Asheville Jazz Orchestra Live in Black Mountain, NC

For anyone around western North Carolina this Friday (April 1, 2011), come stop by the White Horse Black Mountain to hear the Asheville Jazz Orchestra. I not only play trombone with this group, but I also serve as the music director. Which means that I get to pick the set list out. We’ll be playing a mix of stuff ranging from the hits of the Swing Era to some of my original compositions.

If you do make it, please come say hello to me during our set break or after the show. If you can’t be there, here’s a taste of what you’ll miss. This video was taken at the 2009 Western Carolina University Trumpet Festival, featuring Bobby Shew (sorry, Bobby will not be playing with us Friday).

Guess the Embouchure Type: “ptarus”

Here’s another guess the embouchure type YouTube video, from “ptarus.”  He posted the following short video of him playing a slur over four octaves on trombone with a very good look at his mouthpiece placement and embouchure motion.  Take a look and see if you can guess what his embouchure type is.

If this is you (you know who you are), you’re not allowed to guess! Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type: “ptarus”

Saint John Coltrane

Saxophonist and composer John Coltrane helped shaped the direction jazz took since the mid-1950s. He was an influence not just for his innovative improvising and composing, but also to many through his devout spiritual beliefs. In 1971, about four years after his death, the African Orthodox Church beatified him and made him one of their official saints.  Having just put together a lecture covering John Coltrane for my Jazz Appreciation class, I thought I’d share a little bit here.

If you need a little “sound baptism,” check out this short video documentary on the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco, CA.

The Saxophone Saint from Turnstyle Video on Vimeo.

Embouchure Aperture Question

“Quiming” asks from Germany:

What’s interesting for me is to know: during the lips vibration, if in all the registers and different colors of sound the lips always have a moment of completely closed? Easily to say, if the vibration is “closed-open” or “less open – more open”?

There are many ideas out there about what the embouchure aperture does while playing, but the best way to understand how it functions is to take a look at videos that either use high speed filming or a strobe light to slow down the vibrations.  There have been a number of researchers who have done this, and they all show that the aperture opens and closes many times per second while a brass performer is playing.  Although some players swear that they are playing with an “open” aperture, this is almost certainly not true. The lips always spend a moment completely closed while playing.

When talking about the “size” of the aperture, what many people are referring to is the position of their lips while they are most open in the cycle of vibrations.  This is influenced primarily by two factors, the pitch being played and how loud it is being played.   Continue reading Embouchure Aperture Question

Should Composers Influence Music History?

Composer Todd Levin is best known perhaps for his album Deluxe, featuring the London Symphony Orchestra.  The centerpiece of this album, entitled Todd Levin, features Levin himself as a narrator.  One of the topics he addresses is the composer’s intentions.  Levin says, “Our prime directive should be the same as the Starship Enterprise, to observe but not influence history.  Too many composers want to influence history.”

It’s an interesting idea, and one that I wrestle with as a composer.  Composition students of mine also frequently take on too much in a composition, trying to draw from all their influences at once and write a masterpiece that will be on the cutting edge.

Richard Russell, who has a web site with great resources for composers, discussed this same issue in one of his podcasts, entitled Creativity and Composition.  Russell offered an interesting visualization of how composers can overcome the desire to influence music history, which he borrows from composer George Tsontakis.  You start by drawing an arrow from left to right, with the left side of the line representing the past and the right side the present.

Too many composers, Russell notes, are too concerned with moving that arrow further to the right.  In order to combat this tendency, Russell suggests that we take another look at this line by plotting influential composers at points in time.   Draw three vertical arrows pointing up, on on the left, one in the center, and one shorter line on the right.  Label the arrow on the left “Bach,” the arrow in the center “Beethoven,” and the shorter arrow on the right represents you. Continue reading Should Composers Influence Music History?

Old Masters and Young Geniuses Concert

Tomorrow night (Saturday, March 19, 2011) I will be performing on a fun concert with the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra. The “young geniuses” on the concert are the Hendersonville Symphony Youth Orchestra.

One of the pieces on the program is William Schumann’s Konzerstuck for Four Horns, OP. 86, featuring Anneke Zuehlke, Christina Cornell, Paula Riddle, and Mark Frederick as the horn soloists.  They came in for the first time to rehearsal last night and they sure sounded great.  If you’re near Hendersonville, NC tomorrow night and love great brass music, don’t miss hearing them play.

If you’re not nearby, here’s a performance of the first movement I found on YouTube so you can get a taste of what you’ll miss.

Guess the Embouchure Type – Cat Anderson

I’ve been looking for some video footage of Cat Anderson that shows a good look at his embouchure for a long time.  I’ve found one that’s pretty good, but unfortunately it doesn’t show him changing register enough to get a good look at his embouchure motion.  Still, if you know what to look for you might be able to make a pretty good guess as to what embouchure type Cat Anderson belonged to.  Take a look and see what you think.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type – Cat Anderson

Warm Up Visualization Through Infrared Thermography

I’ve been going through some articles available on the IWK Brass Research site and found some interesting tidbits on an article by Dr. Matthias Bertsch and Dr. Thomas Maca called Visualization of Trumpet Players’ Warm Up By Infrared Thermography.  The authors took an interesting approach to studying the warm up of trumpet players by photographing them using an infrared camera.

During the warm up of trumpet players, face muscle contractions with increased blood flow result in a higher temperature of the overlying skin.  This effect can be visualized and quantified by infrared-thermography.  The analysis demonstrates that the main facial muscle activity during warm up is restricted to only a few muscle groups (M.orbicularis oris, M.depresor anguli oris).  The “trumpeter’s muscle” (M.buccinator) proved to be of minor importance.  Less trained players expressed a more inhomogenous thermographic pattern compared to well-trained musicians.  Infrared thermography could become a useful tool for documentation of musicians playing technique.

The orbicularis oris is a system of muscles that encircle the mouth.  This is the muscle group that is used to both pucker the lips as if whistling and also to draw them closed and back against the teeth.  The mouthpiece rim is placed over the orbicularis oris.  The depresor anguli oris are the two muscles on either side of the mouth.  They are attached to the lower jaw and extend upward to the mouth corners.  This is the muscle that is used to pull your mouth corners down, as if frowning.  The buccinator muscles are in the cheek areas and are used to hold the cheeks against the teeth when chewing and also are part of the muscles that are used to smile.

This is pretty cool research (pun intended), not only because of the specific questions they answered, but also the proof of concept of the infrared camera as a tool for studying brass playing.   Continue reading Warm Up Visualization Through Infrared Thermography

More Threadspotting

I’m just getting back on my feet now after a terrible bout of the flu.  In place of some original content today, here are a couple of topics going around on the ‘net I’m finding interesting reading.

Bobby Shew’s Thoughts on Aperture has been a lengthy discussion about several interrelated thoughts on what the embouchure aperture does (or should be doing) while playing.  There are many wildly differing opinions about this topic, not all grounded on fact, but not all are necessarily bad analogies to think about.  Regardless of what you think, should your concept of what you think you’re doing actually reflect what happens?  Should it matter if your analogy doesn’t match reality, as long as you find it useful?  If you have the patience, sift through all the pages (9 so far) and see if you can separate the wheat from the chaff here.

BE Discussion on Wilktone.com was prompted by my skeptical review of The Balanced Embouchure (my initial review is here, and a followup can be viewed here).  I’m excited about the possibility that someone can address my concerns about this practice method, and it looks as if the author, Jeff Smiley, may actually set me straight on my misconceptions.   It would be a pleasure to have to correct my viewpoints if it means that I learned something new and improved my own understanding.  That said, I still prefer to recommend other things to practice that I feel derive benefits without the associated risks of practicing more than one embouchure for the entire range.

Keep in mind that if you’re not taking what I recommend with a grain of salt, then you’re missing one of my gripes with the field of brass pedagogy as a whole.

Mouthpiece Pressure and other Tall Tails Tales picks up from my recent post on Mouthpiece Pressure Myths.  Bruce Hembd links in his essay to fellow Horn Matters blogger John Ericson’s related articles.  There’s enough interesting reading to keep me occupied for far longer than I have time for just now.

Threadspotting – Working For Free?

I recently came across an old thread on the official Finale forum that I found interesting.  A successful professional composer asked for a little help.

I am looking for someone knowledgeable enough with Finale who would be looking for a class project. It would involved taking my midi files, already quantized in most part, except for a cello cadenza section, and printing a nice orchestral score. In return I can advertise the person’s name on my website . . .  and on forums, and give him a recording of the live performance of the work as soon as it is performed.

It raises an important question.  Since copywork like this takes a huge amount of time and effort, is this composer taking advantage of a student by asking him or her to work for free like this?  Many professionals reading the thread took issue.  One commented, Continue reading Threadspotting – Working For Free?