Welcome to the Ensemble Sound Blog Series. The blog posts in this series are meant to help you think through and hopefully help you come up with some ideas on how to achieve your ideal ensemble sound! As always, these posts are not meant to tell you what to do, but to hopefully make you think more about what you are doing!
“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something that you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.” – Doris Lessing
Part 3: The Power of 1-1
In the 3rd segment of The Ensemble Sound Blog series we will start to look into the exercises that we use to work on our ensemble sound. The Power of 1-1 will actually be split into 3 parts or episodes due to the length. Episode 1 will talk about 1-1 and its relationship to “The Power 5” talked about in the second blog part in the Ensemble Sound Series. In episode II, we will listen to a recording of our Wind Symphony performing 1-1 and I will critically dissect their performance. In Episode III we will look at how we can take 1-1 and use it to work on more advanced ensemble concepts.
The Power of 1-1
Episode II: The Quest for Purity
Audio Example and critique of 1-1
Let’s do a little exercise and analyze a video recording of our last years Wind Symphony performing 1-1. Click here to open the video in YouTube. The audio from this recording is actually coming from the video camera in the back. I will admit that I was a little nervous while recording these videos, which resulted in me not instructing the students as much as I normally do during the silence.
The first thing that I want you to notice as you are watching and listening is the stillness of the students while I am giving them their instructions all the way through the entire exercise to the release. Overall they are pretty still with just a little fidgeting in just a couple players.
Before we start an exercise, I will always give the students instructions on what are about to do and what I want them to focus on while performing the exercise. It may be to work on one of the Power 5 fundamentals or like in this example, reminders of the sound we are striving to achieve.
I feel that overall the group was pretty consistent throughout the exercise. If you listen to the very first articulation you can hear that there was an explosion (or impurity) on the beginning of the note and that the group was not exactly together. My comments to the group would be to:
Take a full two-count breath.
Start the note exactly on count 1.
Articulate using a small “d” while quickly moving the tongue down and out of the way.
I feel the best example of a clear articulation is the last concert F we played. There was some minor extraneous noise at the beginning of the note on each of the other notes. The goal is to get the sound to vibrate instantly.
As far as the middle of the note goes, the 4th concert F has the most issue with matching in both intonation and tone. Based on the fact the other examples were pretty close in matching tone and intonation, I would say that an individual in the flutes changed either their vowel shape or airspeed that produced the faster waves or appearance of an intonation issue. There was a slight intonation issue in the French horns during the 5th concert F. The last concert F started with the same horn intonation issue but the individual was able to adjust this by around the 3rd beat and ended in tune. The flute player that caused the issue in the 4th concert F also fixed her mistake on the 5th concert F.
I feel the strongest aspect of this performance of 1-1 were the consistent releases. The group did a nice job of keeping the air steady all the way through to the releases as well as taking a breath on the releases while keeping their embouchures still. If you use headphones, you can tell they are performing with characteristic sounds and demonstrating proper releases by the reverb that is heard during the rests even in a very dry band room.
After we perform the exercise, I immediately give them feedback about what I heard and/or ask them what they heard. Examples of questions are:
Which concert F was articulated the cleanest?
Which did we consistently perform better throughout the exercise: the beginning, middle, or end of the note?
Which concert F had the best balance or sound?
Which concert F had the most intonation issues?
Was there a section that was standing out or over balancing the tubas?
How many of you could hear the tubas throughout the exercise?
These are just some of the questions that can be asked. Students can have different answers and that is ok! I then give them my thoughts and we do the exercise again focusing on improving one aspect. In this case, I would have them focus on the beginning of the note as I thought that was the weakest part of the performance. I would again either remind them or ask the students to tell me what they need to be thinking about when they articulate.
I encourage you to use the time during the silence to really help guide your students on how they are playing. The best way to really help your students learn to listen to what they themselves sound like or what the group sounds like is to always ask them questions about what they just heard. The more you can get your students involved while working on these concepts the more your students will stay engaged. This exercise or any exercise becomes boring when you start to play the exercise for the sake of just playing the exercise. The students always need to have a goal in their mind before they play anything, this way they are always thinking about what they are doing. 1-1 is a great exercise to work on this concept.
Click here for a video of Carmel High School’s Wind Symphony 1 under the direction of Mr. Mike Pote and Mr. Kyle Young, rehearsing 1-1. They rehearse 1-1 every rehearsal as well.
To be concluded……..
Click here for Episode III: The Journey Continues
In episode III, The Power of 1-1 concludes as we will look at how 1-1 can be adapted to work on more advanced listening and ensemble skills.
Check out the other blogs in the Ensemble Sound Blog Series:
Part 1: Deciding on Your Sound
Part 2: The Power 5
Part 3: The Power of 1-1: Episode I: The Return of the Power 5
Part 3: The Power of 1-1: Episode III: The Journey Continues
Part 4: High-Definition Articulations
Part 5: Bridging the Gap: The F Remington
Part 6: Sustains: The Final Chapter