by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
(also see the companion article, Power Players)
A few days ago we wrote an article about the power player. Today we'll start one all about the finesse player. While I am not one of these, in my opinion, I certainly understand these fine players and I admire most of them. In fact my teacher for nine years ‑ Harold Brasch ‑ was what I would call a finesse player. He was precise, meticulous, virtually perfect in everything he did on the euphonium. He was an outstanding example of the best of the finesse players.
Just what is a finesse player, you ask? I already have described one. He is very controlled and everything else I mentioned above. In addition to that a finesse player usually, but not always, has a very pleasing, although not really large, tone. Some finesse players do have large tones but they are rare, actually. More normally, the finesse player has an outstanding tone, not large, but sweet. That is the typical finesse way. Sweet tone, lots of pyrotechniques, and everything very precise. Nearly perfect.
As with the article on power players, let us conduct a question and answer session on this subject and I will, again, both ask and answer the questions. In that way I’ll never get stuck for an answer, right?
Question: Were you to start all over again on the euphonium, would you aim towards playing as a power player or would you decide to change into a finesse player?
Answer: I believe that all things being equal, I would opt in favor of the finesse player. Does that surprise you? After all, during most of my professional band playing life I have been a power player. However, if it appeared to me that I had the stuff to play everything which came along at top speed easily, I may have decided to forget the power playing and go into the finesse mode. I believe that it is a much easier way of life for the player. Not so much work. Not so many chances of physical injury or problems, etc. Yes, I think that the finesse way is the way I would go.
Q: You say that you took lessons for many years from a finesse player, Harold Brasch. Then, how come you didn't become a finesse player yourself?
A: Playing first chair in the Marine Band at that time made it mandatory for me to be a power player. The more power the better. In fact probably the strongest euphonium player the world has ever seen would wish that he had more power were he to have suddenly been placed on first chair in the Marine Band back in the 1940's and 1950's. They really wanted a strong player on first chair. One who was able to project and one who could play everything loudly no matter how fast it went. And, bear in mind that most of the concerts we played back then were not amplified in any way. When I first joined the Marine Band, even the soloists had absolutely no amplification. Power was required by all soloists. If you didn't play loudly enough or project properly, the leader jacked you up on it. He would growl, "They'll never hear you out in the audience if you play that softly. Play louder!!!" And you were already playing with lots of volume.
So, now you know why I went the power player route and was never a finesse player. I had to become a power player or I would not have stayed on first chair very long. Not back in the 1940's and 1950's. After that I was already firmly set in my power playing ways and it was too late for me to change. It all worked out okay in the long run so I have no regrets.
Q: Are finesse players born that way or are they made?
A: As with that same question re the power player, the answer is both ‑ either or. Some are born to be finesse players and others must bend in that direction if they wish to wind up a finesse player. Perhaps a tendency is for them to play too loudly, too strongly, too big to qualify as a finesse player. If they want to be a finesse player, they must work at it to be more subdued, perhaps less size of tone and more sweetness, and lots of technical displays. I guess it all depends upon which way you want to go, if the finesse way is your desire, you must change in case you lean towards the power way. My thought on this is, if you are born to be a power player, why change? Power playing is still acceptable and you will, at least, be able to make yourself heard and you will have a big, fat tone, why not stay where you are?
Q: When speaking of first chair, would a power player be chosen over a finesse player in most of today's big concert and military bands?
A: I doubt it. I believe that the trend is now turning away from the power player on first chair and towards the finesse player. It all has to do, in my opinion, with the literature. With so many modern pieces being programmed, most not favoring the euphonium very much, the accent is off of much being heard out of the first chair player. If he isn't required to make himself heard, a power player isn't needed. The finesse player can do everything just as well, as long as he isn't required to play very big or very loudly. However, if a finesse player is on first chair and some old classical concert piece ever gets programmed, he might be pretty well lost as far as projection is concerned. That's what the power player is good at doing ‑ playing loudly and projecting. However, the finesse player can learn to play a bit louder and he'll get by, and he'll sound beautiful doing it.
Q: What is the role of the finesse player in solo work?
A: As far as the matter of stand‑up‑front‑solos goes, the finesse player is right in his element. With today's fine amplification, he need not be concerned at all about being heard. The amplification will provide all of the volume necessary. All he needs to do is to play his solo as well as he can and with the finesse player that is very well, indeed. No one can play better solo performances than finesse players. That's their specialty. The power player's specialty is making himself heard in prominent parts in selections, overtures, etc. And in projecting his sound. He tone is always large and sonorous and that's not really needed now with the advent of the good amplification systems in use. The finesse player wins out in this case.
Q: What about physical problems with the finesse player? Does he have as many as the power player, generally speaking?
A: Apparently not. That power and projection which is the specialty of the power player do not really enter into the life of the finesse player so, if he has any problems, they surely aren't the result of too much power or projection, are they? No. While the finesse player may have some problems as time goes on, it has to be trivial compared with the power player's hernias, etc. The finesse player wins out in this area, too.
Q: When we spoke of opera singers and the similarity of how they sing to how euphonium players produce their tones, we were specifically speaking about power players. How do finesse players match up in their method of tone production with the opera singers?
A: Well, while most good euphonium players do product their tones in the correct manner, it is mostly the power players who most closely match the opera singer in how they play. Especially in Wagner music. Both the opera singer and the power player will be using a huge tone, great projection, and enormous volume much of the time. As with the opera singer, great endurance is required to continue along for any amount of time without becoming exhausted, and this is exactly how it is with the euphonium player. If he is a power player, he will need great endurance and usually power players do have that. The finesse player won't be exerting himself that much so he need not be in as great a playing condition as that of the opera singer or the power player. This is my idea of the situation. Perhaps the reader will disagree. That's okay. It is worth a thought on the subject, at least.
Q: You seem to feel that the power player's day has passed. Is the future of the finesse player, then, in very good shape?
A: I would say so. Absolutely. It seems to me that the finesse player is now coming into his own and as far as the future goes, I see nothing there to diminish the finesse player's bright promise. His future looks splendid. The power player seems to have passed his time. He isn't so important now a days. However, don't write him off yet. There will be times when he is still a very nice person to have around. His specialty is bound to be needed now and again. There is still use for his skills. But as for a dominant player which he once was, I don't see that continuing. It seems to be the finese player's era now.
Q: Do you regret it that the power player is on the wane while the finesse player is now dominent?
A: In a way I do. But with the swing to modern band literature the power player isn't so important, so I do see more need for the finesse player and less for the power player. What I really regret is that change in band literature ‑ from classic concert music to D.A.M. music (Disonant, Abstract, Modern). I would love to see band programs include more of the classics and less of the D.A.M. music. However, I’m living in the past, I guess. What do you expect out of an old guy like me?
Q: Do you still play euphonium? If so, do you still play like a power player?
A: No. I no longer play. I quit playing in 2002 when I was 84 1/2 years old. However, when I was still playing, I was still a power player. You can't teach old dogs new tricks. I guess that applied to me. Of course, that was really the way i'd been playing for at least fifty years. Besides, why change? I wasn't playing in bands since 1997 just practicing at home. No need for any change.
Q: Do you have any observations as to the best brand of euphoniums in use today?
A: Oh, that is a terrible subject to delve into. What one player finds to be the best instrument he has ever played often turns out to be the absolutely worst horn another has ever tried. One player's favorite may be, and often is, the next player's last choice for his new instrument. It all depends upon the player.
I had a certain make of euphonium for a while. I had a terrible time trying to play it in tune. Had a pupil who had a similar instrument ‑ same brand and same model ‑ and he could play my horn virtually perfectly in tune. Why was that? Who knows? Maybe my lip wasn't strong enough to push and pull in the way I used to be able to do. Maybe the pupil was used to the brand of horn more than I was. It's just a big mystery to me, and to him. For me that horn was terrible. For him that horn was fine. (I should have given it to him!) Incidentally, he now plays a different brand of instrument which he likes a lot better than the first brand we were speaking of. (I really liked that new instrument, too, incidentally. I could pull and push the notes into tune with that one. What a relief.)But, as to your question about what I think about the various makes of euphoniums on the market today and what my thoughts are on that subject, I go back to the individual. Each player will have his own preference and not all players will like the same brand of instrument. It's a lot like automobiles. One person thinks that the Ford is the best. Another leans strongly towards the Chevy. A third will want no other than a Chrysler. All one needs to do is to try instruments until he finds one he likes. Then, he buys it. It's that simple.
Written by Arthur Lehman for Keith Barton, July 11, 2006