“Music is not just the black dots on the white paper – it’s what happens when those black dots on the white paper go into your heart, and come out again.”
- Phil Smith (Principal Trumpet, New York Philharmonic)
Thankfully this is true. If not, he would be the only orchestral trumpet player working today. Sam Pilafian would be the only employed brass quintet tuba player. Renée Fleming would be the only working soprano.
© 2009 Andrew Hitz
Playing all of the right notes and right rhythms is very important, but conveying your opinions and your emotions through those notes and rhythms is what will get you and keep you employed. Everyone has their own life experiences which is why there is always room for another great storyteller, no matter what the instrument, in the music business.
No one in your audience was there for your happiest moment, your saddest moment or your scariest moment. These experiences are what we rely on when those black dots on the white paper go into and out of our hearts and into the ears of our audience.
This video is two hours of footage of Jean-Pierre Rampal performing live on Radio-Canada telecasts from 1956-1966. He performs a wide range of music. A lot of it features another brilliant French musician, Robert Veyron-Lacroix, on harpsichord.
In the event you are not familiar with this legendary flutist, two things will immediately strike you: his tone and his phrasing. Rampal is one of those musicians who makes everything sound both effortless and elegant. He is one of the most famous instrumentalists of all time for good reason.
He performs works by Mozart, Bach, Haydn, Boccherini and Couperin. I don’t know how any musician could listen to this and not play more musically the next time they play their instrument.
Today I was a member of a panel discussion with fellow faculty members from George Mason as part of a workshop in Prince William County, Virginia. It was great for me to get to know the stories of some of my colleagues a little better. There was one anecdote in particular that left a lasting impression.
Dr. Lorrie Berkshire Brown is our Woodwind Area Coordinator and Oboe Professor at Mason. I have played with her in the American Festival Pops Orchestra and instantly noticed her fantastic playing. Until today I didn’t realize she subbed with the New York Philharmonic for seven years before fully committing to the DC area as a member of The United States Army Band, “Pershing’s Own.” The story of how she got to play with the Philharmonic the first time is not atypical but still a great reminder for us all.
Are you ready?
One afternoon in 1985, Lorrie got a phone call at 4:00 pm asking if she was available to play with the New York Philharmonic that night. They needed a second oboe for the Dvorak Cello Concerto, which she described as “the mother of all second oboe parts.” She not only said yes, but it obviously went very well since she played with them for another seven years.
While it took a little bit of being in the right place at the right time (she was home and took the call), the important thing is that she was ready for the call. She not only took the call but was ready with basically no warning whatsoever to go and nail one of the difficult parts in the orchestral oboe repertoire. She got an opportunity and made the most of it.
Are you ready for the call?
Music is more powerful than any of us could ever put into words. When trying to either convey my own emotions or understand someone else’s, I always turn to music.
I will never forget seeing the Boston Symphony Orchestra play Mahler’s 2nd Symphony in tribute to Leonard Bernstein on the opening night at Tanglewood the summer after he passed away. There were people crying in the audience and players holding back tears on stage. That performance expressed what could not be expressed in words, exactly how much Bernstein had meant to the Boston Symphony, to Tanglewood and to American music.
This clip is one of the most chilling I’ve ever heard. It is from an afternoon concert of the Boston Symphony on November 22, 1963, one of the most infamous days in American history. Long before every concertgoer had the internet in their pockets, news was not dispersed to people out and about. You were either next to a TV, a radio or a wired phone. As a result, the audience at Symphony Hall that afternoon did not know that President Kennedy had died from gunshot wounds suffered in Dallas.
Music director Erich Leinsdorf addresses the crowd at the beginning of the concert and breaks the news to them. The audible gasps of panic, confusion and sadness are haunting. They then play possibly the most passionate performance of the funeral march from Beethoven 3 that’s ever been played.
But words do this clip justice. You need to hear it for yourself.
Also, be sure to check out this story from Time Magazine which includes comments from the librarian that day. He has not been able to bring himself to listen to the above performance even once in the last 50 years. Incredible stuff.
I taught a young guy from New York City who plays the bass, Ray Cetta, a lesson on tuba today. He’s started to get a lot of calls to play Sousaphone on gigs and wanted to take his first ever lesson on the instrument. I was immediately impressed when he told me he had no car (typical New Yorker) but was willing to take the train all the way to DC with his Sousaphone!
It was a really great experience for me. He is exactly the kind of student that we all enjoy teaching. He grasped concepts immediately and was eager to learn. One remark he made in response to something I said really jumped out at me.
He asked me about playing really softly with control. I showed him a number of exercises to work on that, then told him the obvious: to work on the extremes of playing the most important aspect is doing it every single day. Much more important than the total amount of time spent on practicing a skill like pianissimo playing is the regularity of the practicing. I told him I knew that was a pain, especially on a secondary instrument. His response was right on the money:
“I will find time ….. no, I will make time for it. I needed to do it on a gig once and that’s enough times for me to need to make time to do it.”
This is from a 23 year old kid who is about to release an album, is a band leader, has a very active freelance career, and has more irons in the fire than most of us. The difference between finding time and making time for essential work is what separates those who make it and those who don’t. I learned something during his lesson today as well.
Ray is a Yankees fan so this is for him.
This past weekend, my wife Tiffany and I traveled to Philadelphia to see the Philadelphia Orchestra perform both Ein Heldenleben and the Wind Serenade of Richard Strauss. I did not know what the first half of the program until we arrived. I was delighted to discover that it was Yuja Wang performing Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto. I had heard wonderful things about her playing and of course always get excited about the prospects of seeing someone perform the piano works of Rachmaninoff.
The entire performance was truly stunning. It was a magical program and the orchestra, from Ricardo Morales in the woodwinds to Carol Jantsch in the brass, sounded absolutely superb. I have seen hundreds of orchestral performances in my life and this was absolutely near the top of the list. One of the reasons for this was the breathtaking performance of Yuja Wang to open the program.
Her level of artistry was impressive, both her interpretation and execution. Here is a clip of her performing another monster of the romantic piano repertoire, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. This performance features Hannu Lintu leading the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in a live performance from Helsinki in 2012.
When I think of the best examples of tone when it comes to brass playing, the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble immediately comes to mind. To my ears, there has never been another brass ensemble with such a unified concept of sound. Their blend borders on surreal.
This is a complete live concert of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the playing is nothing short of inspiring. The lineup of players is one for the ages:
Trumpets: Simon Ferguson, Graham Ashton, Paul Archibald, Philip Jones.
Horn: Frank Lloyd
Trombones: Roger Harvey, Christopher Mowat, David Purser (doubling euphonium), Ray Premru
Tuba: John Fletcher
If you are a young tuba player and John Fletcher is not one of your heroes, chances are overwhelmingly good that John Fletcher is one of your hero’s heroes. He was a musician’s musician who was taken from us well before his time.
Enjoy this stellar playing!
From time to time we like to pass along great blog posts from colleagues around the internet. Here is a very short post by John Ericson of Horn Matters relaying a story from the late, great Abe Torchinsky. There is a great lesson for all of us in this quick story.
Passing of Abe Torchinsky and Giving Students Complexes
By the way, for anyone who isn’t familiar with Horn Matters, you should be. It is one of the best online brass resources around and John and his colleague, Bruce Hembd, are great guys who are incredibly knowledgeable.
“Marketing and sales isn’t about trying to convince, coerce, or manipulate people into buying your services. It’s about putting yourself out in front of, and offering your services to, those whom you are meant to serve-people who already need and are looking for your services.”
- Michael Port from “Book Yourself Solid“
I love this quote. It takes a lot of the used car salesman feeling that some of us have when selling ourselves as performers or teachers of music out of the equation. Marketing yourself is simply about getting yourself noticed by the people who want or need your services. It’s that simple.
The good news is most musicians, including teachers, are not good marketers and that presents an opportunity for us all. The bad news is people are figuring this out and everyone is getting better. We all have to up our games when it comes to marketing.
And make no mistake, we are all marketers whether we realize it or not.
Sun setting over the University of Glasgow on my trip there last week with Boston Brass
© 2013 Andrew Hitz
The Sibelius Violin Concerto is one of the most intense concertos ever written for the violin. I personally love how it wastes absolutely no time whatsoever getting down to business. The soloist is thrust into incredibly technical passages in the first two minutes of the piece! I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it performed better than by David Oistrakh.
Some consider Oistrakh to be the greatest violinist of all time and I don’t see how you could have that conversation and not at the very least include him in it. His playing speaks for itself.
This is a studio recording from 1959 with Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra and it is magical.