One of the big fall events I look forward to every year is the Louisiana Music Educators’ Association State Conference, held in Baton Rouge. This year I’ll be presenting a session on solo performances, with tips for both teachers and students on various aspects of solo playing. One area I want to help strengthen in my part of the state is student participation in local and state solo/ensemble festivals, and I am gearing my presentation towards students who may not have much experience in preparing solo works with piano accompaniment. Here is a brief excerpt from my presentation.
Tips on Rehearsing with Piano Accompaniment
Learn every note and rhythm to the best of your ability before the first rehearsal with your accompanist. Rehearsals with your accompanist are best spent working on ensemble and musical issues, not learning your own part.
When tuning, sound the horn’s pitch first. If the piano plays first, most good horn players will simply adjust at the embouchure to match the pitch. Sounding the horn note first will give a more accurate idea of the instrument’s pitch so that the player can make any necessary adjustments with the tuning slides. Suggested tuning pitches are the second line “G” and third space “C” for horn in F.
Establish good communication with your accompanist. Eye contact, small gestures, and well-timed breaths are all excellent ways to stay in communication with your pianist during a performance. Though they are always important, these cues are absolutely crucial at the beginning of a piece and at transitions. Small annotations in both the solo and piano part can also serve as reminders of what the other half of the ensemble is playing.
Experiment with different placements of the horn and piano. Even slightly different configurations can result in drastically different results. Let your ear be your guide! Consider the following factors when trying different placements.
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- Experiment with different lid settings (full stick, short stick, closed) on grand pianos.
Avoid pointing the horn 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.