birthday trip and presents

2015-06-22 OTARU AND SAPPORO, JAPAN -- For my birthday this year (which is also the 1st anniversary of my trumpet playing) we took a weekend trip to Otaru, a seaside city less than an hour west by train. We visited their aquarium and relaxed at a hotel with a 24-hour private furo-style bath. On our way back I got a birthday present!

Otaru aquarium (a private institution) is located on the seaside with outdoor seawater pools for seals, sea lions, walruses, dolphins, and penguins. Indoor fish tanks hold local fish as well as species from various parts of the world. Near the aquarium (shown on the upper right corner of the picture) is the Hiyoriyama lighthouse, the oldest and still operational lighthouse on Hokkaido island.

The aquarium animals appear content. Ill or handicapped individuals are kept in separate pools so that they need not compete for food. Blindness is common with age, we learned.

hotel is a short steep climb (16 percent gradient) from the aquarium. It is located 70 meters above sea level, which is the same as our house in Oregon, except we are several blocks away, and the slope is gentler.

We had our own private furo-style bath. Because the water was somewhat lukewarm, we could bathe for as long as we wished.

At 19:18 Japan time, we viewed a sunset from the cliff above the sea. I practiced trumpet. My trumpet teacher
John Bringetto told me to practice every day. This was my first time practicing outdoors.

The following afternoon we returned to Sapporo, where at the
Yamaha music center my new instrument was waiting. I tested it in a soundproof room at the store. Noriko and Maki (the salesperson, who is also a French horn player) said that my current instrument sounds brighter while my new instrument sounds deeper. Hmm ... I couldn't hear the difference from behind the bell. The 2 horns certainly blow different. The new horn needs more air. The old horn is noticeably heavier. This suggests my new horn is made of thinner material that may dent easily.

My expensive new toy is a
YTR-8310Z model designed by Yamaha in collaboration with Bobby Shew, the jazz trumpet player. Notice the difference from a regular 8310Z? Mine has 3 rings. A regular 8310Z has U-shaped saddles on the leadpipe and 1st valve slide. For that minor change I paid merely $30 extra and patiently waited 4 months.

My new Yamaha case (pictured on the left) looks classy, feels solid, and I'm glad to have it. It's probably made for people who drive, and carry multiple bags. It stores 2 trumpets top side up, but nothing else -- no music, no cleaning supplies, no audio recorder. My old case (pictured on the right) stores 1 trumpet laid flat on its side (which I don't like) but has room and pockets to carry a fair amount of gear. Plus it has straps for carrying on my back. I suspect that I'll use my old case to carry my horn, and use my new case to store my horns at home. We don't own a car in Japan.

rainy season in hokkaido

2015-06-04 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Who says Hokkaido has no rainy season? Of course it does. Yesterday's heavy rain stopped trains. Being unprepared is not necessarily evidence of being unexpected. Sapporo receives snow every winter, yet is woefully unprepared. To prevent icing, they should continuously sprinkle the roads with river water (the Toyohira river does not freeze) and let the water carry the melted snow back to the river. Divert the river water upstream, and return it downstream. That should remove snow as soon as it hits the ground, and also save money. Instead they spend millions of dollars carrying the snow to dump sites. Oh well, this is a city that took 200 years to build a weather-free passageway from the central train station to the downtown financial and shopping districts. The locals complain of the winter weather but do nothing about it.

Sadly I am also guilty of lethargic ignorance. As an academic and scientist it behooves me to confirm information. Yet for shame I learned only a few days ago that my interpretation of the scientific pitch notation was wrong. I am contrite that I assumed (without checking) that octave numbers increment when ascending from G to A. I now know that octave numbers change at the boundary between B and C.

That being said, below are 2 spectrograms (that is, images produced by spectrum analyzers) that visualized my practicing scales this morning. Most musicians swear by their metronomes. Many prefer a tuner as well. I too need both, but because I cannot judge my own sense of timing or pitch, I need another source of information. Spectrograms show each note's time duration (the horizontal length) and pitch height (the vertical position).
During trumpet practice, I use an iPad-mini, its built-in microphone, and the Audio Analyzer application.

In the following screenshots, the vertical axis shows frequency in kilohertz. The axis scale is placed on the right, because on this spectrum analyzer the origin of the x and y axes is at the lower right.

The horizontal axis shows time in seconds. The values should actually be negative, because the origin of 0 seconds is placed at the right edge, and all sound prior to that are in the past (e.g., 5 seconds ago, or -5 seconds). The designer of this software application does a few things differently from what I am accustomed to as a speech engineer.

Because the spectrum of trumpet sounds contains harmonics (also called partials), that is, the fundamental frequency (i.e., the lowest frequency that can be produced with a length of tubing) and its multiples, for each moment in time there are multiple harmonics spaced at integer multiples, stacked vertically on top of each other. In this chart, about 2 or 3 harmonics are visible. Generally speaking, harmonics for trumpets fade out in intensity above roughly 3 kHz. Thus you can say that trumpets, although they play high parts of music, are perfectly audible over a telephone (the audio bandwidth of a regular phone is between 300 and 3400 Hertz).

The cursor (the thin horizontal line running across the center of the spectrogram) marks 592 Hz, which is close to the 1st fundamental of E5 (the E on the 4th space on the treble clef). This is my natural, default pitch at the moment. Some people have lower or higher natural pitches. I expect mine to rise a bit further. If I recall correctly, John Bringetto told me his natural pitch is C6. Wow!

My trumpet (and those of all other beginning trumpet players, plus those of the vast majority of professional trumpet players) is a Bb (B-flat) transposing instrument; that is, when I play a C it sounds like a Bb on a piano. When I use a piano to tune I need to play the piano key that is one whole note below what I want on my horn. There are trumpets that are pitched in other keys, namely C (for orchestral playing), E and higher (to play higher notes).

Poorly played notes between C5 and Bb6. The unevenness of the time durations (that is, the horizontal lengths) of each note shows that I am insecure about how to play the next note. The notes having weak acoustic energy between harmonics were played clean (that is, with clear and compact tone), whereas notes with a lot of color markings between harmonics were played dirty (that is, with diffuse and airy tone).
150604_recording 4 IMG_0976

This spectrogram shows me playing the E major scale below my natural pitch of E5. Notes at or close below one's natural pitch are easier to play. The relative absence of colored markings between harmonics shows that I produced good tone. The time duration of each note is more uniform. Overall, I am doing much better (although far from perfect) than the notes I played in the spectrogram above.
150604_recording 10 IMG_0982

Even to the untrained eye the geometric symmetry of my second spectrogram should be an obvious clue to better performance. Astonishingly, spectrograms are rarely used in music schools. In fact I have read of and met musicians who knew nothing about spectral analysis. Maybe music schools accept only students who do not need spectrum analyzers. I envy them in that sense!

neil stalnaker performs at d-bop

2015-05-26 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Neil Stalnaker, a former navy bandsman who relocated to Japan, played his Besson trumpet at my favorite jazz spot D-Bop in Sapporo. Neil had studied in person with Carmine Caruso in New York. That made a connection to me because I play Caruso's "6 notes" and "seconds" every day.

Neil told me he had not warmed up that morning, and needed to ramp up his playing during his gig. His first song was pretty energetic. Steamy warmup!

What warmed me and the rest of the audience was that 2 middle school kids (who came with their parents) joined the stage and blasted away on the trombone and trumpet! The kids were awesome! If I could play half as good as them I would be ecstatic. The 5 adult musicians were kind and encouraging. Here are pictures of the members of the quintet, along with a flyer of the event.


trumpet clinic

2015-05-24 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- I attended my first trumpet clinic. Although I had read about trumpet clinics, this was my first hands-on experience.

A trumpet clinic is a one-time trumpet lesson, typically given by a well-known trumpet player who is touring the area. A parallel at a university would be a guest professor giving a one-time lecture and answering questions from students and professors of the host institution. Participants of clinics cannot claim to be students of clinicians -- that title is reserved for people who receive regularly scheduled instruction. For clinics, I suppose the apt term is attendee.

The guest professor today was
Shunzo Ohno, a soft-spoken gentleman who grew up in central Japan and has spent almost his entire professional career based in New York. Noriko (who missed the clinic as she is visiting her parents in Tokyo) is fascinated by Shunzo's biography. His experience with a lip injury somewhat parallels that of Louis Maggio.

Shunzo performed in downtown Sapporo yesterday evening. From the front row I watched him play. The clarity and purity of his sound captivated me. That's the tone I want! Maybe half an octave higher though, because that is where the center of my range is.

Although naturally I was eager to learn from Shunzo, I was rather apprehensive because I expected advanced amateurs to ask advanced questions, and I did not want to dilute the level of instruction by being a dunce. I was also scared that I might be asked to play in front of strangers.

In fact that did happen and I was in panic! My first public performance was a series of long tones that broke up before they left the bell!

Shunzo was kind and gentle and spent considerable time (perhaps 15 minutes out of the 120 minutes for class) to show me how to set the embouchure (don't fidget!) and play. He knows I live in Oregon so he switched to the English language to teach. Shunzo is clearly more at ease talking about trumpet in English than in Japanese. Much of the instruction Shunzo himself received was in the English language. He grew up in a working-class family, and he was self-taught in music until he moved to New York as a young man.

I am not sure what the rest of the audience felt with how Shunzo and I interacted. They were probably unhappy that I was wasting precious time. In my weak defense I might mention that the 11 other students were not entirely enthusiastic about asking questions. Shunzo was disappointed, and maybe that's why he was generously responsive to me when the group lesson period ended. He gave me extra personal teaching for quite some time afterwards. We also showed each other's trumpet bags. His is ultra-minimalistic. Mine is full of gear, ready to fight a war. Except I don't know how!

Flyer from Shunzo Ohno's performance in Sapporo.

Shunzo demonstrates lip buzzing, mouthpiece placement, and mouthpiece attachment.

Spectrogram of Shunzo's scales. Fast and clean! Even on my best day I cannot achieve this. The horizontal cursor at 591 Hz marks Bb trumpet E5 (concert D5). Shunzo excels in the lower and middle registers. He focuses on melody.

sake of the month club

2015-05-05 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Noriko and I joined a sake of the month club for the first time in our lives. This is not a serious commitment. We get 2 720-milliliter bottles of fresh sake delivered each month for merely 3 months. If we enjoy it, we might join again. We are not heavy drinkers. It took us 14 days to finish our 1st delivery of 2 bottles. Most people would finish a bottle in a single evening.