Discovering Takashi Yoshimatsu

I have a friend who, when he played percussion in the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, sent me a CD (Chandos 9960) of works by the Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu. It contains his Symphony No. 4, Atom Hearts Club Suite No. 1, and Trombone Concerto ‘Orion Machine’ (performed by Ian Bousfield). I already had a different recording of the Trombone Concerto (Camerata 30CM-354), excellently played by Yoshiki Hakoyama, so it was nice to compare the two performances. And I just love the Symphony No. 4. Yoshimatsu’s works are tonal, neo-romantic, and inspired by elements of nature, both earthly and celestial. He is also influenced by jazz and popular music, which are often juxtaposed with more traditional classical influences. His Atom Hearts Club Suite is a good example of this:

The suite combines elements from four sources: The Beatles’ masterpiece Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which draws on all kinds of music, from classic to rock; Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Tarkus, a great progressive-rock work of the 1970s; Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother; and Fragile by Yes. These have then been shaken using the 100,000 horsepower of Osamu Tezuka’s comic-book hero Mighty Atom (a.k.a. Astro Boy). There are four movements: the first is a progressive-rock-style Allegro molto in irregular time, the second a mysterious Andante in ballad style, the third a paramour’s Scherzo, while the fourth rounds the suite off in slapstick boogie-woogie style. – Takashi Yoshimatsu

Not every composer who tries this is successful – it can sound contrived and, well, cheesy. Although Yoshimatsu’s works aren’t completely dairy-free, there are many moments where his stylistic amalgamations work quite well, and the Symphony No. 4 is one very tasteful example – I absolutely love it.

If you haven’t heard Yoshimatsu’s music, I encourage you to check it out.

CHAN 9960


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Blow-air-o: Practice Strategies for the trombone solo in Ravel’s Bolero

The trombone solo from Ravel’s Bolero is one of the most challenging excerpts in the entire orchestral repertoire, and one of the few excerpts that is required on every single orchestral trombone audition. This solo passage, lasting just 17 measures (see Figure 1), is notable for its high tessitura, especially the repeated high D-flat in measures 5 and 6. More than just being able to hit the notes, the trombonist must be able to play this passage with precision, delicacy and style.

Figure 1. The solo trombone passage from Ravel’s Bolero:

Bolero Complete

The practice and successful performance of this excerpt requires the efficient use of breath and physical gestures, and mental quietness. Because this passage begins well into the piece (after about 7 minutes of waiting) and starts on a high B-flat, the trombonist can be susceptible to an undesirable degree of physical tension that accompanies mental uncertainty or anxiety. This can be mitigated by effective preparation. To this end, I suggest several methods for practicing this excerpt that allow the performer to target different sections in a variety of ways that focus on specfic technical and musical elements.

Octave Transfer

To begin the passage with confidence, first establish good tone production on an easy note, such as the B-flat one octave lower. Play the most beautiful middle B-flat ever heard, striving for a tone colour appropriate for the character of the work. Then, while keeping the embouchure set for a middle B-flat – indeed, without changing anything other than the tongue level – play the high B-flat just as beautifully (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Exercise to establish good tone production on beginning note:

Bb repeated

This concept can be applied to the first 8 measures in sections. To begin, try the first measure alone, followed by the first phrase up to the E in measure 4 (see Figure 3). Then isolate the next section, measures 4-8, and finally measures 1-8 together. It is important that all practiced elements, including the lower octave, be played with the same character and style that one would use in performance.

Figure 3. Measures 1-4 one octave lower:

Ms 1-4 8vb

Chunking and Looping

There is benefit to isolating certain figures and repeating them, for the purpose of reinforcing the technical and musical gestures. For example, create a pattern by playing the opening four beats and repeating back to the beginning (see Figure 4). This type of pattern repetition (or looping) will help the performer work on the first measure without always having to begin “cold”, and allows some repetition of the glissando between beats 4 and 5. It may be helpful to conceive of this particular pattern in 4/4.

Figure 4. Isolating and looping the first 4 beats:

opening bar repeated


It is very important to play this excerpt with rhythmic accuracy. There are several instances where a note is tied into the downbeat, and the next articulated note comes on the 2nd sixteenth-note or the 2nd eighth-note of the beat (see measures 1, 3, 5, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16 in Figure 1). This type of figure can be problematic; many performers are often late coming off of the tied note, especially on a sixteenth note. Practicing the passages with 16th note subdivisions is a very useful tool for ensuring their rhythmic accuracy, and provides a good foundation for the eventual mental subdivision required in performance (see Figure 5). This strategy can be applied equally well to measures 9-17 (leaving the single triplet figure in measure 10 intact – see Figure 6). Remember to keep the tongue light, and the slide arm relaxed and efficient.

Figure 5. Measures 1-4 subdivided:

Ms 1-4 subdivided

Figure 6. Measures 9-17 subdivided:

Ms 9-16 subdivided


While trombonists normally strive to avoid glissandi when they play, the technique can be used as a practice tool to establish good air flow, to open up the sound, and to work on smooth connections between notes. Play measures 9-17, for example, tonguing only the first note after each breath, allowing glissandi to occur (along with natural slurs), with the goal of keeping the air flowing continuously, without pulsation, through the phrase. This air pattern becomes a model which is then applied to the passage, played again using normal tonguing. The performer should find that the passage has become easier after having established a more efficient air flow when using the glissando.

This method can also be used to improve slide technique. Again, without tonguing, allow the glissandi to occur, but with the goal of minimizing its effect through fast slide action. This establishes a more rhythmic impulse to the slide arm by shifting the responsibility for rhythmic integrity away from the tongue. After having reinforced the importance of a rhythmic slide, the passage should be noticeably cleaner when repeated with normal tonguing.

Expanding the limits

As previously mentioned, the high tessitura of this passage is one of the biggest challenges for the trombonist. A very effective technique for mastering any skill is to expand one’s limits. If a performer has practiced skills that go beyond what is normally required, than the required skills become much easier. With this in mind, try playing the opening 8 measures one semitone higher, one wholetone higher, etc. (see Figure 7). Regardless of the outcome, returning to the actual pitches is guaranteed to seem easier!

Figure 7. Measures 1-8 one tone higher:

Ms 1-8 tone higher

The practice techniques described above will help the trombonist better prepare the Bolero solo for performance or audition. With imagination, these (and many other) techniques can be applied to the practice of any other piece of music. Effective practicing is intelligent practicing. Haphazard or non-directed practicing reinforces undesirable habits. By devising thoughtful practice methods that target specific concepts or techniques, the performer can make efficient use of practice time, establish good habits, and derive great satisfaction from making music!

Recommended Reading

de Alcantara, Pedro. 1997. Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Sorensen

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Green tip: Make your own foam soap (and save $!)

When choosing hand soap for a family with kids, foam soap is the way to go. Bar soap makes a slimy, gunky mess of the soap dish, while liquid soap seems to trail a stringy mess all over the dispenser and the sink. With foam soap, you get the right amount of lather in the palm of your hand with one pump of the dispenser; no drips, no gunk.

The problem with foam soap, however, is that a bottle doesn’t last long – about one week in our house. And at $3/bottle, the expense adds up, and means a lot of bottles tossed in the recycle bin.

Buying eco-pak refills is a good option, both economically and environmentally, allowing you to re-use a single dispenser that you fill as needed from the eco-pak (1 eco-pak refill will provide about 3 bottles of soap). But, there’s an even better option. You may know foam soap’s fancy sounding main ingredient aqua by its more common name: water. This got me thinking: how much actual soap is in there, and could I make my own by diluting regular liquid soap with water? After some experimenting, I discovered that it actually takes very little liquid soap to make a batch of foam soap, and it works quite well! Here’s the simple recipe I use for a 300 ml container:

First, you will need a special foam soap dispenser (which aerates the soap, making it foam). You can buy this on its own, or you can just buy a bottle of foam soap and reuse the container once it’s empty.

Add 40 ml of liquid soap to the empty dispenser (notice in the photo below how little soap is needed). To avoid bubbling, gently top up with water (260 ml), cap it, and then shake to mix. There, you’re done. Tip: warm water dissolves the soap faster.

It takes very little soap to make a batch of foam soap.

It takes very little soap to make a batch of foam soap.

Our soap of choice is the BioLife liquid hand soap 1-litre (1000 ml) eco-pak, available at Shoppers Drug Mart for $6.99 (but any liquid hand soap will do). Using 40 ml for one recipe, that’s 25 bottles of foam soap from 1 eco-pak. Compare that with buying 25 bottles of foam soap at $3 each – that’s $75!! (not to mention 25 bottles in the recycle bin).

1 refill = 25 bottles.

1 refill = 25 bottles.

In our house – a family of 4, with fairly regular hand-washing (I also use it as my shaving cream!) – the eco-pak lasts about half a year. Good for the wallet and good for the environment!

– Saving the Earth one soap at a time.

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Call for scores – The Canadian Trombone Project

Are you a Canadian composer who has written for solo trombone (with any accompaniment), trombone ensemble, or chamber ensemble featuring the trombone? If so, I would like to include information about your work in my Canadian Trombone Project – an internet database that will increase the exposure of your music for trombone! This will be an indispensable resource that allows performers, educators and students to discover and learn about any work in the Canadian trombone repertoire, which will result in more frequent performances of this music, and perhaps even stimulate the composition of new works.

Make sure your work is included!

Eligibility: Any Canadian citizen (by birth or naturalization), or permanent resident (i.e., landed immigrant).

Contact: Please provide information via the submission form here:
or send information and/or scores by email to dale[at]islandtrombone[dot]com.

Even if you think I probably know about your work already, please contact me anyway. I would like to have your contact information if I need more details.

Additional information: This project is an extension of my research for the DMA program in performance at the University of Toronto, where my dissertation will be an annotated bibliography of Canadian solo trombone music. This resource is being created in conjunction with a searchable internet database that will be continually updated to include recently composed and discovered solo, chamber and ensemble works for trombone. I am hoping to find every Canadian trombone piece ever composed! For more information, please visit

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Dear Grammie (a letter inspired by the Charlottetown Festival Orchestra cuts)

Dear Grammie,

Hope you’re enjoying the Holidays! The celebrations must be incredible where you are.

I know it’s only been a week since I last wrote, but a lot has happened since then. I’m sure you’ve been following all the news over the proposed cuts to the orchestra at the Charlottetown Festival. We’re not sure yet who is going to be cut. I guess it depends on the directions the orchestrator is given. Our worry is that it could affect more than just six of us. Rather than being told to cut six specific instruments, the orchestrator may simply be instructed to create an orchestration for 13, in which case he could just as easily write for a completely different set of instruments. There is talk of using electronic keyboards; I know that would drive you crazy! Anyway, we’re going to try not to let the stress of this news interfere with our enjoyment of the Holidays. The Christmas show must go on!

The whole thing has gotten me thinking, reminiscing about when I first started playing the trombone. I remember practicing in the living room while you were reading. I could always tell when you pretended to keep reading, but weren’t really paying any attention to your book. I especially remember when I played “Pomp and Circumstance” how your eyes would well up with tears. I never did get around to asking what it was about the music that moved you so. Although I couldn’t have explained it then, I realize now that your response was my introduction to the emotional power of music. It’s something that has stuck with me ever since, something I experience every time I perform, or when I listen to music myself.

Just last week I played a concert for some school kids. You wouldn’t believe the cheers after every piece. After it was over they swarmed the stage, asking for our autographs. One boy even wanted me to sign his sneaker! Ha ha, that reminds me of one time when I left through the stage door after an Anne performance, and this sweet little girl asked me for my autograph. Her mom said, “Oh, he’s just a musician.” Can you believe it?! The girl wanted my autograph anyway, but her mom dragged her off in search of bigger fish. It’s such a shame that some people grow up and forget how to feel the magic of music.

Anyway, our kids have certainly been bitten by the music bug. I can’t remember if I already told you that Alexandra started playing violin this year, and is still singing up a storm. Bailey’s been asking for a guitar for Christmas, and he has recently learned to whistle (and does it non-stop!). You should hear him! Alex and I went to hear the Toronto Symphony together. The sound of their 80-piece orchestra sent chills up my spine. Alex got so caught up in the music that I had to tap her arm because I was afraid her physical rapture would disturb some of the other patrons! I love seeing the joy music brings to their lives. They are aware of what’s going on with the Charlottetown Festival, and understand, but we are trying to shield them from the fallout as much as we can. Such sweet kids; I wish they could have known you.

Grammie, every day I remember your words encouraging me to follow my dreams, no matter what obstacles get thrown in my path. Every hurdle I face makes me more determined to live up to those inspirational words.

Here’s hoping you have the best Christmas ever! We miss you so much.


P.S. I don’t know how it works up there, but if you happen to know Norman Campbell, please tell him we’re doing our best to look out for him and his music. He must be going crazy looking down at all this nonsense, but at the same time he must also be overwhelmed by how many people have spoken up in support of protecting the legacy of his music. Please give him my best.

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Orchestra cuts to save money: Really? A closer look

Confederation Centre CEO Jesse Inman has stated that cutting 6 positions from the Charlottetown Festival Orchestra will save “in excess of $100,000 per season”. This is an exaggeration that is unfortunately being quoted as accurate by the media, so let’s start by correcting this amount:

The base pay for an orchestra musician is $870 per week. The upcoming season is 13 weeks long (and this is about average). Here’s my math: $870 X 6 people X 13 weeks = $67,860. Add 10% pension: $74,646.

It is true that some people make more than the base rate. There is extra pay for the librarian, the union steward, the leader, etc. This increases the average rate of pay, but you can’t calculate savings by using the average rate, because the higher-paid positions (librarian, union steward, leader, etc.) will still be required, no matter what the instrumentation.

Now, let’s look at the financial ramifications of re-orchestrating. There are the costs of paying for the re-orchestration, and for the copying of the orchestral parts (both of which will be substantial) – but I am going to ignore that, because these are not ongoing costs; they are one-time up-front costs.

But, a reduction in the number of musicians will actually cause some increased on-going costs. First, any orchestrator, no matter how skilled, is going to have to find creative ways of getting around the restrictions imposed by writing for limited resources (cf. my analogy of limiting the lighting designer to 1/3 of their colour spectrum). One of the ways to accomplish this is to ask musicians to “double” (play more than one instrument) in order to add back some of the missing colours. The union rates for doubling are an extra 50% for the first double, plus 25% for each subsequent double. In Hairspray, for example, which used a smaller orchestra (15 musicians), three of the musicians played four instruments each. With three doubles, those three musicians were each making twice the base rate.

If three musicians are being paid twice as much, we have just reduced the projected savings by exactly half. We are now down to $37,323 saved.

Incidentally, doubling is still an artistic compromise because the doublers can’t play two instruments at once, so all of those colours aren’t available all of the time.

The next step the orchestrator will take to deal with the limited instrumental resources is to incorporate the use of technology, such as synthesizers, to try to replace some of the missing orchestral colours. I’ve already written about the artistic compromise of this approach, but extra technology also comes with increased financial costs.

Unlike the cost of the re-orchestration, added technology is not a one-time cost. Because technology is constantly changing, new gear must always be purchased or rented in order to stay current. In Hairspray, for example again, three keyboards were used, and they couldn’t be just any keyboard; they had to be a certain Kurzweil model, and those keyboards had to be rented for the entire run of the production (including the cast rehearsal period). In addition, keyboards must be programmed with the correct sounds. Someone has to spend time doing this, and their time costs money. And guess what else? Keyboard players automatically receive payment of an extra 25% per keyboard – not per person, PER KEYBOARD.

This increased use of technology also breeds the need for more technology. Sound technicians will tell you that sampled sounds are extremely difficult to mix (they describe the sound as “dead, lifeless, and inert”, not to mention the tuning issues and articulation incompatibilities that arise when paired with acoustic instruments). The three keyboards in Hairspray created quite a challenge in sound production: how to create an environment in the pit where everyone can hear all of the instruments, but at a volume where the sound technician has control over the final mix. In the Hairspray situation, individual headphone monitor systems were rented and provided for each musician. This required a dedicated sound board in the pit (Cost: more gear) and an extra sound technician to control the monitors (Cost: wages for one extra crew).

Is anyone keeping track of the savings…?

As contractor of the orchestra for Hairspray, I can tell you that the cost of music for that production (including both musicians’ fees and added technology costs) was actually more than that for Anne of Green Gables…

I have taken the stance that audiences are more discerning than implied by the Charlottetown Festival, who seem to think that nobody will notice the difference in the music played by a decimated orchestra. If I allow that some audience members really won’t notice – that they are completely oblivious – I then also have to allow that some audience members really WILL notice, and I have indeed heard from many audience-goers about how importantly the music contributes to their experience of the musical. We then must expect that some of our audience will be disappointed and won’t return to see the show again. Cost: lost ticket sales. And there is NO chance that a reduction to the orchestra will, in and of itself, attract any new patrons.

Now, there is one more hidden cost about which details are sketchy. Elaine Campbell, lyricist, and wife of Norman, the composer of the music for Anne of Green Gables, established The Norman Campbell Legacy Fund: Anne of Green Gables-The Musical Endowment, which was “created to support the cost of the live orchestra, which is the foundation of the distinctively rich sound that defines the music of Anne of Green Gables”. What happens to the endowment if the orchestra is gutted? Will the Campbell heirs then withdraw their support?

Do we really still think that these cuts will save money for the Charlottetown Festival? Does the paltry amount saved, if any, really justify the cost to the artistic quality of the show? Surely there is a better way to save money, and at the same time save the integrity of the production and the reputation of the Confederation Centre as “one of Canada’s premier live theatre houses” that “showcases the best in Canadian visual and performing arts”.

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Why the orchestra matters

In my previous post about the proposed cuts to the Anne of Green Gables orchestra, and also in my radio interview on CBC this morning, there is one thing that I feel I have not been articulating clearly enough. The Charlottetown Festival says that reducing the orchestra by 1/3 will have no negative impact on the quality of the musical. This is a delusional statement at best, if not downright deceptive, and here’s why:

Let me make some analogies, in an attempt to better get my point across:

Imagine telling the artistic director that she has to make do with 1/3 of the cast. She gets to keep Anne, of course, and Matthew and Marilla, etc., but Mrs. Blewett really has to go. In fact, that whole Mrs. Blewett scene is really not essential to the story. And hey, come to think of it, neither the stationmaster nor Earl the mailman is really necessary either. Sure, those characters may not be essential, but they add DEPTH to the story, and contribute to a richer experience for the audience.

Now imagine that the lighting designer is told they can only use 1/3 of the colour spectrum. They get to keep the blue and the green, but sorry, no red anymore. The thing is, without red, they no longer have yellow either, because yellow is made from the combination of red and green. Sure, it’s still light enough on stage – you can still SEE all that you need to see – but something is missing: depth of colour.

And this is exactly why an orchestra cut by 1/3 is unacceptable. Musicians refer to the different instruments in an orchestra as “orchestral colours”. Each individual instrument has their own colour, but just like primary visual colours, the combination of those colours in different ways creates even more colours and shades. Playing with 13 musicians instead of 19 is exactly like taking colours away from the lighting designer. Sure, there are still enough musicians to play all the notes in a chord – you can still HEAR all the notes you need to hear – but something is missing: musical depth of colour.

And what about the “contemporary changes” artistic director Anne Allen mentions in yesterday’s press release? Does she mean electronic technology? That’s sure what it sounds like to me. Let me make another analogy:

Imagine that this year they decide to use a painted mural of a buggy instead of the real thing. Sure, you can’t actually sit in it, but it looks great, doesn’t it? But something is missing: depth, the 3rd dimension.

I bet you can see where this is going. Let’s replace the strings with a synthesizer. Sounds almost as good as the real thing, doesn’t it? But something is missing, something only a human can bring to an instrumental sound: depth of expression, the musical 3rd dimension, the ability to caress a phrase, to add warmth to the tone, to articulate a note with varying degrees of softness, to infuse passion into a musical line. And isn’t that what music/musical theatre/the Arts is all about: giving expression to that which is uniquely human.

I also believe that Anne audiences are smart enough to notice that something is missing, and I think it is very condescending to imply otherwise. Some of them may not be able to articulate it in so many words, but they will notice. They will notice because an orchestra of fewer players lacks depth of colour, and electronic sounds lack depth of expression. How can this not be a compromise to the “integrity of the score” – a compromise that will contribute to a “lesser experience” for the audience?

Posted in Life on PEI, Music | 8 Comments