The Band Post speaks to Jörgen van Rijen, Principal trombonist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, on his thoughts about the festival, the music he plays and his practicing habits.
This interview is part of the coverage for the Singapore Low Brass Festival 2016 organized by The Band World and Music Elements.
TBP: We believe this is not your first time in Singapore. If we remember correctly, you were here in 2002?
JVR: I think I was here for 2 times! My first time was in 2002 with Philharmonic Winds (Singapore), when I did the Johan De Meij’s T-Bone Concerto!
TBP: How does it feel to be back in Singapore after a long time?
JVR: It felt great! When I was here in 2006, I think I played the Adam Gorb’s Trombone Concerto and I was actually here in 2009 as well… for my honeymoon, haha… It is great to be back again after 7 years! I like to be in Singapore, it is a great city, and it is good to be here.
TBP: How do you find the festival so far?
JVR: Very nice! Many enthusiastic people, many great artists!
TBP: A bit about yourself, did you start playing the trombone at a very young age?
JVR: I was 8 years old and my arms weren’t long enough for the slide trombone, so I started with valve trombone and played in the local wind band. When I was 9, I could reach the 6th and 7th position barely. My teacher says I do not need the 7th position so much so I made the chance to slide trombone.
TBP: We caught your recital yesterday, and it was rather special to be playing the theme song of a documentary film! People usually have the mindset that a recital is made up of classical or orchestra excerpts. Why did you pick to do something different?
JVR: You see, one of the nicer things about the trombone is that this instrument can play in almost every musical style, from baroque to all kinds of classical music, jazz and also in pop, funk, salsa, etc.
TBF: So, would you say that as a trombone player, you have to adapt to all kinds of musical styles?
JVR: I like to adapt but it is up to the individual to decide whether he or she would like to do classical/jazz/any kind of music. For me, I really like all kinds of music and play all of them. It is very important for me not to limit myself to one or just a few styles of music. You will also learn many different things, for example when playing in a big band, you can bring over what you have learnt into the classical side and vice versa.
TBP: During your recital, you did a live looping performance of a piece. Why so?
JVR: Many jazz musicians use this method too to make a layer of background music so that they can improvise to it. This concept is very nice but I didn’t want that. I asked the composer to make things a little more complicated than that, to make it like an actual composition and not just a grove that you feel and improvise. I wanted more than just a grove and it to be more classical so I think the composer wrote the piece very well.
TBP: Most people learn the trombone from a band program, with a teacher or listen to good recordings and try to imitate the sound. Do you think listening to recording(s) is important for a musician’s growth?
JVR: Definitely the most important for any musician!
In the end, what is most important when you are performing a piece, is your imagination and how you want to play it, and how you practice towards the way you want to perform it. You can do your fundamental exercises to achieve the performance in the way that you want. However, the first image of how you want it to be has to be very strong, so that it will help you to develop your imagination like how strong this part of the music is, how you want to articulate it, etc etc.
The only way you can develop that, is by listening to other great players, get ideas, and form your own idea of how is the music going to sound like. If you have no idea, you can do all the exercises your teacher tells you to do, but there is no point as you are not going anywhere. You first need to have an idea of how is the music going to sound and that comes from listening to recordings or live music being performed.
TBP: Do you have any advices for student musicians that want to progress and become professional musicians?
JVR: Yes! Of course you need practice. You have to listen to not only trombone music but also great cellist, singer, jazz saxophone player, or anything else other than trombone music. Listen a lot and do lots of practice. Play together with other people, music groups and ensembles.
The thing about trombone, is that we are not usually soloist instruments so we need to have ensemble skills. I like to play as a soloist, but the main work we have in orchestra, is to play a beautiful chorale and you have to really blend and tune. Find your colleagues to play together and it will help you to develop as an individual and as an ensemble. If you practice, please practice with a focus, and an idea. Plan what are you going to practice during one hour and what should be better after one hour of practice. I practice everyday, several hours!
You have to develop strong muscle memory, and the only way is regularity. It doesn’t help to practice five hours in one day and the rest of the week you don’t practice. It is better to practice one hour each day than doing none for a few days. You have to practice with a plan too. I have met students who spent really lots and lots of hours of practice, but when I asked them what do they practice, I noticed that they are just playing their pieces.
There is a difference between playing and practicing. When you practice, you analyse yourself and take note what can be better and what are the exercises you need to do to become better. Practice smart, not much!