Jason Sulliman is a bass trombonist with a passion and a purpose. Original cast memebr for BLAST!, and now its conductor and manager, Jason has explored symphonic and commercial music with aplomb and sought to integrate his personal experiences as a performer with his passion for helping others through education. Along the way, kinesiology just sort of “happened”, and has become a growing area of fascination and expertise. Stretch out and relax, as Jason Sulliman works out all of “Seven Positions” tm. Enjoy!
1. What drew you to kinesiology (motor learning/motor control), and who have been your mentors?
I first learned about kinesiology after I re-joined with Blast in 2005. The job was very demanding physically and mentally, and I worked extremely hard to condition myself for the rigor. I was amazed at the effect this had on my playing (both mentally and physically) so when I returned to grad school at the University of New Mexico, I sought out people to learn more. I connected with Dr. Mary Virginia Wilmerding who is on faculty at UNM for exercise science and dance. She introduced me to kinesiology and I was hooked. I found myself running over to other buildings sitting in on biology classes, exercise physiology classes, and I enrolled in a few classes such as motor learning and kinesiology for dance majors (that Dr. Wilmerding taught herself). Every day was filled with new discoveries.
When I applied for doctoral studies, I applied at schools for both music (DM) and kinesiology (MS) (as if I was two separate people). I continued graduate studies at Indiana University in the master’s program for kinesiology.
2. If movements are like fingerprints, and each is different everytime; can there be any constants in trombone technique?
This is a difficult question to answer in that the product and the process to get there have different spins on the same answer, and to many this will sound like an academic quibble of semantics, but I disagree. I find the whole concept fascinating.
Technically I don’t think any two sounds made in the natural world are identical. Movements are all different (even if it is so slight that it is unperceivable to the human ear) and thus their fingerprints in sound are unique. Musicians will usually get to a point where for all practical purposes, a consistent sound is heard because the nuances are so minute that they aren’t significant in terms of job performance, etc. For that part of the conversation, I do think one can approach playing with a consistent mindset and achieve consistent results, but only if we use the terms loosely. I don’t think there’s any real harm in talking about a consistent product as long as we agree it is a matter of scaling.
I think the word ‘consistent’ can be dangerous though, when talking about the process. If we get so wrapped up in trying to manipulate our bodies the same exact way every time, we might actually be hindering our bodies’ natural ability to adapt to the current environmental parameters and take aim at that ‘consistent’ goal from a slightly different vantage point. Your body’s components must function from their current state, and to interfere with our natural ability to function might limit the freedom of adaptability. The only ‘consistent’ thing about my playing is I am constantly trying to be better than yesterday. I think the whole concept of ‘consistent’ sets limitations and throws our focus off of the real goal.
3. Who do consider the most influential brass pedagogues-both personally and globally?
As teachers, we have all experienced telling a student ‘exactly’ what they needed to hear, but for some reason they weren’t ready to really hear it in a meaningful way. The next thing you know they had a lesson with another teacher or attended a master class etc. and heard the same exact thing, and react as if it was something that they never heard before.
Names surface to the top of a short list: Arnold Jacobs, Emory Remington, Joe Alessi, and Carmine Caruso, but if the art matters more than the people that create it, than we have to remember that anyone can make a breakthrough happen for anyone else and it is those breakthroughs that matter most. Therefore the list of influential brass pedagogues is massive, as it should be.
My personal breakthroughs were with Darcy Davis, David Sporny, Karl Hinterbichler and
4. How do you view the re-affirmation of many of the teachings of Arnold Jacobs in light of cognitive theories?
In a word: accurate. The more I study, the more I find that Arnold Jacob’s work lines up with emergent cognitive theories of today. Sadly, it is not that he was so far ahead, it is that we are so far behind. He stayed with the curve.
5. What has Blast! meant to you?
In one way, Blast! Has meant the opportunity to ‘stay in the game’ of trying to improve and become a musician. I started significantly later than most ‘successful’ musicians and I spent most of my college years playing catch-up. I will probably always feel that way. I am forever grateful for the time, the experiences, the friendships etc. that I have gained from that chapter in my life. In a much larger way, Blast! Was an amazing opportunity to reach audiences in ways that ‘sit-down’ performance can’t. Blast! Is usually compared to marching band, but I think it was so much more than that, and I am thankful to be a part of it.
6. What do you look for in a horn?
I want something unique. I know many folks out there want ‘an orchestral’ sound and try to blend in with what is winning the jobs etc., but I want to bring something unique to the table. Frankly I don’t want to sound like everyone else. I want to sound like me. I think if I do that well enough, someone will want to buy that.
The two most common directions people go when deciding on equipment is either a horn that helps one’s weaknesses, or a horn and amplifies one’s strengths. I can see merit in either case. For me I want vibrancy in the sound. Like a complex Belgian Tripel, I want complexity in the sound. I feel like then I can do so many things with it. There was a time when I gravitated towards equipment that sounded louder or was easier in the high register, but I have since gravitated more towards what I call ‘home’. I recently purchased an M & W and it should be arriving soon. I am really excited about the possibilities.
7. How do your studies movement influence your approach to slide motion?
My slide movement needs a ton of work, mainly because I am still searching for the best set-up in the left hand to hold the horn. I think this matters with bass in particular. It is a heavier horn, and if your left hand doesn’t feel comfortable supporting the instrument for long periods of time, then it will start shifting in a way that eases the discomfort. When that happens the right hand will naturally make compensating adjustments with how it helps to support the weight of the instrument, which will change the slide technique.
Having said that, I try to hold the slide with my fingertips. After that, I really try to ignore the physical characteristics and focus solely on the sound that is created when changing notes. If you are really listening, you can hear a difference between effective slide technique and ineffective slide technique on all sorts of levels. This goes back to ‘no two movements are alike’. I challenge you to find two trombonists that do it the same exact way. I guarantee if we hook them up to measurement equipment (like EEG), we will find differences.
I remember watching the National Brass Ensemble concert in Chicago last year. Some of the Gabrieli pieces were set up with two choirs, so their angles were such that I got a great look at slide work. There were times where I saw some of the most accomplished trombonists playing unison lines right next to each other. Slightly different hand positions, different speeds, but wonderful results. I could only tell a difference visually.
8. How do you foresee the future of the trombone in drum corps?
I really haven’t thought about it.
9. What is your secret to legato?
Legato is my default warm-up articulation of choice these days, as it has been for several years, because the longer and more-connected two sounds are, the less you can hide “junk” in-between them. I spend a disproportionate amount of time on legato, and would say the other big factor is I have recorded myself and others a ton. I have developed some skills with audio-editing over the years, and I would go into the sound files and cut-out transitional space between the notes of my playing and others. I would then create call-and-response tracks with this “super-connected’ version of playing and I would use it as the model for my current playing.
I never could get rid of the transitional sound completely, but I realized that shouldn’t be the goal. Rather than thinking about continuous air, I try to think about continuous sound, and the transitional moments in between notes has its own sound. I let that sound thrive now (albeit in a very short time-span). So the ‘continuous sound’ is really three different sounds (first note, transitional sound, next note). All three need to be beautiful.
Obviously there are two issues with legato- first the tonguing thing, and then the sliding thing. But I feel like I touched on the slide already.
10. How do you teach performance blocking and movement in order to least disrupt or provide a deleterious effect on brass technique?
There will be a trade-off. We will always sound better when not simultaneously engaged in gross motor movements (like marching for example). I say it that way because we are in constant motion on a fine motor level, and I encourage that type of movement. I play on a wobble board almost exclusively in the practice room so my body is free to move as it needs. But for things like marching, there will be trade-offs.
That being said, certain aspects of movement technique will sound better while others will look better. In many ways it is a game of ‘slight-of-hand’ that we play with the audience. I think many marching bands spend way too much time refining the engagement of the knee vs. straight-leg for example. I just find it funny when the same band will then have kids rolling their shoulders forward and taking small breaths, not rolling their toes to smooth out their landing, etc. Their feet will be out of time anyways, who cares how their knees are!?!?!
Let’s get everyone’s feet in time and on the downbeats. Let’s get everyone standing with an elongated spine so they can take a good breath, etc. I try to put my eggs in the basket of sounding good, looking good, and being efficient with our time. I think it is impressive when a band has a real level of detail to their uniformity, but most high school bands spend too much resource focusing on aspects of marching technique that are too expensive (too much time to clean it, not enough pay-off). I think 30 minutes of good stretching and body movement followed by 30 minutes of marching technique is far better than 5 minutes of poor stretching and 55 minutes of marching technique. Sadly, the latter is what most programs do.
11. What are your musical inspirations?
I will always have a soft spot for the work of the Tallis Scholars, the Chicago Symphony, the German Brass, Fleetwood Mac, the Cleveland Orchestra, Bela Fleck (both solo and with the Flecktones), Bruce Hornsby, the Vanguard Orchestra, J.J. Johnson, the Kings Singers, Louis Armstrong, Eminem, Tim O’Brien, David Wilcox. Specific to bass trombone I would say Randy Hawes, Jim Markey, and Stefan Schulz.
I am a sucker for so many stories of people overcoming adversity. Underdogs. I think we can all relate in some way to an underdog. When you are one person out of a hundred auditioning for a job, it is simple math. The odds are not in our favor if you just look at the simple math.
I have found quite a bit of inspiration from many movies based on a true story such as “Rudy”, “The King’s Speech”, “The Imitation Game”, “Invictus”, as well as other amazing life accounts of people such as Mother Teresa and Gandhi. I think they all share the theme in that at one point there was an overwhelming impression that their ideas and actions made them a ‘minority of one’ and yet they pressed on if for no other reason than they felt it was right- it was what they believed. It was the only way to be true to themselves. I am constantly inspired by others and they fuel me to just keep moving in a direction that is right for me.
c. 2016 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved www.davidbrubeck.com
In the world of drum corps, BLAST! is legend. Blast, along with EPCOT’s Future Corps, is one of but two drum corps to transition into a professional ensemble. The championship drum corps BLAST, formerly known as Star of Indiana, began their journey in 1998, and by 1999 met with sold out runs at London Apollo, Hammersmith. In 2001, Blast stormed Broadway, where they have won both a Tony and an Emmy. International tours have followed, and the feverish following has remained fresh amidst an ever-changing show. davidbrubeck.com is pleased to call upon on Guillermo Ramirez to share his experiences in Blast
1. What have you learned about music and brass playing from touring with BLAST?
I’ve learned to tell a musical story. Not only through dynamics, style and expression, but also through my eyes, and the way I move to the music.
2. What is the group’s typical instrumentation, and how important has doubling been to you?
The current touring group is made up of 6 percussionists, 5 trombones, 2 euphoniums, 2 tubas, 2 French horns, and 7 trumpets. Doubling on multiple instruments has been extremely important because it has opened more performance opportunities for me. Currently, I am playing trombone, marching baritone, marching snare drum, concert and world percussion.
3. How do you approach flipping from classical styles to jazz?
We rehearse, and train ourselves to simply “flip the switch”, we do a lot of singing and can really hear the styles that we are going for. Also, everything is exaggerated; articulations, dynamics, etc.
4. What are your best memories from tours?
Best memories? That’s tough! It would have to be getting to perform in a packed hall just about every night and all the free time we had as a cast to hang out together!
c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. davidbrubeck.com
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New stuff you haven’t heard before, from DUO BRUBECK or anyone else!
Sizzling standards include brand new jazz arrangements of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensitive” alongside the music of the Beatles, Ellington and Jule Styne.
Simmering originals include Brubeck’s dreamy homage to Jackie Gleason “I Dream of Miami Beach” and the entrancing “I Didn’t Love You Girl”. Each features the vocal infusions of Kat Reinhert and Maria Pinagel.
Smoking guitar virtuosos Tom Lippincott and Mitch Farber will make you want to move, as Brubeck’s spicy-cool bass trombone fans the groove.
A new concert feature includes evocative “jazz puzzlers. As Duo Brubeck presents shimmering soulful weaves of sound, audience members are invited to peel back the layers of musical delights to reveal familiar songs in refreshing new settings.
c. 2016 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved
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Cleveland Orchestra Hornist Richard King, Pittsburgh Symphony tubist Craig Knox, and Hollywood Trumpeter and Film Composer Anthony DiLorenza have been together since their student days at The Curtis Institute of Music where they petitioned the Curtis administration for a brass chamber music group. With the additions of the Buffalo Philharmonic’s Geoffrey Hardcastle on trumpet and the Seattle Symphony’s Ko Ichiro Yamamoto on trombone, they have spun musical gold. After thirty years of individual musical accomplishment and outstanding collective work through recordings and tours, the Center City Brass are a fully matured and sophisticated vintage best caught in season.
On the crisp morning of March 3rd as part of their recent trip to South Florida, the Center City Brass performed a beautiful showcase for the community of Weston Christian Academy, Bobby McCann-principal and Dr. Steve Kitchens-headmaster.
The program included a concert prelude on Fiddler on the Roof, performed by the Miami Dade College Brass-The Romero Brass.
Anthony DiLorenza’s incredibly virtuosic and masterfully composed Nexus & Siren Song astounded and inspired concert goers, and having a trumpet virtuoso and accomplished composer such as DiLorenza at the helm of the group while supplying their compositions was somewhat reminiscent of what it must have been like to hear Haydn lead a string quartet. The virtuosic brass writing abounded, and was beautifully executed by the CCB. Of particular note were the fantastic blend and clarity of the group, and the equally virtuosic writing for all five parts. This was perhaps most starkly evident in the horn and particularly the trombone writing of DiLorenzo.
Habanera was performed next, again by the Romero Brass, which prompted Mr. Knox to pronounce the group “terrific”, and was followed by an ad hoc suite of three pieces from composer Tony Plog by Center City. The CCB responded to enthusiastic questions from the audience, before finishing their recital with arrangements from Bernstein’s West Side Story: Maria & Tonight.
At the conclusion of the event, the entire Center City Brass took the better part of an hour to coach their collegiate counterparts on an Allegro from Ramsoe No. 4. The Romero Brass, coached by MDC Chamber Music Coordinator David Brubeck, had previously been coached by the Boston and Dallas Brass, and newly named Imperial Brass 1st trumpeter Chuck Lazarus. Members include: Jose Romero, Alain Rodriguez and Kevin Thelwell, trumpets; Brandley Gagne, horn; Xavier Puig (not pictured), Danny Delacerda, Guillermo Ramirez, trombones; Javier Ayala bass trombone and Armando Alicandu, euphonium.
c. 2016 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved
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Dan Perantoni has a habit of being involved with first-rate musical organizations, and one suspects that he just might have something to do with their successes. It may have begun when he started studying tuba with the legendary Paganini of the Tuba-Harvey Phillips. An impressive soloist, Perantoni established a long standing chamber music relationship with the St. Louis Brass Quintet, and was a founding member of Summit Brass. As a teacher, he has graced the University of Illinois, Arizona State, and is currently provost-professor at The Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. “The Fourth Valve” is delighted to listen as provost professor Perantoni perfectly picks his points. Enjoy!
Fred Marrach, Gerhard Meinl, Perter Hirsbruner Sr.
2. What does it take to have a really happening studio beyond being a great teacher and performer?
Effective recruiting, Communication
3. How do you approach solo tuba differently with regard to classical music and jazz. How do you attract or find audiences most effectively?
Same approach for all- listening and singing.
Building an audience –Years of marketing – name recognition- good products- commissioning good new works- word of mouth.
4. Who are the most interesting young orchestral tubists out there today?
Jeff Anderson, San Francisco; Steve Campbell,
Minnesota—my all time favorite orchestra Pro—Gene Pokorney, Chicago Symphony
5. What do you look for in a Bb, C or Eb tuba?
For all- evenness of good sound and response in all registers- great intonation- quality workmanship.
6. How would you compare the approach to brass quintet of Charles Daellenbach, Arnold Jacobs, and Harvey Phillips?
Harvey Phillips was really the most important person for the future of the Brass Quintet with the founding of the New York Brass Quintet [replacing Julian Menken-bass trombone-ed.]. There were the brass version of the “set”, famous String Quartets. There were hardly any serious music for brass quintet other than Ewald and then the many Robert King arrangements. So NYBQ commissioned numerous new works by serious composers such as Gunther Schuller, Alvan Etler, Eugene Bozza, etc. They were the first to introduce performing for young audiences. They were the first Bras Quintet group to be presented by Columbia Artists. As a result, they did many concerts at Major Universities and concert halls throughout the United States. They were the inspiration for the many groups in the world today.
Arnold Jacobs. The CSO quintet was a spin off of the Chicago Symphony.
They played mostly standard transcriptions and never was never that actice as compared to the New York Brass Quintet.
Charles DaellenbachWith Canadian brass you have a full time Group. Charles took his young audience show and used it for mature audiences-made entertainment part of their show.
Over the years, he commissioned over 250 works!
The group has always kept high standards of performance.
Daellenbach hired gifted composers to do Canadian Brass arrangements-Luther Henderson, Arthur Frackenpol, etc. It helped that the Canadian Government supported them through grants.
7. What do you remember most of your professionals chamber music groups? What made the great ones great?
The Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble was a big influence into David Hickman and the members of the Saint Louis Brass to form the Summit Brass. We put together the best perfumers in the United States and got a record Contract before we had even played our first Concert.
What makes a group great is Great performers, Great arrangements and compositions, and musician who are always part of the team.
8. Baadsvik, Childs, Mead-most full time brass soloists seem to have four valves. What are they doing right that solo trumpeters, hornists, and trombonists are not?
Baadsvik and Childs are supported mostly by funding by their countries. David Childs, in particular, comes from the famous Child Brothers who are today the major conducotrs of the British Brass Bands.
You did have many soloists on trumpet in the past, such as Maurice Andre, and on horn, like Dennis Brain.
9. What are they key ingredients to a great music school at the University? What do IU and your other previous institutions do best?
The University of Illinois
New Music and Music Education
Arizona State University
Indiana University IU is rated the number one school in the country—a major university and conservatory tied into one. It is particularly known for its Opera Department
and its outstanding faculty on every instrument.
c. 2016 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com
After fourteen years, Trtion released its first cd, “Triton Brass”, which was celebrated with their first performance in New York City. Triton Brass has re-emerged, like a fine wine whose best vintage is yet to come. Re-tooled with bass trombone and a formidable line up, they plan to perform and teach with The Atlantic Brass Quintet at the 22nd annual International Atlantic Brass Quintet Summer Seminar. Former Fischoff and Lyon chamber music competition winners and the brass quintet in residence for five years at Tanglewood, “FIVE” tm is pleased to bring you The Triton Brass…Enjoy!
Shelagh Abate, Horn
1. How does a New York girl end up going to college in Boston? Can you compare performing as a freelancer in New York to Boston?
Oh, man…when I graduated from high school, I could not WAIT to get away from home. Boston was perfect for me at the time as it was “far away” from Long Island without being “far away” 😉 As soon as I got to Boston the first time, I felt the energy and the vibe that all those students in ALL THOSE SCHOOLS (!!) within the city’s limits creates. There’s no city like it. I miss it terribly when I’m away for long periods. Thank god for the quintet, I get to see it on a regular basis and still consider it “kind of” home.
As for freelancing, Boston is an amazing place to study and an amazing place to work…the players are every bit as fierce in Boston as they are anywhere else. The top of the top of the top. Especially brass! I mean, NEC, The Boston Conservatory, BU, Berklee, Harvard, Longy, MIT, the list goes on and on, and there are amazing players at all of these places. The only difference I notice now in NYC, is that I put less miles on my car. When you freelance “in Boston,” unless you hold a major gig (BSO, Ballet, etc.), you’re actually freelancing all over New England. Which is awesome, truly…because, I mean, it’s New England. But it also means 40,000 miles per year on a car. No lie. I went through quite a few cars (and clutches) during my tenure in Boston… 😉
2. You had a double major in English. How has it helped your music career both on the business side
and on the artistic side?
My experiences at Boston College and getting a B.A. in the liberal arts have equipped me with a breadth of perspective and skills that help me through life, no question. I use my writing skills on a regular basis, and the broad perspective I got there enables me to 1. withstand life’s ups and downs better than if I were to have a really limited view on things and 2. provides a greater artistic vocabulary to better express musical ideas through the horn. As soon as I finished my Bachelor’s, I plowed full steam ahead into the horn as a graduate student and a mature adult that had a handle on what I needed to do, how I needed to go about it, and where I wanted it to take me. I may not have known it at the time, but it was the right path for me. There was no way I could have sussed all that out at 18. I was a mess at 18. We’re all a mess at 18, lol. Ok, maybe not all of us, but I definitely needed a little more time to steep.
3. As a horn player, your instrument and the tuba share a conical timbre. The bass trombone presents an evenly matched quartet of cylindrical instruments. How do you change your approach when blending with a tuba-bottomed brass quintet, as opposed to one with bass trombone?
For me, in Triton, having a bass trombone as opposed to a tuba totally establishes a fat, homogeneous, giant bass foundation upon which I can do exactly what I want musically, which is amazing. I can just ride, blend into, push up against, or battle all the sound around me – whatever the music calls for. I love it, it’s freaking awesome. It’s really a giant, warm, musical canvas. When Triton dealt with a personnel change a few years ago, Angel was the logical choice….I don’t think we actually ever even had a conversation about it as a group. It was that easy, and we’ve not looked back since.
Angel Subero, Bass Trombone
What strengths and weaknesses do you see in the US and Venezuelan music education offerings?
This is a very hard question but I will do my best to explain as concisely as I can but this is just my humble opinion on this matter and could (and probably should) be discussed much further in detail.
The three main differences that I notice between Venezuelan (El Sistema) music education and the United States music education are: the funding, the performance opportunities and the importance placed on music in society.
El Sistema is a forty year old, free music program open to the public that is sponsored fully by international institutions and the government. The students are provided with great instruments from the beginning of their studies. It is an after school program and since El Sistema has become such a powerful and successful program, classical music has become very popular. It is now a huge part of the culture in my country. There are a lot of concerts and weekly performances. Even the kids who have been playing for a few weeks perform on the regular basis, sometimes even twice a week. This keeps the kids excited and wanting to get better for the next performance. The better you are, the more opportunities you are allowed. You play with better orchestras, musicians, participate in national and international tours, etc. This is a huge motivation.
Also, all the concerts are sold out. The main stream culture places a huge importance on these events for both the performers and the audience members. They are excited to be there because people know that there is a big chance that even kids who are just starting out could, in a few years, become super stars. I remember Edicson Ruiz, now a bass player in the Berlin Philharmonic, running around and playing soccer every time the youth orchestra had a little break from their rehearsals. I believe he was 7-8 years old at the time. And who would have guessed that he would become the youngest member of the legendary Berlin Phil just a few years later.
From what I can tell, it is very different in the United States. Music programs are part of the school and unfortunately, many of them are poorly funded, if they are funded at all. Instruments are rarely provided by the school and if they are, they are usually in poor condition. The playing opportunities are very limited, with maybe one to two concerts a semester. These are usually also poorly attended because the music is not appreciated by the general public in the United States. This is also true for professional groups as well.
I don’t think is fair to compare because the culture and the way the systems work in these two countries are very different. There are a lot of great benefits about being a musician and studying here in the US. Certainly my success and the career I have, I owe it to my teachers and mentors. And I am very thankful for the schools (Boston Conservatory and New England Conservatory), that gave me the opportunity to experience the structure of being a student in America. Even though I believe there should be changes and more flexibility for every individual case, since we are all different, without this education and structure that comes with it, I would not have had the opportunities that have come my way. Yes, I worked hard but being in the right place at the right time and being ready is the key. You never know when you are going to get “That call”.
Again, this is a fascinating topic and should be discussed much more than this but I feel that this is the best opinion I can give on the matter for now.
2. What are your doubles, and how do you practice switching back and forth?
Tenor Trombone and Contrabass Trombone. I have a very particular daily routine which is all on Bass Trombone. When that is done, I make sure I spend time on tenor. The work I do on tenor is mostly playing lead trombone in Latin bands. When I play these gigs, the physical and mental approach to playing this style of music is a total one eighty of what I do when I play Bass or Contra in any ensemble, especially in the quintet setting. After my routine is done, at some point in the day, I aim to have a session where I practice going back and forth 10-15 minutes on each horn and do that for an hour or two. I love practicing so I enjoy the process. But I should stress the importance of also spending the time to get to know each instrument well on its own before you try and go back and forth too much. Now, according to Facebook I play Harp, Tuba, Double-Bass, Contra Bassoon, English Horn, Bass Flute, Piccolo and Tambourine, also I am a very successful conductor. If it is on Facebook, it must be true.
3. How do you approach articulation in the quintet, especially low and fast?
Well, The beauty of playing in a brass quintet is taking advantage of the variety of articulation and colors the group can have. I’ve always loved playing different styles of music Latin, Jazz, Classical, Funk, etc. When I am playing in the quintet, I experiment using different types of articulation until I find a sound that I feel blends with everyone else in the group. Obviously, listening to and playing different styles of music has influenced my playing. And depending on the difficulty of the passage, sometimes using a combination of double and doodle tongue on a low-fast passage makes it sound more clean and easier. Having all these different colors and articulations in your playing makes practicing and playing much more fun. And sometimes, you just have to practice articulating low and fast.
Andrew Sorg, trumpet
1. As a member of two accomplished brass quintets, both Triton and Atlantic, you are in a unique position. What have you learned from the competitions won with each group.
-I’ve learned that winning a competition is less important than preparing for a competition. Preparing for a competition in a chamber ensemble allows you to get to know your colleagues intimately, and how the dynamic of the group operates as a unit. The marriage of chamber music makes or breaks an ensemble, and a healthy relationship between quintet members is crucial to perform well together. Although winning a competition gives an ensemble credibility to presenters, the preparation defines your repertoire, image and vision for the future.
2. The musician makes the difference, not the instrument, but what types of advantages come with tuba or bass trombone on the bottom of a quintet?
I was first surprised to notice that there is no loss of sound in a quintet that uses tuba verses bass trombone. They are an equivalent entity. The obvious advantage of having a tuba, is it creates a broader aura of group sound that blends great with repertoire like the Dahl Quintet, Ewald Quintets and my composition Voices In Da Fan. On the flip side, the more directional blend the bass trombone creates works really well with repertoire like Plog, Paquito D’Rivera, and my other quintet piece Mental Disorders.
3. What have you enjoyed most about the growth of your chamber music program?
What I’ve enjoyed most about the growth of The Atlantic Brass Quintet Seminar, is sharing an unconditional love for chamber music and passion for education with some of the best chamber musicians and educators in the world. Our team we have grown to call Tritantic, the merger of The Triton and Atlantic Brass Quintets to form a large brass ensemble, has a huge impact on young brass players. The love and dedication we emote, creates a very serious but fun learning environment for students and faculty, which is incredibly rewarding to be a part of. I love the “think tank” approach between faculty that has improved every aspect of putting a summer program together business wise and musically. I’ve watched 8-9 student quintets grow to 10-12, a classically defined program has now become an equally impressive jazz/world music program, our pay grade has doubled and our administrator Vanessa Gardner, who is also a seasoned french hornist, provides us the best of what Northeastern University can offer. In return, our student performances keep getting better, and better and better…
4. Any new hopes?
I hope that one day, the brass quintet can be regarded as an equivalent chamber ensemble to the string quartet. I hope that our repertoire can reach the ears of the general public through programmatic music, multi-media pieces and real time midi-electronics. I hope that as a composer, my music sets a new standard for the future of the brass quintet
1. What connections have you made from mathematics and science to music? Has it changed how you blow your horn or aim it?
At MIT I wrote my physics thesis on how the structure of a trumpet (for example, where you put the braces) affects its timbre. That’s definitely given me a different set of tools to think about how to change the colors of the instrument while I play. I definitely enjoy finding the patterns in crazy polyrhythms, and I think that’s been incredibly useful in fitting into new music ensembles over the years. Ultimately, I think that just like everyone else, all of that becomes part of the background when I perform and am trying to do my actual job of communicating with the audience.
2. What is the Tanglewood experience like for brass?
Very intense! The literature is challenging, everyone in the orchestra (all the way back to the last stand 2nd violin, who might be concertmaster next week) is giving their all, and oh by the way, the entire Boston Symphony brass section will be at the concert, so please try to do a good job… I was there 15 years ago and I can still vividly remember the expressions on James Conlon’s face as he, the audience, and I all negotiated when I was going to start Mahler 5.
Wes Hopper: 1. Tell us about WGBH and it’s significance in New England. What was it like to be to play brass quintets for an audience of 30,000?
WGBH is the dominating public broadcasting force in New England. Their studios are in Boston, but their reach is certainly worldwide with acclaimed series Nova, Masterpiece, Frontline etc being produced here.
Wether it’s recitals for massive audiences such as the WGBH events, feature music at Fenway Park or for 15,000 at the winners concert in Lyon, France, I’ve found that when we’ve played for very large audiences the energy is amazing, but it was a bit less personal and harder to connect. In some ways that makes it less stressful. As long as the audience digs it, I don’t have a preference in number. Connecting with one person is enough!
2. Do you approach articulation differently in a quintet dominated by valved instruments as opposed to a section of trombones? Does bass bone instead of tuba in the quintet change the articulation equation?
I just do my best to keep up! Playing in a quintet and playing in a section certainly have similarities. I don’t think I play so differently in either setting. Rather, it’s the setting that has different requirements. Basically, quintet music is significantly more demanding technically than the average orchestral work. So of course I’m forced to play more lightly to keep up with the more agile instruments.
Having bass trombone instead of tuba changes everything and changes nothing. The modern bass trombonist, certainly Angel and other successful quintet bass trombonists like John Rojak or Dave Taylor, can make a very wide sound effectively eliminating the necessity of the tuba in quintet. But all things being equal, the bass trombone still has a smaller core of sound. So, you kind of get the best of both worlds…a wide, lush foundation, but a core that is easily identified for the purposes of pitch, blend and indeed articulation. Since I don’t have to use such a wide sound to bridge between the tuba and horn, the articulation too is easier and clearer (I hope!).
What are your thoughts on .547 bore as opposed to .525 bore tenors in the setting of brass quintet? I play .547 bore almost all the time. There is really very little difference between a modern .525 and .547 trombones. Most if not all companies use the same bell/valve combination on both and just offer a different hand slide diameter. Sometimes they are found with a slightly smaller bell; 8″ rather than 8.5″, but not always. If the same lead pipe is used on both horns and no other change is made the difference is practically inaudible until you get to very loud dynamics (where the .525 can’t compete). If the .525 is a small shank instrument where the mouthpiece must be changed, then the sound will be quite a bit different, most often in the direction of a commercial trombone sound. But, for that I prefer to go to a .508 bore instrument personally. Mostly (completely) it’s about the sound you hear.
c.2016 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com
There is no telling how you first may have encountered the incredible musician Ralph Sauer. It may have been in print, as Sauer is among the most prominent transcribers and arrangers for brass instruments-more than 275 offerings and counting. Or perhaps your first encounter was with Sauer in his role as trombone section leader for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he served as principal trombonist and more than an occasional soloist from 1974-2006. A teacher of numerous students, including Christian Linberg, at institutes and workshops, festivals and universities, Sauer himself was a student of the legendary Emory Remington at the Eastman School of Music. The virtuoso trombonist is a founding member of Summit Brass, and recorded an album of orchestral excerpt demonstrations and performance tips for the tenor trombonists. Please join “1385” tm in its maiden voyage as a short, written interview series with some of today’s most outstanding musicians who happen to play tenor trombone. “1385 AD” scratches the surface with Ralph Sauer…enjoy!
1. Which are your three or four favorite tenor trombone solos? (1st or 2nd..). How would you personify or depict each-& how does this inform your phrasing?
a.) The Mahler 3rd Symphony has to be at the top of the list because of its length and exposed passages. I see the louder sections as an oration by the god Pan.
b.) Ravel’s Bolero is on the list because of its popularity and difficulty. I think of Tommy Dorsey and cross my fingers!!!
c.) Maybe a strange choice, but Sibelius 7th Symphony is one of my favorites. The symphony (in one movement) climbs three mountains–each one higher than the previous one. The trombone plays a solo role in each of these climaxes. It’s a very thick orchestration at those peaks, over which the trombone has to soar without sounding harsh.
2. Only Maurice Andre, and perhaps a handful of other brass players have reached a level occupied by dozens, if not hundreds, of soloists on piano, violin or cello. What are we brass soloists missing?
But there are some brass players today who perform at the highest level. I won’t try to name them, because I might inadvertently leave someone out. Those top musicians have something the rest of the pack doesn’t have. It’s not enough to play in tune, in time, and with a great sound. The top players have a fourth dimension. This includes a complete understanding of the composer’s style, and the ability to go beyond just playing all the notes perfectly. Their phrasing is natural and appropriate; their rhythmic sense is elastic, but never distorted; and they can vary their tone quality to suit the style of the music. They are natural communicators.
Ralph Sauer, trombonist www.davidbrubeck.com
3. “Right tool for the job”. Alto, .485, .500, .508, .525, .547, .562…How many different bore sizes or types of trombone would you use in a typical season? For which reasons?
During most of my career, I used one instrument–the Elkhart Conn 8H. It was able to do anything I wanted it to do. In the ’80s, I started using the alto trombone for everything that was appropriate–Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, etc. For the last 5 or 6 years of my time in Los Angeles, I switched to a 525/547 bore slide that gave me the best of both worlds–a large bore sound with a medium bore effort. Very few people realized I was playing on a slightly smaller setup. In fact, I received the most compliments from non-brass players after switching.
4. What is you approach to playing in the upper register?
The upper register requires embouchure strength, less volume of air, and faster air. I focus the air stream farther and farther down as the notes get higher.
5. What is your secret to a great legato?
I use the sound of a perfect natural slur as my model for all other slurs. Perfect legato on the trombone requires exact coordination of slide and tongue. The slide is not early or late–it is on time. How each individual thinks about achieving this can vary. Some people think of the slide being ahead. Others achieve good results by waiting in each position. A third way of thinking would be not to move the slide until the tongue says to move. Sloppy legato is usually the result of the slide moving too soon.
6. Which classical soloists inspire you, and why?
Anne-Sophie Mutter is at the top of my list of current performers, but I have drawn great inspiration from Glenn Gould, Rudolf Serkin, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, etc. Why? Because their performances always sound fresh and vital. I can listen to them over and over and hear new things every time.
7. As principal trombonist, how do you differentiate leading versus accompanying? Are there times you must accompany in a leading fashion?
Fitting into and blending in a symphony orchestra is not leading or accompanying. It’s knowing when to be more prominent and when to be transparent. For example, a fortissimo is not as loud as you can play. Loudness depends on many factors: size of hall, musical time-period; importance of your part; conductor preference, etc.
8. Why are the cello suites so special? Why do you and other trombonists seem to have such a strong affinity for them?
I was introduced to the Bach Cello Suites by my teacher Emory Remington. I think of them as “private music” rather than “public music.”
They are important pedagogically, of course. But more importantly, they give us a chance to play the music of the great master on our beloved instrument.
c. 2016 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved www.davidbrubeck.com
That Musician’s Wellness of North America, L.L.C. has been established by Jan Kagarice, is no surprise. Kagarice has made a career out of teaching some of the very healthiest trombone players from around the world as part of the trombone faculty at the University of North Texas, but has also made a specialty out of helping those who had been injured or needed to overcome some form of limitation. Jan is no stranger to medical issues, and having to resolve them to continue to play trombone is part of her character. In the same way, performing as the bass trombonist of the successful PRISMA trombone quartet helped her to coach a number of award winning trombone quartets from UNT. Part of a team of teachers, a concept growing among applied studios at upper division institutions, Jan’s diverse experiences as a musician and a human being have sharpened and deepened her to help others-which she seems to love to do. Come along as Jan Kagarice shows Seven Position something about teamwork, keeping it simple, and staying healthy. Enjoy!
1. What do you look for in a horn?
One that resonates easily and has good flexibility throughout the range.
2. What were your teaching style and objectives like before you had medical challenges as compared with afterwards?
I have a form of muscular dystrophy and a rare neurological disorder. Neither of which are life threatening but certainly caused me to learn about efficiency and healthy function.
My objectives in guiding musicians has ALWAYS been about the music. I believe that the music itself is the teacher. My students call me coach… I’m just coaching their focus of attention to the music, pretty easy gig! 😉 When a player has physical issues that interfere with performance, I assist them is becoming more efficient…. doing LESS. That’s why they are called “LESSons” 😉
3. What makes a multi-teacher applied studio approach work at the university level? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the single teacher versus the team?
I think that a team approach has enormous benefits, if the team is working together and each student has a “home base” studio. However, if this approach is not clearly structured or if faculty become competitive with each other… this is noncooperative and really unfortunate and unhealthy for the students in that environment. (Dr. Noel Wallace wrote an excellent dissertation about the team approach within the trombone studio at Codarts: Rotterdam that brought about the New Trombone Collective and MANY incredible trombonists/musicians).
A single teacher can more easily guide a studio in a certain direction and can certainly bring in other professionals of their choosing. I would also assume that single teacher is more likely to seek collaboration across their department, which can be of great benefit for all.
4. What is your secret to a great legato?
Great concept of legato and excellent air flow. Over instruction of this on the trombone is detrimental in my opinion. There are excellent models out there and it is best to copy by ear.
5. What have been your favorite “unexpected” uses or niche for the bass trombone?
I am not sure what you mean by this question, sarcasm says “lamp”. Honest: George Roberts in Nelson Riddle’s band. Not unexpected, but the excellence of time, pitch, balance and feel make you notice! Dave Taylor plays Daniel Schnyder. Again, it’s about musical communication.
And to add a twist: Least favorite but expected: ego-driven bass trombonists in orchestral settings.
“Janet”, Performed by Maniacal Four Trombone Quartet in dedication to Jan
6. It has been said that people “play their personality”. How much of a compelling factor for a performer is the character, humanity and temperment that infuses the performer?
I agree with the statement completely, but it is also important for the performer to not let their personality overshadow the expression of the composer brought to life.
7. What are some of your favorite memories as a performer?
Easy! Every performance with PRISMA (trombone quartet) …. especially Cleveland ITF (1993 for the young folks!)
8. How do you view chamber music opportunities for bass trombonists? What were your experiences?
Chamber Music is extremely important for all musicians. Bass trombonists in trombone quartets need to be sure to play some inner parts every once in a while so that it transfers when you play with a tuba in a larger ensemble. I played a LOT of sackbut as a younger player and enjoyed early music immensely. I felt that it helped me to become a better musician. I then played a LOT of brass quintets at New England Conservatory. Chamber Music experience helped me adapt to every other ensemble. I encourage all of my students to immerse themselves in different genres of music. It will make them a better player, more marketable, but also keep their career interesting!
c. 2016 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved www.davidbrubeck.com
“Can’t respond right now, we are about to perform The Pearl Fishers”, or, “I’m at intermission of Turandot”. Night after night, the world’s greatest singers adorn the productions of the Metropolitan Opera, and in the pit, they are accompanied by their orchestral equals. Led by maestro Levine, the Met’s orchestra is among the most highly skilled and best paid in the world. Opera recordings, Symphonic outings, and recordings of their vaunted brass are not uncommon in the storied accomplishments of the orchestra. A true Met bass, trombonist Steve Norrell has been a stalwart in orchestra, proving his longevity and passion for music. Trained at Juilliard and by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Norrell has grown to embody his own musical voice and perspectives. An American original, he has recently returned to the recital stage with a world premiere of a sonata dedicated to his mentor, CSO bass trombonist Ed Kleinhammer. “Seven Positions” tm takes you to the opera. Enjoy!
1. What is your connection with “The Chicago School” of playing brass instruments, and what were the main things you learned from it?
The summer after I graduated from high school, I attended the Brevard music Center and requested Charles Vernon as my instructor. Charlie was then in the Baltimore Symphony and was thought of at Brevard as the secondary instructor. Gerry Pagano (who I grew up with and is 5 days younger than me) had studied the previous summer with Charlie and improved substantially over one summer. Charlie likes to say that I was actually the first student at Brevard to request him as a teacher. That introduction obviously changed my life!
I’ve never been big on the concept of “schools” of playing or teaching. While attending Juilliard and taking professional orchestra auditions, people would often refer to me as a New York style player (because that’s where I was in school), which I did not agree with. Individuals are affected by exposure and it doesn’t necessarily have to be local. The way the Philharmonic articulates now is very different than the hard tongue in the time of Vacchiano, Chambers, Herman and Novotny. I’ve heard Joe Alessi say that the way they articulate now is different than what he did when he was in the Philadelphia Orchestra. The key is to be flexible enough to fit into any situation.
When I came to Juilliard I didn’t know a lot of orchestral music. After buying budget recordings to learn repertoire, I realized that it was money poorly spent because if I didn’t like the playing, I wouldn’t listen to it. Even though the CSO recordings were never “budget,” it was a much better investment! My concept of sound is actually from Bud Herseth. Conceptually I think of this beautiful fundamental core, with rings around it. I don’t think anyone on trombone has ever achieved the presence of sound that Mr. Herseth did on trumpet, but that is the sound which is in my head. In those days the CSO would do to residencies at Carnegie each season and perform three different programs on each visit. Each year you could hear them play six different programs. On one program in the 70s they played Brahms 3rd and then Brahms 1st after the intermission. Mr. Herseth did not play the first half, but walked on stage during the intermission. A group of people began applauding just when he walked on stage. When Mr. Herseth played the first C on the downbeat, it was like Ah, he’s back! My definition of presence has always been the immediacy of the most beautiful core sound. It doesn’t have to be loud, it’s the quality and the immediacy.
While at Juilliard for four years, I had lessons with Mr. Kleinhammer on almost every CSO visit to NY. He was such an inspirational person and I’ll always have visual images in my mind of him coaching me. My Juilliard instructor, Don Harwood, grew up in Chicago studying with Mr. Kleinhammer. During the time that I was at Juilliard, Amtrak was reasonable and cheap to Baltimore and I would take the train and stay with Charlie (who then played in Baltimore) every other weekend. They all had similar concepts but their own way of saying it. Being exposed to all of them was a wonderful combination! They were all influenced by the CSO brass sound and after completing my first Met season, I attended my first Jacobs master class week at Northwestern. While there, I had two private lessons with Mr. Jacobs. Without a doubt I consider Mr. Jacobs to be the foremost authority on respiratory function and his insight is the reason for my Met longevity.
I’ve always disliked comparisons between orchestras. There are so many relative factors that it’s inevitably unfair. In the 1970s, the CSO brass section was unique in that there was a strong player on every chair. Other orchestras had great brass artists, but didn’t have the quality on every voice. The depth of great playing has increased so that almost every orchestra has that quality and because of the accessibility of recordings and broadcasts, styles are more uniform. Stefan Schulz once met me at the Met stage door after a performance of Wozzeck. Before he was in the Berlin Philharmonic he had heard numerous Met performances. He commented that “the Met orchestra plays more like a European orchestra than any other American orchestra.” After thinking about it for a while, I don’t think it’s a matter of European or American, it’s the exposure to the vocal style. European orchestras play much more opera compared to US orchestras. The Met orchestra is unique because of its exposure to the vocal style and I believe it is the reason why our young Met wind principals have had such success filling principal vacancies in major symphony orchestras.
John Swallow liked students to change partials if they did an interval larger than a 3rd. It’s a good rule to experiment with, but I believe the other part of the equation is the embouchure being efficient. In my early Met years, Pavarotti would go from one interval to the next immediately, without bumping the new frequency. I believe it’s the same on our instrument. There’s a fine line between having a good liquid legato, but not being stiff or rigid. Jay Friedman frequently tells students to play a “slow slur,” which is what I interpret as Jay trying to get the student to blow through the legato. I’ll often ask the student to have a quicker and more efficient embouchure without bumping the notes. I think that Jay and I are approaching the same thing from different sides of the equation. I encourage students to buzz legato phrases only using their tongue on the initial attack after a breath. After that, the clarity should come from the efficiency of the embouchure. It has to be trained! Even with students who prefer to use legato tongue, I encourage them to buzz the mouthpiece only using the tongue on the initial attack. If their embouchure becomes more efficient, whatever amount of legato tongue they were using inevitably becomes less.
The stimulus that I use when I play legato is thinking that it’s smooth. Personally I try to have the tongue out of the way as much as possible, but when I’m playing, being smooth is primary and anything else that I’m doing to achieve this is a trained reaction and secondary.
My two favorite legatos that I’ve personally encountered are Charlie Vernon’s and Norman Boulder’s. It’s not a coincidence that Jay Friedman studied with Swallow before he got into the CSO or that Norman studied with Swallow in school or that Charlie commuted to NYC while in Baltimore to study with Swallow.
3. How did the piece you have premiered, which is dedicated to Ed Kleinhammer, come about? What does it mean to you musically and personally?
After Mr. Kleinhammer passed away in 2012, Alan Carr, who was studying at the University of Wisconsin at that time, coordinated this commission. John Stevens is the tuba instructor at Wisconsin as well as on the composition faculty and Alan sent out a proposal to many prominent players. Mr. Kleinhammer might have played the second movement which quotes Mahler, but he probably wouldn’t have been interested in playing the rest of the work, although I think he would’ve liked the piece.
Mr. Kleinhammer had an infectious enthusiasm and when he, Jeff Reynolds and myself judged a bass trombone competition at the 1994 ITF in Minneapolis, the first words out of his mouth when he saw me were that he had “retired too soon” (…after only 45 years in the CSO). He loved music and when our paths crossed he would tell me about Met broadcasts he had heard that he knew I had played on. I know that he experimented with composition (unfortunately I never heard any of his pieces, but he talked to me about them) and even if a piece did showcase his strengths, I’m confident he still had the capacity to like a work or find it interesting. I had a student attend the Ithaca ITF and I called him during his time there to ask if he was enjoying the workshop. Well he was having a lesson at that time with Mr. Kleinhammer. When the phone rang, Mr. Kleinhammer asked my student who was calling? When the student replied that my name showed in the caller ID, Mr. Kleinhammer replied that he should answer because he wanted to talk to me.
I didn’t get to study with him as much is so many other people, but he was always so giving, supportive and encouraging! I was so very fortunate to have these opportunities with these icons!
4. How would you describe the roles and the relationship between the tuba and the bass trombone in an orchestra? In your view, does any other pair of winds have a similar relationship?
Often times I believe that the bass trombone should be the clarity in the middle of the tuba sound. I worked alongside Herb Wekselblatt my first 15 years at the Met and Herb only played a B-flat tuba. Playing next to Herb was one of the great joys of my life. He was unbelievably talented and natural, although he was uncomfortable when we started doing Carnegie concerts in 1991 because he wasn’t familiar with the symphonic repertoire, having played more opera. Our orchestra was very busy recording during this time and I spent a lot of time listening to recordings on blending of our sounds..
For bass trombone and tuba as a team, I believe it’s important for the bass trombone to complement the tuba sound. On an excerpt like Fountains, when the tuba is going down to their low Es, the bass trombone should not be any louder (even though the composer raises the dynamic), then the tuba can be audible with their best sound in the hall. If the bass trombone’s too loud, you just lose the low octave and the effect is different. There are so many examples like this. The group’s sound should always be strived for. The same could be said between the celli and basses or any of Wagner’s wind orchestrations in the Ring. All of Wagner’s Ring groups are scored in quartets except for the solo tuba voice.(3 Flutes & piccolo. 3 oboes & English Horn, etc,) In order to maintain the transparency, balance is imperative. Principal melodic idea should always speak immediately and be audible to the listener’s ear first or it’s musically confusing.
5. What are your favorite solo pieces, which have been recorded, for bass trombone?
Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a dinosaur with the solo bass trombone repertoire. My recent Manhattan School of Music recital was my first at the school in 23 years. In 1994, I suffered nerve damage in my right shoulder in the process of having a rotator cuff repaired and that sidetracked my solo appearances for a long time. Extending my arm has been problematic since and certain passages I was not comfortable doing. It will always be weak because of the nerve entrapment, but I’m now working with a private Pilates instructor who has helped me be able to recognize the muscle that should be firing and gradually I’m relearning everything. It’s substantially better than any time since my 94 surgical procedure (range of motion is much better), so I’m optimistic that I will be more active!
The Stevens was the first consortium that I was part of, but since then some members of that group have organized funding to commission other pieces for our instrument by composers who they were interested in. Interesting concept and I’m glad to be a participant!
6. How would you describe your pedagogy? What have you adopted from others and what have you developed on your own?
I would say that I’m a combination of so much good fortune! My mother moved to Athens Georgia when I was going into ninth grade and I began studying with Phil Jameson, who I consider the finest teacher in that advanced developmental stage of trombone playing that I’ve ever encountered. Dr. Jameson’s students all had good facility and were good sight readers because of the repertoire we were forced to play. The music program in Athens at that time was unbelievable, as was the level of young high school trombonists who were studying with Dr. Jameson. I’ve encountered other people who felt that their young trombone environment was special, but it’s hard for me to imagine any place being better than my experience at that time. Gerry Pagano and I were one year behind Carter Stanfield, who was the big trombone star. Everyone got along and realized very early that competition is within oneself. On weekends, we would play ensembles for hours with occasional breaks for basketball. As a quartet, we played the Bozza in the 11th grade and didn’t even know that it was difficult.
During the winter of 1972, several of us went up to a workshop with Lewis Van Haney at Western Carolina University. It was advertised as a weekend trombone choir for college and top high school students. Carter and I were the two top students there (Gerry didn’t attend because he had gotten a C during a marking period). Carter played first and Mr. Van Haney lent me his bass trombone to play the bottom voice. What a great experience! About a year later Mr. Van Haney picked out a TR180 and had it sent to me from the Holton factory. During my senior year, Mr Van Haney actually did a master class at my high school and it was only years later that I came to the realization that it had been a recruiting visit. Quite honestly, I was not a good enough student at that time to have handled IU and was much better suited to the Juilliard curriculum of that time. Even though I didn’t go to IU, Mr. Van Haney was always such a positive influence on me. I saw him do the same master class on four different occasions, and hearing how he treated every colleague on an outside job as if they were one of his Philharmonic coworkers made such a lasting impression on me. He was a man of the generation that seems to have had the highest level of civility.
Besides the day that I met my wife Karen, meeting Charlie Vernon in the summer of 1974 probably had the greatest effect on the outcome of my life. Until he became a member of the CSO, I was fortunate enough to always get to spend time with him. Don Harwood was incredibly thorough with his preparation throughout all the time I was at Juilliard and I was fortunate enough to be in the Tanglewood fellowship the summer of Norman Boulder’s first BSO season at Tanglewood. One of the greatest assets for a young musician is getting an opportunity to play with s many great players as possible. I was very fortunate and was always trying to learn.
In my first lesson with Arnold Jacobs, he pointed out how my tongue was in the way of my wind flow in the articulation. He would take the same equipment and from the moment the sound started, the wind flow was at max. Mine would be tongue, and then once the tongue got out of the way the wind flow would appear. He told me that I was overly dependent upon my tongue, but wanted me to figure out for myself how to establish my own new good habit. Trying to make this better was like searching for the Holy Grail. After several years it got much better and I actually evolved out of being James Levine’s whipping boy. There was a time when there could be an orchestral train wreck and the first words out of Jimmy’s mouth would be, “we need cleaner articulation from the low trombone.” Over time, I believe my immediacy has become an asset. Most students who ever studied with me will say that I’m obsessive about the clarity of sound and the clarity of articulation. Mr. Jacobs would always say that my instrument was a large bore tenor and I believe my greatest assets are sound and clarity.
7. Who are your inspirations? Non-musical?
My inspiration has always been the support and love of my family. Over the years, I’ve encountered students who lacked this same type of family support and I was always cognizant of how fortunate I was. I didn’t have much financial backing (although college was very inexpensive then compared to today), but I always felt that them behind me, no matter how big the challenge or hurdle. This support has also been the sustaining influence in overcoming my recent physical challenges.
I’ve been so fortunate in meeting so many people that it would be impossible to name them all. Obviously some are in the arts, but we encounter unique special people almost every day in our lives. I think that you have to cherish the good and try not to worry too much about the ones which you do not like!
8. How would you contrast the “New York School” of trombone playing of Joe Alessi with what you learned in Chicago?
Joe Alessi is such a unique person. He is one of the hardest working individuals I’ve ever known! The progress that he’s made since he became principal trombone of the Philharmonic is monumental and he’s always looking for ways to incorporate new things into what he does. During Joe’s early years, we had a weekly racquetball game and would occasionally play together. Simply tremendous! Since those years, certain aspects of his playing have improved exponentially. Playing a job like the Met, I was always envious of the freedom and flexibility that Joe had in doing outside projects. Of course I’m happy for Joe and it’s hard to imagine anyone being more productive while they were doing it.
Joe is a little younger than I am, but he was at Curtis while I was at Juilliard and all of us of that era were positively affected by the CSO. Joe’s greatest influences were his father, teachers in the Bay Area (Ned Meredith and Mark Lawrence) and then Dee Stewart and especially Glenn Dodson at Curtis. Many years ago I had conversations with Joe about my lessons with Mr. Jacobs. He was interested, but his concepts are uniquely his own on certain things. He’s been very successful in developing so many amazing artists, In 1988, the CSO was doing a residency at Carnegie and their off day that week was on Thursday. Charlie and Jay came up to the house in the afternoon as did Joe and David Finlayson. We played for hours (while I had the tape recorder on). Listening to the tape I hear individuals. It’s all really, really good, but unique to the person who was playing it. Since that time, Joe’s playing has only grown!
9. What have been your chamber music experiences, and what do you recommend for young players?Students of today do not play enough chamber music! I encourage all of my students to purchase as many duets as they can and if it’s out of print, find a copy. I tell my bass trombone students that I prefer them playing duets with the same instrument. Not that I have anything against playing duets with a tenor trombone, but ideally it’s best for both students if they both get an opportunity to play lead and accompaniment. When Mr. Jacobs referred to Mr. Herseth, he referred to him as a “storyteller.” While at Juilliard, I played Telemann canonic duets with a really descriptive bassoon player. It was really interesting playing these duets with another instrument that doesn’t have the same instrumental challenges that ours does and trying to put the music above anything else.
There is no substitute for young players developing the ability to play and listen at the same time. Some people of my generation say that I was lucky to have gotten the opportunities that I did (true), but the most important thing was that when I got these opportunities, I went in and made a good impression. In a repertoire orchestra, it’s really obvious if someone is not listening. I was successful because of all the chamber music I played!
What is there to do as a euphonium major, really? Maybe you could ask Brian Meixner, after finishing a doctorate at the University of North Texas as a teaching assistant for Brian Bowman, Meixner landed as euphonium player, soloist and assistant conductor of the River City Brass Band, recorded a solo CD launched and recorded with The River Bottom Quartet. Meixner has commssioned his share of new works, and a passion for new music seems to have led him to the formation of the expansive duo, Praxis, with percussionist and composer Nathan Daughtrey. While many would stop to breathe, Meixner has just taken flight! Accepting a new position as director of the North Carolina Brass Band, he blends his euphonium and chamber careers into conducting and teaching. The question for this euphonium player shouldn’t be what, but rather; what’s next? The Fourth Valve takes flight! Enjoy…..
Praxis Duo www.davidbrubeck.com
1. Praxis reveals the use of a wide palette of colors from your euphonium, from the diffuse warmth of conical to the focused brilliance of cylindrical. What techniques and pedagogical controls do you use to achieve such a wide spate of colors from a single instrument?I am glad to know that these varying tone colors have come across to the listener! The most basic answer to this question is that I have in my ear the sound I want to produce and I work with the resistance of the instrument to achieve it. My thought on tone production on a brass instrument… it is achieved through a balance of air flow intensity versus resistance, colored by manipulation of the vowel. Each register of the instrument (each individual pitch, actually) has a different resistance (some instruments more than others). With a proper command of the air flow, knowledge of how the instrument will respond on any given pitch, and careful control of the vowel placement, one can produce a wide spectrum of colors throughout the range. I find the resistance inherent in the euphonium to be helpful in this regard and am amazed by the great trombonists I hear who perform with a tremendous variety of tone color without that aid of the resistance. In the end, I believe it is vital for the player to have clearly in their mind at all times the sound they want to convey to the audience.
2. In an orchestra, percussion is often accompaniment and support, in wind symphonies it quite often becomes more of a significant color alternative to winds, while taking over some of the more repetitive figures less conducive to winds-brass in particular. How do you view the role of percussion in the brass band setting, by contrast?It is interesting to note that percussion instruments played a very small role in the early days of brass banding and were not even allowed to be used in competitions for several years in the early twentieth century. Percussion has, of course, become a much more integral part of brass band writing. Many modern brass band composers write extensively for percussion and I welcome it!
The role of percussion in brass band, as I see it, is similar to what you have described in orchestras and wind ensembles. However, in addition to percussion the orchestra uses strings, woodwinds and brass… the wind ensemble uses woodwinds and brass. The brass band uses only brass instruments, so it is not as sonically diverse as these other large symphonic ensembles. Brass band range stretches from the BBb tuba to the Eb soprano cornet and nearly every gap in that spectrum is filled by other brass instruments, but that spectrum does not include to other timbres present in orchestra and wind band. The complementing of this range by percussion is more important in brass band, I would argue, than that of the orchestra or wind ensemble due to the smaller variety of instruments and lesser amount of timbres. The added colors, brilliance and emphasis provided by the percussion section are essential, I believe, to the overall sound of the brass band.
What attracted you to percussion in chamber music, and what have you found?
I was initially exposed to this by the Brian Bowman/Gordon Stout recording of Samuel Adler’s “Four Dialogues” for euphonium and marimba. I suppose I was attracted to the sound of the two instruments playing together and liked the idea of doing something different than solo pieces with piano. Several years later I joined a consortium to commission David Cutler for a euphonium piece with cahon and maracas. During that same time I was working with a couple of other composers on pieces for euphonium with percussion ensemble. Partly due their great writing, but likely equally due to the interesting combination of instruments/sounds, I was turned on to euphonium/percussion music from that point forward.
Simply put, the more variety of percussion instruments that are used, the more sounds that are capable, the more interesting for the listener and performer alike. With percussion, the number of timbres, sounds, etc. possible is literally limitless. This allows me to be more creative with the sounds/colors I can produce on my instrument and the musical interest for all involved. In the case of our Euphonium + Percussion duo and our album ‘Praxis’, it doesn’t hurt to have the opportunity to work with the mega-talent virtuoso percussionist and composer Nathan Daughtrey!
3. Has Praxis inspired you to reflect on the musical relationship that is the duo? How would you compare the musicians role in a duo with their role in a quartet or quintet?
I had not necessarily reflected on the duo in particular, however I will say that I have found great enjoyment working with Nathan Daughtrey specifically. We work well together in both rehearsal and performance settings, so my opinion of the duo may be biased to the positive simply due to that. I will say that with only one other person in my chamber group, it is much easier to schedule rehearsal time!
The importance of working together is similar to other chamber settings. Musical compromise and equal sharing of ideas is no different, but I suppose there is more responsibility per member when the numbers are reduced.
In working with a percussionist, the intonation is solely my responsibility, as the percussionist is not able to manipulate pitch on the vast majority of instruments (much like performing with piano). I find that to be an advantage, actually, as it is one less variable in performance! I know I am getting consistent pitch from my colleague each time we get together, so the intonation is predictable – big advantage.
4. Who are your low brass playing heroes? Do you find any special resonance with the life of Leonard Falcone?
My biggest low brass playing hero is my graduate school teacher and mentor, Dr. Brian Bowman. I say this not only because of his virtuosic playing and life-changing teaching, but also due to him being one of the greatest pioneers and innovators on my instrument. Adding to my tremendous respect for him is his selfless approach to his career as a teacher and performer. What I have witnessed from Dr. Bowman is an approach to life through service to others. I am sure that all of us who know him would share a similar observation. Choosing to do my graduate studies with him at UNT was probably the best decision I have made in my professional life.
Countless other players on all three low brass instruments have been inspiring to me, including several artists from my generation and younger. Due to my hybrid career as a performer/conductor, I am particularly inspired by my colleagues and mentors who are successful at both. A prime example is Demondrae Thurman. Difficult to continue naming folks, as I will inadvertently leave some off the list!
How could any euphonium player reflect on the life of Leonard Falcone and not find at least some resonance! He was a true pioneer and all euphonium professionals have he and others to thank for any successes we may have in our profession. Mr. Falcone was, of course, an influential teacher and conductor as well as a performer, so I find great inspiration in his accomplishments from all aspects of his career.
5. What is your warm up like now as opposed to grad school?
Similar, but has evolved some due to new ideas I have been exposed to and needs that have arisen in my playing, etc. I still use the basic set of exercises taught to me by my teachers Brian Bowman, Skip Gray and Hugo Magliocco, but I do not have as much time each day to do a solid hour or two of “warm up”/fundamental exercises as I did when I was in grad school. A full-time teaching job, running my own business and helping my wife raise two children under the age of five cuts down on warm up time! That being said, I have found that neglecting to address certain fundamentals in my playing on a daily basis will cause a noticeable decline in my playing, primarily (for me) tone and articulation. When warm up time is limited, I rely on the early exercises in “Lip Flexibilities for All Brass Instruments” by Bai Lin, the combining of long tones and slow lip slurs. These allow me to do some long tone work while focusing on the clean/pure transfer of sound across harmonics. Also various flow studies (ex. Cichowicz/Brass Gym) to ensure purity/consistency of sound through various interval patterns. Repeating these exercises using articulation combinations allows me to cover the most basic foundation of playing my instrument in a short amount of time at the beginning of my day.
I also include at least some low register lyrical playing each day. If I am able to play with smooth connection and rich sound below the bass clef staff, then I have the command and control of the air flow needed to be effective in any range of the instrument. If time allows, I expand the warm up/fundamentals from there to address specific aspects of my playing that are needed for the solo/ensemble work I am doing at the time.
6. Which came first for you, inspiration to conduct or opportunity (necessity)?I have always aspired to be a conductor in some capacity since I chose music as a career. My path as a conductor was formed out of a career as a professional performer, which I have found to be a beneficial route for many reasons. I have been very fortunate to study with some truly fantastic musicians and teachers, who formed me not only as a player, but more importantly as a musician. I think most players want to work under a conductor who is a competent and accomplished musician, which I hope I can say about myself.
I thoroughly enjoy my work as a conductor. I love being with people and there is certainly ample opportunity for that when working with an ensemble. I also find it to be musically rewarding to work with so many different instruments/sounds in molding a musical product, as aspect that is a bit limiting as a soloist. Also, a typical day at work for me includes practicing/playing euphonium and trombone, score study, teaching a few private lessons, then leading an ensemble rehearsal. This variety in my work day keeps me energized and motivated!
7. How does jazz inform your conducting and playing? Any thoughts on Rich Matteson, Bob Brookmeyer, Juan Tizol or more recent tenor-valve players?I do not have a lot of experience in jazz, however the training I did receive has been an invaluable resource as both a conductor and performer. It is hard for me to imagine success as a musician without being at least somewhat informed in jazz. The players you list are incredible musicians and artists, each of whom has helped shed light on the capabilities of our instruments. An innovator on the scene today who I believe deserves special mention is Ryan McGeorge, an extremely creative euphonium artist who is broadening our understanding of what is possible on the instrument. His playing, composing/arranging and recordings are all amazing.
8. What are your favorite chamber music works that include euphonium? Are there any other directions you would like to see explored?My opinions here are heavily influenced by my personal experience with certain pieces, having performed them with good friends and colleagues. The works with percussion I recorded with Nathan Daughtrey are among my favorites, as well as Gillingham’s “Diversive Elements”, which I have performed a number of times with different friends and colleagues. The compositions and arrangements for euphonium quartet (and three euphoniums + 1 tuba) on our River Bottom Quartet album “In Too Deep” were a lot of fun. I also very much enjoy the music of Fernando Deddos, including the title track of the ‘Praxis’ album and his “Invasions and Myths” for euphonium, trumpet and piano that I recorded with Jennifer Dearden and Kevin Dill in 2015.
As far as directions for further exploration, I am thrilled to see the creative new works emerging for euphonium in a chamber setting. Lots of great stuff! It would be interesting to see more pieces for euphonium with strings, which seems to be somewhat of an untapped genre. The “Concerto No. 3 – Diran” by Alan Hovhaness is quite nice.
9. How did the journey begin to bring a professional brass band to North Carolina?I accepted a music faculty position at High Point University and moved to North Carolina in 2012. During that first year I began talking to many of the top brass players in the Triad area (Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point) about the possibility of forming a professional-caliber brass band. The musicians were receptive to the idea and it became clear that a nucleus of a fine brass band was on board to get things started.
The Triad population and economy appeared strong enough to support a new arts organization, so we went forward with establishing the North Carolina Brass Band. My business plan was to start with an attractive website and an exceptional product. The product was our debut album “First in Flight”. We raised start-up funds to get the business off the ground and were fortunate enough to receive enough donations to pay for the recording of the album.
The recording sessions for “First in Flight” were the very first time the band sat down together. The ensemble blended quickly, the recording sessions were successful and the album has since received high praise. Of course, none of it would have been possible without the players generously agreeing to do the recording for no pay. The willingness of these musicians to “buy in” to the vision of the organization was crucial, and the commitment from everyone involved (28 musicians and several Board members) was inspiring. With the product in hand and essentially no funds spent by the band, we were well positioned to move forward. The band played its first concert series in 2014 and has performed regularly since that point. We are now in year two as an organization and the musicians are paid per service. The band has performed several concerts locally in the Triad and in other locations in North Carolina. We are excited to be the featured brass band at the 2016 Great American Brass Band Festival, a tremendous honor for us! The NCBB is recording its second album, “Christmas Wrapped in Brass”, in January 2016.
c. 2016 David Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com
Interested in more “Fourth Valve” euphonium interviews? Check out these:
Dennis Bubert is a major force in the trombone world. A large percentage of the content of the Journal of the International trombone Association (ITA), is left to his care each quarter as he places the major symphonic works and players of our time in the spotlight. A native of Central Illinois, Bubert was a student of both Ed Kleinhammer and Arnold Jacobs of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), as well as the ITA founding treasurer and bass trombone virtuoso, Tom Streeter. Bubert has held the position of bass trombonist in the Fort Worth Symphony since 1981, and is currently a full time faculty member at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Part of the generation of famed CSO bass trombonist, Charlie Vernon, Bubert came to his professional awakening at a time when George Roberts had received acclaim as a commercial bass trombone soloist, but there was no apparent classical counterweight to this achievement. While Kleinhammer, Ed Anderson and other outstanding bass trombonists were making their mark in the symphonic realm, a universally acclaimed soloist for the instrument had yet to emerge (despite wonderful recordings from Knaub Reynolds, Streeter and others). It was this awakening of the classical bass trombone in the 1980’s which was led by the ever expanding capabilities of Charlie Vernon that have redefined the classical bass trombone nearly as much as Roberts has done for the commercial bass trombone. Bubert represents pedagogy, ability, accomplishment, scholarship and a front row seat to the ride. Enjoy!
Dennis Bubert www.davidbrubeck.com
1. What do you look for in a horn? Do you use different equipment for different occasions?
I think those things that I look for in an instrument aren’t all that dissimilar to what most players find appealing….sound, response, evenness of tone. After having tried so many different variables over the years, I’ve kind of settled on lighter bells and heavier slides. I don’t think so much in terms of “dark” or “bright” anymore; I listen instead for clarity, liveliness, and projection. I like sounds that are “complex” and “interesting”, as opposed to monochromatic; and beyond that, I guess, I tend to prefer horns that blow “loose”, where the sound can be readily colored to match what’s going on around me. We do use different instruments on occasion based on the repertoire. For earlier literature, and in cases where the first two players are playing an alto and smaller tenor, I generally play on an 88H “K” bell with a .562” slide with an older Conn-style narrow crook. That’s seems to have worked pretty well. The bigger part of the formula, though, will always be the player and the concept.
2. How has having a steady orchestral engagement changed your warm up and practicing?
I’ve always been a huge advocate of having a daily routine, and if at all possible, I like to get that in as early in the day as possible. You know, you can go into rehearsal cold, play a few minutes and be OK, but I really like the comfort of having done my homework on the horn before that rehearsal. For me, it’s just not the same to to go in, play a few notes and then sit down in the orchestra.
The biggest demand on my time is from juggling the orchestra schedule with teaching, and that’s an unending challenge. It means a lot of late night practice sessions, and grabbing an hour of practice time between double rehearsals. Not ideal, perhaps, but if that’s your best option, that’s what you do. When school is over in early May, we still have about eight weeks of the season to go, and I love being able to go down to my basement every morning to be my own best student for a change. It’s a great time of the year to kind of evaluate where things stand, and try to address any little issues that have come up during the past season, as well as look at new literature and get a head start on the next season’s rep.
Charlie Vernon with Dennis Bubert www.davidbrubeck.com
3. What was it like to experience the ascent of Charlie Vernon’s career, and to witness the corresponding elevation of expectation for the bass trombone?
I first met Charlie in 1978, right after I had finished school. He was on the artist roster at the International Trombone Workshop (now “Festival”) in Nashville, and after having heard so much about him in the Baltimore Symphony, I was really anxious to hear what all the fuss was about. He presented a master class and played a recital, and I made sure I was at both of those. I had just completed a really productive two years studying with John Kitzman and Daral Rauscher in Dallas, my lessons with Mr. Kleinhammer were just getting underway, John was using me a lot to sub and play extra in the Dallas Symphony, and I was just a month or so away from winning my first little audition. I kind of felt I was headed in the right direction, and then hearing Charlie….well, that kind of blew everything out of the water for me. His playing, both in terms of sound and musicality, was just so far beyond anything I had conceived of for the bass trombone, that I had to take everything back to the design studio. I remember bugging him for two lessons that week, and even though he probably didn’t have three hours to himself that whole week, he very graciously obliged.
He really has pulled everyone else along after him. Jay told me once that he thought Charlie had pushed the concepts of Mr. Jacobs’ teaching into greater extremes of register than anyone else. Having his sound in my head at the same time I was studying with Mr. Kleinhammer, and later, Mr. Jacobs, was pivotal for me, as for so many others.
4. What memories do you have of your time studying with Tom Streeter and becoming a bass trombonist.
I wish I could say it wasn’t that long ago, but….! My freshman year, I went into my first lesson with my only instrument, a Conn 48H, and came out a bass trombone player. The school’s one and only bass trombonist was graduating, they were getting a new instrument, and they needed someone to step up. I had always had a really easy, comfortable low register, and the upper register was anything but easy, so it seemed like a good choice. Tom was very, very patient with me, always encouraging, and never anything but generous.
At the start of my junior year, Tom left his position in the local orchestra, and mentioned that I might want to get myself ready for an audition. I really had no idea what to expect, but prepared as best I could, and somehow won. (I was so totally green, I left the hall after I played and went home! Not even savvy enough to stay around for another round, or to find out who won…..the next morning at school everybody was congratulating me, and I wasn’t really sure what for…..) It was really a pretty respectable orchestra and a great learning experience for me. The two tenor trombones were players you knew really well, Dave…..John Rehm and Charles Stokes, two theory teachers from Illinois State, but both really fine players who had studied with Beversdorf and Haney at IU. The principal trumpet had formerly been in the Dallas Symphony, and the horn section was really strong. As a 20-year old kid, I was in way over my head, but I really looked forward to those concerts, and nobody had more fun than I did. More than anything else, I think that experience was probably the most influential in inspiring me towards a career in music.
5. Your teaching, articles and extra-symphonic music bespeak an innate curiosity. What keeps you so mentally active, and what are the challenges and rewards. What are the 2 or 3most interesting things you have unearthed?
I just got back from Chicago, Dave, where I heard three different concerts in three nights….the CSO brass concert, a Thursday night subscription, and Music of the Baroque’s Christmas choral and brass concert. And look at those guys….Jay’s conducting, teaching and arranging; Mick Mulcahy conducted the brass concert and then played beautifully on the Music of the Baroque concert (in addition to squeezing in students from out of town), and Charlie’s always got something going on, and ended the brass concert by playing an absolutely gorgeous ballad on the little horn. It occurred to me a long time ago that simply sitting in the back row playing third trombone was not going to be enough to sustain me musically or intellectually for the long haul. If you were playing in Chicago, or Boston, or New York? Well, maybe, but even then, those guys all seem to thrive on a varied musical diet. And if you play in Fort Worth, say, or Loose Gravel, Idaho….I think it’s imperative for your own musical well being to pursue something beyond the demands of the job.
And another thought along these lines: whether at the end of the day, or the end of the season, or the end of your career, the horn’s going to go in the case and we’d all better have something beyond the trombone to hold our attention.
6. How have your views on Kleinhammer’s pedagogy changed from 30 years ago? (Can you imagine a brass section where he , Jacobs and Farkas were writing their books and conversing?)
I’ve had a long time to reflect on Ed’s teaching, as well as Jake’s, and if my views have changed, my respect for what they were able to pass on has only become more profound. My friend John Hubbard was around the CSO a lot during those years when Jake was doing his studies at the University of Illinois Medical Center, and he may well have been the inspiration for “The Art of Trombone Playing.” He always claimed he told Ed “you’re so damn smart, why don’t you write a book?” After John died in 2005, his wife showed me his copy of the book, with the inscription “to my friend John, who inspired this book,” in Ed’s distinctive handwriting. Ed gradually came to feel that the original book needed to be completely revamped, and that was what eventually led to “Mastering the Trombone”, which he co-authored with Doug Yeo.
Ed told me that a number of his CSO brass colleagues urged Jacobs to write a book, and he apparently always made noises about doing it someday, but of course never did. The general consensus, as I understand it, is that he didn’t want his ideas misinterpreted or misrepresented. I was surprised to learn that at one time there was apparently a sort of backlash against Mr. Jacobs’ teaching. Hard to imagine for someone like you or me, who had the opportunity to watch him work with so many different students during his master classes, or to have been the fortunate recipients of his extraordinary teaching ourselves, as we were.
Both were very involved with what I consider one of the most predominant themes in brass pedagogy over the past three-quarters of the century, but in their own unique way. You’ve no doubt heard the state of trombone playing Emory Remington encountered early in his career, and how his teaching style evolved to urge students to adapt a more singing approach to the horn, blowing into it with as little resistance as possible. This idea of a more relaxed, easy way of blowing the horn was also a major theme in the teaching of both Mr. Kleinhammer and Mr. Jacobs. For Jake, that was reflected in the admonition to “play with minimal motors” and “to seek the weakness in your playing.” Ed, who was quite taken with the Eugen Herrigel book, “Zen in the Art of Archery”, co-opted Herrigel’s expression of “effortless effort”. He carried that book around in his jacket pocket from one time to another, and I remember the countless times he bolted across the room to grab it from his coat and read a paragraph. He also talked about “blowing the horn in a spiritual way.”
I was incredibly, incredibly fortunate to be able to study with those guys, and I’ve often marveled at whatever set of happy circumstances brought them all together at that time in that one place. I don’t think I ever had a lesson with either of them without them invoking the name of Adolph Herseth, and over the years I’ve come to think of them thusly: Herseth as the ultimate artist, Jacobs as the ultimate scholar, and Ed as the ultimate student. Tim Smith told me that a couple of his friends saw Ed at the old Schilke shop on South Wabash once, and screwed up their courage to go over and introduce themselves. “Mr. Kleinhammer? Hi, I wanted to say hello…I’m a trombone student”, Tim’s friend said. “You are?”, Ed exclaimed…. “I AM, TOO!”
I have photos of Ed and Jake in my studio at school as well as on the wall of my basement practice area at home, and I can honestly say that not a single day has passed without thinking about my time with them. Truly extraordinary individuals, and the giants of our art on whose shoulders we stand. I told Charlie last week that I can’t walk down Michigan Avenue or be in the basement of Orchestra Hall without sensing their presence.
7. What has been your involvement with vintage horns. Any favorites?
Right now, my daily driver is a 1958 Mt. Vernon with two newly installed Greenhoe valves. I bought it from my good friend and colleague Steve Dunkel at Kennedy Center, and when I retire, it goes back to him. And I just bought a beautiful 1948 Conn 70H this past summer which, while I haven’t had much opportunity to use it yet this season, should be great for Schubert, Schumann, etc.
I’ve also got the instrument Mr. Kleinhammer played for the last dozen years or so of his CSO career, an Earl Williams bell with a dual bore slide by John Haynor, Meinl valves and attachment tubing handcrafted at the old Schilke shop. There’s quite a story about how Schilke came into possession of that Williams bell, but I think I’ll leave that to Jared Rodin, who spins a pretty good tale about it.
8. Red herrings are a literary device used by mystery writers to throw readers off the track. Do you see any red herrings or unfruitful pursuits in the advancement of the bass trombone at the moment?
Red herrings? I don’t know about that, but there is one unfruitful pursuit, as you put it, that I frequently encounter in students. And that’s students who are so enamored of some of our more prominent trombone personalities, like Joe and Charlie, that they’re obsessed with trying to emulate them. Those two are marvelous trombonists and musicians, but as wonderful as they are, I think it’s important for us as musicians and instrumentalists to find our own voice. It’s hard enough to be yourself without trying to be someone you’re not.
Interested in more “Seven Positions” tm interviews? Click here for links to nearly two dozen interviews with the most amazing bass trombonists of our time!
c. 2016 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved.
While the “Fourth Valve” tm was launched on the last day of 2013, it was not until 2015 that it featured its first interview from a euphonium player. Then the flood gates opened, and 2015 was, without a doubt, the year of the euphonium at davidbrubeck.com!
Usually thought of in the niche of bands and brass bands, these euphoniums virtuosi reflect an astonishing level of musical accomplishment in a variety of settings. From the out-of the box innovators of the celtic infused Matthew Murchison to the tango inspired Koichiro Suzuki, from the quadruple threat virtuosity of Demondrae Thurman to the thoughtful brilliance of Jamie Lipton and Mitsuru Saito, from the bop of Marc Dickman to the quintet experise and “what do you call that?” of Lance LaDuke to the smooth southern gentlemen Adam Frey and Martin Cochran. Did I mention the sensational Lauren Curran? She’s the soloist, chamber musician, and Army Field Band spokeperson who stood up to Jim Rome and refuted his negative comments regarding band musicians.
We have forged a super interview out of selected responses from this unbelievable team. Not to be missed!
While Demondrae Thurman is one of the leading euphonium soloists of our day, he is also an accomplished chamber musician, conductor, trombonist, composer and educator. The high level of his work is evident, as are his passion for music and people. “The Fourth Valve” tm is delighted to host Demondrae Thurman as our first euphonium playing respondent. Enjoy!
How did you develop the emphasis you have on musical expression? Sometimes, it is something that people do not think about very much.
That’s true. I am a pretty big student of music in the sense that I like to know how it’s constructed. My beginning point in studying a piece of music is trying to analyze the form. I think the form, (just look at the root of the word), it really informs how you can interpret the music. You start with the large scale things, big sections, breaks and things like that and then I try to identify what each major section of the piece of music is trying to say. My expressive gestures and my expressive elements such as vibrato, tempos and articulations all start to make sense once I have decided what the major section wants to be. Once I have that figured out, I break it down to a smaller components: how does this phrase lead into this phrase and how do I make the transitional material fit with the mainstay melodic or motivic material? Those things inform my choices as well, but I think that you start with a pretty detailed analysis of the formal structure, not so much a detailed harmonic structure but try to get a sense about what sort of harmony and what sort of rhythmic elements I need to address and let that guide my interpretation.
It sounds like an architectural approach first.
It very much is. Take a look at what you have, the space available to you, and build within those parameters as opposed to trying to make something different than what is there.
Please name two different ways you find inspiration to play music.
For my musical inspirations I really draw on the music and lives of Gustav Mahler and Dimitri Shostakovich. Those are the two composers that I identify with as people and as artists. A lot of times you can dig somebody’s music, but you may feel that you can’t identify with the type of person they may have been, or even are, (for modern composers).
Say with Mahler, I can go back and listen to the third Symphony and re-focus. Similarly, I can go and listen to Shostakovich 10th and sort of re-focus musically which is nice. When I feel like I need a refresher to cleanse my ears, I listen to Bach. I really feel like his harmonic sense is the thing that got me started enjoying music at a really high level-where it became more than something that I was just studying and became a passion. I go back to Bach for that.
For non-musical inspiration, I have always been a fairly spiritual guy. I won’t say religious, but spiritual. I sort of dig deep inwardly to come up with many things, and and that makes me look towards my family for inspiration.
I think about my grandmother, who has passed away, and for a long time I carried a picture of her in my performance folder. I think about my children. Those are the two sources of non-musical inspiration that kept me going.
What do you do for a warm up? How has it changed since college?
I think any college professor will tell you that they no longer have time for the 45-minute warm-up they did as a student. I used to play tons of Remington exercises before I’d even think about practicing. Now, sometimes I only have a few 10-minute breaks between lessons to do all of my practicing for the day. When I’ve been away from my instrument, I like to play tunes by ear. Themes from orchestral rep, musical theatre, folk songs, whatever – and I encourage my students to do the same. Tunes get you re-acclimated to your horn, they get you listening to sound and intonation, and most importantly they get you thinking about making music. Lately I’ve been playing “Make Our Garden Grow” from Bernstein’s Candide in three or four different keys. After that, I’m ready to go.
Rex Martin, my professor at Northwestern, impressed upon me the idea that any musician should be able to play a gig with no warm up, because you never know when you might have to do that. Mark Carlson and I started a routine one summer where we would show up to the practice rooms on Monday morning and play a solo for each other with no warm-up. It was a productive exercise, and I’d recommend it to anyone who feels dependent on their current warm-up routine.
What was your first introduction to chamber music, and what chamber music paths did you follow before the BB? Which ensembles? Who were your mentors? (HS, College, Pro).
My first experience was a tuba/euph quartet in high school. I didn’t do all that much in college, mostly tuba quartets. Once I got into the Air Force Band, things really picked up and I ended up playing a lot of chamber music. We had a tuba/euph quartet (with Don Nauman, Gil Corella and Dave Porter) that rehearsed and performed regularly. We even took a couple short tours. The most fun I had, though was in a brass quartet that was the brainchild of trumpeter Bill Adcock. In the AF, we were known as Top Brass and our civilian alter ego was Nothing But Valves (Bill, lucky for me, didn’t like trombone players). Andy Wilson was the other trumpet and Sam Compton played horn. We were very busy as a group. We rehearsed and gigged a lot, I did a lot of arranging and transcribing for the group, we had pieces written for us and recorded a CD.
The quartet was an amazing learning opportunity for me in pretty much every respect. Up to that point, I had primarily played in tuba quartets and often had the melody. In NBV, I was the bass voice (we ended up changing instrumentation to two trumpets, euphonium and tuba but I preferred the original instrumentation) and had to be counted on to provide both time and intonation stability. My success at those skills remains open for debate.
The other things I learned in NBV were the nuts and bolts of running a small business that happens to be in the music making industry. Division of labor, scheduling, budget, promotion, programming, talking to audiences, negotiating contracts, interpersonal relationships, goal setting. The list is nearly endless. The foundation I learned there helped me later with Boston Brass and currently in my position at Carnegie Mellon University, where I teach classes Music Business and Marketing and Communications, am the freshman advisor and also mentor individual students and groups launch their careers.
Jazz is America’s art form and greatest cultural contribution to the world, and yet the average American has become more remote and resistant to it’s allure. What is going wrong?
I’m probably the wrong person to ask about this as I really don’t know much. However, being a human, I’ll be happy to give my strong, uneducated opinion anyway! My grandfather was a jazz pianist and I was able to hear him play several times before he passed away. I feel very lucky to have had that opportunity for lots of reasons. I bring this up not to be maudlin but to preface the rest of my answer with the disclaimer that I’m very drawn to those standard “Great American Songbook” tunes. I think they’re wonderful and I enjoy just playing the melodies for enjoyment.
Here’s why I rarely, if ever, listen to jazz. I was always taught to listen more than you talk (the length of this interview aside). I feel like to listen to some jazz (more specifically improvisation) is to hear someone talk incessantly without having anything to say. If that were a conversation you’d fake a phone call or sudden onset stomach flu and leave the room. If I’ve got one minute of tune, followed by six minutes of solo, followed by one minute of tune, that ratio is all wrong to me. It’s the same idea as the all-Beethoven string quartet show. Who are you doing this for?
Of course some people have voices you could listen to forever, whether it’s writing, talking, or improvising. Looking back, one of the things I loved about my grandfather’s performances was his treatment of the tunes. He would often play the tune straight ahead, then morph it into a waltz or samba or whatever. There would be a couple solo choruses but it never dominated the tune. Perhaps if I were more educated about jazz I’d be more drawn to the six-minute solo section, but I’m not sure if requiring a high level of listener education for comprehension and/or appreciation is a good way to increase audiences. I think that the most effective pieces of music or art don’t require the consumer to have undergone a training course to appreciate them.
If you are holding a euphonium and a woman grabs you in a passionate embrace, it just might be the tango. If your name is Koichiro Suzuzki, then it most definitely is! Nurtured by the River City Brass Band, Suzuki has created a niche for euphonium that bears repeating. The “Fourth Valve” tm is delighted to host euphonium tango master Suzuki, & we bet we know what you young euphonium players will be doing this summer!
Eternal Tango, by Cuidado
1. 01 Eternal Tango
When did you fall in love with the Tango?
I’ve been in love with Argentine tango since 2004. The first time I experienced tango was in a class provided by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee-(where I went for my undergraduate study in music). From that day, I knew that it was something I’d love to do for the rest of my life.
As far as we can tell, you are one of only about five full time tenured professors who are euphonium players nationwide. Why is there such a disparity in numbers as compared with tuba?
I have also doubled on trombone most of my life. I would not have this job if I did not play and teach trombone. You may be surprised to find that some of those other guys double some as well. The common college set up is to have a faculty brass quintet with the traditional instrumentation. That leaves us out of luck. Just this year UNF formed an excellent quintet with bass-trombone on the low part and I play the trombone part on euphonium. It sounds great! Your colleagues need to be open minded about instrumentation. Great players will find a way to blend and sound great on any instrumental combination.
How did you develop your communication skills, and what was it like to be at the middle of the Rome marching band comment controversy?
I’m a lot like my Dad, who never met a stranger, and I love talking to people. I was always in trouble in school over it. I’ve had several East coast people call me the fastest talking Texan they’ve ever heard. Seriously, ask my husband about the talking. So, I guess I’ve just had lots of practice communicating.
When the Jim Rome controversy happened and the Army Field Band Twitter response went viral, Fox News requested an interview. Our Public Affairs Officer prepped me for the interview and helped me go over how to best respond to possible questions. I had to keep in mind that I was not only representing myself and the Army Field Band, but also the entire U.S. Army. (You don’t want to piss off those guys!)
I was on a plane 20 minutes after we got called to do the interview. I spent the flight writing out notes, guessing possible questions, typing out responses, reading over things, editing, and memorizing the message I wanted to convey. When we landed, I had to immediately call in to Fox and Friends and speak to a producer for a pre-interview. That gave me a good sense of what might be asked, and the tone of the piece.
The next morning, I was at the Fox News DC building, going live before I knew what was happening. I was alone in a small studio room, looking at a blank screen. I couldn’t see who was interviewing me or what I looked like, and my only connection to the outside world was through an earpiece. It’s hard to act naturally when you can’t see the person asking you questions. Thankfully the preparation and focus on my flight gave me the confidence I needed to not put my foot in my mouth.
The aftermath of the whole brouhaha has been very positive. So many people from across the country got in touch to say “thank you” for standing up for marching bands, for speaking out on a national platform on behalf of these hard working kids.
Just the other night, I had a band director came up to me after an Army Field Band concert to talk about it. I think the whole incident shows how much positive power the music community has when we come together on an issue.
How has becoming a parent informed your humanity and musicality?
Becoming a parent is pretty much all-consuming in the beginning. Giving birth is this incredibly physical event, and for me it was both magical and traumatic. I did not play my instrument for almost six weeks as I struggled to master breastfeeding, allowed my body to heal, and dedicated my energy toward sustaining this new life that was 100% dependent on me for survival.
After six weeks, the fog began to lift and I was able to think about the euphonium again. That was convenient, because I had to return to work at six weeks as well. Finding a balance between my music career and my family has been a process of growth. I’ve had to make choices, identify priorities, and become more efficient.
Before I was a mother, I would probably say I was most proud of the fact that I serve my country through music, that I am able to make people’s lives better with my instrument. Now, that purpose exists alongside this beautiful calling of motherhood.
The biggest way that has informed my musicality is that being a mother has given me a new level of confidence, particularly of what my body is capable. My body made and sustained a human life. My son literally grew from a single cell to a 20 lb, 6-month-old hunk of human from nothing but the nourishment of my body. My body is powerful! That confidence of self can’t help but translate to performance.
Mitsuru Saito “The FourthValve” tm davidbrubeck.com
You are from Fukushima. Can you tell us about your town before and after the disaster? How has the event affected your humanity and your artistry?
My hometown is Minamisoma city, which is located about 20 miles from the nuclear plant. Half of people in the city did not have to move to another place, but the rest had to live in a different city. In addition, some people chose to move to a different place although they could live in the city because of the radiation, and many young people have left the town. Therefore, the city is currently not very active. My parents live in the city, so do many of my relatives.
After the disaster, many of my gigs were canceled because many concerts had to be canceled. After a month or two, I had usual performance schedule. Since I had nothing to do after the disaster for 2-3 weeks, all I did was practicing. I was worrying about my future at that time. I was thinking that I should be only playing the euphonium. But I realized that all I can do is performing and teaching music (unfortunately, I am not good at doing other things). It was kind of a nice opportunity to think about myself again.
What qualities do you look for in a collaborative pianist, and the enjoy about the collaborative process?
I am very lucky to have great collaborative pianists around Tokyo. I have several performances with Yumi Sato (perhaps the most famous collaborative pianists for euphoniumists in Japan), and I really enjoy with working with her. I rehearse with an accompanists a lot so that I get comfortable about performing.
I tend to choose non-euphonium pieces for my concerts, and many of the works requires rubato. Fortunately, pianists that I collaborate with are good enough to follow me, in addition, they have great ideas about music. I always work with them and discuss about music.
What is your concept of sound on the euphonium, and the place of vibrato within it?
This is certainly interesting question! What is dark to one person, may be bright to another. I like to think about the ideals of projection, clarity, warmth, and color when I think about my playing. I hope to explore and convey a wide variety of possibilities within those areas.
I look at vibrato as an additional option on top of the previous things. I like to use vibrato as a musical tool that can offer a subtle warmth, an intensifying gesture or an impassioned appeal. The absence of vibrato can add a cool and calm feeling to a phrase. My preference is that the vibrato not be an always on, nor an overpowering aspect of sound. It should add something when used.
What differences have you noted in teaching and playing styles between the US, Switzerland and Korea?
I think everyone is going for the same thing in regards to teaching, namely: a good physical setup, a quality tone, an efficient use of air, a reduced use of muscle tension, and that creative spark.
There are differing levels of creativity as well as the color palettes in use. Some artists like subtle colors, others, very strong intense colors! Some are even intentionally monochromatic. Yet, they are all artistic. I generally strive to play with very vibrant colors, but sometimes there is more beauty in a subtle approach that might suit a particular piece better than vibrancy or bombast.
I think also that culture and personal character come into play as well. Someone that is more introverted likely enjoys playing a little more subdued but still is feeling the music. The types of ensembles in the country makes a big difference as well. Countries with high-intensity brass bands(like Switzerland and the UK), tend to have much higher technical demands and soloist requirements placed on them in the many competitions. By contrast, wind band focused countries(US and Japan,) tend to have a a basic approach which emphasizes a greater focus on tone and blend-the art of the ensemble player. The brass band players have ensemble skills for sure, but they are different. I always remember my first brass band rehearsal and was shocked by the challenging music.
Do you find it ironic that the perhaps the most successful brass soloists in the world play tuba or euphonium?
I’m not surprised because of the beautiful sound that these instruments produce. However, we are still fighting an uphill battle for serious musical respectability in the eyes of the average concertgoer/consumer. For many, I think the sight and sound of a large brass instrument in a solo setting is still at bit of a novelty. This is especially true of the tuba, which will probably always have to fight the “Oom Pah Pah” stereotype. I think that to some degree this is even true for experienced listeners. Even for me, it’s still a bit surprising on some level to hear someone make the tuba sound like a voice or a violin. Musicians like Oystein Baadsvik, Pat Sheridan, and Carol Jantsch are really helping to defeat this stereotype.
The euphonium has the same image problem in that we’re still a bit of a novelty. However, since we’re mostly unknown to the average listener, I think we have a an advantage in that they don’t have any expectations of how we should sound. To some extent, I feel like an ambassador for the euphonium every time I perform. I’m constantly reminded of a wonderful quote from Brian Bowman: “Always play at least one piece that will make the listener want to come to another euphonium recital.”
Where do you envision the euphonium in chamber music, and is it important?
It’s extremely important. Chamber music has been a huge part of my musical growth and continues to be a major part of my performing career. Since large ensemble gigs are few and far between for euphonium players we tend to put a lot of emphasis on solos. Playing as a soloist is a lot of fun, but nothing will train your ears quicker than chamber music. I had the opportunity about 8 years ago to go on tour with the Sotto Voce Quartet on 2nd euphonium. I already knew that they were incredible individual musicians. However, I was blown away by the quickness with which they could blend and adjust to one another. It was a great wake up call for my ears. One of the unique opportunities that I’ve had while teaching at UAB is to be a member of a very active faculty brass quintet playing the horn part. It’s forced me to learn how to transpose and worked wonders for my facility and confidence in the high range. I also feel that I owe a great deal of my sight reading ability to my chamber experiences. Chamber music forces you to deal with conflicts (both musical and non-musical) in a constructive way. This is great training for future teachers and performers. You’re not going to survive very long in any gig if you can’t play well with others.
The euphonium is still finding its way in the chamber music world. There are some musicians doing great
things with the euphonium outside of the standard tuba quartet. Thomas Ruedi and Brian Meixner are both doing great things with euphonium and percussion. Matt Murchison released a recording that features the euphonium in an Irish band setting. The euphonium quartet is also starting to take off as a chamber ensemble. I also think that we need to get past the idea that euphonium is just a good substitute for the horn, trombone, or tuba. The euphonium is a great 3rd voice in the standard brass quintet and quartet. The key is to get composers on board with the idea. My quintet has had a few pieces written for us. In each case, we specifically told the composer that we wanted the piece to be conceived with euphonium in mind as the 3rd voice instead of the horn. This has led to some interesting conversations. A lot of composers are mostly unaware of the technical capabilities of the euphonium. Many see us as an extension of the tuba voice and are pleasantly surprised when they hear what we can do.
The Kendall Campus Mixed-Low Brass Quintet was one of the three student groups invited to perform at the 2015 International Euphonium & Tuba Conference 2015. The finale of their presentation was an arrangement/transcription of Horace Silver’s Senor Blues which was arranged for them by the group’s coach, Dr. David William Brubeck. Members included Gabriel Benitiez on tenor trombone, Armando Alicandu and Michael Contreras on euphonium, with Anthony Lupo on Tuba. The group was originally formed as a quartet for two tenors, one bass, and tuba, but the standard instrumentation includes four or five players, with at least one each of tenor tbn., bass tbn., euphonium and tuba. We have found mixed low brass a wonderful variety of colors and possibilities. As you can see, they were once coached by the incredible Ahn Trio.
The 2015 International Euphonium and Tuba Conference Guest Artists and Teachers included:
David Childs – Royal Welsh College of Music
Lauren Veronie Curran – The US Army Field Band
Adam Frey – Georgia State, Reinhardt & Emory Universities
Brian Meixner – Highpoint University
Dave Brubeck – Miami Dade College, Miami City Ballet Orchestra
Ron Davis – South Carolina Philharmonic, USC
James Gourlay – Artistic Director, River City Brass Band
Jay Hunsberger – Sarasota Orchestra, Univ of South Florida
Igor Krivokapic – Composer and Helicon Specialist
Patrick Sheridan – International Tuba Soloist, The Brass Gym
Martin Cochran –
The Kendall Brass Quintet was also one of the three student groups invited to perform at IET 2015, and gave a performance that was a veritable demonstration of the use of euphonium in standard chamber music for brass.
The group featured the euphonium as the bottom of a brass quintet in an arrangement of Habanera from Carmen and in Rondeau by Mouret, as the bottom of a quartet in their rendition of the Allegro from Ramsoe’s Brass Quartet No. 4, and as a middle voice of a quintet with the premiere of a Latin jazz/salsa version of Johan Sebastian Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor (transposed), by the Kendall Campus’ virtuoso bass teacher, Salsa Ensemble leader and arranger, Rafael Valencia. The group has performed in masterclass for Boston Brass, Dallas Brass, and Chuck Lazarus.
In fact, we became so accustomed to searching out new chamber music possibilities for euphonium in chamber music, that we tried woodwind quintet. Then Windsync came to coach the group, and their bassoonist, Tracy Jacobson, said that she actually preferred the euphonium to the bassoon for one of the pieces they performed in masterclass. Next thing you know, this just sort of happened….
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