Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

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MoominDave
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Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by MoominDave » Tue May 15, 2018 4:35 am

The Mozart Requiem is a wonderful piece, and the trombone parts to it are an absolute joy. If anyone here doesn't know it, they follow the choir parts for much of it - the alto-tenor-bass trombone trio weave fugally in and out of each other in gloriously written counterpoint, often at some velocity.

I am sad that this glorious music provided an annoying playing experience last Saturday. An amateur choir whose dynamic abilities aren't strong (but aren't puny either) is directed by a minor friend, a horn player, who had booked me and a couple of other players I'd recommended to make up the trombone section in return for some moderate financial compensation.

So far so good - we've all played the piece many times in similar situations; we know exactly what's needed from the trombones - some moments of mild warm projection when the choir aren't singing, and discretion when they are, mixed with a constant awareness of how well the vocal line one is bolstering is managing at staying on trend - e.g. are the basses a bit wayward? Then they might benefit from a little more bass trombone volume as a guide to help stay on track.

So we began the rehearsal, playing in the usual sensible fashion. Midway through the acrobatics of the Kyrie, the conductor stopped: "Trombones, you're going to have to play a lot quieter". Ah, that's a shame, we thought, and proceeded to play a lot quieter. But nothing from us was quiet enough for the conductor, who gave us the hand over and over again as we whispered ever more timidly into our instruments, and alongside us trumpets and bassoons merrily played away at the original volume. Exasperation mounting, after a while we mimed a movement - and got the hand again!!

So we completed the rehearsal in bemused fashion, using it to practice our extreme pianissimo playing. And then just played the concert in normal fashion. And were complimented by the conductor afterwards. In fact, she's just sent me an appreciative email along with an invite to next year's gig - and rather than write in my reply to that how annoyingly ridiculous it all was, I've written it here. Sorry about that. This is basically an exercise in preserving a gig and a friendship by allowing the steam to escape elsewhere.

tl; dr: Some not-well-trained conductors think the only way to control orchestral volume is to turn the trombones down. They are not enjoyable people to play for.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by cozzagiorgi » Tue May 15, 2018 5:09 am

I once got complimented by a conductor for my great bass trombone playing.

In that particular piece wasnt any bass trombone. I wasnt even on stage... i dont play for that stick waver anymore :-)
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by FeelMyRath » Tue May 15, 2018 5:16 am

I think you were too diplomatic, Dave. I'd have got the section to down tools mid-section to show her the issue, but then again I'm not exactly subtle when MDs p!$$ me off!
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by boneagain » Tue May 15, 2018 8:39 am

FeelMyRath wrote:
Tue May 15, 2018 5:16 am
I think you were too diplomatic, Dave. I'd have got the section to down tools mid-section to show her the issue, but then again I'm not exactly subtle when MDs p!$$ me off!
I think Dave got the right approach in many levels. Not actually HEARING what the ensemble (both instruments and voices) is doing shows a very big lack of competence on the part of the MD. VERY few MDs would be so incompetent that they did not KNOW they lacked that competence. So, you have someone with huge security issues up in front of you, and in charge of the next hire.

Dave's approach is most likely to give him a chance to help the MD grow musically. Embarassing an already insecure MD in the middle of a rehearsal is likely to take things in the opposite direction.

I regret to say I have done it both ways. Dave's way worked MUCH better overall, but it's hard to overcome the desire to "get even!"
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by JohnL » Tue May 15, 2018 9:22 am

MoominDave wrote:
Tue May 15, 2018 4:35 am
Exasperation mounting, after a while we mimed a movement - and got the hand again!!
That's the breaking point. Wanting the trombones to play really soft is musical interpretation. But not noticing that the trombones are not actually playing?

But tempting as it is to deep-fat fry the conductor in front of the entire ensemble, it's not really something you can do. Even resolving to never play for said conductor may not be an option. Politics and/or economics may well dictate that you'll have to take the next gig, no matter how frustrating.

We knew the job was dangerous when we took it.

PS: I really wanted to come up with a funny line about miming your part and using an old Marceau trombone, but it's just not flowing today.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by Jimprindle » Tue May 15, 2018 9:46 am

2 stories:
1. Played the Requiem many times (on bass), one time we were called to play and a free-lance friend of mine, new in town, was excited to play alto on his newly acquired Minick alto. At the rehearsal the conductor (who we long time locals knew was a musical fool, even though he had the local college orchestra and a chamber orchestra) told the trombones "whenever the choir is singing your parts, tacet" (insert horrified emoji). My friend was incensed but did as asked. The next time the personnel mgr called him he said to tell the conductor that he would never play for that nincompoop again. (He later won a principal trombone audition with a full time orchestra).
2. Why are instrumentalists put in front of the choir when balance is an issue? One smart conductor I played under with the Requiem put the orchestra on the side facing the choir. The people in the audience said the balance and blend was phenomenal.

Another short story about another boob conductor: the only time I played 2nd on the Mozart the idiot asked me to play Tuba Mirum with exaggerated slide vibrato. "My father loves Tommy Dorsey!"
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by Kingfan » Tue May 15, 2018 11:27 am

Boob conductor on a lower level. We had a joint concert with another community band, we were on first. 10 minutes before the downbeat the 1st tbone in our band got a phone call - father in law was in the hospital, major heart attack. I asked if I could cover. I told him go take care of family. The conductor was nowhere to be found, so I took charge. A friend of mine played tbone in the other band, and I roped him in into sight reading my second part, and I played first.

The conductor had no idea we were missing the first tbone, I moved parts, and we had a stranger on second. I told him after the concert what happened, and he said "Oh, OK." No "thanks for handling it", nothing. That, along with the poorly disciplined rehearsals (it was at a community college and the students taking it for credit did not take it seriously at all, walking in late and spending the bulk of rehearsal time on their phones or chatting), pushed me over the edge. I never went back.
I'm not a complete idiot, some parts are still missing! :D
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by timothy42b » Tue May 15, 2018 12:59 pm

Dave's diplomacy not only worked best for the situation, but generally you feel better later having done it that way. Not easy though.

On the subject of volume, a director I had a couple years back claimed there was evidence that most of what an audience perceives from the band is just how loud the drums are. From recordings I've made of community band performances there seems to be something to that.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by FeelMyRath » Tue May 15, 2018 2:37 pm

But will the conductor now know the error of her ways? I'm guessing not unless Dave has a quiet word in her ear
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by BurckhardtS » Tue May 15, 2018 11:54 pm

I have a conductor for our university wind ensemble who is a fantastic musician with a VERY good set of ears, especially in terms of ensemble cohesion, but relegates the low brass to play nowhere near the dynamics printed (not even timbrally speaking) because we are have 5 players in our section as opposed to 3 (tenor parts doubled), all of whom are VERY strong players, and we also have three tuba players.

I understand that logistically, our studio is too large (in comparison) to support one-on-a-part in any ensembles except the orchestra, so it's no ones fault really, but it can be frustrating. Double that with the fact that our concert hall has some serious time-warps and hearing problems: conductor hears nothing but back row brass section, audience can never hear anything but percussion and high register clarinets, and it's nearly impossible to listen across the stage because you can only hear the two people directly next to you and everything else sounds like it's far away.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by MoominDave » Wed May 16, 2018 1:59 am

cozzagiorgi wrote:
Tue May 15, 2018 5:09 am
I once got complimented by a conductor for my great bass trombone playing.

In that particular piece wasnt any bass trombone. I wasnt even on stage... i dont play for that stick waver anymore :-)
I know a brass band whose bass trombonist was once awarded the Best Instrumentalist prize at a contest - on a day when they played without a bass trombone...
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by MoominDave » Wed May 16, 2018 2:04 am

FeelMyRath wrote:
Tue May 15, 2018 5:16 am
I think you were too diplomatic, Dave. I'd have got the section to down tools mid-section to show her the issue, but then again I'm not exactly subtle when MDs p!$$ me off!
Oh, it was tempting on various occasions. But tact ruled the day. The alto player went for a furious walk after the rehearsal in order to calm himself down (the end of the rehearsal also involved having us wait around through several tacet movements of another piece), and we were all chuntering away to each other throughout about how bizarre it was.

It was in an old church building, and the conductor kept retreating down the aisle to see what the orchestra/choir balance was like from the back. Which is a sensible thing to do... But not if the trombones stop playing while you're back there, and the message you return with is that the trombones are too loud for the choir...
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by MoominDave » Wed May 16, 2018 2:14 am

boneagain wrote:
Tue May 15, 2018 8:39 am
FeelMyRath wrote:
Tue May 15, 2018 5:16 am
I think you were too diplomatic, Dave. I'd have got the section to down tools mid-section to show her the issue, but then again I'm not exactly subtle when MDs p!$$ me off!
I think Dave got the right approach in many levels. Not actually HEARING what the ensemble (both instruments and voices) is doing shows a very big lack of competence on the part of the MD. VERY few MDs would be so incompetent that they did not KNOW they lacked that competence. So, you have someone with huge security issues up in front of you, and in charge of the next hire.

Dave's approach is most likely to give him a chance to help the MD grow musically. Embarassing an already insecure MD in the middle of a rehearsal is likely to take things in the opposite direction.

I regret to say I have done it both ways. Dave's way worked MUCH better overall, but it's hard to overcome the desire to "get even!"
I genuinely don't understand what she was thinking. She's a decent musician who plays regularly in a wind quintet and is head of music at a secondary school, so she's not a numpty. While we (the section) were sitting in the stalls chatting between rehearsal and concert (partaking of the excellent tea provided by the choir), she came over, all smiles and friendliness, but with the very specific purpose of telling us to keep it down further; "I know how frustrating this is because I'm a brass player too". She mentioned that her young niece would be there, and that the little girl would be paying attention to us because she's learning trombone. At which point I grew dangerously tactless: "We'd better make some audible noises then", which elicited a rather wary smile from her, and "Oh, you're audible".

Hard to decipher. I mean, she made her intentions clear, but they didn't seem at all of a piece with what I know her musical abilities to be. Her brother, the young trombonist's father, was coincidentally sat right behind me in the choir, and was extremely complimentary to the section. It's all quite confusing. What I think was going on is that directing the orchestra was stressing the conductor out (this was perceptible - the assignment was a little out of her comfort zone as a stick wagger); she had in advance decided on some hard-and-fast guidance that may or may not have fitted the playing situation, and stuck rigidly to that regardless of the facts. At least that's my best guess at the moment. Maybe we'll go back next year and I can refine my hypothesis...
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by MoominDave » Wed May 16, 2018 2:17 am

JohnL wrote:
Tue May 15, 2018 9:22 am
MoominDave wrote:
Tue May 15, 2018 4:35 am
Exasperation mounting, after a while we mimed a movement - and got the hand again!!
That's the breaking point. Wanting the trombones to play really soft is musical interpretation. But not noticing that the trombones are not actually playing?

But tempting as it is to deep-fat fry the conductor in front of the entire ensemble, it's not really something you can do. Even resolving to never play for said conductor may not be an option. Politics and/or economics may well dictate that you'll have to take the next gig, no matter how frustrating.

We knew the job was dangerous when we took it.

PS: I really wanted to come up with a funny line about miming your part and using an old Marceau trombone, but it's just not flowing today.
The next gig's a year away. I'll have forgotten how wearing this was by the time it comes round. Money's no object, playing-wise - it isn't my job. But still, it's funny how half a normal days's wages for playing makes one automatically say yes...
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by MoominDave » Wed May 16, 2018 2:26 am

Jimprindle wrote:
Tue May 15, 2018 9:46 am
2 stories:
1. Played the Requiem many times (on bass), one time we were called to play and a free-lance friend of mine, new in town, was excited to play alto on his newly acquired Minick alto. At the rehearsal the conductor (who we long time locals knew was a musical fool, even though he had the local college orchestra and a chamber orchestra) told the trombones "whenever the choir is singing your parts, tacet" (insert horrified emoji). My friend was incensed but did as asked. The next time the personnel mgr called him he said to tell the conductor that he would never play for that nincompoop again. (He later won a principal trombone audition with a full time orchestra).
2. Why are instrumentalists put in front of the choir when balance is an issue? One smart conductor I played under with the Requiem put the orchestra on the side facing the choir. The people in the audience said the balance and blend was phenomenal.

Another short story about another boob conductor: the only time I played 2nd on the Mozart the idiot asked me to play Tuba Mirum with exaggerated slide vibrato. "My father loves Tommy Dorsey!"
If the conductor explicity wants trombones tacet when the choir sing, then they should hire the version of the piece that has this in the parts already... Seems obvious... You know, the version that makes your heart sink when you're called for a Mozart Requiem and that's the one on the stand... The version that makes you keep parts for the full version in your case in order to offer the option to the conductor if they've accidentally hired the disappointing one...

The balance/location idea is a very relevant one, and one I have raised many times with various people. I have played this piece sometimes in a similar configuration, and it works well. Why on earth put the weaker choir behind the stronger orchestra? In fact this is how I shall tackle things in my email response - I'll say "Yes, next year's in my diary, thanks for that. Regarding last week's concert - might seating differently help? Choir in the middle, orchestra to the side or behind?"

In fact, one time when I played the Requiem sat in this fashion, the conductor (of quite a different school of musical thought to Saturday's) suggested that the trombone section could sit separately from the orchestra, in the front rank of the choir pointing down the nave of the chapel at the audience! Then he thought better of the idea - it was very difficult acoustically to make work when we tried it in the particular boomy room we were in.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by ronnies » Wed May 16, 2018 4:29 am

Did you see the Proms performance of the Mozart Requiem where the small chorus sat in amongst the orchestra? The trombones then sat next to the appropriate chorus section and not together. Can't remember who it was playing.

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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by boneagain » Wed May 16, 2018 5:59 am

FeelMyRath wrote:
Tue May 15, 2018 2:37 pm
But will the conductor now know the error of her ways? I'm guessing not unless Dave has a quiet word in her ear
Couldn't agree more. Should have made that explicit in my comments. Especially considering Dave's later posts below.

Chorus with instruments is, in my experience, among the most telling conducting work. People who have plenty of "ear" to nail a single line in a quintet, or who can do "well enough" rummaging thorugh the basic four parts of an orchestra string score get sudden full exposure when faced with BOTH voice lines AND independent or collaborative wind lines. And in settings like this, if the players do NOT provide quiet feedback away from the crowd, well, we get what WE pay for.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by hyperbolica » Wed May 16, 2018 8:06 am

I had an experience like this recently, although the situation was a bit different. I sometimes sub in an orchestra where I could play regularly, but choose not to because (its a bit of a drive) and the conductor won't use a standard beat pattern. He's a good musician, but more for the pop styles than orchestral styles. We were playing some Bernstein piece with some challenging parts, and he called out the trombones for dragging. I'll admit, I can sometimes drag if I'm concentrating on something else too much, but after my attention is called to it, it doesn't continue to be a problem. I made sure I was tick-tock with the percussion, but he went on, like 6x through this one passage, and I'm sure my face was expressing my disbelief. He later (at a later rehearsal) came up and said I wasn't the one who was dragging, but there was only one other trombonist. I'm not sure what exactly was going on, but I suspect it wasn't related to our playing at all. The conductor also has had an ongoing issue with the bass bone player for showing up consistently 10 minutes late to rehearsal. Maybe that was it, but he had to annoy two other trombonists and waste a lot of ensemble time to get his revenge.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by timothy42b » Wed May 16, 2018 11:53 am

MoominDave wrote:
Wed May 16, 2018 2:14 am
What I think was going on is that directing the orchestra was stressing the conductor out (this was perceptible - the assignment was a little out of her comfort zone as a stick wagger); she had in advance decided on some hard-and-fast guidance that may or may not have fitted the playing situation, and stuck rigidly to that regardless of the facts.
I sang for a choir director who in his later years frequently stopped and corrected mistakes of a special type: those we hadn't made, but where one could logically expect it. His hearing was less acute than formerly, and he assumed the mistake he'd expected had been made.

Nice guy most of the time. When I mentioned once I'd broken my ankle parachuting, he asked if I'd got one. Hmm? Turned he'd misheard it as "bear shooting."
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by sf105 » Wed May 16, 2018 12:51 pm

Wasn't there are story about how Harry Glantz (1st trumpet NBC Orchestra) finally retired from the business when his section ended up miming in front a big-name conductor with the hand.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by 2bobone » Wed May 16, 2018 12:54 pm

" In the early 1970’s Douglas Cooksey, working for the BBC, sat in on a rehearsal of the Schubert Eighth and Ninth Symphonies with the Scottish National Orchestra in Glasgow where he [the unnamed conductor] "made very clear his displeasure with the slightly raucous trombone section in the Unfinished, at one point saying, 'Never, never that sound in Schubert',"
----------------------------------.
The above excerpt is from a bio of a world famous conductor whose reputation was highly regarded in many different genres. When I was a member of the National Symphony Orchestra trombone section, this storied conductor was on the podium and perpetrated the same prejudicial behavior to the trombone section that he exhibited when conducting the Scottish National Orchestra. We endured the constant comments about being too loud regardless of how softly we played. After the second of three performances, and still being told that we were playing too loudly, the principal trombonist instructed us to put the instruments to our face and mimic playing but not to allow a wisp of breath to pass through our horns. After being reassured that HE would "take the heat" for any repercussions, we followed his instructions to the letter. Afterwards, he stuck his head once again into the conductor's dressing room and asked how our performance was received this time around. The reply ? "PERFECT" !! My recollection was that it was a work of Schubert that we performed, so maybe he simply disliked Schubert's orchestration ?
If anyone simply has to know who this conductor was, you can send me a PM and I'll let you know. I'd be curious as to whether anyone could guess who it was [no fair Googling the excerpt !]. Cheers !! Bob
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by BGuttman » Wed May 16, 2018 4:29 pm

Bob, maybe we should let this conductor remain nameless to protect the guilty. Thanks for that anecdote, though.

What I don't understand is in our orchestra we had a guy playing bass who always got "the hand". But when I played bass on the same piece, I didn't. I wasn't trying to play quieter, either.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by Zandit75 » Wed May 16, 2018 5:41 pm

I can't add any further comments on what's already been said, but I hope you'll indulge my little story, as it was quite amusing to me!
Our Brass Band recently competed in the Australian Band Championships in the C Grade section. My conductor loves the sound I'm producing on Bass Trombone, and specifically asked for more from me during our Stage March(Which was "Castle Coch") which I whole heartedly supplied!!
There were three adjudicators, each spread out along the back row of the auditorium.
I have only listened to two of the recordings, the first was very pleased with our blended sound, and I even received a couple of good comments about my playing through the Bass section Solo of the march.
We then listened to the second recording, because our conductor thought it was hilarious!
This adjudicator is a trombonist herself from NZ, who now conducts some major groups in the Melbourne area.
I'm guessing she was located in the top corner of the auditorium diagonally opposite to my position, as it sounded like I was the only one playing in some sections!!
She was loving the sound, but suggested that I let the rest of the band have their moment in the spotlight!! :lol: :lol:
There was also one comment that went something like "Oh! Nice contrast between the Bass Trombone and the rest of the Band!! Well Done!!!"
I got bagged out by the rest of the band, but it was one of the funniest adjudications I have ever heard!

Fast forward a couple of months, and we are playing the same Stage March in an upcoming concert. Some of the band members immediately turned to me with grins on their faces!
I dropped my head and said "Ok, Ok, I'll drop it back a couple of notches!!"
The Band Master immediately said "DON'T YOU DARE!!!"
Needless to say, I delivered!! :good:
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by 2bobone » Wed May 16, 2018 7:54 pm

Ah, YES ---- the recriminations we all feel when our efforts are rebuffed by the listening public ! I often reflect on the comments made by a young, "fuzzy-lipped" reviewer for a pretentious "Arts Magazine" wherein he trashed the entire brass section of the NSO. Quote : "The brass, particularly the entire trombone section takes advantage of this "laissez faire" attitude [of the conductor] and gives in to the lower instincts that are in all brassmen : they blow their brains out !" He went on to single out the bass trombonist [Me !] to chastise me when, " The Tschaikovsky FIFTH SYMPHONY was almost ruined by the bass trombone in front of the entire convention of the American Symphony Orchestra League." I could not have been more proud !! I had the good fortune to have had sessions with Ed Kleinhammer and Arnold Jacobs, [respectively the bass trombonist and tubist of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra] and regarded this "criticism" as a badge of honor !Those two gentlemen turned me and my playing career on a dime and I was forever indebted to them !
Anyway ----- sometime thereafter I found myself in a line awaiting entrance to a dining hall at an orchestra workshop that I attended for several years and overheard someone introducing himself to another guest. Lo, and behold, the name I heard was non other than that of the very same "fuzzy-lipped" reviewer ! He was no more than a few feet from where I was standing and I could not, for the life of me, resist introducing myself to my nemesis. He reacted with the same physical reaction that someone might exhibit when accused of alienating another man's wife ----- he turned pale, stuttered and wished he were somewhere else. I spoke very calmly and deliberately in the manner that all bass trombonists are renowned for and asked him if he had ever considered that I was producing exactly what I had been requested to do ----- you know ----- the stuff they heard when they hired me to do the job !
His bumbling response was almost inaudible, but I felt that a blow had been struck for brassmen everywhere and went in to enjoy a luncheon befitting my satisfaction at having the initiative to let these musical assassins know that they cannot trash others with impunity !
In the same issue, he trashed both the oboist and clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony at the time [1973]. What a guy !! I considered myself in excellent company.
So ---- it is interesting to see that the same ol' stuff is still happening ! The more things change, the more they stay the same ! Cheers !! Bob
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by Zandit75 » Wed May 16, 2018 8:30 pm

2bobone wrote:
Wed May 16, 2018 7:54 pm
I spoke very calmly and deliberately in the manner that all bass trombonists are renowned for.....
You should get this framed!! :good:
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by MoominDave » Thu May 17, 2018 4:10 am

timothy42b wrote:
Wed May 16, 2018 11:53 am
MoominDave wrote:
Wed May 16, 2018 2:14 am
What I think was going on is that directing the orchestra was stressing the conductor out (this was perceptible - the assignment was a little out of her comfort zone as a stick wagger); she had in advance decided on some hard-and-fast guidance that may or may not have fitted the playing situation, and stuck rigidly to that regardless of the facts.
I sang for a choir director who in his later years frequently stopped and corrected mistakes of a special type: those we hadn't made, but where one could logically expect it. His hearing was less acute than formerly, and he assumed the mistake he'd expected had been made.

Nice guy most of the time. When I mentioned once I'd broken my ankle parachuting, he asked if I'd got one. Hmm? Turned he'd misheard it as "bear shooting."
Had a sectional on a Wagner opera once (forget which - maybe Parsifal?) with a nice chap whose encroaching hearing difficulties should have precluded him from the job. In one bar trombone 3 on its own had a piano low Ab semibreve, which I obliged with, definitely at p, not pp or ppp. He looked at me in some puzzlement, and said "Are you lost? Why didn't you play your Ab?"
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by Jimprindle » Thu May 17, 2018 9:46 am

Zandit75 wrote:
Wed May 16, 2018 5:41 pm

...There was also one comment that went something like "Oh! Nice contrast between the Bass Trombone and the rest of the Band!! Well Done!!!"...
Reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me, don't know if it was true. He was listening to a live radio broadcast of the CSO, the bass trombone was obviously very loud. At the end of the piece (I think he said it was a Shostakovitch symphony) the announcer allegedly said, "And that was Charles Vernon accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing..." :D
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by JohnL » Thu May 17, 2018 10:57 am

Jimprindle wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 9:46 am
Reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me, don't know if it was true. He was listening to a live radio broadcast of the CSO, the bass trombone was obviously very loud. At the end of the piece (I think he said it was a Shostakovitch symphony) the announcer allegedly said, "And that was Charles Vernon accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing..." :D
Had a similar experience. Tuned in the local classical station on the way in to work and came in part way through Ride of the Valkyries. The bass trombone wasn't too much (at least not to me), but it just, almost, on the very verge of that line. My first though was that it was the CSO with Charlie Vernon on bass trombone. Get to the end and sure enough, it's Charlie.

Dang, even if I could play like that, they'd never let me play like that.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by timothy42b » Fri May 18, 2018 11:32 am

MoominDave wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 4:10 am
timothy42b wrote:
Wed May 16, 2018 11:53 am

I sang for a choir director who in his later years frequently stopped and corrected mistakes of a special type: those we hadn't made, but where one could logically expect it. His hearing was less acute than formerly, and he assumed the mistake he'd expected had been made.

Nice guy most of the time. When I mentioned once I'd broken my ankle parachuting, he asked if I'd got one. Hmm? Turned he'd misheard it as "bear shooting."
Had a sectional on a Wagner opera once (forget which - maybe Parsifal?) with a nice chap whose encroaching hearing difficulties should have precluded him from the job. In one bar trombone 3 on its own had a piano low Ab semibreve, which I obliged with, definitely at p, not pp or ppp. He looked at me in some puzzlement, and said "Are you lost? Why didn't you play your Ab?"
This same music director called me to the organ one Sunday after church. He'd had the tuner in that weekend, and the guy insisted on tuning some high pitches that were unnecessary, because the organ was broken, and those notes didn't play. He showed me what he meant. But.........I could hear them! he could not. He didn't believe me, we called some kids over and played for them, they all heard it too.

The thing is, an organ is not a dogwhistle. The highest notes are not hypersonic! I have the usual age related high frequency loss but I can still hear all those notes.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by timothy42b » Fri May 18, 2018 11:36 am

JohnL wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 10:57 am
Jimprindle wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 9:46 am
Reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me, don't know if it was true. He was listening to a live radio broadcast of the CSO, the bass trombone was obviously very loud. At the end of the piece (I think he said it was a Shostakovitch symphony) the announcer allegedly said, "And that was Charles Vernon accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing..." :D
Had a similar experience. Tuned in the local classical station on the way in to work and came in part way through Ride of the Valkyries. The bass trombone wasn't too much (at least not to me), but it just, almost, on the very verge of that line. My first though was that it was the CSO with Charlie Vernon on bass trombone. Get to the end and sure enough, it's Charlie.

Dang, even if I could play like that, they'd never let me play like that.
I heard Thus Sprach Zarathustra (spelling?) on the radio and had the same reaction. Wow, I didn't know bass trombone was that prominent. I think it was Baltimore - was that Randy Campora maybe? Awesome playing.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by Driswood » Tue May 22, 2018 7:19 am

When I was in college, the wind ensemble was playing The Hammersmith. That section, where 1st and 2nd bone have the D G A in unison. The conductor stopped, and said "I want BOTH trombones playing". To which my section mate said "We were". We were dead on in tune, sounding like one horn!

He left us alone for a while after that.

Jerry Walker
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by Kbiggs » Tue May 22, 2018 9:42 am

There’s a local individual who fancies himself a conductor. One of my old teachers played a concert where this stick-wagger stood in front. During rehearsal, in a passage marked staccato, the conductor asked the trombones to play “more legato.” Trombones marked the parts accordingly. Conductor stopped several times to ask the trombones to play “more legato.” The trombones complied each time, making the notes more and more connected, more fluid. Finally, conductor stops the orchestra and with some heat, asks the trombones, “Can’t you play that more separated? You know, legato?” My old teacher hasn’t played there since.

A few concerts later, I was playing under this nincompoop. The second trumpet was absent from rehearsal, but there was a solo passage, just one or two bars. The conductor stopped and looked at me (playing second trombone) and asked, “Why aren’t you playing? It’s marked tromba solo!” For that and other reasons, I haven’t played there since.
I have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.
—Mark Twain (attributed)
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by brtnats » Tue May 22, 2018 10:56 am

@Dave:

I'm entirely willing to bet she never even heard the trombones. She heard the choir and thought she heard the trombones. A choir with less-than-perfect diction is going to muddy up counterpoint like that, and actual articulate trombone-doubling on those lines will go a long way towards cutting through the clutter. While I agree diplomacy was definitely the best option, after that comment about her daughter, I'd have pulled her aside and said "We weren't actually playing some of that time. You keep saying softer, but that's not giving you what you want. Can you tell me what kind of sound you're looking for so that I can help you achieve it?" That gives her the cue that something's up that she's missing, and provides her the opportunity to assert some actual musical control beyond "Play softer." Horn players are used to the idea that trombones are LOUD. They're less used to that ATB doubling that works so so well in pre-19th century writing.

Matt
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MoominDave
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by MoominDave » Wed May 23, 2018 2:32 am

Sounds entirely plausible. If the feedback you're given doesn't fit what you're doing, the feedbacker must be mistaken in some way or another. If she meant by "Trombones, quieter please" instead "Choir, sing better", it would make some sense out of it.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by LeTromboniste » Wed May 23, 2018 5:24 am

I agree with Matt. Very often conductors say "too loud" when the volume is not actually the problem. When you're in front splitting your focus between what you want to hear and inspire from the orchestra and playing the traffic cop with what the orchestra is actually playing, it's very easy to fall into the trap of seeking easy fixes. When something sounds off or sticks out of the texture, it's very easy to have the reflex of giving the hand/ask it softer. Even as a trombone player who's been at the receiving end of that, I found myself make that mistake on the podium more than once.

I find that very often when I want to give the hand (or when I receive it), the problem is actually that someone is not loud enough - usually the middle voice, which makes the blend and intonation suffer, that there is a disagreement on note length within a section that leads to something sticking out, or that the notes are played too short for any blend to happen. Or that the problem is actually caused by something else in the orchestra (or choir!) that makes something sound off that is actually played right.

Conductors should do a better job understanding this and making sure they have identified the correct problem before applying a solution. Conductors who come from piano and strings in particular seem to often lack understanding of how articulation and blend in wind sections work and affect our perception of the overall orchestral texture. That being said instrumentalists could also do a better job reading the play and finding out what the problems are. Very often the problem can be solved without the conductor saying anything.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by brtnats » Wed May 23, 2018 8:38 am

You know, now that I think about it another very likely option is just poor rehearsal management. Denis Wick talked about this in Trombone Technique.

To paraphrase, he said that brass players rehearse dynamics exactly as they're going to be performed, because we're not dealing with the same endurance issues as singers, strings, and woodwinds, who play constantly. He noted that often, conductors who are "giving the hand" at dress rehearsals and the ones asking for MORE at performance. That seems to jive with your experience, Dave. Maybe you guys were "too loud" because everyone else there was holding back from actual performance dynamics. If you guys were playing like *I would be*, and the choir was muddy and undersinging the rehearsal, good rehearsal management would ask you show up at the reh after the choir has had their turn at the stick.

Frankly, if you had an alto on top and a reasonably sized tenor and bass, I don't see how you COULD play too loud unless there was something else going on. Her comment about being "audible" seems very telling to me.

Matt
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by Jimprindle » Wed May 23, 2018 9:31 am

One time I was subbing in a major orchestra and during rehearsal the guest conductor stopped and addressed the trombones, "Please, play as if this is the morning sunrise, the sun glistening on the dewy leaves!" We played a little bit more, "Trombones, as if the love of your life gazed into your eyes!" We played a little bit more, "Trombones as if you are riding at a gallop across an empty field!"...The principal player leaned over and whispered to me, "Play louder."

"Perfecto!! Trombones!!"
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by 2bobone » Wed May 23, 2018 5:41 pm

How well I remember a visit from a guest conductor renowned for his fame as a "Pops" conductor when I played my first concert as the "newby" of the NSO trombone section with this icon on the podium ! Every orchestra wanted his presence on the podium because it assured a "Sold Out House".The first half of every concert was comprised of standard literature and the second half of "Pops" arrangements. During a rehearsal, the second trombonist [Robert Isele - Marine Band Soloist of many years] turned to me and said. " Watch this place two bars before letter "G" ----- he's going to look back and ask for more SECOND trombone." I was completely surprised that he could be so sure that he'd be given that command ---- after all, how COULD he know ? As we played through the passage the maestro called back in a loud and clear voice, "More SECOND trombone !" I was amazed ! I asked later how he could have possibly known he'd receive that direction. Bob answered, "He asks for the same thing EVERY time he comes, no matter HOW loud I play it !" I don't recall the piece, but I sure remember how hard I laughed ! RIP, Old Friend ------------
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by Posaunus » Wed May 23, 2018 10:35 pm

2bobone wrote:
Wed May 23, 2018 5:41 pm
How well I remember a visit from a guest conductor renowned for his fame as a "Pops" conductor ...
Thank you Arthur?
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by SilverBone » Thu May 24, 2018 2:24 am

I've enjoyed all the anecdotes - thanks for sharing. Thought I would share one experience that's totally the opposite.

I play under one conductor who really "gets" trombone and brass in general. It's a pleasure to play for him.

He used to play in the Kansas City Symphony. As a trombonist. :-) I'm spoiled.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by MoominDave » Thu May 24, 2018 3:47 am

brtnats wrote:
Wed May 23, 2018 8:38 am
You know, now that I think about it another very likely option is just poor rehearsal management. Denis Wick talked about this in Trombone Technique.

To paraphrase, he said that brass players rehearse dynamics exactly as they're going to be performed, because we're not dealing with the same endurance issues as singers, strings, and woodwinds, who play constantly. He noted that often, conductors who are "giving the hand" at dress rehearsals and the ones asking for MORE at performance. That seems to jive with your experience, Dave. Maybe you guys were "too loud" because everyone else there was holding back from actual performance dynamics. If you guys were playing like *I would be*, and the choir was muddy and undersinging the rehearsal, good rehearsal management would ask you show up at the reh after the choir has had their turn at the stick.

Frankly, if you had an alto on top and a reasonably sized tenor and bass, I don't see how you COULD play too loud unless there was something else going on. Her comment about being "audible" seems very telling to me.

Matt
Just thinking back to it now... The choir certainly undersang the rehearsal and brought a better game to the performance - helped by some ringers who weren't at the afternoon rehearsal. This also could well have been a factor - though not in the shushing of the miming... But then too - the bassoons were honking away merrily throughout rehearsal without incurring any wrath from the middle. I'm more drawn to your earlier idea of her aurally confusing choir and trombone sounds.

Given that this was the rehearsal on the day and the only one the orchestra attended, the logic would seem to suggest that the trombones shouldn't show up until the performance... :-)

Yep, alto on top - I booked the section and would never book a tenor for it. No particularly small equipment though - Conn 36H / Conn 88H / Holton 169 was the section, i.e. normal large equipment, but examples thereof that are easily played with tonal character at lower dynamics. All played discreetly and suitably to the context, I promise, even before the volume requests started coming in... Standard Mozart practice with a chamber orchestra and a non-robust choir - cap dynamics at about what would be called mf in a larger setting.

We were amused to contrast it with the latest previous Mozart Requiem that particular section had played together, an occasion with a larger and stronger choir and a conductor that clearly enjoyed the trombone contribution to the sound. Definitely louder than your standard Mozart dynamics! Enough so that it became rather an endurance test.
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by brtnats » Thu May 24, 2018 6:18 am

Yeah, I've got a positive experience to help balance the karma too.

I regularly play bass trombone under a conductor who splits her time between the stick and playing in the clarinet section. She regularly has me play in a more bells-up position because she likes the definition the bass bone adds to the tuba/euphonium sound. I have never ever gotten the hand from her (but I try not the push my luck!)

Matt
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Re: Conductors that use trombones as scapegoats

Post by timothy42b » Sat May 26, 2018 12:24 am

LeTromboniste wrote:
Wed May 23, 2018 5:24 am
I agree with Matt. Very often conductors say "too loud" when the volume is not actually the problem. When you're in front splitting your focus between what you want to hear and inspire from the orchestra and playing the traffic cop with what the orchestra is actually playing, it's very easy to fall into the trap of seeking easy fixes.

This is an interesting insight that I think applies to playing as well.

At least, it does for me. If I maintain a clear mental picture in my brain of the sound I want, I find it difficult to accurately hear the sound I am producing, and vice versa. It's a skill that must be developed. Very likely the same is true for conductors.
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