October 31, 2006
I got a call Friday morning from H. Robert Reynolds, the conductor of the USC Wind Ensemble. He’s performing “Turbine” this Sunday, and he called to invite me to a rehearsal. He figured that it was too short of notice to get me there that afternoon, but Bob doesn’t realize that I mostly spend my days sitting around doing cross-stitch and drinking.
Their concert isn’t until November 5, and they have a few more rehearsals before then, so the piece was probably at 75%. But 75% for the USC Wind Ensemble is 250% for many others, so it already sounded pretty damn good.
I’ve raved about Bob Reynolds a lot in the past, but two things happened in Friday’s rehearsal that reaffirmed why he’s the best. There’s a part in “Turbine” where I asked the French horns to play stopped notes. The problem is that there’s so much going on at that moment that you never hear any pitch definition from the horns, and you’re lucky if you even hear the buzzing sound that stopped horn creates. The pitches the horns are playing, though, are important — they’re the most important pitches happening at that moment — and I’ve been resorting to having the horns play open instead. It loses the cool buzz effect, but at least you can hear them, and can hear the pitches. Gary Hill at Arizona State had a cool solution — having 4 horns play stopped, and 4 horns play open — but he had eight horns at his disposal, and Bob Reynolds is doing a true one-on-a-part performance of the piece, so that wasn’t an option here.
(In case you’re curious what “stopped” horn or “open” horn is… “Stopped” horn is when the horn player sticks their hand (or a “stopped mute”) up into the bell of the instrument, “stopping” the sound. The result, as described above, is a buzzing sound with less pitch definition. “Open” horn is just straight-forward, standard playing, with the bell, well, open.)
When the group stopped for a moment to get notes from me, I asked the French horns to go ahead and play those measures open. Bob interrupted to ask if, as a former horn player, he could try something. I obliged (what, was I going to be like, “no, I got it covered, thanks”), and he asked the four horn players to get out their standard mutes and put them only half-way into the horns. I’ve never heard of this before — half-muted horn — but when they played the same 4 measures this way, it was perfect. It buzzes a bit to give it some edge, but there’s still pitch clarity. Finally, that issue is solved. Thanks, Bob.
The other moment was when the bass clarinet plays the Big Tune for the first time. I put the solo in the bass clarinet because it was a cooler sound than standard clarinet, and there aren’t a ton of lyrical bass clarinet solos. The guy was playing it great, but I want it to be very expressive — being the first time we hear something lyrical in the piece, after 4 minutes of relentless banging — and Bob gave him the greatest note. “Play it as if it’s the Brahms Bass Clarinet Concerto.” There’s no such piece (wouldn’t that be awesome?!), but that suggestion was exactly what that solo needed. (I’m totally using that suggestion in the future. I’m undecided about whether or not to credit Bob.)
I’m going back tomorrow to hear the piece in the hall. I’m psyched. It’s pretty excellent to live 15 minutes from one of the best wind ensembles in the country.