Last November's US tour with the IPO was a relatively easy one, allowing me much time to practice. and as I was preparing Mahler 3rd symphony for our performance in July, this was my perfect opportunity of taking a lesson with some of the great Classical American players. I wrote to Jay Friedman, Mark Lawrence and Ralph Sauer. Sauer with his beautiful recording of Mahler 3rd with Mehta (from 1976) and his inspiring music making for over 40 years, Lawrence with the impeccable beauty of sound and control, high range and smoothness. Jay with his thoroughness of technical pedagogy and experience (ex. his Mahler 3rd thesis). with a total of over 100 years of orchestral playing experience, these guys now a thing or two about the game.
Fortunately, they all agreed to meet me.
In this post I would like to share with you my thoughts and experiences from my lesson with Mr. Friedman.
I had the immense pleasure of meeting one of the greatest minds of the trombone world, a person who I consider to be both a pioneer of the new and a gate keeper of the traditional. Mr. Jay friedman, Principal trombone player of the Chicago Symphony since 1964 (!!), has worked with the legendary mastermind conductors of the 20th century, took part in the golden era of American orchestral recordings, and is a member of what considered to be the best brass section ever existed.
for this reason, I was evermore enthrilled by the possibility of actually sitting and hearing these phrases from the man himself, having this analytic genius listen to me and diagnosing my playing to new depths.
A lesson with Jay Friedman
from the very first note (I chose to start with a Bordogni Vocalise, to make my life easier), Jay got on to my typical and most profound concern - starting a first note. as orchestral players, 90% of the times we are basically starting "first notes" in different points in the piece. that's what we are required to do well. and for this reason exactly, Jay's emphasis on clarity of attack was so important. by practicing extremely short notes, and make them sound great, we are teaching ourselves to hit every note from its centre. not wasting of air, not overstressing the compensating facial muscles. just pure vibration. "you cannot 'unring' a bell", I remembered the quote from what is, for me, his best piece of writing: "The old saying; "you can't unring a bell," may be true but I'd also like to add that "you can't help it ring better after you've rung it. (...) keep things pure and simple. Anything that is unnecessary will subtract from the goal you are trying to achieve."
after playing a "ping-pong" of short notes back and forth, and trying to imitate the immediacy of sound this 76 year old guy perfectly produces, I finally was able to reach a satisfactory level. once following the "ping" of the note with simply letting the air go naturally from the lungs, I was amazed by how simple and clean my production has became. the improvement was clearly noticeable to Jay's students who were listening to our lesson, too. After implying this fundament, we were ready to proceed to the next favourite topic: Legato.
when Mr. Friedman talks about legato, the clouds in the sky align in perfect symmetry. He is the first one to have gone with me into such fine details of explaining, technically and mentally, how does this awkward creature behaves on the trombone. every scenario had a metaphore, a visual image or a catchphrase to go with; either for a natural slur going up but down the slide, a natural slur going down but up the slide, or rather a legato tongue from 4th to 1st. every variation had its intuitive, beautiful way of treating all aspects of playing - whether by sound, mental image (of a shape of sound or a certain invisible movement) or tactile awareness.
As I most often do when I play for people, this lesson too was captured on my ZOOM recorder. When I use it for reference on my daily rehearsals and concerts with the IPO, I try to get myself to listen to it not more than a few hours after the event, so my ears and my mind are still fresh and can recall the physical sensation of playing in comparison to what actually comes out to the audience. a very good, even if not very easy, lesson, indeed. (please record yourself often, and be open to learn)
In the abovementioned session, the combination of the readiness of my playing and the accuracy of Jay's teaching have given a lesson I could simply grasp, comprehend and execute, reaching a certain degree of detailed work that will not be easily forgotten. once you play in a higher level than your familiar standard, there's no going back. the mind will always strive to recreate that pleasant feeling of oneness with the instrument. I haven't listened to that recording as for now, only for the simple reason of having it running in my head ever-so-vividly since. a lesson to be remembered. Thank you Jay!
and Thank you, dear teachers, for lifting me upon the shoulders of your knowledge and experience, giving me the tools to reveal my true self, showing me the mountains that lie beyond the mist.
Ego, fear, mistakes and progress
as a young principal player and teacher, it is very dear to me to be putting myself in learning situations. I believe with all my heart that in order to grow, you need to know how to let go. in this case, taking a lesson with Jay Friedman (or Lawrence, or Sauer..) was my letting-go of the fear - confronting the familiar fears of not standing up to my title ("principal, shmincipal..."), of leaving a bad impression or just hurting my ego. all of us have these struggles, in different intensities.
I would like to quote the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, who said -
"If you shut the door to all errors, truth will be shut out"