Brief Reviews: Solo Documentary Film, Snark Tuner, TuneUp System

Over the past academic year I have accumulated some new materials and equipment, but only recently sat down and put together some brief reviews.

Solo Documentary Film

First up is Solo, a unique documentary film from Limbus Production, written and directed by Přemysl Havlík. Here’s the trailer.

And here’s a description from the Limbus Production vimeo channel.

Documentary film about today’s best horn player, world renowned musician Radek Baborák and about what it is to live on the “Olympus of fame”. The film captures this musical titan in his engagement in one of the most prestigious orchestras in the world, the Berlin Philharmonic, and uncovers his private opinions through intimate conversations, as well as his doubts about the meaning of his line of work. Apart from our horn hero, whose career takes an unexpected turn in the course of the film, we have the rare chance to see gathered here several other musical stars, some of whom are top interpreters and living legends in the field of classical music. Conductors Seiji Ozawa, Daniel Barenboim, Sir Simon Rattle or musicians such as flutist Emmanuel Pahud or horn player Gerd Seifert unveil their opinions on the pitfalls of orchestral and solo playing.

The primary subject of the film is world-famous hornist Radek Baborák, who won the Solo Horn position with the Berlin Philharmonic and then resigned a few years later. The film unfolds through a series of interviews with Baborák, interviews with various conductors and colleagues, and brief historical information about the horn. Though a concrete reason for Baborák’s resignation from the orchestra isn’t given, one can surmise that there were disagreements of an artistic nature. The film is entertaining, and full of fantastic horn playing by Baborák and his colleagues. There is also some interesting information about the Berlin Philharmonic and its audition and hiring practices.  The subtitles are clear and easy to understand, and the DVD plays just fine on a laptop drive. It is a little difficult to obtain; currently the only way to get it in the U.S. is to send a PayPal payment directly to Limbus Production. I was a little hesitant to order it, but after sending payment the disc arrived promptly and in good condition. Worth watching if for no other reason than the great horn playing.

Snark Clip-On Tuner

The Snark is a chromatic tuner that clips directly to an instrument, receiving input through either a microphone or vibration from the instrument itself. If you are in search of an inexpensive, lightweight tuner for traveling, the Snark fits the bill. The display is bright, uncomplicated, and easy to read, with good battery life. Though I haven’t rigorously tested its accuracy, it would seem to be just as accurate as my go-to tuner app on my phone. While iPhone and Android apps are ubiquitous now, I think there is still a place for the standalone tuner and metronome. For one, leaving your phone off the stand (and silenced) removes the temptation to check email and/or social media during practice time. And second, a lightweight, cheaper device is less likely to be knocked to the floor and damaged. The added benefit of the Snark is that it securely clips to the horn when in use, and can be clipped to a stand for storage.

TuneUp Intonation Training System

Stephen Colley’s intonation exercises have been around for several years, but I only recently obtained a copy. As I mentioned in this post, Christopher Dwyer of the St. Louis Symphony highly recommended the book, which in turn was recommended to him by members of the Chicago Symphony. After working regularly out of the book for the past few months, here are my observations on the TuneUp system. First, the pros:

  • The approach to developing pure (just) intonation is systematic, thorough, and effective. Colley provides copious explanations and exercises in every key to help you learn where each chord member belongs, as well as your tendencies on each note. My favorite exercises are the “Interval Studies,” in which you perform first a tonic reference note with the CD, and then a series of chord tones with CD accompaniment. The first several lines go through Root, Fifth, and Third in whole notes (with whole notes in the CD), followed by half-notes (Root-Fifth, Root-Third, Third-Fifth), once again with whole notes in the CD. The final two lines in each key include seventh chords and inversions, followed by an exercise in the relative minor.
  • The accompanying CD includes a tonic drone in every key, as well as  major and minor chord progressions in all keys. The timbre of the reference CD is intentionally stark and artificial in quality, which makes it extremely easy to hear intonation discrepancies.
  • Regular practice with this system will definitely improve your ability to hear and adjust intonation! The book is available in a variety of transpositions (C, Bb, Eb, F or Bass Clef) as well as A=440 or A=442. Although I have only used the book on my own or in lessons with students, I would assume that it would be equally effective when used with a small ensemble or even a larger group.

And while I believe that the advantages of the TuneUp System outweigh its disadvantages, in the interest of thoroughness here are some “cons.”

  • There is a learning curve. Once mastered, intonation might be considered an intuitive process, but at its core is based on precise mathematical ratios. Colley does a thorough job explaining these principles, but there is quite a bit of text (27 pages) before the exercises begin. Though obviously interested in the topic, I found my mind wandering a bit while reading this extensive preface. Perhaps some of the text and explanations could be incorporated onto the same pages as the actual exercises, which would cut down on the amount of introductory material. I found it helpful to pencil in annotations from the introduction above the exercises to help me remember some important concepts.
  • The book+CD is expensive. When compared to other materials of this kind (book + CD), the price point for the TuneUp System is significantly higher. Maybe offering a digital and/or web-based version of the system would be an effective way to reach a wider audience.
  • There are quite a few typos. I encountered several instances of wrong notes in the text, especially in the interval studies. It was always easy to determine the correct pitch (usually the next line or space), but after finding them on several consecutive pages it became a little frustrating.

When weighed against the entire book, these are minor criticisms, and I would still recommend the TuneUp System to both teachers and students.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these brief reviews!

 

Conference Report: 2017 IWBC

Photo Credit: Cavitt Productions

I recently returned from the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference, hosted by Dr. Amy Schumaker Bliss at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. It was a fantastic four days, full of great performances and presentations. Congratulations and thank-you to the IWBC and Rowan University for hosting a terrific event! While I didn’t attend everything – it simply isn’t possible at these type of conferences – I did make it to multiple concerts and presentations, and also ran an exhibit booth for Mountain Peak Music.

Black Bayou Brass performed on the first day of the conference, and our program of new music for brass trio by women composers was very well received. It was once again our pleasure to perform Gina Gillie’s Scenes from the Bayou, as well as other works by Gillie and Adriana Figueroa Mañas. We shared the recital with a faculty horn/tuba/piano trio from Youngstown State University: Stacie Mickens (horn, and fellow UW-Madison alum), Brian Kiser (tuba), and Caroline Oltmanns (piano). They performed two works by  James Wilding,  Distill for horn and piano, and Melencolia for horn, tuba, and piano. Both pieces were really interesting, and expertly performed. Wilding’s music was new to me, and it is certainly worthy of further study. On first listening I found his use of various colors in all three instruments particularly noteworthy.

After the brass trio performance, I spent some time setting up the Mountain Peak Music display, and rehearsing with Gina Gillie, Sarah Gillespie, and Stacie Mickens for our Saturday performance of Gina’s Horn Quartet No. 1. This challenging, multi-movement piece is a substantial addition to the repertoire, and is published by Veritas Musica Publications. Check out the YouTube demo recording, you won’t be disappointed!

Photo Credit: Cavitt Productions

We put the entire 18-minute work together in only three rehearsals, and the Saturday performance went very well. On a personal note it was great fun getting to rehearse and catch up with my former UW-Madison classmates.

My time on Thursday and Friday was spent in quartet rehearsals, at the exhibit booth, and at presentations and concerts. Here are a few highlights.

New Music: One of my favorite parts of any conference is hearing new music. Although I heard (and performed) several new works at the 2017 IWBC, one that stood out was Imaginings, by Dorothy Gates. This single-movement composition for horn and piano was composed for and premiered by Michelle Baker, recently retired 2nd horn of the Metropolitan Opera. Ms. Baker sounded fantastic, displaying great agility and expressiveness throughout the three-octave range the piece requires. I enjoyed it so much that I bought a copy for myself and am planning to program it on an upcoming recital this fall. Be on the lookout for this work in the future, I think it’s going to get played a lot!

Presentations: There was quite an array of interesting topics at this conference, ranging from practice and teaching strategies to discussions about auditions, gender, and race. I particularly enjoyed Dr. Stacie Mickens’ presentation on “Positive Practice Strategies” and a panel on Entrepreneurship with Mary Bowden (trumpet soloist, founding member of Seraph Brass), Beth Mitchell (freelance tubist and teacher in Los Angeles), Michael Parker (tubist with Monumental Brass Quintet, owner of Parker Mouthpieces), and Anna Skrupky (Director of Rowan Prep program, horn performer and teacher and UW-Madison alum). Dr. Mickens is Associate Professor of Horn at Youngstown State University, and presented some very solid strategies for effective practicing. I was not familiar with one of the sources she referenced, Bruce Kaplan’s Practicing for Artistic Success: The Musician’s Guide to Self-Empowerment, but will definitely be reading it in the future. Kaplan’s book lays out a unique, thorough, and systematic approach to practicing. 

The Entrepreneurship panel was equally informative, and each person brought a unique perspective to the topic. Here are some of the common threads I heard in their remarks:

  • Don’t be afraid to pursue your artistic and professional goals.
  • Stand up for yourself, but be nice! You will continue to run into former colleagues, classmates, etc. throughout your career.
  • Familiarize yourself with a variety of technology in order to stay organized and promote your career. These can include: websites, audio/video recording and editing, social media, and more.

Exhibits: I didn’t have the opportunity to visit many of the other exhibits, but based on talking with visitors to the Mountain Peak Music table there were a number of big and small companies represented at the conference. Horn exhibitors included Balu Musik, Siegfried’s Call, Baltimore Brass, Patterson Hornworks, Houghton Horns, and “big-box” companies Conn-Selmer and Yamaha. I really wanted to try the new Geyer model horns from Patterson, but alas I did not get the chance. Maybe next time! One issue that I noticed, and also heard mentioned by other exhibitors, was location. Most of us were tucked away in individual rooms, somewhat removed from the flow of traffic. As I heard one exhibitor put it, conference attendees “did not have to walk past our booth to get to anything.”  To some extent this was not entirely within the control of the conference hosts. One generally cannot alter the layout of a building. However, it would have been nice if the exhibits could have been more centrally located. On a positive note, one really great idea was the use of “Gift Coupons” for competition winners. These gift cards were issued by the IWBC to the winners, and could only be used at the exhibit booths. At the end of the conference, the IWBC reimbursed exhibitors for the coupons spent at their booths. This is a fantastic idea because it encourages participation in the competitions, and drives traffic to the exhibit booths – a win for everyone! I have not seen this concept employed at other conferences, but it is something to think about for other similar events.

In closing I think the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference was a great success, and I encourage any and all brass players to consider attending the next one!

Descant Horn “Hacks”

I’ve been playing lots of descant horn lately – mostly in preparation for an upcoming recording project, but also for some new music concerts –  and have noted a few tips to improving performance.

Find the Right Mouthpiece: After experimenting with several mouthpiece options on the descant horn, I ultimately found the best results on my regular double horn mouthpiece, a Houser Standley GS12 cup with a Model “E” rim. While models such as the Moosewood BD and Osmun Haydn cup did offer lots of ease in the high register, they just never felt quite right on my face. For me I think it had something to do with not being able to comfortably fit my lips into the very shallow cups on these models. The Standley isn’t a huge mouthpiece either, but slightly larger than the Moosewood or Osmun. However, I would recommend trying out these models (or something similar like a Schilke 29) on a descant to see what you think.

High E-flat Fingerings on the High F Horn: Yes, the descant horn responds easier in the high range, but (at least for me) intonation can be a bit goofy above the staff using conventional high F fingerings. In addition to using a slightly more covered right hand position, I’ve also found that using High E-flat horn fingerings on the High F side works quite well for the A-flat, A, and B-flat above the staff. If you don’t have a high E-flat horn fingering chart handy, the new fingerings would be: T1 for A-flat (instead of T23), T2 for A (instead of T12) and T for B-flat (instead of T1). On the horn I’m using (an earlier model Paxman 40M), these alternate fingerings really sound and feel good. Give them a try yourself.

While these and other tips can certainly improve performance on a descant horn, the best “hack” isn’t a hack at all – lots of practice on the instrument. For practice materials I highly recommend two books: Martin Hackleman’s 21 Characteristic Etudes for High Horn Playing, published by Editions Bim,  and Dr. John Ericson’s Playing Descant and Triple Horns, published by Horn Notes Edition. In addition to etudes and orchestral excerpts, the latter contains lots of helpful hints for high horn playing, including fingering charts for descant (High F and E-flat) and triple horns.

Happy practicing!

Thoughts on Voice and Horn Collaborations

One of the things I love about my job is the opportunity to work with talented colleagues in two  faculty ensembles: Black Bayou Brass, a brass trio, and Trio Mélange, a voice, horn, and piano trio. I’ve written extensively about performances with the former, but haven’t posted nearly as much about the latter. However, Trio Mélange is quite active, having performed at the 45th and 48th International Horn Symposiums, and at various other venues in Louisiana and surrounding states. This summer, we’ll be engaged in two major projects: performing at the New Music on the Bayou Summer Festival, and recording a CD of music by Eurico Carrapatoso. We’ve been rehearsing intensively in preparation for both of these projects, and I thought this might be a good opportunity to put down a few thoughts about collaborating with vocalists. Of course, the basic principles of  chamber music still apply; collegiality, communication, putting the ensemble first, etc., but this article is geared towards horn players who may not have worked with singers before. Working with a great singer and collaborative pianist is very rewarding, and as horn players we are lucky to have some really wonderful repertoire by composers old and new. See the end of this post for my short list of recommended voice, horn, and piano works. And now, here are some considerations for the horn player working with a vocalist.

  • Know the Text: As instrumentalists, we sometimes get preoccupied with notes and forget to consider the text. You don’t need to have every word memorized, but you should definitely have a good idea of the basic structure and content. In addition, pay attention to the differences in sound of the various common languages (German, French, Italian, and English).  They each have their own idiosyncrasies, which can help inform our approach to sound and articulation.
  • Balance: Achieving the right balance between the voice, horn, and piano will depend on several factors, but in general it pays for the horn player to be sensitive to what register the singer is in. For example, a soprano or tenor’s high range projects extremely well, and in those instances balance with the horn will be less of an issue than when the singer is in the low range. Depending on the repertoire and other factors, there will be times when you will need to play extremely softly (think woodwind quintet) for the voice to be heard clearly (remember, the audience needs to hear the words!) In other situations, you will be able to play at a full forte or even fortissimo and not worry about covering the voice.
  • Read from the Score if Possible, or Write in Cues: I like to have copies of both the full score and my own part in rehearsals, but for most performances I use a horn part with lots of vocal and piano cues written into it. Singers are used to rehearsing and performing from a piano-vocal score, and having your own copy of the score will help rehearsals run more smoothly.
  • Rhythm is Flexible: Good singers have excellent rhythm, but in my experience their training prepares them to be much less rigid than instrumentalists when it comes to rhythm and phrasing. This is a good thing!  Learn everything you can from the fluid, expressive way singers approach phrasing, and learn to anticipate and follow in the same way a great collaborative pianist or opera conductor does.
  • Differences in Response: The voice is a different instrument than the horn, and is subject to its own peculiarities. Depending on the tessitura, sometimes it can take a little time for the singer’s note to sound, but in other instances a note can begin more or less instantaneously. The timing of entrances and releases together will take some conscientious practice in rehearsals, but it can be done.
  • Breathing, Watching: Related to the above point, ensemble will be vastly improved through good communication – namely breathing together and watching each other. I’ve found that watching the vocalist’s mouth is a reliable indicator for entrances. It can even be helpful for the singer to “conduct” a little when working through challenging passages for the ensemble.

Hopefully these tips will be of use the next time you collaborate with a vocalist. Above all, listen intently, and follow your musical instincts. To close out this post, here is a short list of recommended works for voice, horn, and piano. Some of them are in the public domain, and available on IMSLP (links provided) Feel free to add to this list in the comments.

  • Hector Berlioz, Le jeune Pâtre breton, H 65 (soprano or tenor)
  • Benjamin Britten, Canticle III: Still Falls the Rain (tenor)
  • Benjamin Britten, Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings (available with a piano reduction)
  • Gina Gillie, To the Seasons (soprano)
  • Franz Schubert, Auf dem Strom, D.943 (Usually with soprano voice, but also with tenor)
  • Richard Strauss, Alphorn, TrV 64 (mezzo soprano)

For more details on repertoire, check out the following dissertations, which are available through the International Horn Society’s Thesis Lending Library.

  • Burroughs, Mary. “An Annotated Bibliography of the Works for Horn, Voice and Piano from 1830-1850 with an Analysis of Selected Works from 1830-1986.” D.M.A. diss., University of Illinois, 1990. UMI# 90-26150
  • Lewis, Gail. “Benjamin Britten’s Writing for Horn with Tenor Voice: Serenade Op. 31, ‘The Heart of the Matter,’ Nocturne Op. 60.” D.M.A. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1995. UMI# 95-26717.
  • Ulmer, Marissa L. “Bibliography of Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century Chamber Works for Voice, Horn, and Piano with Selected Annotations.” D.M.A. dissertation, West Virginia University, 2006.

 

Upcoming Performances Part 2: International Women’s Brass Conference

Shortly after the New Music on the Bayou Festival, my colleagues and I will be traveling to Glassboro, New Jersey for the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference, hosted by Dr. Amy Schumaker Bliss at Rowan University. If you haven’t had a chance to attend an IWBC, it’s a wonderful conference, with lots of great performances, presentations, and exhibitors. Of particular interest to horn players is Featured Artist Michelle Baker, Second Horn of the MET Orchestra (she recently announced her retirement after 27 years with the orchestra). I had the opportunity to work with her for a brief time at the Round Top Festival Institute. She’s a fantastic performer and teacher, and an all-around nice person! For more information about Baker’s career, see Barbara Jöstlein Currie’s interview with her in the May 2017 issue of The Horn Call.

At this year’s IWBC I’ll be involved in two performances, as well as running an exhibit table for Mountain Peak Music.  The first performance will feature Black Bayou Brass in performances of music by Gina Gillie and Adriana Figueroa Mañas. Here’s our program:

Trio for Brass, Gina Gillie (b. 1981)

  1. Fanfare and Chorale

Triad, Adriana Isabel Figueroa Mañas (b. 1966)

  1. Magic Dreams

Scenes from The Bayou, Gina Gillie

The first work by Gina Gillie is one of our favorites in the repertoire, and makes a great opener. It’s published by Veritas Musica Publications. If you’re looking for a fun, challenging, and musically rewarding work for brass trio be sure to check it out.

Adriana Mañas has composed some very fine works for brass trio, including her Three Chorals and Triad. Magic Dreams, the final movement of Triad, is notable for the variety of timbres and articulations it employs. It makes for a nice contrast with the opening work on our program.

We’re especially excited about performing the newly-commissioned Scenes from the Bayou. We premiered this work locally back in March, and are looking forward to sharing it with a larger audience. This commission was funded in part by the Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Program of the International Horn Society, and is a substantial addition to the repertoire. Here is a video compilation of several excerpts from the premiere.

On the last day of the conference I’ll be collaborating with several University of Wisconsin-Madison alums (Gina Gillie, Sarah Gillespie, Stacie Mickens) for a performance of Gina Gillie’s Horn Quartet No. 1. Like her brass trio compositions, Gillie’s horn quartet is a really strong work with lots of great writing for all four parts. Like Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for Four Horns, the final movement of Gillie’s quartet is a set of variations on Ich schell’ mein Horn. Here’s a recording of the piece with the following performers: Gina Gillie, Mark Robbins, Gustavo Camacho and Becky Miller.

If you’re planning to attend the conference, we’d love to see you at either (or both) of the above performances, or at the Mountain Peak Music booth. I’ll also be posting regular reports to this site during the conference. If you won’t be attending the 2017 IWBC , I hope you’ll consider attending some kind of a conference or festival this summer. They are wonderful opportunities to hear great performances, and to network and connect with friends and colleagues.

Upcoming Performances: 2017 New Music on the Bayou Festival

New Music on the Bayou

The spring semester is winding down, but my colleagues and I are gearing up for several performances this summer. First up is the 2017 New Music on the Bayou Festival, May 31-June 3 in Monroe, LA and Ruston, LA. Now in its second year, this year’s festival is shaping up to be even more exciting than the inaugural season last year. An impressive array of composers and performers have been brought together for a few intense days of rehearsals, performances, and presentations, and if you are within driving distance I highly recommend coming out for one or more of the events. As with last year’s festival, a few ensembles will be featured, including the Implosion Percussion Group, and Trio Mélange, a voice, horn, and piano trio comprised of faculty at the University of Louisiana-Monroe.  We’ll be performing two works, For Jessica, by Jason Mulligan, and Connect All. We All Connect., by Oliver Caplan.  Both works were chosen for the festival through a competitive submission process, and we are excited about sharing them with audiences here. Contrary to some opinions about contemporary music, not all of it is highly abstract, esoteric, or demanding on traditional audiences. In fact, these two works are very accessible, and the horn parts are rewarding to play. Don’t take my word for it, though! Listen for yourself, and see what you think. Here’s a sample recording of Oliver Caplan’s Connect All. We All Connect, linked from the composer’s Soundcloud account. Caplan writes the following about this work:

Are we individual actors, alone together? Or are we bound by our common humanity? Connect All. We All Connect. explores the interconnectedness of people in today’s world. At times fragile and questioning, at times confident and affirming, the piece ultimately sounds a message that we are our best selves when we embrace heartfelt connection.

The performers aren’t listed, but they really sound great! Perhaps this piece will strike you (as it did me) with its simple beauty and profound message. If you want to hear more new music, be sure to check out the New Music on the Bayou Festival this summer!

The Daily Routine: A Modular Approach

While working on a forthcoming project, I’ve been thinking a lot about routines, and how the various exercises we choose to play each day can be structured. For much of my playing career, I’ve tended to choose one routine and stick with it for an extended period of time. Recently, however, I’ve been experimenting with putting together a routine by selecting various exercises from multiple sources. I still cover all of the basics: sound production, flexibility, range work, technique, etc., but instead of playing literally the same exercises for days on end, I have been rotating through sets of similar exercises. This modular approach has been lots of fun to play around with, and has the added benefit of keeping me interested and engaged in what I’m doing every day. There are certain parts of the routine that stay more or less the same, but after the first 15 minutes or so I begin to vary things. Here’s where I’m getting my material these days:

For ease of use, I photocopy exercises (or groups of exercises) out of each collection and keep them together in the same folder. From these pages I choose exercises which best fit my needs for upcoming performances. As an example, I’ve been focusing on high range and endurance a bit more in preparation for some contemporary repertoire at the New Music on the Bayou Festival, as well as a recording session in June.

Of the items listed above, William Vacchiano’s book is probably the least familiar to horn players. Jeff Nelsen introduced me to this collection several months ago, and it’s been really fun working through some of the studies in it. Vacchiano was a legendary orchestral player and teacher, and his book actually contains 11 complete routines. The exercises are generally pretty short (less than a page usually), and incorporate many of the important trumpet excerpts in the orchestral repertoire. As compared to horn routines, these studies are more technical and tend to emphasize the high range. While I don’t recommend using them exclusively, several exercises work pretty well on horn. Here are two of my favorites.

Don’t these sound fun? I usually balance these out with some low range and stopped horn work.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you throw away your trusted routine. In fact, it’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable enough with my own playing to try swapping things in and out of my routine. If used correctly, a good routine instills confidence, while at the same time being challenging enough to promote growth. If the modular approach appeals to you, begin by substituting a small portion of your regular routine (5 minutes or less) and see what you think.

On a related note, I’m very excited to dive into Jeffrey Agrell’s new book Horn Technique: A New Approach to an Old InstrumentIn the Introduction, Agrell suggests a similar modular approach to the daily routine.

Brass Trio Performance Videos

Here are some videos from two of our recent brass trio performances. The first is from our recent faculty recital at ULM, and features excerpts from Gina Gillie’s Scenes from the Bayou, a work we commissioned with assistance from the International Horn Society’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. It’s a great piece, full of catchy melodies and fun writing for all three parts. We’ll be performing the piece again this summer at the International Women’s Brass Conference in at Rowan University in New Jersey.

Next is our complete Contributing Artist Performance at the 2017 Mid-South Horn Workshop. We performed Diversions for Brass Trio, by Roger Jones, another composer who, like Gina Gillie, really knows how to write well for brass trio.

One interesting thing for me with this work is that I performed it as a member of the same ensemble (but with different personnel) back in 2011 at the Big 12 Trombone Conference in Lubbock, TX (you can check out the recording here). Both performances went really well, I think, and it was quite interesting for me to listen to these two recordings back to back and hear how my playing has changed in the last six years.

Conference Report: 2017 Mid-South Horn Workshop

Photo by Aaron Witek

Last week the ULM brass faculty were very busy, performing our annual faculty recital, and performing at the 2017 Mid-South Horn Workshop, hosted by Dr. Nicholas Kenney at Southeast Missouri State University. Though more brief than the International Horn Symposium, this three-day conference was packed full of performances, lectures, and exhibits. The beautiful facilities at SEMO, as well as the hard work and organization of Dr. Kenney and his students, resulted in a fantastic workshop. Bravo!

In addition to performing with our brass trio and presenting on my Solo Training for Horn book, I also ran the exhibitor table for Mountain Peak Music, who publishes both of my books. This was a new experience for me, but very enjoyable. While I wasn’t able to attend as many of the conference events as usual, the extra time to speak with both old and new acquaintances was certainly welcome. The sheet music exhibits were placed along a heavily traveled route between one of the main performance halls and the instrument exhibits, providing ample exposure. After several hours of visiting with passersby at the exhibit, here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Horn players are always hungry for duets: Visitors to the Mountain Peak exhibit were especially interested in duets for themselves and their students, with The Big Book of Sight Reading Duets and Long Tone Duets being the most popular. If you don’t know these two publications check them out, they are fantastic for teaching. I also sold a few copies of my Solo Duet Training for Horns book.
  • Horn players love routines:  Another very popular book at the MPM table was Daily Routines for Horn, and its companion Daily Routines for the Student Horn Player. Many players I spoke with were not aware of these two publications, and I enjoyed speaking with them about the various patterns and exercises found in the Daily Routines series. If you are getting tired of your regular old routine (or just looking for more teaching materials) give these some serious consideration.
  • Not enough horn players know about Mountain Peak Music: This publisher is gradually gaining more recognition in the horn world, but after my presentation and at the exhibit table I spoke with lots of people who didn’t know anything about MPM. If you are in the market for high-quality, fresh teaching materials that will energize both you and your students, consider exploring their publications. All of Mountain Peak Music’s offerings for horn can be found at this URL: http://www.mountainpeakmusic.com/horn/

Though I didn’t attend lots of performances, I was able to make a lecture-performance by the St. Louis Symphony horn section on Saturday afternoon, and the Saturday evening concert featuring Tod Bowermaster of the St. Louis Symphony and the Southeast Missouri State University Wind Symphony. I have not had the chance to hear the St. Louis Symphony live, but their horn section sounded fantastic! The presentation included performances and discussion of standard section excerpts, such as the Overture to Weber’s Der Freischütz and the Scherzo of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. The blend, balance, and overall sound of the section was quite striking, big without sounding like they were working hard. One topic that piqued my interest was Christopher Dwyer’s discussion of intonation – in his comments he mentioned the Tuneup Intonation Training System by Stephen Colley. I had heard of this book, but not much else regarding its content or effectiveness. Mr. Dwyer highly recommended it, noting that during his studies with Dale Clevenger, the entire brass section of the Chicago Symphony was working through the book. Needless to say, I will be looking into it!

For the first half of the evening concert, Tod Bowermaster performed several horn and piano works, collaborating with Kelley Ker Hackleman. These included standards –  Dukas Villanelle and Gliere Intermezzo – as well as several really nice arrangements found on Mr. Bowermaster’s CD, The Horn in Song. I really enjoyed his solo playing, very musical with a warm, vibrant sound. My favorite work on the first half was a transcription of Telemann’s Bassoon Sonata, TWV 41:f1. I’ve heard this performed on euphonium and trombone, and it also works really well on  horn! For the second half of the concert the SEMO Wind Symphony joined the soloist for Pele by Brian Balmages. This work is getting performed a lot, and it’s easy to hear why – tuneful melodies, with lots of heroic moments for both soloist and ensemble. The concert concluded with Claude T. Smith’s Eternal Father, Strong to Save. If you’ve performed this piece (or taken any military band auditions) you know that the end features a solo horn quartet playing the famous hymn. For this performance, the entire balcony was filled with horn players, who joined in for a striking surround sound effect. A great way to end the evening!

Before wrapping up this post I want to share one more anecdote from the conference. Shortly after arriving on Thursday evening, I grabbed a few minutes in a practice room to run through my Solo Training for Horn presentation materials. When I finished and went to remove my screw bell, it was stuck! This has never happened to me before, but I knew enough not to use anything more than mild force to loosen the ring. It wasn’t cross-threaded, maybe just dry from the weather in Missouri. At any rate, I was very lucky to find Mark Atkinson of Atkinson Horns setting up in the exhibit room. He was extremely generous and helped remove the bell (through a combination of elbow grease and a leather mallet). Thanks again!

I want to commend and thank Dr. Kenney for planning and hosting this terrific conference. I’m looking forward to next year’s workshop, which will be hosted by Brent Shires at the University of Central Arkansas.

 

 

Upcoming Projects, Part 2: June Recording Session

cropped-412093_10151188927572199_2111445695_o4.jpgThis is the second in a series of posts about some upcoming activities this semester and beyond. You can read the first one here. In addition to my normal performing and teaching schedule, I’m very excited to be involved in two recording projects, the first slated for June 2017, and the second for January 2018. Here’s a brief description of the first one.


Music of Eurico Carrapatoso: I’m honored to be collaborating with colleagues Claire Vangelisti and Richard Seiler on a recording featuring the music of Portuguese composer Eurico Carrapatoso. Carrapatoso is well known in his native Portugal, and is beginning to get some exposure here in the U.S.  Vangelisti and Seiler will be recording several of his works for voice and piano, and I’ll be joining them for three soprano, horn, and piano works:

  • Duas porcelanas musicais
  • Sete melodias em forma de bruma
  • Dois poemas de Miguel Torga

All three are substantial, multi-movement compositions, with fun (and challenging!) horn parts. I’m planning to write more about the details of this project in a future post, and one interesting challenge for me in the preparation of the music has been the choice of equipment. Carrapatoso’s writing for horn tends to emphasize the high range, with lots of light, lyrical passages above the staff, often in harmony or in counterpoint with the voice. Here’s an example of one from the first movement of his Dois poemas de Miguel Torga:

carrapatoso1

And another one from his Sete melodias em forma de bruma:

carrapatoso2

While certainly playable on a standard double horn, these passages and others like them fit well on a descant horn. We performed the Sete melodias em forma de bruma at the 45th IHS Symposium in Memphis, and for that performance I used a Paxman 40M descant horn, on generous loan from a colleague in the Shreveport Symphony. I’m planning to use that same instrument for our recordings in June, although I’m not entirely sold on which mouthpiece to use. My normal mouthpiece, a Houser GS12, works pretty well, although I’m considering some other options tailored more for the high horn. Updates to come!