Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reading Ahead

I'm pleased with how my recording of Telemann's Fantasia #3 came out. Pleasantly surprised may be another way to phrase it. I didn't feel 100% prepared going into the recording session; however, when I played back what I recorded I liked what I heard. As I had mentioned before, and as you can hear if you listen to the recording, both movements of #3 are kind of fast, and the notes come at you quickly, particularly in the second movement. In order to play something like that well, you need to have it "under your fingers," i.e., you don't want to be reading it as you're going along--it should be at least somewhat memorized. Otherwise, the notes go by too fast and you can't keep up.

I must confess though that I hadn't prepared it to the point of being almost memorized. So I ended up relying on another technique. But before I get in to that technique, let's go back to last Tuesday.

Last Tuesday, my father was kind enough to snag me a ticket to join him at the Kimmel Center to catch Michael Tilson Thomas conducting Mahler's 2nd Symphony, with the SF orchestra and the Westminster Choir.

Michael Tilson Thomas did the "conducting thing" that drives me crazy*--the thing that I see conductors of top orchestras do at least half of the time. He conducted ahead of the beat. In other words, he was conducting in time to the event that was going to happen a half second in the future. This isn't at all unusual, but I always find it very disconcerting--like watching a movie where the sound track is a tiny bit off. I've played in lots of ensembles under lots of different conductors over quite a few years, and for some reason, the conductors I've played under always conducted ON, not ahead of, the beat. Sitting in an audience behind a conductor conducting this way, I always wonder how I'd even be able to play behind the beat like that.

This brings us back to Fantasia #3 and the technique I used to compensate for the fact that I didn't quite have this piece under my fingers. I basically did what Michael Tilson Thomas did. I read ahead a few beats for most of the piece. While my fingers were playing beat two, my brain was reading beat three. By the time my fingers got to beat three, I was looking at beat four. Totally different from the way I usually play. It was somewhat jarring, but once I got in the groove it was okay.

* - This isn't a critism of the conductor, by the way. He and the orchestra and choir were awesome. It was one of the best concerts I've ever attended.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bath Time

If you play a brass instrument, you know that from time to time you need to give your horn a bath. I'm notoriously lame about getting my horn a good cleaning when it needs one. From the mid 90's through the late 00's I was fortunate that my friend Andy had access to the cleaning equipment at Stu's Music. The routine went something like this:

a) I'd determine that my horn was in need of a cleaning

b) I'd wait an additional 6-12 months

c) Then I'd beg Andy to bring my horn to Stu's for a chemical cleaning, or in more recent years, a sonic cleaning.

And that way I'd end up with a clean horn every two or three years. However, a year and a half ago, we packed up and moved away from Westminster, MD, to our new-old home in Fallsington, PA. Sadly, Andy didn't come with me.

I contacted Dillon Music, whose shop has a very good reputation. They charge a hundred bucks for a chem cleaning. While that doesn't sound too unreasonable:

a) I've been spoiled all these years with the free cleanings that I feel a sense of righteous indignation at the thought of having to pay someone to clean my horn, and

b) I couldn't really justify it because it wouldn't even save me time. Dillon's is an hour away from here. Round trips to drop it off and pick it up would suck 4 hours away from my life. Not to mention perhaps a week without my horn.

So today, with a little help from my boys, who obligingly couldn't have been more fascinated at my completed dissected euph, I rolled up my sleeves and gave my horn a bath for the first time in a long time.

A little dishsoap, a snake, a bottle brush, some rags, some Simichrome polish. It came out great. The valves are flying and the euph is much easier to play. And now I feel kind of stupid for not doing it myself all those years.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Audio Post - Telemann, Fantasia #3



Telemann, Fantasia #3. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

First Telemann in a while. I discuss some of the aspects of the piece here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut, Melodious Etude #11



Rochut, Melodious Etude #11. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Leaps and Bounds in Telemann's Fantasia #3

I think I mentioned Telemann's Fantasia #3 the other day.

That's next up on the Telemann hit parade, and if Life doesn't throw too many surprises and distractions my way, I hope to try to cut a recording this coming weekend.

I'm playing my own transcription of #3. Telemann wrote it in B minor. Alan Raph's edition is a clef tranposition to tenor clef in A minor, and mine is a clef transposition to bass clef in D minor.

I had posted this picture a while back when I first started talking about clef transposition. Number 3 was my example (remember, Raph doesn't use Telemann's numbering). Again, if you look at all three editions (Louise Moyse's on top in Telemann's original key and clef, Raph's on the bottom left and mine on the bottom right), you can see the point, which is that if you cover up the clefs and keys, the three editions look identical.

Anyone who slogged through those earlier posts knows I beat that horse well to death already, so I won't do it again here.

I mentioned previously that this Fantasia has only two movements. Interestingly, both movements are fast ones. Sure, the first movement switches back and forth from slow to fast--it's marked Largo-Vivace-Largo-Vivace--but the Largo sections are really just a tiny introduction and a tiny interlude, making up a mere two measures at the start and then another four measures later on. Not to say that the slow measures are insignificant--they're actually quite beautiful and compelling and they set the stage for the fast measures to come.

One interesting thing about playing this in D minor is that the opening triad of the piece--D-F-A, which is a D minor chord--is identical to the opening triad of the Prelude to Bach's 2nd Cello Suite, a piece I've worked on extensively over many years. It's hard for me to play the beginning of this Fantasia without hearkening back to the Bach.

Often in fast movements, you see things that look like scales, i.e., lines, i.e., runs--strings of notes, often consecutive notes in a scale, going up and down in order. Telemann does little of that in this movement. This vivace is all about jumps and leaps and hops and skips. We hear repeated higher notes against moving lower-note patterns. We hear low note lines against repeated high note patterns. And then we hear lines moving on the top and bottom going back and forth at the same time. Before the second largo we have strings of sixteenth notes jumping up at tenth intervals--a whole bunch of them in a row.

We've certainly seen this technique of jumping up and down through intervals in the other Telemann Fantasias, and it's a very useful technique in a monophonic work. It's a way of tricking the listener into hearing multiple voices. Actually, that's not quite accurate. The listener IS hearing multiple voices in the music. The trick is that the multiple voices trick the listener into filling in some blanks, i.e., implying chords and lines that aren't explicitly written on the score.

The second (or Other) movement in this piece is marked Allegro. While I play it with a similar sense of speed as the Vivace in the first movement. It has a very different feel. While the Vivace barrels forward with hops, skips, and jumps, the Allegro contains much closer notes. This movement is in 6/8 and really moves in clusters of threes. The opening triplets slide down like this (from the original Telemann edition):



Very close little swirls of notes. In fact, this movement is a Gigue, a Baroque jig, and it's very similar to the gigue from another Bach Suite. The 12/8 gigue from Cello Suite #4 bounces close-knit threes in very much the same fashion, with a very similar effect. Here's the opening of the Bach gigue:



Telemann's Allegro goes on with this pattern, but also includes some wide intervals. In fact, we see some groupings of the same 10th intervals we saw in the first movement. Whereas the intervals in the Vivace were written as straight 16-note leaps, the jumps here are bouncy quarter-eighth-quarter-eighths, which gives us that gigue-y feeling.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut, Melodious Etude #10



Rochut, Melodious Etude #10. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Uh...ooops

Oh my.

A kind poster at tromboneforum.org called my attention to the fact that my posting of Rochut #8 was actually just a re-posting of #7.

I have replaced the erroneous link with a corrected version.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Tools

I like having made a recording; however, I can't say I particularly like making the recording. While I appreciate that sound engineering and mic placement and editing are fascinating disciplines that require measures of both art and science, I would always rather play my horn and leave the record-making to someone else. Alas, no one is banging on my door offering to produce these recordings for me, so I'm on my own.

With that said, I take a pretty minimalistic approach. Fortunately, single-voice recordings can allow for some minimalism. My set-up is very simple. I use an Edirol digital recorder (the R-1). In the past I've tried plugging microphones into the Edirol; however, I prefer the unit's own internal mics. I set the recorder on my stand, hit record, and then start playing my horn. That's it.

The output of the R-1 is a WAV file which I copy to my laptop and then edit in an open source program called Audacity. Audacity is both incredible and free. I use about a millionth of the application's functionality. I do some very basic editing, and apply two effects: normalization, and Audacity's built-in reverb effect, which is called Gverb. I've heard some awful artificial reverb added to recordings. I think the settings I'm using for Gverb are reasonable and tasteful. I hope any listeners agree; though I'll certainly accept any constructive feedback.

I then output the file to WAV (for eventual compilation on a CD perhaps), and MP3 (for postings on the web). Using the movie maker app which ships with Windows, I load the MP3 to a Windows video file and load up to YouTube, which I then embed into the blog (I discovered early on in this project that loading video files directly to blogspot was quite unreliable).

The act of recording a given piece seems to take up about 5-10% of the time of the actual process of recording, editing, and posting to the web.

Oh, and I should mention, because horn players always want to know the answer to this question, and really, these are the most important tools in this undertaking: My euph is a silver Meinl-Weston 451, and my mouthpiece is a gold-plated large bore Schilke 51D.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut, Melodious Etude #9



Rochut, Melodious Etude #9. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Comes the Spring

Some welcome signs of spring have begun appearing here in Fallsington. There are very few traces of snow left in a few shady corners of the neighborhood, and yesterday and today a sweatshirt is more than enough to keep me comfortable. My checkbook can start breathing a sigh of relief as I notice the wheel on the gas meter is spinning much slower and much less frequently. Normally I'm little bothered by the winter weather. Perhaps it's me just getting a little older, but my sense of relief at seeing the thermometer shift to the mid-50s from what was very recently the mid-20s is quite palpable.

Although I can't think of any reason why, with the change in season outside, I'm suddenly feeling ready to return to the Telemann Fantasias. While I've had a number of surprise distractions during this past couple of weeks of self-imposed Telemann embargo, and didn't necessarily work on the things I expected to work on, I did manage to record a number of Rochut etudes. I also did arranged a little transcription of Bach's "Bist du bei mir," which is a gorgeous piece of music (and which I recently learned may be spuriously attributed to Bach). I'll try to do a two-track recording of that one of these days. I spent some time messing around with the encore piece "Hailstorm," which is great fun to play and is an excellent triple-tongue workout, and I spent some time with the Bach Cello Suites, which I used to play all the time on euph, but not so much lately.

In addition I got some cello playing in, though not so much as I had hoped until the last couple of days. Fortunately, I think I have momentum on my side with that now. Finally, I've recently started working my way through the 69 Chorale Melodies (Bach, again) on piano--one every morning while my computer is booting up. Let me assure you, I'm no piano player. However, these little tunes, each with only two voices, are just easy enough that I can plink my way through them, but just hard enough to challenge me. Also, they're quite beautiful and amazingly satisfying to play. I figure if I play through the book 10-20 times perhaps I can move on to something like a two-part invention. From there, I imagine it's a short dotted line to Prokofiev's 2nd and 3rd Piano Concertos.

My next Telemann recording will be Fantasia #3. This one breaks the mold that we've seen up to this point in that this Fantasia contains only two, not three, movements. The first is marked Largo-Vivace-Largo-Vivace, and the second is marked Allegro. I'll post some analysis of this piece and a discussion of my transcription over the coming days.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut, Melodious Etude #8



Rochut, Melodious Etude #8. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

[note: I had inadvertantly posted Etude #7 in this spot with the tag Etude #8. This is the actual #8. Sorry about that. --Jeffo, 3/13/2010]

Friday, March 5, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut, Melodious Etude #7



Rochut, Melodious Etude #7. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut, Melodious Etude #6



Rochut, Melodious Etude #6. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.