Guidelines for Private Instruction

For the last few years I’ve been teaching a number of high school and middle school students. On the whole it is very rewarding, and I really enjoy getting to work with younger students. Not surprisingly, my number of private students is at its largest in the few weeks preceding honor band or All-State  auditions. I understand the reasons for this, though I think private lessons are far more effective when taken regularly over an extended period of time. This time gives the instructor and student a chance to put together an individualized method of study consisting of appropriate etudes, scale/arpeggio studies, solos, and other materials.  A few lessons just before an audition to “spot-check” some things is fine, but it  can’t really compare to months and years of consistent study.  The bottom line is that serious students take lessons whether they’ve got an audition coming up or not.

Beginning this semester, I plan to distribute the following document to my new and returning private students. My goal was to provide a one page summary of the private lesson experience (as I view it) for parents and students. Often parents don’t really understand what it is they are paying for each week, and are simply told by their children that the teacher said to “go home and practice.”  The document is worded in a general way on purpose, so that it can be adapted to fit the needs of individual students.  For instance, the “20 to 30 minutes” of daily practice can of course be expanded as a student progresses. I have been using most of these policies for a while now, but I thought it a good idea to put them in writing.

Now a question to my readers: Do you use any kind of syllabus or guidelines for your private (non-university) students?  If so, what do you include in it?  Do you think such a document is even necessary?


Dear Parent or Guardian:

I am delighted to be teaching your child private horn lessons.  One-on-one instruction is an extremely effective way to learn a musical instrument, and is part of a tradition that is hundreds of years old. Learning to play an instrument develops critical thinking and problem solving skills, which can be applied to virtually any career or academic pursuit. My philosophy of teaching places the student’s well being and musical development above all else, and I care deeply about what I do. In an effort to offer the highest quality instruction possible, and to ensure that my students both enjoy and learn from their lesson experiences, I have put together the following list of guidelines.  Please read over this list with your child, and sign the brief memorandum of understanding at the bottom. Two copies are provided so that you may retain a copy for your records. If you have any questions about this document or private lessons in general please do not hesitate to contact me.


James Boldin, D.M.A.

  • For private lessons to be effective, students must be dedicated to daily practice. Without at least 20 to 30 minutes of individual practice each day, students will not be able to successfully implement the concepts presented in a weekly private lesson. Lessons alone may result in little to no improvement without additional work on the student’s part.
  • Required lesson materials include a functional horn and mouthpiece, as well as study materials such as etude and method books, solo literature, and ensemble music. I will make individual recommendations for these materials based on the student’s current ability level and musical goals.  A metronome and tuner are also highly recommended. Both devices can be purchased at reasonable prices from online retailers or local music stores. There are also numerous smartphone apps which work quite well.
  • In the event that a lesson needs to be postponed or rescheduled, I will notify the student and/or parent as soon as possible.  Please extend me the same courtesy. I can be reached by email (, office phone (318-342-1591), or cell phone (###-###-####).
  • Fees for private instruction are as follows:  $##/hour; $##/half-hour. Payment is due at the end of each lesson.
  • I will occasionally loan materials to students, including audio recordings, mouthpieces, music, and other related items. Please treat these items with care, and return them promptly so that future students can learn from them as well.
  • If you or your child have any questions or concerns about private lessons please feel free to contact me. Parents are encouraged to observe lessons occasionally so that they remain informed and updated on their child’s progress.

I have read and understand the above guidelines for private horn instruction.


Signature of Parent/Guardian


Signature of Student

Friday Review: Tales of Imagination

Changing gears a bit from the previous review, this week we’ll look at a new recording featuring J.D. Shaw and the University of New Mexico Wind Symphony, under the direction of Eric Rombach-Kendall.  Shaw is on the faculty at UNM, but prior to that appointment he was the horn player and principal arranger for the internationally known Boston Brass.  Having never heard Mr. Shaw outside of his performances and recordings with Boston Brass, I was very excited to listen to him perform as a soloist.  In a word, this album rocks!  Titled Tales of Imagination, this Summit Records release features original and arranged works for solo horn and wind ensemble. Here are the works/composers.

  • Poseidon, Hardy Mertens
  • The Glass Bead Game, James Beckel
  • A Piazzolla Trilogy, Ástor Piazzolla/arr. J.D. Shaw
  • Mystic Dance, Rick DeJonge

With the exception of The Glass Bead Game, all of these pieces were new to me. Though there is a growing repertory of works for solo horn and wind band, much of this music remains relatively unknown.  If you’re interested in performing a solo with band, Brent Shires of the University of Central Arkansas has put together a very handy online catalog.  Getting back to the recording, J.D. Shaw’s playing is heroic, musical, and technically brilliant. He negotiates the most challenging passages with an ease that is seldom heard even amongst other soloists of his caliber, and listening to this album was at times both inspiring and a little discouraging.  If you’ve listened to Poseidon, the first piece on the album, you’ll perhaps understand where I’m coming from.  From the first solo entrance to the last note, this seven-movement work never lets up in its challenges for both soloist and ensemble.  The UNM Wind Symphony also does a fantastic job with some very difficult passages in this work, as well as the entire album.  According to the liner notes by Dr. John Marchiando, Poseidon “was composed for the Dutch Marines Band of the Royal Navy to celebrate their 50th Anniversary through a commission by the ‘Marines Band’s Friends’ Foundation.”  Although the notes don’t indicate who the original soloist was, I can only assume that, like J.D. Shaw,  he or she must have great chops and tons of technique.

James Beckel‘s music is getting more and more recognition, and The Glass Bead Game is well on its way to becoming a standard in the contemporary repertoire of the horn. I like this piece more every time I hear it, and plan to program it on a recital in the future. The Glass Bead Game is a challenging piece, but within the abilities of enough players so that it’s getting plenty of performances. One can hear the influence of film scores in this music, and J.D. Shaw’s sound often reminds me of the famed “Hollywood Horn Sound.”  If you don’t know this piece, I can’t think of a better introduction to it than this recording.

Though a bit lighter in character, the remaining works on the album are certainly worth a listen.  Shaw’s arrangement of three tunes by Piazzolla is especially nice, and hopefully there will be a horn and piano version forthcoming.  Rick DeJonge’s Mystic Dance was composed especially for J.D. Shaw, and was “written with the purpose of performing with younger high school or college bands.” I think this is a great idea, and I’d like to see more works which fall into this category.

As of this writing, Tales of Imagination is not available for download on iTunes or Amazon, but I’m sure it will be appearing soon.  I picked up my copy at the Midwest Clinic last month, and I’ve really enjoyed listening to it.  If you are looking for an exciting recording of contemporary music for the horn, this one fits the bill.

[Cover image above linked from the Summit Records website,]

Schmid Bell Spots

After almost a year of ownership, I still love my Engelbert Schmid double horn.  For me, it was the right choice in terms of sound, craftsmanship, and efficiency.  However, despite everything these horns have going for them, they – like any other mechanical device – aren’t perfect. Reading this article by Bruce Hembd reminded me of a few of the drawbacks of these horns.  In his article, Bruce notes that the extreme lightness of the horns – something I’ve always considered a strength – could in fact be a disadvantage.

Of all the horns I played at the conference, the Schmid doubles felt the easiest and most secure to play. Playing on it in fact, almost felt too easy. Its sound glows like sunshine in all ranges, but somehow, I remained suspicious.

A few passersby noted that Schmid double horns sound very good up close, but do not carry well in a large hall.

Though I haven’t put this to the test in a large hall with a decibel meter, I suspect that a larger bell with a garland might improve any loss of projection with these horns.  There is also the option of trying heavier weight mouthpieces and/or other devices which increase the mass of the instrument. While I am generally very happy with the bell I ordered with the horn (medium flare, spun brass) I’ll be looking into other options just so that I can have some more versatility. Schmid manufactures a variety of sizes and alloys for their bell flares, which are cross-compatible on all of their horns.

One other issue I’ve come across is “bell spots;” discoloration of the brass underneath the lacquer.  These began to develop a few weeks after the horn arrived, and seem to be concentrated around the bell rim and ring.  Here is a photo.

Though they’re a little unsightly on an otherwise beautiful instrument, the spots are purely cosmetic and don’t seem to affect the playing characteristics of the horn in any way.  Schmid offers the following explanation and a treatment method for these spots on his website.

In some cases, despite the most careful degreasing and drying before the lacquering process, black spots can develop under the lacquer, mainly around the bell rim.
The reason for this is that remains of the solvents used in cleaning are trapped under the lacquer and are prevented from evaporating. Piercing the lacquer with a needle where a black spot begins will keep it from getting any larger.

Unfortunately, in my case pin-pricking the lacquer didn’t seem to help stop the spread of the spots.  Perhaps the high humidity here exacerbated the problem? I was also worried about damaging the lacquer and making it susceptible to peeling or flaking.  After a few months the spots stopped spreading, and I basically forgot about them until a colleague of mine in an orchestra noticed (he also plays a Schmid)  and said “you paid too much for that horn for it to look like that!”  This was the metaphorical kick in the rear I needed,  so I contacted Dennis Houghton recently to find out if there was anything that could be done.  Dennis originally sold me the horn, and got back to me very quickly.  He generously offered to strip the lacquer over the discolored areas, and “spot lacquer” those places to protect them.  I haven’t had a chance to get over to Dennis’s shop, but I’ll be making a trip there later this semester.  Once the work is completed I’ll post a follow-up with pictures.

Are there any Schmid – or any other kind of horn – owners out there who’ve encountered this same issue? Was the pin-prick method successful, or did you end up taking it to a repair person?

Vocal Music for Brass

Last week the brass faculty and students at ULM were treated to a very fine performance and lecture by Dr. Cory Mixdorf,  Assistant Professor of Trombone at Georgia State University.  Dr. Mixdorf happened to be traveling through the area on his way back from a trombone conference in Lubbock, TX (the same conference our brass trio performed at last year), and we were delighted to have him on our campus.  His presentation, titled “Choosing and Preparing Vocal Repertoire for Solo Brass Performance,” contained information applicable to all brass players.  As you might have guessed from the title, his lecture was all about performing vocal music on brass instruments. If you’ve never experimented with playing songs or arias on the horn you’ve been missing out!  There is a wealth of repertoire out there that works very well for recitals and other venues like church services.

Dr. Mixdorf went on to point out that vocal music “provides the opportunity to play solo repertoire composed by some of the most cherished composers,” and because of the presence of text and plot, is “one of the best ways to practice musicality.”  His presentation was informed and well paced, and he performed with a great sound and musical sensitivity.  One big point he made for any brass players (or other instrumentalists) preparing vocal music is to know the text. Knowing the text means not just looking up a translation, but understanding how the words fit each phrase – Dr. Mixdorf advocates creating a separate “solo” part to practice from which includes a translation of the text above the appropriate phrases.  In addition, he suggested conferring with vocalists or those who speak the language the text is written in to further understand the nuances of the words.  All of this preparation will of course energize and deepen our interpretation of the music.

Another big point from his lecture was to perform from the original vocal score whenever possible.  Playing from the score allows instrumentalists to see exactly how their part fits together with the piano, and to paraphrase Dr. Mixdorf, most commonly performed Lieder were originally conceived as piano/vocal duets.  In fact, as long as the page turns don’t become impractical, it can work to perform (or at least rehearse) chamber music and solos from the score too.

My favorite part of the presentation was getting to hear some great vocal music performed on a brass instrument.  I knew many of the works, but in some cases I’d never thought about performing them on the horn.  Many of them would work quite well I think, with perhaps only a few minor edits.  Here are some of the pieces:

  • None but the Lonely Know, Tchaikovsky
  • “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka, Dvořák
  • L’amante spagnuolo, Donizetti
  • O Death, how bitter art thou, Brahms
  • Baby Mine, Churchill

All but the last example are probably available in the public domain, or could be purchased fairly cheaply in vocal score format.  If you don’t know these tunes, check out recordings of the originals and consider performing them on your horn.  If you’re looking for more vocal repertoire to perform on horn, here are some of my favorites.

  • “Nessun dorma” from Turandot, Puccini (read in C basso from the score)
  • Con te partirò (“Time to Say Goodbye”), Francesco Sartori, Lucio Quarantotto, Frank Peterson (read in C basso from the score)
  • Songs of a Wayfarer, Mahler (arranged for horn and piano by Eric Carlson, published by International Opus)
  • Twenty-One Lieder for Horn and Piano, Schubert (Two volumes, arranged for horn and piano by Kazimierz Machala, published by Capo Tasto Music, recorded by Richard King)

Ok, now it’s your turn.  Do you have any favorite vocal pieces that you like to perform?

Friday Review: The Breathing Book

Next in the Friday Review series is another great publication from Mountain Peak Music.  Last Friday’s review discussed Flow Studies for Horn by Nancy Sullivan, and this week we’ll look at The Breathing Book by David Nesmith (cover image at left linked from MPM website).  In many ways The Breathing Book makes a nice companion to Flow Studies; the concepts presented in the former can be tested and refined by playing the patterns found in the latter.  In addition, there are also several annotated musical exercises found within The Breathing Book.  David Nesmith teaches both horn and Alexander Technique at Denison University in Ohio, and has published articles in The Horn Call.  The Breathing Book also has its own website, located here.

First I should point out that the title can be deceiving – this book is about much more than breathing!  In addition to covering the basic mechanics of breathing – topics  include “Where Does Air Go?”, “Ribs Are Not a Cage,” and “Truth About the Diaphragm” – Nesmith presents the concept of Body Mapping (and a very concise introduction to the Alexander Technique) through a process he calls “Constructive Rest.”  He suggests at least one 20 minute session of Constructive Rest per day, during which we should focus on five “Intentions”: 1) Cultivate an Overall Integrated Body Awareness, 2) Encourage Muscular Freedom Now, 3) Facilitate Breathing Integrity, 4)Promote an Accurate, Adequate Body Map, and 5) Renew a Healthy Relationship with Space.  After only one session around mid-morning, I felt much more relaxed, but also energized and ready for the rest of my day.  I generally shy away from taking naps of any length because I usually feel very groggy afterwords, but it wasn’t an issue with Constructive Rest.

In addition to the well written text, Nesmith also includes lots of great musical exercises adapted from those used by Nicholas Perrini/Donald Reinhardt, William Caballero, Harry Shapiro, Richard Mackey, and Charles Kavalovski/Christopher Leuba.  Combined with the book’s focus on increasing whole body awareness and reducing tension, the exercises can help you find the most efficient (and healthy) way to play the horn.  Detailed anatomical drawings by Benjamin Conable and Kristine Aman provide visual references for the author’s discussion of the body and how it functions.

Though there are numerous books on the subject, The Breathing Book is notable for its combination of Alexander Technique principles and modern brass pedagogy. In my opinion it is a worthwhile addition to any horn player’s library.

Playing in Lessons

A couple of months ago I read a great post on Travis Bennett’s blog titled “How Much Should a Teacher Play in Lessons?”  I’ve been meaning to write a response, and am just now getting around to it.  Travis begins by explaining the genesis of his post:

I’m a little behind on my Horn Call reading.  Recently, I was reading James Boldin‘s interview with Douglas Hill in the February 2011 issue (Vol. XLI, No. 2).  This quote caught my eye.  Discussing what it takes to be a successful, effective teacher, Hill says…

“Developing verbal skills is important, and maybe even developing vocal skills, or demonstration skills. I don’t demonstrate much on the horn, mostly because I’m not asking people to imitate. If you rarely play for students in lessons, the best sounds come from them. I’m not denouncing imitation – it’s useful for many things – but we can get that by listening to CDs.” (p. 50)

I was surprised that he said he doesn’t play much in lessons.  I try to play some in every lesson I teach.

Travis goes on to explain his own reasons for playing in lessons, which I completely agree with, by the way.  I also understand Doug’s line of reasoning, although I think he would agree that lessons can and should be modified depending on the needs of the student.  For example, it might not be necessary to play that much in lessons with a graduate student or advanced undergraduate preparing for a recital or audition, although if the teacher has a specific take on certain excerpts or solos  it might be worth demonstrating a bit.  As an aside, I do remember Doug playing in a few lessons, usually to demonstrate an extended technique or to show me how to play an exercise.  However, at the undergraduate level and younger, playing in lessons can be very beneficial.  With younger students I like playing through a few of the exercises from David Vining’s Long Tone Duets for Horns  at the beginning of the lessons, and I often demonstrate articulations, dynamics, etc. throughout a lesson.  It’s also a good idea I think to play through the student’s current warm-up/daily routine together during a lesson, although it doesn’t necessarily need to happen every week.

At the same time I think it’s important for teachers to be able to sit back and really listen to a student during a lesson, especially if there are any fundamental air/embouchure issues going on.  The obvious reason for not playing when you’re trying to help a student diagnose a problem is that you can focus 100% of your attention on them, rather than having to devote at least some of your concentration on your own playing.  I notice much more about a student’s tone, posture, and breathing when I’m sitting directly across than when I’m sitting beside playing. In addition, I think it helps instill a certain kind of confidence when a student can play something well without having heard the teacher play it first.

I think the bottom line is that whether you play or don’t play in lessons you should have logical reasons for your choices, and those choices should be primarily based on what helps the student succeed.  One last thing – be sure to check out the Comments section on Travis’s post; there are some excellent thoughts there as well.

Friday Review: Flow Studies for Horn

Over the holiday break I spent some time working out of Nancy Sullivan‘s Flow Studies for Horn, a new publication from Mountain Peak Music (cover image at right linked from the MPM website.)  Professor Sullivan is on the faculty at Northern Arizona University, and is quite active as a chamber and orchestral musician. Although we’ve never met, I noticed in her biography that she is also a graduate of UW-Madison, and the book includes a Preface by Douglas Hill (you can read the preface here).  This is a logical, well organized collection, and contains a wide range of exercises. If you’re familiar with the  flow studies developed by renowned trumpet teacher Vincent Cichowicz, you may be wondering if there are any similarities between them and the material in this collection.  Professor Sullivan addresses this in an Acknowledgement page.

The great trumpet pedagogue Vincent Cichowicz is known for using the term “flow study” in his teaching. A concerted effort has been made not to duplicate his original flow study patterns in this book.

For those who studied with Mr. Cichowicz, perhaps this book can be used to supplement his original patterns. For those who never had the opportunity to study with Mr. Cichowicz, perhaps this volume can help to promote the idea of flow.

It is with respect to the immeasurable teaching legacy of Mr. Cichowicz that these flow patterns are offered for the benefit of all horn players. (p. i)

Flow Studies for Horn is divided into three main types of patterns; slow, medium, and fast, though there is considerable variety within each section. For example, the “Slow Flow Studies” section contains scale and arpeggio exercises in several different keys, as well as a whole tone study. The author suggests practicing the studies in a rotation, playing two studies from each section per day.  By following this schedule, a player can cover the entire book in one week – once the patterns have been learned, of course. Doug Hill’s preface does an excellent job of laying out the major benefits of playing these studies, provided that the player spends a little time on the exercises each day.  Many of the patterns can be sight read easily, although the fast studies will require some working out at slower speeds.  The author has intentionally omitted dynamic and metronome markings, so that players can vary the specifics to suit their own needs.  One could also extend the patterns higher or lower (Doug points this out in his preface), or even play them down an octave or in different transpositions for variety.  I also think portions of this collection could work very well as a warm-up routine.  Most of them are in the middle range, and the slow and medium studies especially force the player to focus on good tone production and breath control.  In addition to the rotation noted above, one other way to practice the studies is to focus on a single pattern, but gradually decrease the tempo – in the case of the slow studies – or increase the tempo – for the fast studies.  In the context of a private lesson this could make for a very nice “game” of sorts by seeing just how slowly or quickly you or the student can play a phrase.

Flow Studies for Horn is a great addition to other existing materials, and provides a fun yet rigorous set of exercises for improving tone quality, breath control, and overall technique.

Favorite Music Apps for Smartphone

I was a latecomer to smartphone technology, but recently I’ve been using several nice music-related apps in my practicing and teaching.  Though I still own and regularly use my older devices, the apps have a couple of advantages over their traditional counterparts.  For one, they are extremely portable.  In the past when I traveled I usually brought my metronome and tuner, which though fairly small, still won’t fit into your coat pocket.  Second, they are far cheaper than purchasing the standalone components, and for the most part function just as well.  (Though I suppose if you include the initial investment in a phone and the monthly fees, the cost works out to be fairly comparable.) I should also note that adding an external microphone can substantially improve the function of many music-related apps, including tuners and decibel meters. And while there are lots of free smartphone apps out there for music, in my experience the paid ones are really the best way to go.  The most expensive one I purchased was a strobe tuner, but at around 10 bucks it was a fraction of the cost of an individual tuner.  If you’re considering stocking up on a few practice tools for your phone, here are my top picks, along with a few screenshots.

  • Metronome: Frozen Ape Tempo  Packed with lots of features, this is one of the best metronomes I’ve ever used.  It compares very well with my old Dr. Beat DB-88, and even includes a tap function as well as the option of programming several presets.  I can’t remember how much I paid for it, but it was less than 10 dollars.  It has now become my go to metronome any time I travel.
  • Tuner: Peterson Strobe Tuners iStrobosoft A very nice program which emulates the form and function of devices costing several hundred dollars.  Although I’ve never been a huge fan of strobe tuners (my usual tuner is a Korg orchestral model), this one is well worth the price. The tuner is very responsive, and plus it just looks really cool when you use it. The only glitch I’ve noticed about it – which is common on lots of other tuners as well – is that it sometimes doesn’t pick up pedal tones very well, especially anything below a pedal F.
  • Decibel Meter: Performance Audio Decibel Meter Pro I don’t use this app nearly as much as the first two, but it still comes in very handy on occasion.  It is especially useful to demonstrate to students just how loud FF can be, or for a visual aid when they think they’re executing a crescendo/decrescendo but actually aren’t.  I’m not sure if it works as well as a standalone decibel meter, but for my purposes it does the trick.

Despite some great advantages, smartphone apps do have a few drawbacks.  Probably the biggest one for me is not being able to use two of them simultaneously, for instance the metronome and tuner. This may not be an issue on some tablet devices, but of course in that case the device isn’t as portable. If you already own these tools individually it probably isn’t crucial that you get them for your phone, but it is nice to have them in case you forget your regular tuner, metronome, etc. when you’re on the road.  If you have some favorite practice tools for your phone I’d love to hear about them!

Welcome Back and 2012 Preview

After a couple of weeks off, it’s time to get back in gear for the spring semester. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season – I know I did! Over the break I got some much needed rest, and as the new year approached my thoughts turned towards the various activities coming up for me in 2012. For my first post of this year I thought I’d give a brief overview for a few of these activities, many of which I’ll be writing about in more detail in the future.

  • Chamber Music Galore: February will be a very busy and exciting month for chamber music, as I’ll be collaborating with my colleagues on three faculty recitals. The first is a concert of music by Eric Ewazen, where we’ll perform his Ballade, Pastorale and Dance for flute, horn, and piano. It’s a great piece, and is really becoming well known in the literature. For the second concert I’ll be joining a member of our voice faculty for Vitaly Bujanovsky’s Evening Songs for soprano and horn. Though not very well known, this is a wonderful recital piece. If you haven’t heard of it, check out this fine performance by Sofia Kapetanakou and Antonis Lagos.
    To close out the month Black Bayou Brass will present our annual faculty recital. This promises to be an exciting program as well, with the big piece on the concert being Anthony Plog’s Triple Concerto. Later this year Black Bayou Brass will also be performing several more concerts – some of them at home, and some in far away places! More on that to come.
  • Orchestra Concerts: In addition to lots of chamber music, there is also plenty of orchestral playing to go around. Program highlights this spring are Pines of Rome by Respighi and Death and Transfiguration by Richard Strauss.
  • 44th International Horn Symposium: This year’s symposium will be held at The University of North Texas in Denton, and I’m looking forward to hearing some great horn playing as well as catching up with several friends and colleagues. For my part I’ll be appearing as a contributing artist, performing Jan Koetsier‘s Sonata for Horn and Harp with Jaymee Haefner, harp professor at UNT. Koetsier’s music is gradually becoming known in the U.S., and he has several very fine works for horn. Later this year I’ll also be recording the sonata along with other works by Koetsier for a forthcoming CD project.
  • Blogging: I’ve got several drafts for posts in progress, so it’s just a matter of getting to them over the next few months. One blogging project I’m particularly excited about is a weekly series reviewing recent publications and recordings.
  • Summer Teaching: This year I’ll be on the faculty of Cannon Music Camp in Boone, NC. This three-week high school music camp is held on the campus of Appalachian State University, my alma mater. I attended CMC during my early high school years, and I have very fond memories of the time I spent there. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to being on the faculty.

Though I’m sure 2012 will bring with it new challenges (i.e. opportunities), I look forward to this year with optimism and enthusiasm – I hope you do too!

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