How did the Maniacal 4 come to be?
Maniacal 4: As Music Performance majors at the University of North Texas, six semesters of chamber music were required for our degree. We think it’s fair to say that none of us had any idea that a trombone quartet could become a legitimate professional endeavor. Especially considering that Alex was a Jazz Studies major and was doing quartet as an extra credit class, we didn’t think we were looking much further than getting our degrees. When we began as freshmen in the Spring Semester of 2006, we had our fair share of difficulties and struggles but thanks to the constant encouragement and support of Jan and Vern Kagarice, and Tony Baker, we kept at it and eventually success began to come. We were finalists at the 2008 ITF Quartet Competition, runners-up at the 2009 ETW competition, and winners of the 2009 ITF Quartet Competition. Those competitions created opportunities for us to continue through a sponsorship with Antoine Courtois Paris trombones and more recently with Denis Wick mouthpieces and mutes. As Jan always said, success is a result of a compatibility of commitment, not a compatibility of ability. We are living proof of what can happen if you just keep at it.
You guys play everything from 70’s rock tunes to Disney songs to traditional pieces. Where did the inspiration for such a wide array of music come from?
M4: Due to the combination of personalities, musical tastes, interests, and hobbies, we’ve ended up where we are now. Since there isn’t really a market for trombone quartet, there isn’t a set repertoire that works or doesn’t work. We’ve tried to use all of our various skills, musical or not, and apply it to Maniacal 4. The end result is we play whatever we can, however we can.
What exercises or warmups does your group do to get performance ready?
M4: One of the things that we consistently do is play tunes by ear… A simple melody that the four of us know like Edelweiss or Ode to Joy. We’ll pick a key and play it in unison but it sometimes develops into four part harmonies, stylistic shifts, or anything that we can think of (or accidentally do). It’s not perfect, but it is definitely fun and we have found that we always play better afterwards. It’s definitely more of an ear training exercise than a trombone warm-up but we’re essentially ear training while playing the trombone… Knocking out two birds with one stone we suppose.
How often do you guys perform, rehearse, and record videos for your YouTube channel?
M4: We’ve been getting busier every year so our schedule is constantly changing. We’ve probably been getting together every two or three weeks for the past eight months or so… While we do go through some down times where we’re not that busy, we also have times where we’re performing every day for a couple of weeks so it all balances out.
As we transition to a different part of our careers, our rehearsals have transitioned as well. While in school, we used to rehearse three, four, or five days a week for anywhere from two to four hours. We would also get a weekly coaching from one of the UNT professors. Once we graduated, things definitely changed. Since we all live in separate areas now, whenever we get together it tends to be a full day event. We’ll start as early as possible and work on everything we’ve got going on at the time. While a portion of that is rehearsing, we also have to discuss current and future endeavors for the group, ideas, plans, stuff like that. While resources like email, phones, and texting have made the distance between the four of us way smaller and easier to manage, it can’t replace the face-to-face.
As for the videos, they have been changing as well. We used to only film our performances but we found that to be kind of dull in that it could never capture the essence of the live performance. When we filmed ourselves recording Carry On Wayward Son, the video itself shows a very different aspect of the recording session. With that in mind, we’ve experimented with filming ourselves traveling, singing, talking…. We recently started an unofficial ‘video series’ that we’re calling Hotel Jams. It essentially consists of Carl arranging/composing a tune, the three of us learning it by ear, and then we record/film it somewhere in the hotel where we’re staying. Obviously, we only do those on trips but it’s been a fun and unique experience!
What advice do you have for college students starting their own groups with hopes to follow in your footsteps?
M4: To quote Jan Kagarice, our coach from UNT, “success depends on compatibility of commitment, not compatibility of ability.” If you find yourself in a group, the MOST important thing is that everyone is in it for the same reasons. While talent and skills can develop, it is impossible to overcome three people taking it seriously while one or two are only playing ‘for fun.’ You can get by for a little while but it’ll catch up to you sooner than later.
The Maniacal 4 is Matt Jefferson, Alex Dubrov, Carl Lundgren, and Nick Lauffer. Visit their website here.