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 Post subject: Orchestral Brass: How Loud is too Loud?
PostPosted: Fri Dec 22, 2006 9:04 pm 
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In recent years, brass instrument manufacturing has become more and more refined, thus allowing players to customize their instruments to best suit their styles of playing. This has, in turn, allowed for greater volumes to be reached on any instrument without the sound breaking up or becoming distorted. Couple this with the extremely strong chops of a modern orchestral brass player and it seems one has an almost lethal combination.

So, now, when a player gets a fortisstissimo section in a Tcahikovsky or Shostakovich piece (just to name a couple) that player can literally achieve that volume level. Now, as an audience member, I will admit that this certainly does generate a more exciting performance; but at what expense?

Nowadays, players directly in front of the brass are being forced to place Plexiglas shields in the "line of fire" to avoid permanent ear damage. Some even resort to wearing earplugs. These devices may prevent certain health risks but they can also greatly affect a group's performance.

Earplugs and Plexiglas shields "dull" the sound of a brass instrument to the person sitting in front of the player. However, they can also make what they're hearing seem extremely flat or sharp in pitch. This could potentially throw off the entire orchestra's balance as each section tries to adjust to each other.

I've noticed this big and robust brass playing is most evident in American symphonies (as opposed to the great European symphonies such as the London Phil.) So why don't the brass players just back off a little and aim for a big and glorious sound that may just be a little quieter?

So what are everyone's thoughts on this topic? Do you want the brass to continue this loud playing trend and generate more exciting performances? Or would you like to see (hear) them back off (for the sake of the woodwinds’ ears :twisted: ) ?


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 22, 2006 10:31 pm 
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Bah, who need woodwinds? :P I kid, I kid...

Me, I like it when it is good. Take for example my reordings of Jupiter from "The Planets" by Holst. I have 3 versions (4 if you want to count the 4 hand, 1 piano version) of that movement. One is by the LA Phil, one by the LSO and one by the Berlin Phil. The LA Phil is the London Decca recording from the mid 70s I think. The LSO one is from the LSO Live Collection and the Berlin one is from the new CD by them of the Planets. I LOVE the LA Phil rendition with the loud Horn intro and the big brass sound. It is very Grandioso feeling. Very youthful. Like someone bringing Joy. The LSOs rendition also brings the same feeling along, but at a slightly depressed tempo. Still good, just lacks the joyful feeling of the LA Phil IMO. And then there was the big letdown in the Berlin recording. The horn intro is very well played, but it blends almost too much into the string sound IMO.

That passage is one that sounds better a bit on the edge and letting the 6 horns come out and show a little on the unison passage.

Really, I think it depends on the music. Jupiter is one where the brass should be a little more dominant that the strings. Now, something like Appalachian Spring should have a more subdued brass sound. I have one recording where a Trombone pulls a RHT (a Ryan H. Turner - sticks out/too loud :P) and sounds kinda funny to me. I like the recording, but that one part is just a little odd to me. But the recording is supposedly conducted by Copland himself, so, I guess that is what is wanted.

Well, that is my thoughts on it. Remember, these are the observations of an 18 year old that has take Music Theory and Music Appreciation/History. Please take that into account.

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 Post subject: Re: Orchestral Brass: How Loud is too Loud?
PostPosted: Sun Dec 24, 2006 1:00 pm 
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Harsona42 wrote:
Nowadays, players directly in front of the brass are being forced to place Plexiglas shields in the "line of fire" to avoid permanent ear damage. Some even resort to wearing earplugs. These devices may prevent certain health risks but they can also greatly affect a group's performance.

I disagree. Studio orchestras and ensembles recording film scores have worn headphones/earplugs for years. Quality earplugs can reduce sounds across the aural spectrum a similar amount of decibels to as not distort the sound.

And believe me, brass sections like the legendary Chicago SO or the NY Philharmonic under Bernstein were putting out huge volume WAY before the modern improvements in brass instrumentation.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 26, 2006 11:01 pm 
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Well I wasn't really considering studio orchestras when I initially posted, although that is a legitimate point. However, as you said, most of the time, everyone in the studio orchestras are wearing headphones which, I'm assuming, is allowing them to hear the ensemble as a whole while they are playing. So, there would be no need to worry about a player not being able to listen and adjust because of an over-excited brass player.

Interesting point about the earplugs. I didn't realize earplug technology was that advanced... :oops:

I know that brass players have been playing at extremely high volumes for quite some time and I've heard some pretty old recordings of the groups you mentioned. What I meant was the modern equipment has made it extremely easier to produce larger volumes. For example, the current principal trombonist of the Chicago Symphony, Jay Friedman, plays on a dual bore .547/.562 slide. Not too long ago it would have been obscene for any tenor trombone player to play on that size. He also plays on a cereal bowl sized mouthpiece and has an extra thick bell. All this allows him to play louder without sound distortion.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 22, 2007 2:35 am 
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Too loud is whatever the conductor deems it to be.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 28, 2007 9:38 pm 
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when the person's ears in front of you erupt in a bloody mess and they start convulsing due to internal hemmoraging. that's when you know you've almost hit the limit...

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 28, 2007 10:16 pm 
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Ex Nihilo wrote:
when the person's ears in front of you erupt in a bloody mess and they start convulsing due to internal hemmoraging. that's when you know you've almost hit the limit...

Almost being the operative word.

I've played Fanfare for the Common Man with the USC Concert Band and that was truly awesome. Their horns were so loud it actually did make my ears hurt during their opening passage. The trombones weren't any quieter either. ;)

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 4:26 pm 
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too loud is when you have to back off to hear anything other then your own sound. Just right is when you can here the Horns over all the other brass. Ha HA. :lol:

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 9:06 pm 
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As I tuba player who has played with at least 15 different orchestras, I have played for conductors who couldn't get enough of me ("Louder, tuba, louder!") to the ones who wish the composer never wrote a tuba part for the piece (there was the guy who complained I was too loud during a movement from a Tchaikovsky symphony I had marked TACIT and I was in the bathroom at the time!)

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