of Music. What better way to honor my musical father, than to ask Jim to write a piece for us. The resulting work, Duo Fantastique is colorful and flashy work that plays with the audience’s expectations (in particular an audience of all trumpeters!) while giving Charlie and me a chance to have a real ball!
Stephen Paulus wrote his Concerto for Two Trumpets and Orchestra for Doc Severinsen and Manny Laureano in 2003. Unique in its use of stereophonic phasing and composite lines which team the duo against the orchestra and a powerful Elegy in the middle, I was determined to find a way to perform it. For the opening concert at ITG, Stephen wrote a new orchestration for wind ensemble, which I premiered with former Boston Brass lead trumpet, Richard Kelley.
In December of 2010, with these two wonderful works, we began a new recording project with the UMASS Wind Ensemble. Thanks to Charlie and Rich as well as James Patrick Miller on the podium and the wonderful UMASS students for a job well done!
Also to be included on the disc is a new work to be written for the project by my UMASS colleague Jeffrey Holmes and Evan Hause’s Concerto for Trumpet The Hause Concerto was commissioned by the Albany Symphony Orchestra for me in 2001 and I performed its 2004 band orchestration at the 2004 ITG Conference at Denver University. I am really looking forward to getting these works out there!
Shortly on the heels of this performance, I was able to perform the Paulus Concerto again with my colleague Terry Everson with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Terry and I were delighted to be able move from the back of the orchestra where we normally reside and enjoy the unobstructed view of Jordan Hall from next to the conductor’s podium! What a real treat it was to play together up front and get a nice Boston Globe review in the process! Stephen was able to attend and it was a great opportunity to actually hang after so much contact on the telephone!
In addition to the Paulus, BMOP never fails to stimulate my hunger for new American Music. I eagerly await recordings of some smaller works which were all new to me by Milton Babbit, George Rochberg, George Pearl, and Wayne Peterson. One of the nicest works that we premiered was a delightful Puckish new work by Martin Brody. It has a great piccolo trumpet solo which I must put on a sightreading list some time!
The Albany Symphony Orchestra presented a wealth of new American music for an audience who must be applauded for their support of the adventurous programming that has brought us numerous ASCAP and other awards. We recorded magnificent works by our two resident composers, John Corigliano and George Tsontakis. For a disc featuring the music of John Corigliano, we recorded Conjurer, a truly magical journey with Dame Evelyn Glennie as percussion soloist and Vocalise where the breathtakingly beautiful voice of Hila Plitman melds with antiphonal trumpets and electronic effects to give us a glimpse into the future of classical music.
Of particular interest to me was the clarinet concerto written for David Krakauer by George Tsontakis. We recorded Anasa as the first work on a new disc of George’s music to which we will add a new trumpet concerto which we will premier and record in March 2012. David was simply spectacular and the piece was a deep and powerful work that was the perfect vehicle to show off his unmatched virtuosity. As George and I work on the trumpet concerto, I imagine that I will be begging for mercy!
The biggest event in the history of the Albany Symphony Orchestra happened on May 10, 2011. The ASO made its Carnegie Hall debut as part of the Spring for Music Festival. This festival showcased the innovative programming of the 7 winning orchestras. Our program was quintessentially ASO, titled "Spirituals Reimagined". Centered around the civil war and civil rights movement, it began with George Tsontakis’s 1994 “Let the River be Unbroken” and then to a series of contemporary settings of African American Spirituals with Nathan DeSchon Meyers, baritone. These settings were done by nine American composers including John Harbison and George Tsontakis, and several lesser known young composers who may become the recognized greats in the coming decades. I want to thank Stephen Dankner especially, for giving me the license to really take some liberty with his “Wade in de Water” as we closed the first half. The second half was devoted to the complete original version of Copland’s Appalachian Spring. This concert was a brilliant example of the dedication of the entire orchestra to the music of our time which makes me so proud to be a part of it.
Streaming Audio - entire concert
Reading the above, one might assume that I never play anything but new music! However, the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra gives me a healthy dose of the meat and potatoes of the orchestral canon. The highlight of its season for me was the October concert. It was a program right out of an audition book with American in Paris, La Mer, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G and Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments. I cannot imagine much more variety for a principal trumpet to do! It was great to hear Stephen Drury play the Ravel (and to see him still wearing his youthful leather pants!) and as always, conductor Benjamin Zander delivered the program to the audience with his unmatched and infectious enthusiasm for these incredible works. Another highlight of the BPO’s season was a fantastic soloist, Ilya Kaler, presenting Szymanowsky’s Second Violin Concerto. This was a new work to me and Ilya gave an incredible performance.
Also a wonderful source of nourishment for my standard orchestra fare hunger is the Colorado Music Festival. It is also a great opportunity for me to switch roles and enjoy learning from my dear friend and colleague, Jeffrey Work and his wonderful synthesis of Charles Schlueter, Armando Ghitalla and Maurice Andre as he sits in the hot seat. This was my sixth season in Boulder where I often feel humbled to sit among my rockstar colleagues. I spend every moment that I am not immersed in warmth of the orchestra’s powerful and refined sound in the mountains. Aside from listening to Jeff on Mahler 6 and his perfect Arbanesque rendition off the cornet solo in the Bal of Berlioz’ Symphony Fantastique, may favorite concert was with Norwegian violinist Hennig Kraggerud. As I told him after the first concert, I have never been so interested in the Mendelssohn Concerto. This warhorse has been nearly played to death, but somehow his modest simplicity, attention to detail and absolute clarity made this a completely new experience for me. And then… he followed it up with the Sibelius Concerto. Amazing! I promptly logged onto Amazon, purchased every recording that he has made.
For my chamber music fix, I have a wonderful quintet, which although we play fewer concerts than in years past, still play some really wonderful stuff together. We work often at Marsh Chapel at Boston University which has the best choir in Boston under the direction of Scott Allen Jarrett. This past Christmas, we began a new relationship with Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City. Video The music director, Julian Wachner is the closest I have ever gotten to Leonard Bernstein. As very young men, we played various church services together, and I never tired of his improvisational talents on the organ. Julian is an incredible composer, organist, conductor and general musical genius, we had a great time playing his very difficult, but amazingly effective new hymn settings. We look forward to doing it again!On top of my performing career, my life as an educator has been equally rich this year! Whether they are serving as leaders and ambassadors for arts organizations, educational groups, service fraternities and sororities, on a local or national level, I am extraordinarily proud of each of my students at UMASS. Solid as soloists and section players in our ensembles, they all bring their A game.