Mark O’Connor and the Suzuki Method

Mark O’Connor is making headlines for a series of highly critical articles and blog posts against the founder of the Suzuki method.  I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about the situation.  As I ponder it longer, though, I’ve realized that the overall effect of his criticism is a negative one and detrimental to worldwide musical education.

Basically, Mark asserts that Mr. Suzuki was a fraud, and not a great violinist as many believe.  He also attacks the method itself as being impersonal and actually ruining students’ love for music.  I don’t really find the claims on Mr. Suzuki himself to be all that relevant.  We should be looking solely at the actual pedagogy and the net effects of the Suzuki method.

Millions of students have been introduced to music through the Suzuki method (primarily) on violin and piano.  Even though I’m not a huge fan of the actual teaching method, there is no denying the positive influences it has had on young people.  It provides an accessible way for very young students to get involved in music, usually in a group setting.  There is obviously not an emphasis on personal creativity and expression at that early stage, but that is not really the point of this method. The point is that people get exposed to music, many of whom, otherwise, would never have a chance to be involved in this art form.

No teaching method is perfect, and no teaching method works for everyone.  Not every principal trumpet player used the Arban method.  There are many paths that can lead to the same place (all roads lead to Rome)…so we should be less critical of other methods and appreciate them for the uniqueness they possess and the positive values they offer.

15 Reasons Why We Should Still Be Using Hymnals

I could say a lot about this “hymnal appreciation” article from theologyinworship.com, but I think it speaks for itself.  Many of the “reasons” have been obvious to me for most of my life, but this author articulates them more clearly than I could.  My favorite: “Hymnals give congregational singing back to the people.”  Give it a read.

15 Reasons Why We Should Still Be Using Hymnals

To March or Not to March?

Marching Band.  People seem to either love it or hate it.  Many musicians say it’s unmusical. Orchestral players sneer at it.  And yet, almost every college and university has a marching band.  The same is true for high schools.  Those in the bands often love it and are willing to devote to it a huge amount of time and energy.

First the musical argument:  Ok, we know that the band directors and drum majors basically say one thing – play louder!  It’s hard to teach musicality when there are three dynamic levels: loud, louder, and blow-your-brains-out.  Orchestral standards are often rearranged and sometimes butchered in an attempt to do a familiar piece.  Not much listening is involved since everyone is usually playing all the time while marching on a field 30 yards away from the other sections.  However, maybe many of these students have no regular involvement with anything that resembles good music.  This could be their only exposure to music that’s not rock, rap, or death metal.

Second, the participation argument: Not many cons here.  Most bands are proud, tight-knit groups that enjoy spending time playing music together.  Regular weekend football games and competitions are great ways for students to interact outside of the classroom and collaborate.

Lastly, the time argument:  Band camp is usually a rough two weeks before school starts of nothing but marching and playing.  But hey, it’s summer and most kids are probably not doing much of anything anyway.  Once the school year starts, students often spend early mornings and school nights rehearsing, even leaving school early to travel to other schools.  However, when it comes down to it, the amount of school missed is probably not as significant as we would think.  Marching band members tend to be pretty good managers of time and as a general rule do well in their other classes.

 

Conclusion: If the interest is there, marching band is a great thing for kids to be involved in.  And while I only did it for two of my four years of high school, I look back on it now with fond memories.  Band ten hut!

Remembering My First Trumpet Lessons

It’s amazing how the memories of my early trumpet lessons with my dad have stuck with me over the years.  The trumpet was the first instrument I started on at age 7.  I later took up piano with private teachers and, for the most part, eventually gave up trumpet after finishing high school.

In spite of dedicating my life to the keyboard instrument, I have indelible musical memories of pieces and exercises that I started with dad on trumpet.  For instance, I can still picture him writing out one of the first Clark exercises in my manuscript book, as well as basic note values, and the melody line to The Old Rugged Cross (what I wouldn’t give to find that notebook!).  Throughout the years, I have never lost the love I had for the trumpet.  I don’t know if all (former) trumpet players do this, but whenever I hear a melody, I naturally start fingering the valves of the notes with my fingers, as if I’m playing (sixteen years later!).  These musical experiences must have been so meaningful and formative for me, that the memories have lasted until now.

At some point, I started working out of the Arban trumpet method book, and I remember really loving the longer trumpet solos at the back.  Of course, the most famous is probably Carnival of Venice.  My dad played parts of it for me, and I know I worked on a lot of it and enjoyed impressing the other high school kids in band class; but I know that the lyricism of the music and the beauty of the trumpet sound was what really drew me to it.

I don’t think we realize the significance of what is absorbed and imprinted on young minds at that early age.  I’m so glad that I had a dad who shared his love of music with me and encouraged me…and still does.

In honor of him and those memories, here is Wynton Marsalis playing Carnival of Venice.

Two NY “Phil” Greats

Two of the NY Philharmonic’s principal players are retiring this year- concertmaster Glenn Dicterow and trumpeter Philip Smith.

I don’t know Glenn, but I have known Phil Smith since I was a young kid.  We both studied cornet with Phil’s dad, Derek Smith.  Phil and I grew up in Salvation Army circles and our dads played together in the New York Staff Band of the SA.

90167_256Phil has had an amazing career in New York.  I own several of his recordings and listen to them often.  My favorite recordings of his are his orchestra excerpts CD and the Mahler 3rd Symphony with Bernstein conducting.  Phil plays the offstage posthorn solo, beautifully as usual.

Derek taught us to play cornet and somehow imparted to his students that warm, sweet tone with just the right amount of subtle vibrato.  When I hear Phil play, I hear Derek’s tone and I think, some of my own as well.

Even though there is plenty to admire musically about Phil Smith’s playing, it’s his integrity and principles (no pun intended) that come to mind when you think of him.  Phil’s Christian spirit and unwavering commitment to Godly truth are what make him what he is, in my opinion.  How many other principal players of top orchestras would go back to the smaller organizations and play “simpler” music and donate their time to Christian service.  It’s wonderful to know that someone like him could make such an impact, and also be well respected in the secular community.  He will be greatly missed in New York.  Wherever the next chapter in his life leads him, though, he will surely give it his best, for his Master.

www.principaltrumpet.com

Trumpet Tunes of the Organ Variety

As a somewhat recent organ aficionado/player, I have discovered the ubiquitous genre of organ “trumpet tunes”.  These are organ pieces that have a melody which is soloed out on a loud “trumpet” stop (which often go by various names – such as Festival Trumpet, Tuba Mirabilis, Trumpete en Chamade, etc.).

Prior to my organ playing, I knew of the standard trumpet tunes by Stanley, Clarke, Purcell among others that were always played on actual trumpets.  When I started playing weddings, though, I found that I didn’t have a trumpet player, but my organ had an organ stop.  It is easy to find these standard tunes written in organ only arrangements.

If you’re an organist looking for good postlude pieces, these organ trumpet tunes are very versatile and there is such a wealth of them that it would be easy to play a new one every Sunday service- if not for the likelihood of tiring out the congregation on one type of piece.  Many are based on hymn tunes and are written as simple voluntaries for service music.  The shorter ones can be used as hymn introductions or even as regular stanza accompaniments, provided they are written to follow the hymn metrically.

These organ trumpet tunes also allow for a simple change of pace if you happen to actually have a trumpeter on hand.  As the organist, you can simply omit the solo line and let the trumpeter play it.  Congregations always appreciate a thoughtful change of pace from week to week, no matter how small it is.

I suggest looking up some of the organ music of Michael Burkhardt, Michael Helman, or David Johnson for starters.  Here is David Johnson’s popular Trumpet Tune in D:

Online Music!

As an active performer, I am always looking for new sheet music.  Unfortunately, most of the best sheet music stores have all but disappeared.  Most everything has gone online.  And while some online music stores allow previews and detailed information on what you are buying, many do not.  This leaves it a crap shoot on whether the music that comes in the mail is what you were actually looking for.

There is a great online resource that I use frequently: The Petrucci Library-  http://imslp.org/

It is a wonderful collection of mostly older music, categorized several different ways: by composer, instrument, genre, etc.   Best of all, the music is free and can be downloaded and printed instantly.  All of the music is public domain, so you won’t find much written in the past 75 years on there.  However, if you’re in a pinch and need to find a piece quickly for a wedding or other performance, you may find it here.

Here is a direct link to the trumpet music section: trumpet

Bookmark this page and use it often!

 

 

The Trumpet/Viola Connection

GASP!

This is what most trumpet players would do after reading my latest blog title.  (“how dare you compare us to the joke of the orchestra, etc…”).  So let me clarify – the similarity is not in the instruments themselves, or even in the players.  However, it is in the act of transposition that trumpet players are often called upon to do.

The common trumpet is the B-Flat trumpet.  It is what all grade school students start on and it’s what most people play the majority of the time.  Since we’re in B-Flat, we often need to transpose up one whole step to play in concert pitch.  I am thankful I learned how to do this at a young age, since even though I no longer regularly play the trumpet, I still use this transposition technique often.  Here is the reason why:

Viola players read in alto clef.  That means that middle C is on the third line of their staff. alto clef C

If you are used to reading in treble clef (as most trumpet players are), that note looks like a B (above middle C).   But since trumpet players are so used to transposing up a step, we can take that note up a step, and then DOWN AN OCTAVE- to middle C.  All we have to do is add that additional step of down an octave, and trumpet players can read alto clef very easily.

This technique has helped me alot since I went to college.  Having to sight sing in 4 different clefs, all I would think was to just sing up a step whenever I saw alto clef.  I also sometimes need to play open scores on piano utilizing these other clefs.  And if you can read alto clef, you can train yourself to read tenor clef.  Basically, tenor clef is DOWN a step (from what the note is in treble), then down an octave.

tenor clef c

In the picture above, the 4th line note would be D in treble clef, but it is middle C in tenor clef.

So, the next time you see your friendly neighborhood viola player, let them know you understand what it’s like to read in alto clef.  And maybe even try to cut down on those viola jokes.