15 Years ago in Bandworld
by Edwin Kruth
Vol. 8, #1, p.16 (Aug-Oct 1992)
Check Those Instruments
During my recent spring concert-clinic schedule, I decided to establish an instrument check procedure in which individual instruments were personally checked for playability and general condition. Approximately two thirds of the instruments needed adjustment and repairs. Many were unplayable. Some mouthpieces and reeds were totally inadequate. Some would not produce a musical sound. Young musicians were sitting day after day in rehearsal struggling to even produce a sound. We wonder why we have a serious drop-out problem. The majority of the most serious difficulties were in middle school or junior high school bands.
With current equipment and repair budget problems, the instrumental music teacher is seriously handicapped. Often many schools have practically no budget for yearly repairs or new instruments and, as a result, only emergency, if any, funds are available. Some instruments have little or no maintenance attention for several years and students, especially beginners, have no way of knowing whether their inability to produce an acceptable sound is the fault of the instrument or a problem with their individual technique. Mouthpieces can be warped, chipped, or inferior in terms of facing. Double reeds (a major problem) may be either too stiff or too soft. Brass mouthpieces can be inadequate in size, shape or bore, not fit for the instrument, etc.
Teachers and conductors must establish procedures to regularly check all equipment including reeds. This procedure should include examination of personally owned instruments. Student help in these examinations is suggested using advanced players to conduct primary checks; instruments that present problems are then referred to the teacher. The cumulative grades of each student should include individual instrument care and general condition. Rehearsing with instruments in poor repair will ultimately produce negative feedback and endless wasted hours.
Although it is not generally wise to demonstrate repair talent to the degree that the school administration will expect this service, minor repairs and adjustments are part of the job. Often students can be an invaluable resource. Much untapped talent is wasted in school organizations when interested students are not provided an opportunity for secretarial, library, organizational, maintenance and coaching opportunities. Use them. You may be starting many students on a life long career.
Schedule a small portion of time each week for checking a few instruments. A recent check revealed a paper towel stuck in the bell of a euphonium. A student had apparently been playing the horn in that condition for the entire semester. Apparently the student had not been heard individually. You may not be proficient on all instruments but even a few notes can provide some indication of playability. Even a close visual inspection or manipulative check can indicate basic problems (e.g. valve and slide function, reed condition, etc.). Have a student organize an inventory system. A conscientious student will often do a more thorough job than the busy teacher and take pride in the job.
Utilize professional help. Some private teachers welcome an opportunity to become acquainted with students and to become a part of the music department. Often retired persons who have had musical experience welcome on opportunity to contribute, especially with current budgetary problems. Organize a short series of parent meetings designed to acquaint them with maintenance and general playing problems of musical instruments. These classes have been particularly successful in elementary and junior high schools.
Most teachers are using only a small portion of their total resources. You are not just using people to help in the instrumental music department. You are doing them a favor.
The Magic of Silence in Performance
When we think of musical performance we normally think of sound. The recognition of silence and its function is critical in every aspect of performance.
In conducting, the conductor must think of the score as extending in time both before and after the actual textual-physical portion. Within this extended, imagined space the conductor establishes and retains the mood and the character of the score. The performers and the audience must be led to perceive and retain the nature of the score before and after the sound takes place. All participants perceive what they are set to perceive. This phenomenon is established silently by the kinesthetics of the conductor, normally the only silent participant in an instrumental performance.
Elements of the pre-score silence include:
• How the ensemble takes the stage and prepares to perform
• How the conductor walks to the podium
• How the conductor steps off the podium
• How the conductor prepares for the preparatory beat
• Facial expressions
• Seated posture of the players