Horn playing with shingles

Oh boy. After two weeks on the road attending the BSO Academy and SummerTrios I arrived home with shingles. People get shingles if they previously had the chicken pox which for people my age is probably 90% of us. The chicken pox virus never goes away, it lays dormant in our nerves and when it wakes up it comes back as shingles. Shingles presents itself first with pain, in my case in my back, followed by an itchy feeling where the rash will eventually show up, and then with the rash itself. Pictures can be viewed here. My rash looked exactly like picture #7. If you are squeamish don’t look.

My back pain started toward the end of my week at the BSO Academy. I started aching during rehearsals but at the time I thought it was a muscle pull. It made sitting through rehearsals difficult but not impossible. The pain continued at SummerTrios. What I didn’t mention in my post about SummerTrios was that I left early. My 3 month old granddaughter got sick and was taken to the hospital so I decided to go home. The faculty understood but they had to scramble to find other horn players to play in my two quintets. I could tell they were a little peeved at me but they don’t know how lucky they were that I left when I did.

My drive home took six hours. I was achy and itchy but had no rash when I left. When I got to Long Island, the rash had shown up. Shingles is extremely contagious once the rash shows up. People who have not had chicken pox or who have weakened immune systems will get chicken pox when exposed to shingles. If I had stayed at SummerTrios I would have exposed everyone there to chicken pox.

Needless to say, I went to the doctor and was told to remain in my house for at least 2 weeks. In addition I received 3 medications. I am taking Acyclovir which is an anti-viral medication that is supposed to shorten the length of time that the rash is present. I am taking Prednisone which, hopefully, will prevent the lingering pain that remains after the rash is gone, and Vicodin which was switched to Tramadol for pain. Shingles is extremely painful because the virus is living in the nerves.

You’d think that being confined to my house would give me a great opportunity to practice. Alas, such is not the case. The two drugs that are wreaking havoc with my horn playing are Prednisone and Tramadol. The Tramadol messes with my head and I can’t play the simplest etudes without messing up the fingerings. As bad as that is, what’s worse is that I can’t get a decent sound, have trouble making notes speak, can’t play high, and have very little endurance. From what I’ve learned, it’s the Prednisone that is causing these issues. Prednisone causes some swelling and it is effecting my lips. They feel a bit tender to the touch and look slightly swollen as well.

My dilemma is how long I should try to practice or even if I should practice at all. At the beginning of last week I was trying to get my usual time in for practice however, it was very frustrating. It’s hard to practice when you can’t product the sound you want or play the notes you know you should be able to play and were 100% capable of playing the week before. As the week went on I practiced less and less because I felt like I couldn’t accomplish anything productive and my endurance was tanking. My biggest concern is whether I will end up unknowingly changing how I play to compensate for my lips and then go through this same nightmare once I go off the Prednisone.

Of course being confined to my house has prevented me from attending several rehearsals and two band concerts, plus I had to withdraw from a chamber music group I was in. So much for the summer concert season. I wouldn’t wish shingles on anyone. It’s excruciatingly painful and being under ‘house arrest’ is annoying at the very least. There is a vaccine available for people over 60. I wish I had known about it last month.

SummerTrios

After the BSO Academy was finished I headed straight to SummerTrios. According to their website, Summertrios was formed in 1990 to provide adult amateur musicians an opportunity to play, study, perform and listen to chamber music. During the winter a few people suggested that I attend SummerTrios. I checked their website and I found it confusing and I really wasn’t sure that I wanted to go. However I made some phone calls to learn more about the program and I decided to try it.

I opted to stay in a hotel rather than stay in the dorms and that had positive and negative aspects. I had air conditioning (it was well into the 90s the whole week) and a private bathroom but I was also more isolated from the rest of the people there. The irony of my decision to stay in a hotel was that I prepaid the hotel to get a good rate and then got my music assignment via email the same day. All 20th century music and all really hard music. Unfortunately I couldn’t undo my hotel so I was stuck.

I emailed the music director asking to be assigned easier music. What I didn’t understand was that the music I was assigned was the same music everyone was assigned. So all the quintets were playing the same things. I did get a very nice phone call from the horn professor there and she unassigned the Hindemith quintet and emailed me the music for one of the other quintets. At that point I still thought that I would be given different music to replace it since I now was in only three groups instead of four. I listened to the two other quintets on YouTube and was very concerned about my ability to play the pieces. Still, I figured that I’d get different music when I got there. Alas, that was not the case. I was completely clueless that there wasn’t going to be any other assigned music.

In addition to the assigned music groups, they have reading groups. Whereas the assigned groups were coached, the reading groups were not. On my application I signed up for 5 reading groups. When I got there I was only in one. I never got a good explanation for why I wasn’t included in any more reading groups. So by having only three coached groups and one reading group I had way too much free time. I had expected to be playing close to all day so this was very disappointing. For most days I only had two or three sessions each day and they were spread around so one could be at 8:30 am and the next one at 2:15 pm.

Once we started rehearsals, I discovered that I was in way over my head for a Leo Smit quintet. Fortunately, they took me off that piece but then I was in only two coached groups so my schedule got even lighter. There were several days that I ended up with only one session that day. Talk about frustration.

They had a method for people to get together themselves to read some music which involved looking at a list and seeing who was free during a time slot and then going and asking them if they would like to read something. That meant that I had to find music and 2 to 4 other people if I wanted to try to read something. This might work in theory but it absolutely does not work for people new to SummerTrios. I didn’t know anyone and when I was able to find someone, inevitably they didn’t want to do anything extra because they were already too busy. Fortunately, I found a wonderful pianist who helped organize a reading of the Reinecke Clarinet, Horn and Piano trio for me and also played horn and piano solos with me. But that’s not why I was there. I did complain about how little I had to do and they tried to help me find other people but in the end I didn’t get anywhere near the amount of playing time that I was expecting.

On the positive side, both the attendees and the faculty were wonderful. I made some friends that I’ll have for a long time. The coaching for the two groups I was in was also stellar. I think almost everyone there had a much better time than I did mostly because they had been there before and knew most of the other attendees. That made it much easier to form ad hoc groups and do some reading. I think SummerTrios has a lot to offer and I may go back next year now that I understand how everything there works. I’ll also have another year of horn playing under my belt so I shouldn’t find the music as hard as I did this year.

BSO Academy 2012

The BSO Academy is a week long summer ‘band camp’ where adult amateur musicians get to play with the members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Their slogan is “side by side with the pros.” I went last year also and this year, amazingly, was even better than last year. Both experiences were awe inspiring. I think the difference was that this year I felt more comfortable with myself as a horn player. Last year was a ‘I can’t believe I’m sitting here’ experience but I was much more nervous and I played the music in my part very quietly and with great trepidation.

The music was much harder for me last year than this year. This year I played my parts with confidence. There wasn’t anything that I just couldn’t play. Last year there were passages in the music that were way beyond my capability. Granted, I chose to play 4th horn again because I didn’t feel I was ready to play anything that was exposed. I made a promise to myself to choose at least one part next year that wasn’t a 4th horn part. The really nice thing about the Academy is that we are sitting next to the pros. We are encouraged to play what we can and drop out, if necessary, when the music just gets too hard. This year there were only two measures, low, pp and exposed, where I opted not to play. The intonation had to be flawless and I just wasn’t comfortable doubling it.

There were 104 attendees this year, 56 of us returnees, and we were split up into two orchestras. Sitting on the Meyerhoff stage, seeing Marin Alsop walk out and start the rehearsal, was just as jaw-dropping this year as last year. The orchestra I was in played Tchaikovsky’s Cappricio Italian, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and suite 2 of de Falla’s Three Cornered Hat.  All music that I really enjoyed. The Three Cornered Hat was the hardest for me because it has really tricky rhythms. At the first rehearsal I struggled with it but I had it down pat by the dress rehearsal.

In addition to playing in the orchestra, I also signed up to be in a chamber music group and to participate in the “Solo with a pianist” opportunity. In the chamber music group we performed the 1st and 2nd movements of Beethoven’s Septet for Violin, Viola, Cello, String Bass, Clarinet, Bassoon and Horn. We had enough rehearsals to mesh as a group and I think the performance went very well. I had a few solos and I played most of them decently and I completely nailed the most important one in the 2nd movement. I was probably the least experienced member in the septet and I’m glad that I played well enough to not let our group down.

The ‘solo with a pianist’ option offered us an opportunity to perform a short piece with piano accompaniment. I chose to play the 2nd movement of Mozart’s 4th Horn Concerto. We had one short rehearsal and then the performance was the next evening.  I’ve performed that piece 4 times now, first at the Northeast Horn Workshop where I crashed and burned, then at my jury for school where I also crashed and burned (not just this piece but the entire jury), at church where it went ok, and then at the Academy where I think it went quite well. I still don’t perform well, usually playing well below my capability, so I was happy with this performance.

In addition to all the performing, the Academy keeps us busy with numerous seminars and master classes. Only a few were similar to last year and worth hearing a second time. This year I volunteered to play or be a guinea pig right from the start of the week. By the end of the week whenever volunteers were asked for people would shout out ‘Tina will play.” Last year I think I played only at one or two classes. This year I played in every class. Yay.

For more information, there are two interesting articles on BSO Academy written by Dan Wakin, attendee at the Academy and a writer for the NY Times, Band Camp for Grownups (I’m in the cover picture!) and Every Player in this Temporary Orchestra has a Story.

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.

Catching up

As usual, it’s been ages since I’ve posted anything here. In the past few weeks a few people have asked me to write again and now that it’s summer I have some time. My second year of school was a lot more intense than the first year. Consequently, practicing and then homework had the highest priorities. I did graduate this May with an Associate degree in Music.

As was true of my first year of school, I really enjoyed all my classes again this past year. Theory was still my favorite. It took some work to understand some of the more advanced analysis of tonal music but I got it and I really like digging in and figuring out the structure of a piece. The last month of the class covered atonal music and the twelve-tone row. Although this music is not my favorite, analyzing it was very formulaic and I found it really easy.

I had a great teacher for music history and I did very well in the class. Back in September I didn’t do that well, getting a grade in the low 80s on the first quiz, until I figured out how to study for it. Once I came up with a method that worked for me, I aced all the exams – high 90s and then the last three 102 for each test. It took a tremendous amount of work – hours and hours of homework or studying almost everyday – but doing really well in the class made the work worth it. Plus I really found the material very interesting once we got past the 5th century chant stuff.

Aural skills remained the hardest class for me. I still struggle hearing intervals and with rhythm which made dictation tests very difficult, especially at the end of the year when we worked on bitonality. Fortunately, I had a wonderful professor who took the time and had the patience to help me get though the class. (In fact, all my professors at Suffolk were really excellent and I think that is a big reason why I was able to stick it out and graduate.) The other thing that saved me is that I do very well with sight singing so my grades on sight sighting balanced out my not so great grades on dictation tests.

I played in both the wind ensemble and the symphonic band at school, plus the two community bands I’ve been in for a few years. I did find that all the playing was hard on my chops. Most days I was playing at least three hours and at least twice a week, five hours. In the fall semester that wasn’t too bad because I was playing mostly low horn parts but in the spring semester I was playing 1st in the school bands and that’s when I started to really feel the impact to my chops. I ended up with a split in my lip right where the mouthpiece edge sat on my lip and ended up with a bloody mess on more than one occasion. Although my lip is healed I can still feel where the split was and I have to be careful not to split it open again.

I did a lot of performing this year between recitals, juries, some chamber music, master classes and auditions. I am very slowly getting past the insane nervousness though I still don’t play my best when I perform. I hope that eventually this will change. I can tell that I am playing better than I did last year. Improvement is slow but relatively steady. My biggest problem is still air – “I didn’t hear you breathe” or “you didn’t take a big enough breath” are typical comments during lessons.  Next is probably rhythm, or maybe intonation, or maybe articulation, or maybe accuracy, the list seems endless.

I will write on my choice of a four year school, the 2nd BSO academy that I attended, and SummerTrios in the next few days.

School and other frustrations

So my second year back in school is going okay but it’s a lot harder than last year. My biggest challenge is my aural skills class. I used to have a good ear, or at least I though I did, but I’m having real problems hearing intervals, inversions, and chord progressions. Plus, rhythm. Oh boy. There’s that song – ‘the rhythm is gonna get you’ – truer words could not be said. Rhythm dictation is not going well. It’s frustrating to struggle with something and not see much improvement. In my other classes I can study until I learn the material. In this class it feels like more of an innate thing that over time should get better but possibly not at the speed necessary to pass the class.

I was worried about my music history class and memorizing composers, dates, titles and the like but I think that’s going to be okay. It’ll take work, but I can handle that. Theory is an interesting beast. We’re studying secondary dominant chords and modulation along with writing four part chorales right now. There are so many things to remember that I sometimes end up making really stupid mistakes. Aaaargh. One of the really good things about school is that all my teachers are really great. My classes are very interesting and the teachers are superb at explaining their subjects.

Horn wise, I am definitely playing better than I did last year but I still get frustrated and I still have bad days. Not as many as I used to have but enough to get me down in the dumps now and then. Fortunately I don’t have bad weeks anymore and I can eventually figure out what I’m not doing that I should be doing. Usually it’s air or the lack thereof.

My biggest frustration is that I can’t find an orchestra to play in. In my first semester at school I took orchestra and it was interesting but not that fulfilling because I was the only wind player. It took me a while to get used to being the only one but I did and I enjoyed it, especially the dress rehearsal and concert when we did finally have a full complement of players. For the spring semester I opted to play with the band and wind ensemble but I really missed the orchestra. That led me to audition and get into a small orchestra in New York City.  I played with them last spring and enjoyed it but they changed their rehearsal time for this fall and, sadly, the new time just doesn’t work for me. Back to the search. So far, no dice except that I got permission to sit with (not play) the horn section of a good Long Island orchestra that rehearses a few minutes from my house. On one hand it feels really weird but on the other, I am learning something. I follow the music and I get to hear good horn players. There’s a possibility that I’ll be able to fill in now and then and play with them in the summer. At least I’ve got the first inch of my big toe in the door.

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.

BSO Academy

Wow. I spent last week at the BSO Academy and it was an incredible week. The Academy is run by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and it’s a week long ‘camp’ where amateur musicians get to play and perform along side the BSO musicians. Their very fitting logo is ‘side by side with the pros’. The week was jam packed with lessons, lectures, ensemble rehearsals, and of course orchestra rehearsals led by Marin Alsop who is the music director of the BSO. All of this led to the final performance on Saturday night in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

I spent the week in disbelief that I was actually sitting on the stage of Meyerhoff Hall and playing with this wonderful orchestra. I applied back in January and I didn’t really expect to get accepted. Getting the acceptance letter was the first of several ‘jaw dropping’ experiences. The second was receiving the music and finding out that I was going to play the first movement of Mahler 2nd, Overture to Candide, and Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso. The Academy was set up with two separate groups because we had 88 attendees. Group 2 performed Rimsky-Korsakov’s Cappriccio Espagnol and Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis. As I mentioned, just playing with the BSO orchestra was another ‘jaw dropping’ experience never to be forgotten. Playing with a professional orchestra was so different than playing with the community orchestra and bands I’m in. The rehearsals were ‘no nonsense’ and very efficient. At the beginning of the first rehearsal Marin Alsop stopped for a minute and the usual community orchestra chatter started. She gave one ‘shush’ and it never happened again. Just watching her lead the orchestra was a tremendous learning experience.

The week started with a fabulous performance by the BSO of Verdi’s Requiem. Then we met the BSO musicians and had a chance to chat with the musicians in our section. They were so welcoming. I never felt that they didn’t want to participate in the Academy. In fact, it was just the opposite. They helped us with our parts, let those capable of playing the solos play them, and answered any questions we had.

The week continued with sectionals, our ensemble rehearsals, and many very informative classes including classes on breathing, injury prevention, Alexander Technique, practicing effectively, using tuners and metronomes productively, yoga for musicians, and conquering stage fright. At many ‘camps’ classes like these provide only fluff but these were well prepared with very useful information.

In addition to the final orchestra performance, we also had a chamber music concert and a solo with piano recital. The typical ensemble was led by a BSO pro either playing or coaching. I was in a brass quartet – two trumpets, trombone and horn. We played a piece by Arthur Frackenpohl which I had to work hard at to play it well. Our coach was outstanding and very patient with me dealing with a piece that was slightly above my ability level. By the time of the concert I was able to play the piece well. I didn’t sign up for the solo with piano class though I should have. I would have had an opportunity to play for a very caring and forgiving audience.

I took two lessons, one with Mary Bisson who plays 3rd horn and one with Phil Munds who is the principle horn. Both lessons were extremely worthwhile. We worked on breathing and sound, which I continually struggle with. I got several very valuable exercises that I could tell helped my air and sound. Now it’s a matter of me doing them correctly without their guidance.

All in all the BSO Academy was an amazing, awe-inspiring experience that I will never forget. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to attend again next year.

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.  It 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.