School Recap

Last week I finished my first year back in school. I did well and really enjoyed the experience. The mundane silly stuff that I was worried about – parking and walking to class from the lot on ice and snow – was a non-issue. I had some concerns about fitting in with the kids but that wasn’t an issue either. Everyone was as nice as they could be and even started including me in conversations after a few weeks.

In the first semester I struggled a bit with theory not because I didn’t understand it but because I kept making stupid mistakes. I finally realized that I was inverting letters of the alphabet. For example, if I was in the key of C and had to use the 2nd scale degree I would think B instead of D. Once I knew to check carefully for mistakes like that I started to do well in theory. I think I must have some form of dyslexia. I’ve never known my right from my left without checking which arm my watch is on and I’m not good at the alphabet unless I sing the ABC song. I switch the sequence of phone numbers all the time.

This leads me to my biggest problem which is playing scales. I’ve been practicing scales every day since I started playing the horn again. I know C by rote. I am just getting D and Bb by rote. The scales that I have to think about I mess up every time. I’ll get lost halfway through the scale or forget what scale I’m playing or think the wrong note. If I know the note I’m at I don’t have a problem knowing if it’s natural, sharp or flat but remembering that F comes after E is a problem. Going backwards is close to impossible. My problem with scales has hurt my jury grades and somehow I’m going to have to learn them.

I was talking to a horn teacher and friend of mine a few weeks ago and she was telling me that she’s teaching a high school student who is an excellent horn player but has the same problems with scales. She suggested working on just one scale at a time until I know it by rote and then moving on to the next one. I’ve been working on G for about a week now. At this rate maybe I’ll know the major scales by the end of the summer.

My second biggest problem is identifying intervals. I still can’t reliably identify major and minor thirds, especially harmonically. Since I’m having trouble with thirds, I have trouble identifying triads and their inversions. It also seems that the more I work at it the worse I get. For the most part I don’t have trouble with melodic dictation. I listen for reference notes and then figure out the intervals in the dictation from there. I do fine with sight singing also. I’m going to work on intervals everyday over the summer so I hope I get them in my ear by the time Aural Skills 3 starts in the fall.

With horn playing my challenges are still air and rhythm. I finally understand what it is that I need to do with air but very frequently I don’t remember to do it. I think once using air correctly becomes a habit my horn playing will improve a lot. For rhythm I practice with a metronome but I still have an amazing capacity to completely block it out. I must have at least six different metronomes – even some that poke me or buzz on my wrist – but none of them stop me from blocking them out. I have at least gotten to the point that after a few measures I realize that I’m not with the metronome anymore.

My last issue that has been plaguing me since the fall is my sound. I’ve already blogged about this but gosh it’s driving me crazy. My sound is overly bright and I’ve been playing around with different horns trying to find one that warms and darkens my sound. I love my Otto horn except for the sound I get from it. That’s a big ‘except’. My horn feels like an old friend, sort of like a favorite flannel shirt and I hate the thought of changing horns but this sound thing is making me miserable. I’m also still a novice so it’s probably not the best time to change horns. On the other hand, I’m playing the horn because I love playing the horn and not liking my sound makes playing a lot less fun. I’ve tried different right hand positions, different posture, and putting the horn on my chops at different angles but nothing seems to help. I wish a genie would just pop out of a bottle and grant my wish for a better sound on my Otto horn.

Performing – new trouble

Although I feel like most of my nervousness when I perform has gone away, I still play badly when I perform. I’m not sure how to overcome this issue. On Friday I had my spring semester jury exam and yesterday I performed Laudatio at a small recital in NYC and I seem to have come up with a new way to screw up.

Previously I would chip, overshoot or undershoot notes but ultimately I would end up playing the correct note and continue playing the correct notes. This was all about using air correctly and for the most part I’ve finally got that figured out (it only took three years) so I chip a whole lot fewer notes at least when I remember to use my air properly. At the dress rehearsal for my jury, at my jury exam and again yesterday I played the wrong pitches on lots of passages. Not just one or two here and there but entire phrases. This is something new. I’ve always had the problem of nailing the first note of a piece correctly but this week I’ve just missed way too much. I played an awful lot of notes that Bernhard Krol didn’t write yesterday and that Hindemith and Alec Wilder didn’t write the day before.

I played the first movement of the Hindemith Sonata at my jury and I rehearsed with the pianist at least five times and the first three times went very well. We had to work on rhythm issues but I was playing the correct notes. Then at the dress rehearsal and at the final run through I started playing entire passages about a third lower. After these fiascos I went back to playing along with the recording and just practicing the piece and everything was fine. Then at the performance I again played the wrong notes. I also did this with the Wilder Sonata at the jury and I had never messed up the Wilder that way before my performance. Yesterday I did the same thing on Laudatio and I know that piece about as well as anything I’ve ever played. I played it through five times yesterday morning correctly and then blew the entire opening section at the performance. ┬áIt got better toward the end of the piece but I played way too much that was just wrong; clean notes but wrong notes.

I’ve always played worse at the performance than at any practice session or rehearsal but this has been the air problem which goes hand in hand with nervousness. As I get better with air and get less nervous my confidence that I can play better at a performance has gone up. Now I feel like my confidence level has dropped back to where it was a year ago which was pretty much non existant. I have something new to worry about and I don’t know how to fix it because I don’t know why it’s happening. Even worse, I don’t have any performances coming up until the middle of the fall semester so I have way too much time to stew over this. I’d love some suggestions on how to fix this.