Aug 31, 2009

The Lone Arranger

With this month being the announcement of the release of a number of my hitherto unpublished trombone choir arrangements, I want to give a background on the why and how these came into existence. In the 1960's I produced a couple of arrangements for trombone quartet, namely an excerpt from the Bruckner 7th Symphony and the prelude to the 3rd act of Die Meistersinger, as well as a canzona by Andrea Gabrieli. These were published by Ensemble Publications, and are still in print today as far as I know. Then came a span of about 20 years when I didn't do any arranging to speak of.

Then in the 1980's I arranged a style study of some non-trombone passages from a Wagner opera for my players in the Civic Orchestra, the training orchestra of the CSO. I kept adding segments to this study, such as flowing cello lines, and other material suited for the development of melodic style. This eventually evolved into the "Symphonic Synthesis from Die Walkure," for 8 trombones, an extended suite of themes and passages from that opera, lasting about 20-25 minutes.

In 1986 Charles Vernon joined the CSO as bass trombonist, and started encouraging me to arrange more literature for him, especially things that would challenge him and the rest of the trombone world to extend the range of the trombone from low to high. This led to the creation of the Chicago Trombone Choir, which was made up of some of the best players in the Chicago area. I started to arrange more and more music from the symphonic literature for this group. Over a period of about 6 years I produced approximately 30-40 works for this ensemble, almost all of them for 12 trombones. Why 12? Because that number allows for a technique of orchestration where various colors of the trombone can be used in different combinations to produce a wide spectrum of sound. My goal was not to transcribe, but to make it seem like the composer had originally written the work for an ensemble of trombones, from contrabass to alto, and this required a larger number of players than the usual compliment. With the arrival of Michael Mulcahy to the CSO in 1989, the choir really got going and it culminated in a concert at the ITA festival in Kalamazoo Michigan, where 2 concerts of my arrangements were performed, one by the Chicago Trombone Choir and the other by a special Symphony Players Choir, featuring some of the players from top U.S. orchestras.

I want to make special note of the Trombone Choir Study collection that will be available in one complete volume. It is a collection of study/training material for a 12 part choir, featuring studies in different styles, from unison studies to tone studies, articulation studies, bass trombone studies etc, all excerpted from the standard symphonic literature. I can't think of a more valuable training tool for a large trombone ensemble. It should be in every trombone ensemble's library.

All of the arrangements will provide a 1st trombone part in both alto and tenor clef for ease of reading if alto trombone is used. Also, although some of the 1st parts are in the upper range of the tenor and alto register, any passage can be taken an octave lower to good effect, and in fact most are written out with an optional 8va lower. A limited number of arrangements have been previously published by KBE Editions, Denton, Texas, however with the availability of these additional works, the complete catalog of my contributions to the literature can now be accessed.

BTW, one of Charlie Vernon's and my favorite practice sessions is to take the 1st part as well as some of the other parts to these arrangements and work them up like etudes. It's so rewarding to play great music while you practice.

More Uncle Blabby

Q: I have to say I appreciate you finding new and different ways to describe immediacy of air and it's importance to a great sound. The "Torpedoes Away!" article really clicked with me for some reason, even though I've heard you talk about the same subject for almost 3 years now. My beginnings of notes are much clearer and start with such a sound that I don't have to get other parts of my body involved halfway through the note.

I did have a question pertaining to the same type of idea, but in a lip slur. Say if you take a simple three note lip slur starting on low Bb (second line of the bass clef staff), and slur to middle F, followed by middle Bb. The first Bb would start with this surge of air released by the tongue, but since the tongue is not involved in the rest of the figure, would you still recommend to send a little surge of air at the beginnings of the following notes in the slur to achieve the same type of energy? Obviously there are a couple of different sets of muscles you could use to achieve this (rectus abdominus, internal intercostals) but I'm not as concerned about how you would actually do it, but just that you would recommend those surges of air.

The other way I can think of to achieve the lip slur is to engage a fanatically consistent column of air throughout the duration of the slur, as opposed to the aforementioned 'pulsations.'

What are your thoughts? Thanks so much for taking the time and keep the great columns coming!

A: My answer would be not to use pulsations, but bend those notes upward, if fact try to gliss up to the next note. I practice bending lip slurs to make the actual space between the notes last as long as possible, like those old recordings of the big band trumpet players did. I want a flexible, rubbery air stream that resembles a taffy pull on lip slurs. In other words completely control the space between those notes. If you concentrate on keeping track and controlling and elongating the area between slurred notes, lip slurs or otherwise, the sound on the actual notes will be better and totally reliable. When I say bending, I mean BENDING! Really smearing that interval to where it sounds ridiculous. Many times when trying new things, people don't take things far enough. If you can put that lip slur under a microscope and in dead slow motion, gliss evenly, you will eventually have real control over the air stream. At first it will seem impossible, but with practice and exaggeration you will be completely confident in your air stream to blow through lip slurs instead of around them. Once a note starts with a clear articulation, the air takes over in a steady manner and flexibility is achieved by the embouchure alone. If you pulse the air on lip slurs, then they would have a wincing quality instead of the smooth, flexible and continuous sound that the embouchure would provide.
I want to leave you with an idea that will serve you well as a wind player; If you will concentrate on the sound in-between notes, you will never have a problem with sound on the notes.
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