It’s been my privilege and extraordinary good luck to have held faculty positions in many musical institutions in North America, Europe and Japan; There was one period when I was teaching at the Fiesole Scuola di Musica, Italy, Conservitoire de Lausanne, Switzerland, Bern Hochschule für Music, Switzerland, Rotterdam Conservatory, Netherlands and the Royal Northern Collage of Music, Manchester, England, all at the same time. As I recall I was tired most of the time from the chronic commuting, and although I would never do it again I remember it as exhilarating and perhaps more of an learning experience for me than the nearly 40 students I was seeing as often as possible. It was in this period I starting writing essays for the now defunct TubaNews.
Today I am still writing essays but now they are called Blogs. Most of them are pedagogical in content but I have tried my hand at many subjects, even a few short stories. Usually when writing the pedagogical blog messages I try targeting them to a specific musical environment. That could be an instrument group, an institution such as a conservatory, symphony orchestra, or brass ensemble or even a country; through the blog media we are able to address any of these specific musical entities. Since Japan is the center of my present musical life, I would like to address this blog specifically to my Japanese students, particularly those in the various ensembles that I coach.
None of us want to sound bad; none of us want to miss notes, whether it’s a cracked high note, loss of control in a fortissimo or a technical passage that breaks down simply because it’s fast. Certianly, we try to avoid sounding bad while playing with other musicians and frequently we try to avoid not sounding good even in the privacy of our own practice sessions. We hide these problems, whether it’s because of high register, loud dynamic or technical demands, simply by stopping during the problematic passages.
‘Hiding’ from the problem happens most frequently when we play into the high register. Many of the young players I work with play beautifully until it goes into the high register at which time they just stop playing until it returns to an easier lower register; they don’t want to take the chance that they might miss something, they don’t want their co students to hear them miss anything. THIS IS EXACTLY THE WRONG THING TO DO TO IMPROVE A HIGH REGISTER PROBLEM! The problem will never go away by avoiding it or by hiding from it. Of course, the necessary strength to play in the high register has to be developed by playing in the high register. To build the strength for the high register we need to aggressively continue trying to play those notes. Sometimes it will work sometimes it won’t but it will get better. We have very fine instrument etudes written specifically for development of the high register but just as important is that we stubbornly play the high passages that give us problems in our various ensembles.
It’s very much the same when developing a fortissimo; the strength needs to be developed to have a beautiful ff. Every brass instrument has a repertoire of cantabile studies that are usually beautiful melodies, IE, the Bordogni Vocalizes. 10 or 15 minutes a day playing these beautiful cantabile melodies in a beautiful fortissimo can be, in conjunction with forte orchestra or quazi-orchestra passages like the Blazhevich for Trombone and tuba or Brandt studies for trumpet, a strategic part in building a beautiful fortissimo.
There’s another danger area: Many players stop when things get difficult in technical passages. Fast passages, when the tonal material gets more complicated or the fingering gets more difficult, are another situation where players just stop playing. This is much easier to correct. The obvious solution is practice! It’s easy, even fun, to work on fast passages but when the harmonic material gets complicated or the fingering gets difficult it’s time to work on the ear training to clearly hear the notes in your mind’s ear or during more difficult fingering. Practice those things rather than just enjoying hearing yourself playing fast; concentrate on the difficult technical passages.
We hide from the hard passages; high, loud or fast, so we won’t be heard either by our colleagues or ourselves, so no one will hear us missing. If we hide, we won’t improve. Please don’t hide from your weaknesses; let them be heard as you work to improve them. It’s like preparing for sports; sometimes it takes hard work to perform better.
We go to conservatory to get better! Don’t be afraid to show the work you are doing to do that. Like a baby learning to walk, we all fall occasionally, we all miss occasionally; Please get back up and try again!
October 1, 2012, Tokyo