Dec 2015

S-M-P

DSC08324

In March of 2015 I attended a masterclass given by tubist, Charles Villarrubia, at the Northwest Brass Festival. I had met Charlie, briefly, years before when we were both in Boston and knew him to be a spectacular tubist, even so, I was stunned by his insight and artistry.

At the masterclass I asked Charlie for a few ‘light-bulb' moments; that is, words, instructions, or excersizes that his teachers had employed that had an immediate impact upon him as a player. The techniques he described came from not just tubists, but from a myriad of sources including violinists, singers and other wind musicians. This receptive approach is one of his strengths; his curiosity leads him to seek out new ideas and he accepts productive methods from wherever they come. His response provided some practical tips, and also exposed some of the roots of his success.

He mentioned in passing one of the secrets to his success: his practice routine. He is in his studio at 8:30am warming up everyday. He doesn’t practice when he feels like it, he practices on a set schedule which is nearly unchanging. To instill this ideal into his students he requires them to fill out a practice schedule every week. Not a report on how many hours they practiced last week, but rather exactly when they will practice in the coming week, i.e. scheduling practice as firmly as any class they might be taking.
DSC08331

His first tip relates to the importance of practicing fudamentals. His early practice session begins with work on exercises from The Brass Gym such as tonguing, slurring, scales, range and endurance--every day. As he drives to his studio at the University of Texas, Austin, he performs breathing exercises, so that when he walks into his studio he is mentally and physically prepared.

The practice technique that he learned from Marianne Gedigian, a flutist and his wife, is the 'Fermata Method.' One plays the first two notes of a phrase adding a fermata to the second note. If the note with the fermata sounds great, then one begins again, this time placing the fermata on the third note. If the fermata note is not great, one repeats until the tone is perfect--the tone, not the note. The musician continues this process until the phrase is complete. This technique is especially helpful for conquering large intervals, i.e. not letting the distance from the previous note impact the quality of the note on which the fermata rests.

For technical passages he likes to practice at 70% speed. If one practices more slowly the fundamental connection of air to note can become distorted. Charlie finds that around 70% of tempo allows him to maintain his usual technique but also overcome difficulties with fingers.

S-M-P comes from his days as a student, when his teacher, Neal Tidwell, tubist for the New Orleans Symphony, would frequently write this on the top of an assignment. S-M-P stands for Sing-Mouthpiece-Play. When Charlie was assigned an etude, he was required to sing, then buzz on his mouthpiece, then, finally, play each phrase on the tuba. This gets to the core of Charlie’s strength as a musician. He doesn’t simply play tuba, he sings music. His core intent is to deliver a musical idea, and he happens to use tuba as his basic tool: his musical impluse is rooted in the lyricism of singing. What is most impressive about a performance by Charles Villarrubia is that, even in the most technical music, such as the Carnival of Venice by Arban, one is most impressed not by his formitable technique, but by his beautiful, lyric tone.

DSC08348

Concert schedule - winter/spring, 2016


Sunday, January 3
(Kenmore), Church of the Redeemer 7:00.
Saturday, February 27
(Gig Harbor) 7:30: Debussy and Beethoven with Tacoma Symphony Orchestra.
Sunday, February 28 (Tacoma) 2:30: Debussy and Beethoven with Tacoma Sympony Orchestra.
Saturday, March 5(Seattle) 7:00: Brass Band Northwest at the Northwest Brass Festival with Allen Vizzutti.
Sunday, March 6, 2:30, Schneebeck Concert Hall: Mini-Maestros with the TSO brass quintet.
Friday, March 11 (Seattle) 7:30: Mass in Time of War by Joseph Haydn with Northwest Sinfonietta.
Saturday, March 12 (Tacoma) 7:30: Mass in Time of War by Joseph Haydn with Northwest Sinfonietta.
Sunday, March 13 (Puyallup) 2:00: Mass in Time of War by Joseph Haydn with Northwest Sinfonietta.
Friday, March 24 (Bellevue) 7:30: Lake Washington Symphony Orchestra and Westminster Chorale.
Saturday, March 25 (Bellevue) 7:30: Lake Washington Symphony Orchestra and Westminster Chorale.
Saturday, April 2 (Seattle) 7:30: Music of Claussen with Northwest Sinfonietta. at St. James Cathedral.
Sunday, April 9 (Tacoma) 2:30: Tacoma Symphony side-by-side with Tacoma Youth Symphony.
Friday, April 15 (Seattle) 7:30: Beethoven and Brahms with Northwest Sinfonietta.
Saturday, April 16 (Tacoma) 7:30: Beethoven and Brahms with Northwest Sinfonietta.
Sunday, April 17 (Puyallup) 7:30: Beethoven and Brahms with Northwest Sinfonietta.
Sunday, April 24 (Bellevue) 7:30: Organ and Brass with Brass Band Northwest at Bellevue Presbyterian Church.
Saturday, May 7 (Tacoma) 7:30: Rodrigo and Stravinsky with Tacoma Symphony Orchestra.
Friday, May 13 (Seattle) 7:30: Strauss and Ravel with Northwest Sinfonietta.
Saturday, May 14 (Tacoma) 7:30: Strauss and Ravel with Northwest Sinfonietta.
Sunday, May 15 (Puyallup) 7:30: Strauss and Ravel with Northwest Sinfonietta.

Congratulations to Kira Newell

Kira Newell
Kira Newell was accepted on early decision as a trumpet performance major at Northwestern University to begin in the fall of 2016. Kira came to me last year to prepare for college auditions after receiving excellent instruction from Chuck Colburn and has a great future on trumpet ahead of her.