by Gordon Ward
How to pick a solo?
For all those brass instrumentalists out there, this might sound like a simple thing. Just choose something that is popular right now, something that is not too difficult to play, or something one of the players you look up to has played. Well, after many years of doing this very same thing and not always with a 100% track record, here are a few things to consider.
If you have been asked to play a solo, consider what occasion you are playing for. Is it a church service? If yes, is it Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or some other service? If it is a regular service, is there a theme? There are many solos out there that can enhance a particular worship service with appropriate lyrics associated with it. Also, consider who will be listening to it. For example, you might choose a different solo for a nursing home concert than a music educators’ event and all the different scenarios in between. The type of solo to consider would also come into play from a simple and effective melody all the way up to a variation solo.
It is also important to consider what type of accompaniment you might have available. Options could range from a pre-recorded (last choice) one to a piano, an ensemble, or full band. The level of an accompaniment is to be considered, along with how much rehearsal time you have. I remember one solo I played, and the piano accompaniment was more technically difficult than the solo itself. It is critical that you have enough time to feel comfortable in the performance itself and not have to think about the accompaniment. Give yourself ample time to perfect the solo itself before working with the accompaniment.
Once these aspects have been thought through, choose a solo within your capabilities. It is not always the most technically demanding solos that are the most effective and pleasing to those listening. There are hundreds of solos available to choose from within and outside the Salvation Army that could be the right one for you and that specific occasion.
Do not be hesitant to reach out to someone you look up to or regard as a soloist of note. In today’s world of social media, almost anyone can be contacted, and you might be surprised how willing those people are to help. Even soloists with some pedigree can and should occasionally ask for some input.
Practice and practice some more. The way to rehearse a solo is probably for another article, but make sure you are extremely prepared and really understand the music and the text associated with it. If there aren’t words associated, you can make some up to help you shape the melody and figure out your phrasing. Finally, learn to embrace what you are doing and enjoy the moment.
Gordon Ward earned his Bachelor's degrees from the Royal Northern College of Music, a music education certificate from Hull University, and has a Master's in Trumpet performance. For over thirty-six years (now retired), he served as the head of The Salvation Army Greater New York Music and Creative Arts department. From 1981 to 2017, Gordon played in the New York Staff Band, serving as its principal cornet for 25 years. Gordon now lives in Southeast Michigan and plays cornet with the Royal Oak Corps and Eastern Michigan Divisional Bands. He also plays with the Five Lakes Silver Band, a first-section contesting band.