Carl’s Ramblings and Roamings

Has it been four years?
February 2011

In the course of redoing my website I came across my old Rambling and Roaming page, and note that I have not added to it since 2007!  I don’t know where I used to find the time for such things, but hope to do so again.  I’ll try to follow up here soon with a quick 4-year fly-over.

Name that trombone!
January 2007

Have you ever noticed that brass instrument models usually have numbers, but not names?  There are exceptions, of course.  The Conn Connstellation comes to mind.  And I guess most Bach trombones have the name Stradivarius, but you never hear it referred to as such.  I once owned a French Selmer trombone, model Bolero.  I gave it to a missionary who was building up a trombone choir in South America.  I am currently playing around on a trombone prototype with the name Challenger, a name that I personally don't like because I am a bit averse to excessive competition in music, and also because it implies that there must be a better horn out there.  I know of a tuba model with the name Fafner (who is the dragon Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung saga, and musically portrayed by the tuba).  Somehow, I like that one.

Anyway, I was asked what name I would give a trombone!  I don't really have a name for starts.

St. Udio again
January 2007

A year and a half since the last Ramble and Roam entries! Probably just as well....

Anyway, I am involved in an interesting recording project.  The Hal Leonard Corporation is planning a re-release of the venerable series, "Concert and Contest Collection" by H. Voxman.  These are books of solo pieces with piano accompaniment for the various wind instruments, and represent the capstone of the Rubank method, which ranges from 'Beginner' through 'Advanced II'.  With the re-release, they plan to include a CD of a professional player performing the works.  A further CD will contain the piano tracks alone, so the student can experience playing along with the accompaniment.

I am very pleased to have been asked to do this project, and have now recorded both the trombone and the baritone horn books.  This was done at Aire Born Recording Studios in Zionsville, Indiana. 

The Process

The recording process was fascinating, and unlike any other recording experience I have had to date.  For starts, the trombone and piano were in separate rooms!


There I am, in the back room - just like a practice cubicle!
(Pianist, Anna Briscoe)

This was done to achieve full acoustical separation so that the piano track could be used as described above.  It also made it possible to go back and fix slips in either the solo or the piano part alone.  While working with a click track is standard procedure in studio ensemble work, I had never thought of using it for recording recital repertoire.  But for reasons related to possible later uses of the material, a click track was mandated.  It was taken out at appropriate rubato moments.  Pianist and trombonist could, of course, hear each other in the headphones.

Speaking of fixing slips and wobbles and such, this was done as follows.  A movement would be played.  We would listen back on the spot.  If I had a couple of bad notes in measure 43, I would receive the instruction, "Parked at 39, punching at 43.", and then hear that passage in the phones, with piano.  For sake of context and flow, I would usually begin playing a bar before the punch.  At measure 43 the trombone track in the phones would drop out and I was recording live.  In measure 44 I would hear it reenter.  Presto - bad notes fixed and already inserted into the original take!  In other solo recording sessions I have done, my "ears in the booth" would keep track of phrases that had blemishes, and those phrases would be replayed (by both trombone and piano, then).  Editing would happen later, inserting retakes of faulty phrases, and hoping that they match in nuances of dynamic, inflection, balance, etcetera.  As recording goes, I feel that the system used at Aire Born for this project offers a better representation of a performance, because the integrity and cohesiveness of the run-through is maintained.  Of course you need the absolute state-of-the-art studio equipment and the experts to work it.

Speaking of the experts working, sometimes on a playback I would observe that the ensemble wasn't good in a certain spot.  The trombone was ahead of the piano, for example.  I would be expecting to replay those notes, but would instead hear, "okay, wait a minute."  Moments later, I would hear the play back, and it would be perfectly together!  Later, I observed at "the board" how this was done.  This, also, was an advantage to the acoustical separation of the two instruments. (Although, I must say that there were obvious disadvantages, mostly stemming from not having the immediate proximity to the other performer.)

The Baritone Book

Things got even more interesting for the recording of the Baritone Horn book. The repertoire in this book is identical to that of the trumpet book.  The trumpeter had already recorded, and so I simply recorded my parts to his piano tracks!


Playing together with the piano - it's all in your head!

Now, the artistic concession here is obviously that I had to match my interpretations to those of the trumpeter.  Although I would certainly have done some things differently, I actually felt okay being flexible this way.  This was in some ways a test of how playing along with the piano CD might work for the students using the book.  One interesting phenomenon was that, on listening to the playback, even though I had a click track and tried to stay on top of the beat I usually felt that the solo instrument was following the piano instead of vice-versa (well, duh?!).  I conjecture that this may also have to do with the fact that the pianist was accompanying a trumpet, which has a much more direct and immediate sound than the euphonium. This pianist (whom I never met, by the way!) also had a very precise, rather direct touch, whereas I usually try to play with a rounder, fuller delivery.  Well, this also was easily remedied. The tone engineer simply moved my track up a 10th of a second, and - voila - it sounded just right!  Amazing.

So - there you have a glimpse into what continues to be an interesting project.  I have also been the "ears in the booth" for the trumpeter, who had to come back and re-record the entire book because the sound quality in the mix did not meet the approval of the executive producer, and various attempts to tweak it electronically were unsatisfactory.  (It is good to know there is knowledgeable quality control in this project.)  So, the trumpeter came back and spent two days re-recording to his own piano tracks, just as I had done above!

That was fun!
January 2007

The giving and receiving of compliments is a practice that comes easily and naturally to some, but not all.  Generally, I find that people are better at giving than at receiving here.  Although I do recall as a student that I felt introverted about giving compliments to players 'in a higher league' than I was.  This included my own teachers.  Who was I to 'pass judgment' on their playing by saying that it was really good?  And, on the receiving end, one very common trait I frequently notice is that the recipient of a compliment will often counter with a self-deprecating comment, such as, "but those 16ths were so sloppy!" or similar.  I try to avoid that, and have made it a habit to say a simple "Thank you!", "I'm so glad you liked it", "Well, thank you for coming to listen!", perhaps adding an observation about the piece or whatever - regardless about how I may feel about what I just played.  I'll leave the further analysis of the etiquette of giving and receiving compliments for Miss Manners to sort out.

One compliment I enjoy recalling was a few days after I had performed the David Konzertino in our orchestra's chamber music series.  A very reserved and shy lady from the 2nd violin section, with whom I had probably never exchanged more than a mere greeting, approached me, seeming to have worked up her courage to do so, and proceeded to tell me just how well I had played, and that it was so wonderful that it, well -- it was so beautiful that it didn't even sound like a trombone!  I thanked her graciously.

In the past two weeks I performed Arthur Pryor's The Patriot a couple of times, most recently at the IMEA convention in Indianapolis, with our Bloomington North High School band (who performed marvelously).  It was a fun event, and I met some old friends and students as well as making a few new acquaintances.  In the course of these exchanges, as well as those after my other 'patriotic' performance, I realized that people were frequently telling me that it had been "really fun" listening to the performance. "Really fun" - I like that a lot, and am glad that I could apparently convey a sense of fun in the music.  I'm not sure that is what I would like to hear after performing the Brahms Four Serious Songs, which leads me to wonder about what compliments I would want to hear after which repertoire.  That will make an interesting and fun exercise in a master class some day.  The next solo piece I'm performing is Boutry's Concertino. Hmmm....what would I like to hear after that?

But for starts, I'm thrilled that The Patriot was "really fun".

St. Udio
August 2005

An important part of life for many performing musicians is studio recording. I have been involved in many and various recording projects over the years: opera and symphonic LP and CD productions, film scores, jingles, solo and ensemble CDs - I was once even employed as a speaker for a recorded radio advertisement!

There was a time in my career when a lot of my freelance work was performances of the great sacred literature in the various churches and cathedrals of Bavaria (Schubert, Mozart, Bruckner - what wonderful music!), with occasional studio sessions in between. My pocket calendar would show "St. Mark", "St. Matthew" - and so I began to notate the studio sessions as "St. Udio". While St. Cecelia is the patron saint of musicians, I would nominate Udio as the patron saint of recording musicians!

Ahem. Well, anyway - Indianapolis recording studios are active in recording demo CDs of newly published compositions and arrangements, and in recent years I have been called upon to play along, usually on euphonium sometimes on trombone. Sometimes these sessions include nothing but pep band fight songs, which can make for somewhat mind-numbing work, lending itself to pubescent silliness among the musicians at the end of a long day. Sometimes there are truly fascinating compositions being recorded. The recording business is such, however, that you rarely hear (or play) any part of the music more than twice - and often, only once!

Recently I was called for such a session (on trombone), and dutifully showed up on time and with the prescribed dosage of caffeine. As always, there was a thick stack of charts on the stand. The brass was in the "loft" - a balcony above the strings and woodwinds, who are on the main floor. Every section is in its own acoustical cubicle, and each player has headphones for the click track. It was the usual congenial and talented group of musicians, from the Indianapolis and Fort Wayne orchestras, as well as various freelancers and music professors from around the state. And so we began; business as usual - striving to stay focused and concentrated, deliver a good performance, keep track of sharps, flats, dynamics, phrasing - and to make music as beautifully as possible while sight-reading our way through the stack of charts.

Business logic dictated that we start with the largest group and work our way through the stack, "shedding" musicians as we went. The ranks were getting smaller, and it turns out the the very last composition at the end of this eight-hour recording day was a brass quintet! We read through it once (microphones on, of course), and then re-recorded the second half for some reason or other. It was inspiring to experience the five brass players come alive and rise to the occasion; blending, phrasing, inflecting as an ensemble - even though we had never performed as a quintet before and were spread out among three cubicles! I couldn't help but think that the brass world's common "Ewald Heritage" really helped us grasp the romantic nature of this piece and bring it to life in this setting. (Don't know that music? Get a quintet together and start playing!)

This all made such an impression on me, that I asked the contractor if it would be possible to have a copy of the recording, and he was able to oblige. While I can imagine what a rehearsal might do for the performance, the purpose of creating a usable representation of the composition for potential buyers and performers seems to have been fulfilled. It was a truly pleasurable experience with some wonderful colleagues, and I am pleased to share it with you here:

(Published by Majesty Music)

Concerto Competition, Spring 2005
March 2005

I want to collect these thoughts while they are still current.

Last night was the brass department's Concerto Competition, in which top the representatives of each brass studio vie for the honor of playing their concerto with one of the school's orchestras in concert in the MAC. Each candidate must trim the concerto down to 6 minutes and perform it with piano for the assembled faculty, who then vote. This year we were unable to allow interested students to attend the proceedings, due to insufficient space and accessibility in the assigned room. Too bad! We all hope that next year we are back in one of the recital venues for this, as the chance to hear the school's best brass students should not be missed!

Anyway, my insights here will not be terribly important, but may be thought-provoking in some context or other. Having done "jury duty" in various settings, from regional to international competitions, and having performed in the same spectrum of competitions, there are many procedures, occurrences,  perspectives, and more that repeatedly intrigue me. I'll touch on a few here.

Before proceeding, I must cite that there were many excellent performances last night! It is not my intent to critique or evaluate them and, again, it is a shame that this particular evening was 'closed to the public'. Anyway - here goes:

1) Seventeen students performed. Not all studios opted to send the maximum number of two from their ranks. I sent only one from my studio, for example.

2) No one performed by memory! In any international competition, it is required to perform at least one of the major concertos by memory. Considering in this case that the performance with orchestra is next month already, that is especially surprising. I'm sure everyone had their reasons, but it is not uncommon among brass performers to not memorize, and I wonder why. Our pieces are shorter and usually simpler than piano and string literature. For those who practice it, the benefits of memorizing a piece are great. Go figure.

3) In judging, I find it difficult to advance a candidate into the "further consideration" category if there were slips or mess-ups at major points such as the opening or closing, or major climaxes. In my judging, this eliminated six candidates already. Too bad! Especially as a couple of them were playing very nicely otherwise.

4) Quite a few did not eliminate themselves as above, but left me cold as far as expressiveness, musicality, phrasing, or general culture of solistic playing. It is not enough to not mess up.

5) In my view, only two of the players made a presentation of truly outstanding format and style, so that I could confidently think in terms of awarding a first place and putting them in front of an orchestra in the MAC as the "Brass Department's Finest" for the public to hear. I was not alone in my evaluations, as these two then indeed placed first and second.

6) In the category below them I had a few candidates who played well and whose musical intentions were clear. ("Don't mess up" is not a musical intention!). Some of these were very promising, and I would consider them successful in this setting, had reservations about awarding a first place to them, however, even if no one better had performed.

7) Repertoire selection: this should not be a deciding factor in and of itself. Yes, there are great differences in our brass concerto repertoire. Some pieces are true masterworks, while others are more vehicles for virtuosity - but even then only if the performer takes them and drives them masterfully!

So, there you have it! Two great ones, a fair number in the middle field, and about a third who - by my judging - eliminated themselves. That is probably a pretty normal demographic breakdown for any competition.

Take or leave my thoughts for what they may be worth. They are just my "morning after" recollections, but may provide some interesting fodder for lessons or further preparation, perhaps even a challenge or two. I am also posting this in the IUbones forum (in shorter format, only the 7 points above, without the prelude).

Teacher Tributes (This is long!)
December 2004

I don't know when national "Thank a Teacher" week is, but for me it is basically every week. I have been truly fortunate and blessed - almost magically so, to have had absolutely expert, gifted, dedicated and caring teachers at every step of my musical journey. I can name three major trombone teachers, each representing a key phase of musical growth and instrumental development, with a fourth who helped quickly accelerate me from one to the next.


Richard S. Miller: Mr. Miller was the band and orchestra director of the Junior High School (grades 6-8) where I grew up. He ran a very disciplined program. If you wanted to be in the band, you had to take weekly private lessons, and he organized a network of local young professionals who would instruct the students in their various instruments. He himself taught brass, and my weekly lessons with him began already in 5th grade, on the baritone horn. He was a bandsman's bandsman. His father had been high school band director in the same town (Springfield, Delaware County, PA), and he was a member of an army reserve band. He had a Music Education degree from Lebanon Valley College, and - I recall - earned his masters while teaching. He may since also have a Doctoral degree.

Anyway, he was a Task Master (yes, capitalized), and drilled me in the Rubank and Walter Beeler methods before taking on Arban with me. He simply demanded that things be played accurately. He played a lot in lessons, and I thought he was a trumpet player. He could also demonstrate on the trombone and tuba. Only after I finished studies with him did I learn that his main instrument was the French Horn!

Beyond the requirement of weekly private lessons for band members, all players of small and medium sized instruments had to purchase a high quality instrument. (Tubas and baritone horns were supplied by the school). The trombonists had to purchase a King 3B with F-attachment. When my time came, he stated that I would need something "even better": a Conn 88H. I remember falling asleep at night studying the Conn catalogue, eagerly awaiting my horn to arrive. I still have the instrument, and play it to this day.

About that time (8th grade), Mr. Miller declared that I was ready for another teacher, and referred me to a band director from a neighboring township, Mr. John Stouffer. Mr. Stouffer had studied at Michigan University with Dr. Rivelli, and was a trombone player himself. I enjoyed my work with Mr. Stouffer immensely, working on Rochut, Blazhevich, Kopprasch, and Colin's Lip Flexibilities, but before even a year had passed, he referred me to Glenn Dodson.

To this day, I think of Glenn Dodson almost every day that I play the trombone. Now retired, he was Principal-Trombonist of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1968-1995. To me, as a 9th grader, he was a very impressive figure - and is still. Possessing a deep-voiced and bright-eyed charm, I quickly came to know his highly-principled approach to things musical. As a trombone teacher his greatest impact on me was the great amount of playing he did. It seemed that he played in my lessons at least as much as I did - whether playing unison with me, in duets, or demonstrating. I soaked these awesome moments into my memory banks, and still draw upon them. I frequently attended Philadelphia Orchestra concerts, hanging on every trombone note produced - whether in the venerable Academy of music, or at the Robin Hood Dell outdoor concert shell.

Mr. Dodson didn't talk about the technical aspects of playing the trombone much at all in my lessons. Occasionally he would refer to the air intensity as it relates to a phrase. Really, I don't remember any specific technical references from him except a cryptic explanation of circular breathing, with an exercise to be done while drinking water. I almost drowned in my Mom's wash tub working on that, and to this day do not practice that specialized technique!

But he did talk about music a lot - lines, phrases, expressiveness, sound, articulation, and more. We worked on a lot of etudes - and he almost always played along with me. Kopprasch served to try and emulate his immaculate cleanliness and overall consistency in playing, Blazhevich to cultivate symphonic culture, Bozza and Boutry for solo style, and Maxted for.... well if you know the Maxted etudes, then you know. And we covered a lot of solo literature. He flat out declined to work on orchestral excerpts with me, stating that if I could play the trombone, I would be able to play those passages when the time came (I was still a high school underclassman. He did work on orchestral excerpts with his conservatory students.)

Then, after about two years of study with him (how I looked forward to my lesson time with him!), he informed me that I had basically grasped his approach to playing the trombone, and that I should do two things: seek out another teacher (he highly recommend his Philadelphia Orchestra colleague and dear friend Dee Stewart) and take up a further instrument (he suggested cello). I followed the first suggestion to the letter, while events led me to pursue piano and later organ as a secondary instrument.

M. Dee Stewart: in pages elsewhere, I have written of his teaching influence on me:

 "Very caring approach, could talk and coach me into tonal and production/execution experiences that awakened and inspired. Cultivated and passed on a wonderful sense of niceness in the music profession. Tone, tone, tone, air, air, air. Unpretentiously awesome."

These words are all good, but don't go far at all in describing Dee's aura as both a mentor and artist. I have had the privilege of knowing him as a teacher, colleague, and friend, and continue to benefit from his caring, insightful, personal approach to the world around him. He also has a unique knack for relaxed, centered focus and concentration very worthy of his first name, "M." A rather unusual but somehow typical example was his hitting a perfect bulls eye with my Malaysian Blow Gun on his first try!!

I studied with Mr. Stewart for my final year or so of high school, continued with him for my semesters at the Curtis Institute of Music, and continue working with his concepts of tone, production, and performance.

His many former students in preeminent positions are a testament to his teaching prowess, and already constitute an outstanding legacy. Together with his wife Rozella, he has been a most positive influence on quite a few student generations, and is proud of all of their successes in life, in music and beyond. May he continue for many student generations more.

Those are the teachers. In another ramble, I will go into some of the outstanding musical models and mentors I have been privileged to experience.

Public (School) Music

What is music if it is not public? Music exists to be shared, it is an expression of the soul, and can be fun, edifying, disturbing, soothing, motivating, and so much more. But it is always expressive. And expression is, by nature, public. And what better place for it, than in public education?

The ongoing crusade for the obvious, that of the arts as an integral part of education and culture, is worthy of all the support and nurture we can give it. Many have written on this much more extensively and knowledgeably than I can. Here, I would like merely to cite a personal perspective or two.

My musical journey started in the public school music system of my home town, which boasted a very active and demanding music program at all levels, beginning in 3rd grade. What I took for granted at that time, because it was simply there for me, astonishes me today, as I think back to the dedicated and visionary teachers, parents, school board (and taxpayers!), and others who conceived, operated, and filled the program with life and music, supported, drove, financed, encouraged, baked, sewed, sold, and so much more. And they listened! They went to concerts, shows, parades, and competitions, always letting us feel that we were making great music. The number of my fellow students who have gone into professional music is astonishingly high, and they are in all areas of the music world; performing in bands, orchestras, Broadway shows, jazz combos, teaching music in public schools or universities, working with music publishers, recording studios, in arts management positions, and more. Many who played through school and college have gone into other professions, but continue to play in amateur organizations, or at least support music by attending live concerts whenever possible, contributing to an informed, educated audience.

Most of our IU music students come from excellent public school music programs, and many of our music education majors go out to inherit, maintain, or build up such programs. The performance world also depends upon an educated community, or public, to be receptive and appreciative, and to understand the musical language being used. And for those who understand that language, the works that fill our concert halls and airwaves contain some of the greatest literature of the civilized world, articulating our entire palette of sentiments, portraying the spirits of the ages (Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic, etc.), offering yearnings and soothings of the soul, glimpses of eternity, divertissement, humor, edification, and expressing the otherwise inexpressible - as only music can.

How lamentable, then, if the language used to communicate this legacy were to become so cryptic to us that public access to our own cultural heritage would be denied.

They all laughed until... (this one is a bit long)

Another of my sabbatical projects (see "Old Shoebox") is to resume piano lessons after a brief, 30-year hiatus. I have dabbled with the keyboards for many years, and began piano lessons at age 16, when we inherited my grandparents' piano upon their move to a smaller house. How I wish I had begun sooner! (Or stuck with it better.) I switched to organ lessons for my senior year of high school. At the Curtis Institute of Music, where I had a wonderful secondary piano teacher, I stupidly adopted a typically resistant attitude toward mandatory piano lessons, and thus wasted a couple of years. Ah -- youth!

During my bachelor days in Bavaria I rented a beautiful upright Steinway piano, and loved to play my little pieces, ranging from Bach to Mendelssohn and specializing in slow movements. (The rental angle was typical bachelor idiocy, but I suppose there are worse versions of that malady.) Later, married to a music lover who had survived mandatory piano lessons, we purchased an ancient Bösendorfer grand piano with old Viennese action and leather covered hammers. Specialists dated the piano at the late 19th century, which may have been the last time it held the intonation for more than a week. But it was a beautiful instrument - and playing Brahms on it really showed how a piano can sing, not just hammer. In the end, the Bösendorfer was really more of a liability than an asset. It would have cost two fortunes to fix it up, and we no longer have it.

Later, in Bamberg with a house full of children, I bailed my oldest son out of his mandatory piano lesson misery (oh how the tears flew on Wednesdays), by agreeing to take his last two months of lessons (they were paid for, after all). I began working on jazz changes and walk bass lines, and was really enjoying it. At that time, however, I agreed to play the organ for the Lutheran congregation of the US Army in Bamberg, so the jazz lessons stopped while I invested all of my practice energies back in the organ.

So - back to present: I am planning a two-fold approach to lessons, and hope to resume my dabbling in jazz piano while also pursuing the classical stuff again. My goal - beyond providing both mirth and misery while at the keyboards - is to be able to accompany my students in some of our standard trombone repertoire, provide changes for them in jazz tunes, and - perhaps most importantly - to increase my own enjoyment of playing beyond only being able to say, "I wish I were better at this."

Shoebox of old Recordings

One of my sabbatical projects is to compile a digitized archive of my recital and solo activity dating back to 1976, analyzing it for developmental tendencies and - hopefully -  useable moments worth re-mastering and/or making available in some form or other. (CD ashtrays, anyone?) If I hadn't drafted the project myself, I would think it were a punishment imposed upon me to sour my sabbatical leave - what was I thinking!?

The project began with me entrusting a shoe box full of old cassette tapes to Kurtis Heidolph, who has now transferred about 10 hours of it to CD. I am taking a selection from these CD's with me to Minnesota this week to begin the listening process. The collection includes:

1971 PMEA Convention - Duquesne University
1976 Curtis Institute of Music
1977 Lenbach Haus - Munich
1982 Prinz Regenten Theater - Munich
1982 Concerto with Prague Symphony
1985 Concerto with Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
1987 Cuvillies Theater - Munich
1995 Hochschule für Musik -Munich
1998 Bischberger Schloss - Bamberg
1999 Kreis Sparkasse - Bamberg
1999 Hochschule für Musik -Würzburg
2000 Bloomington High School North

Only rarely did I actually plan to have these events recorded, and the audio quality of these live recordings varies greatly as hand held (or fumbled) devices were often used. There is also a priceless motor scooter demonstration of the Doppler effect during the 1998 Bischberg Recital.

Nonetheless, I'll see what I can make of the whole thing. There should be some illuminating moments in there somewhere, and I will be sharing selections with you through various media as the project progresses. I can already envision a couple of new mp3 postings to the Website, and - since much of the repertoire is in the standard canon - I may use samples in lessons, thus sharing the punishment all around!

Orchestral outings

The bags aren't packed yet, but I leave on Monday for a week with the Minnesota Orchestra, this time for concerts of Janacek's Sinfonietta on the bass trumpet. The Minnesota Orchestra is a truly great ensemble, and I love playing with them. They have a wonderful music/civic environment, and have operated at an enviously high level for many, many years.

Overall, I am very glad for the opportunities I have to get out and play along with this country's orchestras as I do. When I left a 20+ year career in Germany to join the IU faculty, I also left my network of connections that had me performing with that land's greatest orchestras on as regular a basis as my own orchestra's schedule permitted. And so I am thankful that the orchestras of Indianapolis, Minnesota, and Philadelphia (to name my most frequent companies) have found me to be available and reliable.

From my current position, I really enjoy being able to pursue a greater variety of trombone performance than I could around the orchestra regimen, but occasionally taking my place in these orchestras as I do is like putting on an old glove - and I love it.

Playing in church

This coming Sunday I will, as so often before, play in church. I plan to offer a short call to worship (an excerpt from an old liturgy that I love) and an offertory, Pietro Mascagni's Prayer, at both the 9:30 and 11am services of Bloomington's Evangelical Community Church. In addition, I will play along on the hymns, which in my experience gets the male members of the congregation to sing out more confidently.

The Church, with its extraordinarily rich musical heritage, has been an important source of musical inspiration and opportunity for me for as long as I can remember. Growing up with the Lutheran liturgy and hymnal helped immerse me not only in the world of music inspired by and for ceremonious worship of God, but also in the beauty of Gregorian Chant and four part voice leading - and that by the masters!

As a young instrumentalist, I had regular opportunity to play in church, and profited from this immensely. The listeners were always gracious and appreciative. It took me years to learn that the little scrapes, wobbles, and other blemishes that stood out to me were of little significance to them. They were receptive for the edifying spirit of the music, even though my own mindset was of a very technical, performance bent.

And so the goal for me, in this and basically all settings, is to find those receptive souls who are waiting, yearning to be touched by the music - and then play to them, or better yet, let the music flow through me to them. Antennas up all around!

Observations from IU orchestra auditions

As every semester, so this one also began with orchestra placement auditions on the first evening of classes. This is a great opportunity. Beyond the actual task at hand (to place in orchestra!), the ranking of the players in this anonymous setting offers key insights to students and faculty alike.

Sometimes the quality is quite high. This semester I sense that we were more in the mediocre level - perhaps due to a number of our top players having recently graduated, and the next generation not yet having fully stepped up.

Anyway, some of my general observations were:

Sounded informed
Excellent (but too bad about the misses)
Good, solid
Musical approach

I certainly hope that the next round of auditions elicits more emphatic praise! I remember a master class in which we brainstormed about positive attributes, and the semantics thereof.

Now, from the negative category:

Sophomoric (turned out to be a freshman...)
Too careful
Tight, nasally, stuffy sound
Strident in forte
Fell apart
Maybe not so bad as it sounds
Tone doesn't center
Miles to go yet
Phrasing? Line?
Raucous tone

Keep in mind, that the audition is not primarily a "listen and give feedback" exercise. With well over 2 hours of 5-minute increments, the principal task is to simply get it all sorted out and ranked. Anything that stands out - positive or negative - helps. You want to be on the positive side of that, of course!

Moral of the story? January 10th, 2005 we do it all again. Go ahead and wow us!

Summer performance retrospective

Although I "left fulltime performing to go into fulltime teaching", I find that really just the emphasis or concentration of that mix has shifted. While I used to teach quite few hours each week around the orchestra schedule, I now - looking back over my calendar - still perform with fair regularity around my teaching schedule. Since the Spring semester was drawing to a close, I have had the pleasure of performing 

Concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra

Concerts in Paris, Frankfurt, Braunschweig, and Vienna with the Philadelphia Orchestra

Concerts, seminars, and master classes with Summit Brass in Boulder and Denver, Colorado

Concerts with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in their outdoor "Symphony on the Prarie" series

IU Festival Orchestra concerts with Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos and Roberto Abbado (Beethoven 6, Rite of Spring, Mahler 6)

Concert with the Brass Ensemble of the Grand Teton Music Festival, Wyoming

That was basically it, I believe. This month, I am looking forward to concerts in Minnesota and Indianapolis, and otherwise preparing new recital repertoire for projected events in the coming months.