Congrats to Michael Wilkinson

ASU grad, Michael Wilkinson has just been named as the new Assistant Professor of Trombone at the University of South Carolina.  Michael was a faculty associate in jazz studies at Arizona State University where he also completed a doctorate in trombone performance (2013). He has a master’s degree in trombone performance from Arizona State University (2009).

Congratulations, Michael!

Here’s the announcement.

 

 

Snippets from Lesson Notes

As I teach, I do ask students to write down notes.  I also encourage them to write reflections from their practicing that week.  Here are a few snippets…

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We’ve noticed that I am making improvements in my tension-related problem. I will keep working towards removing tension and try to stay aware of the instances that I play with tension. We talked a lot about finding the melody behind the melody- basically looking for a simple melody hidden behind ornamentation or flourishes. A good way to practice might be to begin with the stripped melody and slowly add variations and ornamentation until I play what’s written.

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Clef studies become a lot easier when I look at the actual structure of the notes, rather than focusing on the specific notes and what clef they are in. For example, if I just recognize that a C major arpeggio is being lined out, then it becomes easier, even though the clef switches in between.

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Rochuts in the back of the book are way cooler than the beginning few!
The absolute slowest practice is amazingly beneficial, but mentally so draining. Doing Kopprasch and lip slurs stupidly slow and focusing on the minutia of the slur translates to faster tempos more than I thought it would.

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Bobbing in time hurts playing!!!
Don’t close off note endings (open)
No short notes; only short long notes

In Ewazen, are you counting big or small beat?

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I decided to Google “left hand cramping trigger trombone” just to see what would come up, and also because I’m nervous about what kinds of damage could happen to my hand throughout my career. Oddly enough, an article by Doug Yeo is the first one that popped up. He presented a solution and I’m going to copy and paste two pictures: first of the way we are normally told to hold the trombone, and consecutively the solution he presents.

I tried out his solution and it feels really weird but I’m going to see how it turns out for the next couple of days in my practice sessions. He said it takes the tension away from between the second (index) and third (middle) finger and that it prevents the stretching of the “web of skin” between the second and third fingers.

 

Some common themes…

As the semester goes along, I find that no two lessons are alike.  An approach that works with one student doesn’t necessarily work with another.  Still, some common themes pop up here and there.  Here are three that I’ve found myself returning to:

Slide Accuracy

I have become more keenly aware of the fine details in a student’s slide movement.  Sometimes I point this out using slow-motion video capture.  A common ailment: “up-glissing” from isolated notes in longer positions (turning too early).

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Calmer Starts

I’ve been on the watch for people moving a lot just as they start that first note.  I think trouble can arise with excessive motion.  Especially noteworthy: bobbing with the head and the bell for the first entrance.  Related to this: ‘keeping time’ by bobbing with the slide.  I’m not demanding motionless playing!  Some movement can be a natural outgrowth of expression.  But excess movement can be a real source of trouble.

Gentle Wind

I have an old saying, “Lungs deal in pounds.  Lips deal in ounces.”  I think problems can arise when the lungs are simply trying to push out more air than the lips need or want.  These include grunting (throat tension) and a too-tight embouchure set.

 

 

Excerpts with Chris Wolf

In today’s studio class, Chris Wolf of the Phoenix Symphony came in to hear some sections play through excerpts.

Adam Dixon, Andrew O’Neal and Paul Lynch played excerpts from
Brahms Symphony No. 4 and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6

Ben Larson, Hannah Raschko and Jordan Crimminger played excerpts from Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphosis.

Liam Russell, Ben Larson and Jordan Crimminger played excerpts from Strauss Ein Heldenleben.

Many thanks to Chris for sharing his time and expertise.

Upcoming Master Class with Chris Wolf

Chris Wolf, Principal Trombonist with the Phoenix Symphony will be coaching students through some orchestral excerpts in studio class this Friday, Feb. 17th.

Two sections will perform for him:

Ben Larson, Hannah Raschko, Liam Russell and Jordan Crimminger (in rotation):
Strauss, Ein Heldenleben; Hindemith, Symphonic Metamorphosis

Adam Dixon, Andrew O’Neal, Paul Lynch:
Chorale passages from Brahms Symphony No. 4 and Tchaikovsky. Symphony No.  6

 

Modems and Myelin

Most of my studio members don’t remember dial-up modems but a few do.  I remember moving up from a 14.4 to a 28.8 and how *screamingly* fast it was!  Seems quaint now.

Today in master class I spoke a bit about The Talent Code by Dan Coyle.  One element of this book is a discussion of myelin, an insulating material that wraps around nerves.  Here’s a short video about it.   In short: myelin wraps around neurons, allowing them to fire more quickly (“a high speed rail upgrade for your brain”).   In other words: repeat an action (helpful or unhelpful) and that sequence becomes more automatic.

This provides a sort of medical underpinning to that time-tested adage:

Once you get it right, the practicing begins.

It fascinates me to think that I’m actually changing my brain with repetition in my practicing.

One important point:

Children do this instinctively and often find pleasure in it.

Sometimes as adult learners, we see repetition as drudgery or punishment.  If we allow ourselves to become more childlike in our learning, actually enjoying ‘nailing’ a lick over and over, we not only improve but enjoy it as well.  Consider this video from the world of cup-stacking.

 

The Thomas G. Everett Collection at Arizona State University

Arizona State University School of Music (Tempe, Arizona, www.music.asu.edu) is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Thomas G. Everett Collection, an extraordinary archive of hundreds of works composed for bass trombone. Everett, who founded the International Trombone Association in 1972 and served as its first President, amassed the collection throughout his lifetime and in the process of writing his “Annotated Guide to Bass Trombone Literature” (The Brass Press, Third Edition, 1985). In addition to music, the collection also contains correspondence between Everett and many composers who wrote new works for bass trombone at his behest, including Vivian Fine, Gordon Jacob, Ulysses Kay and Warren Benson. As a result of discussions between Tom Everett and and his long-time friend, Douglas Yeo, former Professor of Trombone at Arizona State University and retired bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the collection was gifted to ASU where it is currently being catalogued; most of the music will be made available for circulation both at ASU and through inter-library loan, and the correspondence and other files will be made available for study at ASU. Bass trombonist Paul Lynch, a Doctor of Musical Arts student at ASU who is studying with ASU’s Trombone Professor, Dr. Brad Edwards, is working alongside ASU Music Library staff in documenting and contextualizing the collection for cataloguing.

“The Thomas Everett archive is an extraordinarily important collection given the significance of its content as well as its tremendous scope,” said Dr. Christopher Mehrens of the ASU Music Library. “It will serve to support both students and scholars of the trombone and its literature for years to come. We are deeply appreciative and would like to thank Mr. Everett for this significant gift. We would also like to thank Professor Douglas Yeo for his assistance in facilitating the donation of these materials.” The gift of the Thomas G. Everett Collection is currently highlighted in three display cases in the ASU Music Library. Upon the installation of the display, Tom Everett said, “It gives me great pride and appreciation to know that my personal collection of bass trombone literature will be archived and preserved by the ASU Music Library. It is my sincere hope that both present and future students, teachers, scholars and performers will benefit from this collection of original manuscript music, composer correspondence, and materials that document the creation and growth of an original solo repertoire for the bass trombone.” (Photo by Paul Lynch)

everett_collection_01

Making a living…be flexible, responsible, and positive

This week, our studio class featured a nice guest performance by the brass quintet from the Travis Air Force Band in San Francisco.

Again and again, they stressed the importance of flexibility.  In other words, be able to do what is asked of you (even if it is out of your comfort zone) and do it well.  I am reminded of a former colleague from my own Air Force Band days who once said..

“Professionalism is playing music you may not like so well that you convince people you love it.”

I know most young performance majors  drill away on the excerpts with dreams of winning the big symphony job.  In the real world, a tiny percentage ever get that chance.

However, if you are a flexible professional who is highly responsible with some good people skills, you can still make a living.

When I chat with prospective high school students wishing to major in performance, I often ask them what they hope to be doing in 10 years.  Most of them have a vague notion of getting a performance degree and winning a full time job with an orchestra.  I usually point out this crucial fact:

The great majority of working musicians never win the big audition…

…and still they find a way to have a satisfying life in music!

A more likely outcome for most performance majors is a patchwork career:

  • Lots of private students
  • Freelancing (perhaps subbing with a strong professional orchestra)
  • Holding a position in one or two per-service orchestras
  • Playing in the pit for musicals
  • Being an instrumental music director at a church
  • Teaching adjunct at a local college
  • Hustling gigs with a brass quintet

You may end up making extra income working in a music store, learning to repair instruments, offering your services recording (and editing) other people’s performances, building websites for musical ensembles, or contracting musicians for gigs.

And remember: if you have 12 different employers, the chances of being laid off are greatly diminished.

If you get called to play with a dance band, are you really going to say, “Sorry I only play classical music.”?  I’ve played in dance bands and pit ensembles, recorded jingles for public radio, designed brass trio educational concerts, worn Lederhosen for German band gigs, heck I even played in a brass quintet for a road race (we chose the Cheetham Scherzo)!

  • Never look down on income.
  • Be flexible with musical styles.
  • Be a responsible and pleasant person.
  • And never, never be late for a gig!

 

The Two Skills

In last week’s studio class, we had some more nice duet performances with good discussion about blending sounds and matching style.

I also had time to give one more short talk.  This week’s topic: The Two Skills.

I believe that, in order to succeed, you need two skills.

1. Trombone Skills
2. Pressure-Handling Skills

We spend a lot of our time focused on the first skill but less on the second.  It reminded  me of an old college colleague who, for whatever reason, simply did not get nervous for auditions.  It just didn’t occur to him, I guess.  He wasn’t the best player in the studio but sometimes better players would suffer from nerves and play worse when the pressure was on.  Something like this graph:

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I believe that the ability to remain focused and play well under pressure is essentially a separate skill that can be worked on.

We talked about some different strategies for this…

  • Play in front of other people (especially people who make you nervous).
    This can be as simple as dragging a friend into your practice room and playing for them.  It might include playing at a local church or nursing home.  ASU has a great program called “Jury’s Out” which helps students get out into the community to perform their jury pieces.
  • One student mentioned the excellent materials by Don Greene, which can help performers redirect and re-focus that nervous energy towards specific goals.
  • I talked about something I call the Hopeful Shield, on which I did a 2011 blog post.  Basically, instead of constantly repeating to yourself that you’ll play great (which is often accompanied by an annoying little voice replying with, “No, you won’t”), think in a hopeful way about how great it would be if you really nailed it.  By imagining a great performance and how wonderful that would be, you are also conjuring up mental images of success which in turn helps to direct your thinking in a positive direction.

Each new phrase is another chance to nail it.
Just think how great that would be!

 

Varying the Resistance

During some of the studio class meetings, I sometimes speak briefly about a topic.  One recent topic: resistance.

It has occurred to me that there is an implicit connection between two popular practice tricks:

  1. Blowing through a practice mute
  2. Buzzing on a mouthpiece rim

In case you are not familiar with these tricks, I’ll describe them briefly.

The “practice mute trick” was first revealed to me in Denis Wick’s book Trombone Technique.  As described in his book…

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This mute has the added advantage that, being made of metal, it gives a metallic ‘buzz’ when played loudly. For obvious reasons, most players do not normally practice at maximum volume. When occasionally they are called upon to play fff, all kinds of distortions of pitch, sound quality, and rhythm occur. If ten minutes or so per day are set aside for fff practice, using the practice mute especially in the low register, and always maintaining careful control of the sound by listening to the ‘buzz’ of the mute, considerable improvements in other areas of playing will be achieved. The glottis is better controlled and the overall tone quality improves dramatically.
Trombone Technique, p. 68
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The use of the buzzing rim has been advocated by many teachers.  One recent excellent video by Toby Oft has been a hit with my students.

The connection between these two techniques is resistance.  The mute dramatically increases resistance above that normally posed by the trombone.  Conversely, buzzing on the rim offers significantly less resistance.

We can’t break bad habits, we can only build good habits and let the bad ones wither away.  Often the way to do this is to trick the body into a different approach.  After blowing loudly against the resistance of the mute, we remove that mute and the notes tend to ‘fall out’ of the bell.  Often the sound is bigger but the effort is less.  When it works it’s a wonderful feeling.

When we buzz on the rim, we often find it difficult to produce a sound partly because the resistance is reduced.  Students who are used to ‘dialing up’ the pressure to start a note usually struggle the most with rim buzzing.  By learning to get a good sound on the rim, we also learn to blow more gently and perhaps realize that the instrument itself doesn’t need such force of air.

This simple diagram plots the different degrees of resistance to the blowing action.  Higher is more resistance, lower is less.  The line represents the normal resistance of your instrument.

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In the end, the goal doesn’t change: blow freely with a pure buzz.