Blog not

I’ve been more silent than usual this week. For reasons mostly involving my adult children, I am switching from a MacBook to a MacBook Pro. (Thank you Apple for obsoleting my new MacBook four months after I bought it. Thank you Holly for needing a laptop.) I have been painfully backing up my MacBook at the expense of writing my blog and doing my usual two hours of practicing. (Aside to Julia Rose – this is not nearly as much fun as a new puppy.)

Some of you computer types may be wondering why I didn’t just back up my MacBook and restore it on my MacBook Pro. Well…I’m one of those try everything people and the MacBook has gotten quite slow. iCal, for example, takes close to a minute to open up. I decided that it was a much better idea not to put all the old junk on the new MacBook Pro.

Add to that the fact that Holly will be taking the MacBook away before the new one arrives. This necessitates my use of my old PC laptop that has, despite two trips to HP for repair, a bad video module resulting in the blue screen of death appearing every fifteen minutes or so. Ugh. Transferring files is a pain in the butt.

Coming up shortly – a post mostly written by David Amram. (Thank you David.) At least there will be something to read, music related but only marginally horn related, until my computer hassle is over with.

David Amram –>

Chops etcetera

I am still dealing with some chops issues. It seems to be an inconsistent problem  – Monday no good, Tuesday so-so, Wednesday fine, Thursday awful, Friday back to so-so. Thursday was so bad – couldn’t play anything below middle C that didn’t sound like my dog farting – that yesterday Lynn, my horn teacher, and I worked on long tones and easy slurs for about half my lesson. I would describe my lip as squirrelly. Sometimes it was okay and other times the lower notes were right on the edge of my upper lip failing.

I’m much better at dealing with this sort of stuff now than I was several months ago. I know that I have good days and bad days and that ultimately I will play even better because that always seems to be the pattern. I go through bad spells and then miraculously I get a lot better. It’s frustrating going through the bad spells now mostly because I don’t accomplish what I want to when I’m practicing. When my chops aren’t behaving everything gets sloppy, including me. Today Lynn noticed that I was slouching in my chair and not breathing properly. I didn’t realize it but I was in the mode of ‘I’m playing sucky, so I’ll just sit sucky and breathe sucky too.’ We did some stretching exercises and some breathing exercises which helped my playing quite a bit and my attitude a whole lot. There’s nothing like sitting up straight to refresh one’s brain.

BERP

BERP

At today’s lesson I also worked with a BERP (Buzz Extension Resistance Piece). Lynn recommended it way back when I first started lessons but at that time I could hardly buzz so the BERP got put into a drawer and forgotten about. What a difference now. I played arpeggios on the BERP first and then played them on the horn. They were instantly better. It was a wow moment. Much smoother and louder. I have problems playing loud so now I have a tool that can help with that and a whole lot more. When I first bought the BERP I didn’t really understand what the point was. Now I get it. Big time. The BERP has earned its place on my leadpipe and will remain there. It’s a good gizmo!

Speaking of gizmos, when I was at IHS I bought a stem weight, also called a donut, from Tom Greer. According to Tom’s website it “cuts down on the ‘radiation’ of high partials from the leadpipe, enhancing projection and tone quality.” When I tried it at IHS Tom said I sounded more centered. I use it more often than not and I do think it makes a positive difference though it’s subtle. They come in different sizes so if you get one make sure it fits on the mouthpiece.

I also purchased a Body Beat metronome back in May. Those of you who have read some my earlier posts know that I can easily block out the beat of the metronome which is especially bad for me since rhythm is not one of my strong suits. The Body Beat sends a pulse down a wire that is clipped on to clothing next to the body so you can feel the beat. This actually helps me a lot. At my last lesson with Scott Bacon at the end of June he said my rhythm was the best he’d heard it. It is a bit of a pain in the butt to use and it’s gone flying off the music stand if I get up and forget to unclip it. I think it’s a good tool for anyone struggling with a standard metronome.

Blog not –>

Chops

I don’t have any.

I thought I recovered from the three hours of playing every day at horn camp at the beginning of last week. I got home a week ago Saturday and went straight to a band concert. Chops were good. I put in two hours of practice Sunday – chops were still good. But….band rehearsal last Monday night – ugh – no chops. I backed off practicing to about 40 minutes a day but Tuesday – Sunday – still no chops. Last night’s band concert – marginal chops.

The symptoms – very fuzzy, almost screechy tone and no high range. Low range is fine. I commented on my lack of chops on my Facebook page and Tom Greer wrote back “don’t go to horn camp.” Probably good advice but I had way too much fun and will go back again. I have a band rehearsal tonight so I will see if there is some improvement. I’ve opted not to practice today and just spend some extra time warming up before the rehearsal.

I think I’ll cook chops for dinner tonight. Maybe that will help.

Chops etcetera –>

BTI – Friday

Today our warm-ups were led by Kathy Mehrtens who is a member of the faculty at The College of New Jersey. Her warm-ups are based on warm-ups by Arnold Jacobs and Randy Gardner. The warm-up starts out on middle C, goes up to D, back to C, then down to B, back to C, then up to E, G, B and C, all slurred whole notes. The pattern is reversed going back down and done in all keys. Kathy wrote out the warm-ups in all the keys (thank you Kathy!) so it was easy for me to play them. Yes, I know I have to fix this problem of mine and I’ve now got assignments from my horn teacher to memorize two scales for every lesson. Kathy also included warm downs in the harmonic minor keys.

We went from the warm-ups to our final horn choir rehearsal. We did run throughs of the Cantos IV and Hansel und Gretel and spent some time on the Fanfare from La Peri which, in my opinion, needed quite a bit of work. Up until this rehearsal I was playing 2nd horn in the 2nd choir of the Cantos work. As we started the dress rehearsal we realized that the fellow on 3rd horn, 2nd choir, was ill and didn’t come to the rehearsal. Kathy Mehrtens jumped in to play 3rd and, since there were three of us on 2nd, I moved over to play 3rd as well. I was a little concerned sight reading a part at the dress rehearsal but it really went okay. Kathy kept telling me I was doing great which was very encouraging. It was a very rewarding feeling as I realized that my sight reading has improved dramatically since I first started in the community band back in January.

After lunch six of the attendees performed recitals. Three people performed works that they also played for Barry’s master class. One of the young students, a really, really good high school student, played the Adagio movement from the Kurt Attenberg Concerto in A Minor from memory. Towards the end she lost her place and all of us held our collective breath. Fortunately she watched the pianist, Tomoko Kanamaru, who gave her a great cue, and she recovered. If this had to happen, it couldn’t have happened at a better place with a very understanding audience. Although the recital was open to the public, the ‘public’ was basically parents, spouses and friends of the attendees.

Our final quartet rehearsal was next. By this rehearsal I had the Debussey down pretty well (Bob Lauver may disagree with that statement) but the Riggins March was still causing me fits. Fortunately, since the Riggins work was a trio, Bob was doubling my part. On top of that, my chops were essentially trashed by this time. By the end of the rehearsal I felt like I would survive the concert but I would have liked a lot more rehearsal time.

The last event at BTI was the final concert also open to the public. We started with the Cantos with each horn choir on opposite sides of the hall up in the balconies. Barry was conducting from the back of the hall. We sounded awesome from my perspective and many in the audience said it was fantastic. My quartet was up next thank goodness. I was really nervous and I was very glad to be on early in the concert. This was my first experience playing in public in a small group. It went okay but I certainly could have played better. I did play better at the rehearsal. After it was over Bob said I did great but I think he was being nice. I think there is going to be a CD made so I will hear for myself how it really went.

All the other ensembles played after we did and I thought everything was excellent. The faculty played some really great horn and piano, horn duets and horn quartets and then the horn choir was back on for the final two pieces. By this time I was calm. I played in two horn choirs at IHS and by now I’ve played in many band concerts so I wasn’t very nervous. I think we played really well – even the La Peri fanfare.

After the concert we had a pizza party and everyone said goodbye and those of us who lived relatively nearby – defined as on the east coast – each other made plans to try to get together. We were all sorry that BTI was over. It’s really hard to describe how fantastic this experience was. I know I came out a better horn player than when BTI started. I think it would have been years before I had a chance to play in a quartet in public. I learned a lot and I gained confidence with my playing. I’m definitely going again next year.

Chops –>

BTI – Thursday

This morning we started with warm-ups led by Mary Bisson. I liked these warm-ups a lot better than the ones we did yesterday. Mary’s warm-ups start by just moving air to get the lips buzzing and playing the lowest note you can play. Then go up chromatically staying relaxed. After that, play the same notes with a slight crescendo and decrescendo. These are followed by octave slurs. Eventually the warm-up gets up to a high C provided the note can be played comfortably.

After the warm-ups we went straight into the horn choir rehearsal. All the horn choir rehearsals were held standing up and I was very glad that I switched to playing off the leg about three months ago. There were many people who were aching pretty badly by the end of an hour and a half. The Cantos IV is my favorite of the three pieces we are playing. When we perform it we will be split up on two opposite balconies in the concert hall and Barry will conduct from the back of the hall.

At lunchtime we played a lawn concert for the faculty barbeque. It was very windy and it was hard to keep the music straight up. At one point Barry’s score flew all over the place but he kept on going finally throwing the remaining pages up in the air at the end of the piece. It was pretty funny.

The faculty session after lunch was “Get Better Faster” taught by Jean Rife. We spent a lot of time talking about optimizing practice and lesson time. Schedule practice time for the week; decide what to practice each morning before you start; make lists of what you have studied and what you want to learn to show your teacher; take notes during your lesson. Jean handed out about three pages of very valuable information. She’s copyrighted her handouts so I can’t say too much more.

Our horn ensemble was next. Yesterday I mentioned my troubles with memorizing scales. Well my other big problem is rhythm. I’m getting better but I struggle with off-beats – not the kind in concert band music – but when I’m playing a different rhythm than the other instruments. Bob Lauver had to be totally exasperated with me but he didn’t show it. He was unbelievably patient as were the other members of the quartet. That’s part of why this experience was so great – no judgement.

Our day ended with a master class given by Barry. Four students prepared works to perform – Strauss 1, 1st. mvt; Jacobs Concerto, 1st mvt; Nelhybel, Scherzo Concertante; and Bernhard Heiden, Sonata. Hearing Barry talk about the musicality of the pieces was wonderful. It was a great learning experience.

BTI -Friday –>

BTI – Wednesday Afternoon

Back in 1969 I met Barry at an event at Dartmouth College and got a signed postcard from him. Amazingly I found this postcard just laying on a shelf in my home office closet shortly after I started playing the horn again. 40 years later! It was almost like a sign saying ‘go play that horn again girl’.

Signed Postcard by Barry Tuckwell

Signed Postcard by Barry Tuckwell

Tina and Barry with Postcard

Tina and Barry with Postcard

At lunch I mentioned to Barry that we met once, which of course he didn’t remember, and asked him if he would mind signing my postcard again. I brought the postcard to the horn choir rehearsal and got it signed along with a picture of me and Barry.

Wednesday afternoon’s horn choir rehearsal was actually our second rehearsal. We did have a rehearsal on Tuesday evening which I forgot to mention in that post. We are playing “Cantos IV: Das Alte Jahr Vergangen Ist, Ein Feste Burg” (that’s a mouthful) by Samuel Scheidt, “Fanfare from La Peri” by Paul Dukas, and “Hansel and Gretel: Prelude – Chorale” by Engelbert Humperdinck. The Cantos is made up of two horn choirs and I played 3rd horn in the second choir. I played 5th horn for the other two pieces.

Cantos IV Music

Cantos IV Music

Fanfare from La Peri Music

Fanfare from La Peri Music

Hansel und Gretel Music

Hansel und Gretel Music

I was very happy that the horn choir music was fairly easy. It made the whole experience of playing in the choir with Barry conducting relaxing and enjoyable, plus we all sounded awesome.

There were two other sessions in the afternoon. One was a master class on the natural horn lead by Jean Rife. I really enjoyed this class. Jean brought several different natural horns, gave some really good demonstrations of the capabilities of the horns, and had some of us try the horns and play some duets with her.

The other class of the afternoon was a faculty session titled, “If only I could…(Fixing those nasty little shortcomings in your horn playing)” led by Mary Bisson. For these faculty sessions we were divided up into small groups so we could really zero in on our specific issues. In the class I was in we worked on lip trills, flutter tonguing, double and triple tonguing and we talked about transposition, sight-reading and nerves.

After dinner we were treated to “An Evening with Barry Tuckwell.” It was wonderful to hear him talk about his career and relay some funny stories. He even spoke about his last performance where he didn’t play the last note.

BTI – Thursday –>

BTI – Wednesday Morning

Wednesday morning we started our jam packed schedule with warm-ups. There was a daily early morning yoga class which I decided not to do. I’m just not into yoga. This decision was probably a mistake since the yoga classes were tailored for horn playing.

Bob Lauver, a hornist in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, taught this mornings’ warm-up class. Bob wrote the basis of his warm-up on the blackboard and then we went through it in all keys.

Bob Lauver Warm-up

Bob Lauver Warm-up

I struggled with this warm-up for two reasons. One is that I start my warm-up on low C and move down and then up from there. Bob’s warm-up starts on middle C and goes up. I had trouble playing any note above G. Bob wouldn’t even let us buzz on the mouthpiece before we started so I couldn’t even warm-up for the warm-up. The second reason is that I don’t know my scales by memory yet when played at a quick tempo. Yes I know I have to learn them so they just flow off my fingers without having to think about them. I can play all the major scales in the Pares book at a reasonably quick tempo when I’m reading the notes.

After the warm-ups we went to our ensemble groups. I was placed in a quartet that Bob was teaching. Other students were put in larger groups. My first reaction was ‘why me?’ I’ve never played in that small an ensemble and the three other members of the quartet were young students who play distinctly better than I do. Looking back being placed in this group forced me way out of my comfort zone which, in the end, was very good for me.

Debussy Trois Chansons

Debussy Trois Chansons

Riggins Arioso

Riggins Arioso

Riggins March

Riggins March

The music Bob picked was “Trois Chansons, 1. Dieu! qu’il la fait bon regarder!’ by Claude Debussy and “Suite for Three Horns: Arioso, March” by H. Lee Riggins. At first glance the music looked quite hard for me – lots of 16th notes which always elicit panic – but Bob assured me that it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

After the first rehearsal I felt a little better about playing these pieces. As Bob said, they weren’t as bad as they looked. Besides that, playing in the quartet was lots of fun. Bob was absolutely wonderful with me. He took the time to help with some of the tougher passages, was really encouraging and had lots of patience. Time for lunch.

BTI – Wednesday Afternoon –>