STS: Southeast Trombone Symposium – Day 5

Today was a little less involved day for me. For others, it was the most stressful day of the week. The final rounds of both competitions were held today, along with quartet rehearsals and a masterclass by Colin Williams.

After breakfast, the excerpts competition was held in Legacy Hall. This was interesting to watch. There was only 1 bass trombone player and 6 tenor players. They called for 1 excerpt from the first round and five of the six excerpts on the final round. These were Mozart’s Tuba Mirum, Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges, Ein Heldenleben, William Tell, Saint-Saëns Symphony 3 and Mahler Symphony 5. If you know these excerpts, you might agree that the Ravel is the toughest. You could definitely tell this from listening to the competition, but not in the way you might expect. Everyone played this excerpt very well. You could tell they practiced it diligently. However, none of the participants played the Saint-Saëns particularly well. It was quite disappointing, actually. Everybody had spent their time learning the Ravel and had seemingly neglected the less technically difficult excerpt.

After the excerpts competition, we had quartet rehearsal, which went very well. We ran our pieces before breaking for lunch. After lunch, Colin Williams gave a masterclass. He is very good at teaching in this setting, and I definitely learned a lot from listening to this class. He talked for a long time about smoothing out slurs over partial breaks. He showed us ways to work on this and ways to think about it. He also talked about embouchure shifts that may be necessary to reach lower registers. A couple people  brought excerpts to play for him, the first of which was Bolero. The main issue for most people on this excerpt is sound/endurance in the high register. He helped us with some exercises and ways to go about strengthening our high chops. When he practices Bolero, he plays it in different keys. This allows him to save his face while working on the subtle phrasing required for this piece. Another person played the excerpt from William Tell. For this excerpt, he talked about keeping your slide in constant motion for the fast runs. He also recommended doing Arban articulation exercises with the articulations used in William Tell. This will help solidify the articulation by using it in multiple contexts. Finally, he talked about goals. If you want to make large progress, you cannot have ambiguous goals, like “I want to be in an orchestra someday.” You must find out the things you need to improve upon and make methodical, step-by-step goals that will lead you there. He says if you do this, you will look back and realize that you have made an enormous amount of progress.

After the masterclass, I went and practiced for a bit. The solo competition started at 5, so I headed back to Legacy at that time. All of the solos were very good. The three winners were definitely deserving of the places they received. The winner of the excerpts competition got second place in the solo competition. I am jealous because he now gets a completely new setup. Trombone, mouthpiece, case and stand. Congratulations to him!

The concert on Friday night was the Professor’s Choir concert. This was very entertaining. The stage was packed with very good players, all of which are professors. There was literally not room for more people. The best part about this was that there were multiple Iowa guys up there. Dr. Gier, Cory Mixdorf, Paul Pollard, and Dr. Palmer. The most interesting piece was an arrangement of the theme from Star Wars. It was for trombone choir, tuba, percussion and, believe it or not, organ. The week was coming to an end.

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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.

STS: Southeast Trombone Symposium – Day 3

Today was once again a very informative and beneficial day. After breakfast in the morning, we had a warm up session, only this one was lead by Paul Pollard. This guy is a very good teacher. He keeps his thoughts organized but has very practical ways to explain them. He basically took us through his routine, which starts out with breathing exercises. We combined breathing with stretching. We stretched the muscles in our shoulders, neck, back and everywhere in between. He compared playing trombone without stretching and exercising your lungs to playing basketball without stretching and warming up. You may be talented and can play well, but your career will not last long without doing these essential, methodical exercises.

Next, we did some buzzing. Apparently, Pollard’s students were planning to make t-shirts that said “Buzz It!” on the front because his answer to solving any problem is buzzing it. If you are having a problem on the horn, you must find the source of that problem, which you will likely find if you pull our your mouthpiece and “buzz it.”

Pollard then moved on to long tones. In his eyes, 90% of what a trombonist plays, minus solos, are variations of long tones. If we play them that much, we definitely must practice them and become masters of them. He stressed the importance of doing them in every register. If you aren’t regularly playing in the extreme registers and doing long tones in them, your response and effectiveness in these registers may be unpredictable and unreliable. After doing long tones as a group, he noticed that some people were really tense, which led him to another high point. He highly stressed the importance of relaxing when you play. After examining my own body while playing, I noticed that I was tense in places I never even thought of. Even thinking about his during the warm up and thinking of staying relaxed had instant results in response and tone.

He also does slurs in his warm up. He makes sure to slur every single day in all registers, slurring from his lowest range up to his highest range and back down. Then he starts up high and slurs downward. The end of his routine is occupied with playing something lyrical in all ranges. His students are required to take a Rochut (one every week) and play it as written, down one octave, down two octaves, up an octave, in tenor clef, in tenor clef down an octave, in tenor clef down two octaves…you get it (I may be forgetting one or two more – he kept listing ways). He does this in his warm up, as well. We, however, as a group played some chorales.

Additionally, Pollard talked about something that really fascinated me. I have always know this stuff, but he put it into a system that really makes sense. He calls it the pivot system (apparently it used to be taught a lot more than it is today). It is centered around the fact that you blow air to the back of the mouthpiece when you play low, pedal notes and you blow air down into the bottom of the mouthpiece when you play high notes. You pivot your air in this 90 degree area depending on what register you are playing in. For higher ranges, you will be blowing more down than back, and vice versa.

After the warm-up session, the Atlanta Symphony trombone section gave an excerpts class. In this class, they covered Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis (Turnadot, Scherzo) and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. They went over the situations you may encounter while playing these pieces, along with the roles of each player in the section. They played them as a section and even allowed a few participants to sit in. What a powerful sound a good trombone section can make!

After lunch, we had choir rehearsal. We were in the studio theater today, which sounds completely dead when compared to the Legacy Hall. Oh well. We got a lot of stuff accomplished in rehearsal. After choir rehearsal, George Curran gave a masterclass in which 5 bass trombonists played. He gave some good advice on preparing yourself for audition situations, breathing efficiently, and ways to practice excerpts. Following this, we had quartet rehearsal, coached by Curran himself. Our group, even after one day, is starting to work well together. We are starting to match articulations and styles well.

On the concert tonight, every faculty member played at one point or another. Paul Pollard’s solo was definitely the highlight of the show. As an opera orchestra member, he likes to play lots of opera transcriptions. He played one that comes from a toy doll singing a love song to the boy that fell in love with her. He decided to add theatrics and act like the doll. He moved around very stiffly, like a wind up doll would do. To top it all off, he had a helper come “wind him up” twice after drooping forward. Colin Williams played the Castérède Sonatine. I was not a huge fan of the way he interpreted it, but it was very well played. Nathan Zgonc played the Sulek Sonata (Vox Gabrieli). After a short intermission, they all played some chamber music. The most interesting, for me, was the Beethoven Drei Equali, mostly because my quartet at home is working on this. The concert was wonderful and I cannot wait to hear more tomorrow.

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.

STS: Southeast Trombone Symposium – Day 1

After driving about 15 hours yesterday, we ended up at a hotel outside of Atlanta, which gave us a short (1.5 hours) drive to Columbus the next day. Check-in was scheduled to start at noon, but since we got here around 10:30, I was able to warm up and sign up for an early audition time. Auditions started at 1pm and went all day, but I signed up to go at 1:20.

Auditions were fairly straightforward. They were held in the smaller auditorium in the music building and were judged by all 3 trombonists of the Atlanta Symphony, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra bass trombonist Paul Pollard, and Columbus State Professor of trombone Bradley Palmer. I’m not going to lie, this made it a little intimidating. Playing for guys that are so accomplished and good at what they do. For those who were interested in competing in the solo competition, this audition served as the first round of the competition. For those not interested, you got to chose anything that was about 5 minutes long. I played the first movement and half of the second movement of the Castérède. This showed two contrasting styles and came out to about 5 minutes, maybe a bit more. I screwed up a few runs that I never mess up (thanks to nerves), but I think I sounded the best I have on it to date. They seemed pleased with my performance. After I finished playing, someone (I forget which person) asked what year I was in school. To follow this, Bradley Palmer added that I go to Iowa (Go Hawks!), as he and Pollard have degrees from there. Stage one was complete.

After I warmed up in the morning and checked in, I moved my luggage to my room in the university apartments across the street. These units are very nice. I am sharing an apartment with Austin. We both have our own room with furniture and a bathroom. There is a full kitchen (which we stocked with food from the local Piggly Wiggly), furniture to sit on, high ceilings with big windows, a fan, and nice hardwood floors. The outer walls are even old brick, which looks very cool.

The parking situation here is very nice. Columbus has free street parking in 2 hour time increments. I must say, this is much nicer than Iowa City. I didn’t have to move my car until after I auditioned. While we stay here, we also have access to park our cars in the parking ramp designated for those in the university apartments. We just drove to the third story of the ramp and scanned my prox card to let us in. Pretty convenient. Plus, the ramp was only about a block from the apartment building.

Two random observations so far are: something in the practice rooms rattles when you play a D (or something close to it; it did it when I played a Db on the piano as well) and someone has not learned to play anything except Mahler, apparently. I heard somebody playing the Castérède Sonatine (which I auditioned with) in a practice room. They were playing it all very loud and very long. Definitely not the style of French music.

Now, I’m getting a little hungry, so I am going to make a sandwich before we have our first meeting tonight. I am very excited for this week. I will get to work with some amazing trombonists in VERY nice facilities (well except that rattling in the practice rooms). It should be a great learning experience. I will keep posting throughout the week, so stay tuned.