Songbird For Saxophone Quartet

I’ve been working on more arrangements for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble and just finished writing a chart on Songbird, by Loonis McGlohon.  I wasn’t familiar with the tune or the composer before being asked to write an arrangement of it.  It’s really a beautiful tune, and has several interesting features.

The bridge is different in that it’s only 4 measures long, a little unusual but not unheard of.  The opening chords for the A sections I found really fun to play with.  Moving from D7#9 to EbMaj7 is an unusual progression with very colorful melody notes (F natural to G over those two chords).

Here’s a MIDI realization of my chart.  I find the computer playback to be particularly unsatisfying on this arrangement.  A little rubato should go a long way into making it more musical.


Here’s a video about McGlohon, the composer.  It turns out there’s a North Carolina connection, as he was based in Charlotte.

Wilktone Named One of Top 5 Brass Blogs of 2011

Brass Musician is on online magazine and forum for brass players.  They have a huge number of articles and other resources for brass players and are adding more regularly.  If you’re interested in bass music, you should check it out.

I have even more incentive to plug them now.  They have named Wilktone as one of their top 5 brass blogs of 2011.  The company my blog is sharing is august, it includes Horn Matters, the Trumpet Blog, and Horn World.  I’ve linked to articles on all three of those blogs before and I recommend you check them out if you’re not already familiar with them too.

Thank you to Brass Musician for including me in their list and for the plug!

Stan Kenton Christmas with the Asheville Jazz Orchestra

This Friday, December 16, 2011, the Asheville Jazz Orchestra will be playing our annual Christmas fundraiser concert for charity.  This year we’re raising funds for Mission Children’s Hospital’s “Children In Crisis.”  We’re also raising money for the Asheville Jazz Council, who will co-sponsoring the Reagan High School Jazz Festival this April.

For this year’s concert we’re going to feature the music arranged for the Stan Kenton Orchestra’s Christmas album.  Ralph Carmichael wrote some incredible arrangements of many familiar holiday pieces, including Angles We Have Heard On High, Once In Royal David’s City, and The Twelve Days of Christmas.  We’ll also be sprinkling in a few other Christmas tunes in a big band style, including a couple I’ve written.  One brand new one is my just-completed arrangement of In the Bleak Midwinter.  We’ll also perform again this year a composition I wrote for big band and narrator, based on the poem A Visit From St. Nick.

This concert is free, although we will be collecting donations during the performance.  If you’re in Asheville, NC this Friday stop on by Trinity United Methodist Church at 7 PM, listen to a great big band, and help raise money for two good causes.

If you can’t make it and want to hear a little bit about what you’re going to miss, today (Wednesday, December 14, 2011) I’m going to be on WCQS to talk a little bit about the concert and the AJO.  You can listen in live just after noon eastern.

Embouchure Dystonia: Mind Over Matter?

Dr. Peter Iltis is a Professor of Kinesiology and also a horn player.  After developing some serious embouchure issues Iltis was diagnosed with focal task specific dystonia of the embouchure and became interested in looking further into the subject.  Gordon College’s Faculty Forum invited him to give a presentation on embouchure dystonia and posted his lecture on YouTube.

The whole lecture lasts an hour, and unless you’re interested in learning a little about neuroanatomy and kinesiology you might want to skip around.  There are several highlights that I found particularly interesting or have comments about. Continue reading Embouchure Dystonia: Mind Over Matter?

Practice Reflections: Tonguing the Initial Attack

As I mentioned last Monday, this week I’ve been revisiting focusing on my tonguing for much of my routine technique practice.  In particular, I’ve been paying attention to how I tongue the initial attacks after breathing in different registers and listening carefully for the results.

I think one thing that sets off the really great players from the rest of us is they don’t get complacent with any aspect of their technique (or maybe I should say, I personally get complacent from time to time and it holds me back).  In years past I’ve spent lots of trombone practice time working on not bottling up the air with my tongue just before the initial attack.  When I do, the attack is too explosive sounding and doesn’t match the articulation of any subsequent attacks on the same breath.  This was particularly challenging for me in the register above F4, where I would often crack the attack.  These days I no longer usually split those notes on the initial attack (just sometimes, which is still too much), so I figured that I was heading in the right direction here and quit spending time daily on it. Continue reading Practice Reflections: Tonguing the Initial Attack

Jay Friedman: The Early Bird Gets the Note

I just came across an online article by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s principle trombonist, Jay Friedman, called The Early Bird Gets the Note.  Much of what he writes in it mirrors things I’ve learned from Doug Elliott and from Donald Reinhardt’s texts on embouchures.  In discussing having your embouchure firmed and in place before you play a note, Friedman uses some effective analogies, including an elevator.

You wouldn’t jump off an elevator as it was coming up to a floor and you wouldn’t try to play a note before the embouchure was level with the partial that note was on. Good players get the embouchure to every note early so it can stabilize and hold the required firmness needed to let the air do it’s job. Again, I want to stress the basic principal of producing sound: a critical balance between the 3 components of tone; enough firmness in the corners of the embouchure, enough air flow to vibrate the lips, and enough seal or stability of the mouthpiece against the embouchure, OK, pressure. When these 3 things are in the correct balance no other muscle activity is needed or desired.

A lot of players want their playing to feel effortless and so minimize the above three mechanical principles to an extreme, limiting their playing.  Building the muscular strength to hold the corners firm, for example, will make holding the corners in the proper position feel easier.  An effortless feel results from being stronger, not looser.  Reinhardt described it as, “Relax doesn’t mean collapse.”

One thing I’m not entirely certain about is Friedman’s analogy of “blowing across a straight surface.”   Continue reading Jay Friedman: The Early Bird Gets the Note

Tonguing and Accuracy

Trombonist and music educator, Dr. Rodney Lancaster, sent me a link to a short essay he wrote on tongue placement and accuracy.  It’s a quick read and offers some suggestions on how to practice tongue placement.  In practicing out of Claude Gordon’s bass clef book Lancaster found that working on his tongue position greatly improved his accuracy.

First, I have to offer a disclaimer.  My knowledge of Gordon’s approach is second hand, I’ve never ready any of his books.  I have closely followed some online discussions about Gordon that included former students of his and watched some players warm up with it, so I think I have the gist of it.  That said, take my comments with a grain of salt (good advice even if I do think I know what I’m talking about).

In my opinion, Gordon’s approach overemphasizes pedal tone practice.  If your pedal tone/false tone embouchure doesn’t match your normal playing embouchure you should definitely spend your time instead working on connecting your high range embouchure down and stay away from a lot of pedals.  Frankly, I think there are better things for trumpet players to practice that do the same thing without risking developing multiple embouchures.  Trombone players in general seem to be better able to play pedals with their normal embouchure (something about the construction of the instruments, perhaps, or maybe the size of the mouthpiece).  However, trombonists sometimes change their embouchure to play pedals in which case I usually recommend they adjust their routine to connect their normal embouchure down, rather than pedal range up.

At any rate, Lancaster’s essay discusses his experience practicing Gordon’s exercises on trombone and using them to work on the position of his tongue inside his mouth.

In tonguing these arpeggios, you will teach yourself where the tongue should be placed on each given note.  For example, one must tongue lower for low notes and higher for a high note.  Having said that, as you practice part two, memorize (subconsciously perhaps) where you had to place the tongue for each given note.  It is a type of muscle memory exercise.

Continue reading Tonguing and Accuracy

Christmas Jazz with the Asheville Jazz Orchestra

The Asheville Jazz Orchestra has another gig this weekend, Friday December 2, 2011 starting at 8 PM.  We’re back out at the White Horse Black Mountain.  This show we’ll be playing a wide variety of big band arrangements of Christmas and other holiday music.

If you’re in western North Carolina tomorrow night stop on by the White Horse and check out the band.  We’ll be premiering a new arrangement I just finished on the traditional Christmas hymn, In the Bleak Midwinter.  To give you an idea of what you will hear you can listen to this MIDI realization I put together of this chart.

[audio:|titles=In the Bleak Midwinter]

I take no responsibility for the “improvised” solos and rhythm section.  I usually will convert Band-in-a-Box files into Finale to put together the MIDI realization.  You always have to use your imagination a bit anyway to know how a real band will sound on something like this.