Jan 7, 2016

You Can't Run a Marathon in Street Shoes, by Kirk Lundbeck

You want an orchestra job so you purchase “The One Hundred” by Megumi Kanda, Principal Trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. A wonderful new book published by Encore Music Publishers. It’s the top one hundred orchestral excerpts for the trombonist and should simply be the go to book for anyone attempting the pursuit of an orchestra position. The book covers works from Bach to Weinberger, all the biggies, the ones listed on most audition repertoire plus many, many more. If you don’t own it, buy it and get it on your music stand! BUT, it alone will never win you a job.

Many of my students own the book and bring to their lessons on a regular basis. I asked one of my students the other day at the beginning of his lesson what he was going to play for me. The answer was, “Excerpts.” Fine, I’ll listen. He played Tuba Mirum, Die Walkure, Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3, the Organ Symphony solo and Bolero. He played them all very well and with great precision but there was something wrong. Notes weren’t missed, musical styles were accurate but there was something definitely wrong with his playing. After he completed his run through of the excerpts I asked him what else he had been working on. He said, “just excerpts, I want an orchestra gig. Eureka, I found the problem. He’s been running a marathon in his street shoes.

A trombonist, of any level, cannot live on excerpts alone. A fundamental core must be built and improved upon daily. There are a myriad for exercise books just for that reason and they must be used. Whether it be the Tyrell, Kopprasch, Arbans, Blazevich or numerous others they must be practiced regularly to build the framework to allow you to perform excerpts at you best level of ability. Regular practice of long tones, lip slurs and flexibilities, tonguing calisthenics and slide dexterity exercises is a must in every practice session. Know the importance of sound and tone and those two elements are more important than technical ability. Orchestra auditions are based on the sound created by the person auditioning; otherwise there wouldn’t be a screen! Sound is the criterion for how you do anything musically. Quality of sound comes first, even in technical passages.

A marathon runner doesn’t lace up his or her favorite pair of running shoes and run 26 miles. They stretch, train and build endurance to work up to the 26 mile marathon. It’s no different for a trombonist. A few years ago I had the luxury of having several conversations with the late and great Bud Herseth I asked him how he spent his practice time. He said, “I never practice, I always perform. Everyone tries for precision and musicality in performance, that should be done at all times, whether on stage or in a practice room.” Remember, never practice, always perform. Bud practiced in 45 minute spurts. He would them take a break and then go again for another 45 minutes. Each 45 minute session was intense, going all over his instrument and playing in all styles. Melodically, technically, range expansion on both ends of his instrument, not favoring anything but favoring everything. And most importantly he knew the importance of tone.

Go ahead practice excerpts; they are important, but not as important as the fundamental building blocks you need to achieve excellence. Bud said this, “The horn is just a megaphone of yourself, show them how you feel.” Amen.

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