Fall 2020 Semester News

As our fall semester is nearly at the halfway point, I won’t even bother calling this post a semester “Preview.” Rather, here’s a brief update on some recent activities.

Fall Classes/Lessons

Like many places, my university is operating with a combination of face-to-face and online instruction. Things seem to be going well, and the faculty and students have done an admirable job adapting to the new environment.

ULM Horn Studio Fall 2020

Online Solo and Chamber Performances

We have been live-streaming a few concerts and recitals, and also releasing pre-recorded concert videos on our school’s YouTube Channel. While these aren’t quite the same experience as attending an in-person performance, they have been fun to put together, and will hopefully provide some musical enjoyment for audiences. Here are links to a recent faculty brass quartet recital and an upcoming horn and piano recital.

I would add that creating these has provided ample opportunities to work on my sound and video recording techniques, which are amateur at best. We experimented with various camera angles and settings, and I am still dealing with the learning curve on the various equipment and software. I think the audio is pretty good, at least!

The Horn Call Journal and Podcast

Since taking over the role of Publications Editor with the International Horn Society, I’ve been heavily engaged with preparing the October issue of The Horn Call. I’m glad to say that the journal is ready, with printed copies on their way to mailboxes and the electronic version already available online. I’m very grateful to the entire team at The Horn Call for their hard work. I hope you enjoy reading the October issue (cover image above), which features an in-depth article by Paul Neuffer on legendary Hollywood studio musician—and IHS Honorary Member—Vincent DeRosa. In addition to The Horn Call, the IHS also offers several other print and electronic publications, including an e-newsletter, Horn and More, produced by IHS Vice-President Kristina Mascher-Turner. We also have a monthly Horn Call podcast, which launched in August. It’s been a blast working on the podcast, and we have several wonderful guests lined up for coming episodes. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the first two episodes, check out the link below and subscribe using your normal podcast app to get updates.

https://www.hornsociety.org/publications/horn-call/podcast

Other News

In other news, I received word that my application for promotion to Professor of Music was approved! THANK YOU to my colleagues and mentors near and far who supported me through the process.

Thanks for reading this far, and stay safe!

Caruso Journal Wrap-up: Weeks 11 and 12

This will be the last update in my Caruso Journal [you can read the other parts here: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 |10]

I got busy last week with some other horn-related things (more on this in a future post) and had to defer my Week 11 journal entry. Rather than  post Week 11 late, I thought it would be appropriate to combine Weeks 11 and 12  into a single, final summary.

When I began practicing Caruso studies 12 weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but in my experience they have lived up to their reputation as great fundamental exercises! My consistency, endurance, and timing have improved over the last several weeks, and as I’ve mentioned before I will definitely be encouraging my students to practice them. Here are a few summary thoughts for anyone who is thinking about getting into Caruso Studies.

  • Go slowly – follow Julie Landsman’s suggested Practice Calendar, or create your own. Whatever you do, come up with something that is progressive and allows enough time (several days to weeks) on each pattern before adding more difficulty and complexity.
  • As a corollary to the above, be patient – if you are playing Caruso correctly, your playing should improve. If it doesn’t, take a break for a while, and/or consult with an experienced teacher. If you don’t have access to a teacher right now, watch (and re-watch) Julie Landsman’s excellent YouTube series.
  • Track your progress – use a chart (or mark in the music) dates and week numbers to help you adhere to the practice calendar. Be vigilant about avoiding strain when playing any of the exercises. I did not get good results when I had to force something to come out. It worked out much better to play to my comfortable limit and then repeat the pattern the next day or every other day.

I’ve enjoyed working on Caruso Studies, and doing so has helped me become more aware of my breathing and physical timing when I play the horn. I’ll keep doing them and trying to get better!

 

Caruso Journal: Week 10

My apologies for being a day behind with my weekly Caruso Journal! Yesterday got away from me with various online meetings and other obligations.

Here we are in Week 10, and I’ve expanded the Intervals exercise to thirds, per Julie Landsman’s recommendation to change intervals after two weeks. Perhaps it’s just having two weeks of practice with this exercise under my belt, but the thirds actually feel easier than seconds. Synchronizing foot tapping, breathing, and air attacking the start of each note is going pretty well, except when I get into the highest register. Still a work in progress, but noticing some definite improvement.

Noodles and Spiders are also going well on alternate days. I usually do the C Noodle twice, once at quarter =60 and again at quarter =120, followed by Variation 1 at the same tempos. I also play Spiders on C, E, and G at quarter=60 and 120. I’ve not added Snakes yet, but will do that soon.

In terms of low register work, I’ve incorporated Chromatics Down into my daily routine and use Arpeggios Down for a warm-down at the end of the day. These are deceptively difficult exercises to play with great control and consistency all the way to the bottom of the range. Because these exercises require contact between the lips and mouthpiece throughout their entirety, I’ve found it very important to pay attention to the jaw and leadpipe angle as a means of getting into the low register.

As mentioned in a previous post, my plan is to continue with this journal through Week 12. There are a few more Caruso exercises that I haven’t explored yet, but I plan to do so in the coming weeks.  Feel free to check them out on Julie Landsman’s Caruso page using the links below.

 

Caruso Journal: Week 9

Week 9 means I’m now in the third month of work with Caruso Studies. A little over a week ago I incorporated the Intervals, Noodles, and Spider exercises into my daily routine, playing a set of Intervals and two sets each of Noodles/Spiders on alternating days. There are a few more things to add in the coming weeks, but at this point I’ve encountered most of the exercises found on Julie Landsman’s Caruso website.  I would point out that there are lots of variations on the basic Caruso exercises, which allows for growth and adaptation. Here are a few takeaways I recently jotted down regarding my past few months of work with Caruso studies.

  • A day of rest between the Interval Studies seems to be working, and for the most part I haven’t experienced any stiffness from these pretty intense workouts. The flexibility exercises (Noodle/Spider/Snake) provide a good balance.
  • Following the link from this Horn Matters article, I spent some time perusing the Caruso Forum on trumpetherald.com. There is so much content here that it was tough to know where to begin. I did however find some good advice about the use of a metronome for Caruso work. In general the recommendation seems to be to NOT use the metronome except for periodic reference, and to instead rely on coordinating the physical act of foot tapping with playing. It’s difficult to describe the difference in feel between foot tapping and responding to the metronome, but there is definitely a difference. Proactive playing vs. reactive playing sums it up best, I suppose.
  • Julie Landsman’s Caruso Videos have been extremely helpful, and I have been re-watching them periodically as I make my way through the various Caruso patterns. One thing that really stuck with me is her description of support feeling like your belly button is pressing towards your spine. For whatever reason, this concept has really helped with Caruso studies and other stuff too!

 

Caruso Journal: Week 8

I’m back for Week 8 of my Caruso Studies journal. If you’re wondering how long this series will go, I plan to stop after Week 12, through the end of the first page on Julie Landsman’s suggested practice calendar. If you’ve followed these entries up to this point, thank you for reading!

Speaking of the Practice Calendar, I have a confession to make. Towards the end of the past week (Week 8) I went ahead and incorporated the Chromatics Down exercises into my daily routine, and have also been playing Noodles/Spiders and Intervals on alternating days. It sounds like a lot of new material to add, but Chromatics Down was scheduled for Week 9 anyway, and the Practice Calendar says “In the 3rd month, you may begin doing heavy lifting and flexibility exercises on alternating days.” In reality, I only jumped ahead by a few days.

So, how do these new exercises feel? Pretty good, so far, although I’ve been doing Caruso patterns for long enough now to know that it takes several days (for me at least) to really settle into them. The past few days have gone well, but really it’s about finding the most efficient way to play each pattern, which continues to be a work in progress. More next week!

 

Caruso Journal: Week 7

I don’t have much to report this week, but if you have been reading my “Caruso Journal” posts I’ll assume that you have more than just a passing interest in the method. If so, I highly recommend that you check out this Brass Junkies interview with Julie Landsman, former Principal Horn of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Caruso Method expert. Her interview is inspiring, funny, and full of great advice for horn players and all musicians.

On a personal note, while I never had the opportunity to study directly with Ms. Landsman, I did get to work briefly with one of her former students (and section mate in the MET), Michelle Baker. Ms. Baker was on the faculty of the Round Top Music Festival in Texas when I attended in the summer of 2003. Her masterclasses and lessons were fantastic, and I still think fondly of my experiences that summer.

More updates next week as I will be adding some exercises to the routine!

Caruso Journal: Week 6

After 6 weeks of daily work with the Caruso Routine, I’m still discovering new things, and continue to find the exercises very useful for building fundamentals. These will definitely be incorporated into my future teaching! No new material added this week (nothing new until after Week 8), but I’ve been experimenting with the three different beginnings to the Harmonic Series pattern. So far, playing them as written seems to work best for me.

Something else that occurred to me this week is that although the instructions say to keep the mouthpiece on the lips during rests and breath through the nose, there’s a difference between keeping the embouchure set and over tensing it. In an effort to avoid relaxing my setting, it’s tempting to “flex” the embouchure too much, which tired me out very quickly. After several weeks, I think I’ve found the right balance between these two.

To close, you may be wondering what else I’ve been doing in my routine besides Caruso Studies. Back in March I started using Daniel Grabois’s The Daily Drill for Horn Players, published by Brass Arts Unlimited. It’s a great riff on some of the standard warm-up maintenance materials, and was just the right thing (along with Caruso Studies) to help me stay motivated during this period of social distancing. I hope that you have found, and continue to find, reasons to stay motivated!

 

Caruso Journal: Week 5

Five weeks into my work with the Caruso Routine, and things are feeling very good. *If you are new to this ongoing series, feel free to check out the previous posts, which will provide some context. Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4

No new material this week, but continuing daily with:

  • Six Notes – Version 1
  • Lips/Mouthpiece/Horn – mostly Version A, although I’ve been experimenting a bit with Versions B and C
  • Harmonic Series –  As written (but quarter=80). I also need to try the alternate beginnings found at the bottom of the page.

One observation for the Harmonic Series exercises is that foot tapping and nose breathing really seem to help with establishing consistency. My initial experience with the Caruso method was that I had to suspend my concerns about nose breathing and just “buy in” to the pedagogy of it for a while until it started to feel more natural. That being said, I do not advocate nose breathing for most other normal playing situations. But for the purposes of his routine, it has been very effective. In a few more weeks I’ll be adding some low range exercises, which will be fun. Stay tuned!

A Belated Commission “Performance” – Sonata for Horn and Piano by Sy Brandon

In 2018 I participated in a consortium to commission a sonata for horn and piano from Sy Brandon. I’m very familiar with his music, having recorded his Inventions for Brass Trio on our recent album Scenes from the Bayou.

Brandon’s music is fun for the performers and accessible for audiences, so participating in the consortium was a no-brainer. Part of the commissioning agreement was to perform the new work at some point after its completion, but other obligations have prevented me from programming it thus far. After our state’s stay-at-home order went into effect, I contacted Sy and asked him if he would be willing to provide me with an electronic realization of the piano accompaniment, as well as permission to record and share the piece on YouTube. While not the same as a live performance, I hope this rendition is representative of the work. Each movement was performed in its entirety, and the recording is unedited except for some added reverb and equalization. I hope you enjoy it!

More information about the piece can be found below the embedded video, including the names of the other consortium members and program notes by the composer.

Sonata For Horn and Piano, by Sy Brandon In Memory of David Baptist
Commissioning Consortium
  • James Boldin – University of Louisiana, Monroe
  • Erwin Chandler – Mohnton, PA
  • Patrice Chandler – Mohnton, PA
  • Benjamin Lieser – University of Central Florida
  • Ellie Jenkins – Dalton GA Joseph Johnson – Augusta GA
  • Sarah Schouten – Edinboro, PA
  • Nancy Sullivan – Flagstaff, AZ
Program Notes This three-movement Sonata was created in memory of my dear friend, Hornist, and composer/arranger, David Baptist. To read more about Dave, visit  http://todd.macshare.com/davidbaptist/index.html This work was created with the support of a commissioning consortium. The first movement is heroic in style as Dave was one of my heroes. He had so much talent and yet was very humble. He was one of the first friends we made when we moved to Arizona and his sense of humor was priceless. The movement is in a modified sonata form. The recapitulation begins with the secondary theme, then the closing theme and finally the main theme therefore creating an arch form. The second movement reflects Dave’s love of jazz. This bluesy movement uses a slight twist of the blues scale. Normally the lowered third is in the melody and the normal 3rd in the harmony. While this occurs in this movement, the reverse also occurs. The normal third is in the melody and the lowered third is in the harmony. Frequent use of both the normal and lowered versions of the 5th and 7th also occur. The form builds to a climax about two-thirds through before returning to the opening material. The third movement is in a modified rondo form. The 2/4, 5/8 rhythm of the A theme was inspired by my counting my vitamins in the morning to make sure that I had what I was supposed to take. I counted 1234 12345 which gave rise to the rhythmic pattern. The asymmetrical meter idea is carried over into the B theme where it begins with 4 measures of 5/8 followed by alternating 2/4 and 3/4. The character is similar to the A theme. The C theme is radically different and sounds more like a development with its repeated Horn notes and changing harmonies underneath. I am in the process of preparing Dave’s compositions for publication and observed that Dave used this technique frequently. After the C section the themes return as B followed by A and a coda.The odd meters, articulation, and dynamic surprises create a lighter, more humorous movement. -Sy Brandon

 

Caruso Journal: Week 4

This week marks one month of daily practice with the Caruso Routine. I hope this journal can serve as a resource for others who are interested in these studies, and if nothing else, it can be a brief diversion from the twenty-four hour news cycle. Here are links to the previous posts in this series: Week 1Week 2Week 3.

In week 4 I started the Harmonic Series exercises, and rather than adding them to my daily routine, swapped them in for another similar, but non-Caruso pattern. My understanding, however, is that like much of the work we do on brass instruments, the exercises themselves are not as important as the way they are performed. These Harmonic Series exercises are very similar to ones I’ve done many times before, but in the context of Caruso’s method the approach is slightly different. The constant feeling of subdivision seems to change the overall feel, for one thing. One note is that I increased the tempo marking of quarter=60 to 80 in order to make it through each line in one breath. There aren’t any written instructions specifying this, but in Julie Landsman’s YouTube videos her student plays each line a bit faster than 60 and also in one breath. Some days they feel better than others, but as this was only my first week with them I am not too worried about the inconsistency. The previous patterns (Six Notes, Lips/Mouthpiece/Horn) have gotten much more consistent with repeated practice.

One other thing I’ve been thinking about in regards to Caruso Studies is that my unfounded perception of them before this undertaking was that they were exclusively “high note studies.” This perception has been proven false, and I’ve found all of the exercises up to this point to be very well balanced, incorporating both work and rest. In fact, in her Practice Calendar, Ms. Landsman doesn’t recommend beginning the “Heavy Lifting” exercises until the third month, and even then she suggests practicing them every other day.

 

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