Brass Advantage with Wayne Downey
Welcome back to the "Land of All Things Brass." This month’s edition of Brass Advantage is devoted to all my readers who have sent questions to AskWayne [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com. I’ve selected 8 riveting questions that I’m sure you’ll love…
1. "As a brass expert, what do you look for in a drummer/drum line? Does a drummer/drum line have to be musical, to groove, to drive the music, to play against the brass/other instruments? Can a drummer/drum line be musical? Is there anything you would like to change in modern drum lines"? – Thomas Claesen –
Drummers must have good time… It’s essential that they display accuracy in both rhythm and tempo control, possess great facility, technique and a grasp of all musical styles. They must also have an inner fire to their personality enabling them to drive the corps both emotionally and expressively. Buddy Rich is an excellent example of a drummer who knew when and where to take command and always demanded that the band live up to his standards and abilities.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes…. Musicality is an essential part of being a musician; it makes no difference what instrument you play, you must play with a high level of musicianship.
My hope is that the modern drum lines of today perform with the highest levels of emotion, expression and musicality. Far too many of them are just concerned with playing "clean beats" and not communicating the true essence of the music they play…
2 "Because of the weather changes in Holland (especially before and after the summer season) we (Jubal) suffer a lot of tuning problems between the Brass and the Pit. The Brass seems to be lower even when all the tuning slides are in. I know that the Blue Devils have a special tuning program that also includes temperature changes. Do you have the same problems with the Blue Devils? In Holland we have a lot of cold and wet weather and I could really use your advice! Could you tell me more about your tuning program"? – Ronald Wassink –
First and foremost before you start doing the hot, cold tuning slide mambo you must realize that the main purpose of tuning is to find the correct length of the instrument’s tuning slide. You can call it the "sweet spot" or the "centre" but it’s the slide position (length) that promotes optimal vibration and resonance. It’s the point that will allow the instrument to vibrate freely and the performer the ability to create his/her best tone.
It’s important to tune the horn at its centre at all times.
Tuning at extreme temperatures however can be a challenge. When the temperature dips below 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit (as it does for Jubal as well as the Blue Devils) you can’t avoid tuning the instrument "out of its centre" you just can’t make the instrument any shorter without cutting off pipe. As a result, the relative pitch centres between the brass and mallet keyboard ensembles widen. The mallet keyboard instruments generally go sharp and the brass instruments go flat. Unfortunately in this case there’s nothing that can be done. However in cases of extremely hot temperatures you have more of a chance for success. In most cases instrument manufacturers will give you more slide to pull than to push so you must be careful not to pull the tuning slide too far from its centre. If you do, you’ll have the brass players struggling to create a good sound with an instrument that’s too long.
The best advice I can give you is to tune the horn(s) as close to it’s centre as possible no matter what temperature you’re playing in.
3 "What’s your opinion about the amounts of parts there should be played with a small horn line? (Let’s say 8 trumpets, 4 mellophones, 6 baritones and 3 tubas). Would you prefer 2 trumpet parts, 1 mellophone part, 2 baritones parts and 1 tuba part or would you prefer 3 trumpet parts, 2 mellophone parts, 3 baritone parts, 1/2 tuba part and why? I hope you can help me" – Harrold de Raad –
When it comes to smaller brass sections I recommend using the least amount of parts (splits) as possible. The more players you have playing an individual part the better, the performers will feel more confident on that part and that musical line will have a stronger musical presence. Realize however that not every measure or phrase needs to be split exactly the same way. I suggest you vary your approach to assigning the number of players to each phrase relative to what the musical texture (colour) as well as the staging (drill placement) calls for.
4 "What I would like to know is when you arrange music for drum corps, do you always respect the original piece and also the composer? For example, an original piece of jazz music that’s filled with solos and a strong main theme. Also what’s your structure to build up that piece from 10 minutes (original) to maybe 2 minutes (show) and do you sometimes think that some arrangements are stronger/better than the original? – Ronald Krassenburg –
If a drum corps or a band requests a transcription (an arrangement of the original piece written for an ensemble other than the one it was originally composed for) I stay as close to the original intent of the composer as possible. However if I’m arranging the piece I intentionally twist the melodies, harmonies, meter and phrase structure as much as possible to give it my own personal touch.
The structure of any arrangement or composition must include some basic design elements to succeed. First and foremost the arrangement must have a reason for being. For example, has the arrangement or composition been written to convey a mood, a character, accompany a fabulous drill move, feature a soloist, feature a section or is it just to provide a vehicle for the musicians to expressively communicate? Once it’s reason for being is decided it’s easier to determine the amount of time it takes to fulfil its purpose or purposes hence determining its length.
Yes, sometimes an arranger takes an original work and in the process of twisting and turning it he or she gives it new life and energy.
5 "After winning so many titles/prizes, what’s your motivation to continue year after year? Money, achievement, pride, status? – Marco van der Berg –
Watching my students succeed is what motivates me the most. Witnessing them reach their peak potential as performers warms the cockles of my heart. There’s nothing better than seeing the smiles on their faces as they perform their hearts out the night of Finals, it’s totally amazing, I love it…
6 "Which DCI Top 12 Corps besides The Blue Devils would you like to write for? Is there a corps you’d like to work for in the future? Is there another corps another corps that gives you goose bumps! – André Willemstein –
Considering that this year will be my 34th year teaching the Blue Devils, I can’t imagine myself teaching any other drum corps other than the Blue Devils. They have been and will be my life forever.
I can honestly say that when it comes to goose bumps I’m a pro. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve had ducky bumps (as Jerry Seawright would say) viewing shows over the course of my 34 years in the drum corps activity. I love watching young performers succeed at something they love; it exhilarates me and fills me with joy.
7 "What are your favourite moments/shows through time? Do you have some shows that are really special to you or have a certain value for you? – Thorsten Schiffer –
My favourite shows, not in any particular order include: Santa Clara’s production of "Phantom of the Opera", Cadets amazing rendition of "West Side Story" and Cavaliers brilliant production titled "Frameworks". All three shows in their own time set standards in performance excellence and creativity in our activity.
8 "Do you recognize or see a growth in your style of arrangements? I would also like to know if you have made some mistakes in the past, which you’ve learned from. (Examples) And how you solved them by changing things. – Mike Stevenson –
With the advent of notation and sequencing programs (i.e. Sibelius, Finale, VDL 2 etc.) the arrangers and composers of the world (including myself) now have the ability to translate our creative thoughts into audio playback. Simply put, you can now hear your arrangements or compositions (with the instruments you’ve designed them for) with a click of a button (OK, maybe a couple of buttons). There are many different sample libraries available that have good to above average instrument sounds that you can use to imitate a marching band, a drum line, a jazz band etc… I can remember the days that I would have to wait until the next rehearsal to see if the idea that I imagined in my mind had any merit or if it was just a mumbo jumbo of colliding musical lines… The differences that technology has made in my writing are amazing.
As far as mistakes that I’ve made in the past that I’ve learned from I’d have to say I’ve learned not to "over write". By that I mean not hindering the musical intent of the composition or arrangement with too many musical thoughts occurring at the same time. I really try to use the "KISS" (Keep It Simple Stupid) approach in my writing these days.
Well that’s about it for this month, don’t forget to check out all the new brass and percussion technique books, CDs, DVDs and much, much more on my website at www.XtremeBrass.com and to send your questions or topics to: AskWayneDowney [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com?subject=Question%20from%20DCP.
"Don’t Let The Chance Pass You By". See Ya Soon…
Wayne Downey is the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition to his long-term role as Music Director of the 11-time DCI World Champion Blue Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 20 Jim Ott awards for "Excellence in Brass Performance", Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands – as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show "Blast" and in feature films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical director for the Blue Devils. Wayne’s latest venture – XtremeBrass.com provides brass players of all ages and skill-levels, as well as educators, personalized lessons and access to his championship-winning techniques and methods. We’re honored to have him as one of our contributing columnists. -jmd
Wayne Downey was the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition to his long-term role as Music Director of the 14-time DCI World Champion Blue Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 21 Jim Ott awards for “Excellence in Brass Performance”, Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands – as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show “Blast” and in feature films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical director for the Blue Devils. Wayne’s latest venture – XtremeBrass.com provides brass players of all ages and skill-levels, as well as educators, personalized lessons and access to his championship-winning techniques and methods.
Posted by Wayne Downey on Friday, March 2nd, 2007. Filed under Brass Advantage.