Catie Hickey: Establishing Routines for Stylistic Flexibility Routines - Warm up vs. Maintenance
Warm-up might not be more than 5-10 minutes and cover what I have to do to make a sound and articulate correctly. Trombones all function in the same way - what varies is sound concept (sonic footprint) and articulation style (attack and note shape).
Maintenance is the additional 45-60 minutes I need to cover aspects of technique. If I have a bunch of repertoire to learn, some of this can be covered in maintenance. When ignition is hard to come by, Arbans day of the month or tune learning.
For me, the hardest thing to maintain is a classical (specifically orchestral) sound concept. I need to start with it pretty much everyday or it suffers. Rim buzzing is a substitute when that’s not possible. I need to start with mezzo forte sameness and build my extremes from there. Extremes of register, dynamic level, and articulation are all fair game.
My goal when warming up is to balance the imaginary scales of effort and ease. My personal tendency is too much effort after time off/small horn playing, too much ease when living in low register tenor or bass doubling. I’m trying to focus the center of the sound rather than overblow/get more efficiency for my air.
Most of my early exercises start from from the center of the horn/setup and move around. For smaller setups this might be middle B flat, for bigger tenor setups it feels more like F. I need to get my air to agree with my lips, and balance quantities of air vs speed of air for each horn.
Categories of Routine: Sound, Flexibility, Articulation
Classical exercises: Longs and shorts, connecting one sound to the next. Slide technique. Norman Bolter overlay (sound then slide then tongue). Then mixing slurs and not slurs, dynamic and register extremes. Working in arpeggios and scale fragments. Pedro Carrero exercises. Charlie Vernon slurred/not slurred harmonic series. Addressing the chromatic nature of the instrument in ways that are not solely vertical or horizontal.
Commercial studies: Michael Davis etudes, Jack Gale etudes, transcribed solos and melodies in various transpositions with metronome support are all good ways to
stay engaged with various articulation patterns. Paying attention to time feel, phrasing, harmonic content, accent patterns and contrasts while moving from style to style. Keep it simple!
Endurance built in lots of twenty minute sessions rather than marathons - mimic the kind of chops you’ll need for the gig. Once you’re on the gig, practice in opposites.
Maintenance as a private instructor means maintaining pitch center - check in at the end of sessions as well as the beginning. Drones/play-along. Intonation in context, not just one note at a time or one slide direction is key here. Duets with great players.
Actively dropping the tongue rather than just blowing it out of the way.
Compression is king/which mouthpiece for which kind of commercial sound. I find it difficult to live on lead at the same time as I live on 2nd orchestral trombone chops.
Technique vs. Repertoire
Technique is how you play, repertoire is what you’re playing
Most repertoire can be learned (notes rhythms/style) off the horn
Plan ahead for cycles of teaching/learning/performing - knowing when opportunities for solo performance will be, forgiving busy teaching weeks. Functionality, building endurance cycles similar to athletes training.
Improvising - sing if you can’t play! Most of my improvising practice is not in the horn. Benefit of teaching: I sing a lot of solos and reinforce a lot of tunes with my students. Learning short bits of solos in different styles for phrasing and articulation.
Pitfalls of doubling - sound/support and articulation clarity.
Too much salsa/funk/loud playing - Caruso or Norman stopping and starting the sound again exercises. Lots of tenor trigger register melodies to slow down air speed and get more low register resonance.
Too much bebop noodling - reclaiming tenuto attacks, being really picky about note shape and duration. Beware the “dwah”.
Musical theater pits - playing acoustically and recording myself in decent/large rooms. Days off! Advil after doubles. Non-musical brain challenges.
Trying to play jazz on a large bore orchestral setup - loss of flexibility/too much pressure.
Questions to ask when something is awry
What/who am I trying to sound like?
How are notes starting? How are they stopping?
Is there an intermediate mouthpiece transition that will aid this process (5G on the way to 4G or vice versa)?
If possible, have I taken intentional time off - a day, a week, a month?
Recordings for entry into different styles: Fred Wesley with the Meters
Ruben Blades - Buscando Guayaba
Bennie Green - Bennie Plays the Blues
Leroy Jones - Harry Connick Spoonful of Sugar
This month, I'm in Pittsburgh for the first time to play with the River City Brass. Besides catching up with some old friends from Eastman and various summer festivals, I'm trying to walk up as many hills as possible. Suggestions welcome.
The latest wrinkle in my learning process has been sight-reading parts written in Bb treble transposition. I'm trying to figure out where in the history of the British Band someone thought it was a good idea to write transposed parts for a chromatic instrument in a clef that shows up nowhere in classical repertoire.
It makes sense that a genre born out of industrial grit and pragmatism would have a home in this city. My gratitude goes to director James Gourlay and all the folks in the band for their hospitality!
It’s tough to practice trombone in a closet. Besides the obvious space issue, there’s a subconscious restraint that happens to sound and technique. During my time studying at Eastman, we would regularly break into some of the largest rooms in school in order to work on resonance and projection of sound -- our musical identity. Even today, I’m always encouraging my students to “fill the room with sound”, no matter how big or small that room may be.
A few months ago, I was up for a job at a college whose policies frowned upon public declarations of support for LGBT causes, let alone being out at work. Without thinking, I found myself deleting parts of my social media, editing my interview process, and worrying about what would happen to my life if I did take the position. Luckily, someone more qualified than me took over before that idea could come to pass. The guilt has been nagging me ever since. Somewhere along the way I learned that being gay equated to shame, and even years of living in Andersonville with supportive family and friends can’t entirely shake that training. It feels an awful lot like trying to practice in the Eastman dungeons, barely able to reach sixth position.
I’m writing this to come out of whatever closet might be left in my non-musical life. I’m a member of the LGBT community -- if you didn’t know that, congratulations! You learned something today.
To borrow a line from my favorite songwriter, Jenny Owen Youngs, the list of things I would rather do other than talking about being gay includes shredding with a live band, plotting trips to South America, and watching the Cubs win the World Series. As a native Midwesterner (a label far more indicative of my personality and values), the last thing I want is make people uncomfortable. I also don’t want one part of me to overshadow the other parts, in the same way I’m tired of answering questions about what it’s like to be a chick who plays trombone. Spoiler alert: loud noises and conversations about beer are the same regardless of your orientation.
My hope in putting this out into the universe is visibility -- young people like my students need to read over and over that they are not alone, and that their dreams deserve to be equally visible. Emphasis on the equal.
I am proud to add my voice to the chorus of far more eloquent artists who have already stepped forward. I am grateful for the role models who make it possible for me to exist as a gay lady playing giant metal tube for a living. Most importantly, I am trying my best to do well by them -- which means I should probably go practice.
This post at Mighty Girl has me thinking.
For almost as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a professional trombonist. There is a trail of evidence, not limited to this high school jazz awards photo, suggesting I worked hard to pursue this passion. I've fought through schooling to earn a piece of sheepskin telling people I've mastered music. (Cognitive dissonance, much?). If my initial goal was to be a musician, I'm already there.....sort of. The life's work part is a bit harder for me to understand.
As Desz explains in her Mighty Girl post, there is no end destination to this process. After years of learning to be goal-oriented in order to survive, I am trying to better understand what makes a life in music "worth it". For a while now, I've been sitting on a project idea that incorporates trombone chamber music recitals with donor drives for the national bone marrow donor registry. Details about this project will be forthcoming as soon as I can get out of my day-to-day brain and do some planning. More than any high-profile gig I might be lucky to play, this feels like my life's work.
But seriously, if I ever start think about growing out my bangs again, someone reference this photo, please.
After months of emails, phone calls using my bad Spanish, and hard work by Avenicio Nunez, the first Panama Trombone Workshop was a terrific success. Mark Kellogg gave a series of masterclasses that were attended by over 100 student and professional trombonists, culminating in a performance in the Teatro Nacional that included solo and chamber works with the trombone front and center.
It's easy for festivals of trombone to turn into self-congratulatory monuments to ego; one of the things I appreciate most about my Panamanian friends is their commitment to community. Avenicio and crew were eager to share their own talents with us in the spirit of learning more and creating more opportunities for Panamanian and American students to learn from each other.
Special thanks to Francisco Delvecchio and Gerardo Pinto for their hospitality and musicianship!
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to sit on the other side of the judges' table for an evening of concerto competition auditions. Besides being impressed by the overall level of talent, I was struck by the change in body language from each performer from they entered to after they finished their performance. What was obviously missing at the end (the audience response) had a clearly detrimental effect on the way each student perceived their playing.
Whether I am sitting behind a table with a score sheet, in a practice room with a student, or in the audience at a club, I am not looking to heard a terrible performance. Youtube has enough musical schaudenfraude to keep facebook populated for at least another decade, so where did this idea originate? Cutting contests aside, how can we communicate in our teaching and adjudicating that we are looking to hear greatness, and work with the rest?
I am very excited to be returning to Panama in a few weeks as guest artist for the first official Trombone Masterclass with Avenicio Nunez. After working with Festival Alfredo San Malo for four summers, it's a chance to reunite with my trombone friends and colleagues, as well as introduce my former Eastman teacher, Mark Kellogg, to talented students.
I'm most nervous about my communication skills for this tour. Over a hundred emails have been exchanged to put this event together, and the translating is something I'm learning on the fly.
The second leg of our tour will involve masterclasses at the Conservatorio Nacional de Musica in San Jose, Costa Rica. Part of my seminar will involve talking about graduate studies in the United States. Taking suggestions for what pointers I should be giving!
(note: the spelling error on the poster has since been corrected)
The photo at left is from the 1999 Chicago Tribune Songwriting Contest, which I won by writing the lyrics to a song called "Radio Broadcast." It was my first experience dealing with professional musicians, and I really wish someone had told me beforehand that we were shooting a CD Cover!
As part of my job at Chicago High School for the Arts, I teach a class of junior instrumentalists something that is loosely titled "Professional Development". So far, our class discussions have skewed heavily towards college-related topics, but we are now moving into the more practical details of trying to balance music and adulthood.
This month, we are talking about budgeting, searching for scholarship money, and discussing the labyrinth that is a self-employment tax return. What are some other topics you wish were covered in school when you were 16?
I first met Carlos Zabala at the Alfredo San Malo Festival in Panama in 2011. We were playing a house concert on a front porch when he stepped up and wowed the audience with a rendition of Carnival of Venice. We've been friends ever since, and are in the process of founding a similar festival in Carlos' native Uruguay. Carlos was kind enough to come hang out in Chicago during the week of Thanksgiving and do a tour of area schools with our new duo project.
We had the chance to record a Boismortier sonata as part of our week. Youtube has it here.
We especially like the matching sound of flugelhorn and low register tenor trombone -- it has a dark timbre that can be hard to reproduce in larger ensemble settings.
Many thanks to Carl Chadek for allowing us to record in St. Hilary Church!