Saturday, 17 January 2015

Music and Me

Not my picture, but hopefully the site I grabbed it from won't mind.

As the picture may suggest, I am a trombonist - that is, I play the trombone. I don't think anyone would disagree particularly strongly with me when I say it is not the most elegant, nor the 'coolest' instrument out there. Quite often I have wondered why I chose it over something sexy like a saxophone, or something extravagant like the trumpet or piano. These musings are only intensified by my masters level saxophonist girlfriend playing super cool saxophone concerto's and the like. However, I always tend to come back to the same reasons for why I like the trombone and why it suits me. But first, some history of me and my 'bone'!

I live in Perth, Western Australia, and the primary school I went to had a music program that began in year 5. Prior to this we would play the recorder in classes and such, but come the end of year 4 we would get the exciting opportunity to pick three instruments (in order of preference) we might like to play in the Junior band for year 5. My twin brother had drums as his number one option, and then some other things further done. Spoiler alert: he got to play drums/percussion, but that is fairly irrelevant to my story. I considered picking 'cool' instruments like the drums, and my dad hoped one of would pick the saxophone, but in the end my top choice was the trombone. Without much foresight, my only criteria for picking the trombone was that it was big. I wanted a big case to carry around. While I don't regret that decision, I have always found it curious that that was my criteria for choosing an instrument.

After that the normal course followed; I had lessons, sang in school choirs, played in Concert Band and in Year 7 we were allowed to join the Swing Band. For me the Swing Band was always the most exciting ensemble to play in; I just really enjoyed playing in a big band.

A big band traditionally follows a 5/4/4 setup; 5 saxophones (2 Alto, 2 Tenor, 1 baritone). 4 Trombones (3 Tenor, 1 Bass) and 4 Trumpets. It then has a rythym section consisting of Bass (Usually a Doublebass, but can be Electric), Drum Kit, Piano and a Guitar (somewhat optional, it was introduced into the standard line-up a little later). This setup can change depending on the era the music is from, and also what the composer of a piece decides to write for. Vocalists also sing in front of Big bands, for example Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble.

I kept up my musical ways in High School, getting involved in all the various school ensembles. While I enjoyed the classical side of things, I found the freedom of Jazz to be much more inviting. However, because I was scared to improvise I preferred playing in a Big Band as opposed to a small combo. While at High School I considered pursuing a music based career, however the big sticking point was that I just didn't enjoy practising. I struggled to actually sit down and do scales, or work on a piece, or anything of the sort. If I were to go the University to study music then this would be quite the sticking point, so I decided to keep music as a hobby, and steer clear of the pressure to practise. This aversion to practise also meant that I was quite the terrible student; while I was happy to go to lessons I never really practised or prepared anything for them. During this time I improved primarily by playing 11 hours a week in bands before and after school - While I didn't like structured solo practise I could spend hours playing with others.

After school I kept playing with professional and amateur Big bands around Perth; I was good enough to play in professional Big Bands, but my individual playing was weak, so anything exposed was dodgy. A few years ago I was asked by one of the bands I was in whether I might like to try Bass Trombone.

For those that are unfamiliar, a Bass Trombone is like a normal trombone except a bit bigger in every way. It also has a bunch more piping on the top of it that can be opened with a couple of valves near the left hand. By being bigger, and by having more piping for the air to travel along, lower notes can be played, hence 'Bass' Trombone.

A non-soloist position, playing lower notes with some meat behind them? Hell yes! So life was proceeding like it had at school, I played in bands and improved that way, but I still did no practise. This all changed when I went to the UK last year. My girlfriend, Erin, was off to do her Masters in the UK. I had just finished my Law degree so it was perfect timing for us to go together and live abroad for a year. I didn't take any trombones with me, but I had a scholarship to buy a Bass Trombone whilst I was over there. In the end I wasn't able to buy a Bass Trombone until the end October last year, and then we went travelling around Europe until December before flying home to Perth. What this meant was that for a whole year I was surrounded by amazing musicians, with no way to play. For the first time I was motivated to practise, and I couldn't!

So this leads me to the here and now, and what I want to achieve with my music. First of all, my technique is terrible - because I was an unreceptive student I never put in the time to get my embouchure and technique right the first time. Now that I have spent some time away from my horn I want to relearn it right, rather than going back to my old habits. Secondly I want to play some classical Bass Trombone repertoire. It dawned on me that I know far more about classical saxophone repertoire than I do about trombone repertoire; a heap about saxophone, and nothing about trombone. This situation is a bit shameful, so I would like to rectify it. It also has the secondary goal of making me play in more solo situations, a weak point in my playing that I want to overcome. In this case I won't be setting weekly or monthly goals, but trying to provide general updates on how things are progressing; where my technique is at, what music I am looking at and the like.

For those keen readers who noticed I haven't said why I like the trombone, well here it is. The trombone is the workhorse of a band. It supports other parts with its mid-range sound, and fills out the inner parts of compositions. A great trombone section should be present but not necessarily distinguishable from the other instruments. We provide the meat and potatoes while other instruments get to be the gravy. We support everyone else and make them sound better, without needing the gratification of the crowd. I like this because it is similar to how I like to live my life - I don't always feel particularly comfortable in the spotlight, but I like to support others around me in whatever they are going for; to be reliable and dependable is where I get my kicks. For a boring person like me, the trombone is just perfect!

No comments:

Post a Comment