Today I attended and played at a master class at the MYA center taught by Bill Buchman, the Assistant Principal Bassoonist for the CSO. Mr. Buchman has a physics degree from Brown and a music degree from Yale. How cool is that?
This was a very informative master class. He covered some of the most important ideas in wind playing and musicianship in general. He emphasized making the time signature more obvious and playing technical sections more smoothly.
I started the master class with Rossini's Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet. I've been working on this piece for many months now. Mr. Buchman stopped me after the first half of the introduction. The first thing he talked about was making sure that all of your playing is smooth. This can be hard on the clarinet, because the resistance is very different between some of the notes. This is because some notes you play with all of the holes on the clarinet open, and some notes you play with all of the holes closed. Going between these notes is very difficult, so you need to work to make sure that the notes are smooth. You do this by pushing the air through the phrase and maintaining a steady flow of air. When you are playing these difficult intervals, and you are playing quietly, it is even more difficult to keep your sound steady and full. Mr. Buchman said it seems surprising, but you actually need to use just as much or more air on the quiet notes so they can resonate just as much as the forte sections. He had me play this section again several times with these ideas in mind, and it made a big difference.
Then Mr. Buchman had me play the Theme. This section is quicker and more technical than the Introduction. I played it, and after I finished, he had me play the very beginning again. He asked the other kids in the master class guess what the time signature was, and where the downbeat was. Only one person could tell, and I think that's because he was looking at the music. The point Mr. Buchman was making was that I wasn't making it obvious to the audience where the downbeat was. This is a problem, because it makes you sound disjoint and out of tempo, and it makes it hard for your audience to understand the music. He said it was really to establish this right at the beginning. He revisited this idea many times during the master class.
Many students played after me: Julia, Clayton and Marissa played bassoon concertos, Vince played a baroque sonata on his oboe, and Yoon and Steven played the 2nd Weber and the Rossini on clarinet. And finally Theo, Tamara and Julia played a trio. Mr. Buchman covered several ideas through the rest of the masterclass. First, he worked on how to practice a technically difficult articulated section. He suggested working on the fingering and tonguing separately. You can do this by slurring the section and slowing it down. This lets you work on your fingers without having to worry about the tonguing. He also said it was important to keep your air flowing through the articulations. You do this by not stopping the air with your tongue, but simply lightly tapping the reed with your tongue to briefly stop the reeds vibrations. Another point he made was to practice slowly. He said if you can't play it slowly, then you will sometimes crash and burn when you play it fast. That happened to me last year at the Walgreens when I was performing the Weber Concertino! My piano teacher makes this point quite often. You don't really know a piece until you can play it slow as well as fast.
When Vince played, it was clear to Mr. Buchman that Vince was quite nervous. He had some advice to help with this nervousness that everybody feels. He said to acknowledge when you're nervous. You can use the extra adrenalin pumping through your veins to help you play better. It all depends on how you think about it. You can respond to the nervousness by saying to yourself that you're terrified and you're going to fail. Or you can see it as an advantage. You can say to yourself, I'm nervous. That's good, because I have more energy, and this can help me have an exciting performance.. My concentration will be at a higher level than normal. However, when you get nervous you see time differently, you will tend to rush. You need to be aware of this and consciously hold yourself back and play slower than you feel is the tempo you normally play at. I'm going to try this when I play at the Walgreens next month.
It was a great masterclass, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to attend and play at it.