Doing a lot of fine tuning (if you will excuse the pun) to the score to my musical and I have a question about how long trombone players need to change mutes.
There is a little piece of underscoring in the beginning of a scene. Immediately preceeding it is bit of incidental music to cover the scene change. The scene change music ends with a stacatto chord in which all sections are playing, including open brass. The underscoring sounds best when I score it for pp or ppp tenor and bass trombone with bucket mutes (from JABB) and the melody on a delicately plucked banjo (amplified, if necessary), then switching to string chords + banjo strums with the clarinet taking the melody in its low register as the mood of the dialog dramatically changes.
So, the burning question is, will the trombone players have enough time to stuff bucket mutes into their bells. The actor can probably start speaking a LITTLE before the music, but I really don't want to let too much time elapse befor the muted brass is heard. But it works very nicely for the mood of the piece to hear that loud open brass, followed very soon by the muted bones under the dialog, and then the switch to strings + reeds. So I am reluctant to abandon this idea, if it is feasible.
I know this is a relative question and that there are lots of factors involved. Obviously, it will depend to some extent on the experience of the players, the difficulty of inserting the mutes into their respective instruments, the size of the pit, etc. I'm not looking for the definitive answer here. I just want to know, if I put this in my score, with the average conductor look at it and say "no way" as a matter of course and assign the chord to the bassoon + clarinet instead. Because, if that's what he's going to do, I'd rather do it myself and maybe use a different instrument for the solo in the second half of the underscoring.
It's not going to work with a bucket mute. A bucket mute takes the longest to put on of any mute. It actually has three prongs that attach to the outside of the bell, this mute isn't one that you can just stuff in.
A straight or cup mute are the types that can be inserted quickly. An option though for the live performance is to forget the bucket mute altogether , but give the player the instruction to play "into the stand" with no mute. This is a common technique that will give you a similar muffled sound. Simply write "open" to tell the player to play normally after this section.
There are bucket mutes available now that look like straight must, and don't have clips, but that's an extra expense if your player(s) don't have them, so playing into the stand, as Jeff suggests (I forgot about that one!) can be made to sound very like a bucket mute and sounds like the perfect solution.
If this doesn't work and you still want a real bucket mute sound, what I have done before for a quick mute insertion is this:
* During a short break prior to needing the mute when I'm not actually playing, I wedge the mute I need under my left knee where I can hold it securely until it is needed.
* When the time that I need it comes, I can take the weight of the instrument fully in my right hand only, leaving my left hand free, and lower the instrument slightly to make the bell more accessible to my left hand, grab the mute with my left hand place it loosly into the bell.
(If there's no actual breaks for me to do either of these actions, it can be done while playing a preceeding "slide-closed" note, or one in 3rd or 4th position where I can grab the bell with the fingers of my right hand.)
* If it's only a few bars I need it for, I can simply hold it in place, perhaps taking some of the weight of the instrument on my left shoulder as well as my left hand.
* If it's needed longer and there's a short break coming up I can use that to secure it properly and move my left hand back to the normal position.
* I guess its personal preference as to whether anyone should hold a mute like that, especially on a bass trombone, but don't forget that that's the normal position for playing plunger mutes anyway.
(Another handy tip is to practice and always perform your mute changes in tempo to the music, which can help you execute them quicker.)
Obviously you don't have a trombone, but you could try to practice the actions at least for yourself, to see if you think it works ok.
Can't say what the conductor will think, but at least you'll be prepared to argue the case with him, and if you still think you might loose, settle for playing into the stand rather than an alternative scoring, or just settle for playing into the stand anyway as that's obviously the easiest, cheapest and most viable option.
These are all great suggestions and advice. I would opt for the in-stand thing. The most common buckets are the clip-on type (for bones and trumpets) and the advice to actually mimic the time it would take to maniuplate and clip-on the mute as wll as remove it is good advice. I do the same when I am writing woodwind doublings. Go through the motions yourself and it will be apparent how long the player has to make these changes.
Some brass players have mute racks that clip onto the stand lip - these are few and far between in my experience. Also, remember brass players dislike dropping their mutes so when you check the motions be sure to set the mute down quickly but quietly and solidy.
In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.
Thanks for the suggestions. I forgot about playing into the stands. Probably because I'm not a brass player and I don't have a play-into-the-stand trombone sample library.
The tenor trombone player has about three or four measures to insert a mute. (I left him out of the final chord because the open bass trombone and low strings, in an orchestra this small, is more than enough.) The bass trombone is the problem. But I'm guessing that I should have them both play into the stands, rather than having the bass trombone do it and the tenor trombone muted (to make the sound more uniform).
My only remaining question is how to simulate playing into the stands for my demo, which uses all sampled instruments (all of the brass except the French Horn coming from JABB). Is it better to use the open trombone patches and muffle them somehow (lowering the volume, or something else) or just using the bucket mute patches?
Another thought: I do have a French Horn in my score. Would I do better using it, plus the tenor trombone in a bucket? They would be playing a soft, sustained pad, after all.