STS: Southeast Trombone Symposium – Day 4

Yesterday was a very tiring day and I did not get around to posting, but I am doing so now. We had our usual breakfast at The Den, which was delicious. After breakfast, we had quartet rehearsal for an hour. George Curran was in for a coaching for almost the entire time, which was very helpful. Thankfully, he knows what it is like to play trombone and knew our faces would be pretty tired by this time in the week. Because of this, we had a light rehearsal and did more talking that playing for the first half. We were very productive in this rehearsal and, by the end, knew we would be ready to perform on Saturday.

After quartet rehearsal, we headed over to Legacy Hall for Nathan Zgonc’s masterclass. Nathan is a pretty funny guy, so listening to his class was very entertaining. He spent years playing trombone half-assed until he decided to commit to really playing. His personality reflects this a little. He likes to have fun and joke around. Not many cares. Now, however, he does take playing very seriously, so his masterclass offered many good tips and perspectives. The way he approaches playing goes like this: he decides how he wants to sound and finds a way to sound that way. Many others take a very methodical approach. “You must do this and that and do these certain exercises to play the trombone well.” He finds out what he needs to do to sound the way he wants and works that way. Many people played excerpts in this session, so he gave many important tips about playing them. When he works on excerpts, because there are so many to practice, he does not work on one for more than 7 minutes per day. Since steady tempo is so important in auditions, he has a method that he uses to solidify his tempo. He turns on the recorder, checks his metronome for tempo, then plays the excerpt. He listens back with the metronome playing to see where his tempo wavered. He does this until his tempo is perfectly steady. I will definitely be giving this a try. One participant played the excerpt from Saint-Saëns Symphony 3, which led him to a good teaching point. Almost everyone that has played this excerpt this week (it was on the competition list) has been told they need to play it softer. Of course, in an orchestral setting, you can play it louder because the orchestra is pretty quiet at that point, but in an audition setting, it needs to be much softer. He said that he practices his soft playing for at least 45 minutes a day. He practices starting as soft as possible with breath attacks. You could hardly hear his sound when he demonstrated this. He also practices starting a note at a softer dynamic (~mp) and decreasing to nothing. In his words, “Not being able to play as loud as the director wants won’t really get you in trouble, but not being able to play soft enough could get you fired or sent home from a gig.”

After having a lunch of leftover pizza from the faculty pizza dinner, I headed to choir rehearsal. This went pretty much as expected. We ran almost every piece because it was our last full rehearsal before our dress rehearsal on Saturday. After a little free time, we all headed back to Legacy Hall for the Faculty Excerpts Class. This was an awesome experience. We got to listen to the Atlanta Symphony low brass section play tons of excerpts. It is amazing to hear the professionals doing it live in this setting. You can really tell how loud they play at parts and how soft they have to get. Their dynamic spectrum is unreal. I think my favorite excerpt they played was Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin.  Of course, I recorded all of them so that I can use these as a reference in the future.

The faculty recital last night was, again, very good. It included solos from Paul Pollard, Colin Williams, George Curran, and Bradley Palmer. After intermission, they set up for some chamber music. The group played pieces by Bach, Wagner and Enrique Crespo. They were all very well performed. What beautiful music. Day 4 was a success.

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