Saturday, February 26, 2011

Kill the Wabbit

I am just back from the Capitol Tuba Conference and the Texas Music Educators Convention. Some thoughts on testing instruments.

“Kill The Wabbit” is a good test of a tuba.

I hear it frequently, played well and sometimes not.
May I suggest?
First know the excerpt. Know the fingerings on the tuba at hand. Know the rhythm.
Second don’t test. Or as Mr. Jacobs said, “Make a statement. Don’t ask a question.” Mr. Jacobs said that even when you are warming up on stage before a concert, the conductor can often hear you. Don’t ask a question. Make a statement. Jake was ‘warming up’ before a master class he was giving. He played a few technical things and an operatic aria. Then he said, “You might wonder what I’m doing here. I’m showing off. There is always someone listening. You don’t need to warm up if you are playing five hours every day. You may need a maintenance routine but you don’t need to warm up. When you go on stage to test the acoustics, show off.”
So first, know the excerpt and then make a statement. Better to play something simple that you play well than to attempt something you don’t know.

Now a few suggestions about how to ‘kill the wabbit’. I took a few lessons with Ed Anderson, the bass trombonist in the Cleveland Orchestra at the time. I have the greatest respect for Ron Bishop as a person and a musician. I was fortunate to have had a few lessons with him. But I thought a few lesson with the person who sits next to the tubist would also be valuable. In fact, who is more likely to be behind the audition screen than a trombonist? Ed asked me to play the sixteenth notes louder than the dotted eighths. He then explained that George Szell asked for louder and louder sixteenths when they recorded the Ride of the Valkyries. Ed said it felt strange until he heard the recording and realized Szell’s wisdom. Szell said “Little notes are like little children. They demand more attention.”

So, how do you make the sixteenths louder than the dotted eights? Do NOT play the dotted eighths as loud as you can. It’s just that simple. I’ve done a little singing. Doo-Wop etc. I was once asked to sing the bass part in the country song Elvira. Most days I have a low C. Like every other bass I know, low C is not as loud as second space C. It is very tempting when the giddy-up part comes to belt it out. Big mistake. Sing it softer. That way you can sing a solid low C.

Here’s Barth’s Axiom #1. ‘Don’t play any loud passage louder than your weakest note.’ There is, of course, a corollary. ‘Don’t play any soft passage any softer than you are able to make every note speak.’
Axiom #2 is similar: ‘Crescendo means Start Softer’. Worth repeating: ‘Crescendo means Start Softer.’ Even if you are playing a loud passage, the best way to make an effective crescendo is to drop the volume down a little when you see ‘crescendo’.