Friday, February 27, 2009

Kenwood Players performances

The Kenwood Players are set to return to the Gordon House 4/17, the third Friday in April. I'm upgrading the music makers materials so we can play the pieces that work best, using what we've learned to make the materials more useful. 

The Players will also be performing at the Presbyterian Church, probably 3/22, covering for Al and Barb while they're on vacation. Need to see what is and isn't appropriate for Lent, but thinking about doing both four part instrumental hymns taken from the public domain, along with some open ended arrangements of spirituals I've done for various instruments, guitar and sing along. 

Along with opening and closing pieces and either an offertory or anthem, thinking about just playing for 15 minutes before the beginning of the service, both to warm up and to simply enjoy the wonderful acoustics of the Presbyterian Church. 

Talking about Music

One of the main reasons for my following the blogs over on the "Regular Reads" list is that there are often posts which talk about music and music making in, at least for me, fresh language. Just thinking about music differently can help to play it differently, and the more ways of playing you have at your disposal the better.

This post over on Kyle Gann's blog had me processing it for days. I even wrote in to the comments, eliciting even more language that sent me running for the Oxford Dictionary. 

Sunday, February 15, 2009

BE Round-Up

Now that I've been working with the Balanced Embouchure method for a while, I think I can say it's the answer to my lip callus problem. Basically, I think my previous poor technique was asking that bit of skin to do too much of the work, while other parts of the embouchure weren't doing enough. Everything was fine until I really started to push for stamina and the high notes I'm expected to play in band. The extra stress precipitated the callus. For now, the callus is gone as long as I don't fall back into the old embouchure. If I use the old embouchure for high notes the skin will show signs of wanting to callus up again.

While endurance and the general feel of the embouchure are improved, at this stage while I'm rebuilding my embouchure, the range and tone are not what I'd like them to be. Only time will tell, but I feel confident the range will come. Not sure where the tone will end up. My guess is that the better understanding of embouchure will allow for a wider palette of tone colors.

Working with BE has given me an experiential feel for a number of things I'd heard or read about playing the horn, but either hadn't really understood or fully appreciated. Here are a few of those:

*Angle of the horn - I'd noticed on photos that most horn players hold it so that the lead pipe has a slightly downward angle from the lips, whereas I held it more straight out. With the BE, that downward angle just happens on its own.

*Cousin Steve, a "natural" trombone player always talks about "the air", and maestro says things like, "Let the air do the work." With the BE, I can now feel what they are talking about, whereas before it just didn't register.

*My tone is much "brassier". Andy says he can hear more overtones, and the sounding board (an old spinet with action removed and all strings tuned to the Bb scale) resonates more quickly and with more volume to the new tone. And I also now understand that when maestro was asking for more volume, what I really needed was a fuller tone, which my previous embouchure couldn't give me. (I hope I can regain my previous tone to use from time to time, as it was perfect for chamber music).

*Before BE I didn't understand what warming up was about, and all it did was to fatigue my lips. Now warming up makes sense, and I can play for much longer times. I was previously baffled by the amount of time horn players seemed to be practicing and had pretty much decided my 60 year old lips were the problem.

*Lip slurs were always a trial for me, but now I "get" what they're all about on a proprioceptive level and they're much easier. Lip trills no longer seem out of the question.

*One other result of BE has been greater ease in producing third octave tones on the flute. I think the better muscle awareness is what's making the difference.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Opera Chic

I think I found Opera Chic through some list of classical sites I ran across sometime back. I've been clicking ever since, and this post is a great example of why. The blend of refined musical sensitivity, deeply felt knowledge of the subject and such a wonderfully created persona make the blog one of the best out there. I don't particularly like opera, but I love to read Opera Chic talking about opera and the world of classical music.

Orange Community Band

One of the people who has done a lot of the work organizing and administering the Orange Community Band, the indefatigable Tom M., has begun a web site for the group. There's a link to the Dixie group on the page as well. Tom plays alto sax in the band and tenor sax with the Dixies. There are photos of maestro and of Al and Barb, who blew into town and created the the chorus and band out of thin air. Al also leads the little Presbyterian ensemble where I get to play flute and horn. The Friday group, that performs as The Kenwood Players, is drawn from the concert band.

I grew up in Orange in the 50's and 60's, went away to school and work, and returned in the 90's. There have been a lot of changes in the county. Having all these musical opportunities is one of the best as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Overdoing it

In yesterday's rehearsal, maestro returned to a theme he's talked about several times. He makes the point that in Broadway shows, where there are no close-up cameras to telegraph emotions and effects, everything is exaggerated to make sure those emotions and effects are communicated to the audience. He usually makes this point when talking about dynamics and/or articulations.

It reminds me of a local man who arranges flowers and gives workshops on the subject. Just about anyone who has attended a workshop can repeat his signature quote, "It's not done until it's overdone."

I think when we're making music (and perhaps for people listening to pieces they know well) small scale effects work fine, because our brains are primed to respond to the effects. Playing music for ourselves and performing for others are two different enterprises.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Frames of Mind

One of the handiest concepts for my understanding the process of music therapy was best put forward by Martin Gardiner in Frames of Mind, which came out back in the 80's when I was just starting my private practice in San Antonio. The basic notion is that there are different kinds of intelligence. As I remember, he talks about eight varieties. Four that I remember him talking about are mathematical, verbal, spatial and musical.

For me the specifics weren't nearly as important as having a way to understand how we all come to music with different frames of mind and skill sets. I also think it's handy to realize that just as there are various types of intelligence in general, there are also various types of musical intelligence. Some people have a great sense of rhythm, others can play in tune easily, others memorize easily, others feel chord changes easily, and others have what I call "theory mind" and can tell you a chord they hear is a second inversion with a flatted fifth and an added thirteenth.

Jeff Smiley, in the BE method, talks about the "numbers game", saying that some students are going to naturally "get" trumpet playing, no matter the instructions given by the teacher. The mistake teachers can make is thinking that what they've told those students will work for all the rest. What he does is lay out for the rest of us all those things about embouchure that "natural" players feel automatically. What he does for trumpet playing is pretty much what I'm hoping to do for music making in general.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Whole Body Music

Working with BE (Balanced Embouchure) on the horn has greatly increased my understanding of how the embouchure is formed and how it works. The information and exercises provided give a great overview of what it is you're trying to do with your lips on the mouthpiece. I finally understand what Farkas was talking about with the example of the string bag on the coffee can and what Tuckwell meant about pedal tones being a great way to improve embouchure.

The way I had been using my lips was sort of like strumming the guitar using only the wrist and not the whole arm along with it. The same thing is at play when I stand when playing the horn or flute or sing and can move and breathe with my whole body, not just from waist up when sitting.

Part of the problem is that in being so focussed on the finer points of music and music making, I was not appreciating the full physical nature of creating music. Using your full body in as natural a way as possible leads to better technique and better music.