By Ali Mignone, Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival
Last week, the pavilion was a celebration of brass instruments. C Street Brass played here twice, as well as at other venues around town. And we had a tribute to composer John Williams on Saturday, featuring 18 brass players and four percussionists. My week felt like a whirlwind of all things brass, so let me share with you a few things that brass players like:
Hydration. This is actually the first thing C Street Brass players said when I asked them for ideas for this column. But I don’t think they were talking about water.
Oxygen. A brass player forces lots of air into the mouthpiece through almost closed lips to make a smooth sound, with the highest and the lowest notes requiring the most air. At an elevation of 6,900 feet, the Strings pavilion is a tough place to play a brass instrument. The backstage oxygen tank was in regular use.
Constant temperature for their instruments. Large temperature swings make the metal expand and contract. If it’s too cold, the instrument will be flat. If it’s too hot, everything will be sharp. Humidity makes a difference, too, but temperature swings are what really cause instrument angst.
Embouchure. In order to play a brass instrument, the musician purses his or her lips and buzzes air through the mouthpiece at different intensities, varying the tension of the lips or stopping the air with the tongue for different note effects. It takes a lot of practice to build up the face, lip and tongue muscles enough to play for more than a few minutes. Brass players call those muscles, collectively, the embouchure—which is hard to pronounce, but sounds much nicer and makes for cooler cocktail party conversation than “buzzy-lip-spit-muscles.”
When the stage manager knows the difference between a tuba and a sousaphone, a cornet and a trumpet or a piccolo trumpet and a flugelhorn. Visiting musicians are not always happy to discover my instrument-identifying deficiencies, but that’s how I get someone never to ask me to fetch their instrument again. Here’s a pro tip from my personal embarrassment files: French horn and horn are the same instrument.
(In related news, and to my own which-instrument-did-you-want? relief, the International Horn Society has decreed that the French horn will be called, for-now-and-forever-amen, just “the horn.” France is appealing the decision.)
Condensation. Brass players blow a constant raspberry into a tube of metal. Eventually, what goes in must come out, usually in drippy bits on the stage floor. The musicians like to get euphemistic and call it condensation, but I’m pretty sure it’s just spit.
There are three weeks left in Strings’ summer season—grab a seat and enjoy some great music!
- Tuesday, July 26, 11am – Andy Z (Youth)
- Tuesday, July 26, 6:30pm – C Street Brass (free, at Casey’s Pond)
- Wednesday, July 27, 10am – Yoga and Classical Music (free, in Strings Music Festival Park)
- Wednesday, July 27, 7pm – French Chamber Music
- Thursday, July 28, 12:15pm – Emerald City Opera (free, at the Botanic Park)
- Friday, July 29, 8pm – Cherry Poppin’ Daddies (swing/ska)
- Saturday, July 30, 7pm – Romantic Chamber Music
- Sunday, July 31, 4pm – PigPen Theatre Co. (Family)
Tickets available at (970) 879-5056 and www.stringsmusicfestival.com.
Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at thequirkyquill.com.