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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: brass quintet

Empire Brass on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: Monday YouTube Fix

Andrew Hitz

Growing up in Boston in the 1980's I was exposed to countless professional brass quintets.  Empire Brass, Atlantic Brass, Paramount Brass.  The city of Boston had the most thriving brass quintet scene in the country and for this young tuba player that was invaluable.  To get to hear my instrument featured in a chamber setting showed me what was possible and inspired me to get to work.

I will never forget the first time I heard Sam Pilafian play.  (When I was 11 and hearing him play for the first time I certainly never dreamed he would take over a gig for me as he did with Boston Brass earlier this year!) His playing was virtuosic, he was completely approachable, and he made me think that I could someday do what he did.  That's a great thing to be exposed to at such an early age!

The Empire Brass appearance on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was a collision of two worlds for someone my age.  Seeing Sam along with Rolf Smedvig, Charlie Lewis, Dave Ohanian and Scott Hartman on the same television screen as Mister Rogers is still kind of crazy to me.

But the best part of this is Sam giving Mister Rogers a tuba lesson.  The other best part is when Mister Rogers asks if it helps to be friends and there is an uncomfortable laughter...

Enjoy!

Intonation is a Social Skill

Andrew Hitz

"Intonation is a social skill."

I posted this quote on my Facebook Page a couple of days ago and it got over 100 likes.  I believe I first heard this said by Rex Martin but I'm not sure.  Playing in tune with others has just as much to do with social skills as it does with the length of your instrument.

We have all played with "that guy" who thinks he has a pretty incredible ear and yet always seems to have trouble playing in tune with others.  Sometimes "that guy" blames others with their words and other times they simply convey their disappointment with those around them through their body language, eye rolls or any of a plethora of non-verbal communications.  No matter how great that player is, no one ever wants to play with "that guy."

You have to be flexible with your intonation always in all situations.  100% of the time.  No exceptions.  You can have a PHD in intonation and if you are "in tune" and the other four members of a quintet are all equally "sharp" you've got a problem.  No audience member would ever hear you as in tune and the others as all sharp.  You are flat.  End of story.

The best set of ears I've ever played with belong to a trumpet player and my former colleague in Boston Brass, Rich Kelley.  I describe him as having "beyond perfect pitch."  He is blessed (cursed?) with the ability to exactly identify whether any note is sharp, flat or in tune and by exactly how much.  Every single time.  I know he is not unique in this regard but he is as good as I've ever seen.

Coincidentally, playing in tune with Rich is easier than with anyone I've ever played with.  And that's not because he tries to steer the intonation ship from the top of an ensemble.  He agrees with Pythagoras on this one and listens down.  It's because he has one goal and one goal only: for the music to sound in tune.  He is incredibly helpful with rehearsing and being able to identify immediately whether a player is sharp or flat in any given chord.  But in the moment, he will do whatever it takes to make a chord sound in tune, which is the only goal any of us should ever have.

A very important part of playing in tune is also playing well with others.

My dog plays well with others and would probably play very in tune. © 2013 Andrew Hitz

Monday YouTube Fix: Boston Brass and Imani Winds

Andrew Hitz

This footage is from a concert with our dear friends the Imani Winds.  We're playing the Gil Evans/Miles Davis version of "It Ain't Necessarily So" arranged by our horn player, Chris Castellanos.  This version features our trumpet player, Jose Sibaja, doing his best Miles impersonation.  The entire original Porgy and Bess album is a master class on orchestrating.  Gershwin was a genious! I love the colors that Chris got out of this very cool instrumentation, which includes Dan Hostetler on the drums.

Enjoy!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4bauqWXa0I]

Two Stories Every Musician Should Hear

Andrew Hitz

Sorry I've been AWOL from this blog for the last month.  I just finished a project which will be unveiled in the next week or so that has taken up all of my time! But I'll start posting again, I promise! I recently heard a story that we can all stand to hear but it's especially for young musicians who are trying to make a go of it as performers.  That story reminded me of another one that is also a good lesson for us all.

First Story:

I have a good friend in a brass quintet that does quite a bit of work in their city.  They work more than anyone else does in this town and they all get paid quite a bit of money as a result.  There is one instrument in particular that's had a good deal of turnover within the group and they are always looking for someone to fill that spot in a more permanent fashion.

There was a graduate student who had been recommended to them a number of times by various people as being a good guy and a great player.  When the opportunity availed itself, my friend hired this guy to play a graduation ceremony.  As a result of being held in a large stadium, there was a sound check for levels before the actual gig.  The call time was exactly 15 minutes before the sound check.

20 minutes beforehand, no graduate student.  15 beforehand, no graduate student.  None of the regular members could even get this guy on the phone and before they knew it, the sound check started with only 4 guys.  At this point, my friend (the contractor) and their quintet looked like clowns because they couldn't get all five guys there on time.  About 5 minutes into the sound check, this guy came sauntering up and quietly sat down.  He didn't apologize or offer any acknowledgement that he was late.  He also didn't say anything about it between the rehearsal and the gig.

Fast forward to a few months later when this guy saw my friend at a party.  He told him that he enjoyed playing with the quintet and hoped that they could work together in the future.  My friend then told him that they would never call him ever again for any reason.  The guy looked shocked.

Who knows how much work he lost by being late, not being reachable, and not even acknowledging that his actions had consequences for people other than himself.

Second Story:

Jeff Conner, one of the trumpet players in Boston Brass, needed to hire a horn player for our big band Christmas show.  Every year we hire a number of musicians to fill out the trumpets, horns, trombones, and a rhythm section and we pay out a whole lot of money as a result.

Jeff got a very strong recommendation for a horn player who was in graduate school in Texas where we had a few gigs over 5 days.  Jeff called this guy's cell phone and got his outgoing voicemail message.  The message was some heavy metal music.  Jeff waited for 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds and there was no acknowledgement of whose machine it was at all.

At that point, Jeff hung up.  He then called the next guy or girl on the list.  This guy lost over $1000 in work but lost something much more important than that.  He lost the opportunity to network for 5 days on the road with Sam Pilafian, Scott Hartman, Jens Lindemann, all of Boston Brass, and many others.

***YOU CAN'T PAY FOR THAT KIND OF ACCESS***

If he was as great as the people who recommended him said he was which is quite likely, who knows how much work he could have gained from that experience.

And the worst part? Jeff just hung up.  He didn't wait for the beep and leave a message explaining who he was, what he had to offer, and that he was going with someone else.  He has no idea he lost that money and that opportunity.

Moral of the story, you have to be on time, prepared, and accountable all of the time.  No exceptions.  And your voicemail message should convey who you are and be very short, professional sounding, and to the point.  That horn player was not the only person Jeff had to contact that day.  He needs to know that he is leaving a message for the right person or he has to carry around in the back of his head that he might not have actually contacted anyone at all.

Don't leave any opportunities on the table.  There aren't enough of them out there to waste!

Lance LaDuke: Three Tips for Talking to Audiences

Andrew Hitz

(This is reprinted with Lance’s permission and originally appeared at bostonbrass.wordpress.com.)

Um, I’d like to, um talk, you know about er, um, oh you know, like, talking to audiences and stuff.

Captivated?

Can’t wait to hear more?

Didn’t think so.

As musicians, we sometimes feel that we can just let the music speak for itself. There is no need for us to sully our performances with speaking. We practice for hours, perfecting every phrase, every nuance, striving for an ideal performance. Then we adopt a “play it and they will come” mentality. Since we’re God’s gift, people will instantly respond to our every phrase and nuance; we’re just that good. Adulation, groupies and a tour bus are all in our near future.

Other times we feel insecure in performance. Will it go as planned? Will the audience like the piece or program? I hate speaking to crowds. I don’t know what to say. Will they throw vegetables? If so, will there be enough to serve at the reception?

Whatever the reason, it has become increasingly common (and in some cases expected) for musicians to speak to their audiences. While this can seem beneath some of us, and terrifying to others, it needn’t be either.

Audiences want to connect with performers. Programs, bios and notes provide data but not personality. There are many potential reasons (the de-formalization of  performances, the rise of reality programming and the connective possibilities of the internet, to name a few). The fact remains that many (most?) most conductors, soloists and chamber musicians will have to “face the music” and speak to the folks who have paid to come hear them play.

Fortunately, audiences have very simple needs. SO STAND UP, TURN ON THE MIC, AND ANSWER THESE THREE QUESTIONS:

1. WHO ARE YOU?

We see your name in the program and read your bio. BUT if you’re a chamber group, introduce the players (so we can connect the names to faces) and let us know something about them. If you’re a soloist, tell us something that happened to you today in our city or at our venue or comment on something that happened in the world that may be on everyone’s mind. Not a lecture, a minute or two. Break the ice. Think dinner party.

2. WHAT ARE YOU PLAYING?

Remind us. Don’t just read the program to us but give us a framework to help us get a head start on what we’re about to hear. Set the table for us.  This is especially helpful if the composer is less familiar to a general audience. This can take less than a minute

3. WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

Is there an interesting story about the composer or the piece? Why did you select it? Is there anything in particular we should listen for? One to two minutes should do it.

Tailor the talk to your style. If you’re funny, let it be funny. If the piece is serious, let it be serious. DON’T read a script. If you need notes, fine, but talk TO the people who have come to hear you and BE YOURSELF!

THAT’S IT! NOW GO SIT DOWN AND DAZZLE US WITH YOUR PLAYING!

It’s really that simple. We don’t need a twenty-minute lecture. We DID come to hear you play. We just want to know WHO YOU ARE, WHAT YOU’RE PLAYING AND WHY WE SHOULD CARE.

See you at the reception.

I hear there are plenty of veggies.

Lance

The Five Most Influential Concerts I Ever Attended

Andrew Hitz

The following originally appeared at bostonbrass.wordpress.com:

Empire Brass - Tanglewood July 1988

This was part of the Walks and Talks series that Tanglewood used to host.  The artists would lead a short walk around the grounds of Tanglewood while discussing their music.  It would then culminate in a performance for a small audience in a very intimate atmosphere.

This was the first time I ever heard Sam Pilafian play the tuba in person and it did nothing short of change my life.  I was simply awestruck by witnessing first hand what a tuba was capable of playing.  He has been my musical mentor since that day almost 22 years ago.

That is me in the blue sweatshirt looking on in awe! I have wanted to play in a brass quintet ever since that afternoon in the Berkshires.

Copeland 3 - Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein conducting - Tanglewood August, 1990

I have spent every summer of my life about a half an hour away from Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony.  As a result, I saw my first ever BSO concert when I was only two weeks old! But just before my 15th birthday I saw this TMC concert and it was the first time I really, truly got it.

This was the second to last concert of Leonard Bernstein’s career and it was an incredible experience for anyone in the audience that night.  I had enjoyed many orchestra concerts before but had never been inspired by one like I was that night.

I waited for over an hour after the concert to meet Bernstein and get his autograph.  I missed my curfew at BUTI and got in trouble.  I’ve never had someone yell at me and be so happy about it!

Mahler 2 - Boston Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa conducting - Tanglewood July, 1991

This was the first ever Leonard Bernstein Memorial Concert at Tanglewood.  It was just nine months after Bernstein had passed away.  There might not be a single human being that has left more of a mark on Tanglewood than Leonard Bernstein.  He had a very special bond with the place and with the Boston Symphony and that was evident from the very first notes of this performance.

I have been privileged enough to see over 200 BSO concerts in my life and I have never heard them sound better than they sounded that night in 1991.  It also didn’t hurt that Mahler 2 is my favorite symphony of all time (along with Beethoven 7).

This is the only concert of any kind that I’ve ever witnessed where a large percentage of the crowd was literally tearing up afterwards.  It was such a moving experience that it was an awful lot for someone not yet 16 to process.  I do know that it left a truly indelible mark on me and my musicianship.

Wynton Marsalis and his Septet - Skullers - Cambridge, MA May 1992

Wynton Marsalis and his Septet rehearsed the night before this gig at Boston University.  I happened to be there at the same time for a tuba lesson.  I was mesmerized as a I walked past the rehearsal room from which these magical sounds were emanating.  I also had no idea who was playing since the door was barely cracked open.

Excited I ran to ask my teacher who at BU sounded that good.  He smiled and said that it was Wynton Marsalis and asked if I wanted to meet him.  He had been friends with him for a very long time and actually interrupted their rehearsal to introduce me to the band.  Wynton then asked if I was free the next night.  When I eagerly said yes he said he would put me on the guest list since it was an 18 and over show.

Not only did he get me in but he spoke with me for 45 minutes in between their two gigs.  He took the time to introduce me personally to every member of the band as if we had known each other our entire lives.

I will never forget the mind blowing music I heard or the kindness and warmth that Wynton and his entire band showed me that night.

Phish - Worcester Centrum - Worcester, MA December 31, 1993

By the time I saw this show at the Worcester Centrum I had already seen over 50 rock and roll concerts.  But this one was different right from the start.  I did not know much of Phish’s music.  I had heard a couple of tunes and had enjoyed them but that was the extent of it.  My best friend Russell was getting tickets to this show so I asked him to get me one.  Little did I know that ticket would change my life.

These four very normal looking guys walked out on stage without any explosions, fireworks, or hydraulic lifts.  I had always enjoyed the theater of big time rock and roll shows but there was something refreshing about four average Joe’s strolling on stage and letting the music do the talking.

They had me completely hooked on their very unique blend of everything from hard rock to bluegrass to barbershop quartet.  I have never heard any chamber ensemble that can play fluently in as many different styles of music as Phish.

I had no idea that I would go on to see the band over 150 times after that night during my freshman year of college.  They continue to be my favorite chamber ensemble of any genre performing music today.

As a result of Phish allowing the taping and distributing of all of their shows you can find a free download of that night’s music here.

—-

I don’t think it is a coincidence that every concert I have listed occurred when I was between the ages of 14 and 18.  Those were very formative years for my musical tastes.