Tag Archives: beethoven

Expanding on the Jazz vs. Classical Worlds

Duke Ellington

Ludwig von Beethoven


I hope the title above doesn’t sound contentious. I truly don’t believe that there is a battle between the jazz and classical worlds. However, I believe that many musicians do believe that one must make a choice between playing jazz or classical.

Let’s make it very clear here that playing jazz and classical well takes years of practice and devotion. One is not easier than the other and just because a musician can play jazz doesn’t mean they can also play classical and vice-verse. I have one foot firmly placed in the jazz world (I do have a Masters degree in Jazz Studies) and my other foot firmly placed in the classical world (I sub quite often in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra) and I work hard maintaining a high playing level in both fields and I never take that for granted.

As I have been traveling down both paths, the more I realize how similar the paths are. When I think about how I want to play jazz, this is what I think about:

1. Playing with a good sound (ALWAYS!!)
2. Playing with good time
3. Playing stylistically correct
4. Playing with good technique
5. Playing with good and clear articulations
6. Playing with a studied knowledge of the music
7. Being a nice person to those around me (so I get hired again!)

The above list are the exact points I think about when I’m playing classical music! So, yes, there are differences between jazz and classical styles, but there are more similarities and those similarities are what I have been working on. And that work has paid off. I do several gigs a month with one of my various jazz groups (Standard(ish) Jazz Trio, Trombononymous, Elevator Up!) and I have won a bass trombone position with the Sinfonia da Camera orchestra in Urbana Illinois.

In future blogs, I will go into detail of what I am practicing for each classical, jazz, bass trombone and tenor trombone. These topics can be useful to musicians on any instrument that want to make themselves as marketable as possible to work as much as possible in these hard economic times.


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A Concert From Last Night

So last night I went to the symphony orchestra concert.  It was certainly a nice program with Beethoven Symphony 8 and Beethoven Symphony 9.  A night of Beethoven…what could be better?  I mainly just want to touch on a few aspects of the night and leave it at that.  It will be a short post.

1. The tempo a conductor chooses is very important and really can make or break the performance by the musicians.

2. Soprano Sara Jakubiak and Tenor Sean Panikkar both have extremely strong voices and were quite impressive.  Best part of the night was certainly each of their performances.  The future is bright when there are vocalists out there like these two!

3. Just because it is a popular piece and there are a lot of people on the stage (orchestra, soloists and choir) does not mean the performance deserves a standing ovation and about five callbacks.  I know this has been a discussion RBD and I have had many times in the past and maybe we should revisit the discussion once again.  It could start by reminding everyone what a standing ovation is meant to signify.


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The Issue of Gustav Mahler and Orchestras

Gustav Mahler Photograph

mda: Another blog while sitting at Upland Tasting Room in Indianapolis.  So RBD and I (mda) had the great pleasure of hearing Mahler 2 by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra the other week.  First off, this is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music without a doubt.  I have a feeling RBD will agree with me on all accounts.  So before we discuss this issue, I would like to say a few words about the performance.  It was a great interpretation of the piece.  The conductor really took some liberties with the tempos, but I rather enjoyed it.  The choir was excellent…great interpretation of the vocal parts.

RBD: I do agree, mda, with your assessment of the performance by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. This is one of my favorite pieces as well. I remember hearing this as a Middle School student or young High Schooler with my Dad in St. Louis. I felt this time, as I did back then (about 20 years ago) from the opening lick, as if I began a journey. An epic journey! Mahler said that he felt that he needed to put the whole world into his symphonies. That is so true with Symphony #2!! Oh, mda, you mentioned an issue in your previous statement. What’s the issue my friend?

mda: Well I believe you and I were talking after the concert about how the orchestra performed Mahler and I mentioned something along the lines of “Mahler really displays the inconsistencies of an orchestra.”  That made me start thinking about Mahler as a whole.  Is there really a composer out there that consistently pushes the limits of the orchestra like Mahler?

RBD: That’s a good point. Mahler has EVERYTHING! A HUGE orchestra that has people playing the whole time, plus chorus. I can only imagine playing an entire season of classical to neo-classical music (plus Pops Concert after Pops Concert) and then have to play Mahler for a week!! It’s like thinking it’s no big deal to walk down the street to the store. It’s only a mile away after all. Not bad, until you realize the store is actually 3 miles away, uphill and it’s raining! You’re tired by the end of that walk!

mda: Well that is one way to put it.  It really is is an interesting thing to think about and discuss.  Mahler’s orchestras are typically larger than a typical orchestra, but the way he writes shows every little, minute detail of the orchestra makeup.  Each player is just as important as the principal of each section.  Now I realize that this isn’t just a ‘Mahler issue.’  However, it somehow presents itself more than most other composers.  Now RBD, since you are a musician who regularly performs in an orchestral setting do you feel you and other musicians prepare differently for Mahler? Obviously you do, but what are the differences?

Famous Mahler Silhouette

RBD: Well, I would say that most orchestral musicians actually prepare for Mahler. They prepare mentally and physically. If you look on the schedule and see “A Night With the Beatles” or “Pink Floyd Tribute”, you’ll probably not run up to the library and get the parts. BUT, you more than likely have the Mahler week down in your calendar. You already have the parts and you begin listening to the beast well in advance. If you’re lulled into a musical sleep by doing short, easy pieces for weeks on end, you have to get yourself back into condition to be able to play something as massive as Mahler. A giant piece like that does show flaws. There is so much going on all the time, that slip-ups are bound to happen, even with the best of the best. The better the orchestras the less noticeable the slip-ups, but I guarantee they are there.

mda: All good points, but we would like to hear from you out there.  Tell us what you think of this Mahler conundrum? What other conductors would you place in to this conundrum…maybe Shostakovich or Wagner?  Would you want to place Beethoven in this arena?  Tell us what you think!

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Children’s favorite classical

Symphony Orchestra

One thing that is important to the future of Western Art Music is getting the younger generation connected to the music.  Many orchestras and other organizations accomplish this with the typical instrument petting zoos and “kiddie concerts.”  An article from the Guardian in the UK discussed what are the most popular ‘classical’ works for children and you will notice that the pieces listed are 1. typical for ALL kiddie concerts 2. programmatic and 3. generally related to Disney.  RBD and I (mda) decided we would discuss this list and see if it really is good for an introduction to Western Art Music for children.  So let’s start this:

mda: Hello Rich, how are you this fine evening?

RBD: I’m doing rather well thank you very much. Looking forward to this blog.

mda: So you read the list.  Let me first start with an overall question of “what do you think of the list?”

RBD: Well, I couldn’t help but notice two things: 1. Every piece is connected to a character or story, and as you mentioned, generally via Disney. 2. I’m assuming that anything with an orchestra is considered ‘classical’ to today’s youth. I’m also curious    just how this survey was done. Did the kids get a list from which to choose? Overall, though, anytime a youngster is exposed to classical music, via cartoons, movies, commercials, that’s fine with me….er, well, as long as the kids understand to what they are listening!

An Instrument Petting Zoo!

mda: Yeah, unfortunately the article does not discuss how the list was created.  The programmatic aspect is something that strikes me quite a bit.  Obviously, it is easier to introduce a young child to a piece of music if there is a story to tell/describe/promote.  I am fine with that.  Much like you, any way to introduce a child to the wonderment of classical music is fine by me.  However, by doing this are we ultimately shrinking the amount of music to introduce to the children?  First thought…will this make children expect a story behind each piece?  What about Renaissance music (which I know you are not a fan), or Mozart, or Beethoven?

RBD: Good points. Let’s think about these pieces as ‘gateway’ pieces. As mentioned, these pieces have a story to tell, they depict something via music. Now, in classical ‘kiddie concerts’ why not do the same things with different pieces? Play something ‘sad’. Play something ‘happy’. Show the audience, the children, that music can do a lot more than tell a story! After demonstrating how music can portray different emotions, then the orchestra can ask the kids to make up a story/emotion about another piece that they play. …(and now the ‘idea wheel’ gets moving, but the ‘knowing how to implement it’ wheel is a tad rusty) Maybe even send to the classrooms a week or two ahead of time, a piece of music, or send the kids back to school with a different piece of music, and have THEM make up a story! What does that piece of music say to them? Turn it into a contest/game/fun!! All in the name of getting the youth involved!

mda: Good idea.  Do you think orchestras are doing this?  Obviously you have a little more knowledge with this than I as there isn’t much need for a classical saxophonist in an orchestra.  However, I still feel like it puts too much emphasis on the story in the live performance.  The kids are getting introduced to a non-programmatic work BUT they are listening to it as a recording

Sergei Prokofiev

and not a live performance.  Am I being too picky with this? Also…hang with me here my brain just left……would it be better to introduce the children to music before they witness a live performance?  i.e. they study Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet first to understand the music and then use the live performance to strengthen their thoughts and then throw in non-programmatic works to expand their brains?  Answer that and then let’s move on to another question.  If you had the ability to introduce young children to a piece of music…any piece…what would it be?

RBD: Introduce the music to the kids BEFORE they get to the concert? Well, I think that makes the most sense ON THE PLANET! For all of the ‘kiddie concerts’ I’ve done and all the ‘school gigs’ I’ve played, I keep thinking: ‘These kids are REALLY getting into this! They LOVE us!’ Then I think, ‘What if these kids had been exposed to some of this material a week or two ahead of time?’ Can you imagine playing a piece the kids have studied/heard before? They would LOVE it! Why do you think they love ‘pop’ music so much? Well, one reason is because they hear it all the time!!! Anytime you get kids listening to classical music and thinking about classical music, getting them invloved…something good has happened! Now to answer your question…What piece of music would I use to introduce classical music to kids? That’s a good question. I’m going to have to think about that for a few minutes…

(insert 5 minutes here)

…well, there are so many wonderful pieces out there. On one hand you want to present them with something beautiful, and I know we are trying to be idealistic here, but I’m going to try to be practical. Having a piece with a HUGE orchestra and choir are not cost effective. Having a smaller orchestra doesn’t expose the students to all the instruments. So, I’m going to go with…part of or the entire 1st movement of Shostakovitch 5th symphony! Hell to the Y-E-S!! What a great historical place Shostakovitch has in classical history, not to mention Russian history. There are hints of atonality in there, a march and the repression! The pain of creating music under those confines….WOW! So engaging, especially if they get to discuss it before they come to the concert hall. Now, ideally…? Mahler, anything, I’d say Mahler 2, or the fugue at the end of Beethoven 9th. How many lives can be changed with music that powerful? Hmmm….
So, what would you choose?

Ludwig von Beethoven

mda: Well I was going to say Bach B Minor Mass or Beethoven 9…how perfect is Beethoven 9.  You have a great story of the composer, the use of the choir, the ultimate story of Bernstein using it for the fall of the Berlin Wall.  But you bring up an interesting concept with being cost effective these days.  You know….maybe I would chose a Haydn symphony because they generally have a story of some sort hook to them.  How about the Surprise Symphony or the Farewell Symphony?  Now granted, it is pretty structured in the composition, but I think it could be a great introduction.  In perfect world?  I would have to chose Mahler or Bartok!  Bartok I think would be an interesting choice.  It is quite accessible, full of folk music and fun to listen to.  Thoughts?

One of our favorites! Bela Bartok

RBD: Bartok, yeah, I didn’t think about that, of course there are so many pieces from which to choose, anything can work and for a number of reasons. This has been fun my friend!

mda: Thanks for doing this with me.  And please NEVER wear sleeping/lounge pants with dogs on it when you go out in public.  I think I would stop talking to you if that happened.

RBD: Done and Done!

So, what piece of music to YOU think would be great to introduce to our youth? What piece of music would you have liked to have heard when you were young? Were you exposed to classical music as a child? If so, what pieces?

Thanks for reading and sharing


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