01 January 2007

More On (moron?) Orchestral Excerpts

Event #1: I had a conversation with another musician several months ago where he said that too many players and teachers use orchestral excerpts to learn to play the instruments rather than learning the instruments in order to play the excerpts. Event #2: I had a student of mine order the newfangled Bordogni for Tuba thing from Encore; in the preface, it said something to the effect of: these etudes should be used strictly for developing musicality and not at all for developing technique.

Can you say chicken and egg? Technique does not grow on trees (and even if it did, by now some multi-national corporation would have seen to the overthrow of a third-world government to get their hands on it and be selling it for megabucks, which most certainly do not grow on trees either...but I digress). The first of these two points is well-taken: no tubist is going to be able to approach the Ride or Fountains without some serious shedding of less difficult material. On the other hand (and I'm speaking from personal experience in making this next point), there's no shame in using the excerpts to shore up deficiencies in an advanced player. I've always been a high range specialist with a weak low range; loud low excerpts are my achilles heel, and there doesn't seem to be any way for me to address this concern without just jumping in to the actual music itself. On the third hand, my interlocutor makes an important point: this most certainly did NOT work when I as a much weaker player overall (four years ago or so) made my first serious pass at these things. Now that I'm older, wiser, and more proficient, things are coming together in a more promising fashion (relatively speaking, of course).

As for the Bordogni thing, I'm floored by that comment. What better tool to use for working on breath control, slurring, extreme registers, and even ear training? Where and by what means are students to hone these skills if not with Bordogni and similar works? This brings me to the issue that trumps all of these previous arguments, a realization which I was close to making independently but eventually heard made by several leading brass teachers both in person and in print. It is crucial to (a) use "real music" as much as possible in your practice, and (b) play everything musically and with artistic intent whether it is "real music" (excerpts, solos, improv, etc.) or not (scales, arpeggios, tonguing exercises, etc.). If you follow that advice, you'll be in good shape more often than not because, if nothing else, you will continue to enjoy playing longer and avoid burning out.

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