Mr. Smoooth, Martin Cochran, Evens Out “The Fourth Valve” tm

At the eleventh hour of the International Euphonium and Tuba Conference one of her stars, Dr. Brian Bowman, became ill and was unable to perform. With every good wish for the return of Dr. Bowman’s health, the call went out to Martin Cochran to anchor an evenings’ recital in his stead. This emerging euphonium star and artist for Adams performed with ease, grace, and aplomb and all from memory. Drawing inspiration from the great euphonium performances that inspired him, Cochran inspired those in attendance. Instructor at UA Birmingham and Columbus State University, Cochran is also the nimble euphonic explorer of chamber music. “The Fourth Valve” tm and Martin Cochran are happy to share the hospitality of the South, Enjoy!

1. 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.”

2. Which instruments/voices do you most often find yourself borrowing from?
I use any sound that makes my performance more compelling. I’ve heard a colleague of mine describe the different types of articulations, tone colors, vibratos, etc. as different knobs on a mixing board. The more knobs you have, the more you can color the music to your liking. I think about borrowing more from specific performers and composers rather than instruments. For instance, I love depth and power of Jessye Norman and Pavarotti, the agility and playfulness of the great violin, bassoon, and flute soloists, the raw emotion and soulful playing of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the pointed articulations of Stravinsky. There’s so much to choose from. (And there’s so much more listening that I need to do!)

images-13. 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.

4. For the uninitiated, could you identify and contrast the two or three major approaches to euphonium pedagogy?
I’m not sure if we really have established pedagogical approaches yet in the euphonium world like there are in the trumpet and trombone worlds. The name that pops up most often for tuba and euphonium players is Arnold Jacobs. His approach is often summarized as “Song and Wind.” However, I work closely with two former Jacobs students on a weekly basis and it sounds like there is a lot more to it than can be summed up with a few words. I really wish that I could have had the chance to study with him at least once. In my own observations, teachers seem to emphasize either technique or musicality. Finding the right balance between the two is something that I continue to learn. Also, my approach varies with each student. I have had students who are very mechanically minded and respond best to very specific technical instructions. I’ve had other students that respond more to analogies and emotional terms.


5. Where is the line between a daily routine and a warm up? What works for you?
It depends on the individual and how they are feeling that day. Ideally, the warm up should be rather short. However, you have to be attentive to how your chops respond. If I’ve taken some time off or if I’ve done a lot of heavy playing the night before then I take more time. Some days I need to do more breathing or stretching. I used to push myself through a standard routine every day regardless of how I was feeling. I think I was mostly just wearing myself out physically and mentally. Lately I’ve started playing simple, lyrical tunes very early on to get in a musical mindset. I will often do this at the beginning of each practice session to reset and focus my brain. In terms of the remainder of my routine I vary it quite a bit depending on the demands of the repertoire that I’m working on. I use a variety of exercises that cover scales, slow and fast slurs, articulation, range, and control. For example, if I’m getting ready to solo with a band I’ll spend more time on projection and clarity. I’ve also learned the importance of warming down after a day of playing.

6. What are your biggest inspirations? Musical and non-musical?
Musically, there are so many. First and foremost, I have to mention my primary teachers, Mike Dunn, Alan Baer, Larry Campbell, and Ross Walter. These men inspired and molded me in many ways, and I cannot thank them enough. In the euphonium world, my biggest heroes are Thomas Ruedi and Brian Bowman. If I could copy one musician’s playing and make it my own I would choose Thomas. He has the purest, most naturally beautiful approach to playing. I have tremendous respect for Dr. Bowman. He is a true master teacher. Though I have never formally studied with him, I have had the opportunity to play for him and observe his teaching on several occasions over the past 15 years. Each time, I have been amazed by the level and depth of his knowledge. He has an incredible sense of sincerity when he performs. I once heard him perform the opening of Boccalari’s Fantasia di Concerto in a masterclass. That 20-second performance stands out in my mind as the most beautiful thing I have ever heard performed on an instrument.

Oustide of the euphonium world I’m a huge fan of Baroque and Classical music. I love the energy of Bach and Mozart. Outside of that there are a few individual recordings that really stand out for me: Jessye Norman singing the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover of Little Wing, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Brahms’ Four Serious Songs. There are many more.

Non-musically, I find inspiration in many places. I love teaching. I never feel more fired up than after a great lesson or class. I’m a huge fan of the works of Eckhart Tolle and Wayne Dyer.

7. What two or three things occupy your mind most when performing?
I try to keep the technical thoughts to a minimum: “Breathe, play beautifully.” I’ve found that anything beyond that gets in the way. The performance is not the time to be figuring things out. One thing that I focus on in my preparation and with my students is always visualizing myself on stage during practice. Ideally, the only thing that changes when I play in front of an audience is the fact that they are there. We have to remember that we are entertainers and that we are meant to play for audiences. When I have problems during performance it’s usually due to a lack of concentration. The best performances for me have been when I’ve been completely focused on the music I am making at that exact moment. Building focus is something that I have had to actively work on. Recording my practice has been a very useful tool for this. I find that the microphone puts as almost much pressure on me as a live audience. Recently, I’ve started to perform more from memory. This has worked wonders for my concentration and I feel gives me more freedom to make music. I also feel that memorization brings me closer to the audience.

8. How would you compare and contrast the tone and strengths of the euphonium to the tenor trombone and bass trombone?
I love the sound of both the tenor and bass trombone (and I wish that I could play them better!). I have no problem admitting that the euphonium is easier to play. It seems that every aspect of the euphonium has been designed to make it sound pleasing and beautiful. I think it’s very difficult to make the trombone sing. I have great admiration for those that can do it. Stefan Schultz is probably my favorite example. The way that he makes the bass trombone sing in all registers is amazing. Ian Bousfield and Karsten Svanberg are two tenor trombone sounds that I really admire. The area that the trombone has a clear advantage is power and projection. It’s difficult for the euphonium to portray the same sense of clarity and command as the trombone.

9. What is your view on the use of vibrato in solo/ensemble euphonium playing as compared to classical saxophone?
I’m going to go ahead and admit that I haven’t listened to a lot of classical saxophonists. However, I did have a chance to attend a masterclass with Eugene Rousseau several years ago and was stunned at the beauty of his playing. There really isn’t a standard vibrato in the euphonium world. Even just among American players there are a lot of differences. I love the sound and shimmer of the fast British brass band vibrato, but it’s something that I can’t pull off well. In general, I would say that for ensemble playing I tend to use much less vibrato. In solo playing it all depends on the repertoire. One of my pet peeves is that I hear a lot of euphonium players treat vibrato as an “on/off” switch. I think that euphonium players sometimes hide behind vibrato. Occasionally I’ll ask a student play without vibrato to see if they can make music without it. Many times this is very difficult for them. Making a beautiful sound is not enough. We need various intensities and styles of vibrato, just as we need various styles of articulation.

c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved

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