by Lauren Veronie
“March” from Second Suite in F by Gustav Holst is the one excerpt I have seen on every audition list I’ve ever encountered. It is also the wind band piece I’ve performed more than any other, and with good reason. Most conductors love to take a crack at this masterwork and euphonium players should always be at the ready to perform the famous solo. Even if you are not planning to take an audition any time soon, conductors will appreciate your detailed preparation on this excerpt.
I have selected two sections of the “March” to review. While the solo at letter E is the most common to include in an audition packet, I have also seen committees ask to hear the beginning. Both sections require solid fundamentals and rigorous attention to detail. The simplicity of this music quickly exposes any flaws in sound, articulation, time, and pitch. While almost any player can blow through this excerpt without missing notes, careful and thoughtful preparation will ensure a consistent performance that is beyond reproach.
The Beginning to Letter F:
The first four notes should be perfectly centered and articulated with clarity. If the low F isn’t speaking clearly, isolate it. Practice articulating the rhythm of the first measure on an F to establish the correct articulation. Mind the intonation, and practice the low F to C interval to set up the foundation of that fifth in the ear. The notes should be forte, with each note leading to the C, but have a care not to get heavy. This opening should be played with a sense of lightness.
The six quarter notes on beat four of measure three should have a pickup-to-downbeat relationship. The F leading to the Bb on beat one should have the most emphasis, with the G leading to the A, and the F leading down to the E. It is subtle, but gives this phrase a sense of direction. This part is accompaniment, and is often played with too much weight and no line. It is amazing how six simple quarter notes can instantly convey style. The goal is to be charming, rather than plodding.
To that end, I feel the proper lightness and style is captured by feeling this in 1, particularly up until letter A. The line should lead to the important downbeats. In measure six, the Bb is your point of arrival, with the C being lifted. Rather than blowing through the Bb, give it a subtle taper after the downbeat, to make way for the moving quarter note line in the 2nd cornet part. It will also help to maintain time on the half note to hear those ascending quarter notes in your head.
This section requires even fingers in the fourth valve range. The phrase at A is easy to rush. Be attentive to the sound of the C and low F eighth notes-they should have the same quality and fullness as the other notes. Articulation should be light, more tone than tongue. In the third measure before B, drive down to the low F and E. Make sure the E octave is in tune! As we usually only play this portion of the piece hidden away within the full band, it is easy to overlook these small details. They will be apparent in an audition situation, where every sound you make is held up to the highest scrutiny. If this shows up on an audition list, you can place a safe bet that every member of the panel will be tapping their finger or pencil to see if you maintain time. Performing simple things perfectly is a matter of focus, and this excerpt certainly bears that to be true.
Letter E to Letter G:
The dotted-quarter-eighth pickup to F is often played stylized, with a crisp, march-like feel. You should practice blowing through these three notes smoothly, making sure not to “ghost” the A. Many instruments tend to blow sharp on the F, while the A is generally flat. Practice the F-A-C triad slowly with a tuner. Then be sure to maintain the integrity of the pitch when you play it at tempo. The repeated half notes three after letter F are often played sharp. The legato markings should be interpreted as extra weight, contrasted by the crisp, stylized pickups that come right after.
This excerpt is notorious for exposing time issues, which is certainly one of the reasons it appears on all the lists. Play along with recordings; create an exercise by tonguing the quarter subdivision on all the half notes. Practice with different metronome subdivisions, such as having the pulse at the 8th note and alternatively having it only sound one beat per measure. It is common for players to rush the four quarter notes in the 6th bar of E, and again after F. Press the valves down firmly and rhythmically. Don’t let the fingers get lazy with these slow long notes. Each note change should be connected by lots of air and quick fingers.
A few years ago, the U.S. Army Field Band performed Second Suite in F with a chorus singing the folk songs found throughout the piece. Although it pained my heart to have a men’s chorus bellowing over this famous euphonium melody, hearing the lyrics did serve to improve my time. I like to sing and clap in my practice, then recall the words in my head as I play.
During this solo, the woodwinds are laying down solid time, so you can concentrate on floating over the top with a gorgeous sound. Work to play eight-bar phrases with a full mezzo-forte sound. Pay attention to the last notes of phrases. Often, players clip the long notes with an abrupt sound as they breathe. Some vibrato is appropriate for shaping certain notes. This excerpt should strike a balance between strict, martial time and smooth, effortless lyricism. At the end of the day, this should be a beautiful melody. Recall the words to “Swansea Town” and tell that story simply, with sound and line.
Lauren Veronie is a member of the U.S. Army Field Band.