Con Tutta Forza

Story Time: Mofongo Relleno

ExperienceAlejandro Guardia1 Comment

Happy New Year everyone!

This blog post will be a little less structured and not necessarily as educational as my past posts, but it is an opportunity for me to share some stories of my time as a musician. These will be sprinkled in between the other content. Enjoy!

THE LEGEND OF MOFONGO RELLENO

The story begins during my senior year at the University of South Florida. It was my second year at USF and I had been really inspired and encouraged by my studio mates to write music for the Tuba.  In the fall of that year, I had composed and premiered Song Without Words for Tuba Quartet and I had caught the bug! I loved the process, writing a piece late at night and coming into the practice room with my friends and play it the next day. For a composer, nothing could be better.  With this reinvigorated compositional spirit I ended up writing 2 more pieces (Facade for Solo Tuba and Excursions for Tuba Quartet) and had them performed at my Euphonium performance Recital a few months later. Those pieces were very well received and I learned a lot from working with a Soloist (Rachel Matz) and the Big Boys Tuba quartet.  

After my recital, I had decided to back off a little bit before the big summer writing season and just focused on graduating and getting things ready to move back to Miami. During that semester, I only played in Wind Ensemble, Brass Ensemble, Tuba Ensemble, and went to my other classes. In preparation for out final concert of the semester, my professor, the always awesome Jay Hunsberger, approached me and asked me if I had any other tuba ensemble music that we could use to fill out the program. I was really excited, but there was a problem. I hadn't written anything for Tuba much less Tuba ensemble in about 3-4 months and all of it was performed at my recital. So I did what any smart person would do and responded: "No I don't have anything, but I can try to put something together." Normally this wouldn't be too big of a deal but PLOT TWIST: the concert was about 2-3 weeks away. 

Over the next few days, I tried and tried to come up with something that would mark the occasion, my last Tuba Ensemble concert, and something that is written specifically for that ensemble that was full of friends and colleges that I've grown to know and love over the last 2 years. With that kind of pressure, nothing ended up being good enough. Then one night after playing some Donkey Kong Country 3 (it was 2011 and don't judge me) with some friends, I had Dixie Kong's stage ending guitar riff stuck in my head for hours. This inspired me to write what is now the B section of the tune and I thought, "Why not write something fun and not so serious?". I decided to write something that reflected my personality and came up with a 7\4 Latin Rock Tuba Ensemble piece. Don't ask me how that happened, it just did. The name Mofongo Relleno reflects the juxtaposed nature of it. The piece essentially wrote itself and about 2-3 hours later I had the bulk of the (if not the whole) piece written. For those of you who don't know me personally, I am fairly quiet and reserved in person but due to the duality of my being a gigging Trombone player in Miami for a majority of my 20's while still studying and engaging in my passion that is the Euphonium and Classical Music, I can be fairly loud and extreme when it comes to playing the horn. I was usually found adding lip trills, lip turns, playing things in absurd registers for fun. It was and is something enjoy just due to the craziness of it. This piece showcases that and better yet, forces my peers to do those things too! That's a win in my book. 

So after I wrote the piece in a few hours, I brought the piece to next the Tuba Ensemble rehearsal and with the exception of a couple of moans and groans from having to play Doits, Lip turns, having to listen to me play a Double F at the end, etc. it came together very well. Two weeks later we performed it as the last piece on the program and it was met with the applause of a very entertained audience. Since then, the piece has been performed a number of times in Universities around the United States. I have Jay Hunsberger to thank for not only allowing me to unleash this madness on the world but supporting my composition endeavors during my time at USF. 

Moral of the Story: Always take an opportunity to create if it is presented to you. It might seem crazy at the moment but the circumstances may push you to create something special!

 

If you have performed Mofongo Relleno or any of my other works, please write a comment below and let me know if you enjoyed it. I'd love to hear feedback and see where the piece has been!

You can find Mofongo Relleno in the Potenza Music link up in the menu above or though the Potenza Music Website. 

Tips and Tricks: 2016 All State Middle School Band Euphonium Audition Etudes

ExperienceAlejandro GuardiaComment

Florida All-State Auditions in Miami-Dade county are right around the corner. September 24th is just weeks away and it always catches us by surprise. The good news is, I'm here to give you some tips to get through the required etudes.

Lyrical Etude

Book - Rubank Advanced Method Volume 1 Page 38, #21;
Top line, Beginning to Measure 23 plus One note NO REPEATS, Quarter note = 66bpm

Above is a video where I play through the entire etude at tempo. It's always a good idea to hear someone play the etude so that you mimic the player's style, figure out tricky rhythms, and get an idea of pacing and phrasing among other things. So when preparing for auditions or performing a solo you should always take some time to research.

TEMPO

The tempo marked is Quarter note = 66 beats per minute. Make sure you focus on staying true to the tempo in order for the ends of the phrase to make sense and not sound rushed. Andante is an Italian word for "In a walking pace", so imagine the tempo as walking and taking slow steps. Affetuoso is another Italian term that indicates to play the music in an affectionate and tender fashion. To achieve this focus on using your warmest most inviting sound. Using a little bit of vibrato can also help. 

NEGOTIATING INTERVALS

One of the challenges in this excerpt is the use of large or tricky intervals (the space between the notes) that will often come out choppy or not as musical as we'd like. The following are spots I feel are the most challenging to smooth out. 

    * Pickup to Measure 5
    * Measure 8-9
    * Measures 15
    * First 2 Notes

The challenge in these passages is successfully negotiating the wide intervals and maintaining a controlled and even sound. My suggestion for tackling this is two-fold. 1.) Use your mouthpiece along with a piano or some other pitch-producing tool and Buzz each note in succession. Once you can buzz each of the pitches independently, I would then buzz them in sequence and focus playing with a deep glissando between the wider intervals. This way you are training yourself to smooth out the slur and using the breaks in the harmonic series to your advantage. 2.) Practice playing the section slow and with your focus on making sure that the slurs are as smooth as you can make them. Practice with the idea of getting rid of as much fuzz between the leaps as possible. Always use a thick column of air to support the vibration of the lips during these passages. It will guarantee that you will have a full beautiful sound and your slurs will be smooth. 

ASSORTED NOTES

- Make sure to take full breaths in logical places. (Sing the tune and put a breath where one idea finishes or seems to come to a resting point.)
- Singing the line is also useful in figuring out how you would phrase it without all the mechanics of the horn.
- Focus on blowing air through slurs to remove bumps.
- Start fuller than piano to help create the contrast in dynamics. In order to successfully get the diminuendo and crescendos be heard you have to start at a fuller dynamic to hear enough contrast.
- Start the trill slower at measure 19 and speed up and let the grace notes fall into beat one almost as if it were a pickup to the G on the downbeat of measure 20

Technical Etude

Book - Rubank Advanced Method Volume 1 Page 31
#14 Top line, NO REPEATS or Da Capo, Dotted Half = 72bpm

Above is a video where I play through the entire etude at tempo. It's always a good idea to hear someone play the etude so that you mimic the player's style, figure out tricky rhythms, and get an idea of pacing and phrasing among other things. So when preparing for auditions or performing a solo you should always take some time to research.

TEMPO AND KEY SIGNATURE

The tempo marked in the excerpt is Valse Dotted Half Note = 72. Valse means waltz. A style of dance in 3/4 with stress on beat one. Beat one should be emphasized in each measure. In order to do that, emphasize the slurs on beat one in the third line to give the impression of an accent and feel of the waltz style. The key signature at the beginning is F major (No E Flats!). It then switches to Bb major (hooray for E flats!) in measure 17 till the end. Make sure you note where they change so there aren't any wrong sounding notes when the key signature changes. 

ARTICULATION

There are several markings over the notes and paying attention to each of them may be challenging but they will allow a clear and accurate performance of this excerpt. A big thing to focus on should be making a difference between the staccato passages and slurred passages. Think of the Staccatto Notes being buoyant. Like the difference between a rubber ball bouncing off the floor vs a blob of clay smacking into the floor. Opt for the sound that reminds you of the rubber ball. Focus on making a difference between staccato and non-marked notes. In order to do this, you need to start the notes the same way with the tongue. The only difference is the space in between the notes that give it that sense of buoyancy. Too much space and it sound clipped and not enough and it sound legato. Another thing to think about are slurs with descending notes. Descending slurs require as much air as needed for the lower note so it's smooth. When you are playing a slur with notes going towards the lower register you need to play as if you are already in that register. It will help with the transition between higher and lower notes. Slurs, in general, need a thick column of air to create a sense of smoothness between the notes. Lastly, notice that each phrase starts softer than the last. Don't allow the dynamic change the articulation of the note and make sure you support your sound in the softer dynamics. Dynamics don't dictate tempo or articulation.

ASSORTED NOTES

- Make sure to take full breaths in logical places. (Sing the tune and put a breath where one idea finishes or seems to come to a resting point.)
- Focus on making the staccato notes full enough to hear the pitch and tone of your instrument. Notes that are too short don't help the musical line.
- Keep tempo consistent. No slowing down because something is difficult. If you find something difficult and it is slowing you down, isolate it and work through the passage slowly training your muscle memory to do it correctly.
- Breaths should not interfere with tempo. Choose your breaths carefully. Sometimes the written breath will interrupt a line of cause you to be late in starting the next phrase. On long notes don't be afraid to taper off the note a little early to get more air. The only danger in this technique is if you do it too early and abruptly. Make sure its a smooth end to the note and no one will be the wiser.
- Use vibrato to add direction to the half notes. Use vibrato that is accelerating to indicate forward motion while using vibrato that slows down to indicate the ending of a phrase or idea.

 

Thanks for reading. Feel free to ask any questions in the comment section below.

Best of luck with your audition!

Product Review: Quick Horn Rinse by ESW

ReviewAlejandro GuardiaComment

Quick Horn Rinse by Executive Systems West Review
Model:HLB-001 QHR for Low Brass Instruments


The Quick Horn Rinse (QHR) is an accessory that allows brass players to rinse out the inside of their horns in an efficient and not so messy fashion. The only way I used to clean my horn like many do, is by taking it in the bathtub and giving it a good soak. While that is still the recommended way to do it, the QHR allows us to do a speedy rinse off the insides to remove and to prohibit the build up of gunk that usually leaves our bathtubs looking like a science fair project gone wrong.  This particular iteration of the QHR was designed to fit the Large bore leadpipes of Trombones, Euphoniums, Baritones, and Tubas. Being a low brass performer this fits my needs perfectly. No need for a different product for Trombone and Tuba it'll fit just fine. 

Hand-written note from Bill Ricker

Hand-written note from Bill Ricker

I received the QHR in early May about 3-4 days after ordering it. Considering that it wasn't rushed order I was pleasantly surprised that it had arrived so quickly. Included with my purchase a Lefreque Sound Bridge, which I will review later as I'm still testing it out, and a small hand-written note from Bill Ricker himself. I thought it was a nice touch. 

 

So far my experience with the Quick Horn Rinse has been a good one. I took it for a test drive the day after I received it in the mail and tried on my Tenor Trombone and my (and by the time of this reading my former) Euphonium. The entire process was fairly quick and painless after I read through the instruction the cleaning out both horns took about 20 minutes. 

The instructions for the Quick Horn Rinse are fairly simple. 

    1. Connect the QHR to a garden hose or similar (there are adapters for shower hoses if that works for you.)
    2. Pour in a mix of dish soap and water (I believe the ratio was 1:3) through the lead pipe.
    3. Plug in your QHR to the leadpipe of the horn. Make sure it's in far enough to create a good seal. 
    4. Turn on the hose and let the water run through the instrument. (be careful not to run the water too aggressively or too hot. Things can fly off or you can damage the lacquer.)

    5. Wait till the water turns clear.
    6. Turn off the hose. 
    7. Remove the QHR
    8. Let the horn Air Dry.


Advantages

    * Its a quick and easy cleaning solution.
    * Easy to set up and use
    * Can be used indoors and outdoors.
    * Compact and easy to store
    * Nozzle is versatile enough to take care of different sized bores.
    * High build quality and a thick rubber nozzle that is very resilient.

 

Disadvantages

I found that the nozzle can lose its footing if the water pressure is too strong and fly off and shoot water everywhere. Not a design flaw it was more of an operator error.  But maybe there can be a system engineered to secure the QHR to the leadpipe. Understandably that opens up situations where you can damage the leadpipe etc. etc. but it's one of the very few things I can say against this product and if you aren't too trigger happy with the hose you won't encounter that issue in normal use. 

In addition to the slimmed down basic version that I have ESW also carries a Small Bore version for Trumpets and French horns, as well as a version that has an included sudser that allows you to add soap to your water stream instead of having to remove the hose and pour in more. I would have very much liked that one but did not have the foresight to order it. Their website also includes lots of reviews, tips on how to use the QHR, and other accessories that seem to be made just for us brass players. 

HLB-001 for Large Bore Brass Instruments

HLB-001 for Large Bore Brass Instruments

In conclusion, I'd definitely recommend the QHR to any one who is looking for an efficient way to clean out the inside of their horn that doesn't feel like a chore and won't take up much of your day. As a Band Director and Professional Low Brass Performer, I find this to be very helpful in keeping my horn clean during those long stretches that I give it a full bath and it's incredibly helpful in cleaning my brass instruments at the school during the summer so they don't end up looking like a biology final when my students come back in for school. No more nasty smells in August!