Saturday, 6 June 2009

Producing a "projected" sound

In my articles on the Eroica, I've mentioned more than once that you should play solo passages with a "projected" sound.

What on earth does that mean?

I know how to make a projected sound, one that will carry over an orchestra for a solo passage, but I've done it for so long that it's been a while since I thought about how, and even what the characteristics of a projected tone are. I just do it. So I've given a fair bit of thought to it before attempting to write it down.

Generally speaking, when we play louder, two quite separate things happen. One is that we produce more volume, and the other is that there is an increasing preponderance of overtones in the sound, as the sound gets more "brassy".

Projecting your tone is getting more volume without the increased brassiness. In other words, getting increased volume so you carry over the top of the orchestra, while the tone colour remains as if you are playing quietly within the texture of the piece. Because there isn't the extra brassiness that the listener associates with a horn or other brass instrument playing loud, the ear is in a way fooled into thinking that it isn't actually loud, but that instead the sound is being sort of pumped straight into the listener's ear without having travelled across the intervening space. I have no idea who first called it "projecting" but it is a very apt word for describing the effect on the listener.

Some years ago, I was lucky enough to play 1st horn at a special Rehearsal Orchestra course. Instead of one of their usual conductors, we had Sir Simon Rattle for a day, coming to work with us on his day off from conducting Parsifal every night at Covent Garden. Even though Sir Simon is a former member of the orchestra (he played percussion at one of its residential courses in Edinburgh under Harry Legge, when he was about 14 or 15) I think it quite amazing that he was prepared to spend 6 hours rehearsing Bruckner 9 with a bunch of amateurs in the middle of such a strenuous series of engagements.

Now, Bruckner uses the brass. Bruckner 9 uses a lot of brass; 8 horns (4 doubling Wagner Tuba), three trumpets, three trombones and a tuba. And in the first session, immediately after the first forte entry of the heavy brass, he stopped the orchestra and turned to them.

"Brass, that was a wonderful noise! Absolutely perfect for Shostakovich. And I don't want ever in my life to hear it again in a Bruckner symphony. The sound has to be rich and round without the slightest hint of a cuivré to it. Let's try it again."

I turned to the other horns and whispered down the line. "Horns, that means us as well!"

So, you now understand hopefully the sort of sound you should be aiming for. How do you train yourself to get it?

Actually, the practice technique is remarkably simple. You can even incorporate it into your warmup. It is simply practicing long notes - with a crescendo and decrescendo.

Start on a nice mid-range note. Take a deep breath and start the note playing piano. Do a slow gradual crescendo, listening carefully to your tone. Try really hard to avoid tightening the lips - this is what causes the brassiness. If anything, the embouchure should relax slightly as you push air through at a faster rate. See how loud you can get without adding a brassy edge. When you have reached your limit, do an equally gradual decrescendo back to piano. Don't try to play louder than the maximum you can achieve without a brassy edge.

Repeat this for each note of a one-octave ascending scale. As you practice, you should try each day to get the top end of the crescendo just a little bit louder than you could manage before. Over different days you should arrange for this kind of long note practice to be carried out over the full range of the instrument.

Doing this will help you not only gain a projected sound, but practicing a piano crescendo entry in the upper register will prepare you for if you ever have to perform the Britten Serenade, which includes a pianissimo crescendo entry on a top C in the Elegy movement.

Now in addition, there are occasions when you do want a brassy edge to the sound, while not overwhelming people with volume. So you can do a variation on this exercise. Long note practice again, but this time you do only a modest crescendo to about a single forte, but with a deliberate brassy edge to your tone.

There is a limit to what I can do in words to explain the differences in your embouchure that will achieve the two different effects. All I can suggest is that you try it, and listen carefully to the result.

The idea is that if you deliberately practice both of these, then you have a much wider range of tone colour and expressiveness available to you. You can control the volume and tone colour more or less independently of each other. It is then up to you to decide what combination to use on any specific occasion. That is where musicality comes in.

No comments:

Post a Comment