Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How loud is loud?

Every ask yourself, "How loud is loud"?

The volume level for a passage marked, "Forte" depends on many factors. If the passage is the melody, I tend to play louder than if my passage is a supporting harmonic note or descant. Moving parts tend to be emphasized over the other parts to maintain the interest of the listener no matter what the arranger marked on the page. My "loud is louder if the ensemble is larger, the room is larger, the hall is crowded, the background level of the ambient noise is noticeable.

Case in point:

I was directing a local college jazz band last week. I was rehearsing the chart, "My Funny Valentine". One passage was a solo flugelhorn playing the melody over six saxophones playing a half-note harmonic background. The melody was in the lower range of the flugelhorn and was meant to be played breathy and smokey. The saxes really covered it up.
When I advised the saxes to lighten up, they informed me that their passage was marked forte. I informed them that the arranger had no idea what the size or skill level of the players would be and that the dynamic marking was his best estimate at a god overall balance. The chart is a "rough draft" of the finished performance with the director being the real-time editor for the best interpretation.

bottom line?

Constantly adjust your volume level to match what is happening musically around you. The composer or arranger isn't in the room with you to mark the proper volume of a passage to be played in that room with that ensemble.

So, How loud is loud?

It depends!

Good Gigging

Larry Marra
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Get out of the Way!!

Today, I would like to challenge you to consider a fresh new perspective on how your music is created.

When a band or choir is improvising a song, they create an ever-evolving "real-time" energy that takes on a musical life of it's own. The way in which voices and instruments "discuss" and "dialogue" using various tone colors can become extremely intricate and , all too often, very busy.

Today, I would like to invite you to become more aware of your role in these "musical conversations".

Are you hogging the stage by overplaying? Are you allowing the other instruments to "have their say"? Remember that a conversation involves listening as much as speaking. Even if you are playing a solo, are you taking time to breathe and create effective pauses between your phrasings?

One glaring mistake I see with new musicians is that they tend to overplay as much as possible.
They either run over someone else's musical contribution, or emote such a flurry of notes during their own solos, that each individual note loses it's effectiveness.

Consider this the next time you are "sitting in" with a band or vocal ensemble". Will the entire stage go suddenly silent if you just stop playing to get out of their way? I seriously doubt it. Take time to listen so that your voice will enhance and not distract the overall message of the song.

Lately I have been making puzzles with my five year old daughter. Occasionally, I see her trying to force a puzzle piece into a space in which it was not designed. No amount of pressure will make the complete picture" unless each piece is placed where it was created. Make sure your music piece is competed with every voice being the right size and shape to make the finished product pleasing to the ear.

In kindergarten we are taught to to: listen when others are speaking.

This is good advice onstage as well as the classroom.

Tonight I am performing the piano in with a 10 piece jazz band which also includes a very accomplished guitarist. My goal is to enhance and uplift the other musicians so that the overall sound is the right texture and complexity. Since the guitar and piano have very similar roles the in band, I will encourage the guitarist to work with me to ebb and flow the rhythm duties in a conversation way.

Let's hope the guitarist learned this in Kindergarten as well.

Good Gigging!

Larry Marra

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A musical New Year's resolution

Good news about Singing

What if you could find a medical treatment that could enhance your feeling of well-being, reduce your pain, prolong your life, have no adverse side effects, yet is absolutely free? You’ll be happy to know that this miracle treatment does exist. It’s called singing.

The very act of singing lowers heart rate, decreases blood pressure, and reduces stress. One medical reason is that singing seems to block many neural pathways in which pain travels.

If you are self conscience about the quality of your voice, there is always the shower (or car) you can use as you very own private concert hall. Another viable solution is to join a choral group. This would not only involve all the the health benefits of singing, but also provide many emotional benefits such as belonging to a social network of caring and supportive people. There are many wonderful church and community choral groups around this area always looking for new members. Many studies have shown that belonging to a vocal choral group will result in fewer medical visits, better overall vision, and a need for less medication. Repetitive church songs often provide the same spiritual benefits as intense meditational prayer.

Learning how to sing under a skilled director will also increase brain function and stimulate many new neural pathways thus improving mental acuity. Some doctors even feel that this would be an excellent tool to lesson the gradual effects of dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.

Lastly, singing in a group will increase lung capacity, help relieve asthma symptoms, improve posture, and enhance confidence. So, the next time your favorite song comes on the radio, or you hear of a group that is looking for new recruits, how about doing something for your body mind and Spirit. SING! With this being the start of another year, it is a great time to make singing a part of your New Year's resolution.