SSO Big Band Rehearsal With Wycliffe Gordon

I spent this afternoon and evening rehearsing with Wycliffe Gordon and the Starkville Symphony Orchestra Big Band (Starkville, MS).  Wycliffe sent some challenging charts, but he he’s a pleasure to play for.  He sets demanding standards for the band, but he has a relaxed vibe that makes rehearsals a lot of fun.

Not to mention that he’s a monster!  Just when I think he can’t get more intense with the next chorus, he does.

Here’s the SSO Big Band trombone section (minus me, I’m holding the camera).  On the left, closest to me is Cliff Taylor (band director at MSU), then Richard Human (trombone prof at MSU), and on bass trombone is Jason Begthol (who teaches brass at East Community College).  All three are great players and it turns out that Cliff also scat sings really well.  If you come to the show tomorrow night (November 31, 2010), you can hear him.  The concert is at Bettersworth Auditorium at the Mississippi State University campus at 7:30.

Wycliffe Gordon with the Starkville Symphony Orchestra Big Band

Tomorrow night at 7:30, November 30th, 2010, I’ll be performing with the Starkville Symphony Orchestra Big Band at Bettersworth Auditorium in Lee Hall on the campus of Mississippi State University.  Yes, the SSO has a big band.  Or at least does for this concert.  I got invited to play in the trombone section.  When I heard the guest artist was going to be trombonist Wycliffe Gordon I jumped at the chance, even though it’s a long way to travel.

If I get the chance, I will do my best to come back with a better idea of Wycliffe’s embouchure type.  Here’s another video of him, this time demonstrating plunger technique.

Guess the Embouchure Type: Bob McChesney

First, sorry for the lack of regular updates lately.  As things so often go, I got slammed with grading and class prepping and then wanted to unplug for a bit.  I hope all the U.S. readers had a pleasant Thanksgiving.

Today I’m going to try to guess Bob McChesney’s embouchure type.  McChesney is a fantastic trombonist (as you’ll hear in these videos) and also the author of a very popular book on the jazz trombone technique of doodle tonguing.  Here is McChesney playing one of the parts for his arrangement on I Love You.  As you watch, see if you can guess which of the three basic embouchure types he is.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type: Bob McChesney

Contemporary Trends in Academia: The Shadow Scholar and Video Killed the Faculty Star

Technology has been changing academia.  Whether this is for the good or bad is open to debate.  As anyone who reads this blog might guess, I’m a big fan of using technological innovations (internet, video, music software) to enhance and improve my teaching, but I often come across some of the darker underbelly of an over-reliance on the “bells and whistles” that online resources offer.  Recently I’ve seen a couple of articles that offer some interesting food for thought on this topic.  The first concerns plagiarism and the second regarding the use of posting lectures online.

The Chronicle Review, the e-journal of the Chronicle of Higher Education, published a very interesting article by “Ed Dante,” the pseudonym for a professional writer who writes for an essay mill.  In The Shadow Scholar, Dante discusses how he makes his living writing papers for college students.  It’s an extremely interesting read and infuriating for those of us who teach or those students who actually make an effort to learn and pay their dues.  The comments are as interesting to read as the article itself.

In a somewhat related article, Inside Higher Ed discusses how videos of college lectures can go viral on the internet, often after being highly edited to present an incomplete or even intentionally misleading portrayal of the instructor.  Some colleges and instructors are being more selective about policies towards their access of online course content now in response.

The Rocket for Jazz Ensemble

Many of my compositions have been published by PDF Jazz Music, an online publisher that sells music as downloadable PDF files.  Because they only deal with the PDF format music is really quite cheap (around $20 for big band chart, less for combo charts).  You can also listen to recordings of the music and view a score on the web site, which will allow you to hear whether or not the music will suit your needs before you purchase it.

Recently they got another one of my big band charts published, called The Rocket.  I wrote this tune for the Asheville Jazz Orchestra to play at our old weekly gig at the now-defunct Rocket Club.  I wanted to have a section that could be opened up for different soloists in the band and give some of the band members who might not otherwise get to play solos a chance to stretch out a bit.  In retrospect, there are elements of both Sammy Nestico and Thad Jones in the arranging and the changes are loosely based on Sonny Rollins’s St. Thomas.

You can go listen to this tune (and purchase a copy, if you’re so inclined) at my composer’s page on PDF Jazz Music.  Be sure to check out some of the other composers.  There are some “heavy weights” who have music available there, like Jim Martin, Frank Mantooth (a former teacher of mine) and Don Ellis.

Mirari Brass Quintet On “Performing Fearlessly”

Mirari Brass Quintet

Last Friday, November 12, I got the opportunity to attend a masterclass given by the Mirari Brass Quintet at Western Carolina University.  They opened with a composition by one of their trumpet players, Alex Noppe, and closed with his arrangement of Charles Mingus’s Goodbye Porkpie Hat.  Alex has made this arrangement available for free on their official web site, so be sure to go grab it!

Although I had to miss their performance later that evening, they played extremely well at the masterclass and I’m sorry I couldn’t attend.  They also had some great things to say about overcoming performance anxiety, which I thought I’d share here.  Each member of the quintet took some time to speak briefly about strategies they’ve personally adopted that help them with feeling nervous. Continue reading Mirari Brass Quintet On “Performing Fearlessly”

Brevard Philharmonic Plays Schumann

Tomorrow (Sunday, November 13, 2010) I’ll be performing with the Brevard Philharmonic at 3 PM in the Porter Center Auditorium at Brevard College, NC.  The concert celebrates the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann’s birthday (well, his birthday was on June 8, 1810, but it was 200 years ago).

Performing Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 129 is Franklin Keel.  While I get to sit out on that one (no trombones), I get to play alto trombone in Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 in Eb Major, Op. 97 “Rhenish.”  If Wikipedia can be trusted, I see that both these pieces were completed in 1850.  The fourth movement of the Symphony is particularly beautiful.

It’s been fun practicing alto trombone again.  I haven’t played it seriously since graduate school, over 10 years ago.  I had to borrow one from Dr. Dan Cherry, my colleague and trombone professor at Western Carolina University.  Thanks, Dan!

Also on the program is the ever popular Fanfare for the Common Man, by Aaron Copland.  All in all, a fun concert for me.

The Pencil Trick Exercise

There are a few away-from-the-horn exercises that brass players have developed over the years to augment practice, such as free buzzing, the P.E.T.E., and the pencil trick exercise.  You might think of these exercises as being analogous to weight training for your chops.  They are an effective way to strengthen specific embouchure muscles away from the horn in such a way that you don’t risk the injury that can come from excessive mouthpiece pressure.  They are also strenuous, when done correctly, so they really work the muscles when done properly.

One of the oldest of these exercises is the the “pencil trick.”  I’ve come across this in many different places, but the original source seems to be from Donald Reinhardt. His instructions are also fairly detailed and really seem to target the precise muscle groups needed when followed.  Reinhardt wrote: Continue reading The Pencil Trick Exercise

David Vining on Trombone Slide Technique

Sorry about the lack of updates here lately.  As sometimes happens, I’ve been caught under an avalanche of grading, rehearsing, performances, and other busy work so that blogging has taken a back seat.  For a quick post, here’s a nice video discussion by David Vining on trombone slide technique.

I really appreciate Vining’s approach, which strives to understand the physical actions we use to play trombone.  He’s got a couple of excellent books that I recommend.  The Breathing Book is good for all brass players (and woodwinds and singers too, I imagine).  He also has a text called What Every Trombonist Needs To Know About the Body that I’ve reviewed here.  Both books are available from Mountain Peak Music, for the curious.