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.

 

Semester Wrap-Up and Summer Plans

With the submission of final grades, this unprecedented spring semester is now behind me. For students and colleagues at other institutions who may still have a few more days or weeks to go, hang in there! I’m extremely proud of our students for their resilience and flexibility, and honored to be working with such dedicated faculty and staff. They truly went above and beyond to help our students be successful.

As we move into the summer, I’ll be shifting gears a bit and working on some longer-term projects as well as a few smaller things. One major undertaking is learning to use several apps in the Adobe Creative Cloud, including InDesign, Premiere Pro, and Audition. I’ve had experience with similar software, but this will be my first in-depth look at Adobe’s apps. So far I’ve been very impressed with their power and versatility, and look forward to learning more. I also have plans for another book with Mountain Peak Music. It’s still in the planning stage, but I hope to knock out a large portion of it this summer.

In my own horn playing, I’ll continue to work with the Caruso Routine, as well as various etudes, solos, and other repertoire to keep in shape. One new series that I’ve really enjoyed is Jim Stephenson‘s Maytudes. The composer’s description is below:

A French horn etude project in consultation with Gail Williams, with one etude created every day during the month of May, 2020. Subscribers would receive a new etude in their email box every day, for their own private “world premiere!”

It’s a really cool idea, and the etudes are very well-written, but tough! I’ve recorded a video of the first one (with the composer’s permission), and plan to record more as I’m able. It takes me about a week to learn each one. If you are looking for a good summer practice project it may still be possible to join the Maytudes project. Contact the composer directly to inquire.

In addition to the above, my plans are to continue to enjoy spending time at home with my family. This extra time with loved ones has been a bright spot in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Hopefully stay-at-home restrictions will ease throughout the summer, and we will be able to safely venture back into public spaces. If you’ve read this far, thank you! and best wishes for a safe and restful summer.

 

Caruso Journal: Week 3

Week 3 of my work with the Caruso Routine has gone well (Read about Week 1 and Week 2). Week 3 did not add any new exercises, but continued with the Six Notes and Lips/Mouthpiece/Horn. The basic mechanics of the exercises are starting to feel more comfortable and more or less automatic now. I’m looking forward to Week 4, which adds the Harmonic Series exercises. Rather than add these to the beginning of my daily routine, I’m going to swap out a similar pattern in my routine for these. I’m curious how they will work in the context of my regular routine. According to the suggested Practice Calendar, Weeks 4 through 8 are the same, I’m assuming to build further consistency on these basic patterns before expanding the routine further. More updates to come!

First Solos for the Horn Player: Misty, Silvery Moon by Vincenzo Bellini

This post will wrap up my First Solos for the Horn Player project, which I began back in March. It’s been a fun and productive creative outlet, and while I did not record all of the solos in the collection (to abide by Fair Use), these recordings are representative. If you don’t know First Solos for the Horn Player  by Mason Jones it’s well worth checking out, especially for undergraduate students. See the end of this post for a complete list of the recordings, with YouTube links.

For the final selection we have an aria by the early 19th-century Italian opera composer Vincenzo Bellini. This is a very brief solo, but could work well on a recital when combined with other similar compositions.

List of Recordings from First Solos for the Horn Player, Arrangements by Mason Jones)

Caruso Routine Journal: Week 2

Today marks my second week with the Caruso Routine, as adapted for horn by Julie Landsman. (Read about Week 1 here). As mentioned in my Week 1 post, I’m following the suggested practice calendar found on Ms. Landsman’s website. This week I continued with the Six Notes, mostly using Version 1, as it felt the best, and added Lips/Mouthpiece/Horn

Lips/Mouthpiece/Horn is played three times, first buzzing with the lips alone, then on the mouthpiece, and finally with the horn. To me it feels like this pattern stabilizes and centers the embouchure, and encourages steady air support. Three different versions are provided, with directions to choose the easiest one. Version A feels the best to me by far, as I can easily free buzz a second line G. Free buzzing the third space C requires me to roll in my lips more than usual, and the instructions specifically say to avoid this:

Attempting to manipulate the embouchure in any way will inhibit the progress of this exercise. Just produce the sound in the easiest way possible, without trying to place the chops in a certain way. Do not force the lips into place, even if all three events are slightly different from each other

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to nose breathe when free buzzing the first time through, but I’ve been doing it anyway. I need to review the instructional video to see what Ms. Landsman and her student do. It would make sense to do so. On the third time through Version A (with the horn),  the second note of each group is produced by bending the first one down a half step. It’s not a tiring exercise, but you can definitely feel the embouchure at work when doing it. It seems to be working as an “early in the day” pattern, not first thing, but right after Six Notes. I appreciate the gradual, measured way that exercises are added in the Practice Calendar. Week 3 is the same as Week 2, but Week 4 adds Harmonic Series exercises.

 

First Solos for the Horn Player: Brazilian Set, by Louis Gordon

Continuing with the First Solos for the Horn Player project, here are two brief pieces by Louis B. Gordon, arranged by Mason Jones. There is very little information online about the composer, but here is a brief excerpt from his obituary:

Louis graduated from Beaumont Texas High School. He attended Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY, where he received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1946 and his Master of Music degree in 1947. He went on to earn his Doctor of Musical Arts in 1962.

Louis was a Professor of Music at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, where he taught for 30 years until his retirement in 1993. He was a member of the American Federation of Musicians and a member of Temple B’nai Or, Morristown, NJ. He proudly served his country during World War II as an Army Air Corps cadet.

While I’m fairly certain that this is the same composer whose music appears in First Solos for the Horn Player, I am less certain about the original instrumentation for this “Brazilian Set.” Gordon has a number of other solo and chamber music compositions for winds and piano (though none for horn that I can find), and it’s possible that these two movements came from one of those works. It’s an interesting choice for this collection, and is a nice contrast to the primarily 18th and 19th century compositions found in the rest of the book. If anyone out there has more information about Louis Gordon or this piece in particular I would love to hear it.

Caruso Routine Journal: Week 1

Something that has kept me motivated in my practicing over the last several weeks has been an interest in routines. It’s something I’ve researched and published about, and at a personal level I also find them really interesting. The Caruso Routine is one that I’ve always wanted to try but didn’t feel I had the necessary time to devote to it.

After watching the videos and reading the other material several times on Julie Landsman’s Caruso Method page, I decided to give it a shot. Having never studied long term with a Caruso teacher, I’m taking things very slowly and following the detailed instructions and suggested Practice Calendar found on Ms. Landsman’s website. Initially, these exercises aren’t taking the place of my regular routine, but rather supplementing it.

For Week 1, the only thing on the calendar is The Six Notes, one of the fundamental exercises in Caruso studies. This past week I played the Six Notes first thing in the day, right after stretching and breathing exercises. The nose breath felt a little strange at first, but after a few days began to feel more normal. Foot tapping helps with coordinating the initial breath attack (and I’ve also been using a metronome along with it). So far I’ve only done Version 1, but will probably alternate with Version 2 in future weeks.

So how do things feel after a week of Caruso Routine? Pretty good! The Six Notes works great as a “first notes” pattern, and so far hasn’t made my chops feel stiff. Quite the opposite, things feel relaxed and responsive after playing it. Again, I’m taking things very slowly, and will be adding Lips / Mouthpiece / Horn for Week 2, per the Practice Calendar. As time goes on and I add more exercises, there will be more to report, but my initial impressions are good. For a great article and introduction to the Caruso Method, be sure to visit Julie Landsman’s page, and also check out this article at Horn Matters.

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