Experts’ Excerpts for Euphonium by Danny Vinson
Pineapple Poll by Arthur Sullivan and Charles Mackerras Arranged for Military Band by W.J. Duthoit, A.R.C.M.
Though Pineapple Poll will not appear on every military band audition list, it appears often enough and is difficult enough that it should be a part of the aspiring professional euphonium player’s standard repertoire practice list. Often the focus of the auditioners’ interest is only the first sixteen bars of the first movement, “Opening Number,” up to 1 . This passage is a technical nightmare but can be mastered with patient and systematic practice. Just as often other audition lists include the entire first movement which, I believe, presents a far greater musical challenge than just the opening passage. The material of the first movement is drawn from several of Sullivan’s operas masterfully woven together. Taken as a whole, the first movement of Pineapple Poll presents a challenging medley of blinding technique, lyrical espressivo, loud roughness, light staccato, and, in general, extreme and abruptly changing contrasts in style, dynamic, and mood. Many melodies prominently feature the euphonium section. In this article I will point out some of the various details to which attention should be given, provide some solutions to some treacherous musical challenges, and suggest some practice techniques to help accomplish the ultimate goal of performing this piece flawlessly.
Let us now look at that intimidating opening passage (excerpt A). The difficulty of this passage is a result of the combination of sixteenth notes at a very fast tempo, a loud dynamic, and the low tessitura which requires extensive use of the 4th valve. In an audition you will certainly want this passage to be as clear and focused as possible while the reality is that, in actual performance, the euphoniums are buried within the texture of a full woodwind choir playing this figure in octaves. (But at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that the euphoniums are the only brass section playing it!)
To master this passage begin by setting the metronome at a very slow tempo (e.g.: ♩= 60 or slower) and playing it repeatedly until the coordination of fingers begins to be comfortable. Pay particular attention to maintaining an even rhythm when switching from/to 4th valve to/from the other finger combinations. Keep the dynamic at a fairly loud level, even in the early stages of practice, but do not waste air by over-blowing. Strive to maintain a firm embouchure and a steady air flow to keep the sound consistent and the slurs smooth throughout the rise and fall of the line. You may want to drill individual bars until some progress is made on each and then start reassembling the bars until you can play complete figures between breaths. Do not be concerned about where to breathe at this stage but practice getting full and relaxed but quick breaths when you must breathe. As you gradually increase your practice tempo and begin to approach your goal tempo (♩= 132) over the next few weeks you will find that the obvious places to breathe (bars 12, 16 and/or 17) are in just the right places that you do not run out of air completely. But be careful to not lose rhythm in these breathing places since your part must continue to mesh with the seemingly nonstop woodwind motion above.
There is an alternate fingering pattern which makes the execution of this passage much easier from the finger perspective. Personally, I find the use of the alternate pattern makes it significantly harder to make a consistently clear and focused sound throughout the passage. However, I have heard it played equally well using the natural fingerings and the alternate fingerings. If you play on a euphonium with four in-line valves, the alternate pattern is certainly a much easier technique compared to rocking the hand back and forth trying to manage the alternating 4th valve with the 2nd valve and 1-2 combination. The alternate pattern consists of holding the 4th valve down during some portions of the passage and alternating a 1-2 combination up and down to produce the Ds and As. Excerpt A illustrates the portions of the passage on which the alternate fingering pattern works.
If you happen to go into an audition situation and have not reached the indicated performance tempo of this piece (♩= 132) in the opening passage, resist the temptation to take a faster tempo at 1 or in the four bars leading up to 2 . While you will undoubtedly be able to play these passages at a faster tempo than the opening, to do so would not positively impress a judging panel. Maintain the tempo at which you started unless and until you are directed to stop and begin another excerpt from this movement. Even then, do not exceed the indicated performance tempo.
Throughout the remaining passages of this movement it is important to strictly observe articulations and dynamics. The accents are very important in conveying the musical texture of this piece but not more so than making clear distinctions between notes with tenuto and staccato markings. The eight bars leading up to 3 contain all of these markings and are shown in excerpt B. Note that bar 45 contains an eighth and sixteenth note pattern with the first eighth being marked tenuto and the remaining notes marked staccato. Students often make the mistake of ignoring the tenuto since it sounds between staccatos in the previous bar and the staccatos following it. The accented quarter notes in bars 43, 47, and 48 should be played with an implied tenuto just as the quarters in bars 44 and 46, but with considerably more emphasis as the accent marks direct.
Bars 50-54 (excerpt B) have written some very wide dynamic contrasts between forte and piano. It takes a great deal of breath control to perform these wide contrasts but if they are diligently practiced beginning in the early stages they will be mastered in due course. It is implied that changes between the fortes and pianos in bars 50-53 are subito in contrast to the fast crescendo which is written from bar 53 to bar 54. It is important to note that this figure is essentially a euphonium section solo beginning with the pick-ups to 3 continuing through the four bars just discussed. (Please also note that the first two eighth notes in bar 53 are written with an accent on the first and a slur to the second. This is in contrast to the same figure in bar 51 which is written without these marks. I believe that the notes in bar 51 should be performed in the same manner as the notes in bar 53.)
The passage beginning at 4 (excerpt B) is marked piano on the first eighth note followed by a series of three ‘hairpin’ crescendos anddecrescendos. This type of marking occurs at several other places within the piece. The dynamic changes should be quite noticeable in performance crescendoing to at least mezzo forte, perhaps louder. This passage is also a euphonium section solo for about eight bars and then becomes more background in the remaining four bars to 5 .
The passage beginning with the eighth note pickup to bar 82 and ending with the eighth in bar 94 (excerpt C) is a very long blow at a rather loud dynamic with no convenient place to breathe, and is an exposed euphonium line. In a performance situation with a section of euphoniums you will have the luxury of staggering the breathing for a continuous effect. However, in an audition situation the best solution to keeping the line moving at the desired volume and without breaking the rhythm is to take several small ‘top-up’ breaths throughout the passage. I suggest that the best place(s) to breathe is after the first eighth note in each bar that contains the grace note followed by sixteenths.
The passage beginning eight bars before 7 (excerpt D) is a particular challenge since it contains the lowest (euphonium) notes in this movement. Naturally, this passage should be practiced very slowly, paying particular attention to firmness and stability in the embouchure. Especially at the very slow tempos of early practice, avoid the temptation to reposition the mouthpiece to reach the low notes. With sufficient practice one may learn to quickly make the large leaps from the low range to the pedal range by repositioning but, in the long term, developing the skill to do it without making shifts will lead to greater consistency not only in this piece but in your overall playing.
Excerpts from the first movement (only) are reprinted in Barbara Payne’s compilation Euphonium Excerpts published by Cimarron Music Press (edited by Brian Bowman and David Werden). This is a great book and an invaluable addition to the practicing tool box for euphonium players. I think that to thoroughly prepare for an audition the truly ambitious young player will learn to play all of their excerpts in both bass and treble clefs. I have seen at least one audition list provide Pineapple Poll in treble clef. And it is not unheard of for auditionees to not be allowed to use their own music during the audition. I have experienced this myself and been thrown off guard when an excerpt I could play very well (while looking at bass clef) was provided onstage in treble. If your school band library does not have a copy of this excerpt in house for you to look at, I suggest you order copies in both clefs. A representative from J.W. Pepper has informed me that these parts are available for $3.00 each plus shipping. I’m sure the price will not be much different if ordered through any other dealer.
I have only begun to cover all of the details which must be considered when preparing this piece but I hope the examples given will convey a sense of the importance of those remaining. It never hurts to listen to a good recording of any piece you are preparing and I would like to recommend one by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I recommend this one particularly because it is conducted by Charles Mackerras himself, who was a preeminent authority on the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Naturally, to hear the lines in this part played on euphonium one should also reference recordings of some fine military bands such as the U.S. Marine Band and Her Majesty’s Royal Marine Band, both of which have exemplary recordings available. By listening to any of these you will hear for yourself the textures and contrasts which should be captured in your own performance.
Danny Vinson is Instructor of Euphonium at The University of Houston’s Moores School of Music. He also teaches low brass at East Texas Baptist University, The University of Texas at Tyler, and Kilgore Jr. College. He currently performs with the euphonium-tuba quartet Alchemy. He is formerly a member of the United States Coast Guard Band.