Survey on tenor/bass trombone doubling

The practice of doubling has been a long-established one, but it is often shrouded in mystery when it comes to equipment and concept. For this blog, I’m focusing on tenor players who double on bass trombone, as this is of great interest to me. I also believe this is becoming a more popular practice, and evening tripling when you factor in the alto! Bass trombonists: don’t get your dander up – no one is gunning for your gigs or playing a 0G mouthpiece!

In an attempt to demystify doubling, I have reached out to several of my orchestral friends and colleagues for their thoughts on concept and equipment – mainly mouthpieces – when it comes to tenor players doubling on bass trombone. As you’ll see, there is a wide variety of ideas. While I focused on full-time orchestral players for this blog, it should be recognized that other stellar examples of doublers live and thrive in the studios of LA, show pits of NYC, university studios, and other locales. I had to draw up parameters somehow for this survey, and ultimately decided to keep it to players in the orchestral spectrum. This is not a slight towards those many other players who do this on a regular basis – in many cases more regularly than those I surveyed. Perhaps that is a topic for an extended post in the future….

Some of the contributors below have Bass Trombone responsibilities labeled as part of their contracts, others simply enjoy the opportunity when it arises. The employment of the doubler is quite different in the USA than it is in Europe, where the title of “Wechselposaune” is the technical term for the trombonist responsible for covering tenor and bass trombones. While it is a concept that has not quite caught on in the USA, some of the folks below are essentially “Wechsels”. The position in European orchestras is often much more demanding and I’m hoping to elaborate on this concept in another post.

My sincere thanks again to my guest contributors!

Mike Becker, Principal Trombone, Tucson Symphony; Bass Trombone, Britt Festival Orchestra

Tenor Trombone: Parke 700 cup, 1000 rim. Basically a 4G
Bass Trombone: Lasky 85MD, Hammond 20BXL and 21BXL

I generally use mid size bass trombone MP’s when I go back and forth between tenor and bass. I primarily play tenor in my job as Principal in TSO but do a lot of free lance work on bass. Generally, I have been using a Lasky 85 MD on bass which is like a 1.1/4 size cup, but has a deeper richer sound and sometimes I use a Hammond 20BXL, again like a 1 and 1/4 but a bigger bowl for a slightly richer sound. If I stay on bass for any extended period of time, I shift to a bigger bass size like a 21bxl. Like when I play at the Britt Festival in the summer. Bass is my position there. For most things though i find I can get away with the Hammond 20bxl or Lasky 85MD. I also think that the “bass trombone sound” concept can be achieved through concept and being able to control and get focus is more important than just trying to us big equipment.

John Ilika, Principal Trombone, North Carolina Symphony

I have always doubled (trebled?) on alto, tenor and bass trombone. I played (and won a national audition) for the Eastern Music Festival in the 1990’s. I have even subbed on bass with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I encourage doubling in my teaching studio at the UNC School of the Arts, in Winston-Salem. I believe that playing a secondary and tertiary instrument is beneficial as long as your primary instrument does not suffer.

When doubling, the mouthpiece cup volume needs to be appropriate to the instrument to produce the proper sound. A tenor trombone mouthpiece on a bass trombone simply does not produce the necessary lower overtones. The pitch will be sharp and nasal. Jim Nova has the same rim for his mouthpieces but has custom cups (e.g., very, very deep for bass trombone) from Greg Black. A deep cup or a real bass trombone mouthpiece works as long as the volume enables good sound/articulation etc…

For bass trombone I use a Griego 1.25 now. For years I played the Yamaha Doug Yeo but find the Griego more efficient now that I am getting older.

Using a bass trombone mouthpiece on a tenor trombone makes it flat and dull sounding. On my orchestral tenor (Greenhoe Bach 42) I use 2 mouthpieces, a Griego/Alessi 5F and a Griego 3 depending on repertoire.

I also use a Bach 36 regularly for pops concerts. Using a big mouthpiece like the Griego 3 with a small shank defeats the purpose of a brighter sound of the Bach 36, so there I use a Hammond 11. Zippy!

On alto, I use a custom Greg Black with a 5 rim and the cup of a Shilke 51B mouthpiece.

Confused yet?

Not really, it all comes down to how you warm up. In general, I think it best to warm up on your primary instrument fully and then work on the other instrument. I encourage students to spend most of their time on the secondary instrument playing scales and basic routines, not excerpts.

Pitch/lip bending exercise with the mouthpiece alone and on the instrument help center the embouchure and the sound. Flexibility before long tones.

One of the reasons I have always been able to switch horns easily is that I play the entire range of the instrument on all my horns. F pedals to high F. Switching mouthpieces is like choosing a different color to paint with but it is all the same sound canvas.

David Murray, Second Trombone National Symphony Orchestra

Tenor Trombone:
Griego 4 NY
Griego 4 Deco

Bass Trombone:
Greg Black 2G
Schilke 59

My approach to bass trombone is that it should simply be an extension from the tenor trombones, and that a larger instrument will inherently add fuller timbre to the blend. I choose a Greg Black 2G as my primary mouthpiece. It has ample richness, nice vibrancy, and a quick response. For the occasions where the repertoire is more substantial, I will use a Schilke 59. It is a large mouthpiece, but keeps the sound focused. I generally have no issue switching between mouthpiece makers and rim shapes. If I focus on achieving good sound and airflow, the idiosyncrasies between mouthpieces are less of a concern.

Timothy Owner, Acting Associate Principal Trombone, San Francisco Symphony

Tenor Trombone: Hammond Design “Tahu” modified 11, flattened rim, semi-shallow cup

Bass Trombone: Hammond Design 20BL

I have always favored smaller mouthpieces: for a long time I used a Bach 5G and a Bach 1.5G. After a long period of testing, I have settled on the Hammond mouthpieces listed above. I find the “Tahu” to be large enough to allow me to perform all of the lower tenor trombone parts in the orchestra, including 3rd in a four person section, but it is also efficient enough to sit on top when playing principal. On the bass trombone, my choice to use the 20BL came similarly. I tried to stick with 1.5-sized mouthpieces as they work well as a light bass trombone mouthpiece in my tenor with a 50LT slide, but the sound was inappropriate for regular bass trombone playing. As a result, I moved to more of a 1.25-sized mouthpiece in order to get a fuller, more appropriate sound without feeling like I was swimming in the mouthpiece. I choose Karl Hammond’s mouthpieces as I find that they give core to my sound, but I am still able to change my sound, brighter or darker etc, to match the context in which I find myself.
I find I need more time to adjust back and forth, but that particular trade off is worth it to realize my musical and professional goals on both instruments.

Tim Smith, 2nd Trombone, Buffalo Philharmonic

Tenor Trombone: Hammond 11MXL custom
​​ Hammond 10.75MXL custom
Bass Trombone: Hammond 20BL

I have chosen a true bass trombone mouthpiece in an attempt to make as legitimate a “bass trombone” sound as possible. The Hammond 20BL is comparable to a Bach 1.25G, with what I feel is a bit more space, as well as more point and center to the sound. The one downside is that I must spend more time on the bass in order to feel comfortable, but the upside (in my opinion) is a truer sound. While it takes more time to adjust when going back and forth between horns, keeping the mouthpieces unrelated — in size and feel — helps me establish a separate concept for each trombone. I apply this to the alto trombone, as well. The trick is to play at least a bit of bass every day, as refreshing the concept on a regular basis allows me to switch over to it more easily.

I will vary my warm-up on a daily basis, often starting on the bass trombone rather than tenor. This is contrary to the advice offered by many of my colleagues, who support starting on your primary horn every day. I find that this maximizes my air support, and more importantly, keeps me mentally engaged, as the different physical stimulus aids in keeping me focused. I agree with Mr. Ilika that the bulk of time on your secondary should be scales and etudes, not excerpts.

James Justin Kent, Solo Posaune: Bruckner Orchester Linz

Tenor Trombone: Bach 4G
Bass Trombone: Bach 1 /2G

Before I was Solo Posaune with the Bruckner Orchester, I spent a lot of time playing Bass Trombone in College and then professionally as 2nd/Bass Trombone with the “Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg”, and subbing with the NDR Radiophilharmonie in Hanover, Germany. While I was in Luxembourg, I also played bass trombone in a Trombone Quartet with two University Trombone Professors and a colleague from the OPL. So I was playing a good bit of bass trombone during that season going back and forth quite often.

When I first started doubling on bass trombone in High school, I played on a Bach 2G. I tried larger ones, but I found the quality of sound throughout the register to be not very good. I simply wasn’t used to the big switch. I find that when starting out, making either no change, or a slight one to be a better way to start out. The most important thing is to keep the quality of sound and not allow the sound to become unfocused. I found myself trying the open the sound too much when playing bass trombone in a effort to fill out the horn. While you will need to use a lot more air for bass trombone, don’t allow the aperture to come too big. When using too big of a mouthpiece (then you’re normally used to) this is a common pitfall. I found simple mouthpiece buzzing exercises when warming up to help with this. Make sure the mouthpiece buzzing sound quality is more buzzy then airy. This should properly limit the size of aperture.

When choosing your doubling mouthpiece, don’t go too wild in size. As a doubler, you want to always keep your quality of sound and not try to compete (size wise) with a devoted bass trombonist. If you are interested in going full time to bass trombone, then go nuts! But if your home base is going to be tenor trombone, then you don’t want to sacrifice your tenor playing too much.

If you sound better playing on the same size mouthpiece as your tenor trombone, I would recommend that at first. Making the best quality of sound throughout the bass trombone register is always number one. After you’re comfortable with that, if you want to try to go a little bigger, then do so, but if you sacrifice the sound, there is no shame playing on your tenor trombone mouthpiece.

James Markey, Bass Trombone, Boston Symphony (formerly Associate Principal, New York Philharmonic)

I have to confess that I don’t totally remember what I played [before moving to Bass Trombone full-time]. I’m thinking that when I played tenor I used a Bach 3G for bass, but it might have been a 1.5G. When I won the job on bass it was on a GW Harwood mouthpiece–deep cup, wider rim with a sharp first angle. Lately I’ve gone back to a brass mouthpiece made by Griego.

Jim Nova, 2nd/Utility Trombone, Pittsburgh Symphony

SE Shires horns:
Alto – A7YLW – A85/95
Large Tenor – TII 7YM A5 8.5″ – Axial Flow- TB47L
Medium Tenor – 7YLW 8″ – straight pipe – T25NLW
Bass – BII 7YM – Inline Axial Flow – B62L

Just for fun…
Miraphone soprano trombone
Kanstul F Contra bass

Mouthpieces all are Greg Black with his 3 rim
Alto – C cup
Large Tenor – 5G cup
Medium Tenor – 5GS cup
Bass – 1/2 G cup

Just for fun…
Soprano – Trumpet cup and shank
Contra – Greg Black contra cup

I found early in my career that when I maintained the same rim on my tenor and alto mouthpieces, but altered the cup shapes and depths, I could switch very easily. Then when I joined the Pittsburgh symphony and I had to start playing bass trombone, I found that maintaining the same rim size also worked on bass, but in the opposite direction with respect to cup depth and size. I always warm up and do my daily routine practice on the large tenor. As a result of my anchor points being the same for all mouthpieces, as long as I’m warmed up, I can switch easily to an auxiliary. I’ve also found that switching around offers numerous “cross training” benefits. Playing bass increases air flow and tone width and richness, which transfers back to tenor. Then when I play alto, the crispness and clarity of articulation transfers back to tenor as well. I think if introduced carefully, doubling is a fun and beneficial way to enrich the color options available to any trombone player. It goes without saying, I’ve put doubling to great use with arranging and overdubbing! http://www.soundcloud.com/jimnova

Jonathan Reycraft: Utility Trombonist, Saint Louis Symphony

Tenor Trombone Griego Alessi 1C
Bass Trombone Griego 2

I feel it better to use a Bass mouthpiece even if it is in the entry level size. I have ventured into tuba territory once before playing in marching band through high school, and even a little at Indiana University. Maybe this helped me feel more comfortable on bass trombone equipment, or by having bass trombonists as formative teachers. For Bass Trombone, I choose a Greigo 2 which falls closer in diameter to a Bach 1.25.

Nathan Zgonc, 2nd/Utility Trombone, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Tenor Trombone: Greg Black NY 3
Bass Trombone: G&W Adriano, and Mark 1

I play the Gregblack New York 3 series on tenor. Depending on the rep I play the different cups sizes.
I have been playing bass in the orchestra for 4 years now, but I have liked the Giddings and Webster models, Adriano and Mark 1. They are a true bass mouthpiece but they have the thicker rim that I am used to on the tenor. I tried the Jim Markey model for a long time but it’s just toooo big. But I do agree one needs to be able to use a bass mouthpiece to at least get as close to the right sound that you can.

Preparing and Performing Vocal Repertoire – guest blog by Dr. Cory Mixdorf

As promised in one of my previous posts, I will be inviting guest bloggers to write articles on various topics. My goal is to host at least one guest blogger per month, and I’m very pleased to present Dr. Cory Mixdorf as my first guest! Dr. Mixdorf is Assistant Professor of Trombone at the University of Arkansas. A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a trombone festival program at which Dr. Mixdorf was presenting a lecture on the preparation of art songs for trombonists, and while I was not in attendance, this stuck in my memory. Song performance has always been near and dear to my heart, but I know there are many instrumentalists out there who don’t embrace the value of studying this repertoire. I asked Dr. Mixdorf if he would be willing to write an article on this topic, and he graciously obliged. I hope you enjoy his article, and regularly check back for new contributions!

“Preparing and Performing Vocal Repertoire”, Dr. Cory Mixdorf, University of Arkansas

mixdorf_rdax_145x115

When I was in my master’s program at Indiana University, a comment I would hear frequently from my teacher (M. Dee Stewart) was, “That’s nice, Cory, but if that was a movie soundtrack, what would be happening on the screen during that music?” He continually prodded me to give inspiration to a piece, usually by means of a story or at least a set of emotions. His goal for me (and now my goal for my students) was to create in me not just an excellent trombonist, but an inspired musician! The name of the game is to convey an idea, emotion or story to an audience through our performances. Performing vocal repertoire is a fantastic means to this end simply because we don’t need to create a story; it’s already provided by the composer! In this article, my goal is to assist in how to select works to perform as well as give insight concerning the preparation of vocal works on a brass instrument.

If this is the first time you’ve considered performing a vocal selection, choosing one can be a daunting task due to the sheer volume of works in this genre. I would be hard-pressed to find one major composer who did not write art songs. This is, however to our benefit as we get to perform works by those composers we love so dearly for their orchestral writing, but never got around to writing a solo piece for our instrument. (At least, that’s what I keep telling myself!)

There are different ways you can go about choosing a piece. The first would be to go to the art song section of the music library and find the composers that did it the best: Schubert, Schumann and Faure come immediately to mind. (Schubert alone wrote over 600 lieder!) One could feasibly pick out almost any work by these composers and perform it on the trombone. Other names that come to mind include: Brahms, Donizetti, Ives, Ravel, etc. Another “gateway” into the world of vocal repertoire is choosing pieces that vocalists sing often. The following are pieces that are performed regularly in college juries due to their accessibility of range and transparency of phrasing: Giordani, “Caro mio ben,” Schubert, “Die forelle,” Schubert, “Du bist Ruh” and 24 Italian Songs and Arias (sort of the vocalist’s Rochut). Other means of selecting works include choosing popular crowd-pleasers (such as Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” or “O mio babbino caro”) or finding out what pieces other brass instrumentalists perform frequently. In the trombone world, it seems that Brahms’s, Four Serious Songs, Op. 121 and Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer are most commonly chosen.

The most effective way to find repertoire that you will fall in love with is to simply expose yourself to more literature. Go to vocal recitals (*gasp*). Check out opera DVDs from your library. Watch vocalists perform on YouTube. If you only listen to trombone music, you’re inhibiting yourself from becoming a true musician!

Once you have a song or aria selected, the first thing to do is to get a good understanding of the text. If it’s an aria, what’s happening in this point of the opera? If it’s from a song cycle, how does this song fit within the larger picture? For most works, a translation will be needed. Translations that almost always accompany these songs are great for getting the general idea of the plot. However, in order to dig deeper and accurately delineate phrases, it is important to know how each individual word translates. Why get so picky? First of all, knowing the definition of each word will help you know when to adjust your sound, articulation and dynamics, giving you the opportunity to do some subtle text painting. For example, in the third of Brahms’s Four Serious Songs, the Text reads “O Tod, wie bitter bist Du?,” which translates to “O death, how bitter art thou.” To capture the seriousness of the subject matter in correlation to the ferocity of the piano chords, I play the first two notes (“O death”) with a big, solid sound and a firm marcato articulation. The other reason why it’s important to know what each word means is that sometimes the English language doesn’t fit the phrase intent of the composer. There have been a couple times when after researching the translation of each word, I’ve discovered that my phrase structure is different from what the English translation suggests. (Beginners to this process might be best suited towards selecting a piece by an English or American composer, such as Charles Ives, in order to avoid the translation issue altogether.)

Concerning phrasing as it relates to breathing, one should line up breaths with punctuation. Typically, if there’s a period, comma or semicolon, that’s either the end of an idea or at least a pause between ideas. If no punctuation exists where a breath is needed, look for words in the text that may provide an opportunity for a breath. This is another example of a word-by-word translation coming in handy!

After coming to an understanding of how the text and music relate, it’s important to discover the intricacies of performance traditions. Just like certain moments of trombone solo repertoire have developed from tradition (i.e. octave displacements in the Grondahl), your song selection may have unmarked gestures that are only known by means of performance practice. So, as you would for any standard trombone solo, listen to as many interpretations of your piece as possible so that you may give an informed performance.

If I may speak to one more aspect of performing vocal literature, I would like to encourage performing directly from the piano score. Unlike many conterti, sonatas and other solos we perform, art songs are written more as duets between the voice and the piano, not as solo/accompaniment. This interplay can be intricate at times, making it valuable to see what is going on while you perform. (In all honesty, I would probably play all solos from the piano score if it weren’t so logistically impractical!) Yes, this mean you will have to read C treble clef. Big deal. It’s great real-world practice. There have been many times in a church gig where I’ve been given a hymnal and been asked to play the melody, which is always in the top treble clef line.

Performing art songs and opera arias enable trombonists of any age to learn more about phrasing through the relationship of words and music. The texts to many of these songs have come from the world’s best poets and storytellers. Utilize that asset to convey meaning and purpose to your performance. Be more than a trombonist, be a musician!

The Burning of Atlanta

The crisis in Atlanta. Social media is currently inundated with articles, comments, viewpoints, support, criticism and all other imaginable forms of people voicing their thoughts and opinions about what is happening to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. It is so easy for other musicians, and non-musicians, to look at this situation from a distance and think, “Wow. I’m glad that I’m not there, and that my orchestra/company is solvent and healthy.” I will admit to that thought myself; not just once, but twice, since the ASO was also locked out in 2012 as well. I was a Finalist for a position in the ASO in 2011, a position that since grad school I had held in my mind as a ‘Dream Job’. I was heartbroken to not be offered a trial period, but I was also very happy to return to Buffalo to a job I love in a city I proudly call home. So, yes, at this point I could comfortably sit here and view this situation from afar, feel bad for my musician brethren in Atlanta, and hope that it never happens here in Buffalo. I would further wager that many fellow musicians and non-musicians will do just that. Prove me wrong.

I recently read a wonderfully poignant article by a young double bassist, who had been preparing to audition for the position of Principal Double Bass with the ASO. Here is the link, and I suggest you read it.

To summarize, the author states that the Atlanta Symphony is essentially the largest, most influential orchestra [I will add Arts institution period] in the Southeastern United States. Based on a number of data (endowment, budget, musician complement, administration positions, among others) this is an accurate statement. I will cite the fact that they are at least the most recorded and awarded orchestra in the region, and among the leaders in these fields in the country as a whole.

To quote the article, “the Atlanta Symphony situation could potentially not just artistically devastate Georgia, but an incredibly huge geographic area of the United States.” The impact of an organization of the ASO’s size and stature is not easily measured, if even possible to measure. Here is a comment posted to the article:

“But how many music lovers would ever actually travel from the catchment area he identifies in order to hear the ASO? Many people in the USA, and not just in the south east, are not within reasonable reach of a major orchestra, and support instead their local college/university/community ensemble.”

That is, quite honestly, a valid point and true in many respects. But it is also short-sighted. What happens is a trickle-down effect: the Artists that an institution such as the ASO draws now go elsewhere – outside of the Southeast USA. The impact these Artists have through educational outreach, regional travel, teaching, creating chamber groups, coaching youth organizations, supporting other cultural institutions, etc. now leaves the region. The students who once came to study with these Artists now go elsewhere – and not in the Southeastern USA. These students do not study, mature, and now makeup the local college/university/community ensembles you speak of, for they were never drawn to the area to begin with. The people who make up these community, or regional orchestras, are also the people who substitute with the ASO, take lessons from ASO Artists, attend ASO concerts to hone their own craft, and then send their students to do likewise. This is how culture is nurtured and passed from generation to generation. Essentially, you’re cutting off the head and expecting the body to live.

As a musician, it is utterly terrifying to see the lack of support and stewardship from the leadership of the Atlanta Symphony. THE MUSICIANS ARE YOUR PRODUCT. How many times has this mantra been stated, in one form or another? We’ve seen it in Minnesota, the MET, Detroit…the list goes on. Orchestral music is not dead, or dying. Orchestras like LAPhil, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Dallas, Chicago….are thriving and reinventing themselves and how they impact their communities. Audiences want to be enchanted by orchestras, and learn something in the process. How you reach them is the issue, and a subject for another article. The art form is not dying, the old way of running it is.

So, I want to encourage my musician and Arts-supporting brethren around the country and globe to stand with the ATL Musicians, contribute their support on social media, read the articles smattering status updates, and be active in championing – not defending – our Art form and what it contributes to the communities in which we live.

Site updates and guest blogs

Well, Fall is undoubtedly upon us. Rather than lamenting the Summer, I am inspired by Fall and the new opportunities it brings. One of those is the chance to update my site, which is long overdue. In the next few weeks, there’ll be some changes made — thanks to my wife being home on maternity leave! In addition to the facelift, I will also be providing more blogs and most notably, guest blogs. I have invited some of my peers around the trombone world to offer their insights on various topics, from Art Song performance, to military bands vs. orchestras, to the diversification of one’s musical livelihood.

I would also like to add more testimonials from those who have suffered from Bell’s Palsy, so if you are one of those people (or know one), please let me know if you would like to contribute. This is the most popular section of my site, and I often receive feedback of how helpful and inspiration these testimonials can be.

Please return often to see what’s new!

Refreshing chromatics practice

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with chromatic scales. My students would also attest to that, as they’ve been quite busy with chromatic scales in the Arban’s book. Chromatic practice is so healthy for us, especially as trombone players. I find in many students that their major/minor scales are in OK shape, but there is significant position-approximation happening. With chromatics, you must put the slide in EXACTLY the right place, or you start pushing the following half-steps out of tune. How many times have you played a chromatic scale only to end up on the final note too soon? Yep.

The challenge is to keep chromatic scales fresh: it’s always the same notes, just starting and finishing different places. We can work on articulation, dynamics, range, speed, alto/tenor/bass, etc, but it’s easy to get in a rut. I came up with my own chromatic scale routine that I’ve been using for a few months now, choosing a different ‘key’, or starting note, each day.

I’ve linked a PDF file below. Relearning Finale 2011 took me a while, so don’t be too cruel in judging my notation! The great thing about this routine is that you can target the tempi that often fall “in the cracks”, and also push yourself via baby steps into faster speeds. Hopefully this will at least germinate some ideas for your own practice.

Speed ‘Em Up Chromatics

Enjoy the Summer…….Productively!

As universities have been out for a few weeks now, and high schools are just about to finish, I thought it an appropriate time to make some comments and observations regarding the Summer break.  No doubt everyone is in need of a break not only from their discipline (instrument, voice, teaching, etc), but a break from the day-to-day routine is probably a welcome concept, too.  I have always found the Summer to be a highly productive time for me, both regarding my trombone playing and general life tasks.  Hopefully, you can find this to be the case, as well.

When I was in college, there was a tremendous amount of weight placed on summer music festivals; mostly from my peers and my own personal stigma that to get into a festival meant you were successful.  My teachers never emphasized the summer festivals as much as I expected them to, and looking back, I realize (or at least think I realize) why this was the case.  These festivals are wonderful opportunities, but they are certainly not the “end all, be all” that our inexperienced student minds view them to be.  In the last 10 years, many more opportunities have cropped up with mini-festivals, seminars, and instrument-specific camps happening all over the country.  This is a wonderful thing, as it affords more people the chance to participate, but it doesn’t eat up your entire summer.  This means you can still have dedicated practice, time to relax, and maybe even make some money.    

While I was disappointed to be rejected from most of the festivals to which I auditioned, I learned to embrace the quantity and quality of time that the summer affords.  It is a time without the pesky distractions of course schedules and ensemble rehearsals; a time that you can actually feel like you have enough hours in the day!  Time to practice, or rather, time to practice with patience and focus.  All of those bigger issues that you just couldn’t exercise the tough discipline required during the year can now be attacked on your terms!  

I remember a particular summer between my years of grad school that I worked part-time for the Northwestern concert hall.  I spent half of my day on stage or in the rehearsal room practicing, and the other half actually working.  I spent my evenings hanging with friends and enjoying the productivity of the day, and yes, I went to bed without the dreaded thought of “There just aren’t enough hours in the day!”  When school resumed after this break, I had made tremendous gains both technically and mentally, and it was a real “shot in the arm” for my confidence.  

Once out of school, summer takes on a new, scary form: how do you make a living?!  Most orchestras and other performance opportunities (church gigs, teaching, etc) scale back during these months, so it does take careful planning and creativity to make sure you will be OK financially.  After finishing my Master’s, I worked part-time in a wine and liquor store for a summer.  Not only did I learn a tremendous amount about booze (as my bar can attest), I had a wonderful distraction that kept my focus OFF of trombone for hours at a time.  I desperately needed this distraction, as I was becoming obsessive to the point of damage with my practice.  I also did a hefty amount of biking through Chicago, which was not only healthy for my body but for my mind as well.  With a healthy distraction a few hours a day, I found my practice to be more focused, valued, and productive when I returned to it.  

As some of my former students return home from college for the summer, I ask them what their goals are for the next 2-3 months.  Often, they respond with a blank stare or with a vague “Well, I want to learn this concerto.”  But how are you going to practice, and what tools do you want to learn to take back to school with you?  I encourage them to sit down, write out a plan, and monitor their progress on a weekly basis.  Students are often asked to do this at the start of a semester, why not during the summer, too?

There’s no reason you can’t enjoy your summer, and also make huge strides in the practice room.  A little bit of organization in June will pay dividends come September.  

 

Have fun and make sound!!

I recently completed a 1-week tour of Texas, visiting three universities and a junior high school, presenting a mix of recitals, masterclasses, lectures, and lessons.  Needless to say, it was exhausting but motivational and inspirational, which is why I go to great pains to put these trips together in the first place.  Having the opportunity to make new friends and share my experiences and insights thus far in my career with others is so rewarding for me, and I always learn a few things myself: one of my lessons this time around is to STOP OVER-PROGRAMMING my recitals!  

Anyway, I felt one of the common themes of the week was blog-worthy.  I’ll call it “have fun and make sound”.  Years ago, when I first started doing outreach services in public schools around Chicago, a frequent question was “What do you enjoy most about playing the trombone?”  My answer to that, with little consideration, was always that I love making sound.  Producing sound on the trombone is a drug to me (perhaps a strong vitamin, I should say) and I feel an addiction to playing sound.  Sure, I love making music and playing with friends, but the act of making sound on the trombone is a primary motivator.  It’s the element of playing that speaks the strongest to me.  

How does this relate to my week in Texas?  Well, I found the words “have fun and make sound” coming out of my mouth during many private lessons and masterclass coachings.  When playing, especially when we are trying our best (i.e. masterclass, audition, recital, etc) so many thoughts and instructions cloud our minds.  Numerous articles and books have been written about this topic, but I want to simplify from a overly-practical approach: HAVE FUN AND MAKE SOUND!!!  One of my primary practice and teaching techniques is to glissando everything and just make sound, focusing on nothing but air and resonance.  Every time I (or a student) does this, the result is a clearer, more resonant sound, better pitch, a sostenuto airstream, and more convincing phrasing.  There is something about letting go of the desire to control and remembering the pure joy of making sound that makes this happen.  I often tell a student to pretend they’re back in grade school and playing trombone for the first time: wasn’t that fun making a sound on the trombone?!?!  THAT is the joy we need to recapture by letting go of control. 

Don’t get me wrong, we still need to approach technique such as articulation, slide and valve coordination, dynamics, etc. but not at the cost of HAVING FUN AND MAKING SOUND.  We are all guilty of taking this thing called the trombone and music way too seriously, which can handicap our progress just as much as benefit.  If you’re willing to let it all go for a few seconds and just enjoy making sound, I bet you’ll be happy with the results….and it will be fun.