Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Word About Rochut

I started posting the Rochut Melodious Etudes a couple of weeks ago with little or no fanfare, and it occurs to me they warrant at least some introduction.

The Melodious Etudes are Rochut's transcriptions of Vocalises of the Italian tenor and teacher Marco Bordogni (1788-1856). In my (quite limited) research, I've been able to find very little evidence that these vocalises (vocal studies) are much in vogue among singers. In a sadly lost moment of personal history, I once, years ago, caught part of an old B&W movie on TCM--in the background, someone was singing along with a piano--a recital of some sort--I recognized the music as one of the Bordogni vocalises. In the fuzzy image of the movie that remains in my failing memory, the movie must have been from the 1930s. For the life of me, I have no idea what that movie was--for all I know it was a Marx Brothers or an early Three Stooges film--they always loved harassing large divas. So, if that counts as some small evidence that the Bordognis were in use by singers in the early 20th century, a quick trip through Google and seems to show much less interest here at the beginning of the 21st.

The same can't be said about the trombone transcriptions. These are still highly popular among low brass players. While there are a number of different sets of Bordogni transcriptions out there, the most ubiquitous (I can hear my high school English teachers "tsk tsk"-ing me for assigning degree to ubiquity) set out there is Rochut's three-volume compilation of "120 Melodious Etudes," published by Carl Fischer in 1928. While they offer many challenges with rhythm, range, key signatures, breathing, and articulation, for me, their greatest value is in the inescapable reminder that what we're doing on our instruments isn't just playing notes--we're making a song. Rochut puts it right there in the name of the studies: Melodious Etudes. When you play these, you don't just play--you have to sing through your horn.

I've crossed paths with many low brass players who call these the Bordognis. And many others who call them the Rochuts. Which is correct? Perhaps it tells something about your personality like Coke vs. Pepsi; Beatles vs. Stones; Boxers vs. Briefs; Ginger vs. Mary Ann. Or perhaps it's just habit. Mrs. Holmes, my first euphonium teacher, would always have me play a Rochut--not a Bordogni. Every single lesson, by the way. So to me they will always be the Rochuts.

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