Upcoming Concert: Black Bayou Brass

This Wednesday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m., Black Bayou Brass presents our annual faculty recital. As always, it will be a fun, challenging evening of music for the ensemble. I’ve included a program below, with links to recordings (where available). We’ve performed the Ewazen, Frackenpohl, and Debussy frequently, but the Trio by Mark Wolfram, selections from Voyage, Op. 27 by Robert Muczynski, and Triga by Frigyes Hidas are all new to our performing repertoire. Everything but the Debussy is an original work for brass trio. These are all very solid compositions, and if you are looking for some new brass trio rep for yourself or your students, consider checking out the Wolfram and Hidas especially. The V3NTO Brass Trio has an excellent recording of the Hidas available on CD Baby, and I highly recommend it. It’s also noteworthy that the Wolfram Trio was the First Prize Winner in the Brass Trio category of the International Horn Society’s 1989 Composition Contest. Though brief, it’s a wonderful work, full of contrasts and exciting lines for all three parts.

If you’d like to hear more about these works (and hear them performed) come out to our recital on Wednesday at 7:30!

A Philharmonic Fanfare Eric Ewazen (b. 1954)

 

Brass Trio (1966) Arthur Frackenpohl (b. 1924)


The Girl with the Flaxen Hair Claude Debussy (1862-1918)  arr. Christian A. Eriksen

Brass Trio (1988) Mark E. Wolfram (b. 1955)

 

Voyage for Brass Trio, Op. 27 Robert Muczynski (1929-2010)

Triga Frigyes Hidas (1928-2007) *Samples available here.

 

Upcoming Performance: Crystal Kaleidoscope for Horn and Vibraphone by Ken Davies

IMG_20190320_141315964In addition to the Dana Wilson song cycle performance mentioned in my earlier post, I’ll be performing another brand new work in April at the Society of Composers, Inc. Region VI Conference at Texas A&M University—Commerce. The composition is by Ken Davies, and is entitled Crystal Kaleidoscope for horn and vibraphone. My colleague Mel Mobley and I commissioned it with assistance from the International Horn Society’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. This is a fantastic initiative by the IHS, and well worth applying for and supporting! As of this writing, the fund is on hiatus from January 2019 through December 2019. Be on the lookout, however, for future funding opportunities.

Getting back to Crystal Kaleidoscope, Ken Davies is a very fine composer, and the works I’ve performed by him have been interesting and rewarding to play. The horn and vibraphone combination is pretty unique, and there are only a handful of other works in the repertoire for horn and mallet percussion, let alone this specific instrumentation. The first one that comes to mind is HornVibes: Three Duos for Horn and Vibraphone, by Verne Reynolds. For more information on this and other works for horn and mallet percussion, refer to Dr. Casey N. Maltese’s A Performance Guide of Selected Works for Horn and Mallet Percussion, D.M.A dissertation, the University of Miami, 2011. In my estimation, Crystal Kaleidoscope holds up very well when compared to the Reynolds, though it is quite different. Here is the composer’s note:

Look into the kaleidoscope. See the variously shaped colored crystals, their reflections producing continuous changing patterns. Each crystal has a unique structure, shape, and color—its own symmetrical, ordered, three-dimensional aggregation of atoms or molecules.

As the title suggests, this work is based on “crystals.” Though the sectional sub-titles may be whimsically named for gemstones, the musical crystals are pitch sets consisting of a few notes which are spun out into transformed patterns of melodic and harmonic variety. While the theorist/musicologist may want to delve into set analysis, I hope that others may simply enjoy the aural ride along the surface, letting the notes, chords, and timbres provide a worthy repeatable listening experience.

The writing is fun and challenging, but not unreasonably so, with lots of rhythmic and melodic interplay between horn and vibraphone. As the composer implies in his preface, there are some complex compositional operations at work, but the melodies and timbres are interesting enough in and of themselves without deep analysis. As I’ve found in other works by him, Ken likes to throw in periodic references to other styles such as funk and jazz. For instance, this short line for the horn in the final movement, “Crystal Collage,” has a pretty fun groove to it. Tempo is quarter note=92-104 or faster.

Davies Excerpt

If this post has piqued your interest in the music of Ken Davies, take a look at his website for a complete list of his many works. Here is a short list of works with horn, taken from his website.

  • Brain Fantasies for horn and two-channel audio
  • Sensuous Images for horn and pre-recorded soundscape
  • Waterscape for horn and digital media
  • Loose Connections – horn alone
  • Three Roads Diverged – brass trio – tpt, hrn, tbn
  • Concert Piece for Brass Quintet and Organ
  • Bayou Sketches – soprano, French horn, piano
  • Veiled Places for Woodwind Quintet

Brass Trio Configurations Poll

Black Bayou Brass spent part of our Mardi Gras break experimenting with some different stage setups for brass trio. Based on these brief video excerpts from Triga by Hidas, which one do you like the best?

Upcoming Performance: Dana Wilson Commission

Dana Wilson, Charles A. Dana Professor Emeritus at the Ithaca College School of Music. Image obtained from https://www.danawilson.org/bio

On April 2 I’ll be joining my colleagues in Trio Mélange for a performance of a new work for voice, horn, and piano by Dana Wilson. Wilson is a widely recognized composer in multiple genres, and is Charles A. Dana Professor Emeritus at the Ithaca College School of Music. The piece, Love me like a beautiful dream, is a six-movement song cycle commissioned in 2018 by a national consortium of horn players and their colleagues. The commission was initiated by Jeff Nelsen and his wife, mezzo-soprano Nina Yoshida Nelsen. Here’s a complete list of the participants in the consortium:

  • Jeff Nelsen, consortium initiator, and mezzo-soprano Nina Nelsen, Indiana University
  • Gene P. Berger, Ball State University
  • James Boldin and Trio Mélange, University of Louisiana Monroe
  • Aaron Brant and soprano Andrea Wells, University of Dayton
  • David Cooper, Dallas Symphony
  • Marlene Ford, Old Dominion University
  • Steven Gross, University of California at Santa Barbara
  • Nancy Joy, New Mexico State University
  • Jason Johnston, University of Idaho
  • Brian Kilp, Indiana State University
  • Peter Kurau, Eastman School of Music
  • Seth Orgel, Louisiana State University and Atlantic Brass Quintet
  • Jennifer Presar, Southern Illinois University
  • Alex Shuhan, Ithaca College
  • Bernhard Scully, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Jeffrey Snedeker, Central Washington University
  • Michael Walker, University of New Mexico
  • Gail Williams, Northwestern University

I’ve mentioned commissioning consortia before, as they are a great (and inexpensive) way to support the creation of new music. It’s exciting and rewarding to take part in the  process, and we are really looking forward to our performance. I have not yet confirmed it, but ours may be the first performance in Louisiana. On to some more information about the piece. In the composer’s words, here is a description of Love me like a beautiful dream :

A wondrous (and frightening) aspect of being human is that, despite the apparent differences among cultures over time and in various parts of the world, our basic emotional needs and desires have remained the same. Although the texts that make up this work span the past 2,500 years and are from as far away as Persia, Japan, and Madagascar, they could have been written by our close friends, so “contemporary” are their views and concerns about love. This set, then, explores the many aspects of this basic emotion that gives life its difficult pleasures, and what better instruments to express them than female voice, horn and piano.

As Wilson mentions, the six movements are all connected by the theme of love, though the subtleties and complexities of this emotion give rise to contrasting musical ideas. The writing for horn is quite nice, idiomatic but certainly not simplistic. The melodies in each movement are distinct, but unified by an often melancholy character. The work begins and ends with a beautiful unaccompanied horn solo. Here’s a brief excerpt from the first movement, “The sweet murmur of your voice,”   © 2018 by Dana Wilson, on a text by Sappho (translated by Mary Barnard) c. 6th Cent. BCE Greece:

Another interesting movement is the third, “When the dawn comes,” on an Anonymous text from 9th Century Japan, translated by Arthur Waley. The horn part specifies a straight mute, to be played with a “very quiet, hollow sound” and “mournful (like a Japanese flute).” I presume this indication refers to the Shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute. Here’s the sound I am imagining:

It’s hauntingly beautiful, and I’ve been experimenting with different types of air, aperture shape, and mute placement to achieve something similar in character. A recording of the piece isn’t available yet, but hopefully one will be in the near future so that it can get some wider exposure. For the time being, keep an eye out for performances by the consortia participants. If you would like a score and parts, they can be obtained directly from the composer at this link, which also lists all of Wilson’s works with horn: https://www.danawilson.org/featured_instruments?instrument=Horn

In addition to the Wilson, I’ll also be performing another brand new work during the month of April. More information soon!

Looking for Horn Ensemble Music? – Check out the Kumamoto Horn Ensemble!

Kumamoto Horn Ensemble (KHE)

Recently I came across the website of the Kumamoto Horn Ensemble, a Japanese group founded in 2000 (see picture above, linked from their website). Their unassuming website is packed full of amazing arrangements for 4, 5, and 6 horns, as well as archived programs going back to their first concert. Many of their arrangements can be purchased from Corniworld Publications –  we’ve performed the 6-horn version of Finlandia here at ULM several times – but there are also quite a few available for FREE directly from their site. This spring we’ll be performing two of these: Shostakovich’s Festive Overture for 6 horns and Neuling’s Bagatelle for 4 horns and solo horn, both arranged by Takeshi Takahashi. They are difficult, but very good arrangements! To see the complete list of arrangements (free and paid), visit this page. In addition to the Shostakovich, there are many other substantial works, including Barber’s Adagio for Strings, several complete Beethoven symphonies, and Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. There is enough music here to keep even the most ambitious horn ensemble busy for some time. To my knowledge, it’s the single largest source of free horn ensemble music anywhere. My suggestion is that if you like the free arrangements, visit Corniworld Publications and support the Kumamoto Horn Ensemble by purchasing one or more of their publications.

 

 

Semester Preview: Spring 2019

I’m a few days late with this semester preview, but things have gotten off to a great start here at ULM. Here’s a brief overview of some of the exciting events happening this spring.

  • Brass Trio Tour: Black Bayou Brass began our semester with a three-day tour of Northwest Louisiana and East Texas. We performed for and worked with several great groups of students. In addition to a few run-out concerts to local schools this spring, we will be busy preparing for our annual faculty recital on April 17. Program details to come in a future post.
  • Guest Artists Galore: We often have multiple guest artists on the ULM campus each academic year, but this spring we’ll have more than the usual number, including several fantastic horn players. Our first guest artist this spring was Centria Brown, a DMA candidate at Louisiana State University, studying with Professor Seth Orgel.  Ms. Brown is a fellow native of North Carolina and earned her undergraduate degree at Wingate University. She gave a fantastic master class and recital, with a program including the Nelhybel Scherzo Concertante, Mozart 4, Krol Laudatio, and the Lars-Erik Larsson Concertino, op 45, no 5. This coming week we’ll be welcoming another guest, Timothy Thompson, Professor of Horn at the University of Arkansas. He’ll be performing a program of unaccompanied works entitled “Around the World with the Horn.” On February 8 we’ll host the Quintasonic Brass for our annual Brass Day workshop. In addition to a recital by Quintasonic Brass, the day’s events will also include a special horn pedagogy clinic and exhibits by Houghton Horns. To close out this impressive roster of horn artists, the Cobalt Quartet will perform a recital on March 12. Members include several prominent horn performers and teachers from across the country: Jena Gardner, Katie Johnson, Caroline Steiger, and Rose Valby. In addition to these horn players, euphonium virtuoso Demondrae Thurman will be in residence for two days, presenting a guest recital (Feb. 25), master classes, and more.
  • Chamber Recitals, Premieres, etc. Along with preparations for our brass trio recital on April 17, I’m also working towards two performances of brand new chamber works with horn. On April 2, I’ll join my colleagues in Trio Mélange for the Louisiana premiere of Dana Wilson‘s song cycle, Love me like a beautiful dream for soprano (or mezzo-soprano), horn, and piano. This substantial new work was commissioned by a consortium initiated by hornist Jeff Nelsen, and his wife, mezzo-soprano Nina Nelsen. The six movements include settings of texts ranging from the 6th century B.C.E. to the 20th century. It’s a hauntingly beautiful work, and is sure to get many more performances in the coming years. Shortly after that, my colleague Mel Mobley and I will travel to Commerce, TX to premiere Crystal Kaleidoscope, a new work for horn and vibraphone by Ken Davies. We commissioned this piece with some generous help from the International Horn Society’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. I have a fairly light orchestral load this spring, which should balance out well with my other teaching and performing obligations.
  • Texas Music Educators Association Convention: TMEA is widely recognized as one of the biggest (and best) music education conferences in the world, and I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to attend for a few days in February. I won’t be performing or presenting, but I look forward to my first time at this event. More details in future posts!
  • Editorial and Review Activities: Carving out time to write blog posts has been a bit difficult for me these past several months, as (among other things) I’ve been engaged in some related activities – namely reviewing new books and compositions for the Horn Call, and, more recently, joining the IHS Online Music Sales editorial team. I have enjoyed my work on both projects, and I’m especially excited to be involved with the “Music of Douglas Hill” collection. Be on the lookout for several new additions to this section of the online catalog in the coming months. That being said, I am hopeful that I can return to at least a semi-regular blogging schedule this semester. With all of the varied happenings I shouldn’t have any trouble finding material to write about!

As always, best wishes for a great semester to my colleagues near and far.

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.

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!

 

 

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!

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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