Friday Review: Carved in Stone, The Life and Musical Legacy of Vincent DeRosa

We return to horn-related books in this week’s review of Carved in Stone: The Life and Musical Legacy of Vincent ReRosa, by Todd Miller.  I’ve had Carved in Stone for a while, and have actually read through it a couple of times, but writing a concise review was a little daunting because of the broad scope of the book.   According to the author’s website (linked above):

Carved In Stone documents the life, career, and playing and teaching techniques of horn player Vincent DeRosa, the world-renowned recording artist. DeRosa has had an astounding career that spans seven decades. He is undoubtedly the most recorded horn player ever, as well as one of the most respected.

This is an accurate description, but Carved in Stone also includes a wealth of historical information on the film and recording industries, as well as technical and musical advice for playing the horn. I was especially interested by the account of relations between studio musicians and the American Federation of Musicians. The book is divided into four main parts: a biographical overview of DeRosa, an extensive account of his career as both an orchestral player and studio musician, descriptions of his playing and teaching techniques, and several appendices containing exercises, photographs, and recommended etudes. The writing is engaging, and strikes a fine balance between academic and informal prose. Growing up on the east coast, I was not as familiar with Mr. DeRosa – and his immense influence on the horn playing world – as I was with Philip Farkas or James Chambers.  However, DeRosa’s contributions are arguably just as substantial, and in 2004 he was elected an Honorary Member of the International Horn Society. Thinking back over the various chapters of Carved in Stone, a few common themes stand out to me.

  1. Work ethic: Carved in Stone is full of accounts of DeRosa’s industriousness, both as a teacher and a professional player. I particularly appreciated his “can do” attitude about every single challenge with which he was faced.
  2. Concentration: Studio playing is full of make or break moments, and DeRosa seems to have had an uncanny ability to focus his mind and body on the task at hand, shutting out any and all distractions.
  3. Tone, Tone, Tone: In his teaching and playing, DeRosa stressed the importance of a beautiful tone above all else. Here’s a great quote from Carved in Stone via Julia Rose’s blog.

A good portion of the book is devoted to several calisthenic and flexibility exercises favored by DeRosa. They are similar to exercises found in other places, but it never hurts to have multiple variations on tried and true materials. As with other deceptively simple long tone and arpeggio patterns, the difficulty in these exercises is executing them accurately, in tune, and with a good tone every single time.

Even if you’ve never heard of Vincent DeRosa, chances are you’ve heard his playing – through hundreds of film and television scores as well as commercial jingles. Carved in Stone, along with biographies of other great players and teachers in the horn world, should be on every serious player’s shelf.  To close out this review here’s a brief sample of DeRosa’s impressive tone and musicality. The recording below is “Micky” from the soundtrack to the motion picture Rocky III. Score by Bill Conti, recorded by Vincent DeRosa and the Hollywood Studio Symphony. Enjoy!

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