Playing music with style, Part 642

I got a note today from someone tackling Jonathan Russell’s Sonata for Bass Clarinet (a terrific piece — I’ve got to learn it myself one of these days).

Ariel writes:

Hi Michael, my name is Ariel and I have been a huge fan of yours for About 5 ish years now!! Anyway, I am a first year college student, and bass clarinet is my main instrument. (Yes I know how bad that is in the long run lol) My private’s instructor has asked me to audition for my school’s honors recital. The piece I am playing is Jonathan Russell’s Sonata for Bass Clarinet & Piano.

I am having so much trouble trying to get this stylistically interesting, and up to speed. The piece normally is about 90, but my goal temp is about 85. No mater how slow I take it and build it up, I personally don’t feel like I’m improving. The real trouble measures are from 109-126. Any tips on not sucking?

For those interested, here’s the link to the video where Jon is playing the section Ariel is talking about:


Here’s my reply:

Hi Ariel (nice name — it’s also my daughter’s)

Ah, Jon Russell’s piece! I love this tune. Okay, so the secret is to NOT TREAT IT LIKE AN ETUDE. I know it’s difficult, and I know you’re focusing on getting the notes out. But you have to remember it’s music and not an etude.

Here’s what I recommend, stylistically: accent the bottom notes of each figure a little bit (plus the notes where he writes an accent) and release the higher notes (don’t press into them). That will give you the “funkiness” of the passage, without sounding pedantic.

I hope this helps, and good luck!

For anyone playing something like this, I recommend first and foremost practicing it SLOWLY and making sure you put the accents in while you’re playing it under-tempo. If you learn the notes, and then “go back to learn the music stuff” then it’s too late. Do it all at the same time, accents, articulation, dynamics, style—the whole thing. That way, once you’ve got it up to tempo, you’ve got the whole thing ready to go!

If you’re interested, here’s where you can grab the music for yourself: http://jonrussellmusic.com/product/sonata-for-bass-clarinet-and-piano/

Michael