I’ve got a lot of stuff going on that’s apparently effecting my horn playing. I noticed several weeks ago that I’ve started messing up phrases in pieces that I played just fine months ago. I’m forgetting fingerings, messing up rhythms more than usual, losing my place in the music and having trouble focusing in general.
This really came to a head last week during my horn lesson with Lynn. I had a guy come to clean the chimney and he showed up during my lesson while we were playing duets. He went to take a look and came back with an estimate of $2400 and the recommendation that we shut our oil burner off – it was 30 degrees outside – and leave the house. According to him we were in imminent danger of having a puff back which is basically a small explosion in the oil burner. Well, I couldn’t play a note after that. I was completely distracted and concentrating on the music was impossible. So much for the rest of my lesson.
Both Lynn and I thought that my inability to play was due to this major distraction. We assumed it was temporary but sadly such is not the case. A friend of mine came over yesterday afternoon to play duets. Again, I couldn’t play much of anything. I had trouble with everything. You’d have thought I was only playing for a month. One of the duets we tried was a fugue that we had played a few months ago with no problems and this time I just couldn’t get it.
I told Lynn about my duet fiasco and we talked about what might be distracting me. I really didn’t feel distracted and I couldn’t put my finger on any specific thing. I am quite busy and I’ve got some more stress in my life but if you asked me I wouldn’t have said I was worried about anything more than usual. Then today at my lesson when we got to playing duets I started off just as badly. Fortunately I did get better. Not where I had been a few weeks ago but definitely better. I think some of the problem is that I lost some confidence when I played so badly at my lesson last week. If that’s it, all I need to do is find someone to play duets, or trios, or chamber music with every day. Wouldn’t that be nice.
Oh, I didn’t shut off the heat, my house is still standing and there was no explosion. I had another company come and they just cleaned the chimney for $119.00. I guess what they say about chimney companies is true.
Having to… –>
There are three rooms in my home that I practice in depending on who’s home and how much I care if they hear me practice. My favorite room to practice in, my living room / music room, has been out of commission with Christmas stuff all over the place for close to a month. That meant I practiced either in my den or my bedroom. My den is my second favorite room to practice in but most of the time someone is watching TV in there.
I’d been a bit down about my playing and in particular my sound. In my previous post I mentioned how my horn teacher, Lynn, wanted me to open up my embouchure a bit because my sound was more closed that usual. At that lesson we were playing in my bedroom. Lots of rugs, pillows, stuffed animals (yup, even at age 58) and a big comforter on a king size bed. My sound really wasn’t great. I was practicing in that room most often so I had gotten used to what I sounded like.
Well, I finally got my living room cleaned up last weekend. In contrast to my bedroom, there’s only one small rug, three chairs, no sofa, a huge window and a baby grand piano. There’s also only a half wall between my living room and my kitchen. The difference in my sound is huge. It’s hard to describe but the sound was open and ringing and I didn’t sound stifled. What a morale booster. Instead of the ‘oh gee, I have to go practice’ feeling I was back to my more normal feeling of looking forward to practicing.
I really didn’t think there was that much difference between the three rooms I practice in. I was listening more carefully this week and I think, from best to worst, it’s living room, den, bedroom. My living room clearly stands out from the other two rooms and it really makes practicing much more enjoyable. Even so, if no one is home, I usually go through my warm-up in my den while the TV is on and I don’t really listen. (I think of warm-ups as a means to an end – get loosened up and flexible. Scott Bacon, my horn teacher that I take lessons from once a month or so, wants me to think musically about everything I do. Work on phrasing and musicality no matter what exercise I’m doing.)
The difference in acoustics between my rooms makes me wonder how students learn to get a beautiful sound out of their horn when they have no choice but to practice in a dead room. Or is there a reverse of that? If a student always practices in a room that has fantastic acoustics, do they still learn how to make their horn sound good without the enhancement of the room’s acoustics? If I had my choice to practice anywhere I would pick the auditorium where my Riverhead community band rehearses. I sound incredible there. I don’t have to do anything but put air through my horn and it sounds wonderful. On the other hand, I had to work really hard to make my horn sound good in my bedroom. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not. I had to make a subtle change to my embouchure to get the horn to sound good. (See Breakthrough?) Do students do that without realizing it if the acoustics change from practice room to practice room? I’m just a student myself so I can’t answer that but it is something to wonder about.
It’s been an interesting two weeks since I last posted. For the most part I’ve been frustrated since playing day to day it’s hard to notice any progress. However, band started for the new year again after a month long Christmas break and that was an eye opening experience.
Tuesday night marked my one year anniversary playing with the 1st community band I joined. One year ago I was very apprehensive about joining a band. I didn’t really think I was ready but fortunately my horn teacher gave me a bit of a push. I remember feeling very out of place and very nervous. I was introduced to the 1st hornist and he and I were the only hornists there at the start of the rehearsal. Thank heavens the 2nd and 3rd horns showed up. I really didn’t want to have the 1st horn hear me play.
This was the first time I played with a group since college in 1972. The band director handed me the music for 4th horn and off we went into the wild blue yonder. Cut time at quite a tempo. I didn’t have a prayer of playing any notes, let alone know where we were in the music. Fortunately we played some slower stuff and I fared better at that. I liked playing with the band enough that I kept going and over time I got better.
Fast forward to last Tuesday. The music was easy! Yes, easy. The band director handed out all new music and I had absolutely no problem sight reading through it. This was a huge boost to my lagging morale about my horn playing. I’m genuinely better. Wow.
Moving on to my lesson last Thursday. I’ve been struggling through Kopprasch #3 and Singer #4 for what seems like forever. Always with the same problem areas. I can’t play from the third space C up to the F and back down to the C cleanly – I kind of bump up into the notes – no matter how much I practice it. I have the same problem with these notes in other pieces. Of course these are not the only notes I have trouble with but at the moment these are the ones that are driving me crazy.
At my lesson my horn teacher asked me to try to open up my embouchure a bit because my sound was more closed than it’s been in the past. Lots of times she says to play out more. That’s one of my bigger problems. But at this lesson playing out more wasn’t really helping my sound open up. We checked my right hand position and that was okay. Once I opened up my embouchure my teacher said that my sound got a lot better. But the bigger change was that I didn’t miss my trouble notes. I had also been playing those same notes flat for the past couple of weeks. That improved as well. At the end of that lesson I felt recharged.
I’ve been trying to keep my embouchure more open over the past couple of days. I have found that some things have changed for the worse. I’ve lost my high Bb and C which had been easy for me. The more troubling change is that my middle register has gotten fuzzy. It’s hard to describe but the notes don’t have a pure tone. I don’t miss nearly as many notes as I had been but I’m sacrificing the quality of the note.
Yesterday I tried to go back to my usual embouchure but think about opening it up rather than actually doing it. This brought back my high range and cleaned up the middle register a bit. Some of the note chipping came back from C to F but not as bad as it was. What I can’t really tell is whether my sound closed up. That’s hard for me to hear especially in the room that I’ve been practicing in for the past three weeks. Wouldn’t it be funny if my whole recent sound problem is the acoustics in the room I’m using. Overall I think this change is a slight improvement that still needs to be tweaked.
Practice room acoustics –>