Newsletter for The Music Education Community of Western PA
Interview with Jeff Dee, Bass Trombonist in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
This month, Johnstonbaugh's Music Centers interviewed Jeff Dee, principal bass trombonist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Dee has held this position with the PSO since September 2016 and bass trombone positions with the Buffalo Philharmonic, Jacksonville Symphony, and Shanghai Broadcasting Symphony Orchestras.
What is your day like as a bass trombonist in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?
Every day is different for Jeff, depending on what he is forecasted to play that week and a few weeks later.
Jeff said that his practice is a lot of energy management. If he knows it will be a week of heavy playing, he will dial back his practice, and if it is a light week, he will increase his practice.
Likewise, knowing that the next week will be heavy or light will determine how much practice he puts in for that day/week.
Jeff's job as a symphony bass trombone player is physically demanding with many variabilities. Hence, it is crucial how Jeff manages his energy expenditure on a day-to-day basis so that he is still playing well for each performance. For example, when the PSO performed Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy, the symphony had a rehearsal from 3:00 PM until 5:45 PM, only a few hours before the performance at 7:30 PM. Distant Worlds includes many "battles" and calls for thunderous, booming playing from the bass trombone, so Jeff was playing intensely from 3:00 PM until 10:00 PM" but then had to change it up for rehearsal the next day for Symphonie Fantastique with very delicate playing.
Day to day, though, regardless of the forecasted weeks, there are certain principles that Jeff tries to touch on with his daily practice, most of which are fundamentals, such as posture and breathing. Jeff said that he "starts from scratch" with his daily exercises, starting with buzzing, then to the mouthpiece, and then moving to the horn, ensuring that his breathing, posture, pitch, tonguing, and buzzing are all in check. If Jeff feels something is off with his fundamental playing, he works to address it and ensure he is at baseline again.
Jeff will also review the piece by listening to it, singing it, and playing it on the piano so that he "has it in his ear" for rehearsing with the rest of the PSO. He will also practice any demanding parts of the piece before he attends rehearsal.
While some musicians follow a strict daily routine, which works for them, Jeff's daily practice is varied based on what's expected of him for each performance. However, daily, he still works on the core fundamentals of playing. Even as a professional, Jeff starts with his practice sessions from the beginning because having a good foundation is essential to producing beautiful tone and stamina to do it repeatedly.
Is there a masterclass that impacted you as a musician?
Since Jeff will be teaching a masterclass at JMC's upcoming Trombone Day on November 19th, we asked Jeff if he had ever had a masterclass that impacted him in his career. Jeff was quick to recall the exact class, while he was in college, with Edward Kleinhammer, the legendary bass trombone player from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1940 to 1985 and author of The Art of Trombone.
Jeff conveyed that in the masterclass, Kleinhammer was meticulously demanding in his expectations and that his critiques of the students were frank. In the class, Kleinhammer would have the student play one or two notes, tell them it was not good, and ask them to play it over and over again. To confirm that they were not playing well, he recorded their playing with a tape recorder and played it back at half speed to show the player, and the entire class, that what was played was, indeed, flawed at some point. The harsh lesson left Jeff's colleagues humiliated and resentful towards the legend.
Later in the day, three students were scheduled to have one-on-one classes with Kleinhammer, one of whom was Jeff. Jeff had the first session, and, like how Kleinhammer taught the masterclass, he "tore [Jeff] apart." Jeff's session ended, and he and Kleinhammer noticed that no one else had shown up for a session due to the brash masterclass Kleinhammer had taught.
Since no one else attended, Kleinhammer continued to teach Jeff for the remaining two hours. With this class, Jeff received three hours of unfiltered critiques, pointers, and adages from a seminal trombone player.
Jeff recalled that Kleinhammer had told him that "after every concert, he would go back to his studio and practice for two hours."
"If he saw William Tell Overture, coming up in six weeks, after every concert, he'd go back to his studio and practice for two hours. Especially if it were something like William Tell, that's very technical; he would sit and play it super slow, bring it up one click on the metronome, then do it again super slow, up one click, until he got to one. So starting at 54 to 108; 54 repetitions just one click at a time". Jeff was surprised that such an accomplished, professional trombone player practices in such a scrutinizing way.
Jeff cited that Kleinhammer said, "The player I wanted to be existed out there, and I always saw that player, and I practiced to be that player, and every time I got close, I'd look, and it moved away because I got smarter and I got to be better, and I started to demand more of myself, and I knew I could do more. When I retired, he was still out there; I never achieved it because I never achieved being the player I wanted to be."
Jeff said, "That made me realize the mindset more than anything. He didn't play a single thing, but he told me about a professional's mindset. You listen to players, and you hear what they can do, but that was the first time I got a peek into the mindset of what it takes to be someone at his level and how he just kept working. And I was like, well, if he just kept working, I have to keep working."
Jeff will be teaching a masterclass on efficiency in tone production at Johnstonbaugh's Music Center's Trombone Day on Saturday, November 19, at 2:00 PM.
Auditioning Tips from Rachel Waldron-D'Abruzzo
JMC private instructor Rachel Waldron-D'Abruzzo has been playing cello since age eight. She holds a bachelor's degree in Music from Duquesne University, studying under Mikhail Istomin from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Paula Tuttle from the Pittsburgh Opera and Ballet. Rachel also holds a Master's degree from Duquesne University, studying under Adam Liu of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Rachel has performed in many Pittsburgh concert series and festivals worldwide, such as the CLAZZ music festival (Arcidosso, Italy) and the Aruba Symphony Festival (Oranjestad, Aruba). As an educator, Rachel has had many students pursue music degrees with cello as the focus.
JMC asked Rachel what her advice was for auditioning; here is what she had to say:
Auditions can be a very nerve-racking experience. I’ve been there many times before. Hours of time and practicing goes into preparing for something that might be no longer then five minutes and not to forget the pressure of performing at our best. Some of the best advice I have been given and learned over the years are the following:
Always be prepared 200 percent because the first 100 percent goes out the door the minute you walk into your audition or on stage.
Mentally have yourself in a good place, and whatever nervous energy you have, channel that into your playing.
Know all of your fingerings and bowing markings (string players) before you go into your audition. You don’t want to be fumbling with those at your auditions.
Listen to recordings of your audition piece, so you know that you have the right tempo markings and interpretation. It will give you a better insight into what you are playing.
Lastly, have confidence in what you are playing. Even if you make a mistake, own it and keep going. Own everything about your playing. Even the best performers make mistakes.
New Faces at JMC!
Johnstonbaugh's would like to welcome Brian Kelley as a new wind instrument repair technician. Brian is from Boca Raton, Florida, and received an undergraduate degree in music from the University of Miami. He holds a Masters degree in music from Carnegie Mellon University and is currently working towards his doctorate in musical arts from the West Virginia University. Brian has impressive performance experience, having played with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra, and The Brass Roots, and is currently the first Bb Tuba in the River City Brass. Although Brian is an expert at playing brass instruments, with his role at JMC, he is learning each step of repairing and servicing them. JMC is happy to have Brian on board while he performs and continues his studies in music.
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Issued October 2022Newsletter by Joe Weinzierl and Dennis Emert