Got three performances in the next few months. May not seem like a lot, but I’m happy with it. Plus, they made lead to more.

Rational Exuberance, my short curtain-raiser for orchestra, will be performed in Kirtland, OH and Ft. Myers, FL this spring, and my setting of Psalm 120 (KJV) for soprano and euphonium will be performed soon at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC. As you might imagine, this makes me very happy.

If anyone is looking for new music, let me know. If not from me, I know a few composers who may be more to your liking.

WF

I miss it.

I used to play, sing, conduct, compose just about every day.

I miss it.

I used to be really good at some of those things. At one point, I was a good enough player to be principal euphonium in the Kentucky All-Collegiate Band and back up acts like the Temptations, Melissa Manchester and Aaron Neville. In the past year I wrote about 50 minutes of new music, 35 of which got performed. I’ve conducted bands, choirs, orchestras and pit orchestras. I even got to conduct William Warfield once, though that was more along the lines of “You do what ever you want, Dr. Warfield, I’ll make sure we follow.” I tell you all this not to toot my own horn, but rather to give you some sense about what has been missing.

I miss it.

I’m going to say something bold here: It may have been a mistake on my part to pursue the PhD in theory. This is not to say that I shouldn’t have done it, but I shouldn’t have done it in the way that I did. I got away from music-making while working on it, and consequently, my analyses, while thorough and solid, were often amusical. The music that I studied deserves better. I stopped being a good musician during the process, and my work suffered because of it.

So…what does this mean?

There are some changes coming up in my life, and I hope for the better. I am going to take advantage of these changes (and I’m letting you all know this in the hopes that the hive mind will help me keep to them) and get good again. Get the horn on the face. Dig out the Hanon exercises and a metronome. Write something as often as I can. Learn the literature and take those lessons with a big-shot conductor. Write analytical and theoretical papers that resonate with actual music-making.

It won’t be easy, but it needs to be done. I need to get good again. I need to let music – this wonderful, wonderful discipline – work its magic on me again. Those musicians who got me to this point deserve no less. I deserve no less. MUSIC deserves no less.

Who’s with me?

WF

What makes a good tone?

This is arguably the hardest and most personal question of all. There are some generic, catch-all answers (warm, round, focused sound), but when it comes to varying degrees of brightness/darkness of sound, well, put two euphoniumists in a room and you’ll get three answers.

I play with a darker sound, one more suited for ensemble playing. The challenge that those of us with a darker sound face is keeping the sound focused. When you darken the sound, there’s a certain amount of fuzz that is created in the sound. A nice dark sound still keeps a strong, easily-definable center to the sound. To contrast, my college teacher (the legendary and still amazing Earle Louder) had a comparatively bright sound, better for solo work.* Both viewpoints are valid, to be sure, but I have found that I personally control a darker sound better and have an easier time with intonation and articulation.

Whatever you do in creating your own personal tone, it’s important to develop a good base for the tone. Keep a nice open oral cavity so that you can pump tons of air into the horn. Keep those corners firm but never tense. Get good warm air from the bottom of your lungs. Stay relaxed.

How do you handle issues of tone?

*which is not to say that Doc Louder doesn’t sound good in an ensemble. He does. Oh man, does he ever.

WF

A friend of mine is giving a faculty euphonium recital tonight over in western North Carolina (it started about 34 minutes ago; a bit too far to drive, unfortunately). I don’t know what the line-up is, but it’s a joint recital with a tubist.

This got me to thinking: What pieces should be on junior/senior recitals? What about graduate-level recitals?

I’ve been out of the loop for a while, but I think every euphoniumist should have a crack at the following ten pieces at some point during their undergrad career. (I can’t say that I have, to be honest, but I’ve tried to get as many as I can.) These are in no particular order. There are original works and there are transcriptions.

1. W. A. Mozart, Concerto, K. 191 (originally for bassoon)
2. Simone Mantia, All Those Endearing Young Charms
3. Donald White, Lyric Suite
4. Jim Curnow, Concerto
5. G. P. Telemann, Sonata in F minor (originally for bassoon)
6. J. Ed. Barat, Andante et Allegro (originally for trombone)
7. R. Schumann (arr. Paul Droste), Five Pieces in Folk Style (originally for cello)
8. Ponchielli, Concerto per Flicorno Basso
9. Fred Clinard, Suite for Unaccompanied Euphonium
10. J. S. Bach, Six Suites (originally for cello)

What do you think? It’s by no means exhaustive, and I’d like to get some other opinions.

Next week: Excerpts!

WF

To compensate or not to compensate? That is the question.

Like all brass instruments, the tuba and euphonium have an issue with their lowest notes. Any three-valve B-flat non-transposing instrument will hit its lowest non-pedal note on E (all three valves pushed down). Players and composers wanted extra range, so a fourth valve was added. This valve opens a length of tubing equal to the first and third valve tubes combined. Trombonists have something similar – the F attachment, which is equivalent to putting the slide in sixth position. It’s almost an octave-down key, thanks to the vagaries of the overtone system. For example, E-flat 3 is first valve, and E-flat 2 (one octave lower) is valves 1 and 4.

The problem is that the lower the pitch, the longer the tubing needs to be. At a certain point, notes on the tuba and euphonium are so low that the tubing isn’t long enough. At about D2, you have to finger the note one half-step down from the corresponding fingering up an octave to compensate for the tubing issues. For example, B2 on a euphonium is valves 1, 2 and 3, but pushing 1, 2, 3 and 4 down on a euphonium will generate C2 instead of B1. This means that, in its lowest octaves, the instrument isn’t fully chromatic.

The solution was to create what’s called a compensating system for the horn. In this, whenever the fourth valve is pushed, the airflow is not only redirected through the fourth valve tubing but also through smaller bits of tubing that add the required length to compensate for the half-step issue. This makes the horn fully chromatic over the entire range – but it also adds weight to the horn. Not a lot of weight, but noticeable. The extra metal can also affect the sound somewhat, though a good player can adapt.

Not everyone likes compensating horns, especially if they rarely use the lower register in their playing. Players out there – what is your opinion?

WF

In an update, I worked up the music I mentioned in the last Tuba-Euphonium Tuesday post, and it went pretty well. Haven’t had much of a chance to pick up the horn since then, though, so we’re kind of back in stasis. (Things are happening right now which I am not at liberty to discuss yet. Good things, to be sure, but I must remain a little cryptic.)

So, for today’s installment I shall throw it open to the peanut gallery: What method books do you recommend for advanced high school/college students?

WF