by legendary euphoniumist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
April 5, 2009
Nanny goat vibrato? Hate it. The trouble is with vibratos that one doesn't hear his own playing well, usually. If he could listen to it on a recording first, he could make adjustments. That's where I was one very lucky youffer [translation: "euphoniumist"]. We would often make a "study recording" of one of my solos - each new one, preferably, and then listen carefully to make any corrections and adjustments deemed necessary.
In the case of "Pictures At An Exhibition", we didn't do that. Why should we? It was old, not new, and not a solo. It's a suite. But there is a dandy euphonium solo buried in it - "BYDLO". I love this solo. I could play it fine, but this time I was experimenting with my vibrato trying to get it just as regular and at the same timing as Harold Brasch's. By golly, I thought that at last I had it and I was working with it to get it down pat when we were to record the "Pictures". Why? Can't remember. Probably it was on a radio broadcast.
Anyway, after we'd recorded it, I rushed up to the recording lab to hear "BYDLO", oh what an awful shock to hear. What had I wrought? Terrible vibrato. Well, actually, I did get that vibrato close to Brasch's only it was much too wide. Blast! Ruined the entire suite for me. The Colonel had asked me for less vibrato and I thought I had toned it down. But it was still too wide. Couldn't hear it when I was playing it. On the recording I did hear it. All which tells us that no one hears himself as he really sounds unless he can have a recording of his playing to hear and to study. Had I not had that rotten recording to study and then play the same suite (including "BYDLO") the next day, I would have had that lousy vibrato back in focus. As it was, it went through as is. What a fiasco. All my fault. My tin ear again!
Did I ever mention that my ear isn't too good? Not like violin or trombone players' ears which must be good, euphonium players push down a valve and play a note and there it is. Not so with the violin or trombone player. They make adjustments continually while we depend a lot - too much, I fear - on the good(?) intonation of our instruments. At any rate, when I play in a band and sound to my self right in tune with the band, it turns out that I'm sharp. My tin ear hears it wrong, apparently. So, I quickly learned, after hearing lots of our radio broadcast recordings, to play a bit flatter. When I sounded just exactly this flat to myself (only a bit flat), I was right in pitch and harmony with the band. Is that a blast? Or what? Well, it is no bed of roses to play in, or out, of tune by guess or estimate. I'd much rather hear what I'm doing and correct it with a good ear.
Later, in the 1960's, we got electronic tuners and that helped very much to get in tune. I'd check my A-440 on the tuner every day - at least once. (Colonel Schoepper had me set them - I was put in charge of them - at A-443). We had 2 electronic tuners - brass and woodwinds. I guess there were tuning controls, too, making the tuning note sound reedy or brassy. Yes. What a boon - electronic tuners. We took them on tour. One was set up on the woodwind side of the band, the other on the brass side. All of us were required to check our intonation.
The woodwind players did not like their tuner, feeling it to be too flat, so someone was always changing the setting inside to a higher pitch. I had to check this setting daily and reset it daily. The brass tuner was never tampered with, luckily. But all in all, the electronic tuners were very useful tools. We used ours all of the time.
Written by Arthur Lehman, April 5, 2009