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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

The Brass Junkies 87: Craig Knox

Andrew Hitz

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TBJ87: Craig Knox of the Pittsburgh Symphony on premiering the Jennifer Higdon Tuba Concerto, European road stories and the joys of palinka

Craig is one hell of a tuba player and teacher and a great guy. It was a lot of fun chatting with him about the many things he does in his career.

From the show notes:

Craig Knox is Principal Tuba of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and a founding member of the Center City Brass Quintet. With these ensembles and others, he has performed for audiences across the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and been heard on recordings, and radio, television, and internet broadcasts around the world.

Mr. Knox works regularly with music students through his teaching positions at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music in Pittsburgh, and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, as well as at music festivals, seminars, and conservatories around the world, where he appears as a guest clinician.

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

It's Not About You

Andrew Hitz

"Blend towards the ticket buyers, not each other."
—Marty Hackleman

I have seen countless chamber ensembles fail to grasp the vital principal behind the above quote. The audience experience is everything.

Don't sit in the easiest possible configuration for your group to interact with each other. Sit in the configuration which makes it easiest for the audience to feel like they are interacting with you.

Don't just make sure something is balanced on stage. Make sure it is balanced in the hall.

Don't lift your stand up higher than it needs to be. Put your stand at a level where the audience feels like they are a part of the experience and not just allowed to peer over your shoulder.

Don't just check for dynamic contrast on stage. Make sure that contrast is reaching the last row of paid seats.

Don't match articulations on your side of the bell. Be sure they are matching at the back of the hall.

This list could go on and on...

I couldn't believe how much left edge I had to put on notes when I first joined Boston Brass. Like, I was dumbfounded. What my colleagues were asking me to do sounded stupid on my side of the bell.

But guess what? Those comments were coming from a rehearsal technique that we frequently used. One player would go out into the hall and listen from out there (ie the only place where it matters what it sounds like!) They would then ask for adjustments until it sounded right out there.

They would ask for so much attack that I thought it sounded stupid. But I trusted them so I did it.

Then I would listen to a recording of the performance from later that evening and I'll be damned they were always right. I had to very gradually adjust what I thought it "should" sound like on my side of the bell.

I have yet to find anyone who will pay me to in an orchestra, band, quintet or as a soloist based on me sounding good on my side of the bell. No one cares.

Literally your only job is making sure it sounds (and looks) good in the audience.

You Can't Break a Bad Habit

Andrew Hitz

This is precisely why it is so important to not rush through things and learn them the wrong way when practicing. The key word in the last sentence of the above Arnold Jacobs quote is gradually.

Once you have established a habit, the only way to replace it with a new one is gradually over time. Translation: it's a lot of work.

I was also always taught that the brain does not respond well to the word don't. If you write something like "Don't Drag" in your music then your brain first comprehends "Drag" which is not exactly ideal. I always have my students write the positive version of whatever they're working on so "Don't Drag" becomes "Groove" or "Steady Tempo".

Ideally, we don't ever learn something wrong in the first place because the extra time we take to learn something with slow and deliberate practice will be more than saved by not having to relearn it the right way. But if we do, rather than focusing on not doing it wrong, we need to replace it with the correct version and then have the patience to see the entire process through which will take a while no matter what we do.

The Brass Junkies 86: Listener's Choice - The Falcone Festival

Andrew Hitz

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TBJ:86 Listener's Choice - The Falcone Festival

For episode 86 of The Brass Junkies, we did a deep dive on The Falcone Festival. Lance won the first ever Falcone euphonium competition (he is OLD!) and had lots of great stories. I learned a ton from this one.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Andrew’s medication
  • Lance’s summer plans
  • Jimmy Kimmel and Bill Simmons
  • Boston Brass Portuguese cell phone story
  • Falcone Festival
  • Lance winning the 1st contest in the student level
  • Judging the competition and judging in general

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

Less Facts, More Stories

Andrew Hitz

“To hell with facts! We need stories!”― Ken Kesey

 

It is natural for classical musicians to get wrapped up in getting the facts right. We obsess from an early age about playing the right notes and the right rhythms.

This is of course critically important, but can not come at the expense of having storytelling as our primary focus.

I have encountered so many musicians who feel they are owed a living from playing their instrument once they are able to operate it at a certain level. Or once they have worked X hours a week for Y years in a row.

(Note: This is almost never said aloud but some variation of this feeling of entitlement is frequently just below the surface.)

But this is a false premise.

Literally no one pays money to see artists execute the technical aspects of their art at a high level of proficiency. At least not for that reason alone.

That's not how art works.

Let's take a filmmaker as an example. Who cares if you are a master of many aspects of filmmaking. Lighting. Camera angles. You name it. If your film doesn't take the audience on a journey, it won't make any money and it certainly won't be talked about in 100 years. Hell, it won't be talked about in 100 weeks.

We need stories, not great lighting!

To be clear, great lighting and creative camera angles are integral parts to telling a great story with your film. But to only focus on mastering the lighting leaves you one step shy of the promised land and it's really the only step that matters.

Once you have spent the 10,000 hours mastering the tools, what do you do with them?

In this blog post from 2014, my teacher and mentor, Rex Martin, blew my mind just like he did for four straight years at Northwestern. He took many years to master the ability to play softly in all registers.

But who gives a crap? The question is what has he done with that tool once it was in his musical toolbox.

A number of years ago I flew out to Chicago to see him perform the Vaughn-Williams Concerto for Tuba. I've seen that piece played a 1,000 times and wasn't particularly excited to see it specifically. I flew there to see him. I flew there to hear his story.

The end of the 2nd movement has a four-note ascending line in the tuba that is quite pretty when played well. Mr. Martin played that line with a gorgeous diminuendo and hit the final held note with no vibrato at all. While then barely diminuendoing further he added just the slightest bit of vibrato at the very end of that note, all while continuing to get softer. He then ended the movement with a perfectly tapered release.

It made me hold my breath.

A piece I wouldn't be sad if I never heard again for the rest of my life took my breath away. That's the power of music.

Or rather, that's the power of storytelling.

I would never purchase a plane ticket to see someone operate a tuba at a really high level. But to see someone tell a musical version of anything as powerful as those four notes? I'll fly or drive anywhere for that (which is exactly why I have driven through 44 states plus Ontario to see Phish.)

You will be compensated if enough people find the musical story you are telling remarkable. Remarkable meaning worth remarking over. As in I felt I had to tell some of my friends about the end of Mr. Martin's 2nd Movement of the Vaughn-Williams.

("Enough people" is quite possibly a much smaller number than you think. I did a TEM episode on it that's less than 25 minutes long.)

So don't only focus on the facts. The question is what you do with those facts. Ken Kesey is right. While facts are quite important, what we really need is a good story.

Staying in the Middle Third

Andrew Hitz

This observation by Arnold Jacobs is why I find breathing exercises out of The Breathing Gym so beneficial for students. Getting them to experience the sensation of taking in a large amount of air without having the horn in their hands is invaluable and gives them something concrete to model when they do pick up the instrument.

Doing exercises with long inhales like 6-7-8-9-10 or any variation of In for 8 > Hold for 8 > Out for 8 (also 8>16>8, 12>12>12 or even 16>32>16) are great for feeling the sensation of moving a lot of air.

And as always, Mr. Jacobs was dead on with this observation. So often, mediocre brass players never get close to full and never get close to empty. Getting them to experience this is a great way to encourage them to eventually do it on their own.

The Brass Junkies 85: Tom McCaslin, Tubist with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra on audition prep, recording yourself and all things Canada

Andrew Hitz

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My good friend Tom McCaslin joined us for Episode 85 of The Brass Junkies. Tom is the Principal Tuba for the Calgary Philharmonic. He is a great dude and a monster musician. 

From the show notes:

TBJ85: Tom McCaslin, Tubist with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra on audition prep, recording yourself and all things Canada

Tom McCaslin, Tubist with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Soloist, Teacher, and Clinician has been described by Fanfare Magazine as “one of the contemporary tuba virtuosos”. Originally from Regina, Saskatchewan Tom’s playing and teaching have taken him around the globe. He has performed and taught in Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Portugal, Finland, New Zealand and Australia.

  • The Boston Brass “I Left My Pants in Sarnia, Canada” story
  • New gig in Calgary
  • Canada jokes!
  • Audition preparation
  • How he developed his ears with the help of Sam (Pilafian) and then on his own
  • Put a premium on recording himself (84 hours worth!)
  • Trust in your own abilities
  • Use physicality to override thought, play your way out of it
  • Audition prep with Sam at Tanglewood
  • Systematic
  • Used a randomizer app, put excerpts in and created rounds for himself
  • Daily round of most likely candidates
  • Day of audition, puts himself in a cocoon, noise-cancelling headphones
  • Listened to Bill Simmons podcast and pop music to keep his head clear
  • Studying with Sam Pilafian at Arizona State University
  • Travelin’ Light
  • Studying jazz
  • Boston Symphony audition
  • The support within Sam’s teaching studio
  • Recording solos with Sam as producer
  • Christmas his first year at ASU story, audition prep, followed by turkey prep
  • Teaching at East Carolina University
  • Looking for the quality of person more than quality of player
  • Teaching studio curation
  • The importance of the Studio Class hour, setting the expectations
  • Studying with Roger Bobo in Switzerland
  • The Dog Whisperer
  • “Sack of nicknick” story at Banff
  • Lance’s spot-on Jens impression
  • Andrew’s Banff story with Joe Alessi in Jens’ Porsche
  • Sweat out the bad

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

Article: Director’s Toolbox – Lead from the Bottom by Patrick Sheridan

Andrew Hitz

Pat Sheridan.jpg

Here is a fantastic read by my good friend Patrick Sheridan on engaging and challenging the tuba players in your band. This is must-read!

From the article:

Children want to be given responsibility! There are three responsibilities (opportunities) that belong to the lowest voice of an ensemble. The laws of acoustics dictate this scientifically.

They include:

1. Sound foundation of an ensemble
2. Intonation
3. Time

Patrick expands on all three of these points. Read the full article here.

You can also click on the logo below to hear my interview (along with Lance LaDuke) with Patrick from Episode 35 of The Brass Junkies.

The Brass Junkies 84: Mark Gould

Andrew Hitz

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Mark Gould is a legend. They broke the mold with this guy. I consider him a good friend but I hope you won't hold that against me.

We have had him on our short list of must-have guests since we started the show and are happy we finally made it happen!

Please be warned: This episode contains much more adult content and adult-themed material than any other episode so if that's not your thing, we'll see you for Episode 85!

From the show notes:

Mark Gould, the former Principal trumpet of The Met, the mastermind behind Pink Baby Monster and author of the hilarious new book, "Orchestra Confidential" joins Andrew & Lance in an episode filled with laughs, stories and swear words. Like, a lot of swear words.

WARNING: As mentioned in the above description, this interview is more "adult" than our usual fare. If you are sensitive to this sort of thing, maybe sit this one out. You've been warned.

In this fun and lively conversation, we cover:

  • The first time Gould conducted The Boston Brass Kenton Christmas Carol show
  • How his new book "Orchestra Confidential" came to be
  • Pink Baby Monster, Elixirs and the Banff stories
  • Reagan masks and inflatables in the "Desert Jews" show at ITG
  • Pink Baby Monster's origin on 9/9/01, starting as a song and growing into a group after 9/11
  • Making a hip-hop record w/Brian McWhorter
  • Pink Baby Monster being covered in the Daily News
  • How he got banned from ITG
  • What a Conductor Can’t Say
  • Snobbery in jazz music
  • Training young musicians
  • Project-based training with a deadline
  • What he would do if starting out today
  • Collaboration wish list (David Lynch)
  • Harry Watters
  • PBM, “Conducting the National Brass Ensemble Album” video
  • Masterclasses
  • Heavy valve caps make all the difference
  • Q: How high can you play? A: Exactly
  • Playing with Jim Pandolfi in The Met

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 83: Donna Parkes

Andrew Hitz

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We had a blast interviewing the phenomenal Donna Parkes, Principal Trombone of the Louisville Orchestra. She told us all about her fascinating journey from Australia to Kentucky with a few stops along the way.

It's always so great when musicians who are as accomplished as Donna is are so down to earth. It really was a treat to speak with her!

From the show notes:

TBJ83: Trombonist Donna Parkes of the Louisville Orchestra on having a “Yes!” attitude, sleeping bags and growing up in Australia

Donna Parkes, Principal Trombone with Louisville Orchestra joins Andrew & Lance to detail her amazing career, from Australia to Kentucky, with stops in Chicago, Alaska and Doha, Qatar.

In this fun and lively conversation, we cover:

  • Playing Principal Trombone with Louisville Orchestra
  • Playing with the Colorado Music Festival
  • Coming from Indiana, I mean Canberra, Australia
  • Coming to the U.S. after her undergrad to study with Charlie Vernon at DePaul
  • The differences between the Australian and U.S. markets
  • Studying with Michael Mulcahy early on in Australia
  • Playing freelance gigs in Sydney for a year before moving
  • Getting a lesson with Arnold Jacobs and Ed Kleinhammer
  • Working with 80-year-olds in Virginia
  • The size of Andrew’s tongue (don’t ask)
  • Sleeping in her sleeping bag with her trombone in a hostel on her first night in the U.S.
  • Taking pictures of snow
  • Tips for flying to Australia
  • Playing gigs in Sitka, Alaska twice a year
  • How she recently got married in Australia
  • A typical week in Louisville, which is anything but typical
  • The importance of being flexible and being a good colleague
  • Having a “Yes” attitude
  • Playing in Doha, Qatar
  • An important life lesson, “Don’t smell it first.”

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