Area bands should sound “fuller” playing their Michigan Band and Orchestra Association festival programs the first week in March after Southwestern Michigan College’s inaugural Clinic Day on Valentine’s Day.
Musicians practiced breathing techniques with clinician Dr. Alex Kaminsky, VanderCook College of Music Director of Bands since 2019. He previously directed high school bands for 30 years, coming to Chicago from Margory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Eau Claire High School Band, Bridgman High School Band, Niles Brandywine High School Band, Dowagiac Union High School Chieftain Concert Band and Berrien Springs High School’s Concert Band and Wind Symphony participated, with host Mark Hollandsworth’s SMC Symphonic Band also performing at the event Quinlan and Fabish Music Co. sponsored.
Berrien Springs Director of Bands Kelly Rosselit was “impressed and pleased” by the clinic. “I brought my group because I wanted them to have a chance to perform on a stage before their actual festival day.”
“This opportunity also allowed my students to get a chance to work with a fine conductor/teacher and to hone their tone and intonation skills,” Rosselit said. “I felt my Concert Band’s sound and volume improved immensely in the 40 minutes Mr. Kaminsky worked with them. The Wind Symphony didn’t need help with tone production, so Mr. Kaminsky isolated important intonation and instrument tendencies with them. Mr. Kaminsky made both groups sound more confident and powerful. I am thankful for his work with them and for Mr. Hollandsworth’s organization of the day.”
“Breathing is a good way to relax your muscles, so there is no tension when you play,” Kaminsky said. “When you pour water into an empty pitcher, it fills from the bottom up. That’s how we’re going to fill our lungs. Whether you sit on the edge of the chair or all the way back, your back has to be completely vertical. There’s no way to expand the rib cage without being as straight as possible. Nice, tall spines!”
“In 30 years of teaching high school band, even the best young players all had the same issue — tension,” Kaminsky said. “Trumpets playing G above the staff tried to play without enough air and would be pinched and a little sharp. Same thing with clarinets on high C. I kept thinking, ‘The kids don’t know how to put air through the horn’ until I figured out that’s not the issue.”
“The issue is we’re not taught how to breathe deeply enough to fill up our lungs,” Kaminsky said. “We’re not getting enough air into our lungs to get air into our horns. To get rid of all your air in 12 counts, you have to move it faster. Clarinets, saxophones, your pitch is going to go flat because you have to open up space for your reed to vibrate. Brass and flutes, you have the opposite issue. Intonation goes sharp. Move the mouthpiece further from your mouth. Trumpet player Wynton Marsalis talks about ‘blowing the horn off his face’ when he plays. Flutes, aim the air down.”
“No matter how soft you’re going to play,” Kaminsky said, “always take a fortissimo (loud) breath.”