STS: Southeast Trombone Symposium – Day 2

Today was definitely more involved than yesterday was, although things should continue to heat up more throughout the week. I started the day by getting up early (around 7am) and heading to the practice room to do my daily routine. We were scheduled to have a group warm up session later, but I did not know how much additional playing time I would get. I was unsure of when I would perform the second round of the excerpts competition, and I did not want to feel like I hadn’t warmed up properly for the day.

After I warmed up, I headed back to my room to drop off my horn before breakfast. I reapplied some trombotine to my slide first because it started to get sticky. I went across the street to a small eatery called The Den where we were served a hot breakfast. I ate scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits and grits and listened to George Curran talk to the guy from Shires about random stuff in the music world, like playing gigs in drag…interesting.

The warm up session was held at 9:30 in the band room and was taught by Dr. Brad Palmer. Throughout this session, he went over some very basic warm up routine techniques. We started with some lip slurs as a group from the packet he gave us. This packet included exercises to be done alone and with a partner, along with some informational pages. He highly encouraged the use of drones and metronomes in the warm up. “Your warm up and lip slurs should be in tune and in time.” This is where the exercises to be done with a partner came in. Most of these were structured with one player holding a note while the other had a lip slur that stayed within the major arpeggio of the held note. The held note acts as a real life drone to keep you honest with your tuning. Along these same lines, Palmer encouraged warming up and playing duets with a partner. He tells his students that you should never turn someone down if they knock on the practice room door to ask you to play duets with them. Next, one of the exercises that we went over from the packet utilized slurs across large intervals. This is intended to connect the extreme ranges to the middle range of the horn. Palmer said that he always tries to connect his sound in all registers to the middle of the horn. If you can connect your sound throughout the range of the horn, your sound will be very uniform. He also touched on using the furthest slide positions (5, 6, 7) in Remington exercises. We often fall into the habit of using the valve for everything we can, so the muscle memory can become incorrect over time, leading to playing out of tune in these positions. Sometimes, he takes his F tuning slide out so that he is forced to use these positions. Finally, during our warm down, he demonstrated something that I am definitely going to give a try. He said that often, the last thing he will do before putting away the horn is take off the slide and buzz into the inner slide. We started on a mid-range pitch and lipped the note down until we could not buzz any lower. This seemed to loosen up the chops pretty well, so I may integrate this into my own warm down.

Following the warm up session was a Q&A session with the Atlanta Symphony guys and Dr. Pollard. Nobody spoke up with a question right away, so they decided to tell us a little more about their backgrounds and specific struggles they dealt with to get to where they are today. Colin Williams talked about the countless hours he would spend in the practice room as a college student and even after getting a job. He played so much that he physically tore a muscle in his face. This problem follows him to this day, so he often takes anti-inflammatory drugs and ices his face at night. George Curran talked about his long college career that buried him in debt. Nathan Zgonc has had a very winding path to where he is today. His mother was a professional violinist, so music was always just there for him. He never really had to try until he realized (somewhere during getting his master’s degree) that he needed to commit to being the best he could be. Denson Paul Pollard had a very simple, but intriguing story. He came from a very small town in southern Georgia. He did not attend big name schools. Rather, he attended those that offered him full scholarships. He worked hard and practiced a lot and played in every group he could. And look where he is today. Bass trombonist in the MET and recently appointed professor at Juilliard. His story was intriguing because it sounds like myself. I have been told by some high school directors that there is no chance that someone from a small town in Iowa could be a professional musician. Look at Pollard. He is almost as successful as it gets. The two main points that they stressed were: Work hard (or smart – don’t kill yourself by overdoing it) and be a good colleague. These two things have proven to them to be the most important in developing a career as a professional trombonist.

After the Q&A session, we were released for lunch and the order for the excerpts competition was released. It  started at 1pm, but I did not have to go until 3:30, which was dead last. They ended up grouping us into three groups and drawing for spots within those groups. As I went last, I had ample time to eat lunch, change into nice clothes and warm up/practice. The 4 excerpts we were required to play were Tuba Mirum (Mozart), Ride of the Valkyries (Wagner), Saint-Saëns Symphony 3, and Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortileges. The Ravel excerpt was the hardest from the finals list, but I played it pretty well. My high chops were feeling good today. I thought I played fairly well, but I, unfortunately, did not advance. I did not overly expect to since most of my competition are masters and doctoral students. It was awesome playing in Legacy Hall, however, because it resonates so nicely. I will get my comment sheet tomorrow and will be happy to get some feedback from members of professional symphonies.

Following the excerpts competition, we had our first meeting of the choirs and quartets. I am in choir A, so I get to rehearse in Legacy Hall. We read our music and were assigned parts. Brad Palmer and George Curran are leading our group. We are playing some Bruckner, Gabrielli, and Ewazen, among others. Our quartet met after choir. We started rehearsing In Memoriam by Premru along with a piece by Sweelinck. We will be coached throughout the week by George Curran.

After rehearsal, we had a pizza dinner with all the members of STS and the faculty. This was an opportunity for us to get to meet new people and talk with the faculty on a more casual level. I talked with Brad Palmer a bit and asked Colin Williams a few questions. He gave me some tips on helping my face on long days, as every Monday was for me this past semester. They ordered too much pizza, as well, so I got to take an entire pizza and put it in my fridge for later in the week. Score.

After doing a little research on the music we will be playing this week, it was time go to the faculty recital, which was held in Legacy Hall. The concert tonight featured Brad Palmer, Nathan Zgonc, Paul Pollard and the Atlanta Symphony trombone section as a whole. Palmer played Cortege by DuBois, which sounded absolutely amazing. Zgonc played a piece called Aura written by Tony Di Lorenzo. I found out after the recital that this piece was commissioned for his mother’s funeral last year. It was a very beautiful piece and I hope that I can play it someday. Pollard played Bex’s Vademecum for Bass Trombone. Wow. Simply that. This gave me chills. I have never heard such sweet sounds come from a trombone, or any instrument for that matter. After a brief intermission, the Atlanta section played Bourgeois Concerto for Three Trombones (minus the timpanist – I guess he just had surgery). This piece was ridiculously hard and was well performed. They are crazy good. I think the faculty recitals are what I’m looking forward to the most for the rest of the week. You can’t beat good music in a great hall.

Tomorrow, we will start off with a masterclass. We will also start hitting our chamber music pretty hard in rehearsals. After all, we have a concert on Saturday. Day two was a success and very inspiring.

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