Summer 2011

Like everyone else, I’m wondering what happened to the summer. Usually I remember what I didn’t manage to get done that I had hoped to – bicycling, exercise, piano, school review, etc., etc. – but I realized the other day that I did do a lot of horn stuff and that’s a really good thing. In addition to attending the BSO Academy that I posted about last June, I played in a trio at the 92nd Street Y in NYC, took numerous lessons, sometimes more than once a week, practiced at least 2 hours a day and attended Jeff Nelsen’s Fearless Camp again a few weeks ago. I also bought a 1969 N series Conn 8D a few weeks before the BSO Academy.

So to start, why did I buy a Conn horn or any horn for that matter? Back when I started going to school last September, I was getting a bit beat up about my bright sound and I began what has turned into a year long effort to warm up and darken my sound. A lot of this effort is working on air, support, vowel sounds, and opening up my throat. Some of it is trying other horns and mouthpieces, one of which was the Conn. It solved my bright sound problem and amidst my ‘should I or shouldn’t I’ get another horn agita, my teacher’s comment, “Just get the big assed American horn” sealed the deal.

I’ve posted about air numerous times, frequently saying that I think I’ve figured it out. Well I think each time I put together another piece of the puzzle but I’m still learning. Another comment from my teacher, “Just blow for heavens sake”, helped. The Conn, however, has helped me tremendously as did lessons from two of the pros at the BSO. The Conn just needs more air and support and it’s teaching me to use air correctly all the time. Taking lessons from different people helps because they’ll say something just slightly differently than my teacher and all of a sudden something clicks. When I got back from the BSO Academy I realized that I had made a solid leap in the right direction using air and my sound on my Otto horn has improved significantly.

I’d be very content with my Conn and my Otto except that the mild tendonitis that I’ve had in my left shoulder has turned into screaming, stabbing horrible pain to the point that holding either horn is extremely painful. Sometime last year I bought a hornstick to try to help with my shoulder but it is quite clumsy to use and it looks dorky besides. If it worked well I’d deal with looking dorky. I’ve tried playing on the leg but that really doesn’t relieve that much weight off my left shoulder. Then in early July I was playing duets with a good friend of mine and I tried his Schmid and it was like manna from heaven. Not only in weight but in sound as well. So I placed an order for a Schmid from Houghton Horns.

I don’t have the Schmid yet and when I was at Fearless Camp Jeff Nelson got in an Otto 201 that is lighter than my Otto 180K and of course, lighter than the Conn. I sound pretty good on it too but I wasn’t sure it was ‘the horn’ so I got a loaner Schmid from Houghton Horns and I’ve been testing both of them for the past week and a half. The Schmid is still lighter by 150 grams and the balance of weight favors my shoulder. The Otto feels lighter nearer the bell. Sound wise, they are similar when I play them and depending on which mouthpiece I use I can get either one of them to sound great. I’ve finally made a decision to go with the Schmid because of the weight. With both horns sounding great, weight is why I’m getting another horn. Now I have to decide if I want to wait for the lacquered Schmid I ordered or just get the unlacquered one I have on loan.

Back to air – my big challenge now is to remember to keep the air going all the time. I understand what I need to do finally. I have notes written all over my music about keeping up air support, blowing thru notes and taking big breaths. Now it needs to become a habit.

I’ve been thinking about why I don’t post that often anymore and some of it is because I’m really busy but it’s also because my horn playing doesn’t change rapidly any more. Changes come over months of work. In the beginning, change happened everyday. Joy, frustration, extreme frustration, endurance, no endurance, stiffness, air, no air, on and on. Now I just practice. I don’t think of days or hours in terms of good or bad. I do lots of work and I get slow acceptable progress. Yay. I’ll post when interesting horn things happen.

3 thoughts on “Summer 2011

  1. Interesting about the shoulder pain. I have been having the same trouble and I can’t tell if it’s because of the long layoff (30+ years), or maybe because I’m playing a different horn than I was in my youth. I’m also wondering if weight training (which I did for many years until about two years ago) would be helpful. I can definitely feel the pressure on my shoulder and left arm while I’m playing so maybe strengthening all those upper body muscles will help relieve the pain.

    I’d love to buy a horn (I’ve been borrowing one for the year since I started playing again) but I don’t feel that I am yet playing well enough to be able to competently make a decision on which is the “best” for me. Perhaps a lighter or smaller instrument would prove to be the answer, as it seems to have been in your case.

    I love reading your blog! Thanks for writing,



    • Hi Susan,
      Thank you for your comments and for reading my blog! I’m not a doctor but my guess is that your shoulder pain is partially related to the horn playing. You are putting new stress on tendons and ligaments and this type of injury tends to develop slowly over time. My doctor and my horn teacher have told me that strength training will help but you have to do it correctly. You should see your doc for instructions on the proper methods.

      As for buying a horn, in my opinion, don’t get one yet unless your shoulder is screaming at you and you have exhausted all other possibilities. I think you are right when you say you don’t feel qualified yet to make the correct horn decision. I just barely feel qualified to buy the ‘right’ one now and if my shoulder wasn’t giving me such grief I definitely would not be buying another horn. If you are enjoying practicing and learning keep using the borrowed horn. One thing I did while practicing when my shoulder was just awful was to rest my left elbow on a tray table and get the best position by adding a book or two. Of course, this is totally impractical outside of your practice room.

      Keep playing and keep in touch!


  2. Tina,

    Don’t forget to have some fun on the horn, too…it makes the work worth while! Buy a recording of your favorite piece, turn up the stereo really loudly and play along! Kristine


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