Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thoughts of a Beginning "Brassist"

Today, I worked with a colleague to hone my technique on brass instruments, in particular the trumpet and trombone.  The embouchure is both my friend and my enemy at this point; I need to form my lips so that my breath can simply blow air through the opening and directly into the mouthpiece to make a beautiful clear, ringing sound out of the bell of the instrument.  I cannot form the embouchure consistently, and my lips simply do not want to maintain a flexing in the corners of my mouth to allow for a tighter embouchure with a faster flow of air as well as a faster vibration in the lips.  I want it to be intuitive, like my voice when I sing, simply being able to ascend through my passagio into my head voice and not have to think so hard about maintaining the coordination from my diaphragm and intercostal muscles, up through to my larynx, pharynx and articulators.  All of this needs to happen for me intuitively on the mouthpiece before I can even consider playing the partials on the actual instrument.  I want a consistent sound, and if my embouchure and air supply is insufficient, then my sound will simply be splatty, out of tune and not even hitting the notes period.

Thankfully, it is only my first semester, and my colleague has much more experience than I, so there is not much to worry about with where I'm at.  However, I want to improve, and I want to see results quite rapidly.  My impatience will be my driving factor, because I like to complete something and get to a point where I'm satisfied with the results before leaving it alone.  This will take time to learn, obviously, as would any new skill.  This is for a methods class, in which I'm learning to teach various instrument techniques for band and orchestra students from 4th grade through high school.  I want to be as versatile and helpful of a music teacher as I can be.  Yes, my emphasis is in vocal music, however I find it hard to believe that a music teacher can merely be a vocal teacher and never have to worry about teaching a band class, or conducting an orchestra in addition to a choir.  This seems to be part of the job description, especially when schools are usually expecting a music teacher to cover many facets of the music curriculum, with very slim staffing.

I know I need to take it one step at a time, and I envy those who have had the opportunities in their school careers or elsewhere, to learn to play an instrument long term.  My experience with violin for a couple of years in 4th and 5th grade, and then guitar in my freshman year of college, and piano since I was very little, has only gotten me so far.  I tend to shy away from any sight reading unless it's monophonic - only one note at a time, such as in singing.  My strength is in my acute aural perception of melodies, harmonies, and rhythms.  Notes on a page freak me out.  I can proper analyze an entire score with the cadences, harmonic progressions, meters, modes, transpositions, modulations, etc., but this requires quite some effort to actually throw myself into wanting to think through all of the musical aspects that I'm seeing on the page.  I've been trained for this, and I understand it, and its somewhat enjoyable in its similarity to a set of mathematical or logical proofs, but it's still annoying that it takes so much effort, so I'd rather just leave the visual aspect of it alone and listen to things, to get a sense for how things sound, internalizing it along the way.

I'm hoping this doesn't affect my teaching career too much; I know I will be a step behind any colleagues of mine because of this lack of sight reading and analysis fluency.  We shall see.  Meanwhile I will take things a step at a time, and continue seeking out opportunities to enrich my love of music, and see where I end up.  After all, I should always be a student so that I can continue to increase my capacity as an educator.

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