John Meehan, Brass Captionhead at The Blue Devils and product designer and educator at System Blue spent a few days with the Lowndes High Georgia Bridgemen this past week. Both John and the high school marching band were excited to collaborate. The Bridgemen proudly perform on System Blue instruments.
For inquiries on how you can work with System Blue educators and perform on System Blue products, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Meehan Talks Trombones
With certain rule changes over the past several years, allowing more “non-traditional” brass instruments onto the drum corps field, we decided to add Trombones to our brass choir for the 2016 season. At first, we battled issues like how many do we want to use, what style do we want to get (or do we want to get different types), and of course, silver or lacquer. Well, out of those questions, the easiest for me was silver, as drum corps brass instruments are typically silver, and we wanted to match the rest of our inventory. The others were a bit more challenging…
We decided to feature our entire Euphonium section on Trombone for a large portion of the first production, so we went with 24. We knew if we wanted to feature other groups of Trombones later in the show, we could without having to do 24 again (which we did, featuring 16 in our 2nd production).
We tested 3 different Trombones at our January camp, and made the decision to go with an F attachment tenor trombone, which allowed us to do pretty much everything we wanted. W could now play in the upper register, as well as down to the low bass trombone register.
At our February camp, we had most of the horns. We started listening to segments of the written show music on the trombones, figuring out HOW we wanted to feature and write for them, as well as who in our Euphonium line actually had experience on the Trombone. Surprisingly, over 1/2 the section did NOT have a lot of Trombone experience. We then knew, while we’d be OK in the end, some extra work during technique blocks would need to be spent on developing and refining the sections skills throughout the season.
For us, utilizing Trombones in the show meant treating them like a specialized instrument. We didn’t want to write for them as you would a Euphonium, as we should then just play a Euphonium. So, we really took our time designing and writing around that fact musically, and looking back on it now, I LOVE how we treated that voice and can’t wait to hear those 24 musicians in the dome in Indy.
Oh, and as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Trombones are loud 🙂
With the first 6 weeks of the season completed, and a much needed week long break starting, I wanted to share some “mid-season” thoughts. As much for myself as for you, the fans.
The 2016 version of The Blue Devils is a blast to work with. While I am the brass caption head and arranger, I like to get to know as many of the members as possible. Not only does the brass section have an infectious positivity, I feel the same from the guard and percussion performers.
Trombones are loud 🙂 When we decided to use Trombones this year, we wanted to utilize them in a way that was unique, but still drum corps. We purposely choose to use silver plated to match the other horns. As the show has developed, and the members have become more familiar with their new instruments (many hadn’t played Trombone before) we found the Trombone was a musical character in the show. It’s been refreshing seeing the acceptance of these instruments on the field!
The first 4-6 weeks of the season always seem much longer than the last month plus. It’s the “dog days”, learning the show, woodshedding your music/work, and getting to know your corps mates. Finally getting to that first show, then getting on the road, a new excitement begins to build. Having the Blue Knights and Madison Scouts in California along with our “usual friends” was a great treat!
Finally performing the last 2 CA shows in the Rose Bowl and Riverside Community College was a blast. The crowds were great, enthusiastic alumni as far as the eyes could see, and an amazing energy from the corps.
Well, time to go to Santa Cruz with my family, before joining my “summer family” in a few short days… Do it up Devils!
The secret to achieving a super warm and round brass sound when approaching a ballad.
One of the toughest things to accomplish on the marching field is getting your “lyrical” section (often called the ballad) to sound as good as it does off the field. A few thoughts that may help are…
• Set the “impact” form and play warm-ups and other show segments in that form. This helps as the performers will get more used to making music and blending next to these specific people.
• Once you balance the ballad on the field, continue to perform those dynamics on and off the field. Many times a dynamic will be adjusted on the field, then not used in sectionals. This builds bad muscle memory.
• Tune common chords and notes used in the production. Utilize those notes and chords in daily exercises. The more the performers get used to them, the easier performing them become.
• Sing the ballad. If the performers can generate the music without the instruments, adding the amplified sound will become more pure.
In the end, make music for your audience! There needs to be emotion, commitment, and energy, especially when that’s tough to do.
Marching and playing is a key element to marching band and drum corps. For brass and woodwind players, achieving the same musical level you do standing still while on the move is something that can take a long time to master. Here are a few thoughts to help achieve sounding as good on the move as you do standing still.
• When you’re in music rehearsal, never forgot you will eventually be in visual rehearsal, and then again in ensemble putting everything together. So, when in music rehearsal, focus on separating your upper and lower bodies, so when you eventually add the drill (lower body), your upper body feels the same and you can achieve the same high level musicianship. When you’re in visual rehearsal, always BE a musician. Don’t hold your breath, constantly move your head, or allow the upper body to “sag”. The more you’re a musician when you’re in visual rehearsal, the easier it will be to put them together.
• Remember to fill-up the instrument with air, LOTS of air. The more you can stabilize the instrument when on the move, the truer the sound will be. A general tendency is to lower the amounts of air when on the move, to “conserve” it due to the physical demand. Like a marathon runner, your endurance will GROW over time, so continue to push yourself. Before you know it, you will be able to handle the visual responsibilities while also playing with the same breath control you do while standing still.
• Finally, r-e-l-a-x! The more tension you have throughout your body while on the move, the more difficulty you will have sounding great. Not only does tension prohibit you from creating the sounds you want, it hinders the muscle memory you’ve worked so hard on in music rehearsals when much more relaxed.
Always be a musician, and always be an athlete. That way, when you have to put it all together, you will be a musical athlete!
Part of the training regiment with a drum corps (and marching band), is learning to play through the center of the horn. This is something that should be focussed on heavily in band camp and early season rehearsals. By learning to play in the center, and not “on top or bottom” of pitch, among other things, leads to better endurance during long rehearsal days. If performers are trained to play in the center of pitch when the weather is “normal” (say mid 60’s to mid 70’s), and not the common tendency to play sharp, this will pay dividends when the weather becomes warmer, especially summertime with drum corps. If performers have the tendency to play sharp, and the temperature is in the 90’s, the group will definitely have a “dull” sound to them, and seemingly have less endurance through rehearsals.
Don’t severely react to the “sound” of the instrument (ensemble) as the weather gets ridiculously hot. When the tuning slide is pulled out almost all the way, the instrument WILL sound (and feel) differently. Nothing has changed with the performers or ensemble, it’s just, well, hot! Put “warm weather ears” on if you are a director, and if you’re a performer, make sure not to purposely lip the pitch down, as you will lose endurance, create bad habits, and fight the muscle memory you’ve been working to build.
Finally, keep the instrument in the shade when you can, and ALWAYS keep yourself hydrated!
Stay cool 🙂
System Blue offers two Trumpet mouthpieces, the TR1 and the TR2. In general, the two mouthpieces are very similar, they both have larger back bores and throats, and like all of the System Blue mouthpieces, they have a UV (not ultraviolet :-), but a mix of a U-shape and V-shape cup), and slightly sharper bite to assist with clarity of articulation. The biggest different between the TR1 and the TR2 is the actual cup size. The TR1 is geared more for “lead” players and has a smaller cup, whereas the TR2 is more of a “section” mouthpiece, and has a standard Trumpet cup size. Both mouthpieces are designed to work best with the System Blue Professional and Traditional Trumpets, but work well with ANY Trumpet.
Why the SB30 Hybrid-Euphonium
We get asked all the time why a group would choose to use the SB30 Hybrid-Euphonium over a Baritone, or a Euphonium, or a mix of Baritones and Euphoniums. There are several reasons we usually respond with, and I will talk through a few here.
One of the main reasons we initially designed the Hybrid-Euph was to eliminate the need to use two different low brass voices (which The Blue Devils did for many years). When two voices are used (say a Baritone for the leads, and Euphonium for the lower parts), and then a unison line is written for the full low brass section, intonation issues will arise that are inconsistent between the two instruments. By using the one instrument, all of the tuning tendencies are now similar from player to player.
The Hybrid-Euph borrows parts from a Baritone and a Euphonium, as well as has some custom parts made specifically for it. The “front-end” of the instrument is more Baritone, and the “back-end” is more Euphonium. Because of that, lead players will still be able to climb the register and play with a great top end sound, while the lower parts can still play with a “beefy” sound in the low register.
As you can see, the SB30 Hybrid-Euphonium covers all the bases musically, as well as it is weighted so performers from high school students to world class drum corps members can perform and maneuver it with general ease (although it is still a large instrument, we’re not talking about a Trumpet here :-).