Monday, August 20, 2012

Brrt - A Mini Rant

I have been fortunate to work this past month in two North American venues and in both cases with some of the finest and most highly esteemed brass players in the world. Both of these locations put me, my colleagues and students in contact with methods and styles that are different than we experience in our home environments and consequently we all left enriched and a little smarter than before we arrived; these stylistic differences are what makes music interesting. However, there is one of these stylistic differences that needs to be addressed.

45 years ago when I moved to Europe for the first time there was a style of brass playing, particularly on horn and tuba, that was played by a few of the unsophisticated (sometimes referred to as “The Old School”) players of that period. I’m sure, I hope, that that style represented a kind of naiveté rather than a deliberate musical decision.

It’s amazing to me that the habit of allowing short notes to split still exists in our world of ever improving brass playing, yet I have heard major world players of both horn and tuba this summer who play short notes with such distorted and uncentered attacks, that many times the tonality of the intended note was absolutely undistinguishable, and sometimes these notes were so short that all we hear is a pitchless “Brrt”. How is this possible in this day and age? Is it that these players have been playing for so long that they no longer listen to themselves; is it that the embouchure is no longer focused and it’s just easier to ignore the problem than to try and fix it? Or perhaps it is by choice; perhaps it’s an effort to bring back the nostalgia of a time past, to bring back “the good old style”. Personally, I am quite embarrassed when I hear this kind of playing and I am very concerned that if younger players might try and imitate it they will never win a job.

I try and remember that there are many ways to play music and the styles available for our listening today in this world are part of the richness of our musical environment; I try to remember that intolerance is a very dangerous thing in general and especially in music, but isn’t there a point that, which if past, we should not accept? Could this habit possibly be a premium example of a tradition that is in reality is a hundred years of bad habits rather than some wonderful aspect of music that we try to preserve?

Just a small observation.

July 2, 2006, Denver, Colorado, USA