Hakan Bjorkman was a name I had not heard before. But after his masterclass and performances at the International Trombone Festival at Juilliard, it’s a name I will not forget.
I walked into the 12 noon “artistic clinic” on the third floor not knowing at all what to expect other than probably hearing some good trombone playing. Soon after sitting down, a trim obviously fit man with a full ash blond head of hair and a big smile introduced himself. In what he would tell us was his Swedish accent, Hakan Bjorkman started by asking a question.
“What notes can you play in first position?” The room was silent. I thought this must be a trick question. In a funny high voice giving us a hint, he started answering his own question: “Bb”, “F”. After talking a short bit about the overtone series, he made his point. “Low F# can also be played in first position.” And then he played it – clear and in tune. Someone asked, “Are you using a trigger?” “No” he responded. Then he added that a double pedal B is also in first position, and played that. Sure enough, these odd notes were being played in first position.
He now had our full attention. He proceeded to interact with the audience and play some seriously impressive trombone. For a classical player, Hakan plays a pretty small horn. He said that his bigger horn tends to sound more like a bass trombone so he went with a smaller horn with a timbre more appropriate for a principle trombone. Let’s just say he’s not short of sound.
He showed us that high range was not about force, but largely about tongue position. In rapid procession he played low Bb, middle Bb, high Bb and double high Bb – all in perfect tune and seeming effortless. “It’s also about air control”, he added. He then demonstrated how one’s posture effects the breathing and therefore, the sound.
He recommends standing with slightly bend knees and a relaxed pelvis area. He played a strong middle Bb in that posture then locked his knees stiff and played the Bb again with the same volume. With knees stiff, you could hear a slightly thinner and slightly sharp version of the Bb. He then said the same holds true of sitting. Hakan recommends sitting with your knees behind your feet. He played the Bb strong and in tune. He then put his feet behind the knees and again played a slightly thinner slightly sharp Bb.
Toward the end, I asked him about multiple tonguing. At the time, I had no idea that speed was one of his great strengths. He talked about double tonguing and the position of the tongue. He recommended playing scales and musical phrases with just the “ka” sound then matching it with the “Ta” so that they are indistinguishable. He then played incredibly fast scales demonstrating his unusual speed.
Hakan’s great speed was no more apparent than in his solo performance of The Carnival of Venice the following day. Building to a blur of slide movement and the tune’s wide intervalic integration of melody and harmony faster and faster, there eventually was a pause. Hunching over, Hakan lowered himself to the stage floor. Feigning exhaustion on all fours, the audience laughed. You see, Hakan isn’t just a great trombone player, he is a very funny and affable man. An entertainer. He eventually lifted himself back up just in time to continue on his blaze of angular phrases and stratospheric high notes.
His performance was very much appreciated by the large audience of his fellow trombonists. I learned a bit later that The Carnival of Venice is a signature piece of his. Check out a performance of it here.
I later ran into Hakan and we spoke for a few minutes. I learned that he is a subscriber of altobone.com and was very complimentary of my work. We talked further about some of the things from his masterclass. I told him that I was anxious to try my low B in first position. After all, if low F# is there on the tenor, than it will be low B for me. And sure enough it is! And it’s not as though you are just lipping to fake any old tone. That B (F#) is really a note that sits in first position. Okay, it’s not as solid as the more natural first position notes, but it definitely has a place. I think it’s just that very few of us even think to try it. Now, I don’t even have a double pedal E so I’m going to have to take that one on faith!
Hakan Bjorkman has a wonderful CD called Mandrake in the Corner. It contains a nice variety of instrumentation from solo trombone to several selections with the Stockholm Brass Band to three stunningly beautiful pieces with just harp. One of the pieces with harp entitled The Girl With the Flaxen Hair begins with what I though was a beautiful legato french horn. Wait, that’s not a french horn, it’s trombone! He plays with his characteristic effortless smooth accuracy up in the range of high F and beyond and it is a sound I am unused to hearing.
So now I know the name Hakan Bjorkman and the man behind the Swedish accent, great sense of humor and a technical facility that will inspire me for a long time.