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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

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The Next Chapter

Andrew Hitz

After over 13 years as the tuba player with Boston Brass, I am officially stepping down on January 1st to pursue other opportunities.  At some point, you realize that your present situation is a part of your past and not a part of your future.  This realization is a very liberating moment and enables the fear of change to be overtaken by its necessity. In my time with the quintet, I have performed in over 40 states and over 30 countries on 4 continents.  It's really incredible when I stop and think about it.  The places I've seen, the people I've met, the food I've eaten, the halls I've played in...it will take a lifetime to sort through the memories.

I have put many things on the back burner during my time on the road and I am very excited for them to step to the forefront.  I have multiple business ventures that will be unveiled shortly and there is a long list of things my wife and I have not been able to do as a result of my schedule.  I just can't put these things off any longer.  Lance LaDuke is also stepping down from Boston Brass.  He and I will be partnering on a number of business fronts moving forward which we are very excited about.

I'm thrilled to announce that I will remain an Educational Ambassador for Jupiter Band Instruments.  My solo playing and teaching engagements have taken in off in the last few years and I hope to continue that momentum.  I am eager for the next chapter.

Thanks to everyone for your support and stay tuned here for what's next.  To quote my favorite band from Vermont:

"This has all been wonderful, but now I'm on way."

Cheers,

Andrew

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Jaco Pastorius "Modern Electric Bass": Monday YouTube Fix

Andrew Hitz

This is an incredible interview with Jaco Pastorius, arguably the greatest bass player to ever live.  His bass playing is interspersed throughout the interview.  He was a transcendent talent that has inspired countless players of all instruments. The number of subjects he touches on is incredible.  He talks a lot about bass playing but his message also speaks to the mastering of any instrument.  Talk about someone who never accepted the limitations of his instrument. 

I particularly love his discussion about learning how to read music to such an incredibly high level.  One of his bands, Weather Report, had really intricate lines that many bass players can't even begin to read or process let alone play.  This exchange happens just a little ways into the interview:

Interviewer: "What did you use to get to that (high level of reading)?"

Jaco: "Believe it or not it sounds corny but just hard practice.  You've got to put in lots of hours."

He then goes on to describe reading anything he can get his hands on in any clef.  How many electric bass players practice reading out of books written in alto and tenor clef?! There is a reason he was such a virtuoso and it wasn't just the luck of the draw.  He also worked harder than just about anyone else.

There is more stuff in this interview than you can imagine.  I think you'll be riveted even if you've never touched a bass in your life.

The flow of his bass playing in this interview is inspirational for any musician but especially for a tuba player.  There truly are no limitations to any instrument if you simply insist there aren't any and then do the work to back it up.  What an inspiration!

Enjoy!


Glad It Wasn't Too Late

Andrew Hitz

There are a few things which are very important to a musician.  I've always been very protective of my face (with the exception of Icicle-gate which you can ask  my friend and fellow low brass player Ben Denne about) and of my right hand.  I've always treated them as if they were sacred and realized that if I were ever do permanent damage to either that I would no longer be able to be a serious tuba player.  But there was one thing that I always ignored that was arguably more important than either of them.

The elephant in the room was my hearing.  I always knew you only get one set of ears but I had simply never followed through on getting any ear protection.  This is spite of the fact that between 1990 and today I've seen over 250 rock concerts! And of course, I occasionally rehearse in very tight quarters on the road with Boston Brass that can lead to some very loud sounds.

Well I finally pulled the trigger a couple of weeks ago and made an appointment with an audiologist.  When I scheduled my appointment to get fitted for a set of plugs they told me they also offered a free hearing test.  To be honest, I was scared to test my hearing.  I just didn't want to know if it was too late for me to prevent serious hearing loss.  But I realized that not knowing was going to be far worse than finding out I had a problem so I took them up on their offer.

Miraculously, the test found that I had some hearing loss but nothing too drastic! What a relief it was to find out that I hadn't waited too long.  Between 150 Phish concerts, standing in front of Phantom Regiment, and sitting next to a drum set every December in a big band I feared the worst.  It turns out my fears were warranted because I have experienced some hearing loss and I was on my way to it affecting my ability to both play and enjoy music.  Thank goodness I followed through in time.

I chose Westone Musician Earplugs with a long canal which was recommended by brass playing friends of mine.  The plugs came with three different levels: 9 dbs, 15 dbs, and 25 dbs.  I will be using the 9's for most performing, the 25's for my rock concerts, and will always have all three on hand for convenience sake.

strongly encourage any young performers, directors, or fans of live music to invest in a professional set of earplugs before it is too late.  Mine cost $270 with all three of the settings although you can get just one level for less money.  I sure am appreciative I acted before there was serious damage.

Hitting the Extremes Early in the Day

Andrew Hitz

A question to ask yourself: Do you play as high as you possibly can, as low as you can, as loudly as you can, and as softly as you can every day before noon? If the answer is no try doing this each day for a week.  The progress in just one week will astound you.

Joe Alessi once commented in a master class that if you are preparing for an audition and don't touch your horn before 1 pm each day you are kidding yourself.  Wise words.

Let Your Skeleton Do The Work

Andrew Hitz

"If you stand or sit in a perfect way your skeleton keeps you up, not your muscles. If you have good posture you allow your body parts to move while you breathe." - Pat Sheridan

It is very important for us to let our skeleton do the work and not our muscles. When we use our muscles it creates tension which leads to hindered breathing and a bad sound.

An Interesting Blog Post on Practicing

Andrew Hitz

I have had some interesting discussions with some folks recently about practicing.  Those conversations have focused on the fact that practicing is both an art and a science.  2011 saw me get a lot more organized about my approach to practicing with the help of Lance LaDuke's new book 'Music Practice Coach' (also available as an eBook).  I highly recommend his workbook for all students and specifically all teachers.  It has made me think quite a lot about my approach which is always a good thing!

As a result of my renewed focus on how to practice my radar has been up for conversations on the subject.  Last night on Twitter I stumbled on a very interesting blog post about practicing (hat tip: @brasschatter).  The blog is called Study Hacks and is not specifically a music blog but a blog about "why some people lead successful, enjoyable, meaningful lives, while so many others do not."

The author interviewed an accomplished piano player about his practice habits and how they differed from others:

 

Flow is the Opiate of the Mediocre: Advice on Getting Better from an Accomplished Piano Player

 

I found the post insightful.  What do you think?

 

New Year's Resolution: More YouTube

Andrew Hitz

It is that time of year that most of us make New Year's resolutions.  Whether it be joining a gym and going only 5 times or dieting for only a couple of weeks, we frequently don't even come close to realizing our goals.  So this year I've decided to make a productive resolution that is also fun: I'm going to spend at least one hour a week watching great music on YouTube.  It's that simple.  The amount of amazing performances which are at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection today is simply stunning.  The fact that I have not been taking full advantage of this mind-boggling resource is silly.

2011 saw the introduction of the online music streaming service Spotify to the United States.  Spotify inspired me to listen to more music this past year than I had in recent memory.  It is a wonderful service and makes doing my research (for the tuba in my head) incredibly easy.  It even inspired a very cool listening project that I'm doing with the George Mason Tuba/Euphonium studio called the Studio Listening Lab.

Spotify has inspired me to bring my research to the next level.  So I've decided that 2012 will be the Year of YouTube for me.  There is something to be said for watching the best musicians in the world do what they do right before your very eyes.

Below are two clips from a jam session that I never knew even happened.  Two of my favorite bass players are Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and George Porter Jr. (of The Meters).  These guys are two of my bass clef heroes and without YouTube I wouldn't even know that the two bands shared a stage in 2006 with the two of them trading solos! Not only did I learn of it's existence but I got to watch it! After two short clips I felt inspired and energized.

So here's to my 2012 being the Year of YouTube!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U422nSBi3TE]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naKJ9JYxj7A&feature=related]

The Listening Library: November 15, 2011

Andrew Hitz

Here's a sampling of what I've been listening to of late with some links at the bottom. Enjoy! Scheherezade – Chicago Symphony/Reiner

What an amazing recording of a simply stunning piece of music. This brings me back to the summer of 1998 during which I had the privilege of playing in the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge, CO. We played this piece a couple of times that summer. It had always been one of my favorites and to finally get to perform it was a real treat. It also didn't hurt that the trombone section included both Jamie Box (Montreal Symphony) and Steve Lange (Boston Symphony). Those guys will make any tuba player sound like they know what they are doing!

The recordings that the CSO left us from the '60s and '70s are simply remarkable for both their technical facility and their artistry. The juxtapostion of power and beauty that they pull off in this recording is truly special.

Rite of Spring – London Symphony/Bernstein

It had been far too long since I had heard this piece. The raw power and drive that Stravinsky gets out of an orchestra is just awesome. I'm not sure there is any composer who gets more colors out of an orchestra than he did. He seemingly features instrument combinations that you've never heard before.

I've been on a real Bernstein kick lately. Some of his interpretations can seem a little out of left field at times but he always gets the best out of an orchestra. This is a fantastic recording. I can understand why people were so upset at the premiere of this piece. It is jarring (and in the best ways possible).

Remain In Light – Talking Heads

I had never heard this album before I saw Phish perform it in its entirety as their “musical costume” for their 1996 Halloween show in Atlanta. That performance 15 years ago changed me forever as a musician and introduced me to the amazing world of the Talking Heads. I have never compiled a list but if I were to choose 5 desert island albums this one would make the list for sure.

There are incredible textures and layer upon layer of intricate playing throughout this album. If ever there was a record that should be listened to on a nice pair of headphones this is it. This band had the ability to have no one in particular at the forefront of the music at any given time while at the same time having every member featured simultaneously. This is a very special collection of songs that I highly recommend checking out.

Phish 11/25/94 Set II UIC Pavillion – Chicago, IL

Anyone that knows me knows that I have a very serious Phish problem. They are quite simply my favorite chamber ensemble of any genre of music ever. This show is a very special one to me. It was the day after Thanksgiving my sophomore year at Northwestern and as a result I had the entire day free. Good friend and fellow musician Ben Denne and I decided that we were going to be front row for this general admission show. We got on the El at 11:00am and made our way down to the UIC Pavillion west of the loop in Chicago. We got there so early that the crowd control barriers weren't even set up yet. We had to ask a guy where to line up. He looked at us in disbelief and laughed since the show didn't start for another 7 hours! Sure enough, of the thousands in attendance we were the first two people in the building not on the payroll.

Luckily for us, we were front row on the railing for an absolutey spectacular show. The second set of this show in particular really captures the essence of who Phish are as performers. They opened the set with a cover of Deodato's version of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra'. Any time you hear a funk version of a Richard Strauss tune everyone in attendance is winning. That is followed by a very powerful version of one of my favorite tunes, Mike's Song. The incessant drive of this tune reminds me a little bit of Mahler's music.

Phish also has a very silly side and enjoy flaunting their collective sense of humor. Harpua, along with its narration, is a great example of this. And their drummer Jon Fishman's version of Purple Rain will have you laughing out loud. The first time I took my mentor, Sam Pilafian, to see Phish he commented that Fishman was one of the best showman he had ever seen in his life. Fishman knows how to work a crowd like no other. It takes some stones to cover a Prince ballad in an arena filled with people. It also helps that he has a few screws loose.

Finally, Phish is very well known for segueing from one song to the next at the drop of a dime. Many of their segues have never been practiced or even talked about beforehand. They all have an incredible “court vision” if you will and are ready to react to a musical cue, even a minute one, from any of the other members instantly. This is one of the many reasons why I refer to them as my favorite chamber ensembles of all time.

Their level of communication is one that I have rarely ever witnessed within either the classical or jazz genres. Don't get me wrong, I've seen it in other groups. The Wynton Marsalis Septet and The Kronos Quartet are two that come to mind right now. But it is sadly rare in music to find communication on this level.

Towards the end of this set we witnessed some of this magical communication when they segued between two of their songs, Weekapaug Groove and The Mango Song. This segue reminds me of Larry Bird's best no-look passes from my childhood. You can watch them over and over again and the only possible explanation is that they had been planned and practiced for months. And yet they weren't.

I feel lucky to be alive at the same time these four musicians are making music.

The Vandermark 5 – A Discontinous Line

I got to see Ken Vandermark performer a number of times during my years in Chicago. Talk about a musician who commands the room. Little did my friends and I realize when we would head into Chicago from NU to see him that one us would end up in his band some day! Dave Rempis, a sax player who I grew up with in the Boston area has now been playing with Ken for years. This quintet is the epitomy of communication.

Each song on this album is written for a fellow artist. My favorite track is titled 'La Dernier Cri (For Elliot Carter)'. I miss seeing music like this performed on a regular basis. The weather in Chicago may suck but it sure has some incredible live music.

Bill Frisell - Bill Frisell Quartet

The word genius gets thrown around far too often in music and elsewhere.  But that is exactly what Bill Frisell is - a genius.  This album is hauntingly beautiful.  The lack of any drums leaves a lot of room for spacial exploration.  The chill nature of this album would make it perfect for background music and yet the musicianship is so brilliant that it grabs your attention over and over.  There's even a little bit of tuba thrown in for good measure!

Here is most of this music on Spotify: http://spoti.fi/t1RbKs

Here is the 11/25/94 Phish show: http://bit.ly/tscPzB

Here is the CSO/Reiner recording of Scheherezade: http://amzn.to/sCzq4V

If you check any of this music out I hope you dig it! What are you listening to these days?

Spotify as an Educational Tool

Andrew Hitz

When I heard this past summer that the music streaming service Spotify was finally coming to the United States I was very excited.  Friends in Europe had already been enjoying it for a couple of years but those of us in America had to wait a little while longer.  I signed up for an invitation to use the free tier to check it out.  Within two hours I upgraded all the way to Pro and it is currently the best $10 I spend a month. (If you are not familiar with Spotify, here is a great write-up by my friend Parker at the great music website Hidden Track).

Within the first month I listened to more music that was new to me than I probably had in the previous year combined! Suddenly my twitter feed and other social media outlets were places of musical discovery.  If someone I knew and respected mentioned a recording or a band I'd never heard before I would immediately search for it on Spotify.  The vast majority of the time it was there and I either heard it instantly or saved it for later.

The copious amounts of musical discovery that I made almost overnight made me realize that a service like Spotify could be used as a very serious teaching tool.  Arnold Jacobs always spoke of playing two tubas: the tuba in your head and the tuba in your lap.  I always tell my students that all music they hear, the best, worst and everything in between, is all data.  It all helps hone the idea of exactly what you want to sound like.

So I decided to make a studio project out of it at one of the schools where I teach, George Mason University.  It is called the Studio Listening Lab.  Every week, two students in the studio are assigned to create a playlist based on a certain theme.  The playlist, along with their comments about the songs they've selected, are posted to a blog every week.  Each student is then required to listen to both playlists and post comments of their own.

The themes that we have used so far include Groove, Tension & Release, and Tone & Blend.  Here's a recent playlist by graduate euphonium student Nathan Galloway using the theme Emotion.  Each student is encouraged to interpret their theme any way they'd like.  Their playlist can be filled with tubas and euphoniums or can have none at all.  It has been a great way for all of us to get to know each other better through our different tastes in music.  Every one of us has heard a significant amount of music that we might never have been exposed to otherwise.

This project has been such a success that I am planning to keep it going indefinitely.  Check back in often to see what new music the studio uncovers and please feel free to add your own comments to any of the posts.  Now I've got some listening I have to do!

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If you are interested in obtaining information about the George Mason University Tuba/Euphonium Studio you can visit the school's website or send me an email at ahitz@gmu.edu.

Sight-Reading: Shifting Priorities

Andrew Hitz

It has been my experience that many musicians and especially students focus on the wrong things when sight-reading a piece of music.  The main focus for many, whether intentional or not, is hitting the right notes.  But from a purely technical standpoint there is another aspect of the music which is significantly more important than note accuracy and that is the rhythms. If I could choose to sight-read a piece of music with a musician who either plays all of the right pitches or nails all of the rhythms I would choose the latter every single time.  A player who sight-reads with great groove and rhythmic confidence will make everyone around them feel more confident.

When I have a student who struggles with groove when sight-reading, whether stopping repeatedly or adding/taking away beats, I have them try something which almost always works.  I have them read the exact same etude a second time and play the entire piece on a middle F.  Invariably a player who couldn't get past the second line without stopping can sight-read the entire piece down with almost perfect rhythm and groove.  This proves that the player was too focused on playing the right notes and not enough on the groove.

Never sacrifice the groove of a piece for note accuracy even when sight-reading.