Clark Media Productions

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Filtering by Tag: Music

"Excuse me, sir?  What should I do if I want to make it as a trombone player?"

   Blind Boys of Alabama   Moog factory tour

  Playing with fun toys 

 At a concert the other day, a young man approached me at intermission and, literally, asked me the question above.... 

After I said, "practice", I asked him if he listens to a lot of music.  He said, "not really."

Now, I will admit that I wasn't surprised to find a young player that doesn't listen to a lot of trombone recordings. However, I was surprised that someone who doesn't listen much did have the curiosity to ask the question in the first place. 

It is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL that you, as an aspiring musician, listen to as muc music as your ears and brain can stand. Preferably music that is directly related to the styles in which you want to be fluent. If you play the trombone, and you tell me you've never heard a recording by Joe Alessi, Christian Lindberg, or JJ Johnson, then you have some serious work to do!  I discussed with the young man where he might go to hear great performers: YouTube, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc., and most of it for free!  

The fact of the matter is, you will play the sounds you have in your head. If you can hear it, then you can proceed towards reproducing that sound. 

Second, you should be listening to music that you might think doesn't interest you. Over the past two weeks, I did two things that were eye openers for me: I toured the Moog synthesizer factory in Asheville, NC, and I heard the Blind Boys of Alabama while we were in Birmingham. The Moog tour was interesting because our tour guide, besides giving us a great overview of the history of Moog, pointed me towards some fantastic musicians and bands whose work I discovered I really enjoy, such as Deltron 3030 and Dan the Automator. Those are bands and music styles I would have NEVER discovered on my own!  Likewise, the Blind Boys of Alabama do play a style of music that I already enjoy, gospel, but their live show was so much more than that. Backed by an absolutely fantastic 4-piece band, they played gospel, soul, country, rock, and put on a live show that was as entertaining as it was musically amazing!

So, listen, listen, listen. No excuses!  That is, IF you want to improve and broaden your horizons.... :)

Yours virtually,


Blind Boys of Alabama Bombassic Deltron 3030

An interview with Jim Nova...

About a year ago, I was surfing Facebook and I came across a post by my long time friend and fellow Curtis graduate, Jim Nova.  The post was a link to Jim's Soundcloud page, and it contained a recording of a trombone choir arrangement of a John Williams piece, something from Star Wars.  I clicked on it... ...and I was just blown away!  Jim has taken a huge body of work by John Williams and some other composers, and arranged (mostly himself) the tunes for trombone choir.  The amazing thing is that he has recorded all these pieces and played all the parts himself! If you haven't heard them yet, do yourself a favor and go RIGHT NOW to his Soundcloud page to give it a listen.  Then, come back and finish reading this post...

After a number of times of being totally taken with Jim's playing, arranging, and recording skills, I decided I really wanted to learn more.  So, I got in touch and we set up a time to meet via Skype and talk about Jim's ongoing project, hobby, passion, and outlet.

Jim is currently the second trombonist of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and was previously a member of the trombone section in the Utah Symphony.  Jim attended Curtis, where he studied with Glenn Dodson, and then headed to Boston for further studies with Norman Bolter.

I had two basic questions for Jim:  Why? and How?  We had a wonderful conversation about those two topics and more, and Jim could not have been more generous with his time and passion for his music-making.

Jim said that when he came to Pittsburgh, his position was advertised as "second/utility trombone", which usually means there is bass trombone playing involved.  Knowing he was joining a section that contains Murray Crewe as the bass trombonist, Jim said he didn't feel comfortable subbing in with the bass trombone skills that he possessed at the time.  So, he obtained a "real" bass trombone from Steve Shires and got to work.  He stumbled on the trombone choir arrangements as a way to push himself musically, as well as give him something fun to do. We reminisced that Glenn Dodson used to do the same thing to get in shape for the Philadelphia Orchestra's season. Glenn made a number of beautiful trombone choir arrangements, and he would record all the parts using a digital 8-track recorder.

Jim notes that his father has been a big influence on his life and career as a trombonist.  He states, "If I brought home an A minus, my father would always want to know why it wasn't an A!  He always said that's not good enough for a Nova!" Jim and his father have also collaborated on a solo CD, titled "Albanian Rhapsody", which if full of some beautiful trombone playing.

Jim also notes that he is "a walking advertisement for Steve Shires (trombones) and Greg Black (mouthpieces).  Jim has a collection of horns that would make the most seasoned L.A. studio player drool, and unique (but functional) mouthpieces to fit each horn he plays (each with the same rim).  Currently in his arsenal, Jim has his "regular" Shires tenor trombone, a Shires alto trombone, a Shires bass trombone, AND a soprano and contrabass trombone.  The contrabass is "on loan, but I'm probably gonna need to buy one soon."  I love it, finally, someone that actually NEEDS a contrabass!  His range of mouthpieces is quite interesting. Greg Black has managed to provide Jim with the same rim on each mouthpiece, from his contrabass piece on up to the soprano. While that may sound somewhat unusual, you certainly can't argue with the results! Jim feels that he gets the same "anchor point" by using the same rim on each horn. Greg Black has managed to provide Jim with the correct taper from the rim to the cup of each mouthpiece to facilitate this concept.

As for the recording process, Jim said he started out finding his way and figuring things out on the fly. He notes that many of his early arrangements weren't written down. He would read off the orchestral score, and record a few measures at a time on whatever horn he needed to fit the range the part was in. Jim comments, "In the beginning, I would look at some of the crazier licks in the music and just think, well, let's see what happens!" He also told a funny story about a conversation with Michael Hosford (long time NYC trombonist) where Mike asked him, "so Jim, have you thought about adjusting the pan on the voices in your tracks?" Jim said he replied, "pan...what's that???".  Amazingly, Jim has only been working on these recordings for about two years.  He has clearly learned all about pan and sound field position, and a whole lot more!

Jim notes that techniques, range, and endurance that once seemed at the edge of his ability now doesn't seem like such a big deal. As a demonstration, he picked up the contrabass he has on loan and proceeded to play a part with triple tongued pedal Cs... It was ridiculous to hear, but it sounds great! Also, his alto and soprano trombone playing are just amazing.

Jim began his recording projects using Audacity (free recording software) and when he got the piece done, he would add reverb via GarageBand. Now, he has graduated to using Logic Pro and has upgraded his microphone setup to a Neumann TLM193. He keeps all his horns lined up in his studio on stands, and he has his computer and recording gear on a standing workstation so he can stand in one place to play, switch horns, and run the studio setup. His process has "become much more streamlined since the beginning". He does still record just a few measures at a time, rather than laying down one complete part from beginning to end, before moving to another voice in the arrangement.   Following is a good representation of what goes on in the Nova household!

Where to go from here? Jim has recently begun taking his show on the road! He has appeared with a number of university trombone choirs, making guest appearances around the U.S.  I think it's safe to say they ask him to play many of the first parts himself when he visits! Jim says he's thinking of eventually putting out a CD of his work, but obtaining permissions to record much of John Williams' compositions is quite difficult.  I know that if and when he does that, I will be the first in line to buy a cd!  Jim is also appearing at the American Trombone Workshop at Ft. Myer, Virginia, March 18-21, 2015.  He is appearing with the Washington Trombone Ensemble, and I anticipate that will be a fantastic concert.  For now, check out his Soundcloud page and enjoy!

My Biggest Fan

Today marks one of the best days of the year! In case you're wondering, it's the birthday of my mom, Lou Ann Clark! You might wonder why I'm writing about her birthday on a blog about music and trombone playing... The term "Super Fan" is thrown around pretty loosely these days. Whether it's New Direction or Beyoncé, Jimmy Buffet or Pitbull, everyone thinks they are the most dedicated, hard core, and consistent supporter of their chosen musical obsession. Well, I can tell you that until they have met my mom, they just don't know the meaning of the term!

What makes a "Super Fan" you might ask? Well, 150 mile round trips to youth orchestra for years on end for starters... Lessons, encouragement, dried tears (that may have just been the other day), perspective, sensible advice (get some sleep!), chauffeuring (ohh, the miles on the car!), and all-around mothering, man, I couldn't do (or have done) what I do without the support (undying!) of my mom!

So, mom, I may forget things, run out of time, and just generally not seem appreciative sometimes, but know that I wish you the happiest birthday you can possibly have!

To all you readers out there (all 4 of you! One of whom is my mom!), if you care to leave comments about what YOUR mom did for your career or life, please feel free... Just remember, if I don't comment, my mom will, she's always reading...


TMEA All-State tenor trombone: Vobaron etude

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I have to say, when I saw the music selections for all-state auditions this year, I was really excited that Deborah Scott picked this etude.  I think it's a really neat little piece, and it has some really classic rhythmic problems to decipher that are difficult for most players to deal with.

First off, I like the beginning of this étude to sound very full and strong. In doing so, be sure to keep the time moving! Strong sound with forward momentum driving to the A in measure 8 is what I'm going for, initially. This really sets the rest of the piece up and allows the legeremente section to really contrast with the beginning. Speaking of light, how do we do that? How do we make something light? Leave a slight space between notes, tongue softer, and use a softer volume. That will make the overall character lighter.

When you get to the wide leaps beginning in measure 33, go for a round and full sound on the low notes. Take pains to not slap or blat those low notes out! Sound quality is key! Also, this piece has a lot of articulation markings. I would make sure to honor all the slurs that are printed. I added a slur in measure 12 between the B and C, as it seems likely there should be one there...

Now, on to the rhythm. Switching from duple to triple subdivisions can be a very difficult concept to master. I want to hear accurate subdivisions of eighth notes and triplets, perfectly in time. This takes LOTS of practice. I suggest using a metronome, and record yourself as always. When you listen back to the recording, listen for a tempo that remains constant, accurate triplet rhythms that don't drag within their given beat, and smooth transitions between the duple and triple rhythms. Lots of practice, recording, and metronome use is likely what this étude will require.

I think this étude is very straightforward with different moods to keep it exciting. Alternate between strong sections and light playing where indicated. Be very accurate with the time and the alternating triple and duple figures. Finally, keep it moving forward and play aggressively to help keep it exciting.

If you have questions, please ask in the comment section below! Have fun, and happy practicing!

Virtual Trombonist

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