Diversity in Phrasing
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The excerpt below offers a simple example of an often missed opportunity to enrich a performance with a purposeful manipulation of sound color.

Ewald Quintet No.2 for brass excerpt

The two halves of this simple melodic line are almost identical.  Listen to the accompanying audio file for this excerpt.

You may have noticed that there is a significant difference in the harmony of the two halves of this eight measure phrase.  It is not simply a matter of the antecedent (first four measures) ending on the dominant and the consequence (second four measures) ending on the tonic.  In this lullaby-like melody Mr. Ewald could have easily used the same chords in measures 5, 6 and 7 as he did in measures 1, 2 and 3 ( In fact, he does use the same chords each time when this melody occurs earlier in the work).  With the chord symbols shown here, it is easy to see the change in harmony in measure 6 versus the unchanged harmony of measure 2.  This change represents a change in disposition of the music (no longer at harmonic rest).  The change in disposition—brought out through increased harmonic tension—is seldom realized expressively by performers when playing this passage.  The brass players in this audio sample execute the mf in measure 5 but offer nothing special on measure 6—the measure where the unmarked yet more significant change occurs*.  Play to the audio sample again and listen closely for the coloring possibilities that are created at measure 6 by the Db in the 2nd trumpet part.  Here is a moment when this brass quintet could have slightly, yet noticeably, changed their sound color to bring out the change in the music.  Whether you apply a sound that you call warmer, lighter, fatter, creamier, bluer or more radiant, doing so shows imagination on your part and is a sophisticated and elegant way to illuminate more of the music to an audience.

J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites offer a performer many chances to exercise expressive variety.  Excerpt 2 is from Prelude from his Suite, No.4.

R = opportunity to phrase using rhythm
A = opportunity to phrase using articulation
P = opportunity to phrase using pitch

Above I have show places where one may choose to use varies phrasing tools (For a brief explanation of the reasons for isolating these particular spots* simply move you mouse over the bold letters).  Listen to the audio sample of this excerpt and notice how the performer uses his phrasing devices to varying degrees each time so as to avoid predictability.  Take special note of the extra time this performer takes at the beginning of the second line.  This is not by chance.  Although it is not the climax of the movement and certainly not the widest leap, the second note in the measure does represent the highest note in the movement and it only occurs once.  This performer draws attention to this unique timbral tension not with by increasing volume or a heavier articulation, but through rhythmic phrasing.  Also notice that it never sounds out of tune, even when the pitch of lower certain neighbor tones is slightly raised to give direction to their resolution.

Although you may choose different phrasing devices to use, a work such as this (this particular movement is almost 5 minutes long) allows a performer to stretch their imagination and broaden their abilities with regard to phrasing.

There are several works available to brass players that offer ample opportunities to explore these various phrasing techniques.  Still, one must make a conscious effort to do so.  Here are a few particularly fertile compositions.

For trumpet:
Concoctions by John Cheetham
Sonata by Kent Kennan

For French horn:
Laudatio by Bernard Krol
Sonata No.2 by Luigi Cherubini

For trombone:
Mippy II by Leonard Bernstein
Sonata by Paul Hindemith

For tuba:
Fantasy by Malcolm Arnold
Sonata by Paul Hindemith

The degree to which these tools can be applied and balanced is infinite and the way you explore and utilize them is how you discover your own musical voice.  Assuming a faithful execution of the composer’s notation, you can bring out the unmarked objective elements of the music through your own subjective decisions—decisions on how to balance and apply a diverse array of un-notated phrasing devices.  Combined with copious amounts of that unquantifiable yet all-important ingredient we call “soul” or “spirit” and you may find that you not only have much more to say with any given piece of music, but so many more ways of saying it than you originally thought possible.

 
 

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