Low Brass Week brings guest professors to EU for master classes

Categories:  News    The Arts    Music
Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 at 5:21 PM
Low Brass Week brings guest professors to EU for master classes by Livia Homerski
Photo: Livia Homerski

The Edinboro University Music and Theatre Department presented two master classes on March 1 with Professor Abbie Conant and Dr. Anna Skrupky. The first master class was for euphonium with Conant, featuring Dr. Elizabeth Etter on accompanying piano and with participating students Anthony Williams, Jillian Melchitzky and Thomas Dillon. The second class was for trumpet with Skrupky and participating students Alison Jeffords, Daniel Rogers and Victoria Scott. 

During a master class, a student will prepare a piece they play before an audience or teacher who will then give the player feedback on their performance. Each student received approximately 30 minutes to play their piece and receive input. 

The first euphonium player was Anthony Williams, playing “Sonata for Euphonium and Piano” by Eric Ewazen. Following his first performance, Conant began her critique by commenting on how posture affects breathing and sound. As the euphonium tips the scale as a larger brass instrument, holding it and breathing properly can be a challenge, even operating as a full body exercise.

Skrupky commented on posture as well. She noticed that some of the trumpet students were nodding and using their upper body to count measures, which affected the flow of air. “If you do compressions in your chest while you’re playing, we hear that in your sound. Keep your counting in a place where it isn’t affecting your breathing so that the sound is not being broken up,” Skrupky explained. 

Conant also emphasized that “all the small notes become a part of the bigger whole.” Just as breathing is important, this piece of advice applied to the way the pieces of the song are connected and affect the way you perform them. 

The next critique shared in Conant’s notes for Williams and Melchitzky, along with Skrupky’s discussion with Jeffords and Scott, was to visualize parts of the song as episodes or stories in order to embody the music. Conant asked: “If you were telling a story, how would you emphasize that episode?” Williams and Conant began to brainstorm what the whole scene accompanying that section of music might have looked like and how to translate that into playing. 

She impressed the importance of this exercise and the way in which our own imagination can connect the music to others. “When we use our imagination, it works. People feel it. Then you are creating another dimension in your playing and everyone hears it!” exclaimed Conant. 

While working with the second student of the euphonium master class, Melchitzky, Conant asked if she could “do a little acting” and play “A Walk in the Woods” the way she thought the composer, Jiro Censhu, would. “Sometimes we can borrow other people’s energy and confidence, in a sense,” elaborated Conant. This was explained as yet another way for musicians to connect to the music they are playing, as well as convey to the audience the attitude and feelings of the piece. 

While Skrupky was working with trumpet student Jeffords on her piece “Sonata” by Kent Kennan, she also brought up how a player can borrow or “act out” confidence from the actual composer or another player. 

Another point that both Conant and Skrupky made was to have the students practice their piece by buzzing. Buzzing is when the player detaches the mouthpiece of the instrument and essentially plays the piece by vibrating their lips and pushing air through the mouthpiece, creating a dull buzzing sound. This is done to ensure that the air is being properly pushed through the mouthpiece, so that when it is reattached to the instrument, the air is able to expand and flow through the instrument, creating the deep and flowing sound that typically comes from brass instruments. As Conant said to the class, “Get the air molecules floating just the way you want them.”

While working with the third euphonium master class student, Thomas, Conant explained the importance of not using your tongue while you buzz. “We use the tongue as a valve to control the air, but here we just want to deal with sound.” Thomas played “Morceau Symphonique” by Alexandre Guilmant. 

Rogers, the second student of the trumpet master class, performed Bach’s “Bist du bei mir.” Skrupky used the buzz method to check for “leakages” while he played, which is when air is “leaking” from the side of the buzzer instead of being pushed all the way through. “We don’t want your air going anywhere else except through the instrument,” stated Skrupky. 

Note by note, buzz by buzz, the students learned more about the nature of their pieces, how to manipulate their sound and how to finesse the piece. 

Skrupky impressed on Rogers and company that there can never be too many dynamics in a song. While working with Scott on her piece, “Concertino” by Clovis LeCail, Skrupky explained that a musician must present an idea and fill it in, but be careful to play it the way it was written. Skrupky stated, “Be aware of gestural ideas versus ‘these are the notes of the actual piece or phrase.’” 

From there, she explained, a player can expand on the piece and make it their own performance. “If you play all the right notes at the right times, that’s not a musical performance,” added Skrupky, impressing the importance of paying attention to what you’re playing, and how you’re playing it. “There’s not only one way to play anything, you just have to be convincing about it,” she said. 

Skrupky brought up the technique of recording oneself while playing in order to listen for dynamics and areas to improve upon. She stated: “It doesn’t have to be amazing, just record it on your voice memos app on your phone. It helps to listen back to what you played and make sure it matches what’s on the page.”

Skrupky also discussed tips for dealing with performance anxiety after concluding the master class. “It’s all about narrowing your focus to what you have to do. It’s keeping that energy in your performance and tapping into it so that it’s not shaky fingers and hands.” 

She provided tips for preparation, such as not practicing as hard during the week leading up to the performance as to let the face muscles relax a little, eating a healthy diet, drinking water and getting enough sleep. “I would say the best book I found about performance anxiety was by Don Greene, [and] it’s called ‘Performance Success,’” said Skrupky. 

She reminded the students that even though they may be nervous, it is also important to be excited. “Just flick the word nervous from your vocabulary. You should be excited and want to be there!”

She also discussed performance anxiety, listing visualization, breathing and singing what you’re playing in your head as ways to block out anxious thoughts. 

Both teachers were encouraging of the students and continuously asked the students what they were doing and how they were doing something. They also sang and buzzed along with the students when going through those exercises in order to demonstrate how it should sound.  

Livia Homerski can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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