Directors' Toolbox

Efficiency Expert

September 2, 2010

I was pleasantly surprised to come across Carmine Caruso’s Musical Calisthenics for Brass in our online database.  I studied trombone with Carmine from 1968 to 1971, in his small studio off Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan.

Musical Calisthenics for Brass

Musical Calisthenics for Brass

Although he himself was not a brass player (he played saxophone and violin), he was
widely known and highly respected as a master of brass pedagogy, specifically with regard to the physical challenges of tone production, range, flexibility and endurance.  His techniques produced positive results, and virtually every brass player in the New York area knew he was the man to see for help in correcting “chops” problems.

Once, in the time slot before my lesson, I listened to Carmine coaching a horn player from the New York Philharmonic who needed help staying focused in the upper register.  It was not unusual for top professionals to seek his advice.  He was an efficiency expert. He taught his students how to practice so that the breath, the tongue, the teeth, the lips, and the facial muscles all work together efficiently, with no wasted effort.  After hearing and seeing you play for a few minutes, he could identify whatever inefficiency was hurting the resonant quality of your tone, or interfering with your ability to move smoothly and easily between registers, or causing undue tiredness.  The exercises he prescribed would invariably be the medicine you needed to fix the problem you were having. With his help, I was able to increase my comfortable playing range by a full octave in my first six months of study.

Carmine was getting on in years when I knew him.  He was suffering from occasional vertigo, after so many years of sitting in front of his students blowing trumpets, trombones, horns and tubas.  Finally, his doctor convinced him to wear a pair of ear muffs when he was teaching, the heavy-duty kind used by people who work near the deafening noise of jet airplane engines.  Even wearing those funny-looking muffs, he was a wonderful teacher, and he never lost his positive attitude or sense of humor.  I remember a couple of times being late for my lesson, having overslept and missed the bus.  I was making the great Carmine Caruso wait! When I arrived, full of apologies, he simply smiled and said, “You must have needed the sleep.”

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