From Kentucky to flying high with the United States Air Force Band, Brandon Jones always has a plan! Join the “Fourth Valve” tm as he shares his passion for music, keen insights regarding the euphonium and experiences with aplomb! Enjoy….
1. One embouchure, or pivoting?
I honestly try not to think too much about what my face is doing when I play. The whole “paralysis by analysis” can creep in if I’m not careful. Having said that, I try to think of everything being as much on “one embouchure” set as possible. I only pivot when I’m playing extreme loud dynamics on pedal notes. I try to use my ear 100% of the time and allow my air to do the work for me. If my aperture remains open and if tension stays away, I can generally play my full register with the same embouchure set.
2. Can you discuss the differing approaches you take to ensemble playing as opposed to soloing?
Ensemble playing versus solo playing are, in most cases, two different skill sets but with the non-negotiables being the same. There are four what I call “non-negotiables”. Those are tone, tune, time, and rhythm. Those simply cannot be compromised, ever, regardless of solo playing or ensemble playing. One can argue that when you’re the soloist, you can move the time around when emoting, but this must be purposeful and for enhancement of musical line only, never accidental. When I’m playing in an ensemble, whether it be with the United States Air Force Band or Brass of the Potomac, I’m always aware of what my role is at that time. American wind band euphonium versus British brass band euphonium are two different identities. When in the wind band, the euphonium is usually either doubling, supporting, or singing as the solo line.
If I’m doubling, I’m always listening down to the lower voice that I’m doubling (if it’s tuba, etc). If I’m supporting, I’m making sure I’m giving the trombones/trumpets/etc enough of a foundation. If I’m the dominant solo line (Colonial Song, Commando March, Planets, etc), I’m singing out and getting the sound to the back of the hall as quickly as possible. Unless it’s an expressive solo line in the wind band, I never use vibrato in the American wind band setting. When I’m playing solo/principal euphonium as I do in Brass of the Potomac, I find myself using a very vocal/operatic vibrato way more often, particularly in solo lines or lyrical lines with the euphoniums and baritones. Otherwise, the same rules apply for me as they do in the American wind band in terms of supporting, doubling, etc. When I’m on stage as a soloist, that is a different skill set to a degree as well. The euphonium is incredibly difficult to be heard over a band in general because of the conical nature and the fact that the bell is facing the ceiling and not the audience. I rely on taking massive amounts of air in so that I can play as big as possible without forcing my lips to overwork. Being a soloist with brass band and wind band, I find that I never really explore a true piano dynamic. I generally play a full dynamic bigger than indicated, even with great ensembles who understand to stay below the soloist. With string orchestra and piano, it’s a bit different, and I can generally play piano and softer without issue.
3. Who are some of your favorite musicians who can infuse expressive phrasing into music in such a way as to make it seem more meaningful or from a fresh perspective?
I’ve always loved listening to Luciano Pavarotti and Yo-Yo Ma. More specifically, the iconic recording of Pavarotti performing “Nessun Dorma”. The sheer power in his voice and his ability to remove himself from the confines of the ink are truly remarkable. Yo-Yo Ma’s recording of the Bach Cello Suites remains one of my all-time favorite discs. As for euphonium player influences, I would have to say Steven Mead’s recording with the J.W.F. Military Band with the Euphonium Concerto by James Curnow is what got me hooked on the euphonium. I always go back to that recording to renew my love for why I chose the euphonium.
4. Your articulation is very defined yet resonant. How do you strike the balance, and what is the concept you are going for?
Well, thank you. Ha! I actually used to be terrible with articulation. I find that most students and amateurs think of articulation being predominantly a motion of the tongue. I try to work on “ha” articulations and to coordinate the release of air to the initiation of sound. From there, I’ll slowly add in a very light “dah” syllable and increase the front/heaviness of the “dah” when applicable. I try to stay away from using anything “t” syllable as much as I can. Learning to truly control the air release/initiation of sound is of the utmost importance. I try to make sure there’s as much TONE in every part of the sound as possible, and less tongue noise.
5. Are there characteristic approaches or sounds of the five military bands? If so, how would you describe them?
First of all, every one of the DC premier military bands are truly phenomenal, and I am beyond blessed to have the opportunity to be inspired by all of my colleagues. I think that each band is filled with, for the most part, the same type of musician. I don’t subscribe to the idea that one is better/worse than the other, necessarily. There are many factors to what creates the approach to balance, style, etc. Most of it comes down to what the Commander/conductor is asking for in those regards. I think our band SOUNDS fantastic. I’m blown away with the level of maturity in our group on every musical level, but specifically in regard to tonal center, balance, and pitch. Having said that, all of the DC bands sound truly great.
6. Why did you pick euphonium, and why have you stuck with it; what attracts you and renews you?
My middle school band director, Ms. Karen Alward, asked me if I would try the baritone in 7th grade. I was one of the absolute worst trumpet players to ever grace God’s green earth. I immediately felt more at home with the switch, which naturally encouraged me to spend time practicing. I played then, and still do, because I truly love to play. That passion comes and goes in terms of intensity, and hearing great musicians can always renew that passion and drive it to become more intense than ever. I am very blessed to be surrounded by some of the absolute best musicians on planet earth day in and day out in the DC area, and that inspires me constantly. The euphonium has always been attractive to me because of the versatility and sound. In the right hands, it is capable of producing the most beautiful melodic lines and achieving fierce technical passages. It’s very unique.
7. Which other styles of music inspire you, recordings?
I was in a very competitive marching band in high school, so I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I’ve had some inspiration from some great marching bands. I thoroughly enjoy hearing a group that does it the right way, meaning they don’t sacrifice true tonal center, balance and pitch to achieve a decibel level to appease a few judges for a higher score. Hearing recordings of the great Lassiter High School Marching Band with my good friend Alfred Watkins is certainly inspirational to me!
8. Have you seen a future for brass instruments that compliments the trend toward increasing electronics?
I’m honestly not the best person to answer this question. I have very little experience in this regard. However, friends of mine such as Michael Parker have found an innovative way to incorporate electronics into their performance and I think it works well given the right circumstances and audience.
9. How do you conceive of tuning in an ensemble?
My thoughts on tuning are that once you learn your instrument and its tendencies, you shouldn’t use a physical tuner ever again. I teach the marching band wind section at Thomas Jefferson HS for Science and Technology in Virginia (have been music caption head for 5 years now) and we don’t use tuners past the first few rehearsals. There are two ways of tuning in my opinion: internal and external. External is where we look at a device or get approval from someone else telling us that we are “at A440”. Internal is where we are internalizing the pitch and adjusting to another sound source, ie drones/etc. I find this much more beneficial in a practical application setting being that we should never be performing with tuners on our stand or clipped to our bell. Pitch will always change, slightly, based on the temperature of the venue, etc. I also subscribe to using just pitch as well, meaning that the third should be lowered, the fifth raise, etc. I find this to really make a difference in any ensemble setting.
c. 2018 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved www.davidbrubeck.com
images courtesy of Adams Euphoniums online, USAF and YouTube
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