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  1. Fire away with your top ten from the Baroque era of classical music.
  2. Please meet Baltimore Symphony Orchestra bass trombonist and lifelong John Williams fan, Randy Campora. I had the honor of performing next to Randy a week after John Williams conducted this orchestra in an all Williams concert. I enjoyed hearing Randy joyfully gush about Williams' amazing music and talent but also what a joy it was to perform under him. I wanted to interview Randy and ask him more about his musical experiences, his experiences working in a major symphony orchestra, and the impact of John Williams’ music throughout his life. KE: How and when did you first come to love your instrument and what was it about the trombone that you first connected with? RC: In third grade, we were told that the band teacher was going to ask us what instrument we wanted to play, and if we're interested we should be thinking about that. I saw on TV that the trombones were always in the front line, and when they demonstrated the trombone at school I wondered how they got that metal slide to go down their throat without injury - I had to find out how it worked! Also, as a toddler, I wandered off at the zoo one day and my mom found me hiding in the corner of the gazebo listening to a band rehearse, with my eyes glazed over in amazement. KE: What qualities do you look for when evaluating an instrument? For example, do you look for a big bold tone, something that’s solid, slots easily, gives you flexibility in tone color, free blowing, etc. RC: I look for an openness of tone that can also be controlled in all registers and dynamics, a good relationship between inner focus and outer radiance (bloom), ability to project with warmth and color, clarity of articulation, ability to meld into the other players but also step forward towards the audience when needed. It also must ergonomically fit my body comfortably. I use an Edwards dependent axial valve section, a 1575cf bell (22 gauge yellow brass, soldered rim, heat treated, cf treated, 10” diameter), a yellow brass single radius tuning slide, a 502-V single bore slide (rose tubes, yellow crook, #2 brass pipe), and a Griego .5 NY mouthpiece. I also have the rose brass version of the bell, a 1574cf, which I can use for earlier composers—it gives a more classic German profile. I recently switched to the single bore slide from the dual bore after many years. The new 502 design seems to give me the best qualities of both, but with easier control, more color and easier projection. The dual bore skews more towards the contrabass profile, which is great for many things, but not good for all things. In the past I used Bachs for many years, with Schilke 60 mouthpieces of various rim sizes, backbores, and shanks; Minick L or OL pipes from Los Angeles; Thayer valves, mostly dependent setups, but for a while an in-line (in-line Thayers don’t fit my neck/jaw very well and mess up my ability to get the mouthpiece in the right spot on my face). KE: Who was most influential in your performance technique and why? RC: The players and teachers I first heard on bass trombone, in this order: LA/NYC TV and recording artists, on Lawrence welk and on my dad’s stereo in the car; George Roberts; David Rollins, my first bass trombone teacher; Thad Jones Mel Lewis Band; Stan Kenton Band; Florida State students Brian Brink and Jeff Thomas; Jeff Reynolds on his LP; Thomas Streeter on his LP; William F. Cramer, my professor at Florida State; Charlie Vernon; Douglas Yeo (my teacher at Peabody); John Engelkes; My colleagues David Fedderly, Eric Carlson, James Olin and Chris Dudley. KE: How did you come to decide to be a professional musician? RC: In middle school, I decided it would be smart to figure out what I was going to do with my professional life so I could get a jump on things and not waste time and effort. I went to the library section on professions. I checked out all the books on things that seemed interesting to me. There was one book about being a professional musician. I decided this was the best fit. From then on I kept an open mind but had this as my goal. a. What has the experience of being a professional musician been like? Wow, I hardly know where to begin! More multi-layered than I thought it would be, more people centered than I expected—more influenced by the human organizational behavior aspect than I imagined. I have no complaints overall, in a big picture sort of way, though there are things I would change if I had Harry Potter’s wand. b. What did you wish you knew then that you know now? I would be more patient and understanding with certain colleagues that I thought at the time were not contributing as much as I thought they should. I would be less critical and more supportive, even when their decisions didn’t make sense to me. KE: What would you say was your first big break? RC: There were “two” first big breaks: when I was allowed to join the FSU top Jazz Ensemble at the age of 16, and when Douglas Yeo felt I was ready to sub for him in the BSO on a program of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with David Zinman. KE: What was the audition experience like to land your current job with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra? RC: I was super nervous leading up to it—it was my first audition—so much so that I almost decided to not do it because I didn’t want to start auditioning before I was ready to withstand the pressure. But once on stage, I was fine and I felt I could just do my thing. The feeling of winning and being offered the job is something you never forget. I felt like the whole city was mine for a day. KE: What unsung work do you consider one as a favorite to perform but might not be as popular by audiences? RC: Pieces by Nielsen (Sinfonia Espansiva), Vaughn Williams (4th Symphony), Sibelius’s tone poems besides Finlandia, Janacek, Martinu’s ballets, Dvorak’s later tone poems, Scriabin’s symphonies. There are also pieces that audiences like but managers/conductors don’t program, like Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty, Borodin’s Second. KE: I was very intrigued by a video posted by the Swedish trombone virtuoso, conductor, and composer Christian Lindberg where he basically did a video blog about his very unique daily routine of maintaining his performance proficiency, exercise, health, stamina, score study, and composition. What is your daily practice/performance routine? RC: I get to each rehearsal and concert about 75 minutes before so I can always do my warm up but also a session of fundamentals, including breathing and buzzing. This is in addition to the practicing I do at home. This maintenance I have found to be essential in not just keeping things in form, but self-correcting when problems arise, and moving certain playing aspects forward over time. It also keeps my mind engaged in progress and helps me as a teacher. You have to be creative in finding a space to practice at work before concerts: I use the HVAC/Sump Pump/Laundry Room, so it’s just me, the occasional custodial staff member, and the cockroaches in a hot, noisy, dusty environment, but it works. At home, I have my trombone cave, and I often listen to singers, organists, pianists, jazz or orchestral pieces while I am practicing or doing fundamentals—it’s weird but it works for me to help me absorb the greatness of others. For exercise, I used to swim, but now I walk and do weight machines at the gym. Douglas Yeo taught me the importance of score study, so I began my collection of scores early on, and I use Peabody’s music library when needed. I spend just as much, if not more, time studying the score in preparation for a program than I do on the horn. I bring the score to rehearsals for all of us to use—we don’t have to ask the conductor silly questions, we can correct our own parts, and we look erudite back there with a score instead of our cell phones! I would emphasize this heavily to younger players: the score gives you the same information the conductor has, and it evens the playing field. This is probably the most underappreciated part of orchestral playing. KE: What is a work in the common literature that you find fiendishly difficult/unnerving and what it is about that work that makes it this way? RC: The hardest piece technically I think might be Vaughn Williams’ 4th Symphony, a lot of fast passages. Elgar’s Falstaff is tough—very jagged. John Adams’ Harmonielehre and Short Ride are super challenging but are pure modern masterpieces so they are worth the trouble. When I was younger and playing Star Wars for the first time I had to really work on my multiple tonguing. The most challenging composer for me of all is Richard Strauss—his writing for bass trombone is so demanding sonically, technically, dynamically and musically. And Brahms looks so simple on the page, but it demands total perfection so you feel like a failure if you goof up an attack, get the wrong sound on a note or a chord is not in tune. There are many modern composers who simply don’t write well for brass, so in those cases, you just do your best and don’t lose sleep over it. KE: As a professional performer, there are some works that get played frequently. I’m curious how you keep the music fresh and not get bored? RC: If the conductor is good and has a point of view, boredom is not an issue. This is key. It is hard to force your own point of view on a piece if the conductor lacks one because you are one of 90 players and you can only exert so much personality and then it’s a problem. I hate when critics refer to pieces like Pictures or Scheherazade as “war horses.” Excuse me, they are masterpieces and that is why we like playing them and people like hearing them. The key is inspired partnering with conductor and orchestra. If that does not happen, you have to study your score and look for little things you haven’t noticed before and try new things and enjoy yourself. It’s good to remember that the audience is going to enjoy a piece even if the conductor is not good. KE: Are there pieces you’d like to play but haven’t had a chance to yet? RC: Strauss operas Elektra, Salome, Die Frau, and his Sinfonia Domestica; Janacek’s Sinfonietta; Wozzeck and Lulu; Sibelius’ tone poems; Nielsen’s early symphonies and poems; Gurrelieder. My least favorite composer is probably Bernstein, so it’s funny that I have played every note he’s ever written for orchestra, and recorded much of it, and played it on tour . . . KE: When did you first become a fan of John Williams? RC: I was finishing my Freshman year of high school when Star Wars debuted in the theaters. I went to see it with the whole family and loved it, and I enjoyed the music so much. Of course like all band kids you have an ear for anything orchestral even though it may be far in the background of any TV show, movie or radio show. I loved the music for each movie when it came out. But at that time we did not have band arrangements of it, and it would be a while before the Boston Pops would play his music on TV. So I did not encounter it much besides in the movies. When I first got into the BSO, we played it a lot on pops concerts both in the hall and outside during the summer. It was a thrill to finally play it, and try to sound like the soundtracks of the LSO and the LA monsters. But it was hard!! There was a lot of multiple tonguing, high range passages for the bass trombone, and at the time we only had the handwritten parts to use and they were very hard to read (it was easy to fall in a hole in the background rhythms of Star Wars or Superman, for example). With time, of course, the Williams scores, non-Star Wars, just kept on coming and it began to be obvious that we were seeing a timeless genius of our time at work. Such depth and immediate humanity, linked with knowledge of the orchestra. And of course a true melodic gift, which is so rare. KE: How did the music of Star Wars impact you? RC: It just keeps gaining ground in my musical mind over time. For example, I loved the scores to the newer movies and always buy the soundtracks on CD. I recently bought a remastered two CD complete soundtrack of The Empire Strikes Back, and to hear Denis Wick, John Fletcher, Frank Mathison and the LSO brass up close on the mics on that music is so inspiring. It warms my heart that the younger players of today are taking to the music so much. KE: What story can you tell us about your interaction with John Williams? RC: The first time we got to play with him at the BSO was just a few years ago, and it was everything I hoped for. The first thing you notice is just how warm, gracious and generous he is (this was for a pension benefit concert). He took much time signing autographs, taking pictures and talking, and this was just with the players after rehearsals! His big heart comes to you very naturally. Then, musically what I felt was that finally, someone gets all the tempos and transitions right! As a player, you do this music with so many conductors, and not all of them are prepared, so the tempo relationships are off and Williams’ transitions are harder than they look on paper—conductors don’t usually go back and listen to the movie and how things work in context. It was a magical night I will never forget, and the house was packed to the gills. He is coming to conduct us again this June, and my plan is to ask him to sign my trombone bell. It’s my favorite one and I’ll never sell it, and it might wear off, but it will always be there to remind me of one of the all-time best composers for brass. That’s if he is ok with signing it. So we’ll see. KE: What advice do you have for someone wanting to follow in your path? RC: Work hard, make sure you love it, persevere, get better a little every week, be patient, be observant as to what other things interest you in life and pursue them also, be kind to everyone of your colleagues, learn from the best and emulate their artistry and professional behavior, and have faith in your future, pour the foundation correctly. We can contribute beautiful, usable things to this world, things that are valuable to our fellow man, and this can be connected to all good things in our society that ennoble and edify the great human family over time. Special thanks to Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s bass trombonist, Randy Campora for his time and sharing his story. Photo taken by Randy of first trombonist Joseph Rodriguez with The Maestro during a break. The orchestras view during the rehearsal.
  3. Some of you in the Los Angeles area might be interested in attending this concert of the Pacific Symphony conducted by Andre Previn October 19-21, 2017 PREVIN: Almost an Overture (West Coast premiere) MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 9, K. 271 RACHMANINOFF: Symphony No. 2 https://www.pacificsymphony.org/tickets/concert/mozart_rachmaninoff/15742 Andre Previn is one of JW's oldest friends and the one who suggested the use of the London Symphony Orchestra for Star Wars. Previn was music director of the LSO at the time and JW and he were old friends & colleagues from the early studio days. Legend has it that Previn tried to get JW to ditch film music and become a "serious composer and concert conductor". Previn himself wrote over 50 film scores and earned four oscars for these scores before becoming an acclaimed full time concert composer and conductor. These days, the 87 year old Previn is quite frail and mostly wheelchair bound so this might be one of our last opportunities to see him in concert and also features a west coast premiere of an overture of his.
  4. Conductor Neville Marriner, who led the Academy of St Martin in the Fields to become one of the world's most-recorded classical music groups, has died, the academy said Sunday. He was 92. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/oct/02/sir-neville-marriner-obituary
  5. IF YOU'VE COME HERE TO DISCUSS THE NATURE OF PLAGIARISM VS. HOMAGE, THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT THREAD! TURN BACK NOW, NOW I SAY!!! There, I said it. Now let's have a nice little thread about things in Williams that sound like other things you've heard. (Obvious ones encouraged, even ones many of us already know. Think of this as a reference catalogue for us JWFanners.) If possible, YouTube videos with timestamps would be best (and titles for the videos in the post as well since they may well disappear from YouTube at some point). Go!
  6. For me it was the Two-Part invention n° 8 in F Major by J.S. Bach, first heard in the ColecoVision Video Game "Looping" (1983) Each time I arrived at the final level of the game and the music started, I found it superb. It's much later that I've discovered that it was a piece of Johann Sebastian Bach. This piece and the Brandebung Concerto n° 3 discovered on the cult "Switched-On Bach" LP made me a Bach fan for life.
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