Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lip Callus

The blog is still getting hits from people searching "lip callus", and here lately, specifically from playing trombone and tuba. I play horn and had one last fall, and if you search for "callus" in the field up on the top left, you'll get all the mentions. 

Just this past weekend had a long dress rehearsal one night and the two performances on the subsequent nights, and the callus shows no signs of reappearing, so I think I've figured out what was happening. Don't know how tuba and trombone embouchures work, but for me on the horn the issue was using too much of the outer visible lip in my buzzing and not enough of the soft inner lip. Using the tools involved in the Balanced Embouchure method (BE) also made it clear I wasn't using the larger muscles around the lips in the most efficient and natural way to produce my embouchure, so the buzzing parts of the lips probably didn't have the best support. Still don't know if the good tone I sometimes had will return, but my playing is more reliable, and there's no callus.

Valerie Wells, the horn rep for BE mentioned in an e-mail that she'd had a horn teacher with a callus in the middle of her upper lip that didn't seem to bother her. Also, Gabby, who plays baritone in the Friday group, had one briefly that went away, from what I understand, with the application of an ointment and making sure the mouthpiece was perfectly clean all the time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Professional Percussion

This past Monday Dave, who plays percussion in the community band and also in maestro's jazz quartet, came by and we ran through some songs with me on guitar/banjo and singing and with him playing my high hat, cymbal and blocks, along with a small snare and some other things he brought. He's far and away the best percussionist I've ever played with. A couple of years ago he filled in with the Dixies on the New Year's Eve performance and it was the best I've ever played with that group because of being able to bounce off his playing with my strumming.

We did some old Dylan faves of mine, along with things I'm developing for the learning materials. Playing with him was a real treat, but listening back while making a practice CD for Andy and maybe the Kenwood Players has been a revelation.

First, I've been amazed at the variety of sub rhythms he creates, along with a wealth of variety in timbres and articulations. His high skill level means he's got a huge range of possible licks to bring to bear, so his playing, while rock steady, is full of variety and surprise.

The other thing took longer for me to recognize has to do with my singing. I've always realized I play with strumming behind the beat, but had thought my singing was right on the beat. Listening back to the recording it dawned on me that I'm actually anticipating the beat with my singing, either somehow due to years of leading people or because in learning songs I tend to line up the accented syllables with or slightly before the beat. Either way it creates an off-putting edge that I'd always thought had to do with the timbre of my voice, when it's really a rhythm issue as much or more than anything else. 

Last night after coming to this realization, tried singing after the beat and it was really difficult, but when it worked it brought a whole new feel to songs I've been singing for over 30 years. 

One of the great things about making music is that there's never an end to how deeply into it you can go, and the learning and experiencing new dimensions recharges the whole endeavor. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

OPC Performance

This past Sunday the Kenwood Players provided some music for the Orange Presbyterian Church service and I think things went well. Dick was absent as he'd had to funeral back in South Dakota, but Maggie stayed. I set the little Sony up in the choir loft to record, but the audio is not as good as it could be. The distance from us down in front of the church meant that all the reverb of the acoustic of the church comes across as a sort of "boominess" and lack of focus to the sound. To work well, the recorder needs to be much closer to the sound. There's also some airy hiss to the sound, which might be from the distance, or could be because I hadn't set the recording level high enough.

A number of folks came up afterwards to compliment us on the music, and Steve heard much the same from his mother and her friends. We had a little sing along with the choir before the service on "Closer Walk". The prelude was "Under His Wings" followed by "The Old Rugged Cross". The anthem was "Were You There?".  The offertory was "Blest be The Tie That Binds". The postlude was "Down By The Riverside". A lot of the positive comments contained something about loving hearing the old hymns.

From a materials perspective, the blend of straight four part hymns vs. spirituals arranged for guitar and improvisation seems about right. Once some Christmas carols are added, that set of church music might be the first completed part of the materials.

We've got the Gordon House performance on 4/17, with just one rehearsal between now and then. This Friday is dress rehearsal for the community band concerts, and 4/10 is Good Friday. The next performance looks to be on Mother's Day at the Hospice of the Rapidan's annual butterfly release fund raiser, which is moving from the gardens at Montpelier to Germanna Community College, where there's a place to go if it rains.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Flute performance

This past Sunday I played a flute solo with the Presbyterian ensemble at the 11:00 a.m. service. I got through it with no major blunders, but half way through it I was asking myself why I thought I could do something like that. I had practiced the piece everyday for weeks, it didn't go above high B, and there were no sixteenths. But performing is different than practicing, especially as we hadn't rehearsed with the grand piano up in the church proper, so everything sounded different, which was disconcerting. 

The main thing, though, was trying to create enough sound with the flute to fill the acoustic space of the church. That took a lot more work than practicing had, so by the time the piece was over my lip was shot and just beginning that quivering that fatigue brings on when I was holding out the final tied whole notes.

The other thing was that while playing it dawned on me that my style was not what Al probably wanted. Charitably, you could say I was playing with a lot of heart and expression, whereas a bit more polish and command would probably have been more to Al's taste.

Lip Callus update

Had a milestone moment here in the past couple of days in that in Sunday's band rehearsal I played most of the high notes called for and was able to do so with the new embouchure formed by working with BE. Previously the days after a band rehearsal I could feel how that bit of lip, where the callus had been, wanted to harden up due to my slipping back into the old embouchure for the high notes. This time that didn't happen and it feels as though the callus is well and truly gone as long as I use the new embouchure. 

Where I'll end up with the new embouchure I don't know, as I'm still exploring how it all works using the BE tools, but being done with the callus is a terrific feeling. It's been a long five months dealing with it.

Know the Words

A couple of rehearsals ago, maestro mentioned he had once taught jazz, and that he'd always said, "know the words", of the melody you're playing. Given his emphasis on the details of the music, such as dynamics and articulation, that makes a lot of sense. It also, though, works on a more general level of having an idea of what the song is trying to say and then using that info to help decide what overall approach might work best for you and your instrument.

Just another of those obvious things that's so easy to forget.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Hymns & Spirituals

Here's a copy of a note I sent to Don, our liaison for music at the Presbyterian Church 3/22. 

Don -

Thought I'd give you sort of a menu of what the Kenwood Players can provide for the Presbyterian Church on the 22nd. There's one set where I play guitar and can lead singing, while the players have a generic accompaniment they can use as an improv base, to intersperse the singing with instrumental solos. Here's that set:

Down By The Riverside
Follow The Drinkin' Gourd
Higher Ground
Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho
Just A Closer Walk With Thee
Sweet By And By
Were You There?

There's also a set where I've taken four part hymns from the hymnal and put them lower and in flat keys to make them easy for band instruments to play as instrumentals. Here's that set:

Blest Be The Tie That Binds
Blessed Assurance
In The Garden
Love Lifted Me
The Church In The Wildwood
The Old Rugged Cross
Trust And Obey
Under His Wings

These hymns, along with Higher Ground and Sweet By And By in the previous set were all published before 1922 and are in the public domain. The spirituals are traditional tunes I've arranged for the group.

If there's nothing going on in the church in the hour before the service, I'd like to get there at 10:00 a.m. to have a nice relaxed set-up (if Judy's recovered by then, that will include some small percussion). Then, if any choir members would like to warm up with us in that wonderful acoustic space, we could do some sing alongs, say from 10:30 to 10:45. Then the choir could head to the loft and we could play some instrumentals to set the mood for the service.

Also, if it's OK, would like for the players just to remain seated in the same place before and during the service. That would simplify things for me logistically and feel less disruptive to any Lenten mood we might create with the music.

With my background as music therapist, my primary aim is to help you and Rev. Denise create the service you'd like, so please let me know however we can do that.

All the best,