October 31st, 2007 § Comments Off § permalink
Brahms has been occupying my thoughts recently as I try to wrestle his Eb Major Sonata, originally for clarinet (or viola) and piano, into form for my first solo CD.
Preparing this music can have a very humbling effect as I try to get it to sound as clearly and beautifully as it was written. I am constantly amazed at the level of refinement and note shape control that this music demands; the kinds of things that come so easily on the clarinet, which are littered throughout this piece, have a way of making the well-meaning trumpet player sound like a total ass. Sometimes I feel like I am walking on egg shells as I try to keep my “softs” soft enough and my “louds” refined enough.
In trying to feel as at home as possible with this repertoire, I have been reading correspondence between Clara Schumann and Brahms. The letters I have read thus far are moving and insightful, but one little line that I read yesterday really opened my mind and gave at least some validity to my idea of transcribing some of the most sacred chamber music repertoire on the planet for trumpet and piano.
This letter, written by Brahms to Clara in late October of 1854 (just think, a mere 153 years ago!) concludes with the following paragraphs:
How long I have waited for news of you, and with what anxiety!
Could you not telegraph me a little greeting every morning? I should be electrified for the whole day, and how beautifully I should play. I will not tolerate being without you any longer.
Why did you not allow me to learn the flute so that I could have accompanied you on your journeys?
And then the line that caught my eye, reduced my guilt over tinkering with the sacred, and opened up my imagination for how I could play this piece:
Then I should have arranged the andante of the Sonata in F minor for flute, guitar, and timpani, and I should have made it a serenade.
Timpani?! I do not think I would have ever had the courage to re-arrange a Brahms Sonata for timpani and any other instrument, but clearly Brahms himself had no such scruples. It is worth remembering, when preparing music by musical masters, that they themselves may be much more risqué and flexible about their own music than we would ever expect them to be, and that perhaps the limits we feel in our interpretation might just be of our own making, or that of our teacher’s.
Last night, after reading this letter, I sat down and ran through the Brahms, only this time I played it as if he himself had just re-arranged it for trumpet — something I have done often before, but never with the belief that it could actually have been possible. Now, knowing that Brahms himself would rearrange one of his own Sonatas (and even include timpani in the arrangement), I knew it was. I let the fortes soar; I kept the pianos in the low register singing and soulful; I didn’t force the trumpet to sound like a clarinet or a viola in any way. I played it like a true trumpet piece and it worked.
So what does this mean for us performing musicians? In short it means this:
Play what you want to play and do it with belief, sincerity, and conviction. Through this process you will likely find that you have discovered the true spirit of a piece of music, a spirit that could be discovered in no other way.
But for crying out loud, don’t arrange a Brahms Sonata for a trio and include timpani as one of the instruments, that would simply be ludicrous.
October 30th, 2007 § Comments Off § permalink
I have found myself in the simultaneously enviable and unenviable position of having plenty to write about, but no time to write. During the time that school is in session, there is a veritable flurry of activity: teaching, performing, meetings, guest artists, personal projects, school projects. So much of that material — yes, even some things from the meetings — provides fodder for thought and comment here, yet I simply haven’t had the time and energy to write. Now, let’s hope I can still remember some of things I wanted to write about!
The part about having time and energy to write is important. I find it to be a rather interesting phenomenon, because when there has been a parting of the clouds and I have been allowed a little time to breathe, I just haven’t had any energy left for writing. Sometimes it’s physical energy, but sometimes it’s emotional energy (if that makes any sense). Maybe I’m lazy, maybe I’m overwhelmed, maybe it’s time to find a nice comfy couch in a dimly lit room and talk about it for a while, but whatever the reason, I just haven’t managed to park myself at the computer and type.
The good news is, that is exactly what I am doing right now. Of course, it did take a good practice session, and the incentive of a nice cold beer (Hurricane Reef Pale Ale, if you are curious) to get me here. I do find it an odd omen, however, that as soon as I opened my Hurricane Reef I started to hear squalls blowing by from tropical storm Noel. This is really the first storm that we have had to watch this year, and it doesn’t appear to be posing an real threat. It is currently just lingering over Cuba, making curious people like me go to obscure web sites and stare at a giant rotating mass, wondering if this is the thing that will finally decide that my car needs a nature “makeover”. But it does make me curious, what happens if I finish this beer…
October 20th, 2007 § § permalink
Yesterday was the birthday for my teacher and mentor, Ray Crisara. I managed to track him down for a few minutes on the phone last night, and it was wonderful to hear his voice and to spend at least a few minutes chatting with him. Every time I talk to him I remember the feeling of being in his studio, soaking everything in, trying to figure out some way to make the hunk of metal in my hands sound like him.
He taught me a lot about trumpet, but mostly he taught me about music and life, and how the two are intertwined. I can never repay all that he has given me, but I will never stop trying either. He has shaped me as a musician and as a man, and I am grateful to have had the chance to study with him. I am still waiting for the week to go by when I don’t mention his name in at least one lesson. I don’t expect it is going to happen anytime soon.
Happy Birthday Mr. Crisara.
October 16th, 2007 § § permalink
Last Thursday I played three movements of Bolling’s Toot Suite with the new Dean of our music school at the University of Miami, Shelly Berg. Shelly is an incredible pianist who is truly at home in both classical and jazz. This concert featured him along with select members of the faculty in a kind of welcome celebration/concert extravaganza. It was a great event and I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of it. Given a first half of Schumann, Poulenc, and Piazzola, and a second half of Bolling and some stellar small group jazz (every bit of it featuring our new Dean at the piano), it is an understatement to say that the range of Shelly Berg’s music making ability is truly extraordinary.
To get to the point, though, there were at least two reviewers from local newspapers at the concert. When I started reading the reviews I was bracing myself for the inevitable gaffe that was sure to appear beside my name (see Murphy’s Law of Journalism). When I read the review by Lawrence Budmen in the Sun-Sentinel, I thought I had found it:
Morris’ impeccable control and huge sound compass riveted attention.
When I read that, I thought, “What the hell is a sound compass?” I imagined myself on stage with some enormous sound navigating device. When that image faded, I just imagined a writer looking for something creative to say and that the best word that came to his mind was “compass”. So, to prove my point, I tore into the dictionary (not a real dictionary of course, but the handy one that is found on the “Dashboard” of a Mac) to look up “compass”. I was laughingly reading through all of the non-relevant uses of the word, when suddenly there it was, under the third definition:
The range of notes that can be produced by a voice or musical instrument.
Time for me to eat a healthy piece of humble pie. As my wife said, “Maybe that’s why you play trumpet and he writes for a newspaper.” Zing! Yes, I suppose that is true. The good news, though, is that there is a reviewer who is as meticulous about his writing as most musicians are about their music. Having seen so many examples of the opposite, it is nice to stumble upon a thoughtfully written review.
October 16th, 2007 § Comments Off § permalink
Things have been quite busy of late, but not so busy that I would have been totally unable to write, here or there. No, I’m sure if I had been in the right mind set I could have squeezed in a little time to write. The truth is, though, the mindset just hasn’t been there. Why? Well, I suppose I would need a true personal blog for that!
Anyway, the good news is that I am once again feeling the drive and desire to write. Good news for who, you ask? That’s for you to decide. For me, though, the fact is, I am always happier when I am writing. It makes one wonder why I don’t write all the time doesn’t it. Yes, well…