Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Importance of Sight Reading

I have been thinking all week about some of the things that I discussed at my master class on Monday. It’s interesting how you can be thinking about an idea and then it will present itself so clearly out in the “real world.” Working on Schumann’s First Symphony this week has given me a multitude of examples to draw on.

For many of my colleagues, our first major professional opportunity came at a moment’s notice. Someone has an emergency situation come up and a last minute substitute is needed to fill in for them. What if I got sick and someone had to come in and play the bass trombone part for the Schumann? Now, a lot of people would know the Third or Fourth Symphonies. But, this piece is not performed that much. Certainly, no one learns it for auditions. Well, the bass trombone part to the First Symphony is very active and exposed. It could be a little unsettling for someone to come in and have to read it on a concert without any rehearsals.

The most basic thing that I will tell a student when we work on sight reading is to believe what you see on the page. (Kalmus editions, not withstanding…ha, ha) You have to learn to trust yourself to be a good reader. This is such a little thing, but there are many times in the first movement when the bass trombone will have an eighth note pickup before the alto and tenor trombones enter. This can cause you to be hesitant and to think things like...did I come in too that a misprint, etc.? One little moment of hesitation can be very noticeable to your colleagues. I can’t stress enough that the most important job of a substitute is to not make the people you are working with worry. If you are hesitating or playing in holes, you will make people worry.

Another important thing is to acclimate yourself to the style of the piece. A bass trombonist should approach a Schumann symphony like Schubert or Mendelssohn. Most of the time, you are playing in unison and octaves with the bassoons, cellos, and basses. The bass trombone is the leading voice at these times, but you can’t play with the same kind of sound that you would use for Mahler or Wagner. This might seem obvious…but a lot of bass trombonists will come in and be too aggressive. This is a sure-fire way of not being called back. Now, I am not telling you that you can never play loud. You just need to be aware of how the rest of the section is playing and try and match them. Getting the right color for the piece is of prime importance.

Specific examples:

In the first movement there is a nice little “solo” starting at measure 271. This is an excellent opportunity to show that you listened to the woodwinds preceding you. Match how they played it!

The second movement has a very beautiful trombone chorale near the end. Listen to the principal and don’t play too soft. You want your principal to be able to hear you and be comfortable on top.

Alto and tenor trombones are tacet in the third movement. It’s just you! You need to match the trumpet and horns, as well as the bass instruments.

There are a lot of nice parts in the last movement, but it ends with a “Brahm’s One” type arpeggio melody. Just like in Brahms, you can play this very strong…but with your most beautiful sound.

The most important thing to do is to remember to have fun. This might be kind of hard while you are freaking out over not playing in the holes, not playing too loud, etc. But if you are a good reader, any unfamiliar piece of a similar difficulty level should not be out of your grasp.

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