About Instruments, Music, and Band

Westerly Band - Sat Jul 04, 2015 @ 11:07AM
Comments: 99

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called music "the universal language of mankind." Now researchers may know why.

A new analysis of music from diverse cultures around the globe reveals that regardless of whether it's hip-hop or classical or alternative rock, all music shares certain universal features, such as having a simple beat. And these characteristics tend to be those that bring people together, the researchers said.

"Our findings help explain why humans make music," study researcher Thomas Currie from the University of Exeter said in a statement. "The results show that the most common features seen in music around the world relate to things that allow people to coordinate their actions, and suggest that the main function of music is to bring people together and bond social groups — it can be a kind of social glue."

Currie, along with Pat Savage, a doctoral student at the Tokyo University of the Arts, and their colleagues analyzed music from around the world, examining 304 recordings from the online Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. The music samples came from every inhabited continent, from both vocal and instrumental music, and included indigenous recordings as well as modern, studio-created music. 

The researchers analyzed the music using a few different classification schemes. They systematically coded the features of each piece of music and employed a phylogenetic comparison system similar to those used by evolutionary biologists to classify and statistically analyze organisms. Although they found no features that were part of all the songs analyzed,  the researchers did find dozens of characteristics that were present in a majority of songs across different world regions.

Some of these characteristics were not surprising, such as the music's tendency to use discrete pitches (rather than ones that slide from one tone to the next like the way a voice rises to ask a question), and equally timed beats and short musical phrases.

Other music universals were more unexpected, like the discovery that two-beat rhythms predominate over three-beat rhythms (think of a military march compared with a waltz). "It fits that we have two legs, so the music is probably related to the natural rhythms of movement," said Savage. "And also, two is simpler than three, so maybe it's easier to process and coordinate."

The researchers also found that though a pentatonic or five-note scale is assumed to reign supreme around the world, scales are actually more complicated than that. A lot of the scales that were analyzed actually had four or six notes, though the interval structures were similar to each other. (A scale is a set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch.)

Men as well as bands dominate music around the world, from Papua New Guinea to the Middle East. Some people, as far back as Darwin, have believed that singing evolved as a way for males to gain mates (whale song and bird song are dominated by males). In humans, Savage said, the fact that females are less likely to be involved in music-making is likely more tied into a patriarchal cultural structure than a biological reason — something that he said requires more study.

The finding that most music happens in groups, however, points to the evolution of group bonding and social cohesion through music. Before iPods and smartphones (and before that, CDs and records), multiple people were required to bring music to life; simple repetitive beats brought people together to collaborate on one activity.

Previous studies showed that people who experience music together are more likely to rate those who listen with them as helpful or attractive. Even babies, though too young to talk, are more likely to help an experimenter after bouncing in rhythm with him or her than when they move out of sync.

Savage said that follow-up studies might compare music production across species, analyzing which features are unique to human music and which exist in birds or whales or other music-making creatures.

                                                                   by Katherine Gammon, Live Science, 30 June 2015

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Chris Eiva - Sun Dec 16, 2012 @ 09:00PM
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IMG_1077.jpgEach December, a group of ten to twelve musicians from the Westerly Band gather on Sunday afternoons at the local nursing homes to bring some holiday music to the residents.  Since most of the residents are unable to attend our annual Christmas concert at the armory, a small group of the band comes to them.   This year the group met on December 2, 2012 at the Westerly Health Center at 1:30 and then at 3:00pm at Apple Rehab--Clipper Home.   Then two weeks later, on December 16, at The Watch Hill Apple Rehab Nursing Home. (A second carolling session was scheduled at the Westerly Nursing Home for that afternoon, but had to be cancelled due to the flu outbreak.)   At each location, the group played a selection of between fifteen and twenty Christmas carols, ending with Silent Night, followed by We Wish You a Merry Christmas and Auld Lang Syne.  Residents sang along, clapped and enjoyed the entertainment.    Nate Lauder, on tuba, acted as conductor giving the beat to start each piece.  Roy Clark, on bass clarinet, gave a short explanation and history of each piece, presenting some lesser known facts about each carol to the audiences.   

We would like to thank the Nursing Homes for allowing us to come and celebrate with the residents there.

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Chris Eiva - Sat Aug 11, 2012 @ 04:16PM
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A native of Concord, New Hampshire, Joseph Foley attended Boston University as a Trustee Scholar, where he studied trumpet with Roger Voisin, Rolf Smedvig, and Peter Chapman.  There he received both his Bachelors and Masters of Music degrees, and was twice named, "Outstanding Brass Player".  He has performed in more than a dozen coutries on four continents.

  Joseph Foley

 A highly sought-after chamber musician, he is a former member of the Atlantic Brass Quintet, which garnered grand prizes at six international competitions during his tenure.  He has performed with the boston Symphony Brass Quintet, the Empire Brass, Burning River Brass, ALEA III, and at the Santa Fe, Buzzard's Bay, and Newport Chamber Music Festivals.

As an orchestral musician, he has perfomred and toured with such prestigious ensembles as the Boston Symphony, Boston Pops, Boston Ballet, Royal Ballet of London, and the New York Philharmonic.  Mr. Foley has been Principal Trumpet of the Rhode Island Philharmonic since 1990 and was recently appointed Principal Trumpet of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra of Houston, TX.

As a soloist, he has performed with the Boston Pops, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, the Rhode Island Philharmonic, the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, and at Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall.  Recently he was the soloist in the world premiere of the Trumpet concerto by Harold Shapero.  He can be heard on reocrdings of the Boston Symphony, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Atlantic Brass, Empire Brass, the Metropolitan Opera Brass and many others.  His first solo CD is due out this year.

Mr. Foley has taught at many prestigious institutions, including Boston University and the Boston Conservatory.  A clinician for the Vincent Bach Corporation, he has presented master classes around the world, and currently is Professor of Trumpet at Rhode Island College.


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Westerly Band - Fri Jan 06, 2012 @ 05:29PM
Comments: 63

Excerpts from an interview with the the LA Times. You can read the full interview here.

Do you still practice your clarinet every day?

At least half an hour. You have to practice every day, even in order to play as badly as I do. Your lip is involved, your embouchure [the use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece] — you just can't play effectively if you don't.

Do you need to practice at a certain time or a certain place?

I've practiced many different times in many places when I am out shooting. I have practiced out in the snow. I've come back to my hotel room at 11 o'clock at night out of town when I was making films and put the quilt over my head on the bed so I wouldn't wake anybody up at that hour. I've practiced in churches in Europe when I couldn't find any other spot. In automobiles where I would have the driver find a secluded street. Or I'd get in the car by myself and lock the doors when it was too cold outside.

After 50 years of this, do you feel guilty if you miss a day of practice?


If there is to be an epitaph written for you as a musician, what should it say?

He was a terrible musician, but he really loved doing it.


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Westerly Band - Sat Jun 04, 2011 @ 04:24AM
Comments: 152


Sun Staff Writer

It was anything but a ho-hum tune. In fact Joe Nigrelli Sr. couldn’t get this one out of his head.

He was walking through Wilcox Park one day about 14 years ago when a tune popped into his head — a brisk tune, much like a march. “I used to walk through the park and hum all the time, “ says Nigrelli, the owner and founder of Nigrelli’s Jewelry, a 64-year-old Westerly institution.

But there was something special about that hum which turned into
a tune, which stayed in his head. When he got home, he hummed it for his son, the late David Nigrelli, who sat down at his computer and came up with a melody — along with the help of a computer program.

When Nigrelli’s
grandson Joey, who was then a senior at Westerly High School, heard the tune, he connected with some friends at Berklee School of Music who listened to the melody and wrote music for the march and “The Bulldog Rumble” was born. Later in the year, Neighbor Day originator Mary Jane Di Maio approached Ted Collins, the Westerly High School music director at the time, looking for musical recommendations for the annual community event. Collins immediately thought of Nigrelli.

“Collins told her he heard about a jeweler in town who had a march,” laughs Nigrelli, “so she approached me, the band played it on Neighbor Day and David recorded it.”

“Then when my grandson Joey graduated they played it at the graduation and it went over big,” says Nigrelli, who was a tailgunner in WWII, attached to the 315th Bomb Wing of the 20th Air Force, and played the saxophone and clarinet in the Air Force Band.

“That graduation was awesome,” says Joey, who was president of the class of 1997. “I was never more proud than to have my grandfather’s march played during my graduation.”

But somehow the score to Nigrelli’s march got lost in the shuffle and was never to be seen again. Until one day about two years ago when Roy Clark, the president of the Westerly Band was in Nigrelli’s Jewelry shop and noticed an old photo of the Westerly band and got talking to Joe Nigrelli Sr.

“Joe told me the whole story of how he was humming in the park and how the students at Berklee got involved and how it was played at his grandson’s graduation — which was such a nice touch — and how the sheet music got lost was lost,” Clark explains, “and then he told me he had a recording he wanted me to listen to.”

“And I told him, ‘I have a composer for you,’” he laughs.

That composer was Pasquale “Pat” Siravo, a Westerly resident, who composes marches in addition to playing the trumpet and baritone horn for the Westerly Band.

Siravo wrote “Bucky’s March,” as a tribute to George “Bucky” Wilde, the director of Westerly’s Columbus Band from 1973 to 1985, and he is also the author of the “Spirit of Westerly,” which he developed while marching in a summer parades.

Siravo sat down and listened to Nigrelli’s recording. “They wanted me to write down the harmonies and to add to it,” says Siravo, “so I did. I listened and I scored it.”

“It’s a little like a fight song,” says Clark, as he plays the brisk tune for a listener.

Clark says the community is invited to come and listen to the newly scored piece this month when “The Bulldog Rumble” will have its second premier on Wednesday, May 25 during a joint concert with the Westerly High School Band and the Westerly Band at Westerly High School at 7:30 p.m.

“We’ll also be playing ‘The Spirit of Westerly,’” he adds, but the “Bulldog Rumble” will be the main event.

“You know,” says Clark of the newly scored piece, “we really should be calling it the ‘Nigrelli March,’ but Joe is too modest.” 


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How Musicians Can Benefit from Some Pre-Practice Routines

The snarky answer to that question is another question: Do Olympic-level athletes warm up before their competitions? If the world's finest athletes include warm-ups in their routines, wouldn't it make sense for you to add some simple yet helpful exercises to your music practice—especially if the benefits are obvious?

Consider the similarity between what a champion athlete does and what you do as a musician. Whether you perform on woodwinds, brass, strings or percussion, you're performing complex controlled actions to produce music from your instrument. And you'll probably concede that your best performances result from your mastery of the physical actions that produce your music. If you're accomplished enough, you barely think about most of these actions during your performances. (And if you aren't yet that accomplished musically, you're probably looking forward to a time when you no longer need to think carefully about every action as you perform it.)

Now consider some of the benefits of warm-ups and finger exercises, and I think you'll be convinced to add exercises to your practice routine:

Warm ups can help prevent injury or assist with the healing of existing injuries. A warm-up routine is a great way to take your mind off of everything else going on in your life in order to focus on your instrument and your music. Once you are warmed up, playing becomes more efficient, easier, more fluid, and probably more accurate. You can even integrate your warm-up routine into a regular exercise program with the benefits of better health, improved posture, proper breathing, and mood enhancement.

And just to clarify, musicians have available both purely physical exercises as well as exercises performed on their instrument and both are beneficial for improving health as well as performance. It probably goes without saying that your most valuable instrument is your body, and that anything you can do to help it remain healthy and supple will contribute positively to your aspirations as a musician or to the length of your musical career.

Here is another reason to advocate for warm-up exercises: Musicians, especially beginners, are susceptible to injury because of repetitive movement—and for beginners—unfamiliar repetitive movements.

String performers who don't warm up properly risk injury to their backs, shoulders, and neck. Performers on wind instruments may subject themselves to neck, shoulder, and arm injuries, as well as problems with their ears, nose, throat, mouth, and lips. Brass instrumentalist may even risk eye injury as they attempt to exert undue air pressure. Percussionists, too, can encounter back, shoulder, neck, hand, and wrist problems, as well as pain in their arms and fingers from accumulated tension.

If untreated, these symptoms can lead to extreme pain as well as specific conditions such as carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel, or thoracic outlet syndrome; and tendinitis, bursitis, or Quervain's tenosynovitis. If like most of us, you don't even know what most of these are, let's just say that all of these repetitive strain injuries are well worth avoiding.

Thankfully, you can take some simple steps to minimize your chances of injury.

For example, keyboardists have been using various Hanon keyboard exercises for finger dexterity ever since Charles-Louis Hanon first published them in 1873. Brass performers blow through their mouthpiece as part of the warm up. One great practice tool for brass players is the B.E.R.P. And orchestral string players have various bowing and fingering exercises specifically for their benefit. All of these measures contribute to better playing, and no matter what instrument you play, you can find musical exercise books and DVDs on our website that will help you be a better performer.

In the meantime, we suggest a few physical exercises that can benefit you no matter what instrument you play. Depending on your specific physical needs, you may also want to consult a qualified medical professional before starting any exercise regimen, especially if you have existing injuries or chronic pains.

When doing any of the exercises below, remember that they are intended to release tension and to relax and stretch your muscles and tendons. They should not cause pain or be done to the point of feeling pain. If you begin to feel discomfort, stop.

As you warm up, focus on what you feel in your muscles and tendons. Think of yourself as waking them up, getting the blood flowing through them for flexibility and lubrication, preparing them to do your bidding smoothly and efficiently knowing that you'll be expressing yourself musically with the least amount of effort for the greatest effect after you exercise.

 Gentle Stretching

Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and swing your arms freely from left to right moving your shoulders. Imagine that your body is like a rag doll and each arm is an elephant's trunk moving smoothly back and forth. Twist gently at the waist in response to the weight of your arms as you feel your body loosening up.

Do arm circles with your hands out in front of you clockwise and counter-clockwise.

Stretch the smaller muscles of your hands by first clenching your fists and then opening them with your hands straight out in front of you. Try it palms down, then palms up, then with your palms facing each other.

Perform these movements slowly and gently holding each position for a few seconds. Remember to breath, and relax between sets.

Neck Stretching Exercises

Clasp your left wrist with your right hand and hold it in back of your head. Pull your arms to the right and then to the left. Repeat with the other hand.

Reach for the sky

First reach up with both hands and rise on the balls of your feet if you can. Bring your arms down and your feet flat on the floor, and then reach up with alternating arms. Then reaching one arm up at a time bend at the waist to the opposite side without twisting at the waist.

Standing twist

Bend forward, place you right hand loosely around the inside of your right knee. Stretch your left arm up toward the ceiling and turn your head to the left, trying to see your left hand. Repeat on the other side.

Neck and Shoulder Stretch

Clasp your left wrist with your right hand and hold it in back of your head. Pull your arms to the right and then to the left. Repeat with the other hand.

Finger Flexor Stretch

With either your left or your right arm straight out in front of you, use one hand to move the fingers of the other. Gently bend each finger and the thumb back as far as it will go without pain, one at a time and hold for a few seconds. When stretching your hands and fingers only go far enough to feel resistance. Never pull back until you feel pain. Repeat on the opposite side.

Finger Extensor Stretch

With palms down on a flat surface such as a table, or desk, or the top of your piano, straighten all the fingers and thumb and move them apart and then bring them together again.

Forearm Flexor Stretch

Place a cushion or folded towel on a table in front of you. In a standing position with palms down and wrists bent, place your hands on the cushion with fingers relaxed, not spread apart. Straighten your arms and lean your body forward slightly without putting weight on your hands and wrists and feel the stretch at the back of your palms.

Forearm Extensor Stretch

Extend either arm in front of you with your elbow straight. Let your hand flop down at the wrist. Put your free hand in front of the other and gently pull your fingers toward you stretching the top of the land. Reverse and do the same for the right hand. Now repeat with each arm with the fingers of the stretching arm pointed upward.

Here are a few exercises specifically for your fingers:

Finger Lifts

Place your palm flat on a table and simply raise and lower your fingers one at a time. Do the finger in a variety of patterns to enhance your muscle control. For example, start with the index finger and work your way down to the little finger. Or start with the middle finger, jump to the little finger, hop across to the index finger and finish the series with the ring finger. Create your own sequences to keep the exercise fresh.

Finger Spread

With your palm flat on a table or other surface, bring your fingers together tight. Now fan open your fingers, allowing them to stretch as far apart as possible. Slide your fingers shut again returning to the starting position. Repeat the movement at least 10 times with each hand to complete one set. Add more repetitions and sets as your finger strength increases.

Finger Walk

Again, place your palm flat on a surface spreading your fingers a natural distance apart. Now walk your fingers across to your thumb. Start by lifting your index finger and move it closer to your thumb. Next, lift your middle finger and move it toward the thumb, followed in turn by the ring finger and little finger. Keep your wrist and thumb stationary throughout the exercise.

Paper Crumple

Hold a piece of paper between your thumb and fingers, and extend your arm straight out in front of you. With your arm extended, crumple the paper into a tight ball using only your fingers. Try to crumple up the paper as fast as possible. Keep repeating with fresh paper until your fingers, hand and forearm are warmed up.

Fingertip Touch

Hold your hand straight out in front of you. Bend your thumb across your palm and touch it to the outer edge of your hand beneath the little finger. Now return your thumb to the starting position and touch the tip of your index finger to your thumb. Next, touch the tip of your middle finger to your thumb, followed by the ring finger's tip and the little finger's tip. Start the exercise over and repeat as many times as necessary for the movement to become smooth and effortless.

Finger Walking

Finally, finger walk exercises can help strengthen your forearm, hand, and finger joints. Place your palm flat against a smooth, flat wall while seated or standing. Next, focus on using only your individual fingers on that hand to move your arm up the surface of the wall. Gravity will provide the resistance needed to accomplish this strengthening exercise for maximum benefit. Hold your arm up for a few seconds after your hand has walked as far as it can. Then repeat using the opposite arm.

Finger Strength

Doctor of Musical Arts Yoshinori Hosaka recommends the following exercise: Hold your right hand up with your fingers slightly curved. With your palms facing, use the finger of your left hand to reach over your right hand fingers and cover the nail of each right-hand finger with the corresponding fingertip of your left hand. Now bear down with your left hand's fingers while resisting with your right hand's fingers. Try this with each finger individually, then with the whole hand. Finally, reverse hands so that each gets an equal amount of exercise.

You don't need to perform all of these exercises every time, but do consider printing them out and selecting a few of the ones you find most useful to do before every practice. You'll notice that you feel looser, more relaxed, and more alert after performing a set of these exercises. And once again, you should not feel any pain, and you should feel the physical and mental benefits almost immediately. Over time you will notice that your flexibility, strength, and range of motion are increasing.
When you are finished with these exercises, start playing some slow gentle exercises on your instrument to warm up the specific parts of your body that you use in performance.
Reprinted from the Woodwind & Brasswind website.
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Westerly Band - Mon Jan 24, 2011 @ 01:37PM
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Over many years of teaching, I have learned that the biggest challenges students face have to do with developing efficient practice techniques and learning how to be open and responsive while performing. My teaching at The University of North Florida and privately has taught me that these issues should be of the highest priority and be the foundation for musical growth and creativity.  Both challenges have been present for virtually every student I have taught.

The Proper Approach

Practicing incorrectly creates a major hurdle in the student's ability to improve his/her playing. Before a student begins to play an exercise, he/she should tap the rhythm of the exercise and then sing the exercise effortlessly. If this first step is missed, the brain might not be fully engaged. When playing the exercise, the student should sing at the same time. Wind players can sing the exercise and play silently; just fingering the instrument.

Playing/singing the exercise incorrectly establishes the flawed exercise as the norm, even though the student may consciously know that the exercise is not correct. The brain may not make the same distinction, just as a computer will not show an error message if the phrase '2+2= 7' is inputted. The computer simply accepts the information, whether it is correct or not. By repeating an exercise incorrectly, the brain interprets the incorrect exercise as being correct. With many repetitions, correct or incorrect, neurological pathways are formed and the information is solidified. Students experience this in other ways as well— for example, if a tune's melody is learned and repeated incorrectly, it can be difficult to fix the error unless many repetitions are done to override and replace the incorrect information.

The solution to this challenge is very simply to practice as perfectly as possible – find the tempo, even if it is incredibly slow, at which no mistakes are made. If a student cannot play the exercise perfectly even at a very slow tempo, he or she can try to play/sing a small part of the exercise, make sure it is correct, and then repeat it several times until it is second nature. The additional part of the exercise can then be added on, and the entire exercise can then be practiced.

After too few repetitions, a student may desire to increase the tempo. However, he/she may not be the best judge about whether the exercise has been mastered. What I use to assess this is to have the student repeat the exercise, error-free for a minimum of 10-15 repetitions. If mistakes occur, the exercise has not been mastered and needs to be slowed down or simplified,for example, the student should play only the first part of the exercise, as mentioned above. The student can also tap the rhythm of the exercise again, resulting in the rhythm becoming assimilated both mentally and physically. Many repetitions are necessary to create ease and mastery of the exercise at a given tempo. Once the exercise can be played perfectly and effortlessly, the student can increase the tempo (maybe 10 beats on the metronome). Thanks to Kenny Werner for this technique (i.e. the exercise is either 'too fast or too much.')

Another issue is "stopping and starting," which students often do to correct a mistake. If this is allowed during practice, a message is sent to the brain that it is an acceptable way of playing, even though the student may consciously know that it is not. When a student allows this to happen when practicing a tune, his/her brain accepts this as being correct. In a performance environment stopping and starting isn't acceptable; yet if a student is accustomed to doing it in practice, tension will result as there is no mechanism in place for quick recovery after a mistake. Students need to practice tunes without stopping and starting, and if a mistake is made, the student should recover as quickly as possible, but the form of the tune should continue, regardless. If the student reacts to the mistake, it will only delay his/her coming back to the correct place in the tune. Tapping the melody of the tune, as mentioned above, can be helpful with breaking the habit. Not allowing the students to stop and start replicates a live performance situation, in which the student would need to regain his/her bearings and resume playing.

Learning to be Open and Responsive

So often, students become absorbed in playing what they know – the material they have practiced and assimilated. That does not guarantee that they will be 'in the space' that will allow them to respond to what is happening in the moment. Getting into the flow of being in a creative mind-space can be practiced. I have often asked my students to intentionally leave more space when they are practicing and playing in a group setting, allowing an opportunity for the other players to interact with them. I have observed them practicing this correctly, but when in a performance situation, they revert back to their old way of playing.

There is a certain comfort that students feel when they focus only on what they are playing, rather than what is happening in the group. There is a deeper creative space that the students can reach when they let go of 'the known' and wait and listen. I have tried techniques such as having the soloist trade two-measure phrases with the drummer, which creates a call and response scenario. However, this interaction is often lost in a live performance situation, as the students will revert back to their old habits. Recently, I tried something new. I asked the students to think about music differently: space is the main focus and the notes played are secondary. In other words, I suggested they wait until they felt like playing something— even if it meant that many measures went by without them playing a note. By doing this, the students became more comfortable with space and started to feel freer with the music. During the time that they were not playing, I believe that their minds were unconsciously preparing for the next phrase, even though they reported that they were simply experiencing the space. They were able to let go of the need to be playing non-stop phrases without leaving any breathing room. This created a new musical experience, in which the students relaxed, listened to what was happening in the band and waited for the next phrase to come to them.

This exercise takes an extreme approach in order to create more comfort with space, which in turn allows for greater freedom. If this is the foundation for the practice of improvisation, it is my belief that it will be easier for the students to access deeper creativity. By 'getting in the space,' the students may choose to play spaciously or more densely, but there will be an underlying feeling of openness and flexibility.
These practices are a small sampling of techniques that I have found to be indispensable for furthering students' ability to become efficient in their practice and responsive to the multitude of directions and shapes that can manifest in improvised music.

Pianist, composer, arranger Lynne Arriale is assistant professor of Jazz Piano and director of Small Ensembles at the University of North Florida. She is also a sought after clinician and private instructor for notable music schools at all levels and private students the world over. Throughout her 20 year career, she has toured internationally, playing most major festivals, and recently performed two "Jazz Meets Symphony" concerts in Johannesburg and Durban for The Jazz Foundation of South Africa. Arriale has recorded twelve critically acclaimed CD's as a leader; the most current being Nuance (featuring Randy Brecker, George Mraz and Anthony Pinciotti) and Convergence (featuring Bill McHenry, Omer Avital and Anthony Pinciotti), due for release February, 2011 on Motema Music.

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Westerly Band - Thu Apr 22, 2010 @ 04:52PM
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There are advantages to being grounded by the volcano. Being stuck in Edinburgh, I was able to visit the Collection of Historic Instruments at the University. Although it is only two rooms in Reid Concert Hall, there are dozens of each instrument on display.

My primary interest was the Shackleton Collection of Clarinets. From an original one key instrument, through 3, 5, and 12 keys, to the modern design, the development of the clarinet was displayed in actual instruments. And more than just seeing them, I got to hear them, too. There was a computer kiosk where I could read the details of, and hear a piece being played on the antique instrument.

Serpent Horn, UE CofHI

Serpent Horn, Edinbugh Univ. Collection of Historic Instrumentd

Beyond clarinets, I also heard the serpent, the hand horn, baroque kettle drums, and others. For example, I heard "Witches' Sabbath" from Symphonie Fantastique on the four key flute. From the dragon-head trombone to the cornopean, I was fascinated by the range of instruments on display. I'm glad I got the opportunity to see the collection.

Dragon Head Trombone, UE CofHIDragon Head Trombone, EU Collection of Historic Instruments

If, perchance, you are ever in Scotland, take time to see the Historic Instrument Collection in Reid Concert Hall at Edinburgh University. The collection is open, free of charge on Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning.

- Roy Clark, April 21,2010


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Westerly Band - Thu Apr 22, 2010 @ 04:00PM
Comments: 58

Last year, in a newsletter, I wrote about band camp for adults. This year, I took my own advice and attended a week-long master class for bass clarinets on the Isle of Raasay in Scotland. The weather was perfect, the scenery fabulous, and the sight-seeing enjoyable. I had a great time, but this blog should be about music so from here on I'll write about the class.

We were asked to prepare a solo for the class and on the first day I was nervous. There are were eleven students altogether along with our mentors, Sarah Watts, an international soloist and Antony Clare, pianist and clarinetist. We began the day playing as a group, both improvisational and songs inspired by the islands. After lunch, we began our master class performances, and finished the day by breaking into ensembles, quartets and duos. Altogether, a full day of playing bass clarinet.

While Sarah gives a private lesson to one student, another presents his or her prepared piece to the rest of the class. Antony is the accompanist and instructor. The resulting discussion is not so much abut technique as it is about the music itself and its presentation. For example, yesterday, with small changes in phrasing and emphasis, a piece went from baroque to romantic and back. In my piece, I missed a couple of high C's, but our discussion was about using dynamics to shape some of the phrases.

Wednesday evening, Sarah and Antony gave a concert. Sarah, on the bass clarinet, demonstrated a mastery of musical styles ranging from classical to contemporary, from serious to whimsical. The concert also was the world premiere for a new song "Goings-On". The composer, Iain Matheson, was in attendance. Late Thursday afternoon we students gave a recital in which each of us played his or her prepared piece. And Friday afternoon was a concert for the ensembles, and for the entire group as a choir. Two pieces the choir played had a local flavor, and were composed for this event. . One is "Raasay Sound" by Stuart Russell and the other "Thor", which was composed by Antony Clare.

.Aside from the scenery and the food and all bass clarinet music, what made it special were the people. I have become friends with eleven personable and fun individuals who happen to play the bass clarinet. Thursday evening we had a ceilidh in the hotel lounge, drinking, laughing, and playing Scottish folk music on a trio of bass clarinets. What a wonderfully enjoyable week!
- Roy Clark, April 17,2010

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Westerly Band - Thu Mar 25, 2010 @ 05:03AM
Comments: 59

Electronic tuners are a great tool. Once bulky and hard-to-use, they are now small and full of useful features. This guide will give ideas of ways to use a tuner and what to look for when you buy. It is written by the author of “Advanced Intonation Technique for Clarinets“, a complete CD and exercise book for tuning improvement on clarinet.

What kind of tuner should I buy?

For one thing, buy a chromatic tuner, not a guitar tuner. Guitar tuners typically tune only the guitar strings and not the full chromatic range of a wind instrument.  A tuner with a gauge style display is easiest to read in detail.  Just having lights as a display is OK, but it is not as detailed as needed to accomplish the tips given here.  Many tuners also will play at different tuning standards like A442. For reasons I will explain later, it is good to have a plug-in for an outside sound source.

Tuning the tuning note…

To begin on a wind instrument, warm up by playing for 10 minutes.  It does little good to work on tuning with a cold instrument.  Make the appropriate adjustments to your instrument to get your regular tuning note to match the tuner while playing about mf. But don’t stop there—tune various areas in your medium range. For the basics, you are sharp if the indicator is to the right of zero and flat if it is to the left of zero.  Tuners are calibrated in cents, or 100th of a semitone.  Most people can hear if a note is out of tune 4 or 5 cents or more, but you want your tuning note right on.

Note flexibility…

You should be able to play as many notes as you can by as much as 20 cents higher and 20 cents lower.  Find a flexible note that you can move up and down easily and watch the tuner.  This flexibility becomes necessary at times when playing with others, or with a group that gradually plays at a higher pitch.  As you will see later, there are also times when a note must be played higher or lower than the indicated pitch on the tuner when you want to play pure-sounding intervals.

Loud and soft…

Different instruments respond differently when played loud or soft.  For example, clarinets play flatter as they get louder and sharper as they get softer….but flutes do just the opposite.  Play a long note beginning very softly and getting gradually louder up to ff and back while keeping the pitch level.

Full range…

Play the complete range of your instrument and watch where your notes are going sharp or flat.  Make a chart of the pitch tendencies to refer to from time to time.  I keep one in my case.

Use the sound mode of the tuner…

Using the tuner display to check notes is great, but training your ear to hear good intonation is more important.  By playing along with the pitches sounded on the tuner, you can hear the effects of playing a note higher or lower by listening for beats.  These are pulses in the sound you hear when two notes are out of tune with each other. The slower the beats, the better in tune you are. The faster the beats, the less in tune you are. When there are no beats, you are exactly in tune.  Hint: the human ear hears flatness better than sharpness, so start the note low and bring the pitch up to meet the tuner’s note.  You can also play intervals and scales against the tuner’s note.

Spot checking notes while playing…

Have the tuner on while playing a piece or exercise and stop and hold a note randomly from time to time to take a look at the tuner to see where your intonation is.

Just Intonation…

There are two systems on which we will work: Equal Temperament and Just Intonation.

  • Equal Temperament – When composers began to write music in more keys long ago, they ran into trouble because the further they went from the basic keys, the more out of tune the music got.  The solution for keyboard instruments was to divide the octave into twelve equally spaced intervals….this is called Equal Temperament. By doing this, all keys could be played in, although they were all equally slightly out of tune with the natural scales our ears settle upon.  Electronic tuners are set to Equal Temperament.  Wind instruments are made to approximate Equal Temperament, and it is the only reasonable standard for melodic playing. But it is not enough, the ear being the final authority. We need……
  • Just Intonation – This is what our ears hear to be correct beatless intervals when playing together with other players.  Beats are the pulsations we hear when two notes are out of tune.  To keep it simple, let’s look at only two intervals: a major third (C and E) and a minor third (C and Eb).  To be pure, the top note of a major third needs to be 14 cents LOWER than what the tuner registers as the correct pitch.  And, the top note of a minor third needs to be 16 cents HIGHER than the tuner’s correct pitch.
    • Do you see why it is good to be able to play notes with flexibility?
    • Some tuners even have markings on the face where these higher or lower notes should be.
    • Here is where another device comes in – the tuner pick-up.  I have had good luck with the Arion AR-80. It plugs into the input plug in the tuner.  It has a device that clips gently to your instrument and picks up only the sound it is making without interference from outside sounds.  This means you can listen to a sound like a keyboard, fellow player, or tuning CD while watching the tuner record your actual pitch. This allows you to tune the intervals to Just Intonation and see the effects of changing your pitch. Try it. Play an E against an outside C pitch and adjust your pitch until it is about 14 cents lower. Can you hear the pureness of it?

It is always better to train your ears to hear and not rely completely on an electronic tuner, but this visual reference to intonation is a great aid.

John Gibson, JB Linear Music

Tags: Tuner, Intonation
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