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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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

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