March 24, 2012
Ira Taxin: on his Fanfare for Brass Quintet
Ira Taxin, composer and chair of the composition department at Juilliard Pre-College visited my brass quintet coaching today at Juilliard. The quintet was preparing for a performance of his Fanfare for Brass Quintet.
This Fanfare is a challenging and fun 30 second piece for brass- packed full of complex rhythms, with low notes and high notes for everyone. It’s takes a bit of work to pull this piece off well!
Here are some things we learned during his visit.
- Composed for the Empire Brass Quintet
- Mr. Taxin went to school in Boston with Rolf Smedvig, hence the connection with the EBQ.
- Composed around the time of the United States Bicentennial (1976), and is in the same vein as many of the other pieces which were commissioned in the United States at the time: flashy, celebratory, patriotic.
- Taxin’s brass writing was influenced by the music of Varese.
- Attacks should be crisp, especially accents and forte-piano sections, with big swells in dynamics from soft to loud.
- The crazy horn/trombone duet in the middle of the piece should definably sound wild, dramatic, and very loud. It is in the middle of the piece, and the most musical tension should be built up here.
- Mr. Taxin loves the sound of tuba in quintet, and the low brass octaves should be full and thick, especially near the end of the piece.
- Much of the music is centered around the contrast/conflict between the two conflicting groups- the two trumpet parts and the three low brass parts.
It’s not often you get to spend time with the composer of a well known piece, so it was a special treat to be able to speak with Mr. Taxin about his music. Hopefully he enjoys the performance later today at the chamber music recital!
March 12, 2012
Brass at Juilliard Pre-College Video
This video gives a quick overview of the brass program at Juilliard Pre-College.
If you’re interested in attending, there is an opening for 1 tuba in the Juilliard Pre-College Program for the 2012-13 school year. There are also a few openings for trombone and bass trombone. Feel free to contact me if you’d like any additional info.
This is a Saturday program in New York City, at Juilliard. It is a great opportunity to play and learn alongside a fantastic group of student musicians.
In addition to lessons and music classes like theory and ear-training, tuba students perform in one of the two orchestras, in brass quintets, and “Brass Classes” (each focusing on a different topic, and hosted by members of our brass faculty.) The orchestras sound awesome, and are always playing great repertoire. Our students do a lot of playing, work hard, and have a lot of fun every week.
Julliard Pre-College Brass Faculty
Ray Mase, trumpet
David Krauss, trumpet
James Hamlin, trumpet
Javier Gandara, horn
Brad Gemeinhardt, horn
Demian Austin, trombone
Tim Albright, trombone
Andrew Bove, tuba
Application deadline is march 1; if you’re reading this too late and still want to apply, please contact me or the Pre-College office. Auditions are in May. Tuba Audition Rep: Scales, and three contrasting pieces showing your musical and technical ability, such as movements from a standard sonata, concerto and/or études.
Financial aid is definitely available for low brass.
February 20, 2012
Die Walkure, Act. III “The Ride”
Juilliard Pre-College Low Brass Class notes from Sat, Feb 18th
Die Walkure, Act. III “The Ride”
This week’s Low Brass Class at Juilliard Pre-College focused on playing the Ride, discussing both audition preparation and performance as the low brass section of an orchestra.
We had two teachers there today, Demian Austin and myself (Tim Albright was sick this week.)
Everyone had the opportunity to play their part in front of the class, and received a 5min “mini-lesson” to identify critical things they should work on. This excerpt presents similar challenges to everyone, so watching and listening to their colleagues was a great learning experience for everyone, and great for practicing critical listening. After each trombone and tuba student had an opportunity to play in front of the group, we rehearsed the excerpt as a section with Demian playing first trombone. After working on balance, time, phrasing, and sound, the group was sounding great! After this, everyone briefly played their part again so we could check out the progress. It was great to hear everyone get so much better in just a one hour class!
Things we discussed:
- This music sounds more exciting and interesting at the actual opera tempo of 104-112. This tempo is also better for making 4 bar phrases without extra breaths (on trombone). When performed in a symphonic setting, this piece is often played slower. And in auditions, it can get even crawl to a snail’s pace . Keep it moving!
- Stay relaxed while playing and don’t try to muscle it. You’ll make a better sound, and won’t risk missing notes.
- Accent the first beat of each measure.
- Sustain the last two beats of measure.
- Make sure last two beats of the measure are in time. To help with this, Subdivide eighth notes or hear the french horn parts in your head.
- First two notes are super important to get you started well, so spend time practicing them alone.
- First two measures are very important, once you get them going, the rest of the excerpt practically plays itself!
- To fine tune your pitch, play the intervals while listening to a B drone from a tuner.
- Make sure the short notes “pop” clearly.
- The first trombone and second trombone parts are a little different (octave switches), make sure you’re familiar with both.
- Fourth trombone has a few notes left out towards the end, so bass trombonists will want to also learn the third part.
We hold low brass class about four times per year. Next class, we’ll be working on Berlioz’ Hungarian March.
January 26, 2012
CD Packaging Text Checklist
When you self release a CD, putting together the packaging can be a big job. Especially if it is the first CD you’ve released!
Packaging is important- nicely crafted packaging, with informative and comprehensive text, will go a long way towards presenting your CD project in the best light possible.
Get a head start by collecting all your info, text, photographs, and artwork as early in the process as possible. Start your text document even as you are just planning your recording sessions. It always takes longer than you think. By the time your final master is ready for replication, you want to be all ready to go to print. (If you start from scratch, you can easily spend weeks getting packing together!)
To help make the design process easier and more organized, I have assembled a checklist of text information you may want to include in your packaging. You may not need or want to include all of these things, but this list should help you get started. If you think of anything else I should include, please leave a comment!
[box_info]CD Packaging Text Checklist[/box_info]
Tracks (with correct copyright notices, especially for covers)
Performers (For musicians signed to a label: “Courtesy Of” their label)
Recycled material notice
Program Notes Author
December 30, 2011
Recording the Manhattan Brass playing Paquito D’Rivera and Wynton Marsalis
The recording sessions took place in April 2009, at the Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village of NYC.
Both of the pieces were commissioned by the Manhattan Brass, and are incredible contributions to the brass quintet literature. It’s not often that composers (and huge stars!) of Marsalis and d’Rivera’s stature write for brass, and I speak for brass players everywhere when I say “Thanks!” to the MBQ for getting some great new music into the world.
If you’d like to take a listen to these awesome performances, I’ve included links to Amazon.com and iTunes where you can buy CDs and downloads.
Manhattan Brass “New York Now” – on Amazon
Manhattan Brass “New York Now” – on iTunes
I worked with them to record just these two pieces. This was a project they had worked on for some time, and the other pieces on the CD were recorded at a different time and location, with a different engineer.
Although you can see many microphones set up around the group, the sound you hear on the album is simply from the main stereo pair of microphones. These two microphones are a matched pair of Schoeps CMC6 MK21. We experimented with a number of different mixes and found that with the group playing so well, and on that day in that room- simpler was better.
December 26, 2011
Audition Recording Tips
I recently gave a presentation to the Juilliard PreCollege brass department about recording; covering basics about sound and the equipment used, as well as important things for our students to keep in mind while making audition recordings (“audition tapes”).
Later, I sat down with Rebecca Braun, the Juilliard Pre-College’s Performance Activities Coordinator, and author of the PreCollege Newsletter, to answer some questions for the Newsletter related to making an audition recording. She wanted to share some of the information I had taught the brass class with the whole student body.
Discuss the importance of having a good recording:
For an audition recording, it’s important for it to sound as real as possible so that the adjudicator gets to hear the real you. If it sounds odd or if there is a technical issue, they won’t be able to properly assess your abilities. An audition committee is not going to try to imagine how good you are—they need to hear it.
What kind of recording equipment would you recommend for students who are making their own audition recording?
Firstly, I would encourage students to make their own recordings, rather than hire someone to help them. If you regularly record your practice sessions, rehearsals, and concerts, making recordings will quickly become second nature. The lessons you can learn as a musician by recording yourself are incredibly valuable and your listening and analytical skills will increase immeasurably through this process. That said, I’d recommend a portable recorder that records onto solid state media—either an internal hard drive or flash memory. This is so that you can easily transfer the files to your computer. Even the simplest recorder will work pretty well. Although if you’re interested in learning how these things work, you can get a higher quality sound with a more advanced unit and a higher quality external microphone.
Can you tell us about a few options?
With audio equipment, try to avoid “gimmicky” sounding products. The best equipment is simple, durable, well designed, and gets the job done. Purchasing used equipment (especially microphones) is a great way to save money. Professional microphones will retain their value for years. A good microphone is like a good musical instrument—you’ll be able to use it for many years, repair it if it breaks or needs a tune-up, and even sell it someday if you don’t need it anymore. You may even make a profit. Digital recorders and computers are not as good of an investment. Put your money into microphones, not recorders.
There are so many recorders and microphones on the market, it is difficult to specifically recommend any in particular. I’ve listed a few products to consider with a variety of price ranges and capabilities.
Recorders you might consider:
$90—Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder
This recorder is cheap and easy to use. An inexpensive choice to get started recording. Easy to operate. If you have one, keep it in your case all the time and use it when you practice!
$300—Zoom H4n Handy Portable Digital Recorder
There are many “mid-range” audio recorders. Most, like this one, provide inputs for connection of external microphones via XLR connectors. You’ll want a recorder with microphone inputs if you think you’ll upgrade to a pro microphone sometime in the future.
$1900—Sound Devices 702 Digital Audio Recorder
This is the most basic model of Sound Devices’ line of professional audio recorders. These rugged recorders are a standard in mobile recording, and have as good of a sound quality as you would find in a stand alone audio recorder.
Microphones you might consider:
$70—Giant Squid Audio Lab—Omnidirectional Stereo Microphone
This is a nice and inexpensive microphone that will provide an upgrade to the “built in” microphones on recorders.
$400—Shure KSM 141/SL Dual-pattern End-Address Condenser Microphone
You’ll need two to record in stereo, but great audition recordings can be made in mono!
$900—Sennheiser MD 441-U dynamic super-cardioid Microphone
This is one of the finest “dynamic” microphones available. Dynamic microphones do not require phantom power, so they will not drain the batteries of the recorder. Useful to use with recorders that don’t have enough phantom power to properly power a high end condenser
microphone. You’ll need two to record in stereo.
$1200—Sennheiser MKH-8040 Compact Cardioid Condenser Microphone
This microphone has accurate sound quality, and is excellent for classical music. You’ll need two to record in stereo.
Can you discuss the importance of choosing a recording location?
It’s important to find a good place to record, and there are a lot of variables to consider. While the sound of the room will have a big impact on the quality of your recording, you want to make sure you have access to a place where you can concentrate and play well. Try to find a place without distracting outside noise leaking in. The quality of the room often has a bigger impact on the sound than even the recorder or microphone you use, so test it out before you commit.
If you are recording an audition tape, you might find you have to sacrifice the sound quality of the room, for a room that’s convenient and conducive to concentrating and playing well. That’s a reasonable sacrifice. Your regular practice space may even be the best place to make your recordings. Make sure you have time available to do enough takes to sound your best. Great audition tapes take time, and the best ones are not made in one night.
Do you have a checklist of things you do, before you start recording?
First, you need to find a good microphone position. Every instrument has different sonic characteristics and you’ll want to find a place to put your microphone that sounds best for your instrument. Plan to spend a good amount of time doing this, perhaps experimenting during your practice sessions, so that when it’s time to make an important recording, you have experience and are ready to go. When choosing a microphone position, you should listen to the ratio between the direct sound (sound of just the instrument) and the reverberant sound of the room. The best recordings have a nice balance between direct and reflected (reverb or echo from the room) sound.
After you find a great position for your microphone, you need to check the levels and adjust the gain on your recording device. Sometimes there is an automatic gain adjustment which we want to disable, because this feature is designed for lecture recording and destroys dynamics. It’s important to leave dynamic head room on your recording, because if you record it too loud you can’t recover from it. If you see the level meter touching the top of the scale, turn it down. If you record a little bit softer, you can simply make it a little louder in your computer afterwards. To set this correctly, check the levels of the loudest part of your piece. If you set your levels conservatively, you won’t have to worry.
Is it helpful to have someone monitor the recording device while the student is playing or singing?
It can be helpful to have someone operate the recording device while you are playing or singing, but you should be recording your practice sessions daily and be very comfortable doing it all yourself. It’s not hard! One important thing another person can help with is keeping notes of each take. When you record, “slate” each take by saying out loud your take number and the name of the work or excerpt you are playing. This will help you a lot when you go through your takes later! When you have a lot of audio files on your computer, you will realize how important it is to have notes on take numbers, names of works and any helpful details about your playing. You can do this yourself or have someone help out.
You may want to have someone along who knows your playing well, such as a teacher or friend. They can help coach you through your session so you focus on the things you need to improve.
What are other resources for recording a cd or dvd?
The website below, put together by DPA Microphones, covers many of the basics of microphone placement.
Below are two very informative books you can read if you really want to learn more about recording. They are both very detailed, but contain a wealth of useful information about recording and digital audio.
About microphones and recording techniques:
The Microphone Book by John Eargle
Eargle’s The Microphone Book, Second Edition: From Mono to Stereo to Surround – A Guide to Microphone Design and Application
About Digital Audio:
Mastering Audio by Bob Katz
Mastering Audio, Second Edition: The art and the science
Are there recording studios you could recommend if students want a professional recording?
Some competitions or demo recordings are so important that you might want to hire a professional to help you make the finest recording possible. For a professionally made classical recording, the best engineers “remote-record” in various concert halls. “Location recording” is how professional classical CDs are made. I would not recommend going to a studio designed for pop music, as the acoustic requirements for making a classical recording are different than a typical pop recording. Find an experienced classical music recording engineer. The Juilliard Recording Studio can also be helpful and convenient, and is experienced in producing audition recordings for Juilliard students.
Do you recommend any computer software for transferring the recording onto a CD?
Any DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software will work well for making an audition recording. If you have an Apple computer, Garage Band works great. If you have a PC, there’s a free open source program you can use called Audacity. For more advanced features, there’s an inexpensive but high powered program called Reaper that would be interesting for someone who wants to experiment with more complex recording projects.
After you have had your recording session, transfer the files from your recorder onto your computer and keep them organized in a folder. Listen to all of your takes and choose your favorites. Use the DAW software to neatly trim the beginnings and ends of each audio file, and raise the output level of all the tracks so that the loudest section is just below –O db on the master output. Once you determine how much to raise the level of your loudest track, raise all of the tracks the same amount. This way, your music will be as loud as possible, without going “over” and causing digital clipping. Once you have the levels set, you can export your files and burn them to a CD. Make sure you keep your audio files organized as you may find yourself using them for future audition recordings. It’s also important to back them up!
Is there any additional advice you would offer to students who are making their own recording?
If you are making your own recording, you should attempt to make a “final” recording weeks before you actually need it. Then you can listen to it, find everything wrong with it, and still have plenty of time to do anything over again. The very finest audition tapes are only completed after a lot of great listening, problem solving, and practicing. The long term process of making a recording and critically analyzing your own playing will make you a better musician. Have fun and hear yourself improve over time! You’ll have the recordings to prove it.
Interview by Rebecca Braun, reprinted from the “Pre-C Post”, Vol 1 Issue 2, November 2011.
August 21, 2011
Recording Manhattan Ramble with Mike Boschen
Bove Audio Recording Session Notes
I followed Mike around Manhattan for two and a half hot summer days to make this recording. We wanted to record trombone improvisations at a wide variety of NYC locations. Mike would be accompanied only by the sounds of the city, and would improvise while inspired by the sounds of his environment at each location. Many of the spots had significance to Mike. Some of them we included because we just thought they would sound cool. All the spots were outside; some secluded, some crowded, some popular, some unknown, but all very “New York”.
Mike’s Description of the Album:
Over the course of a few beautiful days in August 2008, I visited several places in Manhattan that are special to me. From 7 am until 3:45 am I improvised something in each place that was influenced by whatever was happening at that moment. I meditated with cicadas and played fanfares to unsuspecting tourists. I played along with buses, helicopters, jets, dogs, a street cleaner, and my own echoes. I sang the sun to sleep and made music with and over the Hudson River. I grooved with the cacophony that is Times Square, and ended the experience with an exhausted subway ride. My good friend, engineer, and producer Andy Bove joined me to distill over 6 hours of songs, sounds, and noises into one 74 minute sonic illustration of a summer day in Manhattan. I offer it to you with pleasure.
The challenge in doing this recording was to record at a very high quality level, capture the environmental sounds, and capture Mike’s beautiful sound; all while staying portable, easy to set up, and running only off battery power. Many of our setups and locations were so different acoustically, we also had to have the ability to mix it back home. While preserving the sonic uniqueness of each location, I had to make some kind of cohesive record out of all these tracks. I used three microphones and two linked Sound Devices 722 recorders to record three tracks – one spot microphone for Mike and a “main” stereo pair.
It was really interesting for me to watch the people walk by. There was very little trouble, and most people just ignored Mike and I. There were a few weird looks at times, but as you can see, the setup was fairly low profile. In Times Square, a few European girls took their photos in front of him. One tiny dog at the 72nd st boat basin was pretty excited at seeing a trombone, but there was one old lady who showed up at the Belvedere Castle and got the award for most disruptive audience member. She yelled at me, mostly. We were recording track 4 at the time. The area of Central Park around the castle is not a “quiet zone”, and open to all acoustic music, but we packed up and moved on.
We made a bunch of nice pit-stops on our journey around the city. Some expert planning on our part enabled our walk to pass right by Grom for some gelato,and made multiple trips to various Le Pain Quotidien‘s for cookies and brownies. Late one evening, we even found a bar nice enough to let us sit near an electrical outlet- me charging my collection of batteries while Mike charged his own batteries with a pint of something dark and tasty.
There are audio samples on the Manhattan Ramble CDBaby and Amazon page, but it’s totally weird to just hear snippets of these pieces. If you think you’d be into it, I’d recommend picking up a copy. This is a recording to sit and listen to all at once. Go on a 75 min journey with Mike.
Here’s a nice review from CD Baby reviewer mick:
“Astounding. Many years ago, my sister found an audio recording on Folkways records called “Songs of My City.” I think it was recorded in the 40s. A man walked around NYC with a tape recorder and described what he was recording: snow on 57th street…. I can’t remember what all of the things were— but it’s a beautiful audio valentine to New York as it was then. [pullquote_left] this is a CD that will lengthen your attention span. [/pullquote_left]This CD is that: natural recordings of moments in NYC, but with unbelievably beautiful trombone solos…or sketches…or sighs… or dances…. on it and around it and with it. It is a duet- of NYC and this beautiful trombone player. Astounding art does so many things that you can’t describe what it does so it’s a little hard for me to review this accurately. But let’s just say that this is one of the most beautiful records I own. It never gets tired for me. It is as beautiful as wind or as natural sounds- it has so much sensitivity to it… so much character… it is so tuned in… see? I’m ruining it by trying to describe it. People have short attention spans these days—- this is a CD that will lengthen your attention span. I’ve stopped listening to CDs but I listen to this. This CD transports me, makes me cry, makes me happy, makes me feel things I can’t explain or express. There are no words to explain how beautiful this is. But that’s why there’s music.”
August 19, 2011
Recording David Sampson’s Breakaway With Ray Mase and Kevin Cobb
Bove Audio Recording Session Notes
Ray Mase and Kevin Cobb, trumpets
David Sampson: Breakaway for Two Trumpets and Electronics
This challenging piece for two trumpets is performed along with a recording of a pre-recorded synthesizer.
The goal of this session was to produce a recording of the piece that musicians new to the piece could play along with- on either trumpet part. So, in addition to making an awesome recording of the compete piece (which is pretty easy to do with great players such as these), our challenge was that we wanted to be able to remove either of the parts and listen to each trumpet part independently. This took some extra planing and a lot of extra work.
In the end, we have three complete recordings. One is a full version of the complete piece (which will be released on an upcoming album), as well as recordings of each of the trumpet parts with electronics so you can play along with either part separately.
One good way to do this, and the way we used, is to overdub each instrument separately using the previous player’s performance as a reference along with the synth track while recording. Unfortunately, you can’t just have them record their parts along with the pre-recorded track or a click, and expect it to work out. With chamber music such as this, the interplay, balance, and subtle relationships between parts is essential.
It also should be noted that this is no easy piece to play. There are complex rhythms all over the place, and many passages require pinpoint accuracy to pull off the compound relationships between the parts.
What we did first was to soundcheck and position both players and all the microphones in the hall until we were happy with the group sound. We were shooting for a spacious, yet present trumpet tone- a sound that would balance the powerful electronic sounds of the accompaniment. A successful overdubbed recording needs to maintain the spacial cues of the players in the space. These auditory cues are what make good acoustic recordings sound “real” to your brain. It is important to get this right. A project such as this also requires very low noise microphones, because the final mix is going to contain each microphone twice (at full volume).
That soundcheck was the last time they would play together.
Next, we decided which trumpet part was most important for each large section of the piece, and recorded that one first. After this, the next player would listen to what was previously recorded while laying down the next part, matching pitch, rhythm, and sound. Not only did they have to match the synthesizer part, they had to precisely match the other person’s interpretation. It is hard enough to play this well when you have someone right next to you, but they actually had to “mind read” someone who was no longer in the room.
We went back and forth, working on interpretation and balance, figuring out which parts should “lead” each section and crafting a musical and emotional interpretation of the piece that was exactly the way they would do it if they were live in concert. Luckily, these two players perform together full time in the American Brass Quintet, are very comfortable playing together, and were impeccably prepared for our session. When one player was recording, the other sat with me and listened to his colleague on stage performing. We would keep notes together and actually did a lot of editing/mixing right then, in order to get the two performances exactly matched.
During post production, I essentially had two complete recording session projects to mix together, one with a trumpet sitting on the left and one on the right. I layered the two projects on top of each other and mixed it together. After editing and mixing, the end result sounds like two people performing in a room together.
This type of overdub recording is frequently done on film soundtrack sessions. An engineer may want to record percussion, for example, separate from the rest of the orchestra. It gives complete isolation without requiring small isolation booths, and helps provide more flexibility when mixing big or unusual sounds. This is definitely not a typical classical chamber music recording technique.
The project was challenging, fun, and filled with some awesome trumpet playing.
Recording available from David Sampson, with purchase of the sheet music. Email David to pick up your copy.