Recording Reviews: Richard Deane; Steven Cohen

I seldom post recording reviews on this site, but every once in a while I either receive a complimentary album in the mail, or hear about a project that piques my interest. To close out a series of reviews from this summer, here are two horn recordings that are well worth your time.

Mid-Century Sonatas for Horn and PianoRichard Deane, horn; Timothy Whitehead, piano

  • Halsey Stevens, Sonata for Horn and Piano (1953)
  • Paul Hindemith, Sonata für Althorn in Es und Klavier (1943/1956)
  • Bernard Heiden, Sonata for Horn and Piano (1939)
  • Paul Hindemith, Sonata für Horn und Klavier (1939)
Front+CoverBIGGER

These sonatas for horn and piano by Halsey Stevens, Paul Hindemith, and Bernard Heiden are staples in the repertoire. Deane is Associate Principal Horn in the New York Philharmonic, and served as Acting Principal for the 2017-18 season. He was previously a member of the Atlanta Symphony for many years. Though the repertoire is conventional, the extremely high caliber of the performances makes this recording special. Deane plays with a huge but focused sound. To my ear the “New York sound” has changed over the years, partially due to changes in equipment, I’m sure, but also probably as a response to the ever increasing demands of the job. Whitehead’s piano playing is equally impressive – especially in the final movement of the Hindemith E-flat Sonata – and is a fitting musical counterpart to the horn in these works.  There is not much in the way of liner notes, but there is a very nice video on YouTube with background about the project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP-kJf8xiJM  One other interesting note about this album is that Whitehead not only performed on piano, but did all of the recording, producing, editing, and mixing – not a small feat! The recording is both vibrant and clear, and for those who might be interested the recording equipment is listed in the liner notes.

Cruise Control: Horn Music from Five Emerging American Composers – Steven Cohen, horn; Jed Moss, piano; Scott Shinbara, percussion; Amanda Sealock, percussion

  • James Naigus, Sonata for Horn and Piano
  • Jenni Brandon, Dawn for Horn in F and Piano
  • Adam Wolf, Cruise Control for Horn, Piano and Percussion
  • Wayne Lu, Pranayama
  • Gina Gillie, Sonata for Horn and Piano
IMG_5653

Cruise Control is a contrasting but equally interesting album by New York City freelancer Steven Cohen, and features world premiere recordings by several up and coming American composers. This project was sponsored by Siegfried’s Call, with a significant portion of the funding generated through an Indiegogo campaign. Be sure to check out the Indiegogo link for more information about the project and the commissioning process.

The music on this disc is fun and fresh, and showcases what I think the horn does best: play beautiful melodies and exhibit a variety of timbres. Cohen navigates the full range of the horn with ease and expression (using similar equipment to Richard Deane, a triple horn by Engelbert Schmid). Stylistically there is a bit of everything on this recording, from Neo-romanticism in the Sonatas by James Naigus and Gina Gillie to Minimalism and Rock in Cruise Control by Adam Wolf, and avant garde extended techniques in the works by Jenni Brandon and Wayne Lu. This recording is a musical and technical tour de force, and serves as a great resource for anyone interested in new music for the horn.

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Trios for Horn, Trombone, and Tuba

k32067000000000-00-500x500A colleague from another university contacted me recently to ask for some recommendations about low brass trios (horn, trombone, tuba). Having just performed a program featuring music for this ensemble at the International Trombone Festival and the International Horn Symposium, I was interested to see what other repertoire might be out there. Based on a cursory search of my favorite online music retailers (and a few other places), here’s what turned up. It’s a more limited selection than the high brass trio, but more than I thought would be readily available. *This list only includes original works, not arrangements or transcriptions. I haven’t performed very many of these, although several of them look promising based on what I know of the composers’ other works. As I mentioned in my presentation at IHS 50, low and high brass trios are ripe for scholarship and creative activity in the form of recordings, commissions, arrangements, etc. If you have an interest in brass chamber music beyond the standard quintet, give the brass trio a serious look.

Etude Reviews: Rhythm Kopprasch and Harmony Kopprasch, by Jeffrey Agrell

Earlier this summer I received complimentary copies of Rhythm Kopprasch and Harmony Koppraschtwo volumes in the Millenium Kopprasch series by Jeffrey Agrell, Professor of Horn at the University of Iowa. I’m a big fan of Professor Agrell’s work, and have reviewed several of his other publications, including Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians, Horn Technique, and The Creative Hornist.

The Millenium Kopprasch  series contains creative reinventions of classic Kopprasch Op. 6 etudes, made more applicable to the 21st-century hornist. The range and basic patterns of the original etudes are still there, but in modified forms. Rhythm Kopprasch incorporates mixed meters, unusual accent patterns, syncopation, and ties, while Harmony Kopprasch explores modes, awkward intervals, Blues scales, and more. Dynamics and tempo markings are intentionally left up to the player, although the markings in the original etudes would be a good place to start. Traditionally the Op. 6 etudes are used as a school of transposition, and to reinforce basic concepts of technique and sound production. More advanced etudes are necessary to develop technique further – Reynolds, Schuller, etc. Because the Millenium Kopprasch series breathes new life into the venerable Op. 6 studies, it opens up many possibilities for teachers and students. These are tough, and will push you beyond what is required for the original studies. But, they are also really fun to play. The patterns are much less familiar than the diatonic scales and arpeggios of the originals, and take far more concentration.

Here are some brief examples which demonstrate the kind of transformations you’ll find in these new Kopprasch studies. First is the original Kopprasch No. 3, Poco Allegro. *This is a pretty old recording from my Kopprasch video project, and the score is from the Hofmeister edition on IMSLP.

Next is the first half of the corresponding Etude No. 3 from Rhythm Kopprasch, shared here by permission of the author. The basics are still there, with the added fun of mixed meters and accent patterns.

And now the same thing from Harmony Kopprasch, which includes a variety of scales and arpeggios beyond diatonic major and minor (notice the helpful annotations for the source material) .

The quality engraving and attractive covers make for a very nice package, although a spiral binding would make the books a little easier to put on a music stand. As with all of Agrell’s publications, Rhythm Kopprasch and Harmony Kopprasch represent significant contributions to the existing horn literature. And, much like the original studies on which they are based, this series will continue to challenge (and possibly frustrate – but in a good way) hornists for years to come.

IHS 50 Report, Final Thoughts

This is the fourth and final part of a series on the 50th International Horn Symposium (You can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here). Although IHS 50 will last through tomorrow (Saturday), I am now at home and reflecting on this year’s symposium. 50 years of horn symposia is a big deal, and I’m sure there were many discussions about how to appropriately commemorate the event. I think IHS 50 was a rousing success, with credit and gratitude going first to Gene Berger and the Ball State University faculty and staff, but also to the IHS Advisory Council, and all the members of the International Horn Society for their part in making this event a reality. As is my usual practice, here are some summary thoughts about the symposium.

  • Looking backwards, looking forwards: Every conference has a particular vibe, created in large part by the host organization and venue, as well as the various lectures, performances, and numerous other less tangible details. For example, IHS 47 in Los Angeles had a very cosmopolitan feel, which fit very well with the city’s role as a cultural, artistic, and economic hub. IHS 48 in Ithaca was very different, given the beautiful natural surroundings of the Finger Lakes region in  New York. IHS 50 was somewhere in between, I feel, but with the added ceremony and nostalgia befitting a Golden Anniversary. Several events looked backwards over the past 50 years, while others looked forward to the future. I thought it was a good mix, and offered something of interest for just about everyone.
  • Exhibits and Gear: Though horns, mouthpieces, and accessories were not a focus for me during this particular IHS (I was on a pretty tight schedule), I did browse past most of the vendor tables. Horn makers and retailers both large and small were in high attendance, and the exhibits were all located in a single building, although signage could have been a bit better in pointing out where specific vendors were located. Sheet music tables were nicely insulated from the instrument exhibits, and private instrument testing rooms were reserved in a more quiet part of the building. Lots of new products were on display, including carbon fiber bell inserts for Marcus Bonna soft top cases, a new carbon fiber case from Pope Repair, and the new case by BAM, a longtime maker of cases for string instruments. All of these products are worth a serious look if you are in the market for a new case. Houghton Horns had their complete line of H series mouthpieces, including the new H-4, and Osmun Music unveiled their commemorative IHS 50 mouthpiece.
  • Social Time: Complimentary coffee and tea were a very nice touch at this symposium, and the Ball State Student Center provided plenty of comfortable spaces for meeting new people and catching up with colleagues. It’s always interesting to meet people with whom you’ve communicated electronically, and to put a real face and personality with their name.
  • Participant Ensembles: I didn’t participate in any of the late night horn ensemble reading sessions, but from the talk around the symposium they were very popular. Though not a huge area of interest for me at horn conferences – I’m usually trying to conserve chops and energy for other performances – I recognize how fun and engaging they can be for players of all levels. Perhaps more opportunities will be available at future symposia. Unlike some organizations, many IHS members are not professionals or students, but nonetheless have an abiding love and interest in all things horn-related. Finding the right balance among activities and services which benefit various members of the IHS is an ongoing process, and one which bears some frank discussion.
  • Future of the IHS: I was unable to attend an area representative meeting on Thursday morning, but from what I gather the agenda was largely concerned with ongoing efforts to increase membership in the IHS (see my article on why YOU should join the IHS here). I have seen a few posts on social media inquiring about what benefits IHS members enjoy the most, and why non-members have not joined. I sincerely hope that these conversations continue, and yield some productive results. In the end the Horn Society won’t be able to please everyone, but I hope that some changes can be made to ensure that the IHS flourishes for another 50 years. One issue that I believe is common to all the like-instrument societies (International Trombone Association, International Trumpet Guild, etc.) is identity. Is the IHS a professional organization? Is it for amateurs? Is it for students? Is it for teachers? The answers to all of the above questions is a resounding YES, but therein lies the problem. Catering to the interests of all these parties is a monumental task, and there is no magic bullet to increasing membership. Perhaps better marketing and a greater social media presence will help, but this takes dedicated time and effort, and may in fact drive away other members of the society. I’ve always wondered why more professional horn players aren’t members of the IHS, and if there is a way to bridge the gap and encourage them to join. Overall, though, I have confidence in our leadership and trust them to help find a path that promotes the Goals and Aims of the IHS.

IHS 50 Report, Part 3

*This is the third part of a series on the 50th International Horn Symposium. Follow these links to read Part 1 and Part 2.

By the time you read this post, I will be returning home from the 50th International Horn Symposium in Muncie, Indiana. For a variety of reasons, I chose not to stay for the entire symposium this year, but have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. Bravo and a huge THANK YOU to Professor Gene Berger and the students and staff at Ball State University for making this week possible. From my perspective, all of the many events and other activities have been well organized and have run smoothly – not an easy feat! As I write this, I am listening via Facebook live to an exciting performance by Leelanee Sterrett and Tomoko Kanamaru on the Wednesday evening concert. Not to sound like too much of an old fogey here, but I knew Ms. Sterrett when she was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, while I was working on a doctorate there. At the time she was already a tremendous horn player, and has since gone on to perform at the highest levels. Here is the program:

Kate Soper, Into that World Inverted
(b. 1981)
Jane Vignery, Sonata for Horn and Piano, Op. 7
(1913-1974)
Ruth Gipps, Sonatina for Horn and Piano, Op. 56
(1921-1999)
Leelanee Sterrett, horn Tomoko Kanamaru, piano

After intermission, the second half will feature an All-Star Horn Big Band, but since I will be departing quite early in the morning I will be turning in for the night.

Working backwards from the final concert of the day, our 4:00 p.m. brass trio performance went very well, and as always it was a pleasure to make music with my colleagues. In my experience, audiences respond well to brass trio music. There is a surprising amount of variety in the repertoire, with some really fine original works by established and emerging composers. If you are looking for something different to program on an upcoming recital, consider putting together a trio of your own.

Earlier in the day I attended one of the IHS 50 special sessions, this one on “Horn-Making over the past 50 Years.” The speakers included Richard Bentson, presider, and Panelists Robert Osmun, Englebert Schmid, Chuck Ward, Philipp Alexander, Johnny Woody, and Dan Rauch. The panel encompassed a wide range of experiences and perspectives, including highly-skilled repairmen, custom makers, consultants, and everything in between. It was a fascinating lecture, with each panelist presenting a brief overview of their thoughts on the last 50 years of horn making. There were of course some differing opinions, but a few of the commonalities are listed below:

  • For custom (boutique) horn makers, the materials and methods of building horns have evolved significantly over the last half-century, with the trend being towards greater precision and customization to the individual player. Examples of this include greater variety of alloys (brass, red brass, nickel silver, etc.), and the use of plastics and other composites such as carbon fiber. However, as the horn playing community as a whole tends to be quite traditional, the standard double horn in F and B-flat has remained the most popular choice for a majority of players. *Several panelists did note the increasing presence (and availability) of triple and descant horns, though.
  • For large scale factory-made horns, quality has often suffered when the parent company has tried to cut costs without consideration of the effects on their instruments. One panelist even mentioned a meeting in which the idea of using glue to hold horns together was offered as a possible way to cut costs (thankfully the idea was later abandoned). One panelist also pointed out that while factory-made horns such as the Conn 8D were once the instruments of choice for professionals, those days have largely come and gone. Most professionals now have their pick of several brands of high end custom made instruments, while factory horns largely cater to the student market.

I left this session a bit early to make it to a 1:00 p.m. presentation by Dr. Stacie Mickens, “Positive Practice Strategies.” I have seen Dr. Mickens give this presentation a few times before, and it keeps getting better and better. Drawing on two books, The Perfect Wrong Note by William Westney, and Practicing for Artistic Success by Burton Kaplan, she offered some wonderful tips on how to structure practice sessions so that we actually make progress rather than feeling frustrated. If you get the chance to hear her give this presentation or to take a lesson with her I highly recommend it!

As usual, I’ll be sharing some summary thoughts about the symposium, but it will take me a few days to process everything and put together something coherent. Check back soon to read more…

IHS 50 Report, Part 2

IMG_20180731_212023752Today was the second full day of the 50th International Horn Symposium (Read my report on Day 1 here). My schedule consisted of attending parts of several concerts and presentations, connecting and reconnecting with a few colleagues, rehearsing with my brass trio for our performance tomorrow, and buying some new music and recordings.

I started the day with a presentation by musical legend David Amram called “Fundamentals of Jazz, Blues in F” Over the years I’ve performed his Blues and Variations for Monk several times, and have also read one of his books, Vibrations. Amram is a unique and multifaceted personality, and his session turned out to be much more than just an introduction to jazz. (I also got to hear Douglas Hill play some jazz bass.)  Mr. Amram shared some inspiring words about what it means to be a musician, and to attend the “University of Hang-out-ology.” I took this to mean that one of the best ways to grow as a musician (and person) is to surround yourself with people who challenge and inspire you, and to try to learn everything you can from them – excellent advice!

Next came a visit to a few exhibitor tables to buy some sheet music, including Gina Gillie’s new Sonata for Horn, commissioned and recorded by Steven Cohen on his new album, Cruise Control. I also found a chamber work that’s been on my to-do list for a while, Simon Sargon’s “Huntsman, What Quarry?” for soprano, horn, and piano. Lastly, I picked up a copy of “Twenty Difficult Etudes for the Horn’s Middle Register” by Daniel Grabois. Looking forward to working on this new repertoire in the future.

After lunch I checked out part of the 1:00 p.m. concert, which included a preview performance of William Bolcom’s new Trio for Horn, Violin, and Piano (2017), which was commissioned by Steven Gross. It was a really interesting work, not necessarily technically flashy, but with some very interesting timbres and melodies. Definitely one to keep your eye out for when it’s published.

The later afternoon consisted of rehearsing with my low brass trio for a repeat performance of the program we did at the International Trombone Festival a few weeks ago. Rehearsal went well, and we are ready for our performance on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. Afterwards I ate dinner with two colleagues, Eli Epstein and Stacie Mickens. Both are fantastic horn players and teachers, and I’m very glad to have spent some time talking with them over dinner.

The 7:30 p.m. concert was outstanding, featuring international soloist Frank Lloyd and Josh Williams, First Prize Winner in the Professional Division of the 2017 International Horn Competition of America. Their program consisted of all 20th and 21st-century works, with several that included jazz influences. Here’s a partial list of the repertoire.

David Amram, Blues and Variations for Monk for unaccompanied horn
Richard Bissill, Sic Itur Ad Astra for horn and piano
Richard Bissill, Song of a New World for horn and piano
Frank Lloyd, horn, David Mamedov, piano
-Intermission-
Lawrence Lowe, Sonata No. 1 for horn and piano (III. Caccia)
Margaret Brouwer, SCHerZOid for solo horn
Alec Wilder, Suite for horn and piano
Amir Zaheri, Secret Winter for horn and piano
Anthony DiLorenzo, The Phoenix Sonata for horn and piano
Joshua Williams, horn, Kathia Bonna, piano

 

Mr. Lloyd’s playing was dazzling as usual, though he is now performing on an Alexander horn instead of an Engelbert Schmid. There were also several additions to his program: “Raptor Music,” composed for him by Douglas Hill, a virtuosic unaccompanied work featuring lots of extended techniques, and an “F Blues” from 15 Low Horn Etudes by Ricardo Matosinhos. Mr. Williams was equally stunning in his performance, ending with the epic Phoenix Sonata by Anthony DiLorenzo. This work is getting performed more and more, and it’s easy to hear why. Though challenging, it is an effective and engaging piece. One note about my experience of tonight’s concert is that I was able to watch the second half from my hotel room (while working on some other work-related tasks), as the IHS has been streaming Featured Artist concerts on Facebook live. I stumbled across this by accident, and I must have missed any publicity announcing it. It’s a fantastic service that I hope will continue at future symposia. Even if you can’t be here in Muncie, tune in for the 7:30 p.m. concerts this week where ever you are!

 

 

IHS 50 Report, Part 1

For the next few days, much of the horn world can be found in Muncie, Indiana for the 50th International Horn Symposium, hosted by Gene Berger at Ball State University. The theme of this year’s symposium is “The Golden History of Horn,” and throughout the week there will be several special events commemorating the last 50 years of symposia. IHS 50 got off to a rousing start this morning at the 10:00 a.m. opening concert, featuring members of the IHS Advisory Council and friends. Here’s the program from the opening concert (the full symposium program can be found online here)

Howard Buss,“Fanfare for a Golden Era” for 15 horns *World Premiere
Christopher Wiggins, Suite # 5 for Eight horns op. 169 *World Premiere
Richard Strauss/arr. Peter Damm, Eine (kleine) Alpensinfonie op. 64 for 15 horns, organ and glockenspiel
The Buss and Wiggins premieres were exciting, but the star of this program was of course Peter Damm’s arrangement of the Strauss. Despite being a fraction of the length of the full orchestral work, Damm’s adaptation captured all of the big horn moments from Strauss’s mammoth tone poem, including the off-stage brass. This piece is unpublished, and as such is seldom performed. It was truly a memorable event, see above for a photo of the ensemble just after the performance. I should also add that Ball State University has gorgeous music facilities, and a very beautiful campus overall. Most of the performances, lectures, and exhibits are located within a short walk of each other.
After a quick lunch I got set up for my presentation, Brass Trio Repertoire: Beyond Poulenc, based on an article I published in the 2015 Horn Call. It went very well, and the audience seemed quite interested in finding out more about original music for brass trio. The highlight for me was getting to catch up with my former teacher, Douglas Hill, who attended the presentation.
Next, I had a rehearsal with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Horn Choir, Directed by Dr. Catherine Roche-Wallace. It was an honor to perform with them as part of the prelude music for the evening concert. Their program was as follows:
Thomas Jöstlein, Campbell Fanfare
Engelbert Humperdinck, Prelude-Chorale from “Hansel und Gretel” arr. Jeffery Kirschen
James Naigus, Halcyon
Percy Grainger, Selections from Lincolnshire Posy, arr. Dick Meyer
Eric Ewazen, Grand Canyon Octet (I. Allegro maestoso)
Bravo to Dr. Roche-Wallace and her students on a great performance, and thanks for asking me to play!
After the rehearsal I attended a bit of the 4:00 p.m. concert. I had to leave early to grab some dinner before the 6:15 p.m. Prelude performance, but had a chance to hear some fantastic playing by Katie Johnson-Webb from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (Sonatas by Trygve Madsen and Wolfgang Plagge) and Jonathan Gannon from Florida A&M University (Earth Songs by Laurence Lowe).
The evening concert featured Elizabeth Freimuth, Principal Horn of the Cincinnati Symphony, and Robert Danforth, Principal Horn of the Indianapolis Symphony. The program included frequently performed works like the Villanelle by Paul Dukas, and some less frequently-performed works like Kurt Atterberg’s Concerto, Op. 28 and Franz Anton Rossler’s Concerto in Eb. I have heard both of these pieces in the past, but it has been a while, and hearing these virtuoso performers has inspired me to give them a second look. The Rossler sounds a little like Mozart, as he was a direct contemporary, but with more ornamentation. The Atterberg is a true tour de force, and Elizabeth Freimuth’s performance  was especially noteworthy. One last word about this concert, and a general theme for horn conferences and symposia, is that there are lots of really different (but equally valid) solo horn sounds out there. Tonight’s soloists sounded very different from each other, but they both played beautifully. For those who might be interested, based on what I could see from the audience Freimuth performed on a Knopf-style brass horn, and Danforth performed on (I believe) a silver Schmidt-style horn. It was a fantastic program, but being worn out from my all-day drive to Muncie the day before, I left after intermission to get a head start on some rest.
That’s all for this report. Check back soon for more!

Upcoming Conference Performances

While my summer has been restful so far, I’ve also been preparing for two conference performances with Black Bayou Brass. The first of these is the International Trombone Festival, July 11-14 at the University of Iowa, which will be quickly followed by the 50th International Horn Symposium, July 30 – August 4 at Ball State University.

Our ensemble for these performances is a low brass trio, composed of horn, trombone, and tuba. As with the high brass trio (trumpet, horn, trombone), the repertoire for low brass trio is limited, but with a few hidden gems. Here’s our program, with links to more information about the composers as well as YouTube links where available. If you aren’t familiar with the sound of a low brass trio be sure to listen to some of the recordings linked below. I’ve found it just as fulfilling as performing in a high brass trio, although the demands are slightly different. The horn has to play out in both groups, but being the lead voice in the low brass trio you have to lead a bit more (think like a trumpet player!)

It’s a great program, about 30 minutes of music, with lots of variety. Relationships by Canadian composer Elizabeth Raum was commissioned and recorded by three members of the brass faculty at Arizona State University, John Ericson, Deanna Swoboda, and Douglas Yeo, on their album Table for Three. It’s a very substantial three-movement work, with intricate writing in every part. The most notable, and by far the most performed composition on our program is Triangles, by John Stevens. Composed in 1978 for members of the Pentagon Brass Quintet, Triangles consists of several contrasting sections performed without pause. This piece has a bit of everything – classical, jazz, funk, Latin, etc. – all rolled into one. Fans of John Stevens will recognize many of the little licks and other stylistic fingerprints in this work which found their way into his later compositions. It’s a wonderful piece that every horn player should get a chance to play. Roger Jones, retired Professor of Tuba and Theory/Composition at the University of Louisiana Monroe, has a substantial catalog of noteworthy pieces. He’s been especially kind to our brass trio, and delivers again with this Trio for Horn, Trombone and Tuba. Composed in 1977, it’s the oldest work on the program, but has been seldom performed. If you plan on attending either this year’s International Trombone Festival or International Horn Symposium, I hope you can stop by and listen to our performance!

Gear Reviews: Stand Light, Bluetooth Speaker

Two items I’ve recently added to my gear bag are a battery-powered stand light and a Bluetooth speaker. I initially purchased each of these items for specific purposes, but have found them so useful on a day-to-day basis that I thought it would be worth sharing. Click on the image or name of each product for a link.

Kootek Clip-On Book Light

I originally bought three of these to use for our brass trio recording back in January. Most stage lights make noise, so the lighting during a recording session needs to be minimal. They came in very handy for the session, and for several other performances afterwards. The multiple LED bulbs have two brightness settings, and the battery life is quite good, several hours per charge. Charging takes a few hours, and it comes with a USB charger and A/C adapter. One note about these lights is that they should NOT be operated while plugged in, as it can damage the battery. The base includes a large clip for attaching to a music stand, but it is also sturdy enough to allow the light to stand on its own for table or desktop use. For the price these are great lights!

Bose SoundLink Micro

I picked up this speaker to use in a “Smart” classroom that was having technological difficulties with the sound system. It was a bit of an impulse buy, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting. I wanted something powerful, but still portable enough to stick in my bag and lug back and forth to various classrooms. This was the first Bose product I’ve owned, but the company is well known for their high end speakers and noise-cancelling headphones. I also figured that if the speaker turned out to be a dud or simply not right for my purposes I could always return it. As it turns out, this device has become one of my most-used pieces of technology. Its dimensions (3.87″ H 3.87″ W 1.37″) make the SoundLink Micro incredibly portable, and the rubberized outer layer protects it from the inevitable bumps and scrapes that come with frequent use. It is advertised as waterproof, but I have not had the opportunity to put that claim to the test. In addition to classroom use, I use it regularly in my practice sessions at home, as well as in sectionals and chamber music rehearsals to play my metronome and tuning drones. It connects very quickly to a smartphone and/or laptop. Battery life is excellent, and setting up the Bluetooth connection is fast and easy. However, the best feature of this speaker is the sound. You really do need to hear it to believe the size and volume that it can produce. It will fill a room – not as well as a full-blown stereo system, of course – but what it lacks in power it more than compensates for in portability. One drawback to the SoundLink Micro (and all Bose products) is the price tag, which is significantly more expensive than other similarly-sized Bluetooth speakers (see the JBL Clip 2). I would be interested in comparing the JBL Clip 2 to the SoundLink Micro. My suspicion is that the Bose sound would be superior to the JBL, but maybe not by much. Regardless of the pros and cons of this particular product, I highly recommend a Bluetooth speaker for any serious musicians. I’ve used mine so much over the past several months that I replaced my office stereo system at school with a larger Bluetooth speaker, the JBL Charge 3. It’s less portable than the Bose, but since it will primarily stay in my office that’s ok with me.

 

 

Brass Trio Recording Update

When I last posted about our brass trio album, we had just wrapped up a three-day recording session in January (you can read that post here). The project is moving forward, and I’m anticipating a release sometime in the fall of 2018. The tentative title is Scenes from the Bayou, which is the same title as one of the works we commissioned for this recording, composed by Gina Gillie. Here is a complete list of what will be on the disc.

Although the actual recording was a major part of the process, there are still many steps to complete before the album is ready to go.

Step 1: Sift through all of the material from our recording session and select those takes to be used in the first edit. After three days of recording, we had roughly 4.5 gigs of wav files, over 650 tracks! For those who might be interested, these were rough 16-bit mixes, not what things will sound like after final editing and mastering. Sometimes the recording producer and/or engineer will assemble a first edit for the client, depending on their contract, but in this case I was the one going through and providing the take list. Luckily, our producer Gina Gillie took great session notes. These notes helped me group our takes into three broad categories: usable, possibly usable for a spot or two in a given set of measures, and not usable. Lots of these decisions were arbitrary, but I feel good about the choices made for the first edit. From there, the take list was sent off to our engineer, Dave St. Onge.

Step 2: Dave worked incredibly fast (but very accurately) and put together a complete first edit within a matter of days. The first edit sounds very good, and I think the album is going to be an enjoyable listen – high quality, lots of variety, and musically interesting. But, there is still some work to be done. One of my summer projects (already in progress) will be going through the first edit with an even more critical ear to find any issues that need to be addressed for the second (or possibly third) edit. Things like small intonation concerns, precision of attacks (a few cases), and any other rough spots missed during the first edit will be the priorities. Unlike the first edit, I won’t be listening for long stretches of usable material, but instead trying to find small bits and pieces which can be dropped in to address a specific issue. For example, a 16-bar take might be great except for a single chipped note or other small imperfection. I tried to account for these when choosing takes for the first edit, of course, but I’ve already found a few things that slipped through the cracks the first time.

Step 3: Mastering will include tweaking the balance of all three voices to arrive at the final sound of our recording. Again, a very subjective process!

From here there are lots of production-related items to discuss with Mark Custom Recording Service, who will be manufacturing and distributing the album. These include:

  • Mechanical licenses (mostly handled at this point)
  • Package design, cover and interior art (in progress)
  • Liner notes (another summer task)

It’s exciting to see another recording project take shape. Stay tuned for more updates!

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