Brass Trio Recording Session Notes

©2018 David St. Onge

Black Bayou Brass recently wrapped up a 3-day recording session of new music for brass trio. Recording took place on January 5, 6, and 7 in the Emy-Lou Biedenharn Recital Hall at the University of Louisiana Monroe. The session went very well, and we are excited to move forward with the project. Here are some details on the upcoming album.

Repertoire: The album (title TBD) will feature all world-premiere recordings. In addition, we either commissioned or arranged all but one of the works. Here’s the list, with publisher information where applicable.

When finished, the recording should be about 60 minutes, with a good mix of contemporary and historical styles.

Engineer and Producer: Our engineer for this project was Dave St. Onge, a veteran of numerous recordings with Mark Custom Recording Service. Dave did a fantastic job, and I would recommend him without reservation to anyone looking for an engineer. More details on the recording process below. Gina Gillie, who composed Scenes from the Bayou for us, lent her critical ear to the recording as producer. A great engineer and producer are essential to the recording process, and we were fortunate to work with both Gina and Dave.

Recording Process: Prior to this project, I’d recorded twice before in our hall; first for a solo album with piano and harp, and next for soprano, piano, and horn. And although I’ve been performing in a brass trio for over ten years, this was really our first opportunity to experiment with high-quality microphones and various mic placements. As you’ll notice from the photo above, there was quite a bit of equipment on stage with us! *One note about professional microphones – they really do make a huge difference. While the handheld audio and video recorders out there (Zoom, Sony, Tascam, etc.) do a fine job for rehearsal and practice purposes, they really can’t compare to what you’ll hear with great mics. We were fortunate to be able to have a separate sound check in the hall the night before recording began. This saved us time and chops on the first day of recording. Timing for a soundcheck can vary depending on a number of factors, but in our case we spent about an hour or so just trying to find the right sound/balance/blend. Based upon our impressions, as well as input from the engineer and producer, we decided to use microphones in the hall and close mics on individual players. This combination seemed to provide a good balance between clarity and resonance/reverb for all three players. While I’ve only heard the rough mixes at this point, I think the final product is going to sound great!

Equipment: For my part I performed on a Yamaha 671 double horn, with a stainless steel mouthpiece by Balu Musik. The stainless mouthpiece was a fairly recent change for me, but for this recording I felt like it gave me the right kind of clarity and projection to compete with trumpet and trombone. I’m not 100% sold on it as my regular mouthpiece, but for this project it was the right decision.

Rest/Recovery/Next Steps: We recorded in two three-hour sessions each day for three days, with a two and half-hour break between the morning and afternoon. If this sounds like a lot of playing, it was! There was a lot of stopping and starting (common on most classical recordings), and we took a short break at least every hour, so the playing wasn’t constant. I managed to make it through the entire three-day session in good shape, but took the next day off completely.  On the day after that I practiced for about an hour. My embouchure was a bit stiff (no surprise there), but after 20 minutes or so of light playing things started to loosen up and feel more or less normal again. As always, recording was a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. The next step in the process is to go back through our choice takes and decide exactly which ones we want to use for the album. From there we’ll send it off to be edited together into a complete recording.There are of course many more steps between now and the final commercial release, but it does feel good to have a major portion of the recording finished.

Stay tuned for more details on this project!

 

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30 Day Practice Challenge

Looking for something to help you stay motivated over the holiday break? Consider taking a 30 Day Practice Challenge. I’m a big fan of these for physical fitness, and have completed several over the past year. In short, the idea is to perform a brief activity or series of activities each day for thirty consecutive days. Some of the challenges build in length and intensity, while others remain constant over the entire period. The challenge in that case is maintaining the routine. While not a substitute for a full fitness or (horn practice) routine, 30 Day Challenges are fun, and in my experience, really do provide benefits. Here are some more specific reasons for trying a 30 Day practice challenge:

  • Small, daily goals are easily achievable.
  • Fixed amount of time keeps you motivated to finish the challenge.
  • After 30 days you can change to a new challenge, or continue!
  • Excellent template for establishing positive habits.
  • If 30 Days seems too long (or too short), modify to a 15 Day or 60 Day challenge.

If these seem like compelling reasons, here are some ideas to get you started. These can and should be modified however you like. The important things to do are 1) pick something and 2) stick to it!

  • Minimum amount of practice time (example: 1 hour of practice per day)
  • One Kopprasch/Maxime-Alphonse/Other standard etude per day
  • Same melody, different transposition each day, cycle through all keys multiple times
  • One melody per day from Arban’s “The Art of Phrasing: 150 Classic and Popular Melodies,” Concone Lyrical Studies, or any other similar collection,
  • 10 minutes of long tones per day, varying ranges

This will likely be my last post of 2017, and I would like to wish all my readers Happy Holidays and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous start to 2018!

Carrapatoso Recording Update and Another Recording Project

Last June my colleagues Claire Vangelisti, Richard Seiler, and I recorded an album of music by Eurico Carrapatoso, which you can read about here. We were very excited to receive the first edit of the recording a few weeks ago, and are currently preparing some final editing requests to send to the engineer. From here the next steps are related to production and commercial release, including: liner notes, cover/booklet art and photography, and various other details.

Richard Price, the producer and engineer for this project, let us know that even though this was a first edit, the editing process is more or less complete, utilizing (hopefully) the best possible takes of the material. However, listening to the first edit and providing comments is still very important, as mistakes can happen.

So, how does the first edit of our Carrapatoso recording sound? In short, I think it’s really good! I was very pleased with the warmth, balance, and overall musical quality in all three parts (soprano, piano, horn). Bravo to my colleagues and to Richard Price for helping us sound our very best!  That being said, I did have a few minor requests for the final edit (more on that later). I listened to the recording multiple times, and on various devices with different kinds of equipment (speakers, headphones, earbuds, etc.) On my first listen I just popped the disc into my CD drive and let it play all the way through on my stereo. I wasn’t listening too critically at that point, just sitting back and trying to get an overall feel for the sound and making some mental notes about places I wanted to go back and listen to more critically. I did this quite a few more times, using earbuds, in the car, etc. My goal in doing this was to see if any issues I was hearing were exaggerated or minimized depending on the equipment. If something was noticeable during my casual listening on all of this equipment, I definitely wanted to go back and listen more closely with the score and a great pair of headphones. For equipment-minded people who may be curious, I own two pairs of  excellent but affordable headphones: Sennheiser HD 518 and Sony MDR-7506 (pictured above). Each is well made, durable, and good for listening to classical music.

After lots of casual and critical listening, I only had a few requests for the second round of edits. At this point they are probably more subjective than anything else, but I made note of them anyway.

  • Two places where isolated attacks weren’t quite centered. The takes were definitely usable, but something about the fronts of the notes didn’t sound quite right to me.
  • Horn sound was too “live” on a few notes above the staff. I don’t know the exact technical way to describe this, but the mikes were picking up a little more “fuzz” than I would have liked in my sound on a high A-flat. I didn’t notice this effect during the sessions, and again it is a minor issue.

As I am neither a vocalist nor a pianist, these comments are obviously geared towards the horn part. The voice and piano parts are in the more than capable hands of my colleagues. Once we send our comments back we should receive a second (and probably final) edit to listen to one more time before the recording moves to production. Keep an eye out for it in the near future from MSR Classics!

With lots of progress made on this recording I have been turning my attention lately to another project – new original compositions and arrangements for brass trio, featuring Black Bayou Brass. 

Look for more information about this project in a future post!

New Routine Materials: Denise Tryon Routine and Marvin Howe’s The Advancing Hornist

In a post from earlier this  year, I talked about the benefits of adopting a modular approach to the daily routine. In short, rather than playing exactly the same exercises every single day, you instead compile a variety of things from each of the major categories of fundamentals. From these you can then rotate exercises in and out of your routine for variety and to address specific needs.

Getting to the subject of this post, I’ve recently been drawing upon two publications for use in my routine. The first is by Denise Tryon, formerly 4th Horn in the Philadelphia Orchestra, and now full time faculty at the Peabody Conservatory. Her routine is available as a PDF download, and comes with recordings and explanations by the author for all of the exercises. It’s not lengthy as far as routines go, but covers all of the basics in a very efficient way. Ms. Tryon mentions that once perfected the routine should only take about 25-30 minutes, although it might take as long as 45 at the beginning. Don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity of these studies; when played correctly they are challenging and very effective. One other notable feature of this routine is the marketing. To my knowledge there are no physical materials to buy – the entire package is sold as a “course” through Ms. Tryon’s website, and everything is accessible online. In addition to the routine there is another course available dealing specifically with auditions and low horn excerpts. I’m really enjoying working out of this routine, and highly recommend it!

Another great collection of routine-type materials that has been around awhile but isn’t really talked about too much is Marvin Howe‘s The Advancing Hornist series. Edited by Randall Faust and available through Faust Music, this two-volume set contains some unique and progressive exercises that were really ahead of their time. I’ve been using the descending scale studies in my own practice routine, and the lip slurs and long tone duets during lessons. As someone who wasn’t that familiar with Marvin Howe’s pedagogy, it’s been interesting to note the similarities and differences among Howe and his contemporaries like Farkas, Schuller, and others. In many ways Howe was very forward-thinking, and his publications are certainly deserving of a place among the other great horn pedagogues of the 20th century. Both volumes are very reasonably priced, and well worth checking out.

Yamaha Performing Artist Info: “Why I Play Yamaha”

I recently found out that my application to become a Yamaha Performing Artist was accepted, and I am very excited to be joining their roster of brass players. Many major instrument manufacturers, as well as a few smaller ones, have “Artist Endorsements” or similar programs which provide mutual benefits to both parties. I can’t speak to the details of the various companies, but they generally include:

  • Being listed as an “_______ Artist” in both print and electronic media
  • Preferred pricing and other discounts on instruments and accessories
  • Updates about new instrument models and initiatives within the company
  • Funding for bringing in other endorsing artists, and sometimes funding to give clinics
  • Various other perks

In the case of Yamaha, their Artist program provides all of the above, as well as some other benefits unique to the company. Obviously, I feel very strongly about the high quality and reliability of Yamaha’s products, or I wouldn’t perform on them myself or recommend them to students. I have performed on Yamaha horns for much of my professional career, playing solo, chamber, and orchestral music. My relationship with Yamaha horns goes back twenty years, with the first instrument I owned as a student, a YHR 667V. I played on that horn all the way through my master’s degree, and continued through doctoral school and the first five years of full-time college teaching on a YHR 667VL.

Even before that I remember being captivated by the sound of my teacher on her 800 series custom model. In many ways, Yamaha instruments helped shape my concept of the ideal horn sound. As I wrote in this post, one of the main reasons I chose a YHR 671 over my Engelbert Schmid was for the sound. Over a year  later, I’m still very happy with the instrument. I later came to find out that the initial sluggishness with the valves – which is very uncharacteristic of Yamahas – was probably due to buffing compound somehow getting down into the valve casings after the lacquer was removed. This problem was taken care of by Houghton Horns at no charge, and the valves have been worry-free since then. In addition to their quality and consistency, here are a few other reasons I choose to play and endorse Yamaha horns.

  • The company is committed to music education through a variety of programs, including funding for clinicians, and the Yamaha Young Performing Artists Competition.
  • Their line of horns covers everything from beginner through professional level, while maintaining a high level of consistency. Another way of putting this is that they make horns that my students and area music programs can actually afford.

I hope that this hasn’t read as some type of overblown advertisement, but I really do feel strongly about Yamaha Horns. There are obviously  lots of great horns out there by both large and small-scale makers, but if you are in the market for a new horn I encourage you to give Yamaha a try. For the money I don’t think you can find a better instrument.

Performance Videos, Part 2: Faculty Recital

For the second part of this performance video series, here are some live and unedited recordings from a recent faculty recital, which I shared with my colleague Jeremy Marks. All but one of these works (Koetsier’s Romanza) are from the 21st century, and any would make a great addition to a recital. Please check them out, and consider programming them in the future. I’ve included some abbreviated program notes about each work, as well as links to more information about the composers.

Imaginings for Horn and Piano by Dorothy Gates

Dorothy Gates was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and holds degrees in Composition and Trombone Performance from Queens University Belfast, the University of Michigan, and the University of Salford. Her principal composition teachers were Kevin Volans, George Wilson, Joseph Turrin and Peter Graham. She has produced works in many genres, which have been performed in concert halls throughout the world. In addition, she is the Senior Music Producer for The Salvation Army’s Eastern Territory in New York and has been the Composer-in-Residence for the New York Staff Band since 2002. Dorothy is the first woman Composer/Editor to be employed by The Salvation Army in this role. Imaginings was composed for and premiered by Michelle Baker, recently retired 2nd horn of the Metropolitan Opera in 2017 at the 25th International Women’s Brass Conference.

http://www.dorothygates.com/

Romanza for Horn and Piano by Randall Faust

Dr. Randall E. Faust is a Professor of Music at Western Illinois University, where he teaches applied horn and performs with the Camerata Woodwind Quintet and LaMoine Brass Quintet. In addition, he has served for many years on the Summer Horn Faculty at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. His many fine compositions for brass have been performed throughout the world and recorded numerous times. He writes the following about his Romanza for Horn and Piano:

In 1994, I was commissioned by Randy Gardner to compose a Quartet for Four Horns for a compact disc he was producing for Summit Records in collaboration with Michael Hatfield, Douglas Hill, and David Krehbiel. This Romanza was one of the four movements of that Quartet. In the Fall of 2016, I created this horn and piano setting of the Romanza for a series of recital performances I was planning for the 2016-2017 academic year.

http://www.faustmusic.com/

Romanza for Horn and Piano, by Jan Koetsier

Though relatively little known in the United States – except among brass players –Dutch-born composer, conductor, and professor Jan Koetsier (1911-2006) is well-regarded throughout Europe, and especially in Munich, Germany, where he served as professor of conducting at the Hochschule für Musik (Music Academy) for many years. As a composer he devoted much of his efforts to brass and wind instruments, and seemed especially interested in developing the repertoire for unusual or under-utilized combinations of instruments. As the title suggests, the Romanza, Op. 59, No. 2 (1972) showcases the lyrical qualities of the instrument. Composed during the same year as the Sonatina (Op. 59, No. 1), the Romanza was first performed in 1985. In this brief yet effective work, a contrasting scherzo-like central section is framed by a beautiful melody in the outer sections.

http://www.jan-koetsier.de/index_eng.php

Hunting Songs for Low Horn and Piano, by Brett Miller

Master Sgt. Brett Miller is principal hornist with The United States Air Force Band, Washington, D.C. Miller holds degrees from Youngstown State University, Indiana University, and the University of Maryland. In addition to his Air Force performing, he is a highly-regarded composer, having published over 30 works for various brass solo instruments and chamber ensembles. Commissioned by Denise Tryon for her debut solo recording So-Low, Hunting Songs is a very accessible and programmable piece for low horn and piano. Each of the brief movements evokes the titular birds of prey: serious and brooding (The Crow); tranquil and serene (The Owl); fast and nimble (The Falcon).

http://brassarts.contentshelf.com/product?product=I130801000001D14

Azure Dawn, by Frank Gulino

Frank Gulino, bass trombonist and composer, is highly regarded in the brass communities for his compositions, as well as his performance career. A graduate of The Peabody Conservatory, he earned a bachelor of music degree in performance. He has studied with members of the Baltimore, Boston, and New Jersey Symphonies. His compositions have been commissioned and performed across the world by euphonium virtuoso, Steve Mead, St. Louis Symphony bass trombonist Gerry Pagano, Atlanta Symphony bass trombonist, Brian Hecht, and members of the trombone section from the National Symphony in Washington D.C. His works are often chosen as solo competition pieces for the International Trombone Association and the International Tuba and Euphonium Association, as well as the Leonard Falcone International Euphonium and Tuba competitions, respectively. Azure Dawn is a visual and programmatic work, depicting the beautiful imagery of the Shenandoah Valley mountains during the sun rise.

http://www.frankgulino.com/index.html

Performance Videos: 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference

As promised, here are some videos of our faculty brass trio’s performance this past summer at the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference at Rowan University. Thanks to Dr. Amy Bliss for making this recording available! The videos below are of the most substantial work we performed, Scenes from the Bayou, which we commissioned from Dr. Gina Gillie. It is an energetic and accessible new work for brass trio, and I am pleased to announce that we will be recording it – along with several other recent compositions for brass trio – in early 2018. Enjoy! NB: There is a small typo in the title screen for movement 4 – it should read “Cypress Trees.”

Kentucky/Ohio Tour and Technology Presentation

James Boldin, Jacob Coleman, Jeremy Marks (photo by Bradley Kerns)

October has been, and will continue to be, a busy month, with concerts and other activities happening every week. Last week my colleague Jeremy Marks and I shared a faculty recital at ULM (performance videos coming soon), and then traveled to the University of Kentucky in Lexington and Ohio University in Athens for some additional performances and masterclasses with their students. A huge thanks to our generous hosts Bradley Kerns, David Elliott, Lucas Borges, C. Scott Smith, Joseph Brown, and Laura Brown, for their hospitality and kindness during a very busy part of the semester. Both schools have very fine music programs – there is some great teaching and playing going on in the horn and trombone studios there! In addition to performing and teaching at these schools, I also gave a brief talk called “Technology and Horn Playing.” In my correspondence with David Elliott at the University of Kentucky prior to our visit, he requested that I speak to his students about my experiences using technology as a horn player in the 21st century. The presentation went well, and it is one that I plan to continue to develop in the future. Being somewhat familiar with technology, I created a series of bullets to use as talking points and as the basis for future discussion. Those points are listed below, with active hyperlinks where applicable and a few explanatory comments that weren’t in the original handouts. I hope you find them useful, and feel free to comment if you feel so inclined.

TRENDS

  • Mobile apps – ubiquitous
  • Facebook “Live” [for performance/audition preparation and promotional material]
  • Short Promo/Informational Videos (2 minutes or less) [Better to have several short videos on a topic than one long video. Research shows that shorter videos are more engaging to viewers.]
  • Texting/Messenger/Instant communication (Email old fashioned?) Snail mail now prestigious?
  • “Research” being done through social media (“where can I find…”)
  • Playing advice on social media [A mixed bag of sometimes helpful and sometimes irrelevant advice.]
  • Online lessons/master classes [More and more popular as technology improves and travel costs increase.]
  • YouTube great for discovering new repertoire – going to conferences is even better!
  • Death of compact discs – replaced by streaming services and websites like hornexcerpts.org

RECOMMENDED DEVICES

WEBSITES I USE EVERY DAY

  • www.random.org Create random lists of….anything! Sight-reading, scales, excerpts, etc.
  • www.toggl.com Time and task tracking software. Free, easy to use, with mobile apps.
  • www.drive.google.com Great for organizing/collaborating materials

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED WEBSITES/APPS

SOCIAL MEDIA…BE WARY

  • A powerful tool in the right hands, but can also be damaging to careers and personal well-being
  • Keep a tight rein on what you post, share, and/or like on social media. If you have to ask yourself “is this appropriate?”, then it isn’t!
  • Turn off commenting on YouTube videos [Some of the comments you receive will be less than helpful, and those who really want to reach you will use email or some other method of contact. In my experience, leaving comments on for YouTube videos invites trolls.]
  • I prefer blogging to social media – less reactionary, gives the opportunity for more reasoned discourse.

Semester Preview: Fall 2017

Allumer Quartet

Our semester at ULM began a few weeks ago, and the schedule for this fall promises to be busy but also engaging and fun. Here are a few highlights of what’s to come in the weeks and months ahead.

Dr. Heather Thayer

Guest Artists: We will be hosting two horn guest artists for performances and master classes this semester: The Allumer Quartet, and Dr. Heather Thayer, Horn Instructor at Ouachita Baptist University. The Allumer Quartet is a horn quartet based in Baton Rouge, consisting of current graduate students and graduates from LSU. The members are Centria Brown, Tom Fish, Evan McAleer, and Kyle Peterson. “Allumer” is Cajun French and means “to light” or “ignite.” Their program on September 5th will include works by Alexander Mitushin, Eugène Bozza, and Béla Bartók, as well as the world premiere of two new works by Marc Mellits and Guy Mintus. *I got to hear a bit of their rehearsal in our hall today, and they sound great!

Faculty Recital: On October 3rd I’ll be giving a shared recital with our Low Brass professor, Dr. Jeremy Marks. Immediately following our ULM performance we’ll be taking things on the road for guest performances and masterclasses at the University of Kentucky, Ohio University, and Ball State University. Stay tuned for more details! I’m very excited about the program, which for me will consist of a 50/50 mix of old and new repertoire. Here’s what I’ll be doing on my half:

  • Imaginings, Dorothy Gates (b. 1966)
  • España, Vitaly Bujanovsky (1928-1993)
  • Romanza, Op. 59/2, Jan Koetsier (1911-2006)
  • Romanza, Randall E. Faust (b. 1946)
  • Hunting Songs for Low Horn, Brett Miller (b. 1976)
  • Azure Dawn (horn and trombone), Frank Gulino (b. 1987)

Orchestral Concerts: Two big pieces on my bucket list are coming up this fall in the Monroe Symphony Orchestra, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.  Of course, these works need no introduction, and I’m really looking forward to playing 1st horn on them. Although the concert isn’t until the end of October, I’ve already begun training for these demanding parts.

Brass Trio Recital: To close out the semester, Black Bayou Brass will perform two full concerts in November and December. On November 29th we’ll be giving our annual faculty recital, in preparation for a future recording project in January 2018. This project has been a long time coming, and will feature lots of great new music for trumpet, horn, and trombone, including two works which we recently commissioned. On December 15th we’ll be giving a holiday concert for brass and organ at Grace Episcopal Church in Monroe. Though we typically present a holiday concert every December, this one will be quite special as all of the proceeds will be donated to a local animal shelter. Watch for more info as we get closer to the concert date.

Brief Review: Audrey Flores, Solo Horn Recording

This summer I was contacted by Audrey Flores, an active freelancer in New York City, with information about her recent solo recording with pianist Manon Hutton-DeWys. The self-titled album consists largely of standard 20th-century works, with the addition of a lesser-known but equally substantial piece, Barbara York’s Sonata for Horn and Piano. Here’s a complete list of the contents.

  • Reinhold Gliere, Four Pieces, Op. 35
  • Bernhard Krol, Laudatio
  • Barbara York, Sonata for Horn
  • Otto Ketting, Intrada
  • Trygve Madsen, Sonata for Horn, Op. 24

These are solid recordings of repertoire that every serious horn player needs to know, and Flores and Hutton-DeWys play with great style, tone, and phrasing. Even if you own other recordings, these are definitely worth a listen. The real gem on this album, though, is the Sonata by Barbara York. Composed in 2009 for Chief Musician Heather Doughty of the U.S. Coast Guard Band, this three-movement work is both lyrical and athletic, requiring plenty of technique, endurance, and flexibility. The third movement is given an especially impressive rendition by Flores, in what may very well be a world premiere recording. But don’t take my word for it – you can listen to the entire album on both Spotify and  YouTube. I love learning about new repertoire for the horn, and I’ll be adding the York Sonata to my list of recital program material for the near future. It’s worth noting that York has another work for horn and piano, the Arioso Gloria.

Bravo to Ms. Flores and her collaborators on this fine recording!

 

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