Oct 12, 2009

Game, Set, Match

Do you set your embouchure for the first note in every phrase? If so you may be missing a chance to make your best sound on the entire phrase. Many times setting the embouchure for the first note only and not looking ahead to the more difficult register changes results in a loss of resonance. The obvious example is the Bolero solo, which starts in the upper register, and stays there for the entire first half of the solo. Then the second half begins on a middle register D and gradually works it's way down to the lower middle register, what I call "no man's land" for tenor trombone players. If the embouchure is not prepared for that lower tessitura at the end of the solo, it can end up sounding thin and shaky. A decision must be made that realizes the fact that it is much easier to play the beginning of that phrase on a lower middle register embouchure, (I'm thinking around middle F, bass clef,) than it is to set for the first note of the phrase and be set much too high at the end.

Another obvious example is the opening of the 4th movement of the Rhenish symphony. The smart choice is to set for the high Bb at the end of the 2nd measure, and play the 1st note, middle Bb, on the high Bb embouchure. Then, for the next note, Ab, set as much as possible for the high Eb, so that no embouchure change is necessary. The same idea pertains to a passage such as the solo from the Mozart Requiem. The best way to achieve the right sound is to set the embouchure for the low Bb at the end of that phrase instead of the first note, middle Bb. If the embouchure is set in this manner, it is very important to realize that just because the embouchure is set for a lower tessitura does not mean that the corners of the embouchure are not firm and set for buzzing the right pitch. One of the most common problems in this solo is the tendency, even if the embouchure is set for the first middle Bb, to not buzz the pitch for the D above the staff, because of it's ease of production. This results in a flat, dull, lifeless sound. It is important to remember that even if the embouchure is set for a low tessitura, it is possible to buzz the exact pitches in the upper register if the corners are firm and set for buzzing that exact pitch, regardless of the embouchure setting.

Another facet of choice in setting the embouchure is the effect on basic sound characteristics. Generally speaking, a lower setting will result in a mellower less compact sound. A higher setting will result in a more concentrated, focused sound. The places I would avoid a higher setting would be forte passages around the note G above the bass clef staff, which has a tendency to be edgy if the embouchure is set in what feels like a comfortable, normal position. A better way would be to have a slightly lower setting, while compensating with firmer corners so as to buzz exactly that pitch, which would produce a mellower version of that note. A good example of this concept is the excerpt from Berlioz' Hungarian March. Instead of setting the embouchure for the first 4 notes, middle C to F above the staff, a more prudent way would be to play those notes on an F in the bass clef staff setting, because the majority of that excerpt takes place in the lower middle register, and it is much easier to play middle register notes on a lower middle register embouchure, than vice-versa.

On another subject, the FDA in their infinite wisdom has issued an order forcing the company that makes Zicam nose gel, a most effective cold remedy, which has saved me and millions of other people countless days of misery and missed work days, to immediately take this product off the market. It seems that one-hundred and sixty people claim their sense of smell has been affected, (I suspect the scent of money prompted some of these complaints.) As a wind player, you and I know how miserable it is to play with a bad cold, sore throat, runny nose, etc. Zicam, a zinc based natural homeopathic product, worked better than any other remedy I know of to stop or drastically curtail cold symptoms. Shame on the FDA for letting a few dubiously motivated people stop a wonderfully effective product from treating the common cold, something which affects wind players as much as any other profession. There are other Zicam products on the market which don't involve using a nose gel, but since the rhino virus apparently starts in the nose, I suspect they aren't as effective. If anyone with medical knowledge has information on this subject please inform this website and I will pass it on to my readers.

New Concerto Major Addition to Repertoire

I want to report on a new concerto for trombone and orchestra by Samuel Jones, composer-in-residence of the Seattle Symphony. Subtitled "Vita Accademica" it was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and made possible by a gift from Charles Staadecker as a a tribute to Cornell University in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Staadecker's 25th wedding anniversary. The excellent soloist in the first performance was the principal trombonist of the Seattle Symphony, Ko-ichiro Yamamoto. The concerto is in 3 movements and chronicles the life of a student newly enrolled in a university. The concerto is in a tonal, conservative style with beautiful, expressive trombone writing, coupled with an exciting orchestral accompaniment, major parts for the orchestral low brass, and most of all gets a rousing reception from an audience. I predict it will be one of the major concertos in the repertoire very soon. It will be published by Carl Fischer.

This article has been translated into Polish by Lukasz Michalski.

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