Considerations for application recordings
I trust that everyone had a great second semester and are now enjoying a well-deserved summer break to rejuvenate and relax. One of the tasks that I undertake during the summer is listening to recordings in consideration for the upcoming school year, as well as participating in the administration of a few application processes. Over the years, I have spent literally hundreds of hours listening to application recordings for the National Band Association Programs of Excellence Blue Ribbon Award, the William P. Foster Award of Excellence for band programs in historically underserved communities, the American Bandmasters Association member application recordings, the Sousa Foundation Sudler Flag and the Music for All National Concert Band Festival application recordings. When creating an application recording there are many considerations that go far beyond the preparation of rehearsals, scores, conducting and students. We spend so much energy and effort working on these aspects yet if we neglect the other aspects of recording we can easily negate all of that other hard work. These other details necessary to record can have a major impact on the impression of those listening and in some ways can be more impactful on listeners than a passage played beautifully by our students. I hope that these thoughts are helpful to those of you interested in sending recordings for adjudication (in order of importance): The quality of your recording makes a difference The resonance of the room and placement of the mics are really important! A room that is too dead or too live can affect the balance of the band. Mics that are too close or too far can have the same affect. A well-balanced room and good placement of mics can actually help the recording in the following ways: 1. Melding all of the instrumental colors together. If the composer wants a “flumpet” sound/color the resonance of the room and placement of the microphones melds the flute and trumpet to create that instrumental color. 2. Softening of individual sounds and bringing together the collective sonority of the band 3. Softening of individual articulations Put your best recording first! The first impression is so important. In the first few minutes of the recording, the evaluator has inevitably placed you into one of three categories (sub-consciously or consciously): probably accepted, maybe accepted, probably not accepted. The rest of the listening is centered on proving or disproving that initial impression in regard to accepting or rejecting the application. Depending upon the format of the adjudicated listening, they may even skip through your recording or stop listening altogether after the first few minutes. Selection of literature One of the first things our college professors told us when creating a concert was “know your audience”. That is definitely true in this case as well. What literature will these adjudicators respect? What will they dismiss? In addition, be careful when choosing very well-known literature. Adjudicators may have very strong opinions and may not agree with your interpretation, sometimes to the point of dismissing the application. In addition, evaluators may be quite familiar with a very well-known piece, listening for mistakes in the challenging sections or in individual parts. Because the best literature to perform is also very well-known (it’s well-known for a good reason!), this can be a very controversial and difficult topic. Maturity of sound Tone and intonation go a long way in creating a good or bad impression to an adjudicator. Be careful to make sure that EVERY sound exposed is mature, especially soloists. This seems obvious, but it’s easy to get excited about a great piece of music and underestimate the impact of a long, exposed solo by an immature player. I know of many experienced and successful band directors that will substitute soloists as written by the composer to have a more mature soloist perform a given solo. Examples would be a trombone for a euphonium, tenor sax or bass clarinet for bassoon, muted trumpet or clarinet or even flute for oboe, etc, etc Debating between multiple recordings It’s very common to have multiple recordings of the same piece and struggling to decide which recording to submit. Two things to consider in this debate: 1. Conviction and passion 2. Distractions Balancing these two aspects in your decision can be very challenging. I think of distractions as anything distracting from the artistry and beauty of the music such as immature tone, poor intonation, parts not lining up in time, missed notes or rhythms, etc. A process to consider might be this: tally all distractions, giving more weight to glaring distractions vs minor distractions and then weighing the overall conviction and passion of the performance, which can be forgiving of many distractions. As you ponder applying to perform in a festival or for an award this summer, I hope that you’ll consider my thoughts. Good luck in the coming school year!