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Topic: R-K Update & Discussion: Orchestral Brass

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  1. #1

    R-K Update & Discussion: Orchestral Brass

    Greetings, R-Kers!

    Here is the place to discuss anything in the Rimsky-Korsakov Brass lesson.

    As you might surmise, much has changed in the brass world since R-K's time.

    We can discuss those changes here--Gary will soon be posting some "points to ponder" I assembled about post-RK brass playing, mostly concerning:
    ================================================== ====
    *Improvements/changes in instrument design and their consequences for composers/orchestrators.

    *Improvement in performer skills, especially on trombone & tuba, and consequences for composers/orchestrators.

    *How to write good parts (good form, that is--I'll leave most of the content issues to you ) for the various brass.
    ================================================== ======

    Just who am I?? I have played tuba and tenor tuba (euphonium) in orchestras either side of I-65 since the Crimean War--done most all of the big euphonium stuff numerous times. I also calculate that I have counted 156 days' (3744 hours) worth of rests and tacets. During that time I was able to learn much by observing and querying my brass colleagues about performance skills. I also do a fair amount of music typesetting with Finale.

    These days, I am a euphonium soloist, clinician, and teacher around Indianapolis and perform with several wind and brass ensembles. Next weekend, I'll be a featured performer at the Great American Brass Band Festival in Lexington, KY...the third time I've been featured there.

    My musical icon and mentor is Harvey Phillips, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the Indiana University School of Music. It has been my good fortune to hang on his coattails for a number of years.

    I am also here to answer any questions you may have about brass instruments and how to write for them. If I do not know the answer to your question myself, I will consult with one of my colleagues and report back to you. For topics on which there is some "lack of consistency," I will also get a "second opinion" for you.

    I have learned much on these GPO forums, and I have yet much to learn from you. I mentioned this RK project to several of my orchestral brass friends and they are pleased that composers are learning about brass specifically, and about the orchestra in general.

    So...in the GPO spirit, let's learn from one another!
    Jim
    Jim Williams
    Professor of Capitalism
    N9EJR
    Indianapolis Brass Choir
    All Your Bass Sus&Short Are Belong to Us.

  2. #2

    Re: R-K Update & Discussion: Orchestral Brass

    Here's a copy of what I sent to Gary...

    Gary,

    After looking at the initial R-K comments on brass, I'd say we need the
    following updates: I am assuming that we are writing for at least a
    semi-professional or college orchestra. Do with these as you please.

    1. The standard trumpets in the more modern orchestra are in Bb or C. D and
    Eb trumpets are sometimes found in full orchestra, but are more likely to be
    heard in Bach and Haydn. The Haydn trumpet concerto was written for an Eb trumpet.

    2. When writing for trumpet, do not dictate which instrument to use unless
    you have intimate acquaintance with the instrument. Write the part at pitch
    (in C) and trust the performer to choose the proper instrument based on the
    character of the piece and the part. Professional Trumpet players can
    transpose at sight with ease into and out of most keys unless the piece is a
    12-tone extravaganza with running 32nd notes.

    3. Brass players need to BREATHE and need rest, especially after passages in
    an extreme upper register.

    4. The low F trumpet that R-K describes is not used in a modern orchestra.
    The true bass trumpet is in Bb, plays in the trombone range, uses a trombone
    mouthpiece and is almost always played by a trombone player. It is uncommon in general practice except in "big blow" brass pieces such as Janacek's Sinfonietta and the Pines of Rome.

    5. "Wagner Tuben" are not tubas; they are oval-upright members of the horn
    family, pitched in Bb or F (as the modern double horn is in Bb and F),
    played with the left hand, with a horn mouthpiece, by a horn player. Again,
    these are heard only in "big blow" pieces such as the Rite of Spring.

    6. A CIMBASSO is a 4- or 5-valved bass trombone in F (as the F tuba) or CC (less common). Its main use is as the brass bass in Verdi operas and similar works. It's also heard on some films. It is played by a bass trombonist or tubist.

    7. Cornets are rarely--if ever--used in orchestra. For that matter, their
    use in wind ensembles has diminished greatly.

    8. WARNING!! Brass instruments, especially the trombones and tubas, are MUCH LARGER (bigger bored) than they were in R-K's day and are capable of
    incredible volume and force. Many veteran orchestral musicians lament this
    when the power is abused. The largest trombone or tuba of RK's day would be a peashooter today.

    9. Trombones and tubas are much better constructed today than they were in RK's day. Most professional-quality tubas today have 5 valves, most tenor
    trombones have a trigger, and many bass trombones have two triggers. All
    that translates into much more flexibility than was available in RK's day.

    10. The modern bass trombone is one of the two most acoustically pungent
    instruments in the orchestra. Write with care.

    11. While tubas are much bigger than they were in the past, the good news is that the level of orchestral tuba playing today is at a virtuoso level
    unimaginable in R-K's day. Do not fear to give the tuba passages requiring
    agility, and do not fear assigning the tuba melodic material where the music
    dictates.

    12. Tubas and horns are conical, which gives them their characteristic
    mellow tone. Trumpets and trombones are cylinders, which is why they can be more piercing or edgy.

    13. The standard tubas in American orchestras are in CC and F. Some German orchestras still insist on a BBb tuba instead of the CC, but that is less
    common now than it had been. When writing for tuba, do not indicate which
    instrument is to be used. Simply write the part at pitch in bass clef and
    trust the performer to choose the right instrument based on the character of
    the piece and the part.

    14. The statement "It is not given to the to the small trumpet (Eb-D) and
    tuba to play with any great amount of expression" is 100% false today, as is
    the statement that trombonists and tubists cannot do multiple or quick
    tonguing. Having said that, lower passages on all brass are less agile than
    mid-register passages.

    15. Generally speaking, wide-interval skips, especially at fast tempos, are
    harder on brass than they are on winds or strings.

    16. The convention of horns I and III being "high horns" and horns II and IV
    being "low horns" is still in widespread use in orchestral playing.

    16: PART WRITING: (Note--there is not 100% universal accord on some of
    these--my advice is based on copying I do for professional clients)

    *For trumpet, at pitch in treble clef unless you are well acquainted with the
    instruments and know exactly what you want. Otherwise, trust the performer
    to know what instrument to use and to transpose flawlessly.

    *For horn, write the part in F transposition, in treble clef. The sounding pitch is a fifth below the written note. *The old convention of not using a key signature for horn parts, even for the most tonal of music, and indicating all accidentals in the parts, is still followed by some composers. Other composers of tonal music are now indicating key signatures.

    *Stopped horn parts usually involve a pitch change due to the further or different insertion of the hand into the horn. Best advice here is to indicate that the part is stopped, write the notes you want to hear, and trust the horn player to know the best mix of hand position and fingering to make the pitch the one you want.

    *Bass clef is often used for very low horn parts. Best practice here is to
    maintain the same transposition and write a pitch a fifth higher than the
    sounding pitch, just as you would do with treble clef. Some composers and
    publishers in the past wrote bass clef horn a fourth lower than the sounding
    pitch. Don't do that. Best to keep the same transposition, regardless of
    clef.

    *Tenor trombones are in bass clef for the most part. It's ok to use
    tenor clef for higher passages, but do not overdo clef changes.

    *Bass trombone parts will be most always in bass clef with the rare foray into
    tenor clef.

    *Tuba parts are in bass clef at pitch. Tubas DO NOT transpose
    in orchestra or wind ensemble. Again, trust the tubist to choose the right
    instrument--just indicate what you want to hear. If passages sit in a low
    register, the occasional 8vb is ok to avoid excessive leger lines.

    *BUT: It is generally uncool (at least in orchestral music) to write 8vb
    passages for treble clef instruments or 8va passages for bass clef
    instruments.

    FINALLY: Most conductors/publishers still prefer to see a score that has all
    the transposing brass and wind instruments in their transposed form. This
    is so the conductor sees in the score exactly what the player sees in
    his/her part. Of late, however, I am getting requests for scores in C, in
    which all lines of the score are at pitch, but the parts are appropriately
    transposed for the players.

    Learners: Please feel free to post here with any specific questions about
    brasses or transposition. No question is too basic...your desire to "get it right" is admirable and appreciated!!
    Jim Williams
    Professor of Capitalism
    N9EJR
    Indianapolis Brass Choir
    All Your Bass Sus&Short Are Belong to Us.

  3. #3

    Re: R-K Update & Discussion: Orchestral Brass

    great info snorlax, thanks a lot.
    I have a question that i bet you would know.

    I'm working on a contest piece that calls for "a conductor's score as opposed to an orchestral score"

    I had assumed that this means that the score is in C and all staves continue on all pages regardless of wheather they contain notes or are blank. is this correct? i have been unable to confirm this anywhere.
    thanks
    greg

  4. #4

    Re: R-K Update & Discussion: Orchestral Brass

    Usually a "conductor's score" just means a large size score, which the conductor can SEE from a distance, as opposed to a miniature score suitable for studying.

    Quote Originally Posted by conwaylemmon
    great info snorlax, thanks a lot.
    I have a question that i bet you would know.

    I'm working on a contest piece that calls for "a conductor's score as opposed to an orchestral score"

    I had assumed that this means that the score is in C and all staves continue on all pages regardless of wheather they contain notes or are blank. is this correct? i have been unable to confirm this anywhere.
    thanks
    greg
    Alan Belkin, composer
    Professor of Composition
    University of Montreal

    http://www.musique.umontreal.ca/pers...n/e.index.html (links to examples of my music, as well as my online textbooks)

  5. #5

    Re: R-K Update & Discussion: Orchestral Brass

    Dear Professor Snorlax,

    First, thank you so much for your comments. I found them extremely helpful in bringing the course theory into the present-day, real world practice.

    I have seen references to instruments in "CC" or "BBb" (e.g., your references to tubas). I don't understand what this means. Does that simply refer to a tuba in C that sounds an octave lower than written? Does that also mean the "BBb" reference is toa Bb tuba that sounds an octave lower than written?

    Thanks for your time and expert contributions.

    mcarwell
    (new member to the forums)

  6. #6

    Re: R-K Update & Discussion: Orchestral Brass

    Quote Originally Posted by mcarwell
    Dear Professor Snorlax,

    First, thank you so much for your comments. I found them extremely helpful in bringing the course theory into the present-day, real world practice.

    I have seen references to instruments in "CC" or "BBb" (e.g., your references to tubas). I don't understand what this means. Does that simply refer to a tuba in C that sounds an octave lower than written? Does that also mean the "BBb" reference is toa Bb tuba that sounds an octave lower than written?

    Thanks for your time and expert contributions.

    mcarwell
    (new member to the forums)
    Hi, Mark...

    GOOD QUESTION! This nomenclature is at best inconsistent and at worst downright misleading.

    CC and BBb refer to the open note of the tuba. The double letter means that tubas are low pitched . (The contra octave of the keyboard in some nomenclature).

    These designations are indeed very confusing. To make matters worse, people sometimes refer to an EEb tuba that is a 4th above the BBb, but never refer to the F tuba a fifth above the BBb as FF. Go figure.

    As to writing for the tuba, here's the rule: Write exactly what you want to hear. Don't transpose or shift octaves. If you want to hear bottom-line G#, write it. A BBb tuba player will push down the first valve. A CC tuba player will push 2-3, etc.

    Jim
    Jim Williams
    Professor of Capitalism
    N9EJR
    Indianapolis Brass Choir
    All Your Bass Sus&Short Are Belong to Us.

  7. #7

    Re: R-K Update & Discussion: Orchestral Brass

    Quote Originally Posted by belkina
    Usually a "conductor's score" just means a large size score, which the conductor can SEE from a distance, as opposed to a miniature score suitable for studying.
    thanks belkina.

  8. #8

    Re: R-K Update & Discussion: Orchestral Brass

    Dear Professor:

    Could you explain Trombone pedal notes and how they are used. Is it better to call for a bass trombone in a score or just score for trombone pedal notes? Thank you very much.

  9. #9

    Re: R-K Update & Discussion: Orchestral Brass

    Quote Originally Posted by Ron St. Germain
    Dear Professor:

    Could you explain Trombone pedal notes and how they are used. Is it better to call for a bass trombone in a score or just score for trombone pedal notes? Thank you very much.
    Pedal notes are the fundamental of any brass instrument's overtone series--the lowest note possible on a given slide position or valve combination. So on a regular tenor or bass trombone, the pedal note in closed (1st) position is the Bb 2 leger lines below the bass staff. Second position's pedal is an A on the third line below the bass staff, etc.

    As to what instrument should play it, that is a matter of what sound you want to hear, but here are some generalities.

    *It is usually used in the tenor trombone (when used at all) for an effect.

    *It will sound fuller on a bass (vs. a tenor) trombone because the player uses a bigger mouthpiece and the tubing is bigger on the bass.

    *If your intent is for the note to be raspy and cutting, put it in a tenor trombone and mark it ff. If you wish to rattle walls, put it in the bass trombone marked ff.

    *It can be played p or pp on both tenor and bass by a good player, but would be easier pp on bass.

    *Dont write very fast passages in pedal register for bone, euph, or tuba. It takes time to get around down there on the bigger instruments, and the notes can get stuffy because of the amount of tubing the air has to pass through.

    *Because of the cylindrical bore of the trombone, a really loud pedal tone can be one of the most pungent, cutting sounds a composer can coax out of an orchestral instrument. The bass trombone is second only to the bass drum in sheer decibel power if I recall my acoustics correctly. Could be vice-versa, but at that decibel level, who cares???

    *If you want the note to be round and mellow, put it in the tuba (See conical vs. cylindrical in my long post above).

    Actually, the bigger issue for tenor vs. bass is the notes between E one leger line below the bass staff (7th pos) and the Pedal Bb.

    Modern tenor trombones have a trigger that makes the instrument almost fully chromatic over that range. The B natural below the bass staff is next to impossible unless the performer has time to pull the trigger's tuning slide--very awkward and best avoided.

    Modern bass trombones are fully chromatic and have two triggers--that facilitates alternate positions and makes the instrument more agile, and fully chromatic to a B natural that is so far below the bass staff that I can't sort out how many leger lines.

    I tend to look at trombones as a cylindrical male voice choir--TTB or ATB. If four trombones, than TTTB or ATTB, etc.

    When time permits, I'll make a post of the "Cash Registers" of each brass instrument--the meat range where most of the work occurs and where your sound better be great!!

    Hope this helps...Jim
    Jim Williams
    Professor of Capitalism
    N9EJR
    Indianapolis Brass Choir
    All Your Bass Sus&Short Are Belong to Us.

  10. #10

    Re: R-K Update & Discussion: Orchestral Brass

    Thank you very much. I have a much better understanding of trombone pedal notes now!! Thanks again.

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