Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Traveling Brass Musician

A few days ago, I came across this article on  The author offers some advice for brass musicians preparing for a tour.  Unlike rock/pop musicians, we probably won't spend our lives touring the world performing several shows a week.  Still, we will most likely travel somewhere to play a gig.  For me, most of my travel has been for auditions and conferences.  Traveling has the same effects regardless of what type of music we are playing.  Here are some things to consider:

 - Consider your clothing. Make sure you have layers for cold weather or breathable clothing for warm weather.
 - Will you be in the sun? Make sure to have sunscreen and sunglasses.
 - Will you be outside in the wind? Invest in a few clothespins.  You can also have someone cut a small sheet of clear plastic or plexiglass that can cover your music on your stand so it doesn't blow away.

Location and Climate
 - Consider the altitude. In a higher altitude, you may have difficulty breathing if you are not used to it.
 - What type of climate does the location of your gig have? Desert climates are very dry so make sure to have extra water on hand.

 - Your location may affect your pitch.  Being inside or outside or in hot or cold air can affect your pitch so be ready to adjust.
 - If you are playing with a group (especially in another country), ask if they have any specific tuning.  For example, some groups tune to 442 to match the percussion instruments.

Gig Location/Venue
 - Consider the size of the hall/room.  How do you need to adjust your articulation and volume for the venue?
 - Will there be a place to practice or warm-up at the gig? Try to warm-up before you get there, just in case.

Musicians at the Gig
 - Consider their volume and dynamics.  You may have to play louder or softer than normal to match the other musicians.
 - Listen to their style and interpretation of the music and adjust. Be flexible with performance tempo, dynamic, and style.

 - Where are you staying? Make sure you plan enough time to travel from your hotel/lodging to the gig.
 - Can you practice there? Make sure to bring a practice mute or have a plan how you will practice and warm-up.  Hotel guests do not want to be awoken by a brass instrument in the next room.

 - What will you eat? Don't use the meal before your performance as an opportunity to try something new.  Don't jeopardize your playing with a unsettled stomach.
 - No time to eat.  See if you can bring a snack and drink with you to have just in case.

 - Plan the time zone change. Make sure to plan time to adjust to the time change, especially if it is large.
 - Make sure you have enough time to sleep and feel rested.  You may have to sleep on the plane or catch a few winks backstage.

 - How will you get there? Have your tickets organized and ready to go. Carry extra cash for cabs. Research places to park if you are driving.

 - Bring it all with you, just in case.  Instrument, mouthpiece(s), mute(s), valve oil, slide grease, screwdriver, cork, music (extra copies are good), pencil(s), a stand. If there is any chance you'll need it, bring it.

Utilizing Your Travel Time
 - On a plane, train, or bus. Listen to your music. Look it over. Read about the music.
 - In a car. Here you can do more. Buzz on your mouthpiece. Listen to your music. Sing along.
 - Waiting at the airport, bus station, or even at an audition. Have something with you that will keep you calm (book, ipod, phone). Focus on your task and think positive!

All of the above ideas are things that I have noticed during my own traveling. What other tips do you have?

Music and Sports

Brass instruments have had a connection with sports since the ancient times.  For example, the Roman cornu was sounded at gladiator fights.
Today, it is very common in America for schools to have marching bands which perform at football games.  Although marching bands include a lot of brass instruments, this post is going to focus on the connection between sports and brass instruments.  There are many existing examples of brass instruments connected to sports.

In 2010, the FIFA World Cup was held in South Africa.  An instrument called the vuvuzela became the talk of the world.  People either loved it or hated it.  Although these instruments are not made of brass, they require lip buzzing to produce a sound.

Here is a video where you can hear the sound of the vuvuzela.

Brass instruments can also be used for sports like horse races.  Churchill Downs employs a bugler who plays for each race. Here is a link to an article about the bugler.  The bugler plays alone unless there is a special occassion with more players such as the race in this video:

In England, the band called the England Supporters plays for every football (soccer) game.  This brass band has traveled with the team around the world.  Here, they have a music video in support of the team. (It starts after about 30 seconds of silliness.)

Besides music played at sporting events, there are other connections between music and sports.  Musicians can create their own sporting events and groups.  For example, when I was working on my masters degree, I was on the horn studio hockey team, Tuckwell Attack. It was part of the school intramural sports program. When I was searching online for information about this topic, I came across this post about the International World Brass Band Ski Championship. 

Musicians can also use sports as an educational tool.  Here is a link to a programming guide developed by the Peachtree Brass Quintet. This is just one of their several programs developed to take into schools. This program includes pieces like "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and the "Olympic Fanfare" to teach kids about music. 

It seems to me that there is a lot of talk about how music is being cut from schools but sports are thriving like always.  Maybe we can use the connections between the two to promote music and show its value.  Almost every sporting event from little league to professional plays the national anthem.  Why don't we play it and promote live music instead of recordings? This is a very short and easy gig that we can all do. Music at sporting events seems to be an untapped area to perform and promote music. 

Mario Parade

Here is a video that Professor Manning sent to me earlier in the semester.  It is a Super Mario-themed bloco (a marching band) during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. They are playing the theme music, wearing costumes, and acting out the game (look for the star-man running through the crowd).  Video game music is both recognizable and popular.  How could we utilize it? Maybe we could play at the store on the night when a game is released or play at competitions or conventions (Comic-Con or something).  Or, we could always just put on our own parades! :)