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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Strength Is Not the Answer

Andrew Hitz

"Strength is not the answer.  I guarantee you that everyone in this room has the strength to play a high G."
—Jim Thompson, Former Principal Trumpet of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra

Preach, Jim!

Watch this video of the incredible Brian MacDonald of the Airmen of Note and tell me that strength is needed to rip in the high register.

One of my last Boston Brass big band Christmas gigs featured Brian on trumpet. I was knocked out at how ridiculously relaxed he looked while soaring above the whole band. It was a call to action to take a lot of not just unneeded, but counterproductive physicality out of my playing.

And that's why the mirror is your friend. Watch the greats on YouTube and then watch yourself. Can you be doing anything more efficiently? The answer is pretty much always yes no matter who the hell you are.

Two Resources for Choosing the Right School of Music

Andrew Hitz

Are you in the process of applying for music school right now? Whether you are going to get your undergrad, grad or doctorate, here are two resources to help you ask the right questions to find the perfect fit for you!

The Brass Junkies Episode 75: Auditioning for College

In episode 75 of The Brass Junkies, Lance LaDuke (who teaches music business and euphonium at both Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon) and I answer the 10 most important questions to consider when deciding where to attend school:

  1. What's the best way to research schools and teachers?
  2. What repertoire should you perform for your audition?
  3. Should you take a lesson with the teacher?
  4. How many schools should you apply to?
  5. Is it okay to just send an audio or video recording?
  6. What should you wear for your audition and how should you act?
  7. What should you expect on your audition day? (And how to deal with overcoming nerves!)
  8. What's the best way to follow up with the school and teacher?
  9. What's the most effective way to ask for more scholarship money?
  10. How should you make your decision?

You can stream the episode below or find it on iTunesSoundcloudStitcher or your favorite podcast app.


David zerkel: On choosing College

David Zerkel teaches tuba and euphonium at the University of Georgia and is simply put one of the best teachers in the world. He wrote a wonderful blog post a few years ago that will help you decide which school is best for you.

Zerkel: On Choosing College

If you are a tuba or euphonium interested in studying with me at Shenandoah University, shoot me an email and let's talk! I have openings for undergrad, master's and doctoral students.

Bringing Your Own Rhythmic Urgency

Andrew Hitz

"Make sure you can maintain a sense of rhythmic urgency without a metronome going."
—David Zerkel

Practicing with a metronome is essential for any musician serious about playing with great rhythm.

Practicing without a metronome is also essential for any musician serious about playing with great rhythm.

Let me explain...

To improve at anything on your instrument you must enter a feedback loop. That means getting precise data about what is actually coming out of your horn, using that data to try something a little different and then getting more data.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

In this case, that means using a metronome and a recording device to figure out whether you are playing perfectly in time. And if not, noticing the patterns of how or where you are playing with bad rhythm so you can adjust accordingly.

But some players fall into a trap of practicing with a metronome all the time (or darn close to it.) While this might seem like a good idea, it is actually a really bad idea. You never want to come to rely on a tool that won't be present when you are performing or auditioning.

The way to properly use a metronome is to record yourself both with it and without it to see if you can play with great time regardless. It should be used as a reference point, not provide the rhythm for you.

So there are two types of people who can fall into the lack of rhythmic urgency without a metronome trap that David Zerkel alluded to in the above quote, those who never use a metronome and those who use one too much.

The Brass Junkies 75: Listener's Choice 2: Auditioning for College

Andrew Hitz

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In this special Listener's Choice episode, Lance and I talk about the ins and outs of auditioning for college as a brass player. This is the second time we've tried this format. Let us know what you think! In terms of structure, we decided to tackle the:

10 Top Brass College Audition Questions

  1. Researching schools and teachers
  2. What repertoire to prepare?
  3. Should you take a lesson with the teacher?
  4. # of schools to apply to?
  5. Is it okay to send a tape or video?
  6. What should you wear/how should you act?
  7. How to overcome nerves/what to expect on the day of/in the room?
  8. How to follow up
  9. How to ask for more $
  10. How to decide

You can check out the complete show notes including all of the links mentioned during this episode over at Pedal Note Media.

Selling the Concept of Time During Long Notes

Andrew Hitz

"One of the things that's hard for tuba players, actually it's hard for everyone, is that you need to sell the concept of time when you are playing long notes. It's hard."

—David Zerkel

Whether you are taking an audition, playing in a chamber ensemble or performing in a symphony orchestra, selling the concept of time when you are playing long notes is a golden opportunity to stand out in a good way.

Why is that?

Because most musicians suck at it.

I have played next to some people in quintets over the years who have perfectly fine time and yet could not sell the concept of time on a long note to save their lives because they are too passive.

The best chamber ensembles in the world can shut off the lights and play a slow and beautiful piece of music perfectly together with absolutely zero visual communication. It's hard as hell but the greats have a hard time not spoon-feeding to you when their current note is ending and when the next note begins.

Looking for a way to stand out in the final round of a symphony audition or in a chamber audition? Make it painfully clear where your long notes are coming from and where they are going to and sell the hell out of the time while simultaneously taking cues from and reacting to the players around you.

Do that successfully and you will put yourself on a very short list of people being considered for that job.

Are You Willing or Are You Doing?

Andrew Hitz

"Go for your best sound right at the beginning of every note."
—David Zerkel

Making your best sound right at the beginning of the note is dependent on the immediacy of the air. Students must understand that it's not just the quantity but also the quality of the air that needs to be immediate.

The air of a held note that's not changing dynamics needs to be the exact same at the very beginning of the note as it is a beat later. This is pretty easy to achieve in the middle register at a middle dynamic for a decent player.

The challenge comes from being able to do that in all registers at any dynamic level.

And why are the world's best players able to do that with ease?

Through lots and lots of highly focused repetition.

Joe Alessi wasn't born with the ability to play freakishly soft in any register. He simply worked his ass off. It's really not rocket science.

It is also worth noting that it takes significantly more time and effort to obtain skills than it does to maintain skills. I guarantee you Joe has spent less time in the last calendar year practicing his extreme soft playing that he did when he was first acquiring the skill.

To be clear, I bet he spent an awful lot of time maintaining it in the past year. But the amount of time he spent getting that ability in the first place might make your head spin right off.

It is my experience that all musicians believe they are willing to do that kind of work to be able to play that well. But it's also been experience that the number who "are willing" to do that work is way higher than the number who actually do it.

The Brass Junkies 74: Bill Pritchard of Amplituba and Mercury Orkestar

Andrew Hitz

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Bill Pritchard is a bad, bad man. He is a good friend and one hell of a creative force within the brass world today. I love how he is always moving his art forward, not just trying to "master" what he can already do. We can all learn a lot from him.

Our conversation with him for TBJ74 was great and inspiring which is good timing coming at the end of the year. You'll dig it!

From the Show Notes:

Amplituba and Mercury Orkestar tubist Bill Pritchard joins Andrew & Lance to discuss Bill's amazingly diverse career and his exploration into the ins and outs of combining electronics with brass playing. In addition to his amazing music-making, Bill teaches at five (5!) colleges, plays all over Atlanta with tons of groups and gives us a step by step tour of his electronic rig/setup.

Some of the topics we cover include:

  • The challenges of giving Skype lessons
  • His use of technology in lessons
  • What to do if the chaps are at the cleaners (don't ask)
  • The simplest setup to start messing with electronics (mic, cable, digital effects/multi-effects unit, into a keyboard or bass amp)
  • Why delay and chorus effects are a good place to start
  • How to get started with looping pedals
  • How he sets up his musical improvs
  • His influences, from Reggie Watts to Matt Owen and David Wolf from Drums & Tuba
  • How David Vining and Jan Kagarice helping him overcome challenges
  • Playing w/a drummer and a theremin at an Invent Room Pop gig and creating Amplituba
  • Blow into the small end

You can check out the complete show notes including all of the links mentioned during this episode over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 73: Weston Sprott, Trombonist for the Metropolitan Opera

Andrew Hitz

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This was one of my favorite episodes we've ever done of The Brass Junkies. Weston Sprott, Acting Principal Trombone of the Metropolitan Opera, is as thoughtful a human being as you will ever find. We talked about his incredible career and also went into the diversity issues still facing the industry today. A lot of food for thought.

And the story of him running into one of his heroes, Wynton Marsalis, on the streets of New York City and what went down is worth the whole download!

From the show notes:

TBJ73: Trombonist Weston Sprott on Performing with the Metropolitan Opera, the Diversity Issues Facing the Industry and Running Into One of His Heroes on the Streets of New York

Weston Sprott is the Acting Principal Trombone of the Metropolitan Opera and has appeared with major orchestras all over the world.

In this episode, we cover:

  • His gig
  • What the best subs have in common
  • Coming up in TX
  • Teaching
  • Best student characteristics- “They do what I tell them to do”
  • The acidic, dry and awesome John Rojak
  • His website and resources
  • Diversity issues in classical music
  • Meeting Wynton Marsalis
  • The McGurk Effect
  • The Sphinx Organization

You can check out the complete show notes including all links mentioned during this episode over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 72: Michael Clayville of Alarm Will Sound

Andrew Hitz

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TBJ72: Trombonist Michael Clayville from Alarm Will Sound on Playing with Medeski, Martin & Wood, How AWS Functions as an Ensemble and Teaching at Lawrence Conservatory as a Visiting Professor

Michael Clayville is one of my favorite trombonists in the world. His playing in Alarm Will Sound is just stunning. The music they perform has incredibly demanding parts, especially of a trombone player! But Michael is one of the most prepared musicians I've ever played with. He's a machine!

He's also a fascinating guy. I interviewed him early for TEM (TEM3 which was 116 episodes ago at this point!) and I was really happy to finally get him on The Brass Junkies!

From the show notes:

Michael Clayville is a musician who is passionate about drawing audiences deeply into the art of sound. His abilities as a trombone soloist, chamber musician, and improviser have taken him to prestigious venues around the world including Carnegie Hall, Walt Disney Hall, the Barbican (London) and the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ (Amsterdam) and have led to him working with some of the most prominent classical and popular artists today including Pulitzer Prize-winning composers Steve Reich, John Adams, John Luther Adams, Charles Wuorinen, and David Lang, and experimental groups like Medeski Martin and Wood, and the Dirty Projectors.

Michael is a founding member of Alarm Will Sound, a group that has been awarded the ASCAP Concert Music Award for “the virtuosity, passion and commitment with which they perform and champion the repertory for the 21st century” and which has been called the “future of classical music” by the New York Times. In addition to being its trombonist, Michael is also the Director of Marketing for Alarm Will Sound.

In this episode, we cover:

  • Playing with Medeski, Martin and Wood
  • Picking repertoire in Alarm Will Sound by quasi-democratic methods
  • Marketing efforts/social media for AWS
  • Splitting Adams CD
  • The Mizzou International Composers Festival
  • Georg Friedrich Haas
  • Teaching at Lawrence, working for/with Brian Pertl

The Brass Junkies 70: Listener's Choice: Where Andrew & Lance share stories related to questions submitted by YOU!

Andrew Hitz

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We are always trying new things at Pedal Note Media (after all, if you're not, what the hell is the fun in that?) So this is a new episode format where we answer a couple of questions from the audience. If this gets a good response, we will do more of these episodes in the future!

From the show notes:

This is the first in what may become a recurring episode type (depending on whether you nice folks like the format.) We get lots of questions on a variety of topics and thought we'd try answering some of them.

In this episode, we talk about our early influences and share stories from our formative years. We close out the episode explaining how we ended up in music school and will be unpacking the process of college applications/auditions for the next installment of the "Listener's Choice."

Let us know what you think!