Even the greatest symphony, played on the most expensive set of instruments, has to be in key.
Granted, tuning instruments is probably the least glamorous part of the musical process, but it’s the most essential.
So before the students at McMurry University’s weeklong Summer Band Camp could launch into an actual composition Monday afternoon, conductor Harry Blake led them in a long progression of tone-building exercises. Everyone in the room — from the flutes to the tubas — plays an F, then a B-flat, then they repeat the exercise section by section.
It’s not just a warm-up run through, either: Blake stops them again and again to fine-tune the sound until it closes in on perfection. Each note has to be immediate and pure.
“It should be like the world’s best stereo,” Blake told the group of their playing. “As soon as you turn it on, it should be instant.”
If this all sounds a bit persnickety, it’s because it has to be. Blake, currently bands director at Blinn College in Bryan, has been at this for nearly 50 years. And although he’s accumulated plenty of lessons of his own over the years, he’s just as quick to cite the wisdom of his fellow educators.
One of his colleagues, for example, once compared musical performance to athletics. Shoot 60 percent from the floor as a basketball player, he said, and you’re a performer of all-star caliber.
“But if a musician hits 60 percent of the notes, the audience gets up and leaves,” Blake said, laughing. “There’s no compromise here: either you play in tune or you play out of tune.”
McMurry’s Summer Band Camp, for students in middle and high schools, is all about providing those building blocks toward high-end playing, beginning at the foundations. The camp culminates in a free public performance, set to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at McMurry’s Radford Auditorium.
About 160 students are participating this year, according to camp director Keith Lloyd. That’s a bit down from previous years, but given that three-quarters of that group is staying in McMurry’s dorms this week, it’s more than enough.
“They actually told us we were running out of dorm rooms,” Lloyd said.
The first couple of days at the camp are always the craziest for Lloyd. On Monday, he and his team were still finalizing arrangements for camp T-shirts and trying to ensure that none of the young participants got lost on campus.
Blake, meanwhile, was working with the “honors” group of musicians, who achieved that label through auditions at the start of camp.
It’s his first year as an instructor at the camp, thanks to an invitation from his old acquaintance Danh Pham, McMurry’s band director. Blake never takes a summer off — he’s always working on new material for his school.
Again and again, he’s gotten drawn back into teaching music, even after a supposed retirement to Oregon a few years ago. Before he could even get fitted for his rocking chair, Blake was back to teaching high schoolers in Salem. The joy of it, he said, has been seeing countless students develop as individuals, as well as musicians.
“If they’re hungry to learn, just get out of their way,” Blake said.
- ‘Fantastic’ night at the Abilene Civic Center this Saturday
- Canadian Brass brings virtuosic verve to McMurry
- Punk Stalwarts X Discuss Playing Debut Album on Tour
- Disco, Dancing And Donna Summer: Academy To Screen “Thank God It’s Friday” in New York City Aug. 6
- Jazz doctors practice own brand of looseness
Posted in On-line Music | No Comments »