Filling and Containing

Communicating musical thoughts with language has always been fascinating and problematic, particularly when we try to speak about sound; or is tone the right word? No matter what words we use, they fall short of describing the sound we’re thinking. Of course, this is a more serious problem when trying to express sound with words between countries in different languages, but the problem exists even from city to city and instrument group to instrument group.

For teachers particularly, this can be a problem when we try to convey sonic concepts with words that will enable a student to clearly understand. Let’s take the example of a “full sound.” Is that the same as a “contained sound?” In the brass world we speak frequently about filling the horn. What does that mean? Is that the same as a contained sound?

And, as a student develops and faces the decision of choosing equipment (a horn), this concept of “filling the horn” and “containing the sound” has to be addressed, but how? We have to be very careful to guide the student to an instrument that sounds beautiful and that is proportional to his or her physiology.

This idea of filling and containing has always been a difficult concept to teach but here is an image which seems to have achieved a 100% success in conveying the idea. Filling a horn and containing the sound are very similar to a woman filling a bra and containing the breast.

We have all seen or at least it’s easy to imagine a woman wearing a bra that is too big for her. The breast just doesn’t fill the bra and the bra appears unsmooth and wrinkled. Sweaters don’t look great under this circumstance! In a way it’s sad. Probably, she would like to be able to fill that bra but she can’t. With this image in mind we all can easily see the similarity with a brass player who is trying to play equipment he or she can’t fill. Further, we can all imagine the beauty of a breast that is supported and contained with a bra that fits perfectly. It appears that every student understands and can translate this image into filling and containing sound!

Of course, we can pad and shape our tone to some degree with our mouthpiece selection, but the most beautiful results always come with equipment we can handle, like a firm yet supple marriage of the right bra for the breast nature has provided. Whether it be the abundance of a well endowed Wagnerian soprano or the subtle imperceptible protrusions of a Vogue model, the beauty is there, and the happy women is the one who has accepted what she’s got.

Like bras, there are different horns for different occasions. I’m not sure, but I’ve heard women wear different bras for different occasions.

Just a didactic divertissement on a Sunday afternoon, music and breasts are wonderful things.

Lausanne, Switzerland - December 2003

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