An interesting month-part 2

In An interesting month I talked about how my practice routine got all discombobulated when I went to IHS and then prepared for my daughter’s wedding. The first two days of practice after almost a week off during my trip back from IHS were terrible but then as I played more things slowly got better. Once I got back to my usual schedule (about 5 days ago) all of a sudden I played a lot better.

In fact, I’m still playing a lot better. Really. I’m even surprising myself. Exercises that I was stumbling through are going well. I had my monthly lesson with Scott Bacon and I nailed (well almost nailed) both exercise #4 in the Singer Embouchure book and the Kopprash #2 exercise. Scott said it was the best he ever heard me play. He was actually smiling. Not only did I get the notes right, I got the dynamics right, the articulation right, the rhythm dead on with the metronome, and I played the exercises musically. That’s the biggie.

At my lesson with Lynn two weeks ago we started working on Canciones by Paul Basler. I love this piece. At my lesson last Wednesday we cleaned up some rhythm issues I was having. I think Lynn will be surprised by how well it’s going at my lesson tomorrow. I’m learning it really quickly for me. I can play the first movement along with the CD nicely. I can actually start it and not stop and need to do it over again. Actually this is true for everything I’ve been working on this week. Just this alone is a big breakthrough for me. I am taking my time and thinking about what I am going to play, taking a breath along with the metronome before I start to play, and it works every time.

I’ve been working on Strauss 1 for months. This week I can play almost all of it and not butcher it along the way. Many of the 16th note passages that I couldn’t even play slowly a few weeks ago I can play now up to tempo. Sure there are still a few rough spots but only a few, not half the piece.

So what’s changed? I have to attribute this improvement to my month of mostly non-practice. Maybe I’m wrong and this is all a big coincidence but I can’t think of anything else that would cause such a big change. And I agree that not practicing wouldn’t be my first thought about how to get better (I think I got the double negatives right in that sentence.) I think I can say that what I would call a really good day a month ago is now what I would call a fairly bad day. Progress!

Pain and some other stuff –>


Okay. I know what you are thinking. What in the world does bowling have in common with playing the horn? Well, for the most part, nothing. But as I was bowling yesterday, I realized that it is not as dissimilar as one might think, at least when it comes to mental preparedness.

I’m an avid bowler. I usually bowl four times a week. I’m in three leagues and I practice at least once a week. I hadn’t bowled in about 4 weeks because of my trip out to IHS and preparations for my daughter’s wedding. I bowled pretty badly yesterday. Probably a bit better than my first practice session with my horn after IHS, but not a whole lot better. My body was stiff, my shoulder, forearm, and hand hurt and my timing was off. My teammates were telling me to slow down, to concentrate, to watch my posture, to pay attention to the little things. Sound familiar?

Let’s look at posture first. To bowl successfully, it’s important to stand correctly, be well balanced, and hold the ball comfortably with the proper hand position. Once you find the correct stance, it’s essential to repeat it consistently or the ball won’t go where you want it to. Proper posture for the horn is also essential. Both my horn teachers have worked with me on posture (Scott Bacon spent at least a half hour on it at one of my lessons) and I don’t play as well if I’m not sitting or standing correctly because my air support suffers among other things. There’s lots of discussion on the forums about playing on the leg or off and similarly, there’s lots of discussion about where it’s best to hold the bowling ball and how many steps to take on the approach. As an aside, I have switched from playing on the leg to off the leg and my tone has improved significantly.

Concentration is a biggie. When I step up to bowl, I set my posture and then think about what I need to do. I take my time. I visualize my stroke and release. I take a deep breath and then I throw the ball. This is pretty much exactly what my horn teacher was reminding me to do at my lesson the other day. The difference being feeling the beat and singing the music in my head before playing instead of visualizing.

Practicing is another area where there are similarities. We all know that playing through pieces is not the same as practicing. When we practice we break down the difficult passages to the smallest components and slow down the tempo until we get it right. The same is true for bowling. If you’re serious about actually practicing rather than just bowling a few games, you break down the components – approach, release, specific shots – into the smallest parts and slow down until you get it right. For one of my practice sessions I shot at the seven pin 50 times in a row. Boring I know, but I nail seven pins now.

Still seem a bit farfetched? Let me propose that it’s not just practicing bowling that is similar. There are many (most?) things that we do, if we want to do them well, that require following the same conceptual methodology to achieve success. On the sports side, golf comes to mind.

Of course the analogy between horn playing and bowling stops once the ball in thrown. Although there is skill required for bowling, it is nothing compared to the skill required for horn playing. Some bowling pros may disagree with this statement but if they do, they have never seriously tried to play a musical instrument. I’ve never heard of anyone getting a PhD in bowling performance, though it is true that most pro bowlers played on competitive bowling teams in college.

Right now I’m a better bowler than I am a horn player but I hope that will change. I am much more likely to bowl a perfect 300 game (though that really is highly unlikely) than I am to perform anything without any clams. If I had to choose between the two, the horn would win hands down even though it can be a lot more frustrating. Someday I may have to choose because I am left handed and I do experience some pain in my fingers when I bowl. Obviously having a working left hand is critical to horn playing.

One of the best things about writing a blog is that I can express my opinion and not necessarily be right or wrong – I guess that’s why it’s my opinion. Some of you may disagree with this analogy about horn playing and bowling and, hence, this is why we have comments.

An interesting month-part 2 –>

An interesting month

It’s been almost a month since I left by car for IHS. Before the trip I was extremely diligent with my practicing. I don’t think I missed more than a day or two since mid-January. I built up my endurance so that I could practice around two hours everyday. Once I left for Macomb all of this changed.

During my drive I didn’t have time for two hours of practice and I found practicing in hotel rooms difficult. With the practice mute it was weird and very boring. Without the mute I felt uncomfortable because I don’t play very well yet and I didn’t want anyone to hear me. Consequently, my two hours of practicing went out the window.

Once I got to Macomb I did get a lot of playing in but not a lot of actual practicing in. I don’t really have the endurance yet to go to warm-up sessions and then the ensembles and try out horns and still practice. I wrote about my extended drive back home with no practicing in ‘Oops‘ and about the first several of days of practice after I got home in “Recovery.”

This brings us to the middle of last week and my daughter’s wedding this past Sunday. I did not have a lot of time for practicing. To say my life was hectic would be quite an understatement. All four of my kids were home, there were a million errands to run and I had to clean up the house for the after wedding barbeque that we were hosting. My horn got put away in it’s case (“Mom, can’t you put your stuff away now? (Notice the parent / child reversal)), music was put back into the piano bench, the stand relocated into the laundry room – out of site, out of mind. I did manage to get a bit of practicing done but nowhere near as much as I would have liked.

Obviously no practicing happened on the day of the wedding. The hairdressers showed up a 6 am at my house and my time was scheduled right up to leaving for the ceremony. My daughter actually created an excel spreadsheet for the schedule with times listed down to 5 minutes. (e.g. – Mom’s hair – 6 am; mom’s makeup 6:25 am; mom’s nails 6:35 am, maid-of-honor hair 6:20 am, and so on.) Fortunately the wedding was wonderful and there were no hiccups. For any of you that are interested the pictures are at There’s a picture of me walking down the aisle with my oldest son here:

I didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday either because I had band rehearsals both nights. I’ve learned that I can’t practice anything more than warmups before two non-stop hours of rehearsals. Then Wednesday I had a lesson in the morning and I played duets with a friend for two hours in the afternoon. My lesson clearly reflected the fact that I hadn’t practiced much. Many of the exercises that we worked on the week before didn’t go as well yesterday. Plus, my brain was not engaged. I couldn’t transpose down an octave at all and this is something that I can usually do without any problems. It was so bad all I could do was laugh. Maybe it was because we had started working on Eb transposition first that caused the brain fog. The duets in the afternoon went better than my lesson but again, not as good as I have played previously. I did have a lot of fun though and that’s more important to me than missing notes.

Today I finally got to practice. It had been so long that I had to remind myself what my usual routine was. I had to go searching for the metronome (found it, darn) and my tuner. I started out with my usual warmups and then moved on to the Singer embouchure exercises and then Kopprash #2. The good news is that I played these really well, even the Kopprash and that’s a really rare event. I worked on Basler’s Conciones and Struass 1 and was surprised at how well I played them. I practiced for about an hour and 15 minutes in the morning and then again for another hour in the late afternoon. I didn’t have any problems with endurance so I had to make myself stop. It’s hard to do that when everything is clicking so nicely.

Tomorrow is another totally normal, uninteresting day (all the kids have left and peace and quiet has returned to the house) so I will practice again for my usual two hours. I really, really hope I have another good day.

Bowling… –>

A short break

I won’t be blogging for the next two or three days. My daughter is getting married on Sunday and my life is quite zooish at the moment. All four of my kids have descended upon my house and final preparations are in process. Phew. Catch you on the other side.



If you read ‘Oops‘ you know that I didn’t play for almost a week while traveling back from the International Horn Symposium. Practice on Friday, when I finally got home, was a disaster. Lesson learned – never do that again. On Saturday I started practicing again with lots of long low notes and easy slurs to try to get some flexibility back. I played for about 20 minutes and took about an hour break. I practiced again for another 45 minutes, mostly scales and some etudes. I was missing lots of notes and the tone was very screechy so practicing anything like real music wasn’t worth the frustration.

Sunday was definitely better. I started with the same long low notes and slurs since my chops were still somewhat stiff. I always start practicing this way but I just did it for a whole lot longer before I worked into a higher range. What’s nice is that I actually noticed a real improvement in playing the arpeggios, not that I would suggest not playing for a week to get there. My tone was also noticeably better than Saturday but still not where I like it to be. I worked on some of the exercises in the Singer embouchure book and did some Kopprash (still not a fan). Since I still wasn’t really thrilled with my tone, I just played through some of the easier pieces I’ve played in the past rather than actually practicing something. I know this is not the right way to practice but my goal was just to get my chops back.

Monday was lesson day. Fortunately my chops were in pretty good shape by now. We started with low warmups and moved on to double octave arpeggios starting at low C. These went as well as they did yesterday and even Lynn, my teacher, said I had improved. Next up were the Singer and Kopprash exercises. One of the things Lynn pointed out was that I am not thinking about what I am going to play before I start and therefore tend to mess up the first several measures. She has mentioned this many times at past lessons but I tend to want to rush into things and forget. I need to take my time, feel the rhythm and hear what I want to play in my head first. It’s amazing how well this works when I actually do it. It really has to become a habit.

The best thing about Monday’s lesson was that we finally put Mozart 3 to bed. Lynn has been suggesting that it was time to move on for at least a month now and I had been resisting because I was still missing notes here and there. But the misses are never in the same places, they are due to a lapse in concentration or air support, one leading to the other. If I get my act together and relax and just play the piece musically, I can play it and be happy with the way I played it. So, on to new music. We picked “Canciones” by Paul Basler. We played through it and it is a really lovely piece and it should be fun to learn.

An interesting month –>

Blogging Question

I’ve just discovered that changes I make to a post once it’s been posted the first time, don’t get changed on the RSS feed. For example, I will post something, then read it and find I’ve forgotten to capitalize a word or left out a word or a comma. The RSS feed doesn’t get updated. In most cases this is not a big deal but in my previous post, Oops, I wrote that I hadn’t taken more than a day off from playing but I remembered that I took two weeks off after my surgery last December so I edited the post. Anyone who read the feed didn’t see that change.  I tried adding ‘updated’ to the blog heading but that didn’t change the RSS feed either.

I’ve searched the WordPress support pages and their forum but didn’t see anything about this. Does anyone have any ideas on how to fix it?

Recovery –>


I finally got home from my ‘forever’ trip from Macomb to Long Island. I left Monday morning and planned on getting home Tuesday in time for my band rehearsal. Originally I had plans to visit some friends but in the end that didn’t pan out so home I went. The trip is about 1100 miles – 16 hours. My plan was to drive as far as I could stand on Monday and wrap up the trip Tuesday. Well, the best laid plans….. Tuesday I started to get a pretty bad headache, bad enough that I decided to stop somewhere in western Pennsylvania. Oh well, so much for band rehearsal.

Wednesday the headache was worse. I managed to drive for an hour and a half. After driving over a curb and an entire sidewalk, it was definitely time to call it quits. Thank goodness I have an SUV. By the time I pulled into a hotel, I was feeling just awful. I have to give big kudos to the Holiday Inn Express in Bloomburg, PA. They were kind enough to actually take care of me – they brought food, orange juice, bottled water (all no charge) and checked on me during the day. Wow.

I was slightly better Thursday so I left this wonderful hotel around two and pushed onward. I managed around two and a half hours but stopped both due to the headache and the terrible weather – pouring rain, thunder, fog, you name it, I drove through it. Friday I actually got home. Geesh what a trip.

So, what’s the point of describing this miserable saga? I hadn’t played my horn since Sunday at the symposium! Hence the oops. I took out my horn yesterday having no idea what to expect. In the year that I have been playing, with the exception of the surgery I had in December, I had occasionally missed a day but nothing more. I was hoping that the rest would be helpful, but no, it was more like a disaster.

I started by just buzzing for a while and then moving on to long low tones. I did that (buzzing and long tones) for about 20 minutes and then took a break. I went back to it after an hour and continued with the long tones and then tried some slurs. That’s where the problems started. No flexibility. No range. Screechy tone. Ugh. I went back to long low tones and some low slurs and then quit after about half and hour. I sure hope today is better and that it doesn’t take too long to get back to where I was.

Blogging Question –>

International Horn Symposium Final Thoughts

I’m very glad I went. It was total immersion in everything about horns for 6 days.

What I liked:

Performances all the time. From about 11 am you could attend concerts for the rest of the day and evening.

The opportunity to hear phenomenal hornists play great music. They had an excellent list of great artists.

Good selections of music. From baroque to contemporary to jazz, every type was covered including some world premieres.

A huge amount of lectures to attend covering many different subjects.

Master classes. I learned a lot attending these.

Many horn choir ensembles to choose from if you were a reasonable good hornist.

Tons of horns to test (though for the most part I was too intimidated to try many of them – too many really, really good players in the same room.)

What I didn’t like so much:

The evening performances were in a grand ballroom instead of the auditorium. This made it very difficult to see the performers, especially Annamia Larsson. She is so short that I think only the first row could see her. They had a makeshift stage for some of the performers but if a piano was used the soloist was on the floor.

Too many conflicting events. There were many times when I wanted to go to two different things at the same time. They should have repeated the lectures at a different time slot.

The exhibitors had mostly horns and sheet music and not too many gizmos. I like gizmos a lot but it’s completely understandable why the exhibitors concentrated on horns.

No opportunity to play in small ensembles – e.g. trios, quartets, quintets, etc.

No description about what the horn choirs were going to play and the level of difficulty. If I hadn’t had dinner with the conductor who did the Royal Fireworks I wouldn’t have gone to that ensemble because I would have thought it was too hard for me.

A slight overemphasis of contemporary music which really isn’t my thing.

Oops –>

International Horn Symposium Day 6

Phew. Day 6 seemed endless, but in a good way. My day started with rehearsals for our performances at the final concert. We went over some troublesome spots and then did a run through in both ensembles. The conductor for the Royal Fireworks was very picky, as he should be, and he knew exactly how he wanted the piece played.

The next lecture I went to should have been called, “Name the Horn Player.” It was a wonderful session where we listened to old recordings – around 1925 through 1975 – of some major Strauss works and had to identify the hornist playing the solos. Mason Jones, Alan Civil, and Farkas were a few of them but I don’t remember the others.

Then I went to the luncheon banquet where we heard the usual thank you speeches and then more performances, some of them quite funny. e.g. playing garden hoses and conch shells. The food was good but no dessert. Odd for a banquet. (Not that I should be eating any of that.)

In the afternoon I went to a session featuring an excellent quintet and the topic was how did the principle horn play differently in a quintet compared to an orchestra. He said that he always has to listen carefully to what’s going on in the piece and blend appropriately regardless of the size of the group. He went on to say that he can’t play out as much in the quintet so that he doesn’t drown everyone else out. After the quintet session I went to an interesting session on the natural horn and the style of horns used beginning with the baroque period and moving forward.

The final concert began at 7 pm and didn’t end until 11 pm. Yikes. They really tried to cram too much in and by the time my two ensembles went on stage half the audience had left. The concert started out with the winners from the competitions held the other day. The fellow who one the solo horn competition played Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro very well. Numerous soloists followed, all excellent.

They had alphorns play four pieces that to me were completely indistinguishable from each other. I think two would have been plenty.  Then they did this thing called soundpainting. The players learn gestures which the conductor uses to get the players to make certain types of sound. No written music is used. Not my cup of tea. You know you’re in trouble when someone comes on stage with the horns in a leotard and bare feet.

Finally, after all this, the ensembles (I think 7 ensembles total) got to play. I didn’t hear any of them because we had to wait backstage for our turn. The ones I was in were third from last and last. I played pretty well considering it was well after 10 pm when we got started. I think both of the ensembles I was in played very well and my last ensemble (playing Royal Fireworks) got a standing ovation. Of course, it could be that the audience was just getting up to leave.

International Horn Symposium Final Thoughts –>

International Horn Symposium Day 5

This morning I started the day by going to the adult amateur ensemble where we are rehearsing “Legend of Sleeping Bear” by Eric Ewazen for the final concert on Sunday evening. This work is coming along nicely. We rehearsed it and then played it through once. We have one more short rehearsal tomorrow morning. I think it will be fine.

I also went to another ensemble that will be playing “Music for the Royal Fireworks” by Handel. The horn choir arrangement of this is done so that anyone of any level of playing can manage one of the parts. The 1st horn part is hard and high, the 2nd is not quite so high but has a big range and also is hard. From there they progress so that by the 8th, 9th and 10th parts they are relatively easy. I got the 10th horn part – nice and easy. This will be the final piece played at the Sunday night finale. Everyone knows this work and I think it’s a great one to end the symposium with.

In both pieces there are parts, including the parts I am playing, with bass clef. There were quite a few participants that asked for parts without bass clef. I was surprised but happy that there was something I can actually do that other much more advanced players couldn’t. I can’t transpose worth a darn yet but I can read bass clef from my piano playing days.

One of the things I am really enjoying is getting experience with different conductors. Between the two that conduct the community bands I’m in and the two here I am getting exposure to four different styles. This is not something that I would be able to experience without attending these events. The conductor of the Handel piece spent about 5 minutes discussing tuning and how to do it right. You’d think that tuning would be demanded by every conductor but this ensemble is the only one where we actually tuned up. At my community bands someone plays a tuning note but no one seems to pay any attention to it.

The rest of the day was jam packed with performances as usual. Most of the performances were by winners of various competitions that have been going on during the week. There were new compositions by the winners of the IHS composition contests, solo horn competition winners, jazz solo competition finals and horn ensemble competition finals. It’s just incredible how much music one gets to hear at this symposium. Everyday there seems to be more and more. Almost all of it is truly outstanding.

I haven’t done much practicing this week – playing yes, practicing no – so it will be interesting to see where I am once I get home. I took it easy on the drive out here so I got to hotels well before dinner time and was able to practice in the late afternoon but I’m planning on pushing it to get home so I expect that I will have two full days of no playing. This could be very good or not – I’ll know on Wednesday.

International Horn Symposium Day 6 –>