Sunday, September 5, 2010

Wonderful Season

Over the past week a number of people, some who I know and others who I do not, have come up to me various places around town to comment on the Stonewall Brigade Band season. Comments were particularly favorable for our "Best of the Season" concert. One regular member of our audience came up to me at Jazz in the Park's last concert and commented that the band's "connection" to the audience was particularly good throughout the season. Other comments were that the band "sounded great" or was "wonderful." Congratulations and thanks to all the members who so faithfully came to perform each week and did a really great job.

Rehearsals start the last Monday in September with an emphasis for that rehearsal on our Oktoberfest performance the following Saturday. Starting with the first rehearsal in October (Mondays, 8-9:30 at the band room) we will be learning new pieces for next Summer's series and other performances. This is a change to our regular plan. We will be using our Spring rehearsals to polish those pieces and add them to those that are already in our repertoire.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Concert Season Off To Great Start

Last night we started the 2010 concert season. This is my 50th year as a member of the band and my 35th year as director.

The band numbered about 75 players and was quite well balanced.

Balance within sections and between sections was excellent. Dynamic control was also excellent, and melodic lines could be clearly heard. Intonation was also excellent.

The concert lasted an hour and fifteen minutes, and the audience numbered about 270.

This very musical performance was a joy to conduct.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tonguing on brass and woodwinds

In rehearsals recently we have been working on speed of tonguing, particularly in marches.

Here are a few hints:

For everyone; Anchor your tongue on your side teeth. Ideally the teeth should be apart enough that the tongue can slip into the space between the upper and lower molars-- just behind the "pointy" canine teeth. This keeps the movement limited to the far front and mid-back of the tongue. It also keeps air from puffing the cheeks and avoids overly-tight face muscles. This helps your tone.

For clarinet and saxophone: There are two methods of tonguing-- "tip to tip" and "anchored tip." Tip to tip means the tip of your tongue touches the reed with a "d" or "t" syllable. Anchored tip means the tip of your tongue stays touching your lower teeth, below where your lip curls over them, and the reed contacts your tongue farther back from the tip, like you were saying the "ch" sound--- "chu". The way to tell which method to use is simple. Stand in front of a mirror and put your finger right in the middle of the "ball" of your chin. Then try to touch your finger with your tongue. If you can't touch your finger with your tongue, use tip to tip tonguing. If you can touch your finger, use anchored tip.

For flutes and brasses: the tip of your tongue touches the front side of the ridge that goes across the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth. At no time should your tongue touch your upper teeth.

Double touguing for sixteenth notes and faster:

Note-- for this to work the air must move quicker than normal.

Flutes... the syllables are du and gah, so four sixteenth notes would be du ga du ga. Practice until you can say this smoothly and then try playing it on one pitch over and over.

Trumpets --- ta ka is the usual syllable combination for double tonguing on trumpet. Du gah can be use for a less percussive attack.

Trombones/Horns/Baritones/Tubas -- du gah is probably better for you.

Single reeds-- you can "fake" double tonguing using anchored tip and the syllables chu kah. Practice this without your horn until you can do it. It takes more air than normal to make it work.

Flutter tonging. The trick is to move the "side anchor point" up onto the upper teeth and move the touching point just behind the ridge in the roof of the mouth. Then put a lot of air through very fast. Try this without your horn until you can do it, then try it on the horn.

Upcoming concerts

The Stonewall Brigade Band will play a concert at the Bushong Farm area of the New Market Battlefield State Park at Noon on Saturday May 15, 2010. The concert will feature Civil War music with Frank Sampson conducting.

The band will play for the 33rd consecutive year for Baccalaureate and Commencement for Mary Baldwin College on Sunday May 23. The prelude begins at 9:30 followed by the Academic Procession at 10. The event concludes around noon.

The band will play a concert of patriotic music on Memorial Day, Monday May 31 starting at 9:45 am at the Stonewall Brigade Bandstand in Gypsy Hill Park, Staunton VA. This is part of the VFW annual Memorial Day ceremonies.

The annual series of Concerts In The Park will begin on June 7. Concerts are every Monday in June, July, and August at the Stonewall Brigade Bandstand in Gypsy Hill Park. Concerts begin at 8 pm and are held rain or shine. Bring your lawn chair and enjoy an old fashioned band concert under the stars.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How important is a warm up?

Certainly we all agree that it is more fun to play in the band when the band sounds really good. One of the key elements in getting that "good sound" is a good warmup routine, both in individual practice and in the full band rehearsal.

You can find many good articles on the internet about warmup routines for your particular instrument. I have just two tips in today's posting:

For percussionists... work on making the sound of each hand be the same. You can practice this little exercise anywhere with just a pair of your favorite drum sticks:
L R L R L R L rest R L R L R L R rest (repeat ad infinitum, at all speeds, but start slowly) Have a friend or family member listen to you and try to tell which hand you started on. The objective is to make exactly the same sound with either hand.

For everyone else:
Play a scale... any scale. Do it slowly, and go over as much of your instrument's range as possible. Listen for the one note that has the very best tone... nice and full, resonant, and it seems to envelop you and fill the space around you. Play that note over and over 6-8 times, holding it a long time. Then try to get the same exact tone quality on the note 1/2 step higher. When you get that done, try 1/2 step lower. Over a period of weeks or months you can expand your "beautiful tone" range over the entire range of the instrument.

For a full band warmup we have two objectives which are related. We want to achieve agreement among all the players on pitch and on rhythm. Playing a scale in unison and in chords is good for matching pitches. Of course you have to listen to yourself, to your neighbors, and most importantly across the band to everyone else. Things like playing 4 notes on each scale tone, playing "oom-pahs" and playing scales with various rhythm patterns help clarify the feeling of pulse in the band and help us play rhythms exactly together. That very part of the warmup that you personally dislike, is probably the part of the warmup that can help you the most as you improve as a musician. Put your entire energy into the warmup and strive for perfect pitch and rhythm matching across the entire band.