I have found myself with little time for writing this week, but since I like to maintain the discipline of posting something every weekend I’ll share just a brief reflection this evening. This is essentially a follow-up to last week’s post about my experience at the Alessi Seminar, though it has more to do with my preparation for that event than the event itself.
About six weeks prior to the Seminar we were each emailed part assignments for a trombone quartet and the trombone choir, and asked to choose from a short list of solo works and excerpts to prepare for the masterclasses. While I was able to choose a solo and excerpts that did not expose any peculiar weaknesses in my playing (an idea I mentioned in a post last year), a couple of the ensemble parts I was assigned exposed a particular “chink in my armor” that I had been working to address but also made efforts to compensate for in performance. The particular weakness I’m referring to is the range between F4 and Bb4. I am well able to play below that range and, happily, have relatively little difficulty above it. But I have had some “stickiness” in recent years negotiating a minute shift when moving between the middle and upper registers and not always happy experiences when doing so.
Not wanting to embarrass myself at the Seminar, I spent nearly as much time practicing those two ensemble parts as I did my solo and excerpts for the masterclasses. Over the course of those six weeks or so I had several breakthroughs in my practice of those parts, and the performances were successful. Even more importantly, the improvements in that register have transferred to other pieces. I am no longer practicing those two ensemble parts, yet the things I learned in preparing them have brought about better playing in that register generally.
When I wrote the earlier post I just mentioned someone commented on Facebook that sometimes you have to take the things that you can’t do well, program a piece that forces you to work on them, and “kick them in the ***.” While I still maintain that it is good to program things that highlight one’s strengths, particularly when practice time is limited, sometimes being forced to tackle a weakness head-on is the best way to foster improvement. Happily, that was the case this summer.