Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Tuning Slide: It's YOUR Song

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Most people die with their music still locked up inside them.
― Benjamin Disraeli

Two weeks ago I did a post on "Story," the first of three things that composer, arranger, and educator Stanley Curtis on his blog Trumpet Journey calls the three "S"s. These are what he sees as the three key elements all great trumpet players have in common. They are simply
  • Story
  • Song and
  • Support
Let's look at the second thing- Song!

Curtis wrote:
This is how we play what we play. This song can be sung with heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism, laser-beam clarity, or rhetorical interpretation. This is our personal song we sing on the trumpet when we play. Each of our voices are different–and they should be. Our song is the meeting place of our phrasing, our interpretation, our experience and, of course, our tone. I learned a beautiful lesson about tone from a former colleague of mine, the great euphonium player named Roger Behrend. He said it helps him to think about tone in terms of color, texture and taste. So, for instance, if you are thinking about maroon, velvet and chocolate, you get an especially luxurious sound. Or, perhaps you’re thinking golden, rough and with the taste of jambalaya, like I do, when I hear [Louis Armstrong]...
How we play what we play.
Just starting with that idea is enough to put it into a framework. Miles Davis famously said:
You hear three notes and you know it's Herb Alpert.
While some argue about the possible meaning, there is enough circumstantial evidence to indicate this was not a condemnation of Alpert. Instead it is a way of saying that Herb knew (and still knows) what his song is. One could certainly say the same about Davis or Chet Baker or Louis Armstrong. In every performance, in every recording, you can, in one way or another, hear the underlying song of the musician.

No- that does not mean that all the songs they do sound alike. Far from it. It's the jambalaya Curtis mentions in Armstrong. It's the California Cool in Chet Baker. It's a life of daring and innovation driving Davis. It is a curious spirituality in Coltrane. It's how they play.

The song we sing on the trumpet when we play
The song is your story. The song, as you play it, tells who you are. Now, I don't want to make too much of this. It isn't all that evident in those of us who aren't full-time professionals. Or maybe it is. Think about your playing. Think about how you play. Most of us have our "style" regardless of the music. Pay attention to it. is it you? Have fun with it in your practice room. You will notice yourself being more consistent.

The meeting place of our
  • phrasing
  • interpretation
  • experience
  • tone
That's really the crux of it.

What about me? What is my song? How do I play what I play? I never thought of that until reading Curtis' post. But then again, I knew it in my intuitive self. It started- and continues today, 55 years later- with one song- "When the Saints Go Marching In". I can now play that in all 12 major keys! (Some keys way more slowly than others!) I have at least 50 various versions of the song in my iTunes library from Dixieland to Bluegrass to "classical." Closely related to it is "Amazing Grace." I have around 90 variations of that song. Throw in "Tijuana Taxi/Spanish Flea" for some color and you can hear my song. It's how I play what I play.

What I have is blues and jazz, American gospel,  a sense of gratitude and joy. I wrap that into everything I play. It is not a surprise that the only song I have a solo on in either big band is "Basin Street Blues." My favorite solo piece for concert band is the (for me) blues-driven "Song Without Words" from Holst's 2nd Military Suite. I can probably hear that in my style from time to time when playing a Bach chorale, Moravian hymn, or Gabrieli's "Canzon #2."

So what? Always an important question. What difference does it make if I know this or not?

Does my song change? Do I play a different song today than I did 55 years ago, or even 10 years ago? For me, no. But the song does find different interpretations, tone, phrasing- all based on the changing of my experiences. Remember, the "song" is the meeting place of all those things. It is how the story gets told.

It is yours!

Don't lose it- and don't let it stay locked up inside you.

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