All sorts of stuff

Wow, I’m actually writing something in my blog. I have made it through school and now have a BS in Music with an emphasis in horn. I don’t have the actual piece of paper yet but that should show up in about a month. It took me 3 and a half years, yet the time has flown by. I am a better horn player but I still have so far to go. Sometimes it seems endless. I have mentioned numerous times in my blog that I’ve finally figured out how to use air. Well, 4 and a half years later, I finally understand what I should do but it isn’t a habit yet. When I use air correctly it makes a huge difference in how I play. I still have a lot of issues with articulation. When I think I am playing nice short notes my teacher says they sound legato. I used to have what I call ‘first note itis’ where I consistently missed the first note of a piece or phrase but that has gone away. Funny how you have to concentrate to play the horn.

My most recent ‘aha’ moment is that I’ve discovered that my mind wanders when I’m playing. I realized this a few weeks ago when I was practicing for my senior recital and I decided to write down what I was thinking. The list was huge. Everything from homework that’s due, to where to get dinner, to making an appointment to get my car serviced, to the ugly pink shorts the jogger running past my house was wearing. Somehow I’ve got to fix this. It’s better now that I’m aware of it, but it’s really got to go away entirely.

I’ve been through quite a bunch of horns since 2009. I started with a Yamaha, the one that was in the closet when I started playing again. Then a Hoyer, an Otto, a Conn 8D, a Schmid, and now an Otto 180K JN. Geesh. I adore the Otto and will probably play it forever. For anyone who thinks a different horn will make them a better player, forget it. Different horns will give you different sound, color, projection, maybe comfort but in my experience, if you can’t articulate (put in your particular poison here) decently on one horn you won’t articulate decently on another horn. I think a lot of amateurs, including me, turn to equipment to solve problems. New equipment, whether horns, mouthpieces, or some other gizmo, may seem great for a week or two but in the end you play the way you play. This is my experience. YMMV.

I’ve been going back and forth about continuing school for a Masters. In the middle of this last semester I was so overwhelmed with everything I had to finish that I decided not to continue. Now that I’m actually done, I’ve changed my mind. I realized that I just can’t give up school entirely and go back to playing 4th horn in two community bands. In school I’m playing all the time – chamber music, band, wind ensemble, orchestra, recitals, etc. – and I love it. I’ll be taking one class each semester and because I’m enrolled in school I get to play in all the ensembles for free. How perfect is that?

This is all for now but watch for more posts about some of the challenges I had in school, what it was like living in a dorm a couple of days a week, dealing with recitals, my dropped horn and a few toys that I actually have found useful.

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.

Horn update

I’ve been writing about my issues with my Hoyer horn for quite some time. It played sharp when I got it and it took a while to get it fixed. It is possible to play the Hoyer in tune now that it has a new tuning slide though I still have considerable trouble with the intonation. While I was waiting to get it fixed I had opportunities to play other horns many of which I liked a lot better than my Hoyer. I’ve also had a Dieter Otto 180K in Rose Brass on loan for the past month. If I didn’t have problems with the Hoyer I wouldn’t have been fiddling around with other horns and I wouldn’t have discovered that there were others in my price range that I liked better. In fact, except for the intonation problem I thought the Hoyer was a great horn.

I’ve been playing the Hoyer, the Otto, and occasionally my old Yamaha 668 and inevitably if I start with the Hoyer I switch to the Otto within half an hour. If I start with the Yamaha I’ll switch to either of the other horns pretty quickly so I know I made the right decision to get a different horn back in December and to sell the Yamaha. I find the Otto easier to play than either the Hoyer or the Yamaha and I enjoy playing it more. Several pro hornists have cautioned me about buying the Otto because it is rose brass and because it is not a well known brand in the U.S. On the other hand, several pros have told me that the Otto is a great horn.

Originally I was supposed to make a decision about the Otto horn a few weeks ago but my mom ended up in the hospital and I couldn’t make the trip up to Scott Bacon’s shop (Siegfried’s Call) until yesterday. I was also going to travel to Ken Pope’s shop in Boston and try some of the horns he has for sale and I wasn’t able to go there either. At my lesson with Scott yesterday I played the rose brass Otto for most of the time and then switched to a yellow brass unlacquered Otto 180K. Scott also switched me to a Laskey mouthpiece at the recommendation of Andrew Joy who uses Otto horns exclusively and suggested that I use a cup shaped mouthpiece with the horn. Scott listened to me play both horns and he believes that the yellow brass Otto is the better horn for me.

I went back home with both Otto’s on loan so I now have another two weeks to decide about horns. I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to keep the Hoyer. I’m getting more pleasure from playing the rose brass Otto and for me that’s most important. I haven’t had the yellow brass Otto long enough yet to know if it’s the right one and I keep wondering if there is something out there that I should try before I make a decision. That’s one big reason to try to get to Ken Pope’s shop in the next two weeks but with my mom in the hospital I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that. Scott Bacon is also getting a new Lewis and Durk geyer wrap horn in shortly and I want to try that horn before I make a final decision. That horn is expensive and really out of my affordability range but I have to try it so I don’t wonder forever if I should have picked it.

Band rehearsal –>

Updates

This is a follow up to several non-related posts.

Endurance:
My endurance had gotten somewhat worse over the summer, especially after my attendance at the Barry Tuckwell Institute (BTI). In May I posted that I was experimenting with playing for an hour in the morning and then another hour in the afternoon without taking 20 minute breaks during each hour. I was also hoping to add some more practice time pushing the 2 hours slowly towards 3 hours.

This really didn’t work.  On top of that, it has taken me quite a while to fully recover from the huge amount of playing I did at BTI. About  three weeks ago I went back to my schedule of playing for 20 minutes followed by a 20 minute rest with a minimum 3 hour break between morning and afternoon practice sessions. This has helped a lot and I think I have finally gotten back to where I was before BTI. Now I am going to try to add some time very slowly.

Horn Dilemma
I have been playing the Dieter Otto horn I have on loan for the past ten days and I like it a lot. I think I have been playing better in general and I am definitely playing with better intonation. In fact, I have recently learned what some of the differences are between a kruspe wrap (the Hoyer) and a geyer wrap horn (the Otto) and my experience with these two horns are consistent with this. For example, I can gliss much better on the Hoyer but staccato is better on the Otto.  The register below middle C is much better on the Hoyer but I can hit the high Bb and C on the Otto consistently and almost never on the Hoyer. I can play, occasionally, really ‘well’ on the Otto and sometimes I will play passages that surprise me with how much better I play them. In addition, I think that playing the Otto instead of the Hoyer is also contributing to my improved endurance since I was constantly trying to lip notes into tune. I am leaning toward cutting my losses and going with another horn, possibly this Otto.

Pain
In my post about pain I commented about some stomach pain right under my sternum that I have been plagued with for the past several months. I have endured numerous medical tests including having to eat radioactive oatmeal where, I kid you not, I was told not to get too close to people for 24 hours (what about me?). The tests have all come back negative which is a good thing except that I don’t know why I have this pain. Fortunately it seems to be abating and my doc said it was definitely not horn related. Phew.

In my post about age I mentioned that I had developed an annoying vibrato that I attributed to the medication I was taking for the stomach pain. Since the pain was going away I did stop taking this medication a few days ago and the vibrato is gone. What a relief. That vibrato was really awful.

Hoyer yes or no? –>

International Horn Symposium Final Thoughts

I’m very glad I went. It was total immersion in everything about horns for 6 days.

What I liked:

Performances all the time. From about 11 am you could attend concerts for the rest of the day and evening.

The opportunity to hear phenomenal hornists play great music. They had an excellent list of great artists.

Good selections of music. From baroque to contemporary to jazz, every type was covered including some world premieres.

A huge amount of lectures to attend covering many different subjects.

Master classes. I learned a lot attending these.

Many horn choir ensembles to choose from if you were a reasonable good hornist.

Tons of horns to test (though for the most part I was too intimidated to try many of them – too many really, really good players in the same room.)

What I didn’t like so much:

The evening performances were in a grand ballroom instead of the auditorium. This made it very difficult to see the performers, especially Annamia Larsson. She is so short that I think only the first row could see her. They had a makeshift stage for some of the performers but if a piano was used the soloist was on the floor.

Too many conflicting events. There were many times when I wanted to go to two different things at the same time. They should have repeated the lectures at a different time slot.

The exhibitors had mostly horns and sheet music and not too many gizmos. I like gizmos a lot but it’s completely understandable why the exhibitors concentrated on horns.

No opportunity to play in small ensembles – e.g. trios, quartets, quintets, etc.

No description about what the horn choirs were going to play and the level of difficulty. If I hadn’t had dinner with the conductor who did the Royal Fireworks I wouldn’t have gone to that ensemble because I would have thought it was too hard for me.

A slight overemphasis of contemporary music which really isn’t my thing.

Oops –>

International Horn Symposium Day 6

Phew. Day 6 seemed endless, but in a good way. My day started with rehearsals for our performances at the final concert. We went over some troublesome spots and then did a run through in both ensembles. The conductor for the Royal Fireworks was very picky, as he should be, and he knew exactly how he wanted the piece played.

The next lecture I went to should have been called, “Name the Horn Player.” It was a wonderful session where we listened to old recordings – around 1925 through 1975 – of some major Strauss works and had to identify the hornist playing the solos. Mason Jones, Alan Civil, and Farkas were a few of them but I don’t remember the others.

Then I went to the luncheon banquet where we heard the usual thank you speeches and then more performances, some of them quite funny. e.g. playing garden hoses and conch shells. The food was good but no dessert. Odd for a banquet. (Not that I should be eating any of that.)

In the afternoon I went to a session featuring an excellent quintet and the topic was how did the principle horn play differently in a quintet compared to an orchestra. He said that he always has to listen carefully to what’s going on in the piece and blend appropriately regardless of the size of the group. He went on to say that he can’t play out as much in the quintet so that he doesn’t drown everyone else out. After the quintet session I went to an interesting session on the natural horn and the style of horns used beginning with the baroque period and moving forward.

The final concert began at 7 pm and didn’t end until 11 pm. Yikes. They really tried to cram too much in and by the time my two ensembles went on stage half the audience had left. The concert started out with the winners from the competitions held the other day. The fellow who one the solo horn competition played Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro very well. Numerous soloists followed, all excellent.

They had alphorns play four pieces that to me were completely indistinguishable from each other. I think two would have been plenty.  Then they did this thing called soundpainting. The players learn gestures which the conductor uses to get the players to make certain types of sound. No written music is used. Not my cup of tea. You know you’re in trouble when someone comes on stage with the horns in a leotard and bare feet.

Finally, after all this, the ensembles (I think 7 ensembles total) got to play. I didn’t hear any of them because we had to wait backstage for our turn. The ones I was in were third from last and last. I played pretty well considering it was well after 10 pm when we got started. I think both of the ensembles I was in played very well and my last ensemble (playing Royal Fireworks) got a standing ovation. Of course, it could be that the audience was just getting up to leave.

International Horn Symposium Final Thoughts –>

Naughty Horn

Hans has been misbehaving ever since he first arrived in my home. He just doesn’t play nicely with others. Numerous sessions in his time out corner haven’t helped either. Big Bertha, my mother’s piano, also gets quite upset when Hans misbehaves, especially since she can’t do anything about it. She’s got this nice equal temperament and she just can’t help herself. See, Hans problem is that he plays sharp even though I try to keep pointed objects away from him. 

I spent quite a lot of time with Hans parents, Herr and Frau Hoyer, here at IHS. They were quite surprised to learn about his bad behavior. They said he was behaving nicely when he left Germany though they admitted that they really didn’t spend a lot of time with him before he left home. I responded that whether or not their parenting skills were good or bad, Hans behavior was just unacceptable. 

I dropped Hans off with his parents and told them that they needed to play with him and see his bad behavior first hand. I pointed out that when he plays with his cousins in band that they don’t like him very much though I admitted that they have their own share of problems. One of Hans relatives from Germany on his father’s side saw his behavior first hand and gave Hans a good talking to but that didn’t help much.

Since several of Hans brothers and sisters were there, they decided to pay more attention to their behavior as well. Hans parents were very surprised to see that they also exhibited the same bad behavior. Something seems to have gone wrong during gestation for Hans and all of his siblings. At first they suggested that I just accept his bad behavior and be more accommodating of his flaws. Then they suggested giving him some Ritalen to flatten him down. I said no, that we really needed a cure not a cover up or band-aid and that Ritalen is not the be all and end all for behavior problems. 

I really didn’t have to push much to have Herr and Frau Hoyer agree that they needed to do something permanent to end Hans’ problem. They decided that they needed to modify parts of Hans anatomy but assured me that they would send me the necessary parts to do this. I said they had to do it quickly because Hans relationship with Big Bertha was going sour really fast. 

Poor Hans, all this time I thought he was just misbehaving and it turns out that he really can’t help himself.

International Horn Symposium Day 4 –>