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Author Topic: Pickup Group Strategies  (Read 486 times)
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harrison.t.reed
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« on: Jan 26, 2017, 03:49PM »

Given 5 college/professional musicians who have never played together before, how would you approach putting a brass quintet together on short notice and overcome the fact that you don't have time to "gel" and get as in synch as you would like?

You have, maybe, two rehearsals max.
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BGuttman
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« Reply #1 on: Jan 26, 2017, 04:05PM »

How much of a performance do you need to prepare for?  What kind of audience?

I would start with relatively simple rep that most of them have probably played in college or before.  Things like the Ewald Symphony (1st Quintet, the Robert King one) or the Renaissance music transcriptions by King.  I certainly wouldn't toss Malcolm Arnold or Suite from the Montragian Hills on them on short notice.

Clearly you need to spend the first rehearsal working on blend and that easy rep is a good place to start.

If you need to do a concert of Fusion Jazz or Punk, I'm not the guy to ask.
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Bruce Guttman
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« Reply #2 on: Jan 26, 2017, 04:10PM »

Get the (copies?) of music to them ASAP. Figure out whats going to be played before you rehearse even if that means picking out stuff that is 'below' what the group is capable of. If time is valuable then one rehearsal should probably be dedicated to figuring out errors in parts and roadmap; I normally like to leave the second rehearsal to running everything - in order - as if it were being performed just to make sure there aren't any logistical problems. (Oh right, if I play this piece then I can't immediately start the next one because I have to swap out my Eb trumpet slides to the D slides!).
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harrison.t.reed
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« Reply #3 on: Jan 26, 2017, 09:04PM »

Thanks guys. It isn't a matter of what to play or what is on the page. What is difficult is building that group cohesion. Starting with easy chorales seems like the way to go.
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"My technique is as good as Initial D"
T-396A - Griego 1C
88HTCL - Griego 1C
36H - DE XT105, C+, D Alto Shank
3B/F Silversonic - Griego 1A ss
pBone (with Yellow bell for bright tone)
JBledsoe
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« Reply #4 on: Jan 26, 2017, 11:13PM »

I play in a brass quintet for a living, and as a result have been fortunate to work with a lot of young brass ensembles. Additionally, I've been in the trenches constantly fine tuning an already well-oiled machine. I find that too often there is an intense focus on blend in groups that are young, or when a group of people have never played together before. Personally, I think that when there is limited time, blend should be something that is found as a result of working on other elements of ensemble cohesiveness.

First and foremost, a rehearsal leader needs to be established. This individual doesn't need to be responsible for the group sound or musical opinion, but they should be in charge of the pacing of the rehearsal. Too often, when individuals have gotten together who have not developed a group dynamic, the rehearsal can spin out into large amounts of wasted time.

The primary layer of being able to create cohesiveness is generating a consensus on beginning and ending notes/phrases together. Even something as simple as a tuning note can become a great exercise. I have ensembles play a tuning note together, with a cue typically given by the first trumpet. This exercise alone will start to highlight the varying opinions of exactly when the note begins relative to the preparatory breath that was given to indicate the entrance, and how a note should end relative to the given cutoff gesture.

The secondary layer is developing appropriate balance across the ensemble. Bach chorales can be used, but these can often be tricky. I find it most beneficial to play tuning rounds with staggered entrances on a scale of choice. The increasingly complex structure of these chords as well as their voicing will start to force the ensemble, if they're listening, to establish a base layer of balance. This exercise will bleed into everything else you play, because there will now be a model of sound to chase.

The tertiary layer is dynamic range. Pick up groups usually have a very narrow dynamic range, or they have wild fortissimos. Using a tuning round is, again, very useful. You can set a dynamic and use it the entire round, or use a dynamic scheme like crescendo four counts, decrescendo four counts. After a few cycles, the group will start to establish balance across the dynamic range.

The quaternary layer is blend. I just really wanted to use the word quaternary. This is a very thin layer when you're dealing with a pick up group Blend means fitting inside an established model of sound. Presidio Brass records and reviews every single show we play.Often, this means listening to a show on the flight the next morning, making notes, getting off the plane and heading to the next venue for soundcheck where we fine tune issues from the previous evening. As a result of this very time consuming task, we're able to make adjustments over time because we have developed a model sound for our particular set of players. Making adjustments for blend is very difficult to do on-the-fly when you're dealing with five people who have never played together before, and simply don't have the time to record themselves and discuss changes.

If the first three layers are established, blend has a way of taking care of itself because you're setting up a radar structure where the players are actively listening. This active listening is the beginning of developing group blend.

I hope this helps! The brass quintet is such a great ensemble. I'm fortunate I get to do it full-time for a living. Obviously, Presidio Brass is the exact opposite of the scenario mentioned here. We're playing together all the time, listening, rehearsing,  and making adjustments. That said, Sam Pilafian told me early in my career that "You can't fake great ensemble until you've developed great ensemble skills elsewhere."
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Josh Bledsoe
Presidio Brass
Missouri Symphony Orchestra
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