Now residing in London, former Sydney based trombonist Colin Philpott plays regularly in musical theatre, studio and television bands, and he spoke with Jamie Kennedy about his show work.
Jamie: What is your playing background and how did you come to be playing regularly in shows?
Colin: I was given a trumpet when I was 8 years old, found a teacher through a family friend and joined a brass band. The bandleader was a trombone player and he was starting off a youth big band, he needed trombones and said he’d teach me for free. There was something about the trombone I’d always liked… little did I know! Having started on valves, he put me on a baritone in the brass band to understand the concept of the bigger horn.
When I was sixteen, instead of completing my HSC (Years 11 and 12) I was accepted into the NSW Conservatorium of Music Jazz Course, headed by Don Burrows. What an education! Don was brilliant – a great mentor and very understanding of my “greenness”. James Morrison was my teacher in the first year and George Brodbeck in my second year. Shortly afterward I met Bob Johnson, who later became a valued teacher and dear friend, and I have always been in awe of his incredible musicality and craftsmanship. Both George and Bob were instrumental in deciding where my future lay – either as a jazz soloist or commercial musician. I was a far better ensemble player than soloist, and so I simply took these strengths (and weaknesses!!!) and worked hard at them. I’ve always felt that musical theatre orchestras are to commercial musicians as opera and ballet orchestras are to classical or orchestral musicians.
I started playing amateur shows whilst I was studying at the Con and it was an environment I felt very comfortable in. I did loads of them – I remember playing five different productions of West Side Story in one calendar year. After doing some depping on 42nd Street at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney, I got my first professional show playing 2nd trombone in the 1988 production of Anything Goes at the State Theatre. I was booked to play lead on 42nd Street for the tour to East Berlin (funnily enough, to dep for George Brodbeck), but only weeks before leaving, the Wall came down, the tour was cancelled and we got paid in full.
In 1991, I moved to London to “grow up” and was depping on Starlight Express, Cats and Cotton Club. When I returned home in 1993 the phone started ringing and eventually found myself playing on most shows that passed through Sydney, one after another. I worked out that I’ve played on about 36 Australian Productions as a full time player and about another 10 as a dep. Now back in London, I’m depping on Miss Saigon, The Lion King and The Book of Mormon.
Jamie: Do you do other kinds of playing or work outside of the pit?
Colin: Yeah I do and really, you have to! To start with it’s hard to survive on just a theatre salary alone as shows in Australia have a limited life. It’s good when one of the biggies comes along for a year or so, but generally they run for 3 to 6 months (if they don’t close much sooner than expected, which some unfortunately have), so you’ve got to create that “minimum wage” via other gigs or teaching.
My schedule in Australia ranged from conducting primary & secondary bands, tutoring in schools, mentoring, and playing in recording sessions and orchestras/bands/ensembles backing Australian and international artists. It’s a varied life but that’s the very reason why you need to work outside of the pit – to keep the creative juices flowing, as well as the income. We’re very lucky that we can actually take performances off to go and do other things. Companies often prefer we didn’t (and shouldn’t) as it would make their administrative life easier and because, they say, no one else can send in a sub, so why should we? It’s great that we can, and it should always be respected as a privilege in my view.
Apart from the theatre work, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing people and projects that remind me why I wanted to do this for a living. Some of those highlights have been playing with Frank Sinatra in Monte Carlo, recording the CD Diorama with Silverchair, playing all of the low brass on James Morrison’s Olympic Fanfare (which we recorded a month out from the 2000 Olympic Games), being James’s entire trombone section when we recorded his Gospel CD, being a casual on Channel 9’s Midday Show, and playing in the bands for Maria Schneider, Bobby Shew, Bob Mintzer, Tom Burlinson, Ricky May, Tommy Tycho, Sammy Davis Jr, Natalie Cole, Anthony Warlow, Bernadette Peters, Dame Shirley Bassey, Barry White and Diana Krall.
Colin playing with Tom Burlinson in the “Sinatra at The Sands” show
Jamie Kennedy explains how psychological theories can help us work on our playing and teaching.
In the first article in this series (can you have a series of two?), we saw that Psychology is a branch of scientific knowledge, and, like the other branches, is roughly divided into investigations and theories. We’ve already looked at an investigation that suggests some effective ways to go about memorising something. As I’m sure you’ve deduced by now, that leaves theory to be the subject of this article.
I can’t promise this will be painless – you may have to stare at a table for a few minutes. But it will hopefully be useful to you. I want to introduce you to Attribution Theory, a motivation theory that attempts to classify and explain how people attribute causes to something, such as an event, an action, a success or failure. “I didn’t pass my exam because I didn’t study enough” is one attribution of a cause. “I didn’t pass my exam because the teacher didn’t like me and the questions were unfair” is another kind of attribution for the same event.
This will be of interest to anyone who teaches, but personally I’ve found it immensely useful for myself and my own playing too, as it can help me to look at my own mental approach and question why things might be going wrong or how to make things better.
Before we go any further, we really should talk more about theories. Theories in Psychology are not quite the same as theories in Physics. They are developed in the same way – you observe what’s going on and come up with a general rule or pattern that describes it. However, they don’t really represent “reality” in quite the same way.
Take the example of the old introvert/extrovert personality theory. Personally, I find that some of the things I do might be described as introverted, and some of the things I do might be described as extroverted. Classify me whichever way you like, but I’m never just one or the other. Trying to use this theory to describe “reality” is not particularly useful, especially with a blunt tool like introvert/extrovert.
And here is that main point – the value of psychological theories lies in their usefulness. They are explanatory tools, and you can’t use just one tool for every job. We have to use our judgement to work out if a particular tool can be useful in any given situation.
So armed with that knowledge, let’s look at Attribution Theory, which is, as I said before, about how people assign or attribute causes to things. Now the majority of this research was done on people’s perceptions of success or failure. This doesn’t just apply to students and exams – this tool can be useful well beyond into anything that might be described as resulting in either a success, failure, or something in between. How about playing a solo in a competition, or preparing a student for an AMEB exam, or playing the chorale in Brahms 1, or playing something in a lesson?
Let’s face it – as brass players, every time we produce a single note, we have an opportunity to judge it as having succeeded, failed, or something in between. It’s part of being alive and conscious that we always try to understand our environment, so we make a connected judgement about what caused that success or failure
Ian Bell is a freelance trombone player in Melbourne and he spoke with Jamie Kennedy about playing in musical theatre.
Jamie: You count studio and TV work as part of your early working experiences, what’s your playing background and how did you come to be playing regularly in shows?
Ian: I moved to Melbourne from Geelong to do Year 11 and 12 at VCASS (Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School) and then into first year at the VCA studying with Roger Davies. Around this time, some of my tutors from past music camps and ensembles started to get me in on the odd recording session or TV show. The musical directors of these included Graeme Lyall, Pete De Visser, Kevin Hocking and Geoff Harvey (long time GTV 9 band leader). The Midday Show would occasionally be filmed in Melbourne and doing this led to me being booked for the annual televised Carols by Candlelight – a job I still do.
In the late 1980s there was a noticeable reduction in the amount of studio work from previous decades. Many of the excellent and well established players from this scene were attracted to the pay and regularity of the theatre scene. It was also a great way for some, who after years of playing, were at an age where they wanted to get a bit more into their super before retiring from regular work.
After spending a year playing in Brisbane during Expo, I came back to finish my VCA degree. I hadn’t necessarily planned to do show work – I was happy to do whatever was asked of me! I did a little bit of “depping” and was booked for my first long run, which was 42nd Street in the early 1990s. I assume that my studio and TV contacts from earlier had recommended me to the bookers.
Jamie: Do you count shows as a big part of what you do?
Ian: They’re a large part of the work that I do now and have made up the bulk of my income for quite a few years. 42nd Street ran for seven months and was a pretty big orchestra, which I enjoyed a lot. Chorus Line came in straight after that and I was booked to play in that as well. I learnt a lot about section playing and fitting in from the more experienced guys, and started to notice that if you play a show well and don’t upset people, you’ll get asked back. Sometimes there are breaks between productions but that’s the nature of freelance work.
Jamie: It sounds like the show industry has changed a bit in the last twenty years, can you give us an idea of what your working week and working year looks like these days?
Ian: I’m just coming to the end of a 9-month run of The Lion King, but have managed to fit in the occasional TV jingle, some episodes of Dancing With The Stars, backing tracks for The X-Factor, several one-off band or orchestra jobs, and I finish up the year with a 3-week tour backing Hugh Jackman.
In previous years, I’ve had the opportunity to play with Orchestra Victoria and their brass ensemble. The orchestral work most often involves playing larger equipment than in the commercial and big band scene – this versatility is very beneficial and it feeds back into the theatre work which recently has required more large equipment and bass trombone.
Ian playing in the stage band for the Logie Awards, 2012
Jamie: You mentioned Jingles, what’s involved in those?
Ian: Lately it’s become more about multi-tracking the trombone parts because people have moved to smaller studios and budgets have become tighter. I did one recently for Mt Franklin Mineral Water, which required recording three tenor trombones and one bass. There are two parts to the ad – a slightly cheesy Austin Powers-style dance band and something a bit more orchestral.
The lighter side of commercial work
For a few years I had seen social media photos of trombones gathering at the SliderAsia trombone and low brass festival in Hong Kong. This year I was fortunate to be able to go myself, thanks to the generous support of my QSO Chair Sponsors Francis and Stephen Maitland, along with four students from Griffith University, and a large group from Melbourne University with Don Immel. Overall, twelve countries were represented at the festival, with large contingents from Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Thailand and China.
Hosted by the Hong Kong Trombone Society, led by Stanley Chen and with Artistic Director Denson Paul Pollard (Bass trombone at the Metropolitan Opera, New York), we had an action packed week of warm ups, masterclasses, trombone, euphonium and tuba choir rehearsals, and 28 different performances – all crammed into seven days. One of the big features of the week was an international solo competition for tenor and bass trombonists.
Many delegates and faculty members had come directly from the International Trombone Festival, this year held in Valencia, Spain, and others had come from II Projeto Bone international festival in Brazil. Guest composers were Eric Ewazen and Steven Verhelst, and their compositions were a central feature of the festival, both giving lectures/demonstrations about the performance of their music as well as their composing processes.
It all began with a Masterclass by Don Immel, in which he shared some of his personal trombone journey, and his three rules:
Air to lips; (2) Tongue exactly in time; (3) Move the slide later
Don also delved into performance psychology with practical tips on performing under pressure, referencing the work of Don Greene. This was followed by a Mass choir rehearsal led by Dr Denson Paul Pollard, and introduced some of the music we would play in our participant choirs. Opening concerts included spectacular concerts by the Melbourne University Trombone Choir and the Geneva Brass Quintet.
The next morning Brett Baker did a very practical masterclass on performance with some great tips and impressive demonstrations. He touched on maximising your ability to perform at your best, managing anxiety, keeping healthy perspectives on perfectionism, explaining our fight or flight instincts, and recommended the book The Inner Game of Music. He also spoke about the ‘Chimp paradox’ theory by Steve Peters exploring logic versus emotion.
Michael Szabo, recently appointed Principal Bass Trombone of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, offers some advice for orchestral brass players beyond winning an audition. Michael has previously held positions with the Sjællands Symfoniorkester in Copenhagen and also the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra.
Much is written these days about winning auditions, and rightly so! But what happens afterwards? Now that you’ve won the job, there is an arguably more difficult task ahead of you: you’ve got to keep it.
One year ago, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra held their audition for the position of Principal Bass Trombone. As a result of that process, I was awarded the position. I am more fortunate than most others who took the audition; I had lived in Melbourne for two years prior and had been on the casual list for quite some time. The low brass section already knew me, and knew what they were getting when they hired me after my pre-trial. This is usually not the case when you enter a trial situation. The MSO is my third orchestra job, and in both of my previous jobs, I was going into the trial blind. This can be a very stressful situation, and my aim in this blog is to give some ground rules for young trombonists about how to succeed during this delicate and stressful process.
Rule #1: Don’t be difficult
Why, you say, isn’t the first rule to play your best? Because your colleagues already know you can play your instrument: they heard you at the audition! What they don’t know yet is if you are a good colleague. Say hello and good morning when you arrive, especially to your section-mates. Don’t warm up a lot on stage when other musicians are around. When I was new in my first job with the Honolulu Symphony, the orchestra had an unwritten rule that brass players were not allowed on stage to warm up until fifteen minutes before the call started. This is a good policy to adopt so as not to annoy your new colleagues in the woodwind and string sections. One of your jobs during the trial is not to give anyone on the panel an excuse to say anything negative about your attitude or demeanour. You have no idea about the past baggage your orchestra is carrying around, so even a comment made by you in passing can have a negative impact on your job prospects. Be polite, humble, and respectful and you won’t have a problem. When in doubt, zip it!
Rule #2: Play your best
Notice I didn’t say: “play perfectly”. You can’t do that, and don’t expect yourself to. This starts every morning with your warm up. You should arrive early to work. I arrive almost without exception forty-five minutes to an hour before I have to play. This is so I can warm up and concentrate on my fundamentals. If you don’t have a solid fundamental routine, you probably haven’t gotten this far, so stick with it! Especially during your trial, run your fundamentals every day to keep your chops at their optimal level. This will also have a side-benefit: You will build a reputation as a reliable person who takes their job seriously. You will quickly realise that especially during heavy weeks (Bruckner, Mahler, etc); you won’t have chops left over after rehearsals to do much individual practicing. This is where your fundamental routine comes into play, and done consistently over the years, can extend your career by quite a while. If you get a good hour of playing in before you start work, then you don’t have to stress about practice time when you don’t have any chops left after work is finished.
Don’t stress out when you chip a note, everyone does it. I’ve chipped notes in every audition I’ve ever won (and not won!). As long as it’s within reason, you’ll be fine. Don’t allow a chipped note to put you off your game— in fact, don’t react in any way. Conversely, don’t react when one of your colleagues makes a mistake or chips a note: it’s very rude and it will be noticed!
Jake from The Eighth Position spoke with Ben Turner about his recent experience at the Lätzsch Trombone Festival. Ben Turner is a freelance bass trombonist living in Sydney. He has performed with the Sydney Symphony and the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra and is preparing to move to Europe later in 2015 for further study.
Jake: You’ve recently been to the Lätzsch Trombone Festival in the Netherlands, can you tell us where it was held and what was on the program?
Ben: The festival was held right on the border of the Netherlands and Germany and was split between two border towns, Enschede in the Netherlands and Heek in Germany. The Lätzsch festival is held every three years and is a six day seminar of warm ups, masterclasses, ensemble playing, concerts and a competition to win a custom Lätzsch trombone. Oh, and a chance to indulge in a few weißbiers with plenty of other trombonists from around the world.
Jake: What were some of your highlights?
Ben: I was very lucky to witness and participate in some fantastic concerts given by the teaching faculty and local ensembles every night at the festival. There’s nothing more valuable than being able to listen to and play next to some of the biggest names in the trombone world.
Jake: Who else attended the festival and who were some of your tutors?
Ben: The festival was attended by many students and young professional trombonists (bass, tenor and jazz) from twenty different countries. The biggest contingents were from countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark. We were very lucky to be tutored by some fantastic teachers too.
Brandt Attema – Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Martin Schippers – Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Martin Van Den Berg – Conservatorium van Amsterdam
Peter Van Klink – Netherlands Symfonieorkest
Zoltan Kiss – Mnozil Brass
Dirk Ellerkamp – Dortmund Philharmoniker
Mayumi Shimizu – Southwest German Radio (SWR) Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg.
Jake: You’ve now finished your degree at the Sydney Conservatorium with Chris Harris as your primary teacher, did you notice any significant differences between the Australian teaching styles to those of the tutors at the Festival?
Ben: In my opinion, I think that teaching styles around the world are more closely linked than most people think. You don’t need to drop thousands of the dollars on flights around the world to have another teacher tell you that you’re playing out of time or out of tune.
Teachers impart their knowledge with a hope that something they say will stick in your head and then you can become your own teacher and make your own decisions. However, I would say it’s interesting to see how teachers around the world approach trombone playing and making music.
Jake: What activities did you take part in?
Ben: The activities at the festival were heavily aimed at collaborating with as many as of the other students and teachers as possible. So I found this a great way to meet all the students and teachers and get together to have a play through some quartets etc. The week was also tailored around preparation for the competition at the end of the week that was set up as a bit of a mock orchestral audition with a set piece and excerpts.
Jake: What were some of the key points you took away from your experiences?
Ben: I took away a lot of great ideas from the festival. However, some of the key points that really stuck with me were that when you pick up a trombone or any other instrument, the music should be the only important thing. Nobody cares about what mouthpiece you play on or what exercise you have been practicing. It’s always worthwhile taking a step back and looking at the big picture. The festival also offered up some pearls of wisdom from the teachers about heading down the path of being a musician.
“Stay hungry and stay in the fight. Take the punches but stay in the fight.”
Benjamin Anderson is a freelance bass trombonist in Melbourne who has performed with Orchestra Victoria, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. He is dedicated to promoting and performing new music and has a penchant for baking.
In my career as a freelance bass trombonist I have performed plenty of orchestral concerts, played a few solo recitals (all part of tertiary education programs) and been involved with a number of chamber ensembles. But in all of these cases someone else was steering the ship, whether it was the person who booked me for a gig, or some admin worker at the University slotting me into a recital schedule. Recently I embarked on a new venture – organising my own concert. Along the way I learned many of the things that can go wrong (and a few of the things that can go right). I thought that it would be worthwhile sharing some of my thoughts here in the hopes that other people would be able to learn from my mistakes, or perhaps for the more seasoned concert organisers, have a chuckle at my naivety.
Programming – what to play?
I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of Charles Wuorinen. I hadn’t when I started my undergrad. I remember in first year I found the score to his piece Archangel on the library shelf and was dumbfounded. If you haven’t heard his music before, go look it up. Even if modernism isn’t your thing, it’s worth looking at the scores or hearing a recording. His music is hard. Really hard. Brain-numbingly complex. Despite the first reaction, I kept returning to the library to look at scores for a number of his works. I was intrigued by how difficult his trombone parts were, but I also started to find myself enjoying this music (in a rather masochistic way). It’s also unusual to find a composer who features the bass trombone once. Wuorinen has three times.
Out of this fascination the idea for a concert started to brew. I wanted to play these three pieces, but what should go with them? I knew very little about Wuorinen; I’d read that he had won a Pulitzer and had been commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but beyond that, nothing. I got straight onto Wikipedia (like a good musicologist) and read a bit more. The most interesting thing to me was the section on the composers that influenced him: Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Milton Babbitt. Now those names were familiar to me, and after listening a bit more to his music and the other composers an idea formulated. Perhaps Wuorinen’s three works could be presented alongside short pieces from Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Babbitt. While this program made sense to me, I started to realise the scope of what I was putting together. This was going to involve 20+ musicians, and all of the pieces were crazy hard. But I was hooked. I had to present the concert. The next step was to find a place for it.
Proposals – making your concert happen!
So. I had an idea. That’s fine, but at the end of the day you need a venue, marketing, front of house, backstage help, performers etc. And I was in no way equipped to organise all of this myself. So I put together a proposal to do the concert as part of a fellowship at the Australian National Academy of Music. Each year ANAM offers a small number of coveted fellowship positions, and I thought as a previous student I might be in with a chance to get one. I drew up a budget, organised a conductor, and chatted with other performers about being involved. By this point I felt like the concert was going to happen. My application was shortlisted, but ultimately I wasn’t successful. That was a big blow, and I thought that might be the end of the road for this idea. But it stayed in the back of mind, waiting for the next opportunity. This was the first lesson I learnt: don’t let one rejection crush an idea; there will always be more opportunities if you keep your eyes peeled.
The Eighth Position’s Co-Editor and Griffith University PhD candidate Jamie Kennedy investigates how exploring the field of psychology can help us to improve as teachers and performers.
If there is something I know with some degree of certainty, it’s that other people know more than me. The minute I open my mouth is the same minute in which I betray almost all of my ignorant and half-baked ideas.
I can tell you that nothing has done more to make me feel like an outspoken five-year-old who should go back to the little people’s table than studying psychology. Unfortunate for me, then, that understanding psychological concepts is actually one of the single most useful tools for a musician and teacher to have, next to a European passport and heaps of cash.
How has it been useful to me? Let me count the ways. It has helped me deal with performance anxiety; it has changed the way I approach taking control of my practice technique; I use it constantly to try and maintain good levels of positive motivation in my students. Hell, I even use it to boost my own motivation when it starts to slip. So, for something so useful, why does it also make me feel like the village idiot at the same time? Is it all of the big words? Partly.
The answer lies in what psychology is. Psychology is a branch of scientific study that concerns itself with the knowledge (-ology) of the mind (psyche). Ah yes, the mind. Here is a big problem – what the hell is that, exactly?
The mind can be lots of things. It involves the brain, but it is more than the brain. It involves what we feel, see and think, but it is more than that too. It involves who we think we are and why we think we do things. It is at the very heart of… subjectivity. A science that studies subjectivity? All those constantly changing and fluctuating thoughts that make up our subjective impressions of the world? The very idea makes my head swim.
Despite this, it is the fact that it deals with human understanding and perception (among other things) that has made it so useful to me. When I see a student freaking out or getting depressed about an exam, using the psychological concepts I’ve encountered about motivation I can identify the unhelpful ways they might be thinking about success and failure and try to help them build more useful beliefs about their playing; for example that playing well in an exam isn’t down to luck or some innate ability to play the trombone, but directly related to the work they do beforehand and the mental approach they take in the exam. Playing, and learning to play (and who isn’t still learning to play?), is predominately mental – understanding what to physically do with an instrument, learning how to pay attention or what to listen to.
We now come to the problem of the big words. Ever since it became a discipline over a century ago, psychology has so desperately wanted to be a science. It has two halves like a science – theories and practical studies. It uses sciency-wiency words that make you head for the dictionary, like meta-cognition, correlation, and empiricism. It also divides itself up, like a science, into sub-topics, such as development, perception, cognition (thinking processes), neuroscience (the brain), or – my least favourite – personality.
But nothing makes a newly formed science feel like the most naked of naked emperors than claiming something so subjective as the mind for its turf.
So, to fortify themselves against attack from their more objective cousins, like cosmology or biological chemistry, psychologists try to act as much like them as they can. They use the most obscure language possible, and only publish their work in exclusive and expensive journals, with enigmatic names like Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, or The European Journal of Cognitive Psychology. This assessment may sound slightly one-sided, and in fairness it isn’t the whole story, BUT… the fact remains that for the majority of music performers and teachers, most psychological research is about as accessible as Furtwängler’s left hand.
Dale from The Eighth Position caught up with prolific London-based jazz trombonist, composer and arranger Trevor Mires, who is touring Australia in September with British megastar Robbie Williams. He will also perform with the Sydney Jazz Orchestra trombone section in their show at The Basement on September 29, details here. Trevor Mires plays Michael Rath Trombones.
Dale: You’ve performed and recorded with numerous international artists of the calibre of Tom Jones, [Australian jazz artist] James Morrison, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Jamiroquai, Chaka Kahn, Pete Doherty, Basement Jaxx and now Robbie Williams, as well as playing in West End musicals and leading European big bands. After starting out as Principal Trombone of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra in the 90s, did you make a conscious decision to steer away from orchestral playing towards jazz and popular music?
Trevor: I guess it was more of a gravitation than a conscious decision. I began, as many young brass players do, playing in wind bands and then in youth orchestras. I thoroughly enjoyed my time doing this and love to listen to all kinds of orchestral music. Ultimately, however, my heart wasn’t in playing it. I used to find that I’d get a little bored counting 158 bars rest before having to play a pianissimo B natural! Of course, I totally respect the high level of musicianship and craft that allows someone to have that focus, but as soon as I started to play with big bands, to improvise and play jazz, I got a buzz out of the fact that I was playing a lot of the time.
I studied classically at the Royal College of Music [in London], but to be honest the only reasons I went there were that a) I was offered a place and b) two things leapt out at me from the tutor bios; one of the trombone tutors played on the soundtrack to Star Wars (I’m a Star Wars nut) and another trombonist (Richard Edwards) had recorded with Jamiroquai! I stayed at the college, despite getting a full scholarship to Berklee [in Boston, USA], because my tutor Chris Mowat was so inspiring. While studying with him I spent as much time as possible going to jam sessions and doing little gigs playing jazz, salsa and funk in pubs. Eventually I ended up playing in Jamiroquai for the best part of a year…but, sadly, NOT playing on the soundtrack to Star Wars!
Dale: I imagine there must be incredible competition for freelance playing work in London where you are based. How difficult was it for you to start out on your chosen career path with so many great players competing for the same gigs?
Trevor: Extremely difficult – and it still is! London has so many absolutely astounding trombonists. I suppose a combination of luck, being supported by more experienced peers in the industry, and good old-fashioned practice have all helped. In a crazy kind of way, I love the fact that there is so much competition. It keeps you on top of your game, and continues to inspire you to play better. I’m still working on that one, and will be for the rest of my days!
Trevor playing one of his arrangements with Sir Tom Jones in Switzerland in 2009 (trombone solo at 3:40 in the video)
Dale: Could you tell our readers about some of your own creative (ad)ventures over the years, what they mean to you and how you’ve gotten them off the ground?
Trevor: My creative endeavours crop up in undulating waves, usually related to my employment schedule. I tend to get itchy to write and record while I’m touring and then start to fill up spare time with this. On tour I’m always either writing things for other people’s records, or writing tunes for my own projects.
I had a band called Plumstead Radical Club which recorded a couple of records. It did fairly well, in fact the vinyl copies change hands for decent money on the internet as a collectable for some reason! A couple of the tracks have been used as material for television idents. I also was a member of a group called Nostalgia 77, which recorded six or seven albums, with all of the members contributing compositions. I have arranged a number of 80’s pop tunes for seven trombones and drums, and often contribute compositions to jazz groups that I perform with in London.
Personally, I feel it is important to feed that side of me, in order to keep things varied and fun.
I’m currently sitting on a train between Mannheim and Würzburg, returning from a few days’ break from trombone. I have now been living in Germany for just over two years and this is quite possibly only the first (or maybe second) chance I have had to travel to another city without a trombone or two on my back.
I first travelled to Germany in December 2011 to visit my girlfriend (who is studying percussion at the Hochschule für Musik Würzburg), attend the Lätzsch International Trombone Festival and look around and audition for a few schools. At this time my audition opportunities were limited as many schools only accept new students in the June/July auditions.
During my first trip I met the trombone professor at the Hochschule für Musik Würzburg, Andreas Kraft. Although Professor Kraft is unknown internationally, his class within Germany is very highly respected and he is considered one of the top orchestral trombonists, playing principal trombone in the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra and Bayreuth Festival Orchestra. On my first trip I could speak enough German to order a beer (or two) and recite the alphabet. The lessons I had with Professor Kraft at this time, although in German, were some of the most enlightening I had ever had. Upon my return to Australia, with the help of my girlfriend and Google translate, I wrote to Professor Kraft asking to study with him. In June the next year I returned, auditioned and received a position to study for a masters degree at the school. It was only 18 months later that I found out that Professor Kraft spoke almost perfect English.
Würzburg trombone class with the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra trombonists, Andreas Kraft conducting
My first task as a student at the school was to learn German. The Hochschule has a minimum requirement of B2 German, which is a semi-fluent standard. I enrolled in an intensive language course that ran up until the beginning of semester and also made a decision to only speak German wherever I went. The trombone class in Würzburg being entirely made up of young Germans helped here. Two or three nights a week I found myself at the local pub, doing my homework after a few too many beers. Naturally, learning German from trombonists meant I could swear better than most locals within a matter of weeks.
The trombone class in Würzburg is a rather intense class. The focus is primarily on individual lessons and ensemble. When the professor is in town, he teaches, when he isn’t, we practise. It is not uncommon to have three or four hours of individual lessons per week and five hours of ensemble. The former professor, Martin Göß, also makes weekly appearances for group classes.
Trombone Christmas party – Bavarian Style
The teaching approach that Professor Kraft brings to my lessons is very different to what I had previously experienced. Rather than spending time on technical refinement and re-enforcement of playing, the focus is on the ‘Korpergefühl’ or the physical sensation used to achieve great playing. By focussing on bringing an active but relaxed physical sensation to playing, consistent tone and technique is (hopefully) assured. Most lessons with Professor Kraft consist of walking in, performing the David concerto, having every single semi-quaver analysed, before moving on to excerpts and etudes. Other lessons focus on solo repertoire or etudes (usually Maxted), which are assumed to be receiving constant work in the practice room. Looking at this teaching balance on paper it appears to be extremely unbalanced, however the overarching theme, irrespective of the contents, has helped my playing immensely.
Dale Truscott spoke with Sydney-based freelance trombonist Nigel Crocker about his playing career and the art of being a successful freelance musician. Nigel performs regularly as a guest trombonist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and other leading ensembles.
Dale: A Google search reveals one of your first regular gigs in the early 80s was with Aussie rock icons Hunters and Collectors! Can you tell me a little about your work with the band and what memories you have of that time?
Nigel: That came through trumpeter Jack Howard who was a mate from National Music Camp days. He was a fan of the newly formed, little known band and was always telling them it would sound great with horns. As their fan base grew they started playing bigger venues with bigger budgets and Jack got a call. He knew I’d played in pub bands in my hometown Perth so he roped me and a bunch of other mates in.
It was totally different to the Perth scene where I’d played in fusion and covers bands to the Uni/Surfie set with everyone rolling in from the beach in their sarongs and thongs, singing along, getting rowdy – the odd crowd fight etc. With Hunters it was late night gigs (sometimes not going on til 3am) in dimly lit underground warehouse basements, playing to would-be poets and artists dressed head-to-toe in black and doing their darndest to look cool and aloof. As the band evolved they found a much more genuine following among the beer drinking working class, but by that stage I’d left to go work at Channel 9 on the Don Lane Show band. Four guaranteed calls a week and the subsequent commercial gigs that came from that. There was plenty of freelance work around at that time and I wasn’t cut out for the rock and roll lifestyle. Besides the guys wanted me out ‘cos I was attracting all the groupies – oh no. Wait – that wasn’t me. That was Pete Best with the Beatles.
Nigel (standing on the right) in 1968. (“Ahhh the 60’s. Rock’n’roll, drug-filled orgies, hippies, Ban the Bomb, Vietnam anti-war rallies, university sit-ins etc. When I tell my kids how wild I was back then they don’t believe me…….”)
Dale: After winning a permanent position with the TSO in Hobart in 1984 and spending six seasons with the orchestra you decided to move north to pursue a freelance career in Sydney. Was it difficult for you to swap real job security in Hobart for unsteady freelance work in Sydney?
Nigel: It was a really tough call. Orchestral playing is my first love and I also really enjoy being part of an ongoing artistic process. In a full-time orchestra the collective is striving to improve year by year. However my girlfriend (now wife), Rebecca Lagos, had scored a percussion job with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO). I knew what I was in for having moved interstate before and I wasn’t looking forward to trying to break in to another city where I hardly knew anyone.
The first week I called up a contact – Gerry Ramage – who I knew by name but had never met – to enquire about some teaching work. He asked if I’d be available to play Anything Goes at the State Theatre the following week. I rocked up and was sitting next to one of my childhood heroes, Ed Wilson! Gerry wasn’t even on the show. He was playing 42nd St up at the Regal but they were desperate and deps were scarce. A couple of weeks later George Brodbeck, who I also hadn’t met, called to see if I could dep for him on 42nd St (both shows had three trombones). I was rapt to be getting good work so quickly and was very sheepish and apologetic when I had to call George back a few days later to explain that I had double booked myself. I forgot I was getting married on that night!!! Whoops!
Even though this was after the freelance heyday (which was probably the 70’s when there were TV shows and many RSL clubs all with live bands and before the synthesiser/keyboard takeover of jingles and musicals) there was still a fair whack of work around in the early 90’s.
Jamie: You’re a very active musician, as Co-Chair of Brass at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University and Associate Principal Horn of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra amongst many other activities. Can you tell me a bit about your life as a musician up to this point? What were some of the highlights and some of the challenges?
Peter: I’m from Western Australia originally, and started with music in Perth. Having started out on trumpet I didn’t actually play horn until I was in high school. My first horn teacher of note was a guy called Paul Duhig; he actually has a huge stable of professional horn players who have come through the ranks as his students. He’s only about five or six years older than me – Paul was a very young teacher straight out of university – and I’m now teaching some students who actually studied with him, so it’s really gone full circle. He’s a kind of horn grandfather even though he’s not that much older. Paul instilled a great interest in the horn in me, there was something really fascinating about the way he described things. He played in lessons and was a good player. I don’t know what his professional background was or has become, but I know he still teaches and I have contact with him. He helped me develop a great enjoyment of playing, and identified ability in me which he fostered.
I auditioned for the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide, for no other reason than there being no conservatorium in Western Australia at that stage. The University of Western Australia appeared to be a heavily academic programme compared to the Elder Con, and I also had grandparents who lived in Adelaide. I wanted to get away from Western Australia at that point, to get out of Perth and see the big wide world as they say. My teacher at the Elder Con in Adelaide was Patrick Brislan; he is the real reason why I love the horn and love music. Patrick was a phenomenal musician who had an amazing way of inspiring me to play music. I just loved going to lessons to play for him. A very calm gentleman, incredibly knowledgeable, he was a member of the Adelaide Wind Quintet for many years who had a good musical background. He wasn’t really playing at the time, but playing enough to demonstrate things.
Patrick was my major influence at university level along with maybe a couple of others. My greatest inspiration through all of my university days was Hector McDonald who taught at the Canberra School of Music at the time, although I didn’t realise that until after I’d been studying for a while. He came to Adelaide on occasions where I had the chance to join classes with him and have a few lessons. They were wonderful lessons; Hector was just the most phenomenal player I had ever heard. Seriously an amazing soloist, an amazing chamber musician and a fantastic teacher with incredible diagnostic skills. Hector was the pinnacle for me, while I always had the mentorship of Patrick. I always went back to Patrick because he was the type of teacher who allowed me to do anything I wanted, like have lessons with other teachers.
Dale Truscott from The Eighth Position spoke with Dutch bass trombone virtuoso Brandt Attema ahead of his trip to Sydney in July 2014. Brandt is a member of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, the New Trombone Collective, the Netherlands Wind Ensemble and Duo AttemaHaring. He is also Professor of Bass Trombone at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague and at Codarts Rotterdam.
Photo credit: New Trombone Collective
Dale: You’re visiting Australia soon for a bass trombone and harp duo performance at the World Harp Congress in Sydney on July 21. That’s a rather uncommon combination; what inspired you to form Duo AttemaHaring with harpist Astrid Haring in 2008?
Brandt: Our duo started with a proposal from us to perform Wolfgang Rihm’s Figur for 4 contrabass trombones, harp and percussion. That was accepted on the condition that we would arrange two more pieces for harp and bass/contrabass trombone. We challenged the Dutch composers Martijn Padding and Chiel Meijering to write for harp and bass trombone and premiered the works at the 2008 World Harp Congress in Amsterdam. It turned out to be such a success, not only the works but also the combination of harp and bass trombone, that we decided to continue the experiment. Now more than 15 compositions have been written for us and we have travelled all over the world with our repertoire.
Dale: How does performing alone with harp require you to adjust your playing approach, compared to your chamber music work with the New Trombone Collective which is a powerful trombone octet?
Brandt: First of all, when comparing with the standard bass trombone and piano duo, in my experience performing with harp is much easier than performing with piano. I feel the overtones of the bass trombone match the overtones of the harp better than the overtones of a piano. Blending becomes super easy and a lot of fun. Balance-wise there is of course a limit. If I perform Ewazen’s Concertino with the New Trombone Collective, I can go all the way volume wise and still be supported by the eight trombones. With the harp I could blow the instrument away if I wanted to, but this is in my experience comparable with the balance issues with bass trombone and piano. The duo has helped me realise how much sound can come out of a harp; in general we’ve experienced that the harp will normally be audible because of its projection, its different attack and its tone colours. I do also enjoy playing extremely softly with the harp and I’m certainly getting inspired by its amazing tone colours (and those of the harpist) to add to my own repertoire of sounds.
With the Sydney Symphony Orchestra currently on a two-week tour of major venues in China, the SSO lower brass section sent us these photos of themselves in front of the concert hall in Xian (L to R: Ron Prussing, Nick Byrne, Scott Kinmont, Chris Harris and Steve Rosse).
You can follow the latest news from the SSO’s tour on the orchestra’s tour blog – thanks for the photos and have a great trip guys!
16 year-old reader Cian Malikides sent us this post from London about fitting some great trombone experiences into his family holiday! Cian studies trombone with Nigel Crocker in Sydney and has performed with the AYO Young Symphonists and the Sydney Youth Orchestra Philharmonic.
My family and I set off for London (en-route to Ireland) a couple of weeks ago to visit family and escape the Australian winter for a holiday. It turned out to be colder here at times…even in summer! Before leaving I received my excerpts for the Australian Youth Orchestra (AYO) auditions and kept up weekly lessons with my fabulous teacher Nigel Crocker. I realised that I would be spending three weeks away without lessons during our holiday, and if I didn’t take my trombone, three weeks away from the instrument. I was also devastated to be missing the Sydney International Brass Festival where my all-time favourite trombonist Michael Mulcahy is playing. Having asked Nigel how I might go about organising a lesson with a trombonist while I was away, he asked around and a few days later forwarded me an email contact for a friend from his AYO days who is now a violin player in the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO).
Through Nigel’s lovely friend I was fortunate to receive two tickets to an LSO concert of Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, an offer to attend their rehearsals (unfortunately we were only in London for three days so I wasn’t able to fit this in) and the contact details of the trombone players in the orchestra. Amazing! I organised a lesson in advance with the section principal Dudley Bright, who studied with the famous Denis Wick and taught former LSO principal Ian Bousfield, another of my all-time favourite trombonists.
After 23 hours in the air with not enough leg space and some “interesting” food, I arrived in London to some rare blue skies. Arriving at the Barbican (the LSO’s concert hall) I decided that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra is very lucky back at home. The area around the Barbican is a dense area of commercial buildings without much sparkle – nothing compared to our beautiful Sydney Opera House!
The hall’s acoustic was just damp enough to project the sound of each instrument clearly and beautifully into my ears (something that the Sydney Opera House perhaps lacks a little). Ein Heldenleben was incredibly intricate and “heroic”. The lower brass section projected through the orchestra fantastically with Dudley Bright leading, the newly appointed Peter Moore on second, Paul Milner on bass, Patrick Harrild on tuba and second trombonist James Maynard on tenor tuba. Although Peter has only been in the orchestra a couple of months and this was his first time away from the principal role, the section’s blend was warm and never became hard, even at the extreme dynamics. I found the section had amazing clarity in the orchestra, without playing too short, at all dynamic levels. The performance from the entire orchestra and the conductor, Fabio Luisi, was truly amazing and definitely one of the best orchestral performances I have seen.
During the interval (before Beethoven’s Mass in C Major) I met with Nigel’s friend to thank her for the opportunities, and she took me backstage to meet the orchestra. The first player I met was principal trumpet Phil Cobb who was extremely friendly and had played an amazing concert, and Phil then introduced me to Peter Moore. Peter was happy to chat for 15 minutes about London, Sydney, their upcoming tour, trombones, Ein Heldenleben and my lesson with Dudley the next day. What a musician! If you haven’t seen them already, there are amazing videos on YouTube of Peter playing Jan Sandstrom’s Sång till Lotta and Tomasi’s Concerto at the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2008 when he was 11 – he went on to win the competition. Peter is now the youngest appointed principal player and the youngest ever member of the LSO!
Browsing through the print music selection at Brass Music Specialists recently I encountered two books from Brad Edwards that I had not seen before. The success of his Lip Slurs: Progressive Exercises (Ensemble Publications, 2006) has been complete: nearly every undergraduate in Australia has a dog-eared copy stuffed in their trombone case, and it has now become a staple text for legato playing alongside the Bordogni etudes. So it was without any hesitation that I threw the shekels on the counter and sped home to play through them.
Trombone Craft: A Musical Approach to Building Tone and Technique (Tenor Trombone) (2012, self-published) contains etudes and exercise patterns of a moderate to very difficult standard, covering many common technical issues. There are etudes in every key, and they are (very handily) cross-referenced to similar etudes by other authors including Kopprasch, Tyrell, Voxman, Bordogni, Blume and Hering. As in Edwards’ Lip Slurs book, every exercise and etude is introduced with a carefully chosen nugget of advice that is extremely helpful in focusing practice on simple concepts. The book contains many new exercise patterns, as well as interesting ideas and solutions for common problems.
Trombone Craft is particularly useful to teachers in providing more sophisticated challenges for advancing secondary and tertiary level students. Edwards explains the basic concepts that build and maintain good foundations of playing in a skilfully simple language. In my own playing it reminds me of things I haven’t worked on for a while and provides fresh perspectives on familiar aspects of playing.
Some of the best features include:
- Etudes in every key and cross-references to other etudes (these might prompt you to explore the library a bit more!)
- Excellent and up to date explanations of when and how to use the trigger, natural slurs, alternate positions, double tonguing and more
- Appendices with a range of suggestions for developing high and low registers, intonation, sound quality, relaxed articulation and more
One of my favourite ideas from this book is the concept of “over-buzzing” as an exercise to work on opening up the sound:
“Keeping the embouchure setting looser than normal (lips a bit further apart), buzz using more air than normal. Place the mouthpiece very lightly on the lips (minimal pressure). If done correctly, you will run out of air quickly while buzzing, making this into a deep breathing exercise. Go fast enough that you can complete each gesture in a breath. Then, repeat on the trombone, playing only at the printed dynamic. Watch out for tension. Loud = relaxed and loose (or it should).” (p.141)
This excerpt exemplifies the simple language that promotes a focused, relaxed, and uncomplicated approach to trombone playing. Put plainly, Trombone Craft is a comprehensive textbook for today’s trombone player, executed skilfully and musically, and it challenges the player and the teacher in all of us to think about playing in simple and clear terms.
Simply Singing for Winds (2009, self-published) is a welcome addition to the repertoire of legato and other stylistic studies. It covers a range of levels from very easy to very difficult, with many of the melodies presented in two different keys for slightly different challenges. Although Edwards’ emphasis is on musical flow, it contains more than just legato studies (but to be sure, there are plenty of those). The book is divided into several sections that encompass different types of music, for example waltzes, marches, melodies for buzzing and even fiddle tunes for practising light and flexible playing.
What I enjoy most about this book is that much of it performs the same function as the Bordogni etudes without actually being a Bordogni etude. Don’t get me wrong – the music is all in a similar “American folk song” tonal style, just as the Bordogni etudes are all in the same bel canto style, and there is nothing wrong with that. Personally, though, I find a change is as good as a holiday.
What Simply Singing for Winds does well is to develop that single style with a seemingly endless number of different moods, such as light and clean, mournful doloroso, gently rolling, galloping pesante, rich and deep (these are all titles of the pieces, by the way). Throughout, Edwards supplies his characteristic well-chosen comments that are immensely helpful in focusing the player’s mind on the task at hand.
Bass Trombone Craft is also available, and Simply Singing for Winds is available in medium bass clef (trombone, eupho), low bass clef (tuba), medium treble clef (trumpet, clarinet, trombone or eupho t.c.) and low treble clef (horn). They can be ordered through your local music retailer or online from the author’s own website, http://www.bonezone.org/ where you can also find plenty of other great videos and blogs.
Dale Truscott from The Eighth Position spoke with Nitzan Haroz, Principal Trombonist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and former Principal Trombonist of The Philadelphia Orchestra, in advance of his visit to Australia for the Sydney International Brass Festival.
Dale: How have your roots in a musical Israeli family influenced you as a musician?
Nitzan: I was very fortunate to be born into a musical family. My mother is a professional harpist and she has six siblings who all played a musical instrument. I heard music while still in my mother’s belly – when I was a baby she played and taught piano and harp lessons in our house, so I heard music pretty much all the time. Growing up I heard many concerts given by my mum, uncles and aunts. Classical music was everywhere and I absorbed it very naturally.
There is no question my family background influenced me immensely. When I was nine I saw a picture of a trombone and told my mother that is the instrument I wanted to play. She didn’t think twice and found me a teacher quickly. I give my mother and father all of the credit for inspiring me and pushing me to pursue my desire to play the trombone.
Dale: Has your approach to practice changed in any way since your student days at Juilliard?
Nitzan: During my short time as a student of Joe Alessi at the Juilliard School I learned to be very disciplined and strict about fundamentals, as well as to strive for perfection when working on excerpts and solos – all the while keeping the musical ideas above all. This approach is still my approach to this day.
Dale: Are there any secrets to how you developed your beautiful tone and lyrical phrasing?
Nitzan: My first teacher, Eliezer Aharoni, worked hard with me on correct tone production. He taught me to ‘sing’ through the trombone. Singing is everything, it’s what I do when I play the trombone. Everything I play I try to give a vocal quality to – I never let my tone be less than beautiful. If you don’t know how to sing, take a few voice lessons and they will undoubtedly improve your trombone playing.
Dale: How would you encourage a young trombonist to develop their own unique sound and musicality?
Nitzan: Listen to great musicians. By the way that does not mean only trombone players! Listen to great singers (both classical and non-classical), great cellists, great pianists and so on. Listen to be inspired, and try to imitate the phrasing, sound and musicianship.
Greg van der Struik (Principal Trombone of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra) spoke with Brendan Collins about his life as a composer, educator, trombonist and bus driver.
Greg: You currently teach composition at Barker College and have also had a successful career as a performing artist. Could you give an outline of your professional activities since your studies at the Sydney Conservatorium?
Brendan: Well before I graduated from the Conservatorium I was determined to make a career as a musician. My philosophy was simple – say yes to everything!! This meant that I would spend most nights, weekends and occasional days (when I should have been in lectures) playing in anything from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to not one, but two Elvis impersonator bands. I worked regularly with the Seymour Group, Warren Daly Big Band, Tommy Tycho Orchestra and Australian Brass Quintet. When I was a second year student I landed the full-time job playing Cats at the Theatre Royal. That was quite a busy year. I loved the diversity of being a freelance musician and was disappointed when these opportunities quickly dried up after winning my first orchestral position.
In 1991 I won the Associate Principal position with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra. This was an excellent time in my life and I loved mixing with such a great group of interesting and dedicated musicians on a daily basis. I held this position for 11 years and I look back on this time with great fondness. While I did value this position highly, towards the end of my time with the orchestra, I did start to wonder if there was a life for me outside of the orchestra and perhaps outside of trombone playing altogether. I am passionate about music and wanted more opportunities than the orchestra could offer. I started examining for the AMEB, teaching at numerous schools and composing music – mostly for my students, ensembles, bands and orchestras.
My wife, Philippa, and I formed a group called Little Maestros, which provided music and entertainment for young children. The group became somewhat of a ‘hit’ with ABC for Kids and we had regular concerts, television and radio appearances and local and international tours. During this exciting time I developed great working friendships with my fellow ‘Maestros’ Saul Lewis and Peter Wiseman.
At first, I arranged simple and traditional children’s songs for the group, but as time went by I became more adventurous and created a vast number of original works. We released one independent CD and two CDs with the ABC. It was this experience more than anything else that forged my burning love of composition.
In 2003, Peter Walmsley invited me to do some brass teaching at Barker College. For two years I taught many students and directed a number of ensembles. During this time I composed music for HSC candidates, brass ensembles, bands and choirs and was appointed the Composer-in-Residence in 2005.
In many ways this is my dream job. It allows me to combine my two loves, composition and teaching. I work with all our senior students, preparing them for their HSC composition submissions. I also get many opportunities to compose music for all sorts of ensembles.
Aside from music, I work quite regularly with Barker’s Outdoor Education department and recently got my bus driver’s license – a necessity for all composers.
Shannon Barnett speaks with her colleague in the WDR Big Band, trombonist Andy Hunter. Perhaps appropriately enough for a trombone player, Andy grew up literally halfway between Paradise and Hell (both are towns in Michigan, US). After studying in Cleveland, he moved to NYC and established himself as one of the top jazz trombonists in the city, performing with the likes of Snarky Puppy, Richard Bona, and the Mingus, Dave Holland and Toshiko Akiyoshi Big Bands. He also became well-known in world music circles, regularly performing with salsa, Cuban and Colombian artists. In late 2012, he and his wife Adriana moved to Cologne, Germany, where he joined the WDR Big Band.
Shannon: How did you decide to take the job at WDR?
Andy: Before coming here, I’d been pursuing a sideman career (in New York), but also a solo career, and that’s why right before moving here I made a big push, borrowed some money and put my album out. I knew if I didn’t get it done it would be a lot harder for me to do from here.
When I was getting ready to move, when I was making the decision about whether or not to take this gig – it seems like maybe from the outside it was a harder decision than it was for you – things were going great in New York and I didn’t necessarily want to stop that. I had some serious talks with people about it. It’s hard to balance what the perception of your career will be. After more than a year I still feel like I’m just beginning to find that balance, but I think itʼs working out.
Shannon: You spent quite a lot of time in Shanghai, China. How was living and working there compared to Germany and to the US?
Andy: Well, I was studying Chinese in the US, but took a semester off. I was planning on going to a school in China but then met some musicians when I got to Shanghai. Within a week I had three steady gigs. It was a questioning time in my life – I wasn’t sure if I was going to be doing music full-time.
I was never really based full-time in Shanghai, but wound up introducing a lot of musicians from the USA to the scene there who stayed to live. For the first couple of years I was also in Cleveland (Ohio, US). As soon as I lived in New York, there was a different perception of me as a musician globally, wherever I travelled. People responded differently to an Andy Hunter from New York than they did to an Andy Hunter from Cleveland.
Shannon: It’s interesting to me that New York still has that stigma.
Andy: Well, yes, the climate may have changed, but the level of musicianship if anything has gotten deeper I think. New York still without question for me has the highest density of amazing artists across all genres in the world.
Shannon: What do you find challenging about the job with WDR?
Andy: It’s been an adjustment living in a foreign country, but that’s something you’re going to have. And Germany particularly, I didn’t imagine myself coming to Germany, were it not for this job. We’re new parents too, so it’s been difficult to make friends. I’m certain that as a young person who’s also single like yourself, you will probably find it a very different experience. You’re going to go out and meet young people who are open-minded. We’re not going out and meeting anybody yet, open-minded or closed-minded!
One difficult thing I will say, has been adjusting to A=443. Our instruments are not made to resonate at that pitch. It also gives the band a certain character. I’m getting used to it. It took me a long time to feel confident about my pitch in the band.
18-year-old Sydney trombonist Minami Takahashi reflects on her experience of the 2014 Australian Band Championships in Brisbane over the Easter long weekend. Minami is studying trombone with Scott Kinmont at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and was successful in winning the Junior Champion of Champions and Open Tenor Trombone categories at the championships.
My very first “Nationals” were very memorable. I’m sitting on the plane on my way back to Sydney reminiscing about what happened over the weekend and it just makes me smile. I am smiling not because of the great music I experienced (although that was top-notch), or because of Brisbane’s sunny weather, but because of the great, warm, and supportive people who I got to spend my whole Easter weekend with.
For those who aren’t familiar with the National Band Championships – it is a national competition (in Australia) with Yamaha as the major sponsor. The competition has three sections: the concert band and brass band championships – both of which are graded and divided into both junior and open sections – as well as the solo championships, which are also divided into junior and open sections and include small chamber music sections such as brass and woodwind quartets. I was involved in the championships as a member of the “A grade” St Marys District Band – which competed in the brass band championships – and also competed in both the open and junior solo sections. The brass band competition is spread over three days – one day for the Hymn and Test (each competing band plays the same piece), one day for the Parade of Bands (a street march) and one day for both the Stage March and Own Choice.
I flew into Brisbane on Thursday to begin what was to be a long weekend full of great music, with the A grade contest kicking off at 3pm on Good Friday. On Friday the competing bands were judged according to how musically, precisely and consistently they played both the set piece and the hymn. The A grade test piece was St Magnus by Kenneth Downie – a very difficult piece to pull off. My band drew the fourth slot out of 13 bands to play. I guess at this point I should recount all of the great things that happened in between warming up backstage and playing, but the competition felt so quick I don’t quite remember what exactly happened. All I can tell you was that my and everyone else’s hearts were beating as fast as a little bird’s. When I walked on to the stage I was surprised by how many people were in the audience! After the baton touched down for the first beat of St Magnus the great music-making started. Ah, just looking back at the opening moments of St Magnus – how beautiful it sounded! Pure tones of cornet and soprano cornet, blended by their sweet vibratos that complement each other. It nearly brought me to tears. With a fat layer of sound from our amazing bass section (and a zip zap from the bass bone!), the tutti section flourished and filled the hall. What a great piece! It felt as though our spirits and emotions were carried on as sounds into the great big hall of St Laurence’s College.
Jamie Kennedy draws up a complete guide to maintaining and cleaning a trombone. Whether you are a rank beginner or hardened professional, everyone has a skeleton in their outer slides.
The following trombone-cleaning guide is in two parts:
1) the main things that every trombone player needs to know; and
2) a general assortment of observations on my own bad habits.
I have placed the bare facts at the beginning in a compact form for those bare-facts kind of people, but if you feel so inclined, read on and contemplate the world from the other end of the cleaning rod.
The Simplest Stuff – Holding the Trombone
Be aware of where your slide is at all times. Just like a toddler learning to walk, it takes time to develop the bodily awareness, but unlike the toddler you don’t have to fall over and run into things for a year to work out how to control a trombone – keep your slide pointed down (when not playing), keep it out of the way of other people and music stands, and don’t stick it out of the car window.
Here is a simple demonstration of where to hold the bell and slide sections so you don’t inadvertently bend or bow the slide, and so you have greater control over the instrument as you put it together:
The resourceful looking fellow above has more control over the bell section because he is holding it by its largest and most central part, i.e. where the bell meets the brace. He is also holding the slide section by the braces at the top – especially when pulling it out of the case. He is also holding it the right way up, which is always a good start.
Meanwhile, this sinister character is probably pulling the inner slide tubes out of alignment or bowing them by holding it in the middle. The slide is a delicate construction – a slight knock can put it out of alignment and make playing difficult and unpleasant. Remember: although the mechanics of it are rather simple, if the slide stops working the trombone stops working.
Which brings me to another point: putting the trombone down on the ground.
The trombone in the first picture has three points of the contact with the ground and the slide isn’t one of them. Place the edge of the bell and the mouthpiece (or the receiver without the mouthpiece) on the ground – there is only one way this can be done – and it prevents you from damaging the slide. The other pictures are all examples of how to bow your slide.
Here is a list of all the essential equipment that you will need at some point:
- Slide cream/lubricant (e.g. Bach or Yamaha slide cream; Trombotine; Superslick; Slide-O-Mix; Yamaha slide oil)
- Water spray bottle (e.g. this one)
- Tuning slide grease (e.g. this one)
- Cheesecloth/soft rag, untreated
- Polishing cloth
- Long strip of thin/gauze cloth
- Mouthpiece brush (e.g. this one)
- Long bendy wire snake brush and/or trombone cleaning rod
For trombones with a valve section you’ll also need:
- Rotary valve oil
- Slightly thicker bearing and linkage oil
Yoram Levy is Principal Trumpet of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO) and a former member of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also Coordinator of Brass and Lecturer in Trumpet at the University of Tasmania’s Conservatorium of Music. Dale caught up with Yoram between Hobart and Launceston on the way to a TSO concert.
Dale: You started your orchestral career as utility trumpet of the Israel Philharmonic (IPO) between 1982 and 1990 under its Music Director Zubin Mehta – what are your lasting memories of those years?
Yoram: I was 27 when I won the job. The playing was always influenced by style, phrasing and string playing. The wind and brass playing was influenced strongly by the strings. Mehta led this to a point, but the string tradition in Israel really had its roots in the string traditions of Eastern Europe – the orchestra was formed by Toscanini with refugees from Eastern Europe in the 1930s. The influences were similar to those in Philadelphia, Boston and New York, as well as to a lesser extent in Montreal and Pittsburgh – all of these orchestras were strongly influenced by European migration.
The brass playing in IPO in the 60s and 70s could perhaps have been perceived as being the weakest in the orchestra, but it wasn’t – there were some very strong individual players in the brass section.
Mehta was hesitant to award the principal trumpet job to a local. It took Yigal Meltzer, my replacement, more than 12 years until he became the first Israeli born principal trumpet in 2004.
The person who almost single-handedly inspired Israeli trombone playing today is Ray Parnes, a former principal trombonist (since the late 60s) of the IPO and a Jewish native of Louisville, Kentucky. Ray taught two members of the current trombone section.
Dale: What did Mehta expect from the brass section in IPO?
Yoram: Mehta was educated in Vienna, so he had the sound of rotary trumpets in his head. He was also chief conductor in LA and New York while he was working with us so he was exposed to a wide range of orchestras and brass sections over the years – he knew what a good section sound was. Phil Smith was appointed principal trumpet of the New York Phil on his watch and he had also worked with Tom Stevens who was principal trumpet in LA. Stevens was a very influential person in the American trumpet world.
Mehta probably had a lot more power in our orchestra in moulding the brass section than he would have received anywhere else, but it was (and still is) a very cosmopolitan orchestra with influences from all around the world.
Dale: Prior to joining the IPO you studied with James Thompson in Montreal, Vincent Cichowicz at Northwestern University in Chicago and Vincent Penzarella in New York. What were the strongest influences from your time in North America on your development as a musician and teacher? Has Arnold Jacobs’ famous “Song and Wind” approach also influenced your playing?
Yoram: When I arrived in Montreal in 1976 James Thompson was principal trumpet. Mr. Thompson possessed a lyrical and brilliant sound which was influenced by Voisin and Ghitala of the Boston Symphony. His Montreal/Dutoit recordings of the French classics are a testament to that style.
Mr. Cichowicz used to be second trumpet to Bud Herseth in the Chicago Symphony (CSO). He left the CSO to teach full-time at Northwestern in the early 70s and started to attract students from all over the world – I remember sitting in the green room at Northwestern when I was a student and Hakan Hardenberger showed up for a lesson with him. Among others, the class included some Scandinavians, Japanese, Italians and me.
Arnold Jacobs was a strong influence on Cichowicz and others in the CSO section over the years – many would discuss issues with him as he was doing his research into breathing. I also took some lessons with Jacobs during my time there – when you were in Chicago that was the thing to do.
Vince Penzarella had some playing problems caused by an accident which Jacobs had helped him to fix over in Chicago – on his return to New York he set himself up as a sort of “East Coast” Jacobs, a brass guru who was heavily influenced by Jacobs.
When I started to teach upon returning to Israel I modelled myself on Mr.Cichowicz and the way he did things. He didn’t get into mechanical explanations like Jacobs did but his genius was that although the concepts were the same – song and wind, releasing air, singing – as a human being he had an understanding of the individuals he was dealing with. While wanting to pass on the concepts and working towards achieving a carefully thought out plan with each of his students, he would tailor his approach to each student to their unique personality. That was my personal experience of his teaching.
My view of things is that you have to be reactive as a teacher, responding to each individual student, while having a clear agenda in terms of the materials used, the musical and technical skills all students need to achieve. You want to equip them with enough concepts so that when they are not with a teacher they can teach themselves.
Dale Truscott spoke with Geraldine Evers, Principal Bass Trombone of Orchestra Victoria and the only woman to have held a permanent orchestral trombone position in Australia.
Geraldine: I started learning the trombone in high school in 1970 after trying violin and not being at all suited or comfortable. After a couple of years with my first teacher I started taking lessons with Baden McCarron, who was second trombone in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO).
My first gig with the SSO was (I think) in 1974, playing Berlioz’s Requiem, conducted by John Hopkins in the Sydney Town Hall in the Prom Concert series. I was asked to play in one of the bands that are part of this huge work. It was a fabulous experience playing with the SSO, even if I wasn’t paid. They needed a lot of extras and my teacher asked if I’d be interested.
My first paid gig with the SSO was in my final year of high school, playing Shostakovich’s Pines of Rome with the conductor Maxim Shostakovich. A player from the section became ill and one of the trombonists in the off stage band stepped up into the orchestra – they needed an extra at short notice. Baden suggested me, I was available, and it was another fabulous experience.
After that it goes like this…..
In 1976-77 I spent two seasons with the ABC ‘s National Training Orchestra, which was formed in 1967 to provide orchestral training for musicians who might progress to the ABC orchestras. It also provided a pool of players for orchestras to draw on when in need of casuals. I was sent from the Training Orchestra to work with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (February 1977) and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (June-August 1977).
In August 1977 I won an audition for my position with the Elizabethan Melbourne Orchestra (EMO) and started with the orchestra in September.
After three years with the EMO I received study leave in 1981 to take lessons with several bass and tenor trombonists in London. These included Dick Tyack (BBC Symphony), Peter Harvey (London Philharmonic), Ray Premru (Royal Philharmonic), Dennis Wick (London Symphony) and Peter Gane (teacher at the Guildhall School).
Since 1982 I’ve been back in Melbourne in EMO, State Orchestra of Victoria and Orchestra Victoria, which are three incarnations of the same orchestra. For the past year I have taken a well-earned break!
As for highlights, it’s hard to say. I clearly remember being moved to tears in my first season of La Boheme, conducted by the wonderful Carlo Felice Cillario, and it was wonderful to play in the orchestra for Norma and Lucia di Lammermoor with Dame Joan Sutherland. Turandot was always a favourite of mine to play, and working with great conductors is always a highlight. My year in the UK and Europe was wonderful – seeing the big wide world outside of Australia and meeting musicians who have remained lifelong friends. Undoubtedly, I will omit many highlights as I write this, only to think of them later…
Donna Parkes is Principal Trombone of the Louisville Orchestra in Kentucky, USA
How it all began
I was fortunate to grow up in Canberra – yes my Aussie friends, you read that correctly! I began trombone at nine in a fantastic band program run by the ACT government school system that had been put in place by Keith Curry – instruction was provided by a phenomenal American music educator Earl Winterstein. There is no question my love of music and understanding of commitment to excellence started from this point. I attended the Canberra School of Music as a scholarship student at age 12 and had the benefit of study with outstanding teachers including Simone De Haan, Ian Perry, and Michael Mulcahy. This is a great opportunity to thank those teachers because they set such high standards and truly laid the strongest possible foundation for my development as a trombonist. The brass department at that time was world-class and the level of trombone playing unusually high. As I finished high school I got to play regularly with what is now the Sydney Symphony Orchestra section – Scott Kinmont, Nick Byrne and Chris Harris – as well as with Tom Burge. Those were the sounds that helped form my concept of trombone playing. During my undergraduate studies with Ron Prussing I started my professional career and vividly remember a chance to play Bruckner 7 with the Sydney Symphony during that time. Other opportunities at home including playing with the Canberra Symphony, Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Australia Opera and Ballet Orchestra meant I got valuable experience that exposed me to the excitement of symphony performance at a high level.
It was clear to me that job opportunities were few and far between in Australia and I was keen to study with the pedagogues that had inspired my teachers. Between my third and fourth year of undergraduate studies I planned an extensive trip to the States to have lessons and hear great orchestras live. Sitting in a room with Arnold Jacobs, playing for Joe Alessi and Mark Lawrence and hearing orchestras like Chicago Symphony and The Met live was pivotal for me. I was inspired, motivated and ready! I applied for grants and scholarships to help fund my pursuits and the Queen’s Trust funding, among other sources, was a huge help. Once I had completed my Bachelor’s degree I could not get on a plane fast enough to pursue my Master’s degree. I remember having a backpack, my horn and not nearly enough money due to the Australian dollar being worth a dismal 55 cents to the US dollar. Arriving in January from a gorgeous Australian summer to a seriously cold winter in Chicago was a shock on many levels.
In O’Hare airport I began what was become a long stretch of language miscommunications while living in the USA – I started by asking the airport staff for a trolley, a streetcar in the states and not regularly found in airports. I eventually found a “cart”, looked for the bus on the correct side of the road and was off. Undeterred, I plunged headlong into my new life in Chicago – first on the agenda was buying a coat fit for January in the windy city.
Training in Chicago and Miami
That year I studied primarily with Charlie Vernon (Chicago Symphony Orchestra) and immersed myself in a vibrant music and particularly brass-filled scene. I became a member of the Civic Orchestra, a training orchestra that plays in the Chicago Orchestra hall and is led by many of the great conductors that come through that city. As a Civic member, I got to play a tribute concert to the legendary Bud Herseth – standing on stage with the current Chicago Symphony brass section and Arnold Jacobs was surreal and inspiring. Another inspirational moment was rehearsing Bruckner 4 with Maestro Barenboim and thinking how incredible that opportunity was – that this was music making at a level I had only dreamed of attaining. The chance to play under Barenboim, Boulez and Rostropovich was awe-inspiring for me. Rehearsing Shostakovich with Rostropovich conducting, he said something to the strings after a solo I played and they were all greatly amused. Concerned what the laughter was about I was relieved to later find out that he was confused to look up and see me, not the rotund man he had expected to see sitting in the back row.
Civic Orchestra section (L to R) – Donna Parkes, Steve Hammerschmidt, Maestro Boulez, Paul Pollard, Jacomo Bairos
Chicago offered me an incredible chance to be exposed to legendary brass players and to be around many fine musicians. There is nothing more motivating than being surrounded by excellence. I have to add here that Michael Bertoncello (previously trombonist with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) was also in Chicago at this time and as two Aussies we became friends. I was blown away by his work ethic and dedication and although we were both horribly broke, some of my great memories of that time are with Mike and the other brass players in town.
Dale: I’ve read that you are the Music Director of the recently formed Nicholas Chamber Orchestra. Can you tell me about the orchestra and why you have chosen to take on this role?
Eric: I was asked by two members of the Eltham Concert Band (which I left in 2010), Felicity Hardiman and Matthew Barker, if I was interested in helping them form a chamber group and being the Music Director. After much discussion we decided to target the Yarra Ranges as there didn’t seem to be any large chamber groups performing there.
The Nicholas Chamber Orchestra was named after Alfred Nicholas of Aspro fame. The Nicholas family is synonymous with the ‘hills’ and he was one of Victoria’s most generous benefactors in his lifetime. We asked the family if we could honour this by naming the chamber group after him.
At the time of taking on this leadership role, I wanted to further develop my conducting so that when I finally stop playing the trombone I would remain active in music in some way.
Dale: As a member of the Melbourne Brass Ensemble for many years, chamber music must have played a large role in your career. How has chamber music influenced your work as an orchestral musician?
Eric: Playing chamber music as a brass musician is particularly important to help learn the art of listening, blending and playing together. Recently I heard the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Melbourne and I thought that is how they approached the music – as chamber musicians. It had a powerful effect, the blend and balance were beautiful – no egos there.
Dale: Your published book Daily Exercises for Bb/F Trombone has a strong focus on the development of the lower register as well as extreme dynamics which might be considered unique to your approach. Why did these particular aspects of playing become a key part of your playing and teaching method?
Eric: Without a strong low register you lose the fundamental foundation from which to build your range with a consistent sound. It’s the concrete slab on which you then build your house.
The ability to play extremely softly helps me to focus my sound. Likewise, practising loudly helps to develop your range – my suggestion to your readers is to play as loud as you can until the sound becomes ugly and then back off 5%, and try to play as consistently as possible throughout ALL your registers.
When I practise soft playing I try to get to the point where my heart’s pulse interrupts the sound with a slight waver – that’s really soft playing!
Shannon Barnett speaks with the virtuosic Marshall Gilkes, a Downbeat Criticʼs Poll ʻRising Starʼ for the past four years, who recently moved back to New York City after several years performing with the renowned WDR Big Band in Germany. Marshall is a member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the Edmar Castañeda Trio and has also produced three acclaimed records as a leader.
Check out Marshall’s farewell concert with the WDR Big Band, also featuring Shannon.
Marshall: My Dad had his old trombone in the closet and when I was about five or six he let me play a couple of notes on it. He studied trombone at Eastman School of Music and then played euphonium in the Air Force band in Washington…they were encouraging, but they never pushed anything on me.
Later on, in fifth grade, they were trying to see which instrument fit whatever person and I could already blow a few notes on trombone, so thatʼs how I ended up starting on it.
Shannon: What or who encouraged you to move to New York? What was the process?
Marshall: Well, I first came out to go to school at William Paterson (University in New Jersey) but it wasnʼt the best fit for me at the time, so I quit after a year and moved into the city. Conrad Herwig told me “Man, if you move into the city you can start doing some salsa gigs and making some money”, and so after about a year I was doing tons of that stuff. It was totally foreign to me at the time, but I got really into it and tried to study the rhythms; but also thereʼs that mentality where if you missed a note, guys were gonna look at you and maybe scream or something. That was an incredible education. Also as a brass player, having to play like that every night and learn how to control it.
Shannon: The history of that style of trombone playing is often so brassy and loud, which are not things I associate with your playing, especially with the Edmar Castañeda trio, but you still borrow from the tradition in a lot of ways…
Marshall: Years ago I played in a band led by the singer Luis Blasini called ʻIrokoʼ. We played transcriptions of La Perfecta and Eddie Palmieri. The original players from those recordings were José Rodriguez and Barry Rogers. The way I played over that is very different from the way I play Edmarʼs music… I probably played a lot more brassy. I remember really going for it on some of those gigs and the next morning waking up and feeling like someone had punched me in the face.
Shannon: And then later you ended up studying at Juilliard?
Marshall: I was living in the city for a while, and actually my girlfriend at the time suggested that I might want to teach when I got older, so I went back and finished my degree at Juilliard and did the Artist Diploma program. I studied a lot with Joe Alessi and worked on tons of excerpts. I think it makes me a stronger player; working on that stuff. Before moving to New York I actually studied with Buddy Baker at the University of Northern Colorado for a year. He really drilled the fundamentals into his students. The year I spent with him really set me on a strong track in terms of developing as a trombone player. I think the most valuable thing that I did and still do was work hard on classical stuff. Really learning the horn made it much easier for me to be versatile….(for example) being able to walk in and play a brass quintet and then the next day go play a Latin gig.
By Milo Dodd
Trombonist – Australian Youth Orchestra
There’s no way you’ll ever convince your non-musician friends that National Music Camp is cool – it’s not possible. The moment they hear the words ‘music’ and ‘camp’ in the same sentence, their imagination takes over. You’ll try to explain why you’re taking two weeks out of your summer holidays to play orchestral music but it’s too late; your friends’ minds are irrevocably filled with images of you playing “Kumbayah” around the campfire in a 36-piece clarinet ensemble, or frolicking around in the Viennese countryside singing solfege with Julie Andrews. While having Richard Gill as the 2014 Director of Music Camp makes those scenarios a little closer to the truth than usual, those fortunate enough to have experienced the Australian Youth Orchestra‘s National Music Camp know the truth: Music Camp is bloody excellent. What follows is an account of my experiences at National Music Camp (NMC) and the Australian Youth Orchestra’s (AYO) February Season this year.
NMC 2014 kicked off on a warm Sunday evening in Canberra. Participants had converged on the Australian National University during the day and at 8pm the conductors of the Bishop and Alexander orchestras raised their batons to commence work on two monumental orchestral works; Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 and Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3. Also on the orchestral program for NMC 2014 were two new Australian works commissioned specially for the event; Ichirós by Andrew Howes, and Dunsinane, by Phil Jameson. While these were two very different works, they both exhibited great vision for orchestral sound and character.
For those unfamiliar with NMC, it is an annual two-week summer camp for Australian musicians under the age of 23. It offers a variety of programs ranging from orchestral performance to arts management. Two large orchestras form the core of the camp as well as a chamber orchestra and a profusion of smaller staff and student chamber groups. Brass players at camp are given the chance to compensate for the obligatory bars of rest and tacet movements with the mighty brass ensemble. The 66th National Music Camp saw the formation of two trombone sections with players from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. Some were attending camp for the first time while others were enjoying their final year.
Director Richard Gill’s opening address conveyed three key points to the campers for the two weeks ahead. Firstly, that we should seize every opportunity to listen; to each other, our conductors, tutors, and to ourselves. Upon consideration, the importance of this point cannot really be understated. The vast majority of our education in anything – especially music – is predicated on our ability to listen with the utmost care and attention to the world and people around us. So too, our ability to function in virtually any musical situation relies heavily on our capacity to listen and react.
Richard’s second request was that we ask questions. For people hoping to make careers in an industry with more unspoken rules, conventions and ambiguities than a backyard cricket match – and with the stakes at least as high – a fortnight of stupid-question-immunity in the orchestra is worth its weight in gold. And boy did I get my money’s worth.
The third point was to have fun, and as clichéd as that sounds, this aspect of music making can be surprisingly elusive to us musicians. It sometimes seems as though the more we love what we do, the more scope we have to torture ourselves over a botched performance or a frustrating day of practice. With these laudable sentiments ringing in our ears we then set to work on the musical program ahead of us.
Interview by Peter Chester (courtesy of the British Trombone Society)
Michael Pilley is one of the British Trombone Society’s (BTS) non-British members, having arrived in Britain from Australia early in 2012. Based in South Wales, he found himself at the BTS two-day event in Cardiff in 2012, and then in Rotterdam for the Slide Factory 2013, where one of his compositions reached the final stages of the Composer’s Competition. Peter Chester caught up with him soon after that.
Michael: I started trombone in high school, after my trumpet teacher heard me play in the first lesson and said: “How about we try you on trombone?” My teacher there was Shannon Pittaway, bass trombone of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, who had studied in Chicago with Charlie Vernon and Michael Mulcahy and emphasised the importance of air in trombone playing. My school was Blackburn High School, a public school in Melbourne with a rich history of excellent music education and winners of multiple competitions over decades. The advantage of this was constantly being in rehearsal sitting next to very talented musicians and learning from them as well as the teachers.
Peter: You obviously had some formal training?
Michael: Yes, after school I took a Bachelor of Music at Melbourne University, and there I had lessons with two trombonists from the Melbourne Symphony, Ian Perry and Ken McClimont. At that time I was also playing with the Melbourne Salvation Army Staff Band and contributing in many ways to the band, including music publishing and concert promotion. At University, I also had great fun playing with the Super Sax ensemble among others where I spent entire rehearsals just listening to the most amazing arrangements of Charlie Parker transcriptions for five saxes and rhythm. I was the token brass player who soloed when the saxes had played through 12 choruses of fast bebop. Although I didn’t make it into the Composition stream, the university course also gave me a good grounding in compositional techniques. It started with counterpoint and fugue and moved through pretty much any genre you may need to write for, from 20th century techniques to jazz harmony, so it served me well.
Peter: So what brought you to Britain?
Michael: Actually it was my wife, Vicky. She decided to study for her Master’s degree in Choral Conducting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2012, so we made the move to the UK and we ended up in South Wales. After University, I was lucky enough to get a job transcribing and typesetting with All Music Publishing, the biggest Australian print music publisher at the time. After a trial, I was with them for three years and gained lots of experience in that specialised field. Their catalogues were mainly pop, so after my first month of writing piano, vocal and guitar arrangements of ABBA songs, I continued to create over 1,000 arrangements of a varied range of pop, from rap and R’n’B, to light rock and even some ukulele. It was all good experience, but after a few bad breaks, the company was bought by Hal Leonard and I was made redundant. I took two part-time jobs in 2011 – one job involved planning, marketing and coordinating a new Music Academy at the Camberwell Salvation Army for children in Melbourne (they have an excellent brass band there) and the other, teaching brass and conducting bands at Oxley College. All through this time I was playing in big bands, brass bands and wind bands whilst conducting some bands as well. Since arriving here, I have been building my networks and creating my own opportunities.
In Trombonist, A Broad expat Aussie jazz sensation Shannon Barnett meets with stars of the jazz trombone world – this month she chats with trombonist, composer and educator Ryan Keberle.
If you have ever listened to the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Darcy James Argueʼs Secret Society, Sufjan Stevens, watched Saturday Night Live or taken in a Broadway show, thereʼs a good chance youʼve heard Ryan Keberle. The outrageously talented musician and composer is an integral part of the New York jazz scene, but also has a strong international profile and travel schedule to match.
Shannon: You started out playing violin and piano, but how did you find yourself playing trombone?
Ryan: My father is a trumpet player and was a student of Bill Adams. Heʼs a professor of music in the town where I grew up, and he leads the college jazz band, and used to lead the professional band in our town. As you know, aside from cities like New York, thereʼs often a shortage of good trombone players around, so my Dad basically groomed me for his own purposes and I ended up playing in the college band when I was in junior high and the professional band when I was in high school.
Shannon: You’ve played in so many different settings, including small jazz groups, big bands, session work, Broadway musicals and television, what do you practise in order to become such a versatile musician?
Ryan: If you’re learning the big band language, you’re already set to play a lot of different styles. The traditional big band language is very much about having a technical proficiency on your instrument. Intonation, sound, various articulations, blending, listening. Looking back, I think the big thing is being able to listen really critically and in a detailed way. Being able to hear what it is about that style that makes it different from other styles, and being able to match that. One of the things I tell my students to practise is to try to hear the various instruments on any given record. And itʼs incredible how difficult that is; holding your attention for three minutes, listening to something that you donʼt normally listen to. Thatʼs kind of overlooked in music education. Also, itʼs amazing to me that many students canʼt notate or quantify what they just played. After getting them to forget all that left brain activity and just play a melody, itʼs actually difficult to get them to then be able to quantify that, especially rhythmically. As anyone who has transcribed jazz solos knows, itʼs very rare that 99% of what they played isnʼt quantifiable. Being able to know what youʼre playing in the moment (which starts with being able to write it down), thatʼs everything to me.
Shannon: Your group Catharsis doesnʼt have a chordal instrument, yet you say you are ʻpianocentricʼ when it comes to composing. How do you transfer pianistic concepts to your compositions?
Ryan: When youʼre playing at the piano, everything youʼre writing is vertical and chordal, but nothing you ever play as a horn player or a vocalist is going to be chordal, itʼs always melodic. So taking those melodies and creating the harmony that you want; thatʼs the challenge. I study a lot of string quartet and chamber music scores, by composers like Ravel, Beethoven and Bartok, to figure out how to go about that. In the jazz world, the master of this is Gil Evans. Thereʼs nuance, dynamics and interesting rhythmic language in addition to well-structured melodies.
Residentie Orchestra trombone section in 2009 (L to R): Twan Dubbers, Arno Schipdam, Tim Dowling, Albert Zuijderduin
In 1998 I wrote an article for the Australian Trombone Education Magazine (ATEM), marking the ten years I had then spent in the Netherlands. Reading and scanning the article once again was a nostalgic moment since it brought back so many memories of my first few years here in The Netherlands, and also bought me back into contact with my 39-year-old self and my appraisal of the life that I had 16 years ago. Now as I “celebrate” 25 years of service to the Residentie Orchestra, as well as 25 years as an expat, I can look back with a lot of pleasure but also with great nostalgia for the life I left behind in Australia. I still love playing the trombone. Always have and always will! I’ve much to be grateful for. But I’ve also experienced some serious low moments in the cultural life of a complex and ever-changing political scene in this small, flat and oddly ill-at-ease country. 2013 was indeed one of the roughest years in my entire life, in which I saw 35% of my job disappear. Yet there has been much to keep me and my family buoyed up! I have a rich life of playing teaching and travel, which has been a blessing. Let’s start at the beginning, as Julie Andrews might have said!
It’s not my intention to give you a long-winded autobiography or rehash the 1998 article in any depth. All the same a short flash backwards through my 54 years of existence may be of some interest… (one hopes).
I was born in Melbourne, in May 1959. My late father was a former school teacher and church musician who was following his calling into the Anglican clergy. This meant that we moved many times as a family in my childhood, firstly in 1964 to Goulburn on my father’s mission to save the glorious but threatened organ at St Saviour’s Cathedral there, then to Wagga Wagga in 1968, and again four years later to Canberra. My parents had met in the choir of, and later married at St Peters, Eastern Hill in Melbourne (where I later returned as a member of the Elizabethan Melbourne Orchestra, now Orchestra Victoria, which rehearsed in the church hall in those days), and they were always very encouraging of my musical ambitions.
Ever since I can remember I had been enraptured by music and was desperate to learn an instrument. My first choice was already the trombone. I don’t really know why! I had seen a brass band marching with trombones at the front. Somehow the movement of the slides had impressed me, and the sound. In fact I was desperate to get my hands on one! So at the age of nine, cornet it was to be; at least until I had grown a bit. We lived in Wagga Wagga at the time, and I remember vividly my first lesson with Charlie Merritt, (a member of the church choir who was a decent trumpeter). After the unsuccessful attempt to get any sound out of the instrument at all during the lesson, I remember walking home many blocks and taking the cornet out of the case on every single street corner and trying to get the first notes to speak. By the time I got home I had played my first note. It was 46 years ago and I must have played most days since. After a while I joined the local Police Boys Club Band. In the Wagga Wagga band room lay my ultimate prize, a Boosey and Hawkes Imperial trombone, and as soon as I could get to 7th position I was allowed to switch to the trombone.
Wagga Wagga, January 1969
I’ve been so lucky to have been able to make my living from my passion for music. All through my adolescent years the trombone was my one true love… In fact almost to the exclusion of all else. Even the opposite sex had to wait! Somehow I managed to achieve a decent result at school and was able to choose any university I wished but after several years playing in the Canberra Youth Orchestra every Saturday morning, I was convinced that I wanted to study music, and if possible try to become an orchestral musician.
Canberra Youth Orchestra trombone section in Aberdeen in 1974 (L to R): Glenn Bardwell, Tim Dowling, Don Farrands, Edmund Davis
I was the only student to study HSC music at Campbell High School in Canberra, and my instrumental exam program consisted of Saint Saens’ Cavatine, Guilmant, and Hindemith. Where to study? Melbourne was the choice, and duly accepted as a student of the wonderful Roger Davies at the VCA, off I went at the age of 17 back to Melbourne with the serious intent of becoming a musician. It was the perfect place to be, under the stern, ever wise and totally committed direction of the late, great John Hopkins, and the excellent and challenging tutelage of Roger Davies. I was surrounded by so many passionate and gifted students at the VCA, many of whom remain my best friends, and with whom I have been able to spend many pleasurable professional moments in my orchestral career.
By Dale Truscott and Jamie Kennedy
Both of us having come across a wide range of beginner instruments in our time as trombone teachers, we felt it might be interesting to find out just which of the instruments available from shops in Brisbane (Australia) for under $1,000 turn out to offer exactly what students, parents and teachers in the market for an instrument need: a low price tag, a great slide, great responsiveness to air and articulation as well as a beautiful, warm sound.
We tested seven beginner trombone models available from three different shops in Brisbane: Bach TB301, Blessing BLTB1280, Conn 23H, JP Rath 231, Jupiter 232L, Nuova and Yamaha YSL 154. Rating each instrument on three key factors and testing the cases for normal student use, we came to the recommendations in the table below – click here for a downloadable PDF of the test results.
Tony Gilham (Associate Principal Trombone of Orchestra Victoria) writes from rehearsals for Opera Australia’s epic cycle of The Ring of the Nibelung
Opera Australia’s production of Wagner’s Ring cycle is into its second week of orchestral rehearsals as I write this. With over 100 musicians involved in the production we are now getting into the full swing of things. For the majority of the musicians this will be the first time they have performed the Ring cycle. Personally, I have only performed Die Walküre and that was way back in 1981, for an onstage production with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
The rehearsals are taking place at Orchestra Victoria’s (OV) home base at Albert Park (minus the grand prix cars). This venue has a good size hall, but it is pretty much packed to the rafters with musicians. Not really surprising considering we have to fit in nine double basses, six harps, eight horns (four doubling on Wagner tubas), four trombones (fourth part on contrabass trombone), one tuba, three trumpets, one bass trumpet, two stierhorns, two sets of timpani, percussion and numerous strings and woodwinds.
Orchestra Victoria’s normal complement of musicians is around 60, so quite a number of musicians have been seconded to help with this major production. OV is using its pool of casual musicians, plus we are fortunate to be joined by musicians from many other Australian orchestras (including AOBO, MSO and SSO) and some from overseas.
The lower brass section for this production is:
First Trombone – Scott Evans (OV-Principal Trombone)
Second Trombone – Tony Gilham (OV-Associate Principal Trombone)
Bass Trombone – Will Farmer (AOBO-2nd/Bass Trombone)
Contrabass Trombone – Eric Klay (MSO-Bass Trombone)
Bass Trumpet – Ron Prussing (SSO-Principal Trombone)
Tuba – Jon Woods (OV)
OV Ring cycle lower brass (L to R): Ron, Jon, Eric, Will, Scott and Tony
For a full list of the musicians involved in Opera Australia’s Ring please click here.
Nick Byrne (Second Trombonist of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra) writes about his recent tour to the United States with ophicleide in tow…
It’s not every day that you are asked to perform an ophicleide concerto, let alone a concerto that was recently written for you. It’s a long time between drinks for the ophicleide repertoire and the time is counted not in decades but centuries. Indeed the last genuine ophicleide concerto written for me is the one by Simon Proctor which, apart from individual movements performed in recital, has never seen a full orchestral realisation and was probably the first full and serious work for the instrument since deep into the nineteenth century. Nonetheless, American composer William Perry, composer of hundreds of works for the stage and screen, approached me after hearing my 2006 recording Back from Oblivion (Melba Recordings MR301111) and the project was born. Performing solos on an ophicleide is almost always a series of firsts; it’s a first for most of the audience to hear the instrument, so long the brunt of cruel humour, so being ‘musical’ and performing with similar dexterity and affectation as any other ‘mainstream’ brass instrument is often enlightening. It’s a first for me to perform for an audience which may have never heard the instrument so the weight of almost two centuries of misinformed opinions and reputation can be an extra burden to carry into a performance. You want to change the reputation of the instrument for the better and show it in its best light rather than reinforce 100 years of ignorance and stereotypes.
Fortunately both the Proctor and the newly-written Perry are fine works in their own right, whether they are written for ophicleide or not, which make the process of musical emancipation of the ophicleide all the more easier.
With the Halary/Sudre ophicleide soundly packed in its alloy travel-coffin the first stop on this trip was Brown University in Providence Rhode Island, just an hour south of Boston. Paul Phillips is the head of conducting at this 200 year old ‘Ivy-League’ university, a long-time supporter and exponent of William Perry’s music and leads a fine orchestra of 100+ musicians, many of whom do not study music as their first degree or major study. Indeed when sitting in with the brass section during rehearsals for the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique in the second-half of the program, I was struck by the feverish homework calculus, quantum theory and complex algebraic calculations that were being undertaken in the bars rest. I couldn’t help thinking that this was, by far, the highest IQ brass section I had ever sat in..perhaps by several fold. Then again, on reflection, that would not be too hard.
The two concerts were held in the distinguished surroundings and ophicleide-friendly environment of the 19th century Sayles Hall where a responsive and, hopefully, enlightened audience (including ex-Sydney-based trombonist Andrew Nissen who is now Boston-based and 50% of the talented Nissen brothers) received the new work enthusiastically.
The concerto is written autobiographically for the instrument with the four movements outlining the musical journey of the ophicleide through France, England and lower-Germany before culminating in a bossa-nova/jazz-inspired movement in the Americas, where the instrument survived into the 20th century in Cuban and Brazilian folk music. It’s a musically adventurous, inventive and light-hearted piece that has now been renamed ‘Suite for Ophicleide & Orchestra’ to better reflect the four movement nature and context of the work. I will record it next June with the RTE Orchestra-Ireland in Dublin for Naxos, on a disc that also includes Perry’s trumpet concerto (Robert Sullivan, Principal in Cincinnati) and flute concerto (Timothy Hutchins, Principal in Montreal), so hopefully this is another small step along the way to the instrument’s musical rebirth and acceptance.
By Jamie Kennedy and Ashley Gittins
The last couple of terms have been “clef-time” with many students starting that journey in their AMEB exams. From the start we’ve always known this day would come, and every now and then throw an exercise or two their way. This helps to prepare the ground a little for the future when we can introduce them to the more advanced etudes of Mr Blazhevich; the fact of the matter is that those pieces require a good deal of musical and technical understanding and they need working up to. Before students even reach that level, we need to ask some important questions: Are there other ways of teaching clefs? What do we need to think about to encourage our students to take some transferable skills from this practice? When is it appropriate to introduce different clefs to young students? To answer these we’ve had a look at the resources that are available and also drawn on our own experience to suggest some different solutions.
There are a few different options to be found for teaching materials, usually in dedicated clef study books and in small sections of method books. The two major approaches that they take are (1) putting familiar musical material into the new clef, and (2) encouraging the student to think in terms of intervals to read new material. One other approach that is much less common in books (but is probably practised pretty widely) is the idea of transposing from a known clef using a particular trick (e.g. think of it as up a fifth; think of it as C=Bb etc.). The transposing approach is often used in conjunction with the others, but it has special significance for anyone trying to initiate a student into (or out of) brass band music – more on that later.
Some books, like Tenor Clef is Easy (Sandra Downing; Dr Downing Music Publishing), start off by putting the same music side by side in different clefs so the student can see how they compare and make some visual connections. They typically then separate the two versions onto different pages so that the student can learn a melody well in a bass clef version and then play it from a tenor clef version. This will suit some learners perfectly, but it might seem laborious to others. In that case it can be helpful to take a slightly different tack and use tunes that students are already familiar with, and hence will be able to self-correct. Here’s an example of an exercise that I (Ashley) use to get my students matching sounds and notes they already know with the extra challenge of switching clef thrown in:
This has familiar elements but it also requires thinking on your feet, so to speak, and for students who need a greater or lesser level of challenge it is a simple matter of altering the placement of the clef changes.
Jörgen van Rijen (Principal Trombone) spoke with Dale and Jamie from The Eighth Position in advance of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s Australian tour in November 2013
What was the musical journey you took before winning your current position with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO)?
I started to play as a young kid in my local wind band when I was about 8 years old. I was lucky to get a great teacher from the very beginning (Bas Dekker, principal of the Rotterdam Philharmonic) who encouraged my enthusiasm for music and the trombone. When I was 14 years old I took a test lesson with George Wiegel at the Rotterdam Conservatory and from that moment studied with him in the preparation class and later for what would now would be called Bachelor and Master degrees. I also went to study with Michel Becquet in France as an exchange student, and when I was 21 won the position of principal trombone with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. After half a year, I moved to the same position in the RCO.
The RCO was recently crowned the world’s greatest orchestra by Gramophone magazine. What is life like as a permanent member of the RCO?
There are many great orchestras in the world and it is very difficult to say which one is the greatest. In my opinion it is not possible to judge that, but it is our task to play as beautifully as possible every day, and of course it is great to get recognition for that from the public and press like Gramophone. To answer the question, life is actually great as a member of the RCO! It is fantastic to have the opportunity to play in a great section and orchestra, with some of the best conductors and soloists in the world in the beautiful Concertgebouw and other great halls in the world. There is not much more to wish for as an orchestral musician. The atmosphere in the orchestra is great and very social, so personally I feel very much at home in this orchestra.
What are your impressions of the Concertgebouw as a concert venue, and how does it differ from other concert halls that you’ve played in around the world?
The hall sounds beautiful and is considered to be one of the best in the world, especially for classical and late romantic repertoire, because the orchestra blends into a very nice warm and full sound. To be honest it is not always the easiest hall to play in. You don’t hear each other very well on stage, so you have to be very active and open on stage to have enough contact with the others. In drier halls it is mostly easier to play together and to hear each other, but despite the difficulties the final result in the Concertgebouw sounds very nice. The great thing is that it feels like the hall helps you to play beautifully. In many halls you sort of fight to make a nice sound – if that takes most of your energy, there isn’t much left for taking risks and doing something extra with the music. Because it is easy to make a round and warm sound in our hall, you are constantly invited to do something extra with it.
How do you see your own role within the trombone section, and what do you look for from the other members of the section?
In my opinion the trombone section is typically a section that only flourishes as a team. I play the first trombone part, but there are not many solos in the repertoire. The nicest moments for the trombones in most symphonies are chorales and chords, which only work if every part is equally good and important with good intonation. So for me all parts are equally important and together you should try to blend well and react to each other so the final result is the section sounding like one instrument.
Bart Claessens (Principal Trombone) spoke with Dale and Jamie from The Eighth Position in advance of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s Australian tour in November 2013
What was the musical journey you took before winning your current position with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO)?
I started to play the violin when I was five years old. At that time I also started to play trumpet and when I was 11 changed from trumpet to trombone. My mother was my teacher on trumpet and said it might be a good idea to try to change to trombone. After I tried it I was completely sold. I began my trombone lessons with Ruud Welle and studied with him until I was 15, when I started lessons with George Wiegel at the Rotterdam Conservatory as a junior student. At age 19, in 2002, I won the job of Second/Bass Trombone of the RCO, and was appointed Principal Trombone of the RCO after another audition in 2007.
The RCO was recently crowned the world’s greatest orchestra by Gramophone magazine. What is life like as a permanent member of the RCO?
It is great. We have a very friendly orchestra, so the atmosphere is very nice during our rehearsals, concerts and of course the many tours we do. I have been in the orchestra since 2002 and feel that I have quite many friends among my colleagues. I enjoy the opportunity to play with some of the best musicians in the world and to share the stage with the best conductors and soloists. Also our concert hall, the famous Concertgebouw, is a great place to work.
What are your impressions of the Concertgebouw as a concert venue, and how does it differ from other concert halls that you’ve played in around the world?
It is a beautiful building which is famous for its acoustics. In my experience it is one of the best concert halls in the world. It is not easy to play on stage, because it is a bit [of a wet] acoustic, but if you listen in the hall you can hear everything and the sound blends really nicely.
Nico Schippers (Second Trombone) spoke with Dale and Jamie from The Eighth Position in advance of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s Australian tour in November 2013
What was the musical journey you took before winning your current position with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO)?
I started playing euphonium at the age of seven in a local wind band. I had daily lessons from my grandfather who was a great musician, and besides discipline and demanding a high quality of playing he also taught me how to really make music. After high school I went to the conservatories of Enschede, Rotterdam and Lyon, and played in some projects with the National Youth Orchestra and Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. In 2000 I won a job as Principal Trombone in the National Ballet Orchestra in Amsterdam, then in 2004 was appointed as Second Trombonist and euphonium player in the RCO.
The RCO was recently crowned the world’s greatest orchestra by Gramophone magazine. What is life like as a permanent member of the RCO?
It’s a good life. We live in one of the greatest cities, rehearse and play concerts in one of the best halls and orchestras, work with great conductors and musicians, and tour all over the world! Of course sometimes it is hectic and stressful, but overall we are privileged.
What are your impressions of the Concertgebouw as a concert venue, and how does it differ from other concert halls that you’ve played in around the world?
There is a slogan now which goes like this: ‘everything sounds better in the Concertgebouw’. I think that’s the secret. It really sounds better there. Your sound comes out of your trombone with a nice warm vibration and it blends perfectly with other players.
How do you see your own role within the trombone section, and what do you look for from the other members of the section?
As a second trombonist I create the connection between the principal and the bass trombone. Sometimes I have to support the principal trombone, sometimes I have my own solo and sometimes I am the key for [the section’s] intonation and balance. A second trombone can destroy the section, whoever is playing.
Martin Schippers (Second and Bass Trombone) spoke with Dale and Jamie from The Eighth Position in advance of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s Australian tour in November 2013
I started playing euphonium in the local wind band of my hometown at age seven, taking lessons from my grandfather. At the age of 15 I switched to trombone and studied with my uncle before going to the conservatory. Aged 19 I was appointed Second Trombone at the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and four years later was appointed Principal Trombone at the Radio Chamber Philharmonic where I worked for 3,5 years. In 2009 I won the job at the RCO as Second/Bass Trombone.
I feel blessed being in this orchestra, living in Amsterdam and playing in our beautiful hall. It is one of the few orchestras in the world with its own unique sound. Working with great conductors, travelling and meeting people all over the world and playing with our section is a dream for every musician.
The Concertgebouw is famous for it’s warm and transparent acoustics and I think these have also shaped the sound of the orchestra. We try to bring this sound with us wherever we play in the world. The sound comes to you as round but clear and the overall blend is unique. Besides the famed acoustics it is also a very beautiful venue with a lot of history, something that you feel as soon as you enter the building or walk onto the stage.
Raymond Munnecom (Bass Trombone) spoke with Dale and Jamie from The Eighth Position in advance of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s Australian tour in November 2013
As a youngster I started playing on brass instruments (alto horn, baritone and euphonium) in a small wind band in the south of Holland. In that area at the time I was growing up (in the 70s and 80s) there was still a strong tradition of wind band playing. Each village had its own band, most of which competed with each other. At 17 I switched to the trombone, and one year later started my studies at the Conservatory of Maastricht, before later switching to Amsterdam. My teacher was the former solo-trombonist of the RCO. During my studies I gained some experience playing in various professional ensembles and from October 1994 received several opportunities to play in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra as a substitute. I was playing tenor- as well as bass trombone at the time. Luckily there was a position available for bass trombone and in February 1997 I won the audition. As a member of the Orchestra this is my 16th season.
RCO trombone section (L to R): Jörgen van Rijen, Nico Schippers, Bart Claessens, Martin Schippers, Raymond Munnecom
In my opinion there are many great orchestras but playing in one of them means a lot of touring with beautiful music under very good conductors.
First of all the Concertgebouw is our home base and luckily its acoustic is really magic. The famous old Concertgebouw hall is beautiful. Lots of great artists have performed in that hall. Like Amsterdam, the Concertgebouw and its surroundings have a certain historic atmosphere. The area with the Rijksmuseum, van Gogh museum and Stedelijk museum close by is a very special corner for the arts.
How do you see your own role within the trombone section, and what do you look for from the other members of the section?
My role is to give my best as an individual player fitting into the section as well as I can. Whatever differences there may be in characters or personalities, on stage you have to aim for harmony and team-performance in the group as well as in the orchestra.
Jamie Kennedy spoke with Ben Marks, trombonist of the ELISION new music ensemble and trombone teacher at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University.
Jamie: Your reputation as a performer and teacher is often closely associated with contemporary music. At your recent talk and workshop on contemporary trombone technique at the Brisbane Lower Brass Weekend you took issue with the conventional division made between “contemporary music” and “mainstream music”. Could you expand on this for us?
Ben: I don’t see a divide between contemporary and mainstream music. My approach to any piece is always an attempt to understand the musical language of the composer – this could be Wagenseil, Hindemith or Xenakis. For example, Wagenseil’s concerto for trombone includes many ornaments and has various suggested articulations, most of which are editorial in printed versions of this piece. To get at what the composer is asking we have to do a little research and try to understand how Wagenseil liked to ornament and get a picture of articulation practice in the 18th century. The same principles apply to Hindemith, whose book “The Craft of Musical Composition” gives a detailed look at his theories and influences. His Sonata for Trombone seen in this context has more to do with various intervalic tension theories and Bach than it might have to do with doom laden feelings of war. His language isn’t closely connected to the type of highly emotive music we might associate with the Grondahl concerto so we need to understand afresh how Hindemith expresses himself.
Contemporary music is the same. We need to consider which elements in the musical language are important for a successful performance (dynamic intensity, physical movement, sound texture, sound shape, density of notes). We shouldn’t put barriers up around a narrow expressive style (say late romantic expressionism) but consider the huge spectrum of styles and languages. This may require that we spend considerable time learning new pieces (to ‘get’ the composer’s language) but often the rewards are great. The best thing about working with living composers is that we can also have the direct conversation about any areas that we don’t understand. The composer in this relationship isn’t the be all and end all of this process either: we have to perform the music and it has to find a connection with our internal expressive self.
Jamie: As a As a long-standing member of ELISION you have premiered new works from many leading contemporary composers. Do composers writing new works to be premiered by ELISION often consult with you regarding the trombone parts? Over the years, which technical and other aspects of trombone playing have you been called upon to discuss with composers keen to learn more about writing for our instrument?
Ben: Thankfully most of the composers I’ve worked with through ELISION are already highly familiar with the instrument. They’ve talked to local performers, studied the major new works and have a working knowledge of what we do and how we do it. This is really a requirement of all composers in this day and age. Having said that we did recently work very closely with Irish composer Ann Cleare who wrote a concerto for trumpet, bass clarinet and trombone, which we premiered with the RTÉ Orchestra in Dublin at the beginning of this year. Some years previous to this we spent time with Ann imitating various electronic sounds she had prepared. Out of this procedure we developed very finely detailed expressive gestures which were then composed into this concerto. Composers seem very interested in the multilayered-ness of sound possibilities on the trombone. This is quite clear in Berio’s Sequenza V, with vocal and trombone parts independently moving as well as the various mute opening and closings etc. These days this is taken further whereby the slide movement is no longer rhythmically connected to the harmonics and other elements are layered in (half valve, air accents). This multilayered approach certainly takes a while to learn but yields great results: all the cracks between the sounds are the compositional material.
By Brendan Collins (Composer-In-Residence at Barker College, Sydney and former Associate Principal Trombonist of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra)
One of my musical highlights of 2013 would have to be the Brisbane Lower Brass Weekend (6-8th September). This well-organised event was entertaining, informative, motivational and thought-provoking. For enthusiasts of the trombone, euphonium and tuba this event was a smorgasbord of inspiring performances, lectures, masterclasses and (I dare say for the students involved) nerve-wracking mock orchestral auditions.
The first performance I attended was the Queensland Conservatorium Lower Brass Faculty Recital. Brisbane is certainly blessed with a number of outstanding lower brass players and many were on display in this recital. The performers included Jason Redman, Dale Truscott, Tom Coyle, Greg Aitken, Thomas Allely, Ben Marks and Jamie Kennedy.
I was honoured that the trombone quartet of Dale, Jamie, Jason and Tom chose to open the program with my recently composed Two Motets for Four Trombones. For obvious reasons I will leave the review of this piece for others to write, however the performers played with excellent technical control and their musicality and ensemble skills were highly developed. It was a most impressive start to what turned out to be an excellent recital.
Thomas Allely then performed Ballade by Szentpali with the Anima String Quartet. This is a virtuosic work that demands much of all players. Thomas met these demands with ease and produced a clear and focused sound at all times.
The next item was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. I remember a time when it seemed impossible to go to a brass performance without hearing at least one work by Frigyes Hidas. Jason Redman and Tom Coyle were joined on stage by pianist Mitchell Leigh and performed Movements 1 and 3 of Hidas’ Florida Concerto. Having performed together in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra for more than 20 years, it is clear that Jason and Tom have developed a great musical awareness and understanding. Both players produced sounds that complemented each other beautifully and throughout their performance they regularly displayed finely-tuned balance and ensemble skills. In addition to their fine ensemble playing, Jason and Tom produced frequent moments of individual brilliance.
The Co-Chair of Brass at the Queensland Conservatorium, Greg Aitken, was the next to perform. Greg gave a lively performance of a solo work for euphonium by Al Vizzutti titled Funk. As the title suggests, this piece was both energetic and, yes, funky. The piece comes from a collection of 20 Dances for Solo Euphonium put together by Steven Mead. I personally hope that a Volume 2 will soon be released, as 20 dances for solo euphonium are simply not enough.
For the final work of the first half, Greg’s student Emi Miyoshi joined him and together they performed Boismortier’s Sonata No.19, Op. 40, No.3.
The second half included impressive performances of the Sulek Sonata by Dale Truscott, Kraft’s Encounters II by Thomas Allely and David Stanhope’s Four Concert Studies for trombone quartet. All were performed with great technical control and high levels of musicianship. Perhaps the highlight of the second half was Ben Mark’s presentation of Three Pieces by the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi. Ben has a comprehensive knowledge of the contemporary trombone repertoire and he began his performance by giving a detailed account of Scelsi and his music. This was both informative and entertaining.
Ben’s performance of the piece was impressive on many levels. It was a commanding display of trombone technique and his knowledge and research into the contemporary solo trombone repertoire led to a thoughtful interpretation of the work.
I loved this recital. It gave me a chance to hear some new brass works as well as the chance to revisit pieces I had not heard for some time. It was also a great pleasure to hear many of Australia’s finest brass players perform with enthusiasm and musical sensitivity. All this for a simple gold coin donation – unbelievable value.
Saturday morning began with some warm-up classes directed by Thomas Allely and Ben Marks, followed by a session presented by Dale Truscott entitled ‘Preparing to Play Your Best’. Dale presented his workshop to a room bursting with enthusiastic young brass players. His talk included in-depth discussions on basic concepts such as air, breath support, embouchure and relaxation. He put forward many positive ideas about practice routines, audition preparation and goal setting. Dale illustrated his comments and suggestions with some interesting accounts into his own experiences as a student and professional musician in Australia and Europe.
This presentation was an inspiring experience for all enthusiastic young students fortunate enough to attend. For anyone that wishes to read more about Dale’s comprehensive insights into brass performance and preparation, I suggest reading the detailed article that accompanied his presentation. (It can be found here in the resources section – Ed.)
Trombonist Robert Rotar is conductor of the Bundaberg Youth Orchestra and Wind and Brass Teacher at St Luke’s Anglican School in Bundaberg. Robert has a long track record of producing students who have gone on to become professional performers and music educators. He spoke with Dale Truscott from The Eighth Position.
Dale: How did you come to live and teach music in Bundaberg, a small city 400km north of Brisbane on the Queensland coast?
Robert: I went to school in Coffs Harbour before going to the University of Queensland (UQ) to study a Bachelor of Music. I played piano before starting trombone at the age of 13. The impetus to play the trombone came when the Coffs Harbour Brass Band re-formed – my father was involved in this so naturally I started also. There were no brass teachers in Coffs Harbour at the time, so it was a trial and error learning experience, although I did have some contact maybe once or twice a year with Kevin Brown (QSO) and Ken Smith (Sydney Con at the time). I chose to come to UQ rather than Sydney because it was closer. Being from NSW, I was not aware of the Queensland instrumental program in the school system, which was quite foreign to me. After doing some stints in Toowoomba and Brisbane I was eventually sent to Bundaberg with Education Queensland (EQ). I then worked for 10 years for EQ as an instrumental instructor before moving to St Luke’s Anglican school in Bundaberg.
During my early teaching years post-UQ, I experimented, talked to other players and read a lot about technique. I must add that being largely self-taught gave me many technique issues that I needed to sort through in my playing. With lots of playing, teaching, reading and observing I slowly sorted through most of these. By no means do I have them all sorted but I have many views on how to go about fixing problems and maintaining technique to avoid issues. It is actually quite beneficial as a teacher to have had to work through solutions to your own playing weaknesses – the more problems you have to fix in your own playing, the more you focus on the problems that students can have, and you can help them avoid some problems and give some of your own answers to solve these problems.
I have found technical difficulties that develop are often a result of trying too hard in one area of your playing without a balanced approach, with trying to play high too early being the most common one. It is like too much of one good thing creates a lot of problems with other playing aspects. So variety in practice and knowing what and how to balance these at different stages, and within stages, helps to grow a player. They need to understand their playing, know what they can do wrong and also how to use a warm up to consolidate and maintain their technique.
Ashley Carter is a trombone student at the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM). He has performed as a casual musician with MSO, QSO and TSO, and completed his undergraduate studies at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University.
I have just finished one of the most educational experiences of my career. Even though the result I achieved was not what I had hoped for, I can proudly say I am happy with my efforts and have learnt a great deal. I am currently sitting at the Düsseldorf International Airport writing this, reminiscing about how much I have achieved over the last four months preparing for the Aeolus International Competition for Wind Instruments.
It all started four months ago when I completed the application to enter the Aeolus competition….
The competition was set out in four rounds with various pieces in each round, so I purchased the entire repertoire list to help me begin my preparations.
First round: Dutilleux’s Choral, Cadence et Fugato and Wagenseil’s Concerto for Trombone.
Second round: Hindemith’s Sonata for Trombone, a choice between Leopold Mozart’s and Albrechtsberger’s alto trombone concertos (I chose the Leopold Mozart) and an unaccompanied piece of own choice composed after 1980; for this I chose Folke Rabe’s Basta.
Third round: Frank Martin’s Ballade and a choice between Launy Gröndahl’s Concerto for Trombone and Henri Tomasi’s Concerto for Trombone. The Gröndahl being one of my favourite pieces in the repertoire it was an easy pick for me, not to mention that I had already prepared it for the ANAM Concerto Competition.
Fourth round: Niño Rota’s Concerto for Trombone to be performed from memory with the Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra.
With all of this repertoire sitting in front of me and knowing I only had four months left to prepare it I started to feel a little overwhelmed. I decided the only way I was going to properly prepare this repertoire to a consistent standard was to set myself out a practice schedule for each day. It was also clear that I needed to perform all of this repertoire before I left Australia – luck being on my side ANAM had scheduled my recital for the 30th of August, just 3 days before I left! With all of this in mind, I started my journey.
Continue to page 2…
Music Director of the Brisbane Excelsior Band Howard Taylor is preparing his band for the Federation of Australasian Brass Bands’ upcoming BRASSFEST 2013.
The Federation of Australasian Brass Bands (FABB) is an organization that has, over the past five years, tried to make brass bands regain relevant in their communities. FABB achieves this through its annual brass festival which was held at Twin Towns on the Gold Coast until 2011. The event is designed to stimulate and encourage community brass bands to have a more professional outlook when considering their choice of repertoire and in the delivery of that repertoire.
I was very excited when FABB Chairman Rick Casagrande spoke to me about his initial thoughts on introducing a new competition for brass bands down under. It is always an easy decision for me as the Music Director of the Brisbane Excelsior Band to take part in the festival as I have a strong belief in the direction being taken by the FABB organisers.
Coming from the UK, I was used to competing in contests nearly every month – apart from a few weeks in the summer and Christmas, it was a continual stream of concerts and competitions.
‘The Australasian Open’ was launched back in 2008 and was the first competition to introduce major prize monies for the competitors. The inaugural FABB Contest was a great success, attracting 9 of the best bands from NZ and Aus. NZ Champion band Woolston Brass came away with top honours in both disciplines that year. Other winners over the years have been Kew Band, Gunnedah Shire Band and Brisbane Excelsior.
The event for 2013 (BRASSFEST) is now even more exciting with the concept gaining the backing of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC). It will be held in association with Yamaha Music Australia who I understand have been a very enthusiastic supporter of FABB.
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Ella, the musical tourist, returns to the community brass band of her youth.
After a couple of weeks back in my home town of T_____, I had just about reached my capacity for drinking tea with my parents. It was a Monday night, so I thought I would pop down to the old band hall to look in on the weekly rehearsal.
After many exclamations of surprise and a big show of welcoming the prodigal daughter back into the fold, we all took our seats to begin the evening’s work.
“No. 74” was called out from among the cornets. The stained and battered red hymn books opened directly onto the correct page, more or less by themselves. After my ears had adjusted to the familiar, but certainly unique, system of intonation, I cast my eye around the room to see what remained of the old crew that I had known in my first experience of “banding” as a wide-eyed high-schooler.
Not a single grey hair was out of place. Even well over ten years ago, I was sure that some of them would soon be strangled by their own livers, but here they all still were, tootling away.
The most immediately eye-catching personage was the beanpole sitting directly in front of me on 1st baritone. His stooped shoulders and his peculiar head-nodding movement created such a prominent, quavering vibrato that the rest of the band seemed to have no choice but to succumb to that particular frequency. In fact, the singular sound of the band might have been attributable to him in another way too; I recalled that he may have been instrumental in convincing the baritones and tenor horns to “pre-tune” and solder all their tuning slides into place, creating a memorable tuning system in the process. For a brief moment on a long note, the vibrato-induced oscillations of the entire horn and baritone sections came into alignment, and I had to close my eyes to reduce the feeling of vertigo.
The conductor gave a lazy look around the room before going on to recite a familiar (and fairly crude) story about playing Christmas hymns with members of a well-known Australian orchestra. Finally, though, the withered old percussionist gave a nod to indicate that he was ready to proceed, and the band got down to rehearsing the program for the park gig on Sunday. Funnily enough, despite the labyrinthine array of percussion he had set up, I never actually saw him step out from behind the kit.
We dove into the playlist, distinguishable from every other Sunday afternoon set that I had played with them only by the slight rearrangement of the order, presumably to add a touch of freshness for the band’s most dedicated followers. Holst’s Second Suite in F; the Floral Dance; Aces High and The Road To Gundagai for a military flavor; Alexander’s Ragtime Band and an ABBA medley for the kids; an unmemorable German overture; and finally that eternal crowd-pleaser, I Still Call Australia Home.
“Evergreens… they’re evergreens” sighed the bandmaster. “I remember when we used to play this at the Proms, back in the Symphony.”
“See you on Sunday – the march kicks off at 9, and there’s a 12pm sit-down concert,” said somebody. Why not? I still had a uniform somewhere.
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David Bremner (Principal Trombonist of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) discusses the benefits of playing in a brass band.
I recently attended the NZ National Brass Band competitions and couldn’t help but think throughout the weekend how far the relationship between orchestral and brass band players has come. I have had many teachers over the years telling me that their students shouldn’t be playing in a brass band because it is bad for their orchestral playing. Now playing in a brass band might be bad for your liver, but for your orchestral playing? I don’t think so.
As a student I always looked forward to band in the evening as it was a good chance to have a decent honk after often long days of rehearsing works in the school orchestra with long passages of rests. I found that band was a great chance for me to work on three aspects of playing that often needed attention.
Solo playing – Playing the trombone solo out of Phillip Sparke’s Year of the Dragon would obviously be approached differently to playing the solo in Mahler’s 3rd Symphony. Sitting in band was a chance for me to think about that style and how I could manipulate the music to get the most out of the line, which had a positive impact on the way I would look at orchestral solos.
Stamina – This is something we are always working on which was a constant issue for me as a student. Getting through a band practice was a real struggle, so using the band to develop that strength and stamina was really great for my playing. The key to this was making sure that I didn’t pick up bad habits on the way – I was always conscious of not changing the way I played throughout the range regardless of how tired I became.
Changing the sound and style – an often-neglected skill. Players often feel that the sound they make is the only sound they make. Well it shouldn’t be! You should have a range of sounds that you can produce; the sound you need to make to project in a brass band is very different from the one you would use in the orchestra. I have always enjoyed the challenge of adapting to the environment I find myself in, whether I’m playing with a jazz ensemble, a brass band or an orchestra, as a soloist, or in a small group where I need to hide in the texture from time to time. Playing in the band helped me realise that I couldn’t make the same sound all the time, it just didn’t work, so I found a way to adapt and develop my sound. This was the opening of a door in my mind to many other processes in my playing that I constantly think about.
So, is playing in a band bad for your orchestra playing? I absolutely do not think so. Playing in any ensemble creates a change of environment that is always a positive, you just have to find these positives and stay disciplined.
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By Shannon Barnett
New York-based Australian jazz trombonist
If you had asked fifteen year-old me where I thought I’d be in twice that number of years, chances are my answer wouldn’t have been working as a freelance trombone player in New York City. Music was always going to be the main focus in my life, but the opportunities and experiences I have had are far beyond what I expected.
I started out like many other young musicians, in the band program at my high school in regional Victoria. Thanks to some extremely inspiring and patient mentors, I graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts and forged a name for myself as a freelance player in Melbourne. After several years of performances, recordings and tours, including a stint with Circus Oz, where I learned to play hanging upside down by one foot, it came time that I needed a new perspective on my craft and some time away from Australia.
It was actually the three weeks I spent in Canada at a workshop run by trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas that became the impetus for me to make the move the United States. Having previously visited New York on a number of occasions, it was easy to observe that the place was thriving creatively and was inhabited by an extraordinary number of talented artists. I set about applying for graduate school at several institutions, and after an involved audition process, weighing up of the pros and cons and a frantic gathering of finances, I accepted an offer to attend the State University of New York – Purchase College. Purchase has an incredible faculty, and one that is extremely well-versed in the traditions of the jazz idiom. The chance to study this music in the country where it originated and to absorb knowledge from musicians who were and remain an active part in the development of the music was an indescribable thrill.
Two of the most influential teachers for me during my study were John Fedchock and Jon Faddis. Hopefully many of you are already familiar with Fedchock’s astounding facility on the trombone and his obvious thorough knowledge of the idiom. You may have even played some of his excellent big band charts. Add to that some serious dedication as an educator, and well, I’m very lucky to have spent two years under his tutelage. We focused primarily on melodic and harmonic language. Transcription is an integral part of that, so he had me transcribe players including Kenny Dorham, Tom Harrell, Frank Rosolino and Freddie Hubbard.
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