Fearless Performance Horn Workshop

Last weekend I attended the fabulous two day Fearless Performance Workshop run by it’s creator, Jeff Nelson. This two day session was held at Siegfried’s Call in Beacon, NY. It’s an awesome workshop that I think everyone should attend. This was the third time I attended his fearless workshop – the previous ones I went to were his four day ones – and it still was extremely beneficial for me. Some of you may be wondering why I’ve attended more than once. Didn’t it work the first time?

Yes, it worked the first time. Jeff has so much information packed into this workshop that attending more that once is really worthwhile. There is only so much information that anyone can absorb at one time and I love refreshers. Each time I’ve attended I’ve learned new ideas and reinforced the old ones. There are some things that just need to be heard more than once. My performance anxiety, which negatively impacts my performances every time, decreases each time I go to one. At this workshop there was a concert at the end of the first day and I was definitely less nervous than I have been at previous performances. There is also a lot of peer to peer performing and by the last time we did it I wasn’t nervous at all. I think these workshops are so good that I will attend again. I’ll probably attend every time Jeff runs one that fits into my schedule.

These workshops are not just for horn players, any musician or even non-musician can attend and learn. The underlying theme is letting go of fear in your life, not only in performances and auditions. This is a very simplified statement of what is covered in the workshop. The best information of what the workshop is all about is on Jeff’s website.

Choosing a school

My first year back at school (2010 – 2011) went very well and this past fall I decided that I wanted to continue on to a 4 year school. The first thing was to look at which schools on Long Island had decent music departments, were affordable, and not more than an hour’s drive from my house. I whittled down my choices to two schools – State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook and Long Island University, Post Campus. (Formerly known as C.W. Post.) Post is a private school and would be way out of the ‘affordable’ range except that they offer great scholarships based on merit which I qualified for.

The next step was to apply, write the dreaded “why do I want to go to this school” essay, send in transcripts and then wait to hear if I got in. First I had to get accepted into the school and then audition for the music department. Fortunately I got into both schools and I survived the auditions and got into both music departments as well.

So now I had to decide which school to go to. Stony Brook is about 20 minutes from my house and Post is an hour from my house not counting the misery of driving during rush hour. That easily adds another half hour to the trip. So clearly, Stony Brook wins when it comes to commuting to school.  The required curriculum is similar, though Post doesn’t require a language and Post accepted all of my transfer credits from back in 1972. They also accepted all my music credits from Suffolk. Stony Brook was putting me back a year for theory and aural skills. Hmm. Suffolk and Stony Brook are both SUNY schools and I had a 4.0 in Suffolk. I found that odd. Post wins for credit acceptance.

Post has a program called ‘spend a day with a music student’ which I attended. I enjoyed the day except for the junior level theory class which I found bizarre. We spent the entire class singing and I felt it was much closer to an aural skills class than a theory class. I was very concerned because aural skills is by far my weakest subject. So that one class tipped the scales toward Stony Brook.

Financially, Post wins the tuition battle because of the scholarships I received. The tuition is around $31K and I got $27K in scholarships. However, I had to add the cost of gas and mileage on my car which did get the cost of the two schools closer together.

So at this point, Stony Brook is ahead on commuting (which is a big deal) and their more normal theory class. Post is ahead financially and for accepting all my credits. They are also ahead because they are so nice. Every time I visited the school, no matter who I was seeing, I felt like they genuinely cared about me. I felt much more like a number when dealing with Stony Brook. Even so, I was leaning toward Stony Brook until I finally realized that the most important reason for choosing a school was the horn teacher. And in that category, Post wins hands down. Sharon Moe has great credentials, but more importantly, I’ve had more than a few lessons with her and we get along really well and we communicate well. At Stony Brook, I’d be stuck with a TA. So, despite the commute, the likely hood that I’ll probably spend more than a few nights in a hotel because of late night rehearsals, and that weird theory class, I’ve picked Post.

The past few weeks

This semester feels harder than last semester was and I’m not sure why. Some of it is that I’m doing a bit more non-school stuff and another thing is that my piano class is pure torture. I dread going to class. My personality and my way of learning is a total opposite to how the piano teacher is teaching the class. She runs (literally – she’s even leaped over piano benches) around the classroom stopping at each student and says ‘play this.’ If you make any mistake she corrects it instantly – “no, that’s the third finger” or “that’s a Bb” and she does it so fast that I don’t digest what she said and I just make the change like a robot. I need to fix my own mistakes to learn unless I get into real trouble figuring out a passage. I find my hands shaking and of course that leads to more errors. New pieces or techniques that she teaches in class she expects us to learn in about 5 minutes. There isn’t a prayer that I can do that. We are expected to practice a minimum of one hour per day which is more than the requirement for our major instruments. Of course I try to practice the horn at least two hours a day and one or the other gets shortchanged. Usually it’s piano so I am struggling in this class.

On the positive side, I’m doing well in theory class and I really enjoy it. We’re doing four part chorals and it’s lots of fun. Lots of rules to follow but I’m good at things that I get specific instructions for. I like my aural skills class but I am realizing that I don’t have the ear I used to have. I am most worried about this class.

The band situation that I wrote about has finally improved. The student who plays first horn and who can’t seem to leave his cell phone alone whenever he’s not playing got caught by a guest soloist we had the other day. He now has to put his cell phone on the piano near the conductor. He has also been replaced as section leader. However, he doesn’t know what to do with himself when he’s not playing so at the last rehearsal he spent his time writing his name in his bell with spit.

In my last blog I mentioned that I auditioned for a community orchestra in NYC. Well, I got in. Yay. We rehearse on Sunday mornings and since I live about and 1 hour, forty five minutes from the venue and the rehearsal is 2 1/2 hours I lose most of Sunday for studying. I’ve been to two rehearsals so far and losing Sunday for studying and piano practice is turning into a challenge though I don’t regret playing in the orchestra at all. I’ve been trying to find an orchestra to play in for a long time. It seems quite easy to find community bands to play in and very hard to find orchestras to play in.

Since the fall my horn teacher has been working with me on my sound and we’ve really zeroed in on sound for the past two weeks. I’ve been doing a lot of listening to pro horn players on CDs and also listening to my teacher play and the other horn students play. I’ve been told that my sound is too bright and I agree and it’s frustrating me. My husband says I sound more like a trombone than a horn. I’ve been working on opening my throat and using different vowel sounds and that helps a bit but not enough to solve the problem. I was able to test a Conn 8D, a Paxman, and a Reynolds and I sound much better on all these horns. They have other challenges but at least I can get the sound I want. My horn is only a year and a half old so I can’t really afford to replace it yet but this isn’t the ‘forever’ horn I had hoped it would be. I’ve got the Conn and the Reynolds on loan for a while so maybe I’ll be able to get past the challenges – like my high range on the Conn and a very painful hand position on the Reynolds. My jury exam is on May 6th. Maybe I’ll use one of these horns for the jury so I have a sound closer to what the judges are expecting.

 

Appreciable progress

This has been an interesting week. On Sunday I auditioned for a community orchestra in NYC. I only found out about this audition the Thursday evening before the audition so I didn’t have much time to work anything up. I had already put away the pieces I played for my jury exam last December and hadn’t looked at them at all since so I opted for the first movement of Strauss 1 which I will be playing for my May jury. The beginning was in pretty good shape but the fast section still needed some work, well okay, a lot of work. I also selected three excerpts – two that I worked on for Jeff Nelson’s Fearless Camp back in August and one that my horn teacher gave me Saturday during an extra lesson to prep for the audition.

I spent hours working on the Strauss but I realized, very happily, that the excerpts that I had already worked on were much, much easier to play. This is one of the first times that I could absolutely tell that I had measurably improved over the past six months. I had interpretive issues to work on but the notes and rhythms were just there. It was a nice surprise. The new excerpt Mahler 1, third movement, was also learnable by Sunday. I worked on it at my lesson late Saturday afternoon and once again practicing Sunday morning.

At the audition, another surprise. I wasn’t anywhere near as nervous as I have been in the past. I’ve spent a lot of time working on overcoming performance anxiety and it’s starting to pay off. Fearless Camp, performance anxiety therapy sessions, reading books on anxiety, and just performing at school, have all contributed to less nerves. I think because I was less nervous I played a great audition. Clearly the best I’ve ever done. I even played the fast section of the Struass very decently and no misses on the excerpts, even the new one. I have no idea if I’ll get in to the orchestra because I don’t know what level of player they are looking for but I know that I did as well as I could. It was very nice to walk out of there with a ‘yes, I did it’ feeling.

The other good thing was at Monday night’s band rehearsal. We had just done our winter concert so we had all new music to sight read. I had no problems with it. None. I found the selections fairly easy and other long term members of the band were complaining that the conductor picked hard music. Here was more proof of my continuing improvement.

Finally, in Wind Ensemble at school we are playing Festive Overture. I ‘played’, and I say that very loosely, Festive about a year ago in my community band and I really, really struggled through it. Not now. There are a few really fast runs that I have to work on but I’ve already got them in my fingers. I can really tell that there is a huge difference between last year and now.

Who’s on first?

Okay, I’m pissed. Today’s band rehearsal really had me seeing red. We had auditions for seating in the college Symphonic Band and for Wind Ensemble  a few weeks ago and, after today’s rehearsal, who got what is really ticking me off. I didn’t audition for 1st chair because I expected that Manny, the fellow who played first last semester, would stay on at 1st this semester since it’s his last semester and he did fine with it last semester.  It just seemed like the right thing to do. (Not that I had any expectations of getting 1st anyway though I did play 1st last semester in Orchestra and I did fine with Beethoven 2nd.)  But I would have thrown my hat in the ring and auditioned for 1st chair if I thought for a minute that someone other than Manny would get the position.

Now all that being said, the guy who got 1st plays okay but I don’t see much difference between him and the other three of us. Supposedly he has a great sound but that was not evident today. And we all have our good points and our bad points. However, he is a freshman and he is very immature. He has no business leading a section regardless of how well he plays. Today he spent the entire rehearsal texting and he didn’t listen to anything the conductor said. That’s what really pushed me over the edge. To be given the privilege and responsibility of leading a section and then behave like he could care less about it is inexcusable.  He also was forced into holding a sectional (he clearly didn’t want to do it) and he picked a time where I had to hang around for 3 hours before we started. Okay, sometimes it’s very hard to find a time that works for everyone. What got me angry was that our sectional lasted less than 15 minutes and was a complete waste of time.

On to me getting 4th chair. So far we have first filled and the guy who should have gotten first is playing second. Who’s on third? Some kid who didn’t even audition and isn’t a music major and who hasn’t played his horn for eight months and who has the most god awful embouchure I have ever seen. I know I told the band director before the auditions that I was okay playing 4th (he asked what I wanted to play) but I also said to him that he should put me where I fit playing wise. To me that sentence meant that if there are three horn players who are better than me then I should get 4th. It didn’t mean put the guy you have never heard play and who doesn’t care at all what chair he plays on 3rd and put me on 4th. It’s going to be a really long semester in band. Why I didn’t take orchestra this semester (big mistake) will be the subject of the my next blog.

Updates – Nerves

I haven’t posted in about 5 months because I have been insanely busy with school and then the holidays and then school again. I’ll cover what’s been happening in the next few posts starting with performance anxiety.

I have a bad case of nerves and I can’t seem to play for people anywhere close to what I can do in the practice room. I’ve been working on this issue starting by attending ‘FAT’ camp run by Jeff Nelson at Indiana University back in August. ‘FAT’ stands for Fearless Auditioning Training. The week consists of some lectures and tools to help with nerves and lots and lots of playing for judges and for the other people in the class. The first time I had to play I was a basket case but as the week went on I did get more used to playing and had less anxiety. The last day was the ‘final’ mock audition which seemed to be more important than the previous ones. For me, this change brought back all the anxiety in spades.

I also think I shot myself in the foot by choosing music and excerpts that were a bit of a stretch for me. I think the biggest reason that I get nervous playing in front of people is that I don’t trust myself, I don’t trust that the correct note will come out of the horn, and I don’t have the confidence that I know the music well enough to play it decently. I don’t think having an audience is the problem. I can get up and speak in front of a thousand people, and I have done that during my former career, and have absolutely no nerves at all. I should have selected music that I knew inside and out. I think that would have shown me that I can play something I know without too many nerves.

I am getting better playing in front of my teachers. With my first teacher, Lynn Steeves, it took me many lessons to get calm. With Scott Bacon it took me months to get calmer and I only recently have gotten completely comfortable. When I met Debbie Schmidt when she was checking my horn she had me play for her and I was terrified. When I worked with Debbie for the FAT camp it took me a few lessons to put some form of decent playing together. With my latest teacher it took about three lessons for me to get calm and play the way I do when I’m alone.

When I got back from FAT camp I went to see a therapist to work on my nerves. These sessions helped quite a bit. She had me bring my horn and one of the things we worked on was picking up the horn and getting good imagery into my head. I had an audition for the college orchestra and for most of it I did okay. I think I played Strauss’ Nocturno reasonably well, the fast section at the end of Strauss 1 sort of okay, but then an A major scale was a disaster. I have discovered that I get more nervous instead of less nervous as I keep going.

I’ve had three more opportunities to play for people at school. Every time I play I get ever so slightly less nervous. By the time I got to my jury exam I played my three pieces decently and wasn’t too shaky. However, I completely blew an A flat major scale at the end. I need to keep finding opportunities to play which is hard to do.

My biggest accomplishment was playing Laudatio by Krol at my mother’s memorial concert a few weeks ago at the Manhattan School of Music. I managed to get up on stage in front of a room full of professional musicians and play decently. I was nervous but I managed to control it well enough. Last week I had an audition for band and I wasn’t very nervous. I didn’t play very well but that was because of stiff chops and not nerves. All in all I’m making progress.

Frustration

Frustration is nothing new for me as I learn to play again. I’ve had my share of bad days and bad weeks and I deal with them much better now than I used to handle them. These days I usually just shrug my shoulders and know that this too will pass. Early in my quest to learn this beast I would try different mouthpieces if I was having a bad day. I had four or five of them sitting on a table next to me and I would try one after another until I found one that helped just a tad. Then I’d use it for a couple of days until it didn’t help anymore and I’d go back and use the old one. Even when I was doing this I knew it was a bad idea and then when I had my first lesson with Scott Bacon early in 2009 he said no more changing mouthpieces. I’ve stuck with the same one, a Moosewood B12, until about three weeks ago.

One of the horns I was testing (and the one I bought last week) during my quest for a new horn was a Dieter Otto 180K. Andrew Joy plays on them professionally and I contacted him about the horn. He suggested that, for the Otto horns, I go to a mouthpiece with a cup shape rather than a cone shape that the Moosewood has. At my latest lesson with Scott Bacon he switched me to a Laskey 75G mouthpiece.

For the first week I played really, really well. My term for this is new mouthpiece euphoria. Then two weeks ago I went to an audition and although my warm-up right before the audition went fairly well, I played poorly at the audition. I was suspicious that my mouthpiece euphoria had ended but my playing improved again and didn’t really deteriorate until this past Thursday. Some of this is due to the new horn but I had this horn on loan for at least 6 weeks and generally played very well on it. I think that the stiffness in my chops, poor tone quality, and most likely my loss of endurance is due to the mouthpiece change. The other thing that I’m experiencing is some numbness in my upper lip and a touch of numbness in my lower lip after I warm up for about 20 minutes and right after I started using this mouthpiece I noticed that the feeling of my skin on my upper lip is smoother – almost like I lost a minute layer of skin – and I have two subtle ridges where the mouthpiece touches my lip. These ridges were more pronounced last week but the difference in the smoothness of the skin hasn’t changed.

So…..yesterday, being very frustrated, I tried my Moosewood mouthpiece again. I played a few phrases with it and then the same phrases with the Laskey and back and forth like that for about 15 minutes. The two things I detected were a subtle change in tone – the Moosewood sounded a tad brassier – and the Moosewood felt a little funny. It didn’t have that aah factor like when you put on your favorite comfy sweatshirt. For the rest of practice –  I toughed it out for about 45 minutes – I used the Laskey.

I’m not sure what to do. Visually the rims on the two mouthpieces look very similar. The shanks are different. Is it possible that the change in shank style could cause this change in my chops? I suspect that the culprit is the rim. My Moosewood has a screw on rim and the Laskey doesn’t. I don’t think Moosewood has a cup shaped mouthpiece. Are there manufacturers that have cup shaped mouthpieces that I can screw on my Moosewood rim? Should I stick with the Laskey I have and hope that my chops get better? I’m tempted to use the Moosewood today and see how it goes though it may just add to my problems.

Slippery slope –>