Here's what happened.
So I'm at home for the summer after my junior year of college. I'm working a little bit, practicing my horn (trombone) a little bit, typical low-key summer. I decide to shoot some hoops on my badly rusted childhood basketball goal. I step up to the free throw line... brick. I run get the ball and try again. Brick. I try a few more shots... mostly bricks.
Wow, I didn't remember how to shoot the ball. So I decided to try an experiment. What if I work on shooting the basketball as methodically as I practice my instrument? I was at home for the summer, so I had plenty of time... and I tried it. The most awesome part is that it worked. I got really good at shooting the ball.
Method to the Madness
I decided to be systematic about my approach to shooting the basketball. Just like practicing the trombone, I started with something I knew I could do every time. For playing my horn, its a nice concert F in the middle of the horn. For shooting a basketball, it's standing two feet in front of the goal. When warming up on my trombone, I don't move onward until I'm solid on the easy stuff.. then I start to stretch the range and technique. I did the same systematic approach on the court. And it worked beautifully.
So let's talk about the brain for a second. All skill based activities deal with synaptic connections in the brain (aka muscle memory). Once you perform a new technique, your brain creates a synapse, or pathway. When you repeat, it reinforces that synapse. It's kind of like if you walk over the same patch of grass every day for a few weeks.. the path is nothing at first, but eventually it becomes ingrained. Now, if you took a slightly different path each time, the grass wouldn't be as affected. So it is important to make sure it is exactly the same every time. I figured out how to coordinate my body to make the shot. Then I repeated the motion over and over and over and over. You get the idea. I was slow and methodical. If I missed a shot, I would examine the technique. Then I would shoot the ball a hundred more times (sometimes literally).
Here's the system I set up (from what I can remember of it):
Story on the side!
So my basketball shooting got really good! It lasted too. Well into the next school year. I would go to the basketball courts and continue my shooting practice from time to time. One time a bunch of athletes came out to play a game. I'm pretty sure they were football players and they were huge. They couldn't really kick me off the court, so I was invited to play. They were way better at ball handling than I was. They were also in better shape. Which is why it was so darn fun to NOT miss my shots when I got the ball. Especially the 3 pointers. There's nothing like a skinny little trombone player holding his own with some real-deal athletes. I had the time of my life.
Complicated Stuff - The Mental Game
Now it's time to get into the other part of the method that's not so straight-forward. There's been numerous books and articles written about this method in every field. This part is the mental game you have to play in order to fine-tune a skill. I call it "zooming out." To me, I mentally zoom out of the situation and let my physical motion go on auto pilot. When I was shooting my bazillion shots, I would zoom out further on each repetition. As a musician, I like to focus on my breathing. It brings me the most calm (especially to my mind). Here's my process:
In my first few years of teaching, I was afforded the opportunity to put this theory to practice.
Some thoughts on teaching rhythm...
I was creating some extra counting resources and thought I'd muse a bit on how I like to do things. Specifically, I was working my new set of progressive rhythmic reading (Count. Play. Level Up.). I even found a nice old-school "video game" font to use. You can find the sets in the Sight-Reading Section. I've broken it into a few strategies that I've always found to work. So here goes..
Vocalising the Counts
I've always found it beneficial to make the students count out loud when first working on an exercise. This forces the students to think numbers (connecting numbers to beats) as they count. It also helps them keep their eyes on the correct beat. At first, we just count. Students should imitate the music with their voice as much as possible. For example, if you have a whole note, have them connect the numbers with their voice-OOOOOONE - TWOOOOOO - THREEEEEEEE - FOOOOOOOUR. My thought is that if you can't say the counts correctly (especially in easier music), you probably can't play it correctly.
In the end...
First and Most Important - How Does Your Band Sound?
Style and Literature Selection
Style is always one of my favorite areas in which to work. This is where you get into teaching music, as opposed to just teaching the mechanics of playing. Now.. this is largely my opinion, but here's how I've come to see a great festival program:
1) March - Always play a march (my opinion).. it's our history.
Articulations - on the firm "tah" or "too" side (as long as it's not a legato melody)
Note Lengths - slightly separated throughout, notes typically don't connect
Balance thoughts - usually a great time to address melody vs accompaniment -- always make sure you can hear the melody!!!
Percussion - Gotta hear that bass drum (paired with the basses!)
2) Ballad, Lyrical Selection - This is a great chance to show your expressive side. (Side note: For younger groups not ready for a long lyrical piece, pick one that has a lyrical section like Michael Sweeney's Celtic Air and Dance pieces).
Articulations - on the softer "dah" or "doo" side
Note Lengths - connected, little to no space - often rounded down on releases, don't chop off notes
Phrasing - Do the dynamics on the page. Make sure students finish crescendos, etc. Then add some of your own. Teach students hairpin dynamics or how to find the peak of a phrase.
Stagger Breathing - Assuming you're not one per part, stagger breathe everything. Shoot for no "holes" in the sound. Finish phrases!
3) Overture or Specific Style Piece - This is where you have the most freedom. You've shown your ability to play a classic march, as well as your expressive side. Now show you can handle some standard band literature. This is often the best chance to pick a piece students will really like.. I would recommend staying away from the pieces that are too "campy." Find something with a good melody, good harmonies, and one your band can sound great on.
Musical Devices - The musical devices used will vary piece to piece. Just make sure it makes stylistic sense. Be specific. Be VERY specific. The judges should be able to tell exactly what you're playing without even looking at the score. **The most endearing comments I've had are when the judges commented on the fact they didn't even need a score based off of the clarity of performance.
Other Thoughts on Literature
Pick music you can sink your teeth into.. The idea is to play it to perfection. Now, don't pick really easy music, just pick something that's appropriate to work on for a while and really play well. Leave the really hard stuff for the parents on the Spring Concert :) ... I always read a LOT of music (which helps with sight-reading!!), while trying to determine a great fit for festival.
Read music all the time. All the time. Sight-reading everything from lines out of the book, to band pieces, to etudes, to pop tunes. I'm a huge fan of "cramming" music. It doesn't have to be perfect.
Develop a System
1) Counting - have a system for counting difficult passages
2) Tizzling or Singing - have a system for students to "perform" the piece with out playing on their instruments.. You can "count" them through the music and put it together
3) FIND ONE - I always tell students to find one.. if they know where one is, the band will stay together. If they don't understand a rhythm, have them find the next beat one. As a conductor, always give a clear beat one when sight-reading.
4) Rehearsal Marks - These are EVEN BIGGER downbeats. This is where you save your band if they fall apart. Teach students to look for the next rehearsal mark if they're completely lost.
PRACTICE Sight-reading. This takes time to develop the skill as a band. Don't wait. Sight-read all year long and you won't have to try and cram it in before festival.
Remember that festival is a wonderfully educational experience for students. Teach students how to act as professionals. Teach students how to respond to critique. Teach students the value of striving for perfection. Teach students what the professional world of music is like. Most importantly, teach students about great music, and performing it to the absolute best of their abilities.
Fundamentals for a Great Sounding Band
I’ve always liked what I once saw in a Bruce Pearson (Standard of Excellence series) article: A + E = T, which means, Air + Embouchure = Tone. It’s a very simple concept but will make all the difference. If a student has a good airstream alongside a proper embouchure, a good sound will be produced. Now for the specifics:
There’s a wealth of materials focusing on breathing and the airstream. Search out resources for methods and exercises, try them out, and use what works for you and your group. Here’s what helped my band to sound great:
1) Posture — I always obsess about posture. I even do the “rest, ready, and play” with younger groups. It’s a visual cue that holds students accountable and as the teacher, you can constantly remind students of posture to keep them focused in rehearsal. I teach students that your lungs can work correctly if your lungs are collapsed down on themselves.
2) Steady Air — When I first started teaching, I used to talk a lot about MORE air. I later amended this to STEADY air because students tend to create a more consistent sound with steady air. A great exercise is to hold the hand in front of your face and blow a consistent airstream. I also talk a lot about keeping the stomach (core) muscles firm as to keep the airstream supported. The words “steady air” made a great leap in the sound of my early bands.
Remington Long Tones (or something comparable) and steady air — every day.
Here’s where it can get really fuzzy as many people have varying views on embouchure.. I’m briefly going to give a few basics that have worked for me. Please know that I don’t see any of this as Gospel!
1) Flute — Work on the head joint a lot getting out the various partials by redirecting the air, make sure to have a tall syllable in the mouth and that aperture is focused (not too thin and not too spread)
2) Single Reeds — Get the teeth in the center of the bottom lip (I tell students they would “bite” though the middle of their bottom lip), keep the lip stretched out and the corners firm. Students tend to change their embouchure when they place the reed in their mouth, so you have to watch this as they bring the top teeth down (obviously make sure the teeth are on the top of the mouthpiece) … when articulating make sure that the embouchure isn’t affected. Using the mouthpiece only is a great habit to get into.. check the pitch. If they’re flat on the mouthpiece only, your intonation is doomed (as you can fix sharp by pulling out)
3) Brass — Make sure placement of the mouthpiece is good (look up some specific resources about each instrument’s placement, as opinions can vary greatly). I am a believer in a RELAXED brass embouchure. Corners should be tight, but the middle should not. The air should produce the note. I say this a lot: “The AIR should produce the tone.” Meaning there is a steady and consistent airflow to create that starts and sustains the sound. Buzz on the mouthpiece a lot and learn what a good buzz sounds like. Do sirens, scales, etc. Have the woodwinds play lines out of the book while the brass buzz them.
For high notes, focus on the direction of the airstream and the speed of the air. Squeezing lips will produce a higher tone, but if they get in this habit of squeezing, they’ll have a very difficult time fixing it in later years.
Here’s the takeaway. Students must have a characteristic tone. If every student plays with a characteristic tone (emphasis on young bands at the moment), then you’ll have a good band. Instrumentation matters, balance, blend, all that stuff matter… but if the kids don’t sound good individually, your band won’t sound good. There are ways to hide in numbers and such… don’t do that, just make the individuals sound good and you’re set.
**Note: the above opinions have worked for me. I’ve done most of my teaching in places that there are some students who take lessons, most do not. I always had mixed classes of instruments, so these are what I used to find success.**
Warming up is an important of any music (especially wind players) rehearsal. An effective warm up should address the physical aspect of preparation, as well as the mental aspect. There's an enormous amount of great warm-up sets out there and I thought I'd offer some personal thoughts about how to effectively use all the different resources at one's arsenal.
I think that practically every band director would agree that tone quality is the most important element of playing. As I tell my students all the time, you can play some music that is incredibly difficult and challenging, but if you don't sound good, it's not impressive. Bands need to sound good to be successful. So, after some breathing exercises to get the air going, long tones should be incorporated. A focused airstream is essential to great tone production. I prefer Remington's way of descending chromatics, but really any sustained pitches in a comfortable range will do.
During these long tone exercises, students can really focus on air and embouchure. I won't go into specifics about embouchure and such, as there are a TON of great resources out there. For woodwinds, you can always refer to the Westphal (Teaching Woodwinds). For marching band brass, I would take a look at what a lot of the drum corps are doing... since brass embouchure is what they do all summer long. I also like how a lot of them focus on keeping the embouchure healthy (always remember to warm down!!!)
As we all know, without a solid foundation in tone quality, blend and intonation are not really a possibility. You could probably play with a "balanced" sound, but it wouldn't be a good sound..
Next would be applying that good sound while getting around the multiple registers for the instruments. For brass, this means flow studies and lip slurs. It takes a while for young brass players to master getting over the partials and centering the tone and pitch while doing so. Students must master the correct vowel placements inside the mouth and get the perfect air speed. Again, if you want to see some more in-depth exercises and explanations, check out what the drum corps are doing. I really like what Carolina Crown does to warm up and their attention to the health of their chops (note: I've seen more of what they do than the other corps because they're right up the road...the other corps probably do great stuff too!)
Then comes the woodwinds. Woodwinds obviously don't need to warm up the lips like brass players do, so this is a great time for them to do some work in the various registers (and moving between registers) as well as getting the fingers going. If you use Foundations for Superior Performance, you know this well...great book. Pick your favorites and use them for a quick marching warm up if necessary. Also, if you have the directors/staff to do this, flexibility may be a good time to split the brass and woodwinds to focus on specifics of the warm-up. (but always bring them back together for final tuning and ensemble sound)
Once you've gotten the basics of the individual warm-up and playing down, then it's time to focus on the ensemble sound. Firstly, musicians should be striving for a blended sound in their section and across the band. I recently received a comment from a judge at Festival pertaining to the fact that the students played with a characteristic tone quality, so much of the intonation took care of itself. I say this because if the musicians have that characteristic tone quality, then blend should happen pretty easily, creating a rich and sonorous quality to the ensemble.
Another important aspect of ensemble playing is balance. Balance refers to the volume of individuals as well as sections. In a clean ensemble sound, you don't hear individuals "sticking out" of the texture. Once sections are playing the same volume, then its time to employ the balance between the sections. The most common way to create a rich and dark ensemble sound is to employ Francis McBeth's Pyramid of Balance. There are other methods of balance out there, but I think this will probably give you the most success. Plus, Francis McBeth's music is awesome.
Now, let's not forget about intonation. We've all seen tons of different ways to tune an ensemble. I'm not going to say a specific one is the best or even recommend one. You should try out various tuning methods until you find one that works well for your ensemble. What I will say though, (my opinion) students should be tuning at all times. Because the temperature is constantly changing (especially in marching band!!!!), students must constantly adjust and need fine-tuned ears to excel with intonation. You definitely don't want that "fuzzy" sound that results from out of tune playing. Playing in tune is a battle, grab your tuners and get ready for the fight.
Articulation and Cleanliness
It is also important to define an ensemble articulation. Though each instrument has it's own specifics for HOW to articulate, the end result of the beginning of the sound should be homogenous. Incorporate articulation exercises of all types. Then make sure that students LISTEN to proper articulation demonstration (by a director or great student player). After hearing great articulation demonstrated, students must then re-create the sound, and LISTEN to each other in order to create a consistent sound across the band. Also, write out exercises for every articulation students will see within the halftime show/stands tunes/etc. Practice these in the warm-up and apply when necessary (i.e. accents, staccatos, tenutos, etc).
Note Length is also a very important aspect to address during the warm-up. Note lengths should be addressed from the first note played. This is especially applicable to releases. A great band will release together consistently...a developing band will have various individuals hanging over and releasing too soon (both bad!). You can also address style within the warm-up, especially if it is in relation to what the field show contains. Maybe there's a section where you place some space between quarter notes. Work it out in the warm-up and apply it later.
In conclusion, the ensemble warm-up is one of the most important things a band will do. If you consistently warm up the ensemble before rehearsals and performances, the ensemble quality will grow in all of the above mentioned areas.
These are just some thoughts, if you read, hopefully you'll find something useful. If I left something out, add it in the comments section!
This week I turned 30 and decided it was time to reflect a bit on the past ten years of my musical life. I've grown immensely as a musician, educator, and composer. Here are some of my thoughts:
Hard Work Does Pay Off
Ten years ago, I was a sophomore in college at the forefront of spending many hours in a practice room...and in the music library (listening)...and working band camps...and studying like crazy...basically soaking up everything like a sponge. When I first stepped into the classroom, my hard work had paid off. I was able to quickly get my feet on the ground and have a successful band program. That being said, I did have to work insanely hard my first few years of becoming a teacher and professional. Now I've got a great band with a lot of students that achieve regularly. We get consistent superiors at festivals and I feel like all the years of working my butt off has definitely been worth it. Hard work and diligence really do pay off!
Listening is Paramount
As a band director, musician, composer, clinician, etc, my ear guides me. I was encouraged several years ago to listen to a lot of everything. One of my mentors, Jay Bocook, made sure that I was listening to a wide variety of music. The lesson was in context of me improving my arranging skills, but listening practically non-discriminately has totally shaped me as a musician. When I compose, my ear guides me (I can hear reverberations of Tchaikovsky and Bach, Stan Kenton and the Beatles). When I arrange, I have a lot of techniques and tricks to engage the listener. As an educator, I really know what a good band sounds like and shape my kids to sound the same. It's also important to listen to a variety of skill levels as well. Because of frequenting festivals (not just Midwest), I can hear intonation and timing issues, and can usually come up with a way to fix them!
And sometimes I just need to sit down and turn the lights off, put on some Beethoven, and just listen in sheer awe of the magnificence and beauty.
Write Down Your Ideas
Always write down your ideas. Or take a voice memo. Or email yourself. Or put it in your calendar for a later date. With the recent technology boom of iPhones and the Cloud and really online everything, there's no excuse. There's also nothing as frustrating as forgetting that awesome idea. For example, I had a reminder to write "10 Things I Learned in My Twenties," which resulted in this blog post. So write it down. Or send it up into the cloud. Whatever works.
Understand One's (My) Place
My few years out of college, I remember a stark contrast between the immersion of music school and the rest of the world. I've redirected a lot of who I am as a musician and educator over the past ten years, significantly increasing my advocacy efforts. I see so many of my friends and fellow musicians struggling because it seems that the average person doesn't prescribe a lot of value to classical oriented music. (Here's a whole post I wrote about this) I've certainly found my place as a musician and a lot of it is bringing the masses back to the concert hall. I do my best to create engaging concerts for my students and parents that will hopefully evoke a curiosity that will lead them to buy a ticket to the symphony, or a musical theatre, or even just a little chamber concert.
Being passionate will count for a lot. Friends will want to take part, students will buy in, and colleagues will respect you. For others to know and see your passion(s) is huge. My students know that I love music. They see it every time I pick up my trombone or really get into conducting a piece. They then have an understanding of what makes me tick and it truly helps me to bring out their greatness and to help them find their passions.
Professional Development is a Must
In my college years into my first few years of teaching, I read a lot of books. Specifically I read a lot of books that helped me grow as a leader and a teacher. A lot of the books written for business professionals apply well to teaching (band directing is very similar to running a business). A few of my favorites: Ron Clark's books were great for inspiration; How to Win Friends and Influence People taught me to effectively communicate with people; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is great info and helps to get organized and effective; and every GIA Publications book I could get my hands on.
Being a working professional doesn't mean you need to re-invent the wheel. I know so many "bullish" band directors who are avid about trying (and often failing) their way no matter what. My advice would be to look at the wealth of knowledge out there and learn from other people's mistakes. There's definitely something to making your own mistakes to learn and grow, but somebody has already walk the same path, so you might as well learn from them.
All that being said, I've learned to soak up everything. The best people in any field NEVER stop learning.
Enjoy What You Do
Some of the best advice I ever received was to stop being so serious. I came into this profession like a barreling train, totally bent on success. When I had that attitude, my frustrating days were quite rough. When I started to take a step back and really enjoy what I do, everything (and I do mean everything) got a lot better. I became more effective as an educator and my students were better as well. My style is not to be crazy serious all the time, but to be serious when necessary.
My twenties were good and I learned a lot about what it means to be a musician, composer, and educator. See you in 10 years for "Things I Learned in My Thirties."
Why is Classical Music Dying?
When I was young, I can remember actually expressing distaste, even mockery, of this the classical genre. It was almost even taboo to like anything that wasn't driven by lyrics, guitars, and a drum set. So why the divide? Why don't average (non-musicians) listeners consistently fill their Spotify Stations or iPods with Beethoven, Bach, or Wagner? And why do many only pull out Mozart to study?
Here's what seems to have happened:
Back in music history class in college, we listened to lots and lots of musical examples as we wound our way through the years. I can remember listening to examples of 20th century piano music and all my non-music friends literally thought a child was banging on a piano. Now, in no way do I mean to devalue the composers by comparing great works of art to a child banging on a piano, but to the untrained listener, it doesn't make sense. Over time, as musicians performed these works in concert halls, I'm sure the general public was very confused and, honestly, just stopped going to concerts. Personally, even being a consummate student of music, I find it difficult to sit through a concert of atonal music. Now, as concert halls were being filled with these sometimes harsh and unpredictable sounds, pop culture music was on the rise.
The Rise of "Pop Culture" Music (Pop Culture Music referring to the most popular music of the time period)
Just as classical music reached its height of chromaticism (and other experimental things, see John Cage), we start to see pop culture music on the rise. For example, it's doubtful that many people know who John Cage was, but I bet most people knew Glenn Miller. Jazz being the pop music of the 1930s and 1940s.. and then Jazz morphed in the the popular forms of the Blues.. and then the Blues morphed into Rock and Roll.. and then combinations of various forms blended to where we have the Pop music of each decade like 80s Music, or 90s Music.. (please realize I know that that was a VERY abridged version of the progression of music)
Which brings me to today in 2015, where we've mashed Classical Music into a category next to say, Alternative. Or better yet, Dance! The sad part is that by doing that, we've put Philip Glass in the same category as Gustav Mahler. The two composers have about as much in common as Eminem and Taylor Swift. And now I'm brought to the absolute purpose to this post, and what I feel is my increasing charge as a composer and educator: bring people back to the concert hall.
Strategies for Bringing Classical Music Back
1) Music Teachers - Music teachers are training new musicians all the time. I encourage my students to go to performances and to see and hear professional musicians. As band, choir, and orchestra students get into music, they'll naturally migrate to performances simply because they have an understanding of what classical music is from their own training.
2) Musicians - I am so encouraged by seeing classical musicians "breaking the mold," not because classically oriented music should be inherently changed, but musicians creatively reaching new audiences. Here's a couple of examples:
These two examples are quite different, but would certainly evoke a curiosity in anybody who decided to click play. The first video has almost 9 million views, surely some of those views are from non-musicians who maybe now have somewhat of an appreciation for Beethoven.
3) Basic Understanding of Music - Here's what would be fantastic--if everyone (or most people) had a basic understanding of music. What if everybody knew how to construct a major scale? What if everybody knew the difference between a trumpet and a trombone (it's frustrating how many people don't..)? What if everybody could tell the difference between a violin and viola just by looking at it? Or based on how the orchestra was seated?
These questions take me back to my childhood. Once I had a basic understanding of the mechanics of music, classical music was no longer beyond my reach... and now it's what I do for a profession. My hope is that myself and the rest of us who've dedicated much of our lives to music (specifically classically oriented music) can bring audiences back into concert halls and venues. I hope that more people will give Beethoven or Bach or Mendelssohn or Schubert a chance! In this generation of mindless Tweeting and Facebook posts, I hope that we can get back to sitting for an hour or two and listen to some timeless works of art.
Longest post yet. By far the most important.
I'd like to start this post with a wonderful performance of "Libertango" for woodwind quintet by Astor Piazzolla....
Here's what I love about woodwind instrument:
1) Unique sounds and timbres (brass and strings tend to be much more homogenous--still love brass and strings, but boy do I love the tone colors of woodwinds)
2) Very expressive--the highs and lows (in pitch AND range) are flexible and fantastic
3) As a composer, I like the playable range of most woodwinds, and how you can use the different registers to your advantage
4) Really fast scales/arpeggios... this is kind of silly, but what a great effect to use--whether it be scales in all directions creating a really cool harmonic texture, or loud chromatic rips to create intensity, woodwinds are great
Now, in my world of exploring plug-ins for Logic Pro, I've noticed that it's difficult to find great woodwind plug-ins. The musician in me is thankful that this will hopefully keep woodwind players gainfully employed, but the composer and listener is worried because many composers have stopped writing for woodwinds. Now, please keep in mind I haven't carefully researched this notion, I'm just making an observation. As more and more composers look to DAWs to create their mock-ups (especially in the commercial/film world), we've seen much more brass and string heavy (the plug-ins sound WAY better) compositions. If you don't believe me, just listen to the two clips below:
Just listen to the difference in use of woodwinds... actually, in the Iron Man example, they're not even there (or at least you can't hear them). Now, this isn't a criticism at all. I love Brian Tyler's music. I'm just noticing a change in how things are written these days. I could have picked a lot of other film composers from the 80's like Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, etc. I could pick practically any popular film composer today. Whatever the reason for using woodwinds less, I think it is unfortunate and hope that as plug-ins get better, we see a return to lots of colorful writing for woodwinds!!
Now, you might wonder why I spend so much time talking about film music. Aside from the fact that I love it, it's important to note that film/commercial/video game music is what the OVERWHELMING majority of people listen to. People will hear film music long before they will listen to Beethoven or Mozart (or any classically oriented composer today). I'll elaborate on why I think "classical" film music is paramount to keeping the genre alive in another post.
I always enjoy talking and writing about great film music. Having grown up on the Spielberg/Williams collaborations, I certainly like when the score plays a central role in a film. (Side note: Spielberg always kept John Williams close when developing and creating movies, which I believe is why Williams creates such thematic and compelling scores)
I recently went and saw Jurassic World. It lived up to expectations, especially from the music end. I was very appreciative of how Michael Giacchino worked in the original themes, as well as created some new ones...it was very tastefully done. I really really liked when the piano quietly played the original theme while the kids were discovering the old visitor center--a very poignant moment. My second favorite part of the score was when the creepiness of the raptors was accompanied by a trombone (with straight mute I think) playing a dissonant melody...if you can call it a melody.
I recently heard a Giacchino interview on NPR that was enlightening as to how he developed his style of composition. He apparently used to take a cassette tape recorder into Spielberg movies and record the audio then listen to it over and over. I can certainly relate to this in the sheer amount that I listened the Lord of the Rings soundtrack a LOT when I was younger. It's safe to say that Howard Shore definitely influenced my composition. This incessant listening also explains why I always felt a familiarity in Giacchino's scores (especially in Super 8...great movie btw).
I'm also appreciative of the fact that Giacchino makes use of the woodwind section. These days that seems to be left out of many "summer blockbuster" scores...which sucks, because woodwind add such a rich color and are so flexible for melodic content (here's a reason why composers might be using them less).
I'm excited to see what else the summer holds for my symphonic and cinematic loving ears..
Today I'm discussing my frustrations with the fact that Apple computers no longer come with a program that natively and easily plays MIDI files. I remember when I first found out that Quicktime no longer plays MIDI files. This was a dark day for me as a composer/arranger.
Now, for those of us who don't know exactly what MIDI files are: Music Instrument Digital Interface. Surely that explains it...right? Basically, without getting too technical, it is digital language that can be created by electronic instruments (or software) and translated to a computer so you can hear the music/pitches/etc. The absolute best thing about MIDI files is that they are SMALL...TINY, compared to mp3's and other larger music files. Now, they transmit a different type of data than an mp3/wav/aiff does. This is why Quicktime no longer plays them... it no longer translates the data for immediate playback. You now have to use another program to open the MIDI file.
So... attention MAC users: you can open these with Garageband, the built in DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). It may tell you at first that there's no program to open MIDI files, but all you have to do is right click (or control click) and select Garageband.
The thing I dislike about this, however, is that the instruments in Garageband are severely limited compared to what you might have in Finale or Sibelius. Garageband is largely set up for a more commercial sound, rather than a symphonic sound. And because MIDI files are small, they don't translate as much info as an XML file...because of this, there are something things lost in translation and the music ends up sounding quite wonky.
As I've read on many forums and blogs, Apple is known for killing technologies. The Macbook Pro I'm typing on has no cd drive...and Quicktime doesn't play MIDI files. Click here if you're interested to see what else has been killed over the years.
Now, in light of being an educator and not simply complaining about the fact that we Mac users can't simply click on the midi files and play them.. here's your options for playing midi files.
1) Garageband - as we already discussed.
2) Download a third party player. Google "MIDI Player" there's a bunch.
3) Find a copy of Quicktime 7 (the last version that played MIDIs)
The fact is you can still play the MIDI files, you may just have to do a little more than double click and expect it to work.