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.

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.

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.

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.

Summer 2010

I’ve been incredibly busy this summer hence the lack of posts. It seems I’ve been saying that since the spring and I guess I’ve just been gradually getting busier and busier.

In June I went to the International Women’s Brass Conference in Toronto and then straight to the Barry Tuckwell Institute (BTI). The brass conference was very good. Fergus McWilliam, hornist in the Berlin Philharmonic, led the best master class I ever went to. It’s hard to describe how but he managed to get 4 students to play about ten times better than they started out at the class. On top of that he was funny and a really nice guy. It was so good that after the hour and a half no one wanted to leave and they found another room for him so he could continue with more students. One of his rules is that he says to sing the piece, part or whatever until the intonation is spot on. Then whistle or ‘whoosh’ again with solid intonation, then buzz the mouthpiece again with solid intonation and then play the horn. The horn doesn’t go on the face until the intonation is perfect. Then he went on to talk about phrasing and to make the horn sing. I’m not really doing justice to what he said. I did try to follow his advice when I got home and discovered that I’m a really terrible singer.

I met Julie Landsman at the conference and in the small world category, my husband and Julie went to high school together. I found this out when I emailed him that I was about to go to her lecture and he said find out if that’s the Julie Landsman who played French Horn in my high school. So I asked her and she said she remembered him. Then at her lecture she announced to the entire audience that she “went to high school with Tina Barkan’s husband.” That was somewhat embarrassing. Her lecture was about how she managed to stay at the top of her game while getting older and finding the physical aspects of horn playing harder and harder to deal with. Those of us who are her age or older know exactly what she’s talking about.

On the second day of the conference I dropped my bell after trying to screw the bell on for at least 15 minutes. It fell about 1 foot onto carpeting but that was enough to have the screw ring go out of round and not screw on the horn. Of course I brought the good bell and not the stock bell. Fortunately one of the pros there loaned me an Alex 103 and I used it for the rest of the conference. Very different horn than my Otto. So I spent the rest of the conference texting Scott Bacon, who I bought my horn from, and making arrangements to get my horn fixed or borrow a horn since I was going straight from Toronto to Tuckwell and definitely not stopping at my house for my other bell. As it turned out Scott managed to get my bell on my horn, loaned me a fixed bell case, and said don’t take the bell off. I’m headed up to his shop on the 12th to get it fixed properly.

I enjoyed attending my second BTI. There was a lot of opportunity to play but the biggest thing to me was how much I have improved since I went last year. I had no trouble with the music the horn choir played or with the music in the quartet I was in. It was really nice to be able to play these pieces with the confidence that I could do it. Barry Tuckwell led a warm-up class where basically he said just warm up enough to be able to play. This is something that my new horn teacher is saying and I’ve been doing this with some success. The one thing that was quite disappointing was the master class that Barry held. I actually felt sorry for the students playing in the class. One student who did a nice job with a Mozart Concerto learned that she shouldn’t have water in her horn (there were one or two water pops.) Although this is true, I don’t think it was the learning experience she was hoping for.

Once I got home from these events I started taking a music fundamentals class at our local community college. (My July schedule was class, homework, exams, practice, duets, rehearsals, concerts, plus all the usual house stuff.) This class ended yesterday. Some of you may wonder why I would sign up for this class but I didn’t take any music classes in college so there are big gaps in my musical education. I mentioned in one of my posts from many months ago that I was thinking about going back to school for music. I needed to take this class in order to enroll in the music program at this school which I have done and I start classes on August 30th. I’m going to a community college in order to see if I really want to go back to school which is a major lifestyle change for me. They have an excellent music program and are less expensive than a four year school.

As if all this isn’t enough, before I start classes I am attending Jeff Nelson’s Fearless Camp at Indiana University. I have a really bad case of nerves when I play in front of anyone, even my teachers, and even when I have my recorder on to record my practices. I’m hoping that this class will help me overcome my nervousness. I’m leaving on the 12th and get home around August 24th – I’m driving to Indiana so the dates are iffy. School starts 6 days later. I think that’s enough for one summer.