Elgar's Enigma Variations

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Esiotrot101
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Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by Esiotrot101 »

About 6 hours ago I stumbled into subbing for a major community orchestra playing the Enigma Variations in 14 days time.
I'm 17, been playing for 10 years, with a good knowledge of orchestral music (less so performance experience) and am willing to do whatever it takes.

Does anyone have any tips, tricks, practice hacks that mean I don't stuff up my first major gig?
Thanks in advance.
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BGuttman
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by BGuttman »

1. Make sure you are really solid on your alto and tenor clef for first and for 2nd.
2. If you haven't got your part, download it from IMSLP (it's under "Variations ...")
3. The 1st part says alto, but that just means "high". Elgar wasn't expecting an alto instrument. The bass part was written for a G Bass and should easily be playable on an F-attachment trombone.
4. Don't be a showoff. No fancy excerpts unless you are asked for one. Play the notes exactly as written.
5. Don't be a chatterbox. Speak when spoken to. Only talk up to ask questions related to the music.
6. You will have some long rests. Count them carefully.
7. Don't play cues unless asked.
8. (Important) Don't play with your phone.
9. Listen to the other parts to see how you fit in.
10. Show respect for the orchestra's music. Don't manhandle your part. Don't mark it with pens or markers (note: OK if it's your own copy); just in pencil (and make sure you have one handy; maybe even an extra to share). If they hand you a folder for your part, keep it in there. If they don't, use your school band folder.
11. Show up to rehearsal with a folding music stand in case they don't provide one.

One other thing I forgot:
12. Make sure you are clean. Also, don't overdo it with perfume/cologne/body spray. You won't make a good impression if everybody wants to sit far away from you.
Bruce Guttman
Merrimack Valley Philharmonic Orchestra
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by AtomicClock »

Don't wait until the last minute to buy or scrounge suitable concert attire.
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bitbckt
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by bitbckt »

Bruce got all the good stuff, but I'll add more emphasis here:

Be respectful of the group's time.

Which means 1) arrive early enough to deal with any unforeseen logistical issues, and be ready to play at the downbeat, 2) don't woodshed on the group's time, 3) See Bruce's #6 and #8 above.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by AtomicClock »

BGuttman wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 7:41 am The bass part was written for a G Bass and should easily be playable on an F-attachment trombone.
Looks playable on a straight Bb.
BGuttman wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 7:41 am 6. You will have some long rests. Count them carefully.
For whatever reason, counting rests in an orchestra is different from the counting you learned in school bands. Probably because the rests are longer, and your entrances need to be very confident (even though it's one to a part). I would practice counting the rests while listening to a recording. You don't even need horn in hand, just your part. For Enigma, I would start with VII; the trombone sound needs to be solid.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by Burgerbob »

Listen to a recording and follow along with your part a few times.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by Crazy4Tbone86 »

*I second the recommendation of listening to recordings as much as possible. Make sure you listen to a variety of recordings because some will have more trombone clarity than others.

*Try to know the tempos very well before going into your first rehearsal. Some variations are very fast, some are quite slow. I have been to some “first rehearsals” of Enigma in which there were some brass musicians who were not on top of the faster tempos.

*If you are playing the 1st part, I hope you are confident with your upper register. When I first played the 1st part in my late teens, my teacher had me play all the demanding parts down an octave in order to get the intervals and rhythms very solid in my head. It made playing it up high (where it is written) much easier.

*Practice playing patterns in 7ths in sharp keys. Many of the melodic lines are based on 7ths.
Brian D. Hinkley - Player, Teacher, Technician and Trombone Enthusiast
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by Kdanielsen »

Play in tune, in time, make a good sound (not too loud), know your music, and show up early in the correct clothes. Oh, and don’t smell (b.o. or cologne).
Kris Danielsen D.M.A.

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harrisonreed
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by harrisonreed »

The IMSLP part for first is so weird. It's a digitized engraving and in tenor clef (which is great!) but the part is inexplicably labeled "alto trombone", even though it's obviously for tenor.

The cut time movement is fast! Definitely listen to the whole piece a few times with your part on hand. Besides knowing what to expect for the trempos though, the part itself is relatively easy.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by AtomicClock »

That's a rewritten part made by a helpful (frustrated?) trombonist out there. The original alto clef part is earlier on the page.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by harrisonreed »

I know. WTH did they still label it "alto trombone" after all that lol 😂 the original score even just says tbn I

For irony?
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by CalgaryTbone »

harrisonreed wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 5:58 pm I know. WTH did they still label it "alto trombone" after all that lol 😂 the original score even just says tbn I

For irony?
Tradition - a lot of publishing companies still used Alto, Tenor and Bass rather than 1, 2 & 3 even when the Alto had fallen out of use. Bruckner Symphonies often say Alto, and I can't see anyone playing an Alto on them.

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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by LeTromboniste »

I'll assume you're playing second, if that's the case, mirror what the first trombone does. Breathe with them, start your notes really together with them, match their articulations, lengths of notes, dynamic, etc. More of your attention should be on the first trombone than on the conductor (and even when looking at the conductor you should be able to see the first and still feel like you're in contact). If you have any questions about the music or interpretation decisions, ask the first trombone, not the conductor.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by harrisonreed »

CalgaryTbone wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 9:53 pm
harrisonreed wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 5:58 pm I know. WTH did they still label it "alto trombone" after all that lol 😂 the original score even just says tbn I

For irony?
Tradition - a lot of publishing companies still used Alto, Tenor and Bass rather than 1, 2 & 3 even when the Alto had fallen out of use. Bruckner Symphonies often say Alto, and I can't see anyone playing an Alto on them.

Jim Scott
I know this. What I'm saying is that the IMSLP part was transcribed very recently, and put into tenor clef. The PD score that is on there from 1899 or thereabouts even has the first part labeled as Tbn I. So ... Why on earth label a part you took the time to redo and put into tenor clef as "alto", in the 21st century, when the score from 1899 didn't even have it labeled like that?
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by AtomicClock »

Because the published part says "TROMBONI ALTO & TENORE". The clef-challenged trombonist will be looking for a substitute alto part. Or a substitute tenor part. The modern transcriber communicates all three pieces of information: 1st trombone, alto trombone, tenor clef.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by harrisonreed »

Ughhh...... It's..... Not ...... the year is ..... I gotta go wash something!
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CalgaryTbone
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by CalgaryTbone »

I'm also not so sure that the original wasn't actually intended for alto. There was a bit of experimenting with the alto in that era, and the high "D's" in the part are a bit out of the norm for the time.

As far as the IMSLP part - I haven't looked at it, but trying to figure out why someone left the part designation the same when they copied it into another clef - you'd need to ask them. They say we only use 10% of our brain, but I've found that to be a generous estimate. I think we'll find that to be the problem.

Jim Scott
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EdwardSolomon
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by EdwardSolomon »

Definitely NOT alto trombone. It's scored for two B flat tenors and a G bass, with a F tuba underpinning the section.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by Kbiggs »

Here’s a thread from last year that provides some useful advice on being a musician:

https://www.trombonechat.com/viewtopic. ... =If+I+hadi

I especially like Gabe Rice’s comments towards the bottom of the first page.
Kenneth Biggs
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by tbdana »

Back to the original question of the thread...

My most important piece of advice is to enjoy the experience. It's your first of many. Take everything in. Be aware of everything. This is going to be an important memory for you in the future. Make sure to take time to enjoy and be grateful for this first big experience. Beyond that, I'm going to echo a few principles:

Be early. 30 minutes early is on-time. On-time is late. And if you're actually late, you'll never work for them again. I'm usually 1 hour early to every gig, even if I spend 30 minutes sitting in my car. You never know what can happen to delay you. An accident, flat tire, or traffic are just a few things that can delay you. Anticipate the worst problem and leave your home early enough to avoid that.

Be someone people want to play with. At least as important as your playing ability is that you make people's jobs easier and be someone people enjoy playing with. That means being friendly, not talking when you shouldn't be, solving problems on your own rather than bothering the conductor, being responsible, and being humble.

Be able to play the everlovin' sh*t out of your part. That means having your part down before you show up to the first rehearsal. You come to rehearsal to rehearse with the group, not to learn to play your part. It means playing in tune (an out of tune note is a wrong note). It means following your principal player like you're glued to his chest. And it means that if you can't play the part, turn down the gig and let someone who can play it have the chair.

Earn their respect. Someone got you on this first big gig. Make whoever got you this gig look good. This isn't high school. It may be "only" a community rather than a professional orchestra, but treat it like it's the most important gig in the world. Be professional. Show respect, and earn respect with your professionalism. You're there to do a job, just like digging a ditch or fixing a pipe. This is important to people, so make sure you treat the experience that way.

Tense up! LOL! :D That was a joke. Actually, do the opposite. Work on staying relaxed. Tension is the enemy of good playing. You can screw up the easiest music by holding tension in your body when you play, especially in your chest and shoulders. Don't fret. You can play this stuff. You know you can. The moment is not too big for you, it's just right. So just relax and play it. Breathe deeply and keep your body loose. Play with confidence. If I'm nervous, I mess it up. So I have the philosophy of just going for it with abandon. You'll either soar or you'll crash and burn, but if you're tense you will for sure crash and burn.

And finally...

Come from within the music; don't impose yourself on top of it. You're not a soloist, you're part of a large group. Be artful. The thing is the thing, and here the music is the thing. You are not the thing. The ONLY thing that matters is the sound that the conductor hears. And he's listening to the orchestra, not to you. Be part of the music. Don't stand out. In fact, your best success is when no one thinks of you at all. You can stand out by not standing out. (But don't disappear, either.) There are stories all over about auditions where people came in and wowed the audition committees with their playing, but the the gig went to the one who showed he could be part of the ensemble.

And again, enjoy it. You'll remember this gig when you're 80. Make it a positive memory.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by sf105 »

top tip, enjoy the music, it's a wonderful piece, even during those long rests (Enigma isn't too bad). Elgar knew his stuff so it's very playable. Listen to lots of versions so you won't be surprised with whatever clever ideas your conductor comes up with. And follow the beat.
Esiotrot101
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by Esiotrot101 »

Thanks everyone, this has really been helpful.
Just found out I'm playing first, so I don't think I'll be sleeping for the next week.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by Kbiggs »

Esiotrot101 wrote: Mon Apr 01, 2024 9:26 pm Thanks everyone, this has really been helpful.
Just found out I'm playing first, so I don't think I'll be sleeping for the next week.
Get several versions and put them in your play list. Between now and the performance, allow those recordings to be your main listening. Devote between 70% to 100% of your listening time to this piece, whether it’s in the car, walking, or formal listening time at home with the score and part in front of you. You’ll learn it. Have fun.
Kenneth Biggs
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by AtomicClock »

LeTromboniste wrote: Sun Mar 31, 2024 1:07 am If you have any questions about the music or interpretation decisions, ask the first trombone, not the conductor.
How does this advice change when OP is subbing on the 1st part? Is he automatically "acting principal" as well?

Regarding the high C's & D's... play them if you can. But I believe they are all in big brass tutti sections, so it's not the end of the world to leave them out or take 'em down. Better that than clam them.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by LeTromboniste »

AtomicClock wrote: Tue Apr 02, 2024 10:34 am
LeTromboniste wrote: Sun Mar 31, 2024 1:07 am If you have any questions about the music or interpretation decisions, ask the first trombone, not the conductor.
How does this advice change when OP is subbing on the 1st part? Is he automatically "acting principal" as well?
Of course depending on the personality of the second and the size of their ego, and the way the orchestra works, a principal sub has to be careful how they do things. The same way a guest conductor does not deal with the orchestra the way the music director/principal conductor would. There's a risk to get burned.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by Esiotrot101 »

LeTromboniste wrote: Tue Apr 02, 2024 3:38 pm
AtomicClock wrote: Tue Apr 02, 2024 10:34 am

How does this advice change when OP is subbing on the 1st part? Is he automatically "acting principal" as well?
Of course depending on the personality of the second and the size of their ego, and the way the orchestra works, a principal sub has to be careful how they do things. The same way a guest conductor does not deal with the orchestra the way the music director/principal conductor would. There's a risk to get burned.
From what I've been told there may not even be a second at this point.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by AtomicClock »

Is this the only piece you're playing on the program? It's probably okay to stand in the wings (or maybe even sit in the audience) for the pieces you don't play. But make sure you can walk on stage quickly, and without having to push past seated musicians. If Enigma isn't last, it's probably okay to just leave when you're done. Don't leave or enter the stage during applause. Wait until just after.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by Esiotrot101 »

AtomicClock wrote: Tue Apr 02, 2024 5:35 pm Is this the only piece you're playing on the program? It's probably okay to stand in the wings (or maybe even sit in the audience) for the pieces you don't play. But make sure you can walk on stage quickly, and without having to push past seated musicians. If Enigma isn't last, it's probably okay to just leave when you're done. Don't leave or enter the stage during applause. Wait until just after.
Enigma is last on the program, and the only piece with trombones.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by JohnL »

Esiotrot101 wrote: Tue Apr 02, 2024 7:42 pmEnigma is last on the program, and the only piece with trombones.
If you choose to wait in the wings, make absolutely sure that you know the piece preceding Enigma well enough to know when it's over. Yes, I (and most of the brass section) learned that lesson the hard way.

If there's an intermission, I would consider being on stage for the entire second half of the concert.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by AtomicClock »

Esiotrot101 wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 4:01 am in 14 days time
How did it go?
Esiotrot101
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by Esiotrot101 »

AtomicClock wrote: Mon Apr 15, 2024 4:56 pm
Esiotrot101 wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 4:01 am in 14 days time
How did it go?
It went really well, thanks for asking. I ended up playing second to an excellent first player who helped me out with orchestra playing. I learnt a lot from this about orchestra and made some good contacts.
They've asked if I'm coming back which is good news, especially considering they are playing Mahler 1 which would be great even if I play 4th trombone.
Thanks to everyone for the advice.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by BGuttman »

Mahler 1 only takes 3 trombones. 2nd in our edition is written in tenor clef. Does require 8 French Horns, though!
Bruce Guttman
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Esiotrot101
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by Esiotrot101 »

BGuttman wrote: Mon Apr 15, 2024 6:08 pm Mahler 1 only takes 3 trombones. 2nd in our edition is written in tenor clef. Does require 8 French Horns, though!
The edition I've seen used in most video recordings and on IMSLP has 7 horns and from the beat before figure 56 in the fourth movement a fourth trombone and fifth trumpet play with the horns (and sitting/standing with them) as "reinforcements."
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by AtomicClock »

In my Dover score, the extra parts are simply shown as "Horner versgtarkung" (Horn amplification), and shown as divisi on another F transposed staff just below other horns. Curiously, the Dover comes from "the Universal edition in 1906", same as the IMSLP copy that specifies 5th trumpet and 4th trombone.

I am continually disappointed that 'ol Gustav doesn't let us play the final two notes.
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Re: Elgar's Enigma Variations

Post by Estraven »

Esiotrot101 wrote: Mon Apr 15, 2024 5:54 pm
AtomicClock wrote: Mon Apr 15, 2024 4:56 pm

How did it go?
It went really well, thanks for asking. I ended up playing second to an excellent first player who helped me out with orchestra playing. I learnt a lot from this about orchestra and made some good contacts.
They've asked if I'm coming back which is good news, especially considering they are playing Mahler 1 which would be great even if I play 4th trombone.
Thanks to everyone for the advice.
Was it recorded and, if so, can you please share it with us in some way?

Clearly you earned the respect of your fellow musicians, well done!
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