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.

Recap – Part 1

It’s been two years since I started playing the horn again and one year since I started this blog. I’ve definitely improved and I’ve been thinking about all the things that I’ve changed or worked on and what has been the most help and the least help. I’ll start with equipment which, when I started playing, I was convinced would make a big difference in how well I played. I know now that equipment has much less impact compared to perseverance and practice.


I started playing again using my old Yamaha 668. It was pretty clear quite early on that it wasn’t the best horn for me to be learning on. I had lots of trouble pushing air through it. I went on a search for a new horn and bought a Hoyer 6801 PMAL. This horn was easier for me to play and I really liked it but it had a manufacturing problem that made it play sharp. It took about six months but Hoyer finally provided a new tuning slide which solved the problem. However, by the time I got the new slide I was emotionally done with the horn. I bought a Dieter Otto 180K in gold brass and I love it.

Of course I have two years of playing under my belt now so how much is me just playing better and how much the actual horn contributes is unknown. I still have (unfortunately) both the Yamaha and the Hoyer so I could give them a try and see if I play them better than I used to.


I started with the Yamaha mouthpiece that came with the Yamaha horn. Then I found my old Bach mouthpiece and I used that for a while. At my teacher’s recommendation I switched to a Farkas MC and then I went to a Moosewood B12. Each one these changes convinced me that the mouthpiece I was trying out was “the one” for about two weeks. Then inevitably I would deteriorate to playing worse than I was with the previous mouthpiece I was using. When I bought my Otto horn I switched to a Laskey mouthpiece because I had heard that a geyer wrap horn played better with a bowl shaped mouthpiece. This mouthpiece was a disaster and probably the worst mouthpiece switch I’ve made. After the Laskey I went back to my Moosewood B12 and about 6 weeks ago I switched to a Moosewood annealed Megamoose AW11. With this mouthpiece I was missing a lot fewer notes and everything seemed to be easier however it makes the horn sound too bright. A few days ago I switched again to a Moosewood C8. This mouthpiece seems to have the same ease of playing characteristics as the AW11 but with a much nicer, darker sound. I haven’t changed rims, just the shank and I when I keep the same rim I don’t seem to run into the mouthpiece crash problem.


I’ve bought a Dennis Wick mouthpiece weight, a Moosewood stem weight and a device, which I’ve forgotten the name of, that is supposed to improve the flow of air through the horn by placing it in the tuning slide. With each one, for a week or so, I felt that they helped. In the end, they made no difference whatsoever.

I lean towards finding a mechanical solution to problems with my playing but the chances are pretty high that if I hadn’t made any of these equipment changes I would  be at a similar level of playing ability as I am with the changes.

Recap – Part 2 –>

Horn decision

Well, I finally have my new horn. All of you who have been reading my blog from the beginning know that the new Hoyer that I purchased at the end of December 2008 played sharp. After months of aggravation I received a new tuning slide from Hoyer in August. The tuning slide solved the problem in that the pros that I took it to gave it a clean bill of health. I was still struggling playing the horn in tune and I had to decide what I wanted to do. I have to say that during these months of frustration with the Hoyer I really stopped liking the horn. Because of the intonation issue I played other horns at IHS and at the Barry Tuckwell Institute and got a feeling for what else was out there and there were definitely horns that I liked better.

I had several options:

1. Keep the Hoyer and deal with fixing my intonation problems and my general feelings about the horn.
2. Sell the Hoyer and go back to my Yamaha for a while.
3. Sell the Hoyer and my Yamaha and get a better horn.

Although keeping my Hoyer and learning to play it in tune probably would make me a better hornist I just was not enjoying playing it and that is the most important thing to me. 95% of the time I play by myself and it was just too frustrating dealing with it so about a month ago I left it with Scott Bacon, the dealer I bought it from, for him to sell it for me. I’m sure it’s a great horn for someone, just not me.

While I was going thru all this with the Hoyer I got my Yamaha 668 back into tip top shape. I spent some time playing both the Hoyer and the Yamaha and decided that I did make the right decision to buy the Hoyer. Although the intonation on the Yamaha is good, there were other things about it that made it harder than the Hoyer for me to play. So I brought the Yamaha up to Scott’s to sell before I left the Hoyer there.

When I dropped off the Yamaha Scott loaned me a gold brass Dieter Otto 180K horn to try for a few weeks. There was no question that I enjoyed playing this horn more than the Hoyer. For one thing, my intonation was pretty good. My articulation was better, notes were clean, I had fewer clams and I could play high Bb and C relatively easily. I could hardly ever get those notes on the Hoyer. Getting this Otto sounds like a no brainer but several pros cautioned me against buying it because it was gold brass, probably wouldn’t have as good a resale value as a yellow brass horn, the Otto brand wasn’t well known in the US and because the sound got harsher when the horn was really played loud.

I went back up to Scott’s three weeks later and tried a yellow brass Otto 180k and a yellow brass Otto 166. I wasn’t comfortable playing the 166 but the yellow brass Otto was very similar to the gold brass Otto. The biggest difference between the two was that the sound of the yellow brass Otto was a bit brighter. It may even have played slightly easier but not by much. I left the Hoyer at Scott’s and took both the gold and yellow brass Ottos home to try. I played both horns and liked the yellow brass Otto slightly better. During this time I thought it would be a good idea to go up to Ken Pope’s shop and try some of his horns. I didn’t ever end up going there because my mother ended up in the hospital and I just couldn’t squeeze in a trip to Boston.

I had the Ottos on loan when Scott got in a Lewis and Durk horn that I wanted to try so I headed up to Scotts again ( 3 hours one way) last Thursday and spent at least two hours trying the L & D horn and comparing it to the Ottos. I couldn’t come to a decision so I stayed in Fishkill, NY overnight and went back to Scotts in the morning and played the three of them again for another three hours. I finally decided that I really liked the Lewis and Durk horn. The intonation was flawless as was pretty much everything else. The tone was bright but had a lot of color. However it has more resistance than the Ottos and I was having some trouble centering notes. I liked the horn a lot and decided that I could deal with the learning curve so I wrote Scott a check and took my new horn home.

Saturday morning I took the horn out to practice and it was a disaster. In my music room, formerly our living room, I couldn’t get a nice tone quality from the horn even though it sounded great when I played it at Scott’s studio. My music room has great acoustics so this was very surprising and very frustrating. I clammed more notes than I got and generally had a miserable time. The same was true Saturday afternoon and Sunday. I didn’t sleep very well over the weekend. I was trying to convince myself that my chops were just dead and that it wasn’t the horn but I didn’t have another horn at home to test it against.

Monday morning I went up to Scott’s yet again and spent another three hours playing the three horns. Of course I played the L & D horn just fine up there. I also had Scott play the horns so I could hear the differences when someone who plays well played them. I was having a really hard time deciding which horn to pick when Scott asked me if I had to make an instant decision that was non-reversable what would I pick and I said an Otto immediately. Having had them as loaners for many weeks I knew how they were and there wasn’t any uncertainty about how I played on them.

The next step was to pick one of the two Ottos. I was leaning toward the yellow brass Otto when Scott put a gold brass hand hammered bell on the gold brass horn. Wow. The horn had a gorgeous rich sound even when played very loud which was one of it’s issues. One of the other issues was the resale value of the horn. I decided that I am buying a horn for my enjoyment and if I should ever decide to sell it whatever its value is will be okay with me. Now the choice between the yellow brass horn and the gold brass horn was easy so I am now the owner of a new gold brass Otto. At band last night the first hornist told me how good I sounded and that my intonation was excellent. Hallelujah.

Frustration –>

Hoyer yes or no?

The time is rapidly approaching for me to make a decision about changing horns. My new Hoyer has been sharp since I bought it and several weeks ago Hoyer sent a new tuning slide which has helped but not eliminated the problem. I have confirmed that a pro can play the Hoyer in tune and with time I will most likely be able to do so. However, I don’t play it in tune now.

My dealer has loaned me a Dieter Otto 180K Rose Brass horn to try and I have had it for a few weeks. I am enjoying playing it but, as I’m sure is true for any horn, there are things that the Hoyer does better. From what I understand about different wraps the differences between the two horns are consistent with the differences one would find with the two wraps.

I think I play the Otto a bit better than the Hoyer though I’ve played both horns horribly and both horns ok. My family says the Otto sounds brighter than the Hoyer but they say they like this. I doubt I will ever play in a situation where the type of sound my horn has matters to the point where I would have to use a different horn though I could be wrong. At the very least, if that did happen, it would be quite some time from now.

I have both horns sitting open in my living room and I’ve been going back and forth between them but what is interesting is that inevitably I will put the Hoyer down and switch to the Otto to finishing practicing. I have not been playing the Otto and feeling the need to switch back to the Hoyer. The other thing that is quite funny is that last night I dreamed that I threw the Hoyer out in pieces into one of those big commercial trash containers.

So all this leads me to believe that I really don’t like the Hoyer and I do like the Otto. What concerns me is that there may be some other horn out there that I would like even better than the Otto. However, now is when I have the opportunity to get the Otto at a significantly discounted price because my dealer is being very nice to me since I’ve had this never ending problem with the Hoyer and I think he’s had this particular Otto horn around for a while.

I can keep the Hoyer and sell it eventually and go horn shopping but if I do that the Hoyer loses some value as time goes on, I won’t get a discount on another horn from a different dealer, and I will have to deal with the intonation problems that I have with the Hoyer.

When I drive up to my dealer on Monday I will play every horn he has and maybe it will become obvious that the Otto is the right choice. On the other hand, there may be a horn, or more than one horn, that I like at least at the first try. Then I’d have to try it for a week or two, maybe or maybe not get a discount depending on the horn, and risk him selling the Otto though that is probably a pretty low risk. Oy. There is so much to think about. Monday will be an interesting day.

Unbelievable –>


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

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.

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? –>

Horn Dilemma

For those of you who have read some of my posts, you may remember that the Bb side of my Hoyer has played sharp since I bought it. At IHS Hoyer agreed that the horn was sharp and finally sent a new tuning slide two weeks ago. A few pros have tried my horn since then and have deemed the intonation ‘playable’. Not ‘fixed’ exactly. They have told me that I should be able to learn how to play it in tune; that Hoyer has done their part and I shouldn’t expect them to replace the horn.

I don’t know what to do. Right now I can’t play this horn in tune with any consistency. I’ll play the same passage several times in a row and sometimes it’s fine, sometimes it’s flat and sometimes it’s sharp. The F side of the horn now tends to be a bit flat when I play it even with the F tuning slide pushed all the way in. I have my Yamaha 668, my teacher’s Conn 8D and a loaner Dieter Otto horn at home and I play all of them mostly in tune. The slots on the Hoyer are big which isn’t helping and I have a lot of trouble centering the notes. Tom Greer (Moosewood) played my horn at IHS and said he couldn’t center the notes. Would a tuning slide fix that problem?

So do I keep the Hoyer and learn how to play it in tune? Should I have to learn how to do that? Shouldn’t a horn play in tune or very close to in tune once the slides are set? I know there are always some notes that are typically flat or sharp and I’m not talking about making sure the pitch is correct when playing with an ensemble. I like the Hoyer a lot except for the intonation.

One of my options is to send the Hoyer to Jim Patterson of Patterson Hornworks. They do custom work on Hoyer horns and he seems to think he can make mine a lot better. Another option is to put the Hoyer up for sale at the dealer where I bought the horn and buy the Otto I have on loan or one of the other horns he has in stock. Do I just sell the Hoyer myself and then buy some other horn? Should I keep the Hoyer and live with it? Will I actually learn to play it in tune relatively quickly? I do play in two community bands and there are occasions when the horns play in unison or I have an exposed part so good intonation is important especially in one of the bands.

Any answers, comments or suggestions are most welcome!

Bits and Pieces Part 2 –>

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 –>