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Thread: Community Band Questions

  1. #1

    Community Band Questions

    Okay, you may have read a little about me on my first post about my Wessex mouthpiece, but I'm going to need to provide a little more background to put my questions in context. I'll try to be brief. I'm one of many on this forum (who knew?) that is returning to music after a long absence. In my case, 30 years. I played from 6th to 11th grade. Consistently made all-region in the Dallas area, but never put in the work to give myself a chance at all-state. Quit after my junior year.

    I return now with much excitement and I'm really enjoying it. I began taking lessons from a local professional trombone player in the symphony (I live in Tucson, AZ these days.) He was super encouraging right from the drop. I've only been back playing for 3 months, but he really thought I ought to seek out opportunities in community bands. He knows a director that runs a local band and contacted him about me and it turns out they could use another euphonium. I showed up Monday night for their first rehearsal after the holiday break for a kind of sit-in, see how it goes audition. Long story short, I was overwhelmed. They blazed through 10, maybe 15 pieces in an hour and 45 minutes, repeating a few sections, but mostly barreling forward. There are at least 80 pieces of music in the folder I'm given, everything from marches to movie themes. I'm told by the principal euphonium (who is very nice, and very, very good--a junior high band director, but also very involved in playing) that they play 4 concert-in-the-park shows in May where they cover pretty much all of this material, and even some more, possibly. He tells me that they have occasionally performed pieces that they basically sight read once in a rehearsal. I'm nowhere near as good as this very nice man and my sight reading skills at this point leave much to be desired. They are giving me a chance to catch up, but I'm not certain that's possible. Too much material, some of it quite difficult for me (especially the marches). Even if I work my butt off practicing at home (which I'm willing to do), there is no guarantee I'll be good enough to make it in this band.

    So...my questions are these: Is this band typical in the amount of material they take on? There are several other local community bands. Might I easily find one more my speed? Or are most like this? Like I said, they were very nice and are giving me a chance, but it seems likely that I'm not quite ready for this particular band. They're not perfect or anything, but there are some really fine musicians in all the sections.

    I know these questions can't be answered exactly. But some general ideas about what is common would be helpful. I'm pretty sure I'm going to tell them thanks for the chance and go back to just doing my lessons and maybe seek out a different opportunity. I'm certainly not giving up or anything. Having too much fun playing again. But this seems like a case of too much, too soon.

    Any thoughts would be much appreciated!
    Neal

    Wessex Dolce Compensating Euph
    G&W Kadja
    Fender Telecaster

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Location
    Central North Carolina
    Posts
    1,990
    I'll chime in before more knowledgeable and experienced people do so that you'll get the "poor man's" perspective first .

    Over the course of my life I've played in at least five community bands (from age 14 to, now, age ... uh ... let me think a moment ... 67). These have ranged from small towns, to small cities, to large cities (St. Louis, at least). What you describe APPEARS to me to be a much more intensive and I would almost say "frantic" approach than any I've encountered.

    From MY perspective ...

    For something like a professional-level organization, perhaps "blazing" through that many pieces is perhaps possible and fruitful. Otherwise, I think not. In the current band I'm in (which I also played in during the early/mid 90s under two other conductors), we will typically go through maybe a half dozen pieces per rehearsal. Sometime fewer because we don't blaze through them. Our conductor (a tuba-playing professor at a local state university) is VERY concerned about intonation and how each part of the music is played by each section. So there may be periods of five or ten minutes where he works with just the high woodwinds, or just the high brass, or just on the intonation in a particular passage, etc. I love this approach. It's the only hope to having the band play things correctly and to have them sound good.

    In contrast, several years ago (and for a couple of years) I played with another band in the area. Here, the conductor took the approach of "Play it through once or twice and call it done." No time was spent on tuning or intonation. No time was spent on working with a section through a particular passage. The comment at the end of rehearsing each piece was "That's great. Let's move on to ...". But it wasn't great. It didn't sound good. It was out of tune and obvious mistakes were being made -- and were being made in performances (which were attended largely by families of band members).

    This year, the current band I'm in is having a record number of performances. I know because I now run the web site and was just updating the performance list. Between now and July 4 we have SEVEN performances, several of them in significant venues (such as a large church-organized music program, a state botanical garden, "town square" concerts, etc.). At any given time (preparing for the next set of concerts) we may have maybe 8 or 10 pieces (not counting Christmas music, which is a specific seasonal thing by itself). This set changes (in whole or more likely in part) across our concert year as we we give performances. We're in the process right now of changing from our "winter" set of pieces to our "spring" set.

    The music we play is generally in the grade 4 to grade 5 spectrum of difficulty. Sometimes some grade 3 stuff, particularly for special (xmas, patriotic, etc.) occasions. Every year the conductor has us do at least one piece (maybe a couple) that is a "stretch" for our abilities. Somehow, he manages to bring us up to the level of performing it well. This takes effort. We have had a few people leave the band (fairly soon after joining it) because they didn't care for the time spent on tuning, intonation, and working with sections to get things right. Their choice. They're looking or something else.

    Another band I played in for about a year was a local New Horizons (sometimes referred to as a "geezer") band. You might think of joining one of these at least for a while, and then maybe moving on. I don't see one in Tucson, but just in Mesa and Phoenix. That may be too far for you to go.

    Anyhow, that's been my community band experience. There is a wide range of possibilities, approaches, and issues in community bands. With luck you can find one that will fit you. My sister lives outside of Tuscon (somewhere in the desert near Catalina) and she's been going to Tuba Christmas performances the last few years (as audience, not participant). So I suspect there's some tuba/euphonium action to be had there in one way or another.
    Last edited by ghmerrill; 01-08-2015 at 08:55 AM.
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

  3. #3
    I have been playing in in the Scottsdale Concert Band for a few years. It is at the community college - so we have to register. We typically have 4 concerts per school year. We play about 10 charts per concert. We usually have a guest soloist. Our rehearsals we cover the music and work on parts. All levels are in. We also start with stretching and breathing exercises. We typically play a march and some standard band charts especially for the Christmas concert.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Location
    Central North Carolina
    Posts
    1,990
    I should add that the size of the band I'm talking about here is around 45-50 currently, and has as members a huge variety of people with a broad spectrum of skills. This includes a bunch of high school students, a few folks at the professional/quasi-professional musician level, college and graduate students (not music majors), retired people (ranging from their 60s to their 90s), and the usual contingent of folks who are still working at regular jobs but want to devote some time to instrumental music. Because of its location, it's fairly heavy in the area of past or present doctors/professors/technical folks/school teachers. The conductor often says that one reason he likes conducting this band is that while we sometimes struggle with the skill level required, we work at it and have to be told something only once in order to get it.

    Oh ... We did a kind of informal tuba/euph holiday concert at the Botanical Garden in late Dec. (only five of us) and drew a crowd of close to 150 -- which shocked everyone, especially the performers. That group consisted of me (on euph, believe it or not), two retired/retiring university professors, one retired cardiologist, and one local middle school instrumental teacher who recently graduated with a B.A. in music from a nearby state university.
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    West Palm Beach, FL
    Posts
    3,141
    When I came back to playing euph about 15 years ago (after 33 year break), it took me awhile to get up to speed. I was over whelmed at the first rehearsal and said to one of the other players, "I don't think I'm ready for you guys yet". He laughed and said to hang in there, you'll get better. I did hang in there and am now section leader or principal. It does take some time. I still remember that first year the director said on one occasion, "I'm taking this in 1". I remember thinking, "how can that be - it's in 3/4 time?" I honestly didn't remember my HS director directing anything in '1'. Nor did the drum & bugle corp I played in when in the Air Force. That's how rusty I was. It does take time and gets better with practice. I practiced several hours per day.

    As far as playing through 10 or 15 pieces in 45 mins, that seems pretty fast. Sounds more like a professional group, or that all the players were very familiar with those pieces and the director was just familiarizing everyone with them. Could be that band only plays those '80 some pieces' and they never add anything new. Don't know. Our community band changes music every 4 to 6 weeks where we turn in our folders after the concert and the librarian stuffs them with new music for our next concert (we play about 10 or 11 concerts per season (Oct thru May)). After a 'read-through' first, the dir. always goes back and works on things where some players may have missed a key change, or intonation is not right, or phrasing is not right. Our MD (music dir.) is the director of Bravo Music so we're often getting new arrangements... several from arrangers in Japan. It's interesting, but challenging.

    For awhile I played in another comm band which was not as challenging. Maybe this would be a good idea to try for awhile. I hope this helps. Contrary to what some say, coming back to playing an instrument is NOT 'like riding a bike'.
    Last edited by RickF; 01-08-2015 at 10:31 PM.
    Rick Floyd
    Miraphone 5050 - Warburton Brandon Jones sig mpc
    YEP-641S (on long-term loan to grandson)
    Doug Elliott - 102 rim; I-cup; I-9 shank


    "Always play with a good tone, never louder than lovely, never softer than supported." - author unknown.
    Symphonic Band of the Palm Beaches
    When the Saints Go Marching In (arr. Mashima) at ACB Conference Ft. Lauderdale
    Cell phone video of : El Cumbanchero:

  6. I currently play with two community bands and definitely agree with the above posts. The pace of the band you are describing seems fast... but then again there are different calibers of community bands for sure. Playing in two somewhat average community bands (which mine seem to be) can be both wonderful but also at times painful. The band you have found yourself in sounds exciting and as long as you are enjoying yourself and do not encounter any condescending members as you get up to speed I'd encourage sticking with it. You may have found yourself a pearl of an ensemble to play with
    Bob Tampa FL USA
    Euph -- 1984 B&H Round Stamp Sovereign 967 / 1978 Besson NS 767 / Early 90s Sterling MP: 4AL and GW Carbonaria
    Tuba -- 2014 Wisemann 900 CC / 2013 Mack 410 MP: Blokepiece Symphony American Shank and 33.2 #2 Rim

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Location
    Pine Bush, New York
    Posts
    17
    Neal, I also picked up playing again also after a long (20 year) break, I was inspired to by hearing our community band (Pine Bush Community Band) perform in the town park. I've been back at it now for 10 years and am playing better then I ever played. While it does sound like the band you are playing in now is very ambitions, I recommend that you be part of one community band or another. Being part of a group helps in a number of ways: e.g. your (mine anyway) commitment was greater because I felt a responsibility to the rest of the band; playing 'over my head' forced me to improve quicker; sitting next to really top notch player improved my ear, my phrasing, and my technical skills; and the friendships are great. I'd suggest sticking with the band you found until you find one that is a better fit, but play in a band that makes you reach beyond your present ability.

  8. #8
    Thank you for all the great responses. This is exactly what I was hoping for. I just needed some additional information to help me mull over what to do. As it turns out, I accidentally exaggerated the amount of material...it's only 60 pieces! (Which still seems like a lot to me.) We went through 12-15 pieces only rarely backing up, and like Gary describes in one of his experiences, there were definitely intonation issues and inaccurate playing that wasn't addressed at all. But there was also some brilliant playing. The brass seems especially strong.

    I've gone completely back and forth over the course of this week. I was convinced on Wednesday that I would simply turn in my folder on Monday. But I have since decided to at least give it a few more weeks to get more comfortable, see how fast I can improve, and see if the rehearsals might just slow down a bit (at least, my own perception of the speed might improve). The good thing is that the people in the band seem quite nice. I emailed the conductor and he suggested I focus my practice time on the marches and pointed out one piece in particular that is very technical that would be good to focus on. His last line in the email was, "Just do your best in rehearsals." So I'll take his advice, practice as much as I can, and see where I stand in a month or so.

    Thank you again to all who responded. It really helped me to think this through.
    Neal

    Wessex Dolce Compensating Euph
    G&W Kadja
    Fender Telecaster

  9. #9
    Regardless of which band you end up with, sight-reading is a very, very valuable skill. I suggest you start honing that skill right away.

    First thing to remember is that you can't sight-read cleanly any material that is harder than you can play. Obvious, right?

    But you CAN learn to sight-read above your ability to play cleanly if you are simply trying to "keep up" with things. You should do 3 things each day, IMHO:
    1. Practice fundamentals with great diligence. Work especially on concert-pitch scales/arpeggios/etc. that are in concert keys ranging from 5 flats to 1 sharp. This is the realm for most of the common band literature.
    2. As you work on #1, spend time each day (even 5-10 minutes is good) playing fundamentals without music. Vary the patterns - make up your own variations. Do "roaming" scales of 16ths or fast 8ths: go up an octave and come back down, then go up an octave and a step, then an octave and a third, and so on. That's just an example. Vary articulations and dynamics at the same time. Before you start each phrase, decide how loud and whether there will be cresc/dim as part of it; decide what articulation pattern you'll use. You will not sight-read well until you can play a few of the music's notes by memory (as you look ahead at the next measure, for example), and doing some exercises without music helps to train your brain.
    3. Last by not least, spend 5-10 minutes every day reading new music. As you do so I suggest you follow this pattern:
      • Spend about 5-10 seconds looking at the music before you play a note. Get the meter, key, and tempo in your head right away (the key will of course relate to all those scales you practiced in #1). Also try to pick up on any pitfalls you can see (key/meter changes, funny intervals, whatever).
      • Commence to try to go through the entire piece, roughly in tempo (I would not use a metronome, but try to keep a steady tempo - don't slow down for each hard passage). If you can't get all the notes right, try to get the "important" ones - the first note of a measure and the 3rd beat of a 4/4 bar are good targets for example. Even if you don't get all the notes you need to portray the "shape" of the measure.
      • Once you have finished, go back and spend a few minutes practicing the parts that messed you up. You are not trying to perfect the piece - just pick up enough so a similar piece will go better next time.


    All this should help get your mind in gear for sight-reading on demand. It's like learning how to roller skate. At first you are just trying not to fall, and soon after you are able to make some forward motion. But if you want to be a pro, you would never stop learning new techniques of skating and polishing the techniques you already have. So with your sight-reading, we want to get you on your feet and moving forward as soon as possible. Then you will keep building up your reading skills for the rest of your playing experience!
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams E3, Denis Wick 4AL (classic)
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  10. #10
    Main question with any community band experience is whether or not it's fun for you, and if you connect with the folks in the band... particularly in your section. My experiences in community bands have been universally positive... making music with great folks, but without a lot of pressure. I guess if the folks in your ensemble were more hard-charging or demanding of your talent, that might squeeze some of the fun out of it.

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