Anyone who has ever played a musical instrument or fired a weapon knows there is no substitute for practice. As I try to maintain proficiency on four different instruments – euphonium, tuba, bass trombone, and tenor trombone, more often than not I run out of time before practice is complete. My available time is limited, but Margaret will tell you that I frequent the music room pretty much on a daily basis and move the air through the horns. It keeps me sane and ready for the next gig.
My practice regimen on all instruments includes heavy usage of long tones as I believe long tones help build both sonorous tone quality and endurance, especially when mouthpiece sizes vary. Scales, of course, are critical, and systematic employment of ascending and descending lip slurs build chop strength and flexibility. Speaking of flexibility, exercises in Arban’s and other methods of over an octave are valuable and practicing metered lip trills help me with a good workout.
Articulation studies and corresponding multiple-tonguing studies help get the point across. I have found that my multiple-tonguing skills improve with steady and metered practice of single-tonguing exercises. Arban’s has scads of studies, as does Herbert Clarke and others.
On bass trombone, one has to delve below the staff to develop the flexibility between open-horn pedals and the air routing through the additional F/Gb tubing. Paul Faulise’s method works well for me there. It’s easy to bark on bass trombone, but it’s much more difficult to maintain a steady, rich sound that is characteristic of bass trombone but has less bite. (Harmonium Brass appreciates that!) I find that good, rich, tuba-like sound, good flexibility, and accurate intonation are far more important than blazing technique.
Rehearsals and Performances:
I’m old school in that the guy who wields the conductor’s baton has the power. Of course, questions must be asked but these should be dealt with quickly. Sometimes a moment of levity is good to momentarily let up on concentration, but rehearsal time is valuable. Clowning around and cutting up aren’t favorite activities of mine and I don’t look kindly on that myself.
Being on time (translate – be early, warmed up and ready to go at downbeat time) and prepared is critical. And professional. Anything less than that is disrespectful, in my opinion.
Smaller ensembles have a bit more room for individual expression and democracy, and it’s important that everybody’s voice be heard in addressing issues.
Euphonium – Sterling Virtuoso, purchased in April, 2009. This instrument has had the benefit of multiple years of engineering in a continuous-improvement process. It is responsive, but not tinny; sound is rich without being too dark. While I had played Bessons for years and owned a 967 for a significant period of time, I believe Paul Riggett has a great product here. I have not given up on Besson, however. I may still buy a Prestige when I hit the lottery as I think the trigger mechanism on Bessons is better than on the Virtuoso. Mouthpiece: Denis Wick SM3.5. I like gold-plated mouthpieces as they’re more comfortable for me.
Bass trombone – an Edwards 454E, (9.5 inch, 22 gauge rose brass bell, tempered and double-buffed, dual-bore hand slide, and a very nice sterling silver medium leadpipe) purchased new in August 2011. This is the second bass I had owned, having played a Conn 62HI since 2005 when I started playing. Playing bass trombone is much, much different than playing tenor. First, there is the second valve to consider and on independent-valved horns, it’s really like adding another instrument and second, working to play musically and tastefully on a horn that is capable of laying waste to most of a string section in an orchestra is a lot harder than it sounds. Playing powerfully is one thing, but blatting is something else.
The Edwards I’m playing now is a dream horn. Ergonomically, it simply fits a lot better than the Conn ever did, even though the Conn was outfitted with a Bullet Brace. The sound I’m getting is darker, yet still has the capability of generating serious amounts of power that is sometimes needed. I’m still exploring this horn, having owned it only a week or so as of this writing. It fits, it works, and it’s a joy to play. I never thought I’d say that about playing bass trombone due to the pain factor — a quality about playing bass trombone that virtuoso and freelance bass trombonist Dave Taylor has spoken about in at least one interview (check the Edwards web site). Yes, it physically hurts to play bass trombone. Mouthpiece: Schilke 58.
Tuba – Kanstul 33T, purchased new from Lee Stofer’s shop in May, 2010. This is a delightful instrument that ergonomically fits me well with 4 valves across the top. This horn has a richness and envelops the ensemble with warm sound rather than a more compact sound characteristic of European tubas. I like this horn, especially after Lee did a little bit of tweaking for me to bring the pitch up a little bit. Mouthpiece: Canadian Brass Solo Arnold Jacobs. I like the sharper rim as it tends to clean up attacks.
Tenor trombone – Bach Strad 42OG with a lightweight handslide, purchased new in 1992 from a store in the D.C. area when I was back in the States on leave. As the Bach F attachment linkages are basically junk, I had the Horn Doc in Olathe, Kansas, put on a linkage in 2008 that was much quieter and has less play. I am not much of a lead player, but I can match my sound with most lead guys and be a good 2nd or 3rd bone in a big band. This horn fits me well. Mouthpiece: Schilke 51D.