another successful rehearsal last night focussed on two areas. First: Phantom of the Opera, we looked in depth at the second half of the arrangement and then ran it right through. Having spent several weeks drifting across various sections covering absences or holes, I am quite happy to hear and see members getting to grips with the challenges presented. However I note that not many players seem to take the hint to : MARK YOUR SCORE!!! and often leave it up to chance when cuts or changes are inserted…please, please, please use a pencil or electronic device to mark the important bits as requested by Harold so we don’t need to go over them time and time again and more importantly, they aren’t missed. The old saying is still relevant today: the audience will never know if you write on your music, but they will definitely know if you don’t!
The second focus was on that dreaded word: DYNAMICS, starting with some long tone exercises and it is here that I want to discuss some of the finer points of dynamic range.
There are several things to consider: in most cases the dynamic marking applies to the entire ensemble, therefore if three instruments are playing at MF then another 5 enter still at MF the texture will thicken but the sound should remain the same. Ergo, we must adjust for the instruments around us. The exception to this is in the hands of the composer who may deliberately write differing volume levels for a reason. A prime example of this lies in Caravan where the band is at MF and the trumpet shot notes are at F when played properly the effect is quite stunning.
We still have a tendency to think of dynamics as a fixed point in the volume scale….. if you ask someone what Piano means, they will say soft etc. but the work dynamic means to flow or move so we are talking dynamic as being a layer or a region of volume rather than a fixed point. I think of dynamics as a ladder, each rung is a level but between each rung there is space to move either up or down yet remain on the same rung. foe example if we are playing at forte, and the music needs to drop to piano, there are two ways of achieving this: either a sudden drop (like jumping down three rungs of the ladder) from F to P or a gradual step down (like climbing down the ladder) in which you step from F to MF to MP to P, the composer will instruct you in the manner that they desire, our job is to read it, accept it and do it!
The third part of the Dynamic Dilemma occurs as the pitch or part changes. generally as the pitch rises, so does the volume, and it is here that we need to exercise great caution, as it is easy for the band to become thin and trebly as the higher pitches sound out more and the lower sounds become lost, I am not really talking about the individual pitch of the instrument (such as Tuba Vs Piccolo) but in each section, we often find the first parts sitting up nice and high and safe on the melody, played by experienced players who have the easy role of playing the melody vs the player on third who has only just started playing their instrument and is struggling to pitch harmony lines that are a challenge at the best of times, we need to listen in our sections and balance the sound of those sections so that each harmony earns its rightful spot. The key to successful dynamic playing is breathing deeply and freely and supporting the note at all pitches. Finally the dynamic range creates the ensemble balance, long sustained notes will always be heard more than the florid passages as we simply can’t play fast and loud! therefore its vital we consider what part we are playing at any given moment, if you have a note worth more than one beat and its not the melody, you should be playing at the lower end of the dynamic range (think of the ladder, Melody is at the top of the rung almost to the rung above and the harmony should be at the bottom of the rung almost at the dynamic below) this is a constantly changing tapestry of sound that when blended well gives us the range we seek…funnily enough its constantly changing from phrase to phrase, chart to chart, gig to gig…… unbelievably, its DYNAMIC!!!!!
A final note regarding the purchase of our new member of the clarinet section, I am sure you won’t be disappointed as we take yet another step forward in the development of the ensemble, thank you for endorsing this opportunity.