Issue: July-September 2010
Bandworld Magazine Page


25 Years ago in Bandworld
Logo Balance and Blend

by Randall Spicer Bio
Vol. 1, #2, p.12 (November - December 1985)

An outstanding blend and an outstanding balance are always a part of an outstanding performance.
An outstanding blend and an outstanding balance are always a part of an outstanding performance.  Yet, these musical requirements are a singular challenge for each performer and each conductor.  The composer can expect to hear an accurate interpretation of his composition.  This interpretation is always limited to abilities, decisions, and expectations of performers and conductors.

We hear a blend from the string sections of European orchestras that is very different from the blend in the orchestras of North America.  The bands of Austria are different in their balance from the balance that is heard in England or Switzerland.  These sounds are by tradition and by decisions of the conductors.  Very few methods books explain blend.  Nor do they explain balance beyond that required for chords and climaxes.  We are always "marked down" for a lack of contrast in our performances.

What sound of ensemble do you want from your group?
I admit the above two paragraphs are ambiguous.  Individual answers will result from our rehearsals and concerts.  Listen to many concerts and recordings.  What sound of ensemble do you want from your group?  I can still remember the day in 1935 when I decided what my group needed to sound like to earn a top rating.  I decided to make phrases as long as possible.  There were intonation problems when performers played so loudly that they could not hear their pitch as it related to the pitch of the ensemble.  Good tones were always most important.  A part of the daily warm-up was for tonal improvement.  Much score study was done to decide the composer's wishes and how the band could do the interpretation as demanded by the conductor.  Ear tests had given me the confidence that I could quickly hear tones that were not in unison and tones that were not alike. The main problem was to match the mental requirements to the ability of the performing group.

Answers to the problem were gained by attending clinics, listening, reading, bull sessions, and classes from outstanding instructors. Most band directors were brass students. This led to the rich sounds from a big, warm, woodwind section.  So the first demands of the score were for tutti blend.

Should the tutti effect have a brass feeling with support of woodwinds, or should the tutti sound be from woodwinds only with a touch of brass support? We get those "gray" sounds with tuttis that are not accurate.  A "buzz" in the forte balance often comes from the wide reed instruments; tenor sax, baritone sax, and bass clarinet.  The balance may be unbalanced because of too much power from the first chair players. It is a shame that a group's best students can cause a strident feeling in fortissimos. The orchestra gets its rich tone from a depth of string tone that is similar in all sections.  The winds are used mainly for solo or duet passages and wind chords are saved for climaxes with brass power.  A definitive richness is more difficult to obtain in the band.  One part may be in several sections. This calls for a blend of rich qualities and a correction of intonation.  For example: tune the clarinet F# to the alto saxophone C# to the euphonium high E and to the bassoon E.



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