Welcome to the blog devoted to brass playing and classical music. A blog by two brass teachers: Matt Hurley and Doug Battson.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Musical Benefits of Marching Band Part 1

This is part one of a two part series designed to try and answer the question of whether or not marching band serves any musical purpose.

As some of my students get ready to go off to band camp, I find myself pondering over something that one of my teachers said to me in college. What this teacher said didn't set right with me back then, and it still doesn't now after 10 years. This teacher simply said this, "There is no benefit to marching bands."

At the time, I just sort of looked at him funny. I didn't think to try and challenge him on this point, after all he was a college professor. He was also my trombone teacher, so there was a little fear of retribution if I challenged him too much. But ever since he stated that, I have found myself wondering what universe he resided in to be able to make such a statement and to also be able to believe it.

In my opinion, there is a great deal of musical benefit that students can learn from being in marching band. There is no way that you will be able to play a ff power chord at the end of a song unless you are using proper breathing techniques. Indeed if you are not using the proper breathing techniques, you will probably be passing out on the marching field halfway through the first song. Being on a marching field, you also learn quite a bit about balance between instruments. You also learn a great deal about listening to other parts, but being able to play your own part independently. On a marching field, if you listen too intently, you will end up hearing the delay due to reverb and echo. So in that respect, you need to know your part and be able to play it independently, regardless of what is going on around you. Because of the wide openness of a marching field, you end up having to over emphasize dynamics in order to make the song come to life on the field. Being on a marching field also teaches the students to blow the air through the instrument. I cannot tell you how many students I have had that when they first started taking private lessons sounded like the air was dribbling out the end of the horn. All of these are beneficial tools and can be used when teaching students in a studio situation, provided that your student has been exposed to marching bands at some point in their playing career.

One of the common complaints that I hear from teachers when the marching season is done and they start up with the concert season is that the band is still playing like they are outside, in other words too loud. Obviously you need to be able to have some control and be able to reign the band in, but I think that if you use marching band as a foundation, you should be able to build upon those blocks of balance and control and make your concert band better in the long run. The lessons learned in marching band; proper breathing, dynamic control, balance within the ensemble, listening to other parts, and blowing through the instrument, are all blocks that are necessary for being able to play well as an ensemble or individual player. Ususally in a studio setting, you are concentrating on one or two of those blocks at a time. Players in a marching band will ultimately be working on all of those blocks at the same time and will be better players for it.

Each individual player is going to be different and require different needs in order to get them to be a better player. I feel personally that marching band allows the player to work on most of the common elements to becoming better players. From there it is easier for me as a teacher to be able to build on those elements and help the students to become better musicians.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Soaring Sounds - Centerville, OH DCI Show

We couldn't have asked for a better night for a drum corps show. The weather was fantastic. Thunderstorms were predicted, but they were a no-show.

First up was the Division III Marion Glory Cadets from Marion, OH. The Glory Cadets' program featured the music of Gustav Holst's The Planets. Critically speaking, the color guard was the worst I have ever seen. [Full disclosure: I marched soprano (trumpet) in the 1989 Limited Edition Drum and Bugle Corps and did winterguard (rifle and flag) in high school.] The good news is that the pit (or front ensemble) was quite good and the drum line shows promise of being a foundation upon which to rebuild the corps.

Next up were the Bandettes, the all-girl corps from Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Canada. They are small, but an adequate horn line is up to the task. Occassional brass/percussion balance problems, but you have that in a corps of this size.

The Troopers ARE Coming! From Casper, Wyoming, the Troopers are a traditional corps that doesn't disappoint. They won't wow you, but their performance will impress you with good balance and blend and a solid horn line.

Playing the music of Jerry Goldsmith, Southwind from Lexington, Kentucky has a visual style that reminds me of my favorite corps, the Phantom Regiment. They are semi-finals worthy this year!

From Toldeo, Ohio is the Glassmen present a show in tribute of Martha Graham [whom I had to Google in order to figure out who she was.] I have never been a big fan of the Big G and I still find them annoying after all these years. That multiple costume changes for the guard is quite unneccessary and most distracting. If I notice the guard it is for one of two reasons: either I have found a cute girl or the guard is distracting. As much as I wish it were the former, it was the latter in this case.

The Madison Scouts presented another high energy performance with their signature sopranos. Both the soloists and the entire soprano line were top notch and the closer was fantastic.

Still the best horn line in the business, the Blue Devils from Concorde, California put together quite a show that just might get them another DCI championship.

Presenting what I thought was the best overall program of the night was Santa Clara Vanguard. Featuring the music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, SCV performs the show with style and grace. Not as much of a "general effect" kind of show (especially when compared to the raw energy of the Blue Devils), the Vanguard will end up feeling like Phantom Regiment did back in 1989...the better show losing out to style over substance.

The scores:

Corps/My Score/Official Score/Placement

Marion Glory Cadets/48.6/68.05/7th
Madison Scouts/80.2/86.75/3rd
Blue Devils/89.9/91.40/1st
Santa Clara Vanguard/92.4/89.90/2nd

The Centerville HS Band Boosters put on a great show! I'm looking forward to the show in Fairfield, OH next week with Phantom Regiment.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Time Waster

Classic Brass Highway
Confusion Lane3
Mt. Happiness112
Lake Love230
Please Drive Carefully

Where are you on the highway of life?

From Go-Quiz.com

Monday, July 12, 2004

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is Back

...with a brand new CD:
Longtime fans of the neo-swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy were surely surprised when they first dropped the group's latest release, "Save My Soul" into the CD changer.

The lead-off track, "Zig Zaggety Woop Woop, Part One" erupts out of the speakers with a delirious, syncopated fervor that is straight out of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band - from the wild trombones to the stop-and-start grooves to the growling bleats of the tuba. And from there, the band segues into "You Know You Wrong," which rides a rhumba-boogie piano figure that practically channels Professor Longhair. And so on, until, by the disc's end, the band has led the listener on a circuitous survey of vintage New Orleans music styles.
Check it out!

From Omaha Beach to Czechoslovakia

Very interesting story in the Zanesville (OH) Times-Recorder about trumpet player and war hero (although he denies it) Ned Watts.

Thank you for your service, Mr. Watts.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Review of "The Fabulous Dorseys" DVD

This is the story of the Big Band era favorites, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. The brothers Tommy and Jimmy were born in the coal-mining town of Shennandoah, PA. Their father taught them music and encouraged them to become professional musicians as a means to give them a better life and not have to work at the mines. Their father was able to get them their first break having them perform in a dance hall orchestra that their father was the leader of when they were still young. They went on to play in many different orchestras, most notably with the Paul Whiteman orchestra. In 1933 they formed their own orchestra and enjoyed a great deal of success until 1935 when the two brothers had a rift that spilt them apart. Both went on to lead their own orchestras and enjoyed a great deal of success through the rest of the 30's and 40's during the Big Band era. In 1947, they reunited briefly to star in the movie about their lives, but they did not formally settle their differences until 1953 when they joined the orchestras together again. From 1954 to 1955, they enjoyed some success co-hosting the television show "Stage Show". Incidentally, "Stage Show" was the first time that Elvis Presley appeared on television. He sang "Heartbreak Hotel". Tommy Dorsey died in 1956. Jimmy ran the orchestra until his death in 1957.

I am not sure how accurate this movie is compared to their lives. My guess is that it is a Hollywood adaptation at best. If you are to watch this movie, you are not going to do it to see any great acting or any great plots. What this movie offers is a glimpse into the music and some of the people who influenced the musical era of that time period. It also gives us a glimpse as to how musicians interacted with each other. Indeed it was not uncommon for musicians to finish a gig and then go to a club where another musician was playing and just join that musician on stage.

This movie featured the Dorsey brothers playing themselves in the movie. It also featured other musicians and leaders of that day, including Paul Whiteman (conductor), Art Tatum (Pianist), Bob Eberly (Pianist), Helen O'Connell (Singer)and several more. The DVD also has a bonus feature with an episode of "Stage Show".

If you are interested in music and musicians of that era, then I would recommend this film to help give you a glimse of that era. I would also recommend "The Glenn Miller Story" starring Jimmy Stewart (1953) and "The Benny Goodman Story" starring Steve Allen (1955). While these are all fictional accounts, they do give you a good glimpse into the lives of the musicians and the music that they played.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Helping Beginning Trombone Students to Reach 6th and 7th Positions

You have a beginning trombone student. He or she is having difficulties reaching 6th and 7th positions on the slide. What do you do?

With the inherit design of the instrument; this can be a common problem for beginning students. After all, the arm only stretches so far in front of you. Younger students with shorter arms are going to have more difficulties than students who are a little bit older.

One of the tricks that you can use with these students is to have them turn their head slightly to the right as they are reaching for one of these positions. What happens is by turning their head; they change the angle of the trombone in relational position with their body. This allows the student to be able to add an extra 2 to 3 inches to their reach and allows them to be able to more easily reach the 6th and 7th positions.

There are teachers who will not advocate this approach. Their theory is that by changing anything with the neck or body, you will ultimately affect the tone quality. While this is true, if the students are using the proper techniques (breathing, blowing etc.), this effect is nominal. What we are trying to accomplish by using this technique is to improve the accuracy of pitches.

I have a student that I am teaching currently teaching that I have to remind constantly to let out her slide a little bit more when she is playing 6th or 7th position notes. Because she was not able to accurately reach these positions early in her trombone-playing career, she “learned” what these pitches sounded like incorrectly. Now when she goes to play those notes, she is playing what sounds right to her ear and not what is correct with the tuner. While we are making progress retraining her ear in her lessons, it is a process that is taking some time and might have been avoided altogether if she was able to hear the pitches correctly by having the slide in the right position early on.

This technique might not be for everyone and certainly if there are teachers who disagree with this technique, I will love to hear from you and your reasons why you disagree with this technique. This is a technique that I have used that seems to work well and it is something that I think other teachers can use effectively also.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Bugles Across America

From Drum Corps International:
After 37 months of existence, “Bugles Across America,” a program designed to provide a live musician playing taps at every American veteran’s funeral, almost 3,700 musicians have played at more than 37,000 military funerals around the country, according to founder Tom Day.

Day founded “Bugles Across America” in 2001 after a 2000 Congressional mandate stated that every veteran funeral include full military honors. The mandate didn’t take into account the shortage of military buglers (there are less than 500 in the Defense Department, and most of them are assigned to performing ensembles), which forced families to employ boom boxes to play recorded versions of taps at funerals.

DCI.org’s Mike Boo stressed the importance of Bugles Across America. “I’d be remiss if the opportunity wasn’t seized to once again promote an organization of phenomenal worthiness, Bugles Across America. If you are a bugle and/or trumpet player, please, please, please go on their Web site and sign up to be available to perform “Taps” at the funeral of a veteran.

“There is still a critical shortage of bugle players for military funerals, forcing the military to use boom box recordings and digital bugles for “Taps.” There have got to be lots of potential “Taps” players among DCI alumni and fans,” Boo said.
If you are able, please sign up. Our nations veterens deserve full military honors at their funerals.

A Letter From Mom

From the Mansfield News Journal:
Tami Ketteman's son wasn't in the Renaissance Theatre on Wednesday night.

But he was in his mother's heart as "A Letter From Mom" the Mount Gilead woman wrote was read before a standing-room only crowd who came to see the U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers' Chorus.

Marcus Carney, 21, is stationed in Afghanistan with the 501st Airborne. He left Kenyon College after one quarter to fight for his country. He was studying ancient civilizations and cultures.

"One morning as I was having my coffee and I thought how there are thousands other mothers who are feeling the same thing I was," Ketteman said during intermission.

"Seeing him grow up, I realize that I can't protect him anymore. I wanted everyone to pray for my son and all those fighting overseas."

The Army learned of the letter and posted it on its Web site about eight weeks ago.
It's difficult for her not knowing exactly where her son is or how he's doing. E-mails are "few and far between," she said.

"Mostly, they just say, 'Mom, I'm alive. Stop worrying,'" she said.

"I wrote the letter because I'm so proud of him and wanted people to pray for him."

The letter was read by Master Sgt. Janet Hjelmgren to musical accompaniment. Afterward, the crowd applauded as Ketteman gripped her husband's hand and smiled through the tears.
Check out the video here of a performance of this piece.