More in Common with the Timpani than I thought!

Discussion in 'EC Downloading' started by Derek Reaban, Jan 10, 2006.

  1. Derek Reaban

    Derek Reaban Mezzo Piano User

    Jun 16, 2005
    Tempe, Arizona

    I thought this was worth sharing. At my lesson last week, I talked with my instructor (Benny) about his New Year’s Eve gig (he was flown to China to play with the Shanghai Symphony at the new Shanghai Grand Theater. There was a player from the London Philharmonic (Nick Betts) in the section with him (which he really enjoyed), as well as key players from other major orchestras scattered throughout the ensemble. He said that he was sitting right in front of Rainer Seegers, who is the Principal Timpanist in the Berlin Philharmonic. While I had never heard of Rainer, Benny told me that he is one of the finest timpani players that he has ever heard!

    During meals, Benny said that he would have conversations with Rainer to pick his brain about how he achieves his marvelous sound. There are some really good (common) ideas here that I want to share.

    Rainer said the many times a conductor would ask for a different sound and would suggest using a harder mallet. He would set down his mallets, pretend to pick up a different set, and then use the set that he had been using, producing a completely different sound (satisfying the conductor). He said, “This is not an equipment issue. Many timpani players do not know what sound is going to come out of their instrument before they play. You must hear the sound in your head before you produce it and let your body produce that soundâ€. Sound familiar…

    This reminds me of a story that Kenny Werner tells about Bill Evans. There was a big celebration for Bill Evan’s 50th birthday. Lots of prominent piano players and students were there. There was a grand piano in the room that had a specific characteristic sound. Many great players would sit down to play and the piano sounded like everyone expected that it would. Eventually, Bill Evans was invited to play and he shared the keyboard with another player. Werner said that he was amazed at what he was hearing. When Evans was playing the bass line, the sound was jumping from the instrument while the treble sound was a little thin. After Evans switched places with the other player, the treble line took on new brilliance and clarity while there was something missing in the bass. Eventually, Evans played for the party alone, and the sound of the instrument was completely transformed to the sound of a Steinway B (I’m guessing that is the instrument he was known to play on).

    The sound (even for pianos and timpani) is clearly in the hands of the performer. Werner said that Bill Evans had shock absorbers for arms and could coax out very strong sounds, not because he was working hard, but because his fingers knew exactly where and when to go. He would practice “the minimumâ€, but within this minimum he would explore the material so completely, that he mastered it.

    Back to Rainer, when Benny asked him about music, Rainer said that when he performs music, “He does not perform for the conductor or the audience, he performs for the composerâ€. I thought that was a very interesting perspective. Benny went on to clarify that. He said Rainer’s Wife is an early music musician. To her Bach is modern music! Rainer said that to capture what the composer was trying to convey, you have to have a complete perspective about the music. Where is the fire in the music with respect to what came before it historically? Is it Italian, or German? Observing these subtle (or not so subtle) differences will lead to a great performance! (One of these days I’m going to finish those David Krauss notes that I took in 2004 – they’re still sitting in my practice room. He really nailed the subtle differences between German, Italian, and strict time in his talk).

    I wish that I could relate Benny’s excitement in words. This orchestra was just fantastic, and his conversations with Rainer were the high point of his trip.
  2. ecarroll

    ecarroll Artist in Residence Staff Member

    Jul 13, 2005

    Shanghai is a fun town. I did a 3 week residency at the conservatory there about 10 years ago and fell absolutely in love with Chinese traditional music.

    Your story reminds me of one Bud told me years ago involving Solti's insistence on a particular cornet for the solo movement (un Bal) in Symphonie Fantastique. Bud, as you know, didn't much care for conductors suggesting this or that to him, and he pulled the same trick by placing his C trumpet on the ground prior to the waltz and making sure Sir Georg saw him pick it up. Solti, naturally, waxed on about this being the "exact sound that he wanted", and "only achievable on that particular cornet".

    I'm sure Bud smiled and said entertaining things that only the bassoons could hear.

    The music comes from the musician, amigo. . . not the piece of plumbing (s)he is holding.

    Bang the drum slowly,
  3. Whataguy!

    Whataguy! Pianissimo User

    Jan 16, 2004
    Osaka, Japan
    Studio great, Tommy Tedesco, used to hide his guitar behind a stand and play oud, ukulele, etc. parts and NOBODY but the musicians next to him would know he was playing the guitar. In fact, Tommy fooled a great flamenco artist into believing he was playing flamenco guitar in the traditional way while using a pick. He always used to say sound we produce is what we hear in our heads, so what that tympanist said or what Bud Herseth used to do comes as no surprise. It just shows what we can do when we really understand what we hear.

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