ITEA Fucik Uke Article
So I wrote this for the ITEA Journal a few years ago. Shockingly, they asked me to change the title. Enjoy!
Hi, I’m Lance and I play the euphonium. I have a confession to make. I used to be nervous about telling people this but am of an age where that matters less every day.
I like playing marches. Really.
I think the best marches are perfect little gems that distill musical ideas in a way that great pop songs can. Especially, “My Sharona.” But I digress.
Marches offer euphonium players the opportunity to wear a variety of hats. We sometimes have the melody, either alone or in octaves below trumpets and winds or above the tubas. Other times, we partner with our tuba brethren (and sistren- just go with it) on “oomps” and horns on “pahs.” We sometimes get to play beautiful counter melodies and often have to change hats quickly and frequently.
Thus is the case in the subject of my top-notch, high-quality, big-time-super-analysis of one of my all-time favorites, “Thunder and Blazes,” by Julius Fucik. Plus, the name Fucik always makes me giggle. You may also know it as “Entry of the Gladiators,” or as “Einzug der Gladiatoren, Op.68” if you’re uppity like that. Fucik (tee hee), originally called it “Grand Marche Chromatique,” to reflect all the chromatic runs. I’m working off the J.S. Seredy arrangement of the Fucik-Laurendeau (okay, I’m over it) version, published by Carl Fischer.
The brass (minus euphonium and tuba) open with a fanfare. We join the woodwinds in a slurred descending chromatic line in measures 3-4 and 7-8. When preparing these runs, there are two things to keep in mind. First (as with all of the runs in the march), keeping the notes even in relation to one another is crucial. We must not rush the easy valve patterns or slow down on the trickier ones. Secondly, we need to ensure that the notes at the lower end of the runs are as clear and audible as those at the beginning of each set. I suggest a slight crescendo to the bottom. Even if it feels like you are playing too loud at the bottom, the crescendo has two benefits. The listener will perceive the line as being constant and the player will use enough air to ensure a clean line. On the first run, I used to insist that the last two notes be played using 4 and 2-4. However, unless your C and B are extremely out of tune, I’d say go with whichever feels more comfortable.
The end of the second run is our first opportunity at role shifting. We need to complete the second run with the winds and then immediately join the tubas in fleshing out the third statement of the fanfare motif. This must be played in a manner which matches the style established by the rest of the brass in the first two statements. I suggest a harder tongue (slight accent) and space between the dotted half and two eights in bars 9-10. The crescendo quarters in 11-12 are pretty straightforward. Pace the crescendo and make sure placement lines up with the chromatic runs in the woodwinds.
While marked fortissimo, it is unlikely you need to play that loudly. Give emphasis to the “oomps” and keep the “pahs” crisp, as you are going between the two supporting roles. Take the accents in bars 5-6 of this strain seriously and try not to clip the quarter off of the half note. In fact, bounce off the half note, the top of that tiny little 5-note phrase-let (again, with the made up words). In the first ending, make sure you don’t crunch the repeated eights and treat the descending run as you did in the opening. Make sure we hear the last note (C) clearly, as it leads us back into the repeat of the phrase. In the second ending, let out your inner bass trombone, starting with the sforzando B half note. Nice and short on the following quarters, then time for some fun!
Starting with the pickups, bring attention to your fingers to ensure the eights are in time. Additionally, a steady air flow will help keep the fast notes from backing up on you like the all-you-can-eat cheese buffet at Golden Corral. Aim for the long notes and use them as guideposts to make this a music line, instead of a bunch of fast notes. Treat these lines as you would any piece of “serious” music and marches get WAY more interesting and fun to play. My standard suggestion for learning these or any technical line goes like this:
Half speed, just fingers
Half speed, fingers and air (no tongue)
Half speed, fingers and air (tongue)
Half speed, play
Gradually increase speed, a few clicks at a time. If you hit a plateau, back off a bit, aim for 3 (or 5 or 10) in a row, before moving on. If you get frustrated, take a five-minute break. Sing it, buzz it, play it. Baby steps. Slow and steady wins the race. A bird in the hand often makes a mess. Stuff like that.
We’re back to “tuba-mode” for the intro to the trio. Nice big, clear sound and clean fingers. Once we get into the trio, euph it up. Try to fit into the clarinet sound, as a nice lower octave accompaniment. Vibrato, phrasing, direction. Make music!!! In terms of breathing, I’m in favor of it. As to where, I take a breath after the first Bb half note in the eighth bar of the phrase, after the 17th bar (even though it’s after the first note of the restatement of the theme), after the low, accented A whole note and (if I need it) after the tied whole note Bb. Obviously, depending on the conductor (and your opinion of them), and your ability to stagger breathe with your colleagues, you may need to adjust the breath location. Additionally, on the final time through, you may need to add additional breaths to compensate for the louder volume. Or just do some Breathing Gym for heaven’s sake and get in better shape!
All the same rules apply. Be very specific about following the editing. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard sub-par performances of sections such as these, where the player lazily slurs whatever they feel like slurring and overlooks the differences between quarters with or without dots or accents over them. If you are preparing this for an audition, these “small” details make the difference between an okay performance and an exceptional one. Be exceptional!
Once you get through the dogfight, it’s back to the trio. I generally put a little more space between the notes, but strive to maintain a sense of line. Additionally, I tend to put a slight accent of the beginning of each note, to aid in clarity, but pay attention to what is going on around you and make the best call. Last note, strong and accented but don’t take it’s lunch money.
That’s it. Frankly, that’s actually a pretty decent road map for approaching any march. If I do say so myself. And I just did. What are you going to do about it? As I said in the opening, great marches provide us opportunities to work on time, blend, phrasing, dynamics, breathing and articulation. Other than that, there’s not much to them.
Now, I’m going to go work on my ukulele version. It’s for an album devoted to the composer of this march for solo ukulele. The working title is “Fucik Uke.” Stay tuned!