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Clayton Haslop

The Value of a Breath

May 3, 2010 at 8:32 PM

Just returned from a brief sojourn in LA where my primary duties involved recording the music for the latest version of ‘Karate Kid’, starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith.

 Looks to be a sweet film, and the score by James Horner is certainly lending it all the heartfelt emotional punch one could ask for.

 One of the cues, however, was a jaunty, rhythmically tricky bit of writing requiring the string section to act as an extension of the rhythm section.

 It was the kind of cue that can get even the best of players tense; knowing when NOT to play can feel more important than knowing when TO play.

 Of course this kind of defensive thinking can be the bane of playing pleasure real fast.  And it can also get you off into your own little universe of time in a heartbeat, much to the annoyance of those supposedly there to play WITH you.

 So the first thing I did when I saw this bit on page 2 of 4 M 11 – that’s reel 4, scene 11 – was to remind myself to breathe.  Yep, with nice deep belly-breaths.

 You see, not only do those breaths sharpen my mind and relax my body, they also enable me to fall into the ‘pocket’ of the time.  When one is tense it is VERY easy to lose track of the flow of time.  And rushing the beat is the usual result.

 Sure enough, on the first takes we had a few ‘premature articulations’ around the section arising from overly active, tense brains STRIVING for excellence.

 Fortunately, after a couple of passes everyone did settle in, and we produced the expected result with only a few minutes delay.

 I just wish, however – and it would really be beyond the pale for me to suggest this in a professional setting – that more folks had ‘the breathing habit’ as they read music, particularly music requiring rhythmic accuracy.  It would be a nice change to avoid those little hiccups in what are otherwise really satisfying musical experiences.

 My string playing colleagues in Los Angeles are truly extraordinary players, by any standard.  Yet if there were any way that things could improve, in a general way, it would be through the extension of ‘breath’ into rhythmic passages.

 Now, just so you have all my thoughts on this, while you breathe, one mustn’t forget to count, subdividing the dotted rhythms to make them absolutely square with the beat.  This is what Toscanini was getting at when he remarked, ‘play as written!’ 

 Once you are doing that you’re then ready to add the ‘feel’, to ‘put something’, as the master would have said it.  And that is when the real magic heats up the room.

All the best,

 Clayton Haslop

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on May 4, 2010 at 3:16 AM


we always need more of your playing and teaching.

One thing we don`t need is yet anotehr Karate Kid ;)  Given the first one cam out when I was a kid myself we ought to be on Karate Corpse by now  Fortunately the music should make up for the rest.



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