Sunday, March 6, 2011

UT Trombone Symposium: Part 2

The first official day of the University of Tennessee Trombone Symposium got of to a great start with another Wind Ensemble rehearsal that included the Ewazen and the Daugherty.   I was much more relaxed than the day before, and I felt I was able to play more naturally and more like a soloist.

Just after lunchtime I gave my first lecture of the week, which centered on the differences in American and European orchestral styles.   All the UT brass students were in attendance, along with several other non-brass faculty and students.   I spoke for well over an hour about the many important stylistic differences in American and European brass playing, including discussions on clarity of articulation, note shape, phrasing, vibrato, and sound concept.   I did just a little bit of playing, attempting to demonstrate some of the differences I was discussing.   I opened up the class for questions at the end, and ended up getting a pretty good discussion going, especially regarding the culture of music and the orchestra’s role in it.

That evening I gave another lecture followed by a master class.   The subject of this one was ‘What it’s like to be a Philharmoniker’.    I talked about the huge significance of the Vienna Philharmonic in the world of classical music, which lies in three traits of the orchestra: its history, its uniqueness, and its sound.     I also covered the most basic items, such as the fact that the ‘Wiener Philharmoniker’ and the ‘Vienna Philharmonic’ are the same thing!  I was able to hook up my laptop to the projection system to show maps of Europe both past and present.   I felt a bit like I was in a war movie, talking and gesturing in front of a giant map of the continent!   I discussed the workings of the orchestra, its traditions, and its unique attributes, and I talked at length about the orchestra’s dual role as the Philharmonic and State Opera orchestra.

After a short break, I worked with several students on solo trombone literature.   It was great to finally be ‘getting my hands dirty’ after all those weeks of planning and preparation.   The students played well, and I felt that I was able to give them some good comments and suggestions.

Before the evening’s lecture, Dan thought it would be good to have some music (imagine that) to open the week’s festivities.   Our solution was to do an informal quartet concert.   Here’s a video of some of the highlights of that performance:

The first major performance of the week was with the University of Tennessee Wind Ensemble.     Even though I had had good rehearsals in the preceding days, I found myself becoming more and more nervous as Thursday wore on.   My chops were in good shape; I had a good warmup that morning and had played little since then.    As I warmed up backstage I kept reassuring myself with the thought that I was in good shape, well prepared, and playing for a friendly audience that wanted to hear me play well.   But there were always those nagging voices in the back of my mind, reminding me of disappointing performances in the past and of the weaknesses in my playing.  I suppose it’s something any professional musician deals with, and in a way it’s exactly the reason I wanted to do the symposium.   I wanted to see if I could face those demons and still perform well.   Could I rely on my preparation and experiences to produce an entertaining, skillful, and musically fulfilling performance?

My friend and colleague Ian Bousfield has done hundreds of solo performances, and he advised me as I prepared for UTTS that there would be a moment when I would profoundly question my ability to successfully carry through with the concerto.  I experienced that moment as I walked out on stage to perform the Ewazen.   It was an eerie sensation taking a bow in the middle of the Cox Auditorium stage where I had performed so many times just a few years earlier.  I guess it was because there was one huge difference: there was a major university ensemble behind me.    At that moment I became keenly aware of two things: 1) a sudden lack of moisture in my mouth, and 2) the pressure of performing as an ‘esteemed’ member of the Vienna Philharmonic.  

I took a deep breath, said a little prayer, nodded to Dr. Sousa, and we were off! 

The first page of the Ewazen is the perfect thing to shake off nerves and get the air moving naturally again.  Yet somehow after I turned the first page I still felt pretty jittery, and I felt it was making the music come off as stilted.   About 2 minutes into the piece there is a big moment; a loud cadence that has the solo part going up to a high C and resolving on a sustained high A.   As we approached that measure, I was determined to nail it and hopefully in doing so finally shake off the nerves and cobwebs.   I probably overdid it, but it was loud and it felt great.   And afterwards I felt much less nervous… until…

(time for a backstory: you may remember from an earlier  blog that I was toying with the idea of doing the concerti from memory.  Well, I decided that with so much going on during the week I shouldn’t press my luck, and I used music for everything.)

I approached the end of the second page, and as I looked up to the top of page 3, I saw that it was actually page 10!!!    My pages had somehow gotten out of order, and I was about to abruptly jump to halfway through the 3rd movement!   My heart sank, but luckily I knew this section well and was able to play the next 20 bars from memory.   My mother says she noticed that when I finally had a few bars rest and reached to correct the page order that my hands were noticeably shaking.   Yeah, no kidding!

I felt that by the 2nd movement I was really getting into my element and feeling comfortable on stage, and then the 3rd movement was in many ways a joyful expression of relief that I had made it through mostly unscathed.   Again I felt encouraged that in spite of my nerves and lack of experience, I was able to pull off the most difficult aspects of the concerto and still stay true to my musical self.   It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was nonetheless a huge victory for me.   I was able to perform as a soloist without any major technical breakdowns, and  I was able to keep my concentration throughout the piece and yet still have fun and enjoy myself.

Up next was the Michael Daugherty piece for three trombone soloists and wind band entitled Rosa Parks Boulevard.   The work pays tribute to Rosa Parks and her famous peaceful protests during the civil rights movement by contrasting wild, percussive tutti passages (symbolizing Rosa Parks’ bus ride and her struggles against racism and civil injustice) with slow, lyrical passages played by the three trombone soloists (which symbolize the voice of the preacher and quote Rosa’s favorite spiritual “Oh, Freedom”).   This was such great fun, and a real release of energy after my concerto.  All during the rehearsals, I kept asking Dr. Sousa, “Are you sure I’m not playing too loudly?”   He always said I was playing it perfectly fine and that it should be huge, just a boisterous African-American preacher might be.   In the actual performance, I sure gave it all I had, and I think Don and Dan followed suit!   We had so much fun playing those bluesy riffs together, and both Don and Dan sounded great.  

l to r: Dr. Sousa, me, Don Hough, & Dan Cloutier

To bring the evening to a rousing conclusion, the three of us joined the rest of the UT Trombone Choir on the front of the stage for a trombone-tastic rendition of Henry Fillmore’s march, Lassus Trombone.    

Here is a video of excerpts from all three pieces that I put together:

After the concert, I was surprised, stunned, and elated to meet one of my absolute favorite musicians of all time, legendary trumpet player Doc Severinsen!!   This was easily one of the highlights of the week for me.   He was in attendance at the concert and was very flattering and complimentary of my performance.   I must’ve seemed like a bumbling idiot as I floundered around trying to figure out how to respond to positive reviews from someone I so admire.  The first jazz CD I ever owned was one of his Greatest Hits albums with the Tonight Show Band.    It was amazing to spend a few minutes ‘talking shop’ with such a legendary musician, who turned out to be an amazingly nice man as well.   It was funny, because all I wanted to talk to him about was jazz, but all he wanted to talk to me about was Mahler!   It was an absolute thrill, and my parents were star struck too!

A HUGE thanks to Dr. Gary Sousa, Dan Cloutier, Don Hough, and all the UT students who made it a wonderful experience and a great night of music-making that I won't soon forget!

No comments:

Post a Comment