Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beyond Therapy

Thanks to Elaine Fine for posting this video of musically talented people with disabilities being brought together to make music. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Music Making: Experience & Language

Part of the process of learning how to make music is that the effectiveness of language describing what you're trying to do is so dependent on your level of experience. I've noticed this especially with the horn. Not only is instrumental music a non-verbal art form in itself, trying to put into words exactly what's going on with the embouchure is extremely difficult.

Since taking voice lessons at conservatory back in the 70's I've been hearing variations on "breathe from the diaphragm", and from the beginning I understood what that meant. What is so interesting is that over the years, that phrase has gained meaning for me via experience, and it means much, much more to me now than it did then. It's not just language, but language that connects up with a much more tactile, proprioceptive understanding of music making that years of experience have given me.

It's another virtuous circle like the one I talked about here between proprioception and hearing. I'm not sure there's any way as a teacher to help people make these kinds of cognitive/experiential advances any faster, but I have caught myself from time to time expecting words to convey to a student something they're not experientially ready to take on board. 

One of the reasons I've been so struck by the work of Jeff Smiley and his Balanced Embouchure method for trumpet and horn is that his exercises are a mother lode of experiential learning that taught me a world of things about embouchure that are beyond words. It's the one time for me in learning how to make music the experiential side got so far ahead of the verbal side. 

(If any Blogger users can explain why sometimes it double spaces between paragraphs and sometimes doesn't and there's a way to stop it without messing with HTML - I'd love to hear about it. It's been happening sporadically since they "upgraded".)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Performance Diary

Recently the community band had a couple of performances, I played Dixieland with a very high level group of players, I did the music for a small country church Sunday service, and my group played for some military veterans the day after Memorial Day.

One thing that strikes me over and over with the community band is just how much the acoustic environment affects our sound. Because we are such a relatively large group, approaching 50 members, the balance of what I hear in the horn section is remarkably different from room to room. I've gotten used to the fact that it's always going to be different from how we sound in rehearsals, but it's still a little unsettling trying to play to a room on the fly.

The other thing about the two venues the band plays in is that one is smaller and people sit closer to the front and to each other than in the other, where the same number of people are scattered throughout a larger auditorium. We always get a better response in the first.

The Dixieland performance was on the front porch of Ambrose (brother of James) Madison's home for a Garden Week afternoon party. I'd played with the trumpet, trombone and drummer before, but had never even met the clarinet, tenor sax and double bass players. I've heard about pros getting together and sight reading for performances, but never done so myself, and was amazed at how well we played. (I had gotten the banjo music a couple of weeks before and the pieces I was unfamiliar with I drilled over and over - so I wasn't sight reading).

At the time of the performance I was completely focused on listening and trying to play as supportively as I could. Only listening to the recording could I fully appreciate just how good the other players were and how nearly every tune settled into a great rhythmic groove. Listening to the CD the first few times induced a sort of delayed flow that I was too busy in the head in the moment to appreciate.

For the church service I played solo horn for prelude and postlude, alto flute while the offering plate was being passed, and led the congregation in hymn singing with the guitar. The church was full of family and friends, and helping people on their spiritual paths with music is something I find deeply rewarding.

The Kenwood Players played for the Ride 2 Recovery for a second year and had a great time. We played well and were very well received. I was also pleased that over time I've gotten more efficient setting up and striking the audio equipment so that it took less than an hour for each and the system worked well.

One thing I noticed at this event as well as the Dixieland event was how at the beginning of brass licks when a player is really laying into a riff, a few audience members will spontaneously yell out something like "Yeahhh" in just the instant after the riff starts, almost like they're making music with us for a moment. I'd love to know exactly what it is that triggers that reaction, as it's such an intense engagement of a listener.