Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Tuning Slide - Watching With Wow! and Insight

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Last week I talked about the  "Wow!" factor and how it is  important not to fall prey to it in the sense of being overwhelmed and not getting intimidated by the music (or other things.)  Well, this past week I came across a trumpet quintet video that blew me away. My first reaction was "Wow!" But as I kept watching I allowed the music to move me and my understanding to flow from it.

Here's the video. Take 7 1/2 minutes if you like to watch and then read on.

Oklahoma State (Division Winner) perform Toccata and Fugue in ...
Oklahoma State University win the Getzen Trumpet Small Trumpet Ensemble Division with “Toccata and Fugue in D minor (Bach)” at the 2015 National Trumpet Competition.Video - Michael Cano
Posted by Auckland City Brass Band on Thursday, September 24, 2015

My first thoughts- any brass group doing a decent job on a Bach transcription deserves the "Wow!" The music of J S Bach is always spectacular and moving. Bach touches so many sides of the human experience that one must allow the music to live on its own. Math and magic and amazingly well-constructed phrases make Bach untouchable. His "Toccata and Fugue" ranks among his greatest works. The toccata shows the "improvisational" touch and the fugue the polyphonic structures. Originally written for organ, a brass transcription has to take certain liberties. Any group wanting to perform it has to know the music and their place in it.

So what was it about this group that caught my attention and my "Wow!"

First, they just start out with such confidence. The opening phrase sings and in so doing lifted me up into the music from the word go. "Now that we have your attention...."

That took poise and confidence. So second I was aware that this group was comfortable with itself and its musicianship. They are performing at a competition, so they have worked hard to get to this point, but they don't appear in the least bit nervous. They are there and want you to listen to them. They like what they are about to do- and they want you to enjoy it, too. They also trust each other that the other people will do what they are supposed to do.

As they play, I noticed, third, that they are aware of each other no matter what is going on. Even when the one moves around to the opposite end the whole group is involved. Their body language throughout let me know that they were playing as a unit. More than a team, the unit moves together with all parts moving smoothly.

Fourth, and I know this may be part of watching on a computer monitor, at times it is difficult to separate which player is playing at any given time. That is part of the movement I mentioned above. But it goes beyond that into the smooth transitions from each musical phrase to the next. The handing-off of the melody is seamless.

 Next, fifth, when they are having to move around, change instruments, adjust the tuning, they do so with class. Part of that is the awareness of each other, but it is also, I think, that they are aware that even when they are not playing, what they do is part of the music. That is an often overlooked aspect of a public performance. Yes, people are there to listen to the music, but the performers can do things onstage that detract from that. These musicians are very aware of that and work very clearly to keep it to a minimum.

Everything else falls into place for me as I notice these aspects. It allows me to revel in the wonderful sound they present, the fine technique that is always evident, the deep knowledge of the music itself since they are not using music.  The entertainment value of the music is enhanced. The success of the group is in their relationship with each other and the music.

Instead of just going "Wow!" I found some things for myself, none of which is profound in and of itself. We all know about working together with others as "teams" and "units." We are all aware that we need to be sensitive to those around us and their part in what we are doing together. We agree that if we do not feel comfortable or competent with what we are doing, we will not succeed.

I may never play the Toccata and Fugue in a trumpet or brass quintet, but the inspiration of this performance will have an impact on what I do play- and beyond that- to how I interact with people every day.

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