Joined: 08 Jul 2003
Location: Tempe, Arizona
|Posted: Tue Jul 13, 2004 8:49 am Post subject: ITG Conference 2004 - Michael Sachs
|There is a very good write-up about the Michael Sachs master class entitled "Standard Orchestral Passages: How To Practice and Prepare For Performance and Auditions" at the recent ITG conference in Denver. I was in attendance at this class, and the several times that I have read through the overview of this class at the ITG web site, I find I just don't get the same feeling of excitement that I did when Michael was transforming each of the players on stage. That is truly a shame, because there should be a way to describe in words why this was such a powerful experience for me.
Before I even try to give my thoughts about this class, I would encourage everyone to find a way to attend a master class experience with Michael Sachs at least one time in your life (if he gives a class near you, you must find a way to hear him!) I know that my words will fall short in capturing the magic that I experienced in Denver, just as the ITG coverage did. While his ideas are very simple, they are extremely powerful, and cater to the creative, inquisitive, musically curious mind.
If you ever put a class like this in a DVD format, with exceptional university level students, covering 10-15 standard excerpts, I would be the first to purchase this product! You have a true gift of communicating those seemingly intangible ideas, and making them crystal clear and "real" with both your words and your fantastic ability to model the final product!
Thank you for adding to my great experience in Denver!
The basic approach to his method is to reduce those elements of a particular phrase that are challenging, into components that are very easy for the mind and body to "digest". To borrow a phrase from the ITG conference review, he recommended "breaking it down to it's skeleton to focus on the fundamentals". This is where musical curiosity comes into play, and there are literally dozens, if not hundreds of ways to run with this idea.
If you can envision the final musical product, whether it's an except, or an etude, or even a simple exercise, as one that has layer after layer of complexity, the goal of his concept is to uncover the skeletal form of the line. This allows the mind to focus on one aspect of the musical product at a time. In this way, the mind can truly learn all that it can about that one component before moving on to the next challenge. When the mind has a complete picture (of all the various components), it is then able to meld them together (via subconscious thought) in the appropriate context. The final product can be heard on every Cleveland Orchestra recording with Michael Sachs at the helm.
I'll give as many examples as I can think of on how this works:
Harmonic Guideposts and Airflow
In the Ballerina's Dance from Petrouchka, there are lots of eighth note and sixteenth note patterns. The mind needs to have a very clear image for every note to speak with clarity. To accomplish this using Michael's approach, you would simplify the line by playing only the notes that land on a downbeat. Play these notes as quarter notes and slur the entire line.
This serves two very fundamental purposes. By choosing to play only the notes on the downbeats, you are giving your mind a very clear harmonic picture. The notes "in-between" simply add to the complexity, and will be added back in later. By mapping out these quarter note harmonic guideposts, you have simplified the musical line so that your mind can truly hear what it needs to at each downbeat, producing a clear musical direction.
By slurring the line in quarter notes you are establishing the proper airflow that will be the foundation or baseline to refer back to when additional complexity is added.
Airflow and harmonic guideposts would be the two fundamentals to stress in this first approach.
Rhythmic Integrity and Articulation Uniformity
The next step could be to look at the simplest "skeletal" form of the rhythm. There are many different ways to approach this topic. To make the line from Petrouchka as simple as possible, it can be played on only one pitch. This could be the second line G to start with, and the written rhythmic pattern would be played exactly as printed. The goal here could be to assure that each articulated note sounds exactly the same. The line could be played with a number of different articulation styles, from short to long, to let the mind explore all of the different possibilities. By addressing the musical product in this way while recording yourself, you can ask yourself the question; "Does each note sound exactly the same"? Slow it down so that you can really hear the front end of each note. This allows the mind to focus on only one question to be answered, and will lead to true improvement if you are demanding in answering the question honestly.
Next the line could be played with the proper pitches, but this time using an all sixteenth note pattern. Instead of an eighth followed by two sixteenths in the second bar, it would be all sixteenth notes. This helps the mind and body to understand what it feels like to play those sixteenths exactly in time. When the line is played as written the mind and body will default to proper rhythmic placement of these notes, and the strong sixteenth note subdivision should be ringing in your mind.
Alter the rhythmic line with a different rhythm completely. Play the phrase by swapping the sixteenths and eighths. Play 2 sixteenths on the downbeat followed by an eighth. Substitute a rhythm like sixteenth, eighth, sixteenth to give it a completely different feel. Re-write the excerpt in 6/8 time and continue to vary the types of rhythms (all eighths, dotted eighth-sixteenth-eighth, eighth-dotted eighth-sixteenth, eighth-sixteenth-dotted eighth). When the mind has gone through all of these variations, the standard printed example will have literally penetrated, so you know every facet of the notes by approaching them from a host of different rhythmic directions!
This was not touched on in as much detail as the other examples in the master class, but using a reference or drone pitch to assure the specific interval is the right width is the best way to focus on this basic fundamental. Being able to hear that the arpeggio in Petrouchka is in tune can be addressed by playing a drone pitch and listening to assure that each interval is being played in tune. The mind will use this as the intonation baseline when all of the individual pieces are put back together at the end.
Playing in musical context is extremely important. Being flexible enough to step outside of the rehearsed comfort zone can only be accomplished by being very creative in practice. Play the Petrouchka line in a bravura style like at the end of Tosca, or in a lyrical approach like the solo line with the violins in Don Juan. Try posing many different stylistic approaches to the line and see what happens! This is where musical creativity comes alive!
Well, I wrote all of the above and then decided that I really needed to get Michael's book, Daily Fundamentals for the Trumpet. All of his ideas are in the book! And more!
I remember flipping though his book in the store when it first came out, and thinking to myself, "Those are very familiar exercises and I already have most of the books that he is referencing. I'm not sure I need to purchase this one right now". Well, after personally experiencing how powerful these ideas are, I am completely sold on his "process" of practicing. And it really is a process! That?s what I like about it most.
Mark Gould, former Principal Trumpet with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra wrote the forward to the book. "This book is a window into the 'trumpet-brain' of Michael Sachs. This is the detailed practice routine of one of the finest trumpet players in the world. It is a wonderful point of departure. What a gift!" And he wrote, "If these exercises are practiced with care and focused aural concentration, over time one can hardly avoid becoming a better trumpet player. I keep two copies. One is always in my trumpet case and the other remains open on my stand in my practice studio. Thank you Michael Sachs."
I experienced how special this process to improvement is in Denver. Then I read the words of Mark Gould (who I learned at the conference was also Jens Lindemann's and Michael's teacher) and decided that I would make a commitment to embracing this process in my own daily practice.
Bravo Michael! Let the learning begin!
Last edited by Derek Reaban on Fri Jun 17, 2005 10:14 pm; edited 2 times in total