Tuesday, April 20, 2010

24 Posts and Counting (not a TLC production)

Well, I made it-- I now have 24 blog posts to my name. If there is anyone else out in the blogging interwebs that happen to be reading this, Ladies in Brass began as a class assignment for Advanced Brass Ensemble Literature. What started out as a pesky assignment actually turned into something that has captured my interest. Before Ladies in Brass, I had not really given much thought to women in music- except for the fact that I am a female trombonist.  Since then, I have discovered that this subject is important to me.  Why does society place gender roles on the arts? What does it really mean to play with masculinity? Does an all-female ensemble really sound different from an all-male ensemble? What does it mean to be a strong female brass player today? These questions are bouncing around my brain as I type. I think I have scratched the surface on a few of them, but I will continue to dig deeper.  So, Professor Manning, feel free to continue to subscribe to Ladies in Brass, for this blog has just begun. Thank you for helping me discover an interest that I didn't know I had.

Monday, April 12, 2010

TubaCor Interview: Female Composers, Word of Advice

JD: Which new female composers would you recommend for brass ensembles of all shapes and sizes?

LF: There are a lot of composers listed on my website (www.linfoulk.org).  Those who are writing quite a bit for most brass instruments include (these are in no particular order): Elizabeth Raum, Barbara York, Libby Larsen, Joan Tower (she wrote a new piece for B5 called “Copperwave,” which I think is very strong), Lauren Bernofsky, Gwyneth Walker.  Monique Buzzarte (trombonist in NYC) also has a great site for locating brass works by female composers: http://www.buzzarte.org/database.html.

JD: What advice would you give to an aspiring female brass musician?

LF: Have an awareness of, but don’t dwell on being a female brass musician.  As Susan Slaughter once said in a 1991 article in the Boston Globe, “I tell my female students they can’t be ‘as good as’ anybody else; they have to be better.”  Practice more than anyone in your circle.  Also, don’t be a victim.  Any time you hear crud from colleagues, the problem is with them, not you, so leave it there.  Develop a thick skin to slip on when you have to deal with particularly difficult colleagues.  They can’t get at your core unless you let them.  Finally, playing a brass instrument is highly demanding physically.  You have to be assertive in your approach, even if you’re not a particularly assertive person.  When you perform, you are an actress who must express a full palette of characters and emotions, which includes aggressive, loud, and angry.  Many girls are trained to suppress those emotions, so it might be uncomfortable to play music like that.  But you have to get over that if you play a brass instrument—it’s not who you are, it’s the character you play.

TubaCor Interview: Choosing Repertoire

JD: What are your thoughts on performing “audience pleasing” repertoire and more serious works?  Are there any composers in particular that you feel are capable of pleasing a general audience and that satisfy your expectations as a serious brass musician?

LF: The Vivaldi Two Trumpet Concerto and the Brahms Duets that we performed is the first time (outside of church and wedding gigs) that I have performed a solo transcription for a “serious” concert!  Unlike the tuba, the horn has great solo repertoire all the way back to the eighteenth century.  So my teachers always discouraged me from playing transcriptions.  It has been so fun to play the Vivaldi and Brahms, however, and we plan to do more transcribing for TubaCor, as that fits in with our mission (see item #1 above).

My brass quintet talks about this a lot—we only perform “entertainment” music at Christmas time (that’s when our Kalamazoo audience is the biggest) and otherwise our mission is to perform serious art music.  Some argue that performing entertainment music is good for building classical music audiences, but I don’t buy that.  You’re training that audience to want/demand more entertainment music.  It’s not likely that that same audience will come to hear you perform the Etler or Husa quintet and truly appreciate the performance, unless there is a lot of pre-concert talk and educating audiences about that kind of music.  My quintet tries to program music that is both serious and pleasing and I guess that’s trying to reach everybody.

I like much of Eric Ewazen’s music and TubaCor plays a trio by David Gillingham that is well-written and challenging, while also being “audience pleasing.”  There are a lot of others, but these two come to mind immediately.

TubaCor Interview: Promotion, Obstacles, A Female Connection

JD: What do you find to be most effective for promoting your ensemble?

LF: A hook, a niche.  We are two women who perform traditionally male instruments (especially tuba), so I think that makes people curious.  We also have niches outside of performing—I like to give lectures on women in music and Dr. Swoboda has presented thousands of educational programs to public schools all over the U.S.  So we capitalize on all of those niches in our proposals to present concerts.

JD: What obstacles have you had to overcome as an ensemble?

LF: Understanding how horn and tuba function together as a chamber ensemble.  It took me about a year to realize that it’s much more of a solo role for me (horn)—I approached it more accommodating and chamber-like before.  I have to consciously lead like a soloist for it to sound good.  We’ve also worked a lot with bell position to solve some of the inherent balance issues that you get when the instruments are aiming all over the place.  We record most all of our rehearsals and performances and listen together to discuss what we hear.

JD: What connection do you feel to female composers, and is this connection heightened by the fact that you are working with another female musician?

LF: I’ve cherished the relationships that I’ve developed with the female composers whose music I’ve been advocating since the start of my professional career.  It does matter that they’re women, but it’s also just great to work with composer whose music you’re performing.  It’s great to get that feedback.  I try to perform music by female composers every opportunity that I can—it’s a real focus and mission for me.  Working with Dr. Swoboda, who is such a terrific and fun musician, has been a great female-bonding experience too.  We support each other (while also challenging each other) and that helps us do our jobs and perform better.

TubaCor Interview: Vision, Commissioning New Works, IWBC

JD: What is your vision for TubaCor?

LF: The ensemble is dedicated to expanding the repertoire for tuba and horn by performing and recording newly commissioned as well as existing works.  TubaCor is particularly interested in commissioning works by female composers and is proud to serve as a role model for younger female brass musicians.

JD: How do you go about commissioning new works for horn and tuba?

LF: At this point we are asking colleagues and composers we have met in conferences to write for us.  We ask people whose music we like and who write well for horn and tuba.  An example is that we both recorded a solo by Canadian composer Elizabeth Raum on our respective solo CDs, so we both knew her.  So when we connected with the host of the Int’l Women’s Brass Conference, which will be in Toronto next June, a fortunate turn of events allowed Raum to create a new piece for us that we will premiere in Toronto.

JD: Describe your involvement in the International Women’s Brass Conference.  Do you have any thoughts on this year’s conference in Toronto?

LF: I’m a board member for IWBC and the Board meets through conference call every couple of months.  We’ve been mostly discussing details of the Toronto Conference this past year.  I’m excited about the Conference being in Toronto—it’s the first time it’s been out of the U.S., so this is important for IWBC.  Joan Watson, the host of the Toronto Conference, is a very highly respected horn player and I’m sure it will be a great event.

Interview with Lin Foulk

In a previous post, I wrote about my experience hearing Lin Foulk's lecture on women in music.  What I did not mention then was that she and her colleague Deanna Swoboda presented a concert as well. They each played solo works for horn and tuba as well as duets as TubaCor.  After the concert there was a lovely reception, and I was able to speak with Lin Foulk.  Though she is extremely busy, Dr. Foulk agreed to engage in an interview with me on behalf of TubaCor.  Our dialogue took place via email, and she said that I could post her responses on my blog. Dr. Foulk gave really in depth responses that inspired me and gave me insight into the inner workings of a professional brass ensemble. I'm sure even male readers will be able to relate to Foulk's feminine perspective.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Carol Jantsch

I had the pleasure of hearing Carol Jantsch (principal tuba of the Philadelphia Orchestra) perform last semester at the University of Iowa.  Carol definitely breaks the mold of society's image of the typical tuba player.  She won her position in the Philadelphia orchestra in 2006 when she was a senior at the University of Michigan, and she was the first female tuba player of a major symphony orchestra. While attending her recital, I was blown away by her amazingly clear tone, ability to play long, musical phrases, phenomenal technique, and efficient use of air. Carol, you are an inspiration to all women brass players- keep doing what you're doing!

This video is hilarious. Watch, then buy Carol's CD. Your mama wants a CD.

Trombone Quartet

As I was thinking of ladies in brass, I almost forgot that I am in a trombone quartet at the University of Iowa that consists of three women and one man. We formed our quartet at the beginning of this semester, and I have really enjoyed it so far. Group members are me, Jessica Ducharme, Bonnie Varga, Laura Westfall, and Matt Driscoll. It is a pleasure playing with these folks because they are great musicians and really nice people.  We will be performing at the University of Iowa Hospital on April 28, 2010 from 12:00-1:00.  We will perform works by Busch, Haydn, Culver, Berlioz, Morley, and more.  Feel free to come check out our group!

ABEL Contest: Loudest

I decided to rethink my choice for loudest ensemble.  A few weeks ago I went to an Abraham Inc. concert at the Iowa Memorial Union. Abraham Inc. is a giant melting pot of klezmer, jazz, funk, and hip hop music.  Some of the featured musicians are Fred Wesley on trombone, David Krakauer on clarinet, and Socalled on piano, accordian, vocals, and beats. I instantly fell in love with this band, and even though my ears were ringing when I left, it was probably the best concert that I've seen in a long time.  Here's a video of Abraham Inc. to give you a taste of what they are about.  They played all of these songs on their concert in Iowa City.

ABEL Contest: Worst AND Weirdest

This video of is horrible and hilarious on so many levels:

1. Her outfit
2. Lack of intonation
3. Dancing interlude
4. Trumpet as weapon
5. Laser noises
6. Heel clicks

Thanks, Stacy for making me smile.

Music With the Hormel Girls

In a previous post I alluded to the Hormel Girls-- an all-female orchestra established after WWII to give female veterans work and advertise Hormel meat products.  This method of advertisement appeared on the radio, and the group also toured. After visiting the Hormel website, I found this great Christmas radio broadcast c.1950. Enjoy, bon appetite!

Helen May Butler's Ladies Brass Band

As I was doing the reading for my music history class, I came across something that made me look up, point my finger and say, "blog topic!" This is what I read in Grout (7th edition) p. 767:

The tradition of military and amateur wind bands remained strong across Europe and North America.  In the United States and Canada, bands increasingly found a home in colleges and schools as well, playing at sporting events and in concerts.  Sousa's band continued to tour and became a pioneer in making phonograph recordings.  Among the many other professional bands was Helen May Butler's Ladies Brass Band, one of several all-female ensembles formed in response to the exclusion of women from most bands.

This was all that was mentioned, so I did a little research and came across a website that features American Music Collections.  The AMC happens to have quite a bit of information on Helen May Butler, including newspaper clippings, photographs, programs, sheet music, hand noted music, posters, post cards, advertising fliers, letters, telegram, biographical article announcing candidacy for U.S. Senate seat in 1936, and "The Flood of 1937" section of the Cincinnati Post, February 13, 1937.

Helen May Butler was a bandmaster for a traveling all-women military band from 1898-1913.  One of the band's mottoes was "Music for the American people, by American composers, played by American girls."  Not only was Helen May Bulter a bandmaster, but she was also an accomplished violinist and cornet player.  Another surprising fact is that she announced her candidacy for a U.S. Senate seat in 1936.