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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

The Brass Junkies 69: Brian Hecht, Bass Trombonist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Hitz

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My good friend Brian Hecht, bass trombonist for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, joined us on The Brass Junkies to talk about the incredible career he has had. This dude has played with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and over a dozen other major symphony orchestras. And he's only 32 which is insane.

I especially enjoyed asking him about performing with Trey Anastasio of Phish, which he had just done a few days before the interview. Every time one of the best musicians in the world agrees with how incredible Trey is, I use it to validate my decision to spend pretty much every penny of disposable income I had over a span of two decades on seeing Phish. Whatever it takes to sleep at night I guess!

From the show notes:

Atlanta Symphony Bass Trombonist Brian Hecht joins Andrew & Lance to explain how he has managed to play with just about every major orchestra in the US by the age of 32. He grew up in Dallas and spent some time in the Navy Band in Washington, DC before hitting the orchestral audition circuit, which led to him subbing with both the NY Phil and Philly Orchestra. He shares his preparation strategy, explains what he learned from legendary clarinetist Riccardo Morales and the importance of noise-canceling headphones. We get into the topic of nerves, visualization and the value of a shower and a sandwich. And no Brass Junkies episode would be complete without a deep dive into Phish guitarist and one of Andrew’s boyfriends, Trey Anastasio.

 

We also spent an inordinate amount of time saying the phrase “poop truck.” Sorry.

The Brass Junkies 68: Dr. Amy Horn, Former Horn Player of The President's Own Marine Band

Andrew Hitz

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Amy Horn recently finished a 29-year run as a horn player with the President's Own Marine Band. Her story about auditioning for the group is must hear! I wonder if she's the only person to ever win a major military band audition after sleeping in a pea-green Chevy Citation!

From the show notes:

Dr. Amy Horn, 29-year member of The President’s Own Marine Band and Adjunct Professor of Horn at George Mason University joins Andrew & Lance to explain how to bloom where you’re planted. A native of Ohio, Amy studied at Bowling Green University with Herb Spencer and played under legendary bandmaster Mark Kelly. We hear the amazing story of her audition for the Marine Band (including camping out in her pea-green Chevy Citation), how she cut a rug on the road with Patrick Sheridan and why she switched from trombone to horn. We learn how she started the Capital Horns, hear stories about her teaching and performing career, including gigs with the Washington Symphonic Brass and the Washington Conservatory of Music.

 

Her biggest question for Jens is J or Y. Frankly, the world wants to know.

72 Thumbs Downs

Andrew Hitz

Everything about this performance is stunning.

Brandon Ridenour's pic playing. His father's piano playing. The arrangement. The communication between the two of them. Everything.

And yet at the time of this post, 72 different people decided they disliked this video so much that they had to publicly state that by down voting it on YouTube.

I completely understand not being a fan of arrangements in general. (I couldn't disagree more with that stance from a personal taste standpoint, but you could of course make that argument in an intelligent fasion.) You can easily not be a fan of their interpretation of the piece (or literally anyone's interpretation of any given piece.)

But to actually feel the need, on a video posted personally by Brandon, to give this a public thumbs down is really baffling to me.

The reason I'm pointing this out is a reminder to us all that if you put your work out into the world, there will be people who don't like it and feel the need to share that opinion with the world.

So don't fall into the trap of having your eyeballs (and heart!) go straight to that huge number 72 next to the thumbs down before noticing the 6,000 thumbs up votes or 300,000+ views. The only way to not have any down votes is to never share it with the world. And who the hell wins then? Literally no one. You don't make the world a better place by not sharing your art with us and the internet trolls will just find another video to give a thumbs down to.

It also bears remembering who is doing the down voting. Do you think that Jose Sibaja, Jens Lindemann or Ryan Anthony are any of the 72 down votes? Hell no they're not. Anyone who can play at this level is too damn busy making art to be taking swipes at people who not only are making it but have the courage to share it with the world.

So screw the haters, ignore the thumbs down count and push on. And you damn well better share your work with the world. We need it now more than ever.

#endrant

A Trick to Getting More Musical When Doing Drills

Andrew Hitz

Want to know a trick to instantly be more musical and focused when doing mundane drills or warming up?

Broadcast yourself using Facebook Live, Instagram stories or on YouTube.

No, seriously.

Even if three people are watching you, hell, even if there is only a threat of just three people watching you, you will be incredibly focused.

As anyone who has ever taught knows, it is awfully easy to be fully engaged when performing a drill for a student. And that's just with an audience of one. With social media, you can recreate that phenomenon any time you'd like.

Simply posting a one-minute chunk in the middle of your warm-up will engage your brain and make you much more focused, even after the camera is off.

If you are bored while doing drills or warming up, there are tools at your disposal to remedy that situation. If you don't use any of them and continue to not play at your absolute focused, best, it's on you.

And every one of your heroes on your instrument is always playing at her or his focused best.

The Arnold Jacobs Straw Exercise

Andrew Hitz

This is a great exercise for two reasons:

  1. Students feel the sensation of air movement which is a much better thing to focus on than any body movements or where the air is headed
  2. This lets the student experience firsthand the difference in efficiency when they inhale with a good oral shape

Combine this with the "EE to Oh" exercise out of the brass gym and you can fix a whole lot of breathing issues without ever addressing them. And in teaching, using fewer words means less chance for confusion and getting to the actual doing of the activity being addressed faster.

Don't Wait Until 1:00 pm

Andrew Hitz

This reminds me of one of my favorite Joe Alessi quotes:

"You’re not winning an audition if your first notes of the day are at 1 pm.”

—Joe Alessi

Same goes for composing. Or doing score study. Or anything else.

Get those feet moving!

Bored With Scales?

Andrew Hitz

Love this quote from fantastic trombone player Will Baker!

If your students (or you!) are bored with their scales, tell them THEY'RE DOING IT WRONG!

With a little practice, anyone can play any scale mf two octaves at a decent clip. That's really not very hard. All it takes it reps.

You know what's not easy and requires not just a lot of reps but a lot of concentration?

  • Playing scales while changing articulation every note (either alternating between two articulations or cycling through three or more)
  • Playing scales ff in the pedal register with a beautiful sound without dragging
  • Playing scales pp in the extreme upper register with a beautiful sound
  • Playing two octave scales while diminuendoing the entire way up from ff to pp and crescendoing all the way down with no two notes the same dynamic level
  • Playing scales in thirds, fourths or any other interval
  • Playing scales in thirds on the way up and fourths on the way down
  • Take any of these suggestions and record yourself playing them and listen for things like an even sound, consistent articulation, truly even crescendos and diminuendos, perfect groove, phrasing, etc

You get the point!

Unless your name is Wynton Marsalis, I'm guessing you can't ascending thirds followed by descending fourths for the first time and have it mastered in all twelve keys within five minutes.

So if you or your students are bored with scales, you are experiencing a failure of creativity!

Get more creative and you will suddenly be reengaged while practicing the vital musical building blocks we call scales.

The Brass Junkies 66: Joanna Hersey on the 25th Anniversary International Women's Brass Conference and Being a Woman in a Male-Dominated Brass World

Andrew Hitz

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Without a doubt this is the most important conversation that we've had in 2.5 years of Brass Junkies interviews.

We were joined again by our dear friend Joanna Hersey who is currently the President of the International Women's Brass Conference. She spoke with us about their 25th anniversary conference which was held this summer at Rowan University.

She also went in depth about what it is like to be a woman in a male-dominated brass world. Probably my favorite part was when she offered some incredibly practical suggestions for how we can empower young women who play brass. This was a great conversation that both Lance and I loved being a part of. Enjoy!

From the show notes:

IWBC President Joanna Hersey joined Andrew & Lance in her second podcast to spend some more time talking about gender issues in brass playing. Fresh off the 25th Anniversary International Women’s Brass Conference, we spent a good amount of time talking about that tremendous organization, from the founding (by Susan Slaughter) in St. Louis in 1993 to the highly successful event in the summer of 2017 at Rowan University. We learned that while women represent 28% of the horn sections of major orchestras, they only appear in  3-5% in the other brass sections. We also fall on our swords and explain why we’ve sucked up to this point in booking women. 

 

Additionally, we’re trying out a new platform for recording the episodes and In a moment of weakness and lack of foresight, Andrew left Lance in charge of a set of sound effects which you may hear from time to time. To time.

The Brass Junkies 65: Ken Watters

Andrew Hitz

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This was a fascinating interview! Trumpet player Ken Watters, who is the brother of former TBJ guest Harry Watters, gave us an inside look at the recording process in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where artists such as The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin and Willie Nelson have all recorded over the years.

Pretty incredible to get to hear how the entire process goes down from the first call trumpet player. Ken did a great job of painting a picture. I found it riveting.

From the show notes:

Alabama Horns trumpeter Ken Watters joins Andrew & Lance for a fascinating masterclass in the difference between the Nashville horn sound and the horn lines from Muscle Shoals. Ken currently spends the majority of his time recording with legends like William Hightower, Eddie Floyd, Smash Mouth and Billy Ray Cyrus. He explains how Muscle Shoals became such a hotbed for recorded horn sections and explains how sessions and arrangements come together. He talks about how to write good lines, that simple is good and less is more and that sometimes it is best to write away from the horn. There are also tons of great stories from his time in NYC, Atlanta, recording and touring with his brother (TBJ guest and psycho buddy to A & L) Harry Watters and the story of how he met another TBJ alum, Wes Funderburk, in a 10 pm phone call, summoning him to come record with Natalie Cole.

 

He is also the first person to actually play his horn on the show (how did that happen?) and says that his trumpet is the watermelon. Whatever that means.