I had one formal lesson with David Kirk while I was at Rice University. I still have the notes I took during and after that lesson, there’s a lot of great information in there. The one thing I remember most and think of frequently is his recommendation to “recognize effortlessness in others.” I prefer to think of efficiency rather than effortlessness as, I believe, sometimes a task will take some effort but can still be done in an efficient manner.
It’s something I try to do on a daily basis: observe others; recognize when someone is performing in a natural-looking, relaxed manner; and try to learn what I can from it (and also in the negative: recognizing when someone is displaying a lack of efficiency and taking lessons from that). This can happen in any situation, musical/cooking/at the gym/during a conversation, there are a lot of places to learn.
Here are some of my favorite musical examples of efficiency:
I got a pBone Mini in the mail on Friday and spent the weekend messing around with it. I’m not going to go into as much detail as I did with the first pBone. Much of the design is the same… only smaller. It’s essentially a plastic alto trombone, that is, a trombone pitched a fourth higher (in E flat) than a tenor or bass trombone. The slide is just as scratchy as the first pBone but this model comes with some tips for care that informs the user that the slide will break in with use.
tl;dr: Could be a fantastic horn for extra young, beginner trombonists though I have slight reservations about the lack of focus but that may be from my deficiencies playing alto.
Update: upon further messing around with the horn I’ve discovered it has a major leak.
Update 2: I’m working with the distributor and Conn-Selmer to get this resolved. I should have a replacement pBone Mini by Monday evening. I’ll do another assessment once I have that instrument.
Playing first impressions: the sound is difficult to focus. The first harmonic, especially, doesn’t “slot” comfortably. The ability to focus and move between the overtones is the first criteria I use to rate an instrument. A good horn will focus on each pitch, will allow an easy transition between the harmonics and will be relatively in tune. Unfortunately, pitch isn’t great on this instrument. I’ll confess, I’m not the world’s greatest alto player so I’d love to hear the impressions of someone who spends time on one each day. I’m hoping /expecting that as time goes by focus will become a bit better.
BUT… I didn’t buy this horn for me to play the “Rhenish” on. I bought it for my daughter. She’s almost three. When I heard about the horn the first thing I thought of was an article from the ITA Journal in 1996. It talked about a European teacher using alto trombones as beginner instruments.
I’d never trust my daughter with a metal instrument (she’d drop it in a second) but a plastic horn might be manageable.
I videotaped her first attempt on the pBone mini. She’s tried to play on the tenor before without success. This however was fantastic. She had a great time, and as I’m typing she’s asking if she can play again.
Last Saturday AWS played a concert of works written for us in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall. On the program were brand new pieces by John Orfe, Alarm Will Sound pianist, and Tyondai Braxton, in addition to recent works by Donnacha Dennehy and Charles Wuorinen and, at nearly eight years old, a downright ancient piece by David Lang.
John Orfe never disappoints with difficult writing (Parable of the Sower, the trombone quartet he wrote for Novus is no walk in the park, and his Chamber Symphony is quite a blow) and Journeyman is no exception. The piece is purely John. It is densely layered and uses extended harmony that will keep you guessing as to where it’s going but somehow sounds appropriate. Journeyman has great moments for the brass, including a fantastic trombone solo. Here’s a bit from the score:
Increase by David Lang is intense. The opening lulls you into a sense that the piece is going to be a walk in the park with a good four minutes of long tones. Then, suddenly, the mixed meter counting nightmare begins. Three minutes of 5/8, changing from 2+3 to 3+2 every other measure or so, doubled with a percussionist.
The ending is about another three minutes of nonstop rhythms, this time with little opportunity to breathe. I end up sneaking breaths in the repeated dotted eighths.
Tyondai’s new piece, Fly by Wire, is in the vein of math rock. The trombone part, however, requires little calculation. Mostly fat notes below the staff, Tyondai asked for as much sound as he could get from the brass turning the piece into “long, low and loud.” I got the opportunity to talk to him about the piece and recorded it for the AWS YouTube channel:
Big Spinoff, by Charles Wuorinen, is what it’s title implies, a spinoff for large ensemble of an earlier work, Spinoff written for violin, bass and percussion. The trombone part covers a large range, quickly. Leaps of greater than an octave happen frequently. I found that it was effective to play pretty lightly. It balanced the ensemble better and made those fast licks just a little easier to play in time.
The second half of the program was dedicated completely to Donnacha Dennehy’s work, “The Hunger.” Donnacha is creating an opera using The Great Famine as the subject. His depiction of it is incredible. Rather than a solely heartbreaking setting (which moments of the work definitely are), he uses the accounts of Asenath Nicholson, an American in Ireland at the time, as his source material. Her diaries are at times distinctly poignant and emotional and at other times distant and disconnected. Donnacha’s music reflects this. It sometimes sounds too “happy” to be a depiction of such sad events but somehow works wonderfully to create a vivid, effective image. Some of the movements use prerecorded music, all fantastic in their own right.
The trombone part is not wildly difficult but requires constant attention as the meter and it’s subdivision shift nearly every measure. Nearly always “in one” or “in two,” the music goes from 3/4 with four divisions per measure to 4/4 with four divisions per measure frequently. Tuning is the other challenge. Donnacha writes in a spectral style using the natural tuning of the harmonic series. The way he harmonizes these incredible pre-recorded sean-nóssongs with spectral tuning is absolutely gorgeous.
As I mentioned a little while ago it’s been a busy time recently. Just this last week I was in Palo Alto for the US premiere of Radio Rewrite by Steve Reich and St. Louis for an Alarm Will Sound performance. More on those in a second. I haven’t had the opportunity to post much on the Messiah College recording sessions from February and unfortunately I don’t have any media from them (not even a cell phone pic or two). Brass Cross, the college faculty/student brass ensemble, recorded two more Gabrieli sonatas (adding to the seven or eight we already have from previous years), David Diamond’s Ceremonial Fanfare, a new work by Anthony DiLorenzo and the Fanfare to La Peri by Paul Dukas. The college wind ensemble recorded Joseph Turrin’s Concertino for 11 Instruments and Wind Ensemble. I believe the recordings should be released sometime in the fall on the Klavier Records label.
On March 3 I had the joy of playing on a children’s concert for the College Music Society at Dickinson College. It was loads of fun to be able to play Prince Ali for little ones, my daughter and stepson included. Afterward I broke out the pBone and gave the kids a chance to try it out. On the opposite end of the spectrum I was in Palo Alto a week ago for Alarm Will Sound, the music of Steve Reich and the US premiere of Radio Rewrite, Steve’s new work that draws from Radiohead. I performed Clapping Music with Alarm Will Sound and Steve Reich and a sampler part to City Life. Performing on keyboard was a first for me and I’m happy to say I came through the experience for the better. I’m working on getting a recording of our performance. For now here’s a couple seconds of phone video of Matt Marks and I rehearsing the third movement.
Working with Steve Reich was fantastic. His attention to detail was inspiring. You can tell he takes every performance seriously.
Alarm Will Sound’s performance of Radio Rewrite, a joint commission between AWS/Stanford Lively Arts and the London Sinfonietta, was fantastic. My respect for my colleagues is always high but never higher than hearing them perform this difficult new piece. I had the honor of turning pages.
After that AWS was off to St. Louis for our second performance there this season. The concert, at the Sheldon Concert Hall, is part of our ongoing relationship with new music and St. Louis in particular and Missouri/the Mid-West in general. For this show we premiered Journeyman, a new work by AWS pianist/composer John Orfe, and new sections to The Hunger, a work that is to be an evening long opera by Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy.Donnacha’s piece is absolutely gorgeous. Take a listen here: