Based on the title, you might think that this post would involve some sort of philosophical discussion about the nature of playing solos…actually it’s much more literal than that. Knowing where to stand (or sit) when playing a horn solo with piano isn’t always clear cut, especially for younger students, and even for college students. Because our bells face backwards, there are issues of projection, clarity, and resonance that we have to consider.
One tip when deciding on your stage position is to experiment with several different placements. Even slightly different configurations can result in drastically different results. Ask colleagues or teachers to listen in the audience from a variety of different places, and get their honest feedback. Record yourself playing the same piece in several different positions, and listen back later to decide which one you like best. Here are two things to consider.
Size/acoustical quality of the room: Is it a dry or resonant space? A dry space might require a less direct placement of the horn (bell away from the audience), while a resonant space might work better with the bell more towards the audience. In most cases, it is best to avoid pointing the horn bell directly at the audience.
Size/type of piano: See the photographs below for some suggested placements to try. Experiment with different lid settings (full stick, short stick, closed) on grand pianos. Each comment refers to the photograph above the description.
Example 1 (above) is suitable for many acoustical environments, and allows for good communication between the players.
Example 2 creates a more direct sound, suitable for larger and/or more resonant venues. This position also works quite well for solo horn with orchestra or band.
Example 3 is another option which allows for more resonating/reflecting space behind the horn. Avoid pointing your bell into dampening materials such as curtains or acoustical tiles. The horn projects best when the sound can reflect off a hard surface at least six to eight feet behind the bell of the instrument. If the bell is too close to the reflecting surface the sound can get brittle and tinny, too far and it can become diffuse and unclear.
Example 4 is similar to Example 1, but with more direct contact between performer and audience. The raised piano lid can help with projection for the horn player.
Example 5 is yet another option, suitable for chamber music combinations like soprano, horn, and piano. [All photographs by Kristen Boldin]
Those are the more or less traditional positions I’m familiar with, but I’m sure there are many other variations. For instance, the piano does not always have to be exactly parallel to the front of the stage, and can be pivoted up or downstage to create different effects.