Thursday, September 15, 2005

Things I learned at band practice

I realized three things at practice tonight. They weren't epiphanies or earth shattering discoveries. But they seemed a bit more significant to me than something I'd just call an observation. Sixteenth Notes When I joined the Maple Leaf Brass Band back in 1998, sixteenth notes freaked me out. I knew from my youth that I couldn't play them at any tempo. Now, I often can play them. Tonight when we hit this passage in Un Vie de Matelot (Theme and Variations for Brass Band by Robert Farnon) at an Allegro con spirito (120 beats per minute), I knew I had no chance, but I did what I've been doing lately when I hit something like this. I just blow and move my fingers doing my best to go up and down in pitch with the direction of the notes and end on the right note. In a practice the "If in doubt, leave out" rule doesn't apply. Here was my realization: "If I don't go for it, there's no chance I'll play it right. If I try, I might get it by accident." Unnecessary Accidentals In the 73rd bar of Un Vie de Matelot, this Farnon has given the second horn player an interesting set of accidentals. He's got five sharps in the key signature. He starts the bar with two F-sharps, then there's an F-natural so he has to use an accidental. Another F-natural, then an E-sharp. Okay, you non-music people won't know this probably, but F-natural and E-sharp are the same note. In another piece today, Frolic One by Michael C. Snelgrove. Four bars from the end, I've got what is enlarged here. I got yelled at: "Second horn, you missed your entry!" I couldn't figure out if I had B-double flat at the end of bar 71 or if it was a b-flat with some weird version of an 8th rest. "It's a b-double flat," said Dave. Stewart pointed out that if you count the beats you realize the quarter rest is dotted but the publisher has the dot on top of the first flat sign. A B-double flat is the same as an A-natural. I was playing in F-major where A is natural. So they could have written it that way and I'd have (maybe) made my entry and not been squinting at the music trying to figure it out. Now Lloyd Hiscock, who plays solo horn, likes to go on about how E-sharp and F-natural or B-double flat and A-natural might be the same note on the piano but in reality there is a subtle difference. (Lloyd also is a big believer in using an open fingering on the high E-natural when we're in C-major or flat key signatures, but a 1-2 fingering when we're in sharp key signatures.) Stewart Winter who plays first horn and is one super-hot sight-reader, likes to point out that the composer is using this apparently unnecessary accidental because it tells the player something about the chord the band is playing. There's a reason I play second horn, not solo or first. Here's what one of my favourite brass composers, Nigel Horne says writing second horn parts in How to Write for Brass Bands:

Unless the player is known to the composer/arranger, it is best to assume that the part is to be played by a weaker player and not include technically advanced writing.
It seems to me he was more blunt in an earlier version of this article, saying something like "the second horn will have trouble with anything more than half notes." All I can say is that I did meet Nigel Horne once, I wouldn't say I'm known to him, and he got it right. Second horn players cannot appreciate the subtleties of these unncecessary accidentals and get screwed up by them. What I realized tonight is: Unless I'm going to take the music and reprint it myself, I'm going to just have to deal with it and play what they've given me. At least when I have a rest, I usually play it right; Photo Credit: Paul GrossCornets on my right Last year and again this year, I temporarily lost the hearing in my right ear. It turns out I have some permanent loss at high frequencies in that ear. What I realized tonight is that always having cornet players on my right could have something to do with this. Maybe in a few years I'll switch to baritone so I'm further away from them. {Apologies to people who were expecting a piece on Partnerships, maybe on the weekend future-Dave will feel inspired where present-Dave doesn't.}

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