Saturday, November 14, 2009

Horn Diary

Our community band concert was earlier this evening, and to my ear we've never played better. The intonation seemed good, the balance was great, and there was very good rhythmic cohesion. As mentioned in a previous post, our director has had us work on bits and sections in the lead up, and we didn't play through whole pieces much until the final rehearsal and tonight. And tonight to warm up we went through the transitions that were still troublesome. That approach paid off wonderfully. There were no spell breaking misplayings. 

The other thing that made the concert such a success was having the C'ville horn section, four wonderful players, sitting in for the concert. For me it was amazingly easier and way more fun having all that horn sound around me rather than being on my lonesome. Rather than trying to establish my pitch in the band sound as a whole, I felt as though I were merely filling obvious tonal slots. And being able to rest my lips for a beat or two whenever I wanted seemed positively decadent. 

But beyond making my life much easier, having that horn section gave real solidity to our sound as a band as a whole. It gave the trumpets something to blend into and took a little of the edge off of their sound and did that amazing thing the horn sound can do of filling out the woodwind sound. And detached notes in rhythmic patterns with five of us playing really complemented the percussion section.

This was Mr. Torian's last concert with us. He, very understandably, got tired of driving all the way down here for rehearsals and finding so many empty chairs. That probably means the horns won't be coming again either, as it was as a favor to him that they came. Which is a real drag because I'm now officially spoiled.

One other thing that he did which was tremendously helpful to me was having prepared a script for brief comments on the pieces as we played them. The info relayed was top notch and very interesting, but the nice break between the pieces gave me a chance to get the last one out of my mind and start mentally preparing for the next. I don't remember having that much time before in previous concerts, but I do remember sometimes still having the previous piece whirling in my head when starting the next.


  1. I'm really glad the concert went well. I know what you mean about feeling spoiled by being part of a section! I feel even more spoiled on those rare occasions when I can be part of a section of 8 playing Mahler or Bruckner or Richard Strauss.

    The other effect of the conductor doing brief comments ahead of each piece is that you get a few more minutes to recover your lip. For a wind band, everybody needs that break, and Mr. Torian has probably developed the technique as a result.

    By the way, did you have a chance to get any further finding out about the slide positioning issue we discussed last week?

  2. Jonathan - I have been working the slide question, but not all the way through. It's not the tuner. Used a clip on tuner that picks up vibration rather than sound (great for tuning the banjo in the midst of the Dixieland group) and it reads the same as the regular one.

    Right now I'm leaning towards thinking maybe I've pulled the main slides out too far. I've been going for what embouchure is easiest to make the in tune pitch on the open notes. I have always preferred a less brassy sound than what the band directors have wanted. Seems if I go with the slightly brassier sound, the main slide can be pulled out less - but this is very preliminary. Didn't want to do too much right before the concert.

    Your point that it might be the horn I can't figure out how to test. A bit of an air leak somewhere in the valve system could be what's going on. Will keep working the embouchure part of things for a while.

    Also, I want to try slightly different hand positions to rule that out. Bruce Hembd did a post a while back about how the hand is at a nodal point and can affect what's going on with pitch production. Will certainly keep you posted.

  3. Hi Lyle
    If it is the horn, then both you and others will blow it out of tune to about the same extent. Hence the suggestion that you get one of the other players to have a quick look at it in the break on Saturday.

    But unless it is particularly cheap, old or dented there's no real reason to think that the horn is likely to be at fault. Therefore embouchure and/or hand position problems are more likely to be the cause. If so, these are the sorts of things you might want to look at, when playing long notes with a big crescendo/decrescendo while you have the tuner in front of you.

    Does the pitch wobble during the crescendo?

    Do you find yourself having to have to change what you think is the "center" of the note in order to keep the pitch steady as measured by the tuner?

    Does the effect of the crescendo on the pitch vary depending on which valves you have down?

    Does the effect of the crescendo on the pitch vary depending on which side of the horn you are playing?

    All of the above is aimed merely at identifying and localizing the problem. Once we have done that, we can look at what might be done to fix it.

  4. Jonathan - Thanks very much for that great check list to narrow things down. Didn't have a chance to have a C'ville player try it as I was a doing roadie type schlepping of stuff to and from the stage before and after the concert. Besides some of our members being absent from rehearsals, there were some who had no trouble calmly watching our director lug stuff to and from the stage before and after the concert. Amazing.

    Right now spending hours a day on the computer prepping arrangements of Christmas music for a little event my group is going to do the first week of December. Might be a while before I get through that whole list, but I will an will report back, if only to thank you for taking the time to be such a help. Thanks