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Don't Drop the Ashtray!!



 
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Derek Reaban
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Joined: 08 Jul 2003
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Location: Tempe, Arizona

PostPosted: Tue Nov 11, 2003 11:39 am    Post subject: Don't Drop the Ashtray!! Reply with quote

My instructor shared a fantastic story with me at my lesson yesterday. He was in Daniel Barenboim’s office and they were discussing music. Before I tell the story though some preparation is required. Mr. Barenboim is a very fine piano player, but apparently he is envious of string and wind players when it comes to shaping musical phrases. The limitation of the percussive quality of his instrument (i.e. attack and decay) does not allow the flexibility to begin a sound from nothing and has certain restrictions when observing crescendos and decrescendos. With that background, here is the story…

Mr. Barenboim was smoking a cigar in his office and sitting behind his desk with a large glass ashtray off to one side. He said that music begins in silence and then returns to silence. Consider that music is this ashtray. He gently raises the ashtray from the desk with both hands, lifts it into the air slowly, and then returns it to the desk with the same motion. He says music is like the ashtray. It’s heavy and substantial, but at the same time it’s made from glass and will break if it is dropped. You must treat the music with care to display its beauty.

As brass players, the nature of our instruments leads us to produce percussive attacks almost in a default mode quite naturally. To achieve a vocal quality of expression we have to have a vast palate of different ways to begin every note, from a strong percussive approach to a delicate whisper and every variation in-between. To begin the music from silence we must strive to increase our palate of sounds and articulations so that we can truly raise up a beautiful musical product for all to see and then return it to silence with effortlessness. (I guess it’s a mixed metaphor when you think about cigar butts and ashes being the product, but you get the idea).

The reason that I’m so excited about having this discussion with my instructor is that I’m finally starting to be consistent with many different aspects of playing the trumpet. From sound production, rhythmic integrity, pulsing the strong and weak beats appropriately, developing a line that makes musical sense, and observing both dramatic and subtle dynamics, my technical ability is not hindering my ability to produce the music.

We talked about all of this after I had played through half a dozen vocal pieces that I had put together for Church on Sunday. They are not technically challenging from a pure note and rhythm aspect and because of this I was able to start exploring much more music (I was not struggling with what was in front of me). He can clearly hear that I am on the edge of really being able to craft a musical line that will draw in the listener (as Ian would say related to Maurice Andre, moving from plastic beads to a diamond necklace!).

My goal for next week is to learn the words for several of these tunes so that I can really tell the story with the music. I’m also going to focus on the inflections in the Italian text and the way in which vocalists deal with the ornaments and trills so that I can get closer to the true message of this music. These also lend themselves very well to moving from silence to music to silence and the exploration of many different articulation styles.

If you are interested in exploring some of these ideas, I highly recommend Twenty-Four Italian Songs and Arias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. I have the version for medium low voice that comes with a CD of the piano accompaniment. The range is from low F# to F at the top of the staff, but mostly stays between low C and tuning C for C trumpet. I also found a disk by Cecilia Bartoli entitled “If You Love Me – Se tu m’ami” that includes MANY of these pieces. I am using her interpretation as my sound model while preparing these pieces.

The Bartoli CD is $14.99 from Amazon.com


The book (24 Italian Songs and Arias with the CD) is $10.47 new from Amazon.com (ISBN 0793515149)

If you need some variety from your current practice routine, I can highly recommend these resources. From a performance aspect, these pieces were really well received. I’m looking forward to exploring some subtle but extremely important aspects of music in the coming weeks.

Thanks,


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Derek Reaban
Tempe, Arizona


Last edited by Derek Reaban on Wed Nov 24, 2004 12:53 pm; edited 1 time in total
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_Don Herman
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Joined: 11 Nov 2001
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 11, 2003 11:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

One of the best advice I received fom my teacher was when I was struggling a bit with a rhythmic figure that was a bit odd. The singers in our PT were (no surprise) not singing it as written. My teacher simply said, "Well, how would you sing it?"

Amazing how the sound can change when we know the words to the tune.

Interesting - Don
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Don Herman/Monument, CO
"After silence, that which best expresses the inexpressible, is music." - Aldous Huxley
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Ralph
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 11, 2003 3:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Two great posts!

I started as a pianist and still am. I envy instruments such as the trumpet for the same reason as stated above, phrasing. Certain "tricks" are done on the piano to give a musical line that singing quality we strive for. It's very difficult to do but in a different way than trumpet. I get a bit of a rush when I see and hear about similar problems or goals across different instruments. Learning music is about making discoveries. It sounds like you made one during your last lesson.
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Derek Reaban
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Joined: 08 Jul 2003
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Location: Tempe, Arizona

PostPosted: Tue Nov 18, 2003 7:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is worth sharing. I had another great lesson yesterday, on some material that I hadn't worked on at all! I had mentioned last week that I was going to learn all of the Italian words as well as the meaning of the songs that I had played recently from the 24 Italian Songs and Aria of the 17th and 18th Century vocal book. Hopefully this will add depth and character to my future performances of these pieces. Since I began rehearsing with my Wind Ensemble again last week, the majority of my practice time was focused on this new literature, and I didn't even open the Italian Arias book.

I did however, spend all of my listening time (home to work and back) with the Cecilia Bartoli CD that contains many of these same songs. That's about 1.5 hours per day of Italian Arias by an absolute gem of a vocalist!

With about 15 minutes left in my lesson, my instructor was interested in how my "project" was going with the Italian. I told him that I had been doing a great deal of listening (passive though, since I haven't read through the music while listening to the CD). I explained to him that I still want to learn the words but I knew that my interpretation of these pieces would be much different after this focused listening that I have been doing.

Well, after I played the first song, he just shook his head approvingly and said, "Derek, you sound like a vocalist! Keep doing exactly what you're doing and then focus on the finer details to be really demanding of finding even more music".

I have to tie this back to a quote in Chris Gekker's "Note's on Practicing". In Point 10 of that article describing Solos he says, "Concept is most important: when doing Haydn or Hummel, listen to great Mozart and Haydn performances by other instrumentalists and singers, and when doing Halsey Stevens, listen to various Copland recordings, and so on. Almost every piece is written in a language, and we should immerse ourselves in that language to gain a fundamental understanding, from which true originality can evolve."

Immersion it is! I'm a true believer now, given that I didn't even look at the music for a week, and it was completely transformed due to my fresh perspective. I know with active listening, following the music and sorting out more of the finer details the product will be even better. Silence to Music to Silence!

What a great experience!
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Derek Reaban
Tempe, Arizona
Tempe Winds / Symphony of the Southwest
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Derek Reaban
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Joined: 08 Jul 2003
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Location: Tempe, Arizona

PostPosted: Mon Oct 04, 2004 12:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As a follow-up to this topic, I had a marvelous time in Church this morning. I decided to pull out some literature that I hadn’t played for a while, and while sorting through music I found the Italian Songs and Arias book. I had never arrived at the final phase of my project, and I was determined to explore these pieces in much greater detail and apply active listening to “lift the music” from the page.

I met with a great deal of success with this approach! I could so clearly hear Cecelia Bartoli “singing” in my head when I performed these pieces, that it was literally impossible for anything but a great musical product to come out the bell! In preparing for this outing however, I had also spent quite a bit of time with active listening (reading my part while listening to her sing and playing my part silently imagining I was performing it in Church).

I found the recitative from Marcello’s “Il mio bel foco” far more dramatic than the notes on the page themselves would indicate. It was exactly as David Krauss had mentioned in his ITG clinic. The musical notation was nothing at all like what was being performed. And the music literally jumped off the page as I modeled Ms. Bartoli’s interpretation through my horn. The climax of the piece, in true operatic form, was far from having exact “rhythmic integrity”, but this is what I like so much about what she did with the piece. This musical experience has given me so much more respect for top-flight artists! What a difference it makes to move beyond the printed notation, and experience something beyond words!

I also performed “Se tu m’ami, se sospiri” by Pergolesi for the prelude (with a similar level of detail in my preparation). It was for me, the musical highlight of the morning.

For the offertory I played the 2nd movement from the Haydn, which also went very well, but I had not listened actively to this piece since working it up back in High School. I found my mind briefly wander in several sections, and not surprisingly, there were slight technical errors in those momentary lapses. It was nothing that took away from the performance, but I found it very interesting that with a “less strong” mental / aural image of the piece, I left the door slightly open for this glitch to find it’s way into my playing.

For postlude I played two movements from Handel’s Suite in D Major on piccolo. This piece was one that I had never performed before, had never heard a recording of, and was on a horn that I only really pull out for weddings. While it was still a good performance, there was so much about this music that I didn’t understand in the way that I did for the two prelude pieces. Clearly a seasoned professional would have drawn on a different set of images than I did for this piece (I only could draw from the standard wedding literature and the Vivaldi concerto for 2 trumpets). I was tired at this point having played many hymns and service music, and the occasional technical error found it’s way into this piece as well.

I have learned a great deal from my preparation of the Italian Songs and Arias. With this music literally shouting in my head, it was impossible for me to be distracted in any way from the momentary concentration lapses in the other pieces. This ties back beautifully with the advice that I received from Mr. Hickman and John Hagtrom on-line in a topic about “visualizing the sound”. Applying the words that I have received from these marvelous players / teachers has allowed me to experience something extremely moving!

I just had to share this experience!

P.S. Thanks to THer bluedoggy (Mike) for coming to hear me play this morning. That was very exciting to know that he and his family came out just to hear me perform!
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Derek Reaban
Tempe, Arizona
Tempe Winds / Symphony of the Southwest
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Athos
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 04, 2004 7:57 am    Post subject: Great! Reply with quote

Derek -

I'm so glad to hear of your progress. Your instructor is one of the best, and it's wonderful to hear that you're getting beyond the trumpet, to the music. Keep up the good work!

Mike
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Bluedoggy
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Joined: 02 Sep 2004
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 04, 2004 8:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Derek,
It was our pleasure to be there. We enjoyed your performance a great deal and felt very warmly welcomed by your church. We normally attend a 10:45 service, so it was a stretch for us to make it to an 8:00 service but it was well worth it. Your playing was beautiful and expressive and I felt it truly enhanced the worship.

Also, I'm glad you resurrected this thread as I would never have come across it otherwise. I have been spending a lot of time lately listening to as much trumpet perfomance as I can fit in. It is good to be reminded to listen to the human voice as a sound model.

Mike.
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Derek Reaban
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Joined: 08 Jul 2003
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Location: Tempe, Arizona

PostPosted: Mon Oct 04, 2004 8:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mike and Mike,

Nothing like two affirming posts to brighten my Monday. It feels like with my auditions last year and attending the ITG conference this Summer, something finally clicked in my mind and playing has really become much easier and much more satisfying. Getting to the sound that I’ve always wanted and exploring music at a much deeper level has only taken me about 30 years (I started in 4th grade). I’m just glad I’ve finally gotten to this point!

Thanks again for your nice messages!
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Derek Reaban
Tempe, Arizona
Tempe Winds / Symphony of the Southwest
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Pedro
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 05, 2004 9:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Derek,

Although I frequent this section of the forum quite often, I don't feel "educated" (for lack of better words or terms) to post. However, this thread and what you shared was VERY inspiring! I also feel that understanding the music's origins and seeking vocal performances of pieces to have in your head is vital and the difference between playing an instrument and performing. Thanks so much for your post.
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