As a musicians, we often hear the term “producer” used in reference to new recordings, new artists, and even new sounds in a particular musical genre. It’s evident that producers are an essential part of the recording process, and in an artist’s or ensemble’s development. I mean, there are Grammy's awarded for Producer of the Year in both the rock and classical music worlds… So, what does a producer actually do? And how does that affect me as a recording artist? I’d like to answer some questions, specific to the classical world, that have come up in situations I have been in.Read More
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I recently had a chance to record and produce for an outstanding brass quintet, Stiletto Brass. This ensemble has been around for quite a few years, and has been a consistent presence at international brass festivals and workshops. They have a previous album, featuring none other than Doc Severinsen on trumpet, and they contacted me this spring about putting a new album together this summer.
I simply love recording brass quintet. The ability to hear the sonic blend and resonance of a great brass ensemble, hearing the overtones produced when all the voices are in tune and balanced, is truly a special experience in the musical world. Stiletto Brass has the enviable trait of having 5 individuals who each have a stylish musical voice of their own, able to stand out as soloists, yet still come together to produce a beautiful, sonorous, and blended sound quality that fits the various styles they recorded perfectly.
Speaking of style, Stiletto Brass is able to play anything from jazz, to baroque, to modern music composed just for them, in a convincing way. It was a treat to hear a new work commissioned by the ensemble by Drew Bonner, as well as a jazz tune called Boy Meets Horn (nicknamed Girl Meets Horn by both the group and me), a baroque standard by William Boyce, and a piece by Andre Lafosse that I wasn’t familiar with called Suite Impromptu. Lafosse was professor of trombone at the Conservatoire de Paris from 1948 - 1960, and contributed some important works to the trombone, and brass quintet literature. The piece Stiletto found and recorded is an absolute delight.
For the recording, I covered all my bases and used two sets of main mics (omni and cardioid), plus my stereo ribbon mic to gather the sound in the room where we recorded. Flank mics to add width, and spot mics for any minute balance adjustment in post production rounded out the mic-ing plan. The chapel at Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church was a beautiful venue for us to record in for the three day session.
Oh, and did I mention that this ensemble is all WOMEN?!?! I figured you might guess that… ;) I have to say it is wonderful to see these musicians leading the way as brass players in a field that is starting to see greater numbers of women as professionals. I can only imagine the young girls who might be inspired to know that they can play trombone, tuba, horn, or trumpet, and that they have professional role models to hear and emulate. A discussion about the title of “Boy Meets Horn” needing some reworking for this recording just might have taken place… I can’t wait for you to hear it!
Release details will be forthcoming, and I will certainly make an announcement here when the finished recording is ready. I’m excited for you to hear and to get to know Stiletto Brass.
Stiletto Brass is Amy Gilreath and Susan Rider (trumpets), Rachel Hockenberry (horn), Natalie Mannix (trombone), Velvet Brown (tuba)
You may find their website HERE.
Their first album is HERE.
There are a few pieces that, whenever you get the chance to perform them, are just always a treat. The thing that makes them a bright spot, to me, is the musical ideas available to us, and the many choices the performers can make. With a piece like this perennial favorite by Henri Tomasi, we always have a new way to try, or different ideas decided on by the group, and a different soloist to support.
The Marine Band has a fairly prolific chamber music series, in both fall and winter, and many of the Band’s musicians really look forward to a chance to perform on these recitals. To me, there is nothing more enjoyable as a musician than chamber music. You have some of challenges of solo playing, but you get the fun of teamwork with your friends in the chamber ensemble on top of it. As a trombonist, you are often the only trombone in chamber music settings which gives you a chance to be a solo voice more frequently, and to contribute your unique sound to the ensemble.
While this piece is, essentially, a trombone quartet, Tomasi does a remarkable job of showcasing what a trombone section can do, and he does so in a very theatrical way. Of course, with a title drawn from Shakespeare, it darn well better be theatrical!
We made a couple of musical choices that I hope you enjoy…. I always see this piece performed in a more or less standard “four bones across” quartet setup. We opted to put the soloist in the center, with the trio off to the side and farther away, with the idea that we could serve more as a commentary to the solo voice, possibly more Shakespearean, but who knows? It was fun to do something different! We also opted for some fast slide vibrato where Tomasi indicates vibrato in the score, to give a shimmering effect with a different texture.
We performed this piece on a Marine Band chamber series concert, and then decided we wanted to have some more fun recording it. This is the result of a single late night session capturing our musical take (this time) on this trombone favorite.
I am always thrilled to play with my colleagues in the Marine Band, and this piece is no exception. Besides Daniel’s stellar bass trombone playing, Christopher Reaves and Tim Dugan covered the tenor trombone parts with me, and we had a great time doing it! Also, Will Samson was indispensable running the recording rig and taking notes on our various takes….thanks, Will!
I have many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. A wonderful, healthy family, colleagues that are the absolute best to work with, and a job that I love. However, on the music front, one thing stands out to me this November that I didn’t see coming, even a month ago.
I have previously written about my teacher, Dr. Neill Humfeld, and his influence on me, and a little about his musicianship and teaching. When Dr. Humfeld passed, my dad and I came into possession of a couple boxes of analog tape (the reel to reel kind) containing all kinds of recordings of Dr. H from many years of recitals and concerts. It has been one of those things that I look at and say, “man, we really gotta get that transferred so we can listen to it!” I never knew what that entailed, or how you would even go about doing it, until recently...
Fast forward to the past year, where my own interest in audio, especially in producing and preserving live performances, has come into play. This fall, coincidentally, I have been taking a course online through Berklee College of Music called Audio Mastering, taught by an expert engineer, Marc Dieter-Einstmann (check out Marc’s mastering studio HERE). Mastering is the final step in the production process for any audio recording. A recording gets made (live or in studio), and then gets mixed. In the mixing stage, the mix engineer takes all the audio that was recorded (sometimes as many as 100 tracks or more), and essentially places all those voices in the stereo field (where you locate that sound when you hear the recording) and gives the recording it’s tonal shape, and many other musical variables that make a certain record sound unique. In mastering, the engineer takes the fully mixed recording and puts the finishing touches on it. These can be musical or tonal adjustments (maybe something the mix engineer missed or didn’t hear), technical corrections (bad edits, noise removal), and general quality control. Finally, a mastering engineer will set the loudness level of the recording, and produce a “master” containing all the tracks of the album, in the correct order, and with great care to ensure there are no functional errors.
To hear these performances come back to life, after over 50 years for some of them, is truly a delight. To hear Dr. Humfeld’s sound, in performances I’ve never heard before, is truly something to be thankful for.
So, what to do with these? Well, after speaking with Dr. Humfeld’s daughter, Nancy Jo Humfeld, I would like to continue to transfer more of these recitals and create a “BEST OF” album of Dr. Humfeld’s recitals over the years. On many of these tapes, he speaks at length to the audience about the music he performs, and many of the recordings reflect his warm sense of humor that many of us came to love from knowing him.
Stay tuned, there is much more to come. I plan to make this project a major focus of my 2019.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. May you all be blessed to love, make music, and enjoy the people in our lives that are important to us!
There’s a new brass group on the block! This summer, at the Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville, Kentucky, a new “super group” of brass musicians took the stage. Trumpeters Chris Martin (New York Philharmonic), Mark Ridenour (Chicago Symphony), and Matthew Harding (U.S. Marine Band), were joined by alto horn virtuoso Nathan Miller (Asbury University), Hiram Diaz (U.S. Marine Band) on euphonium, and Christopher Tiedeman (U.S Marine Band) on tuba.
Long time brass band supporter and world renowned composer and arranger, James Curnow, arranged a new piece for this virtuoso ensemble, which they premiered at GABBF. The group returned from Kentucky and really wanted a chance to record Jim’s wonderful arrangement of Appalachian fiddle music.
This recording features Amy McCabe and Anthony Bellino on trumpet (both members of the U.S. Marine Band), as well as Matthew Harding on piccolo trumpet, Nathan Miller, Hiram Diaz, and Chris Tiedeman.