IHS Symposium Report, Part 3

Today will be the last installment in my series on the 44th International Horn Symposium.  (Read Part 1 and Part 2)  I returned from Denton yesterday for some prior commitments in Monroe, but I did get a chance to do a few more things on Thursday before hitting the road. The first thing I did in the morning was stop by some exhibit rooms to try out a few horns. As usual, there were numerous vendors at this symposium, with a wide variety of instruments. I usually avoid crowded exhibit rooms, but the tables weren’t very crowded since they had just opened. Two horns I was eager to try were at the Patterson Hornworks display:  his new custom Geyer style horn, and a Hoyer G10 customized with a Patterson leadpipe. Both instruments played very well, and were quite even throughout the range.  Having played a G10 on trial a while back, I could notice a definite improvement over the stock instrument I tried. To me the custom leadpipe made the horn play more like a pricier, hand made instrument. Next I stopped by the Siegfried’s Call booth to check out the new Dieter Otto 180K , which Jeff Nelsen is now endorsing. I have heard good things about the 180K for a while now, and the representative explained that Nelsen had altered a few tapers for the newer version of the horn.  This version is also available with a hand hammered bell. The instrument felt very balanced in my hands, and also responded quite well. My final stop of the morning was Wes Hatch’s table, where I played briefly on one of his hand made horns as well as some Holtons he had customized. Many horn makers are now offering customization packages for factory instruments such as Conns, Yamahas, and now Holtons. If you are looking for an artist-quality horn without breaking the bank this is a great option.

As I was walking between exhibit rooms I ran into John Ericson, a long time mentor and colleague. We had a nice chat, and caught up on several things. Unfortunately I missed his performance of the Schumann Konzertstück on Thursday evening – I’m sure it was fantastic! In talking about various things we  discussed an upcoming project at Horn Matters. I can’t spill any details yet, but be sure to read Horn Matters frequently for updates on this exciting new venture. John has also been posting regular updates on the symposium at Horn Matters, located here, here, and here.

My last event before leaving was a presentation by Thomas Bacon called “You Look Marvelous.” Though generally geared towards the topic of stage presence, Mr. Bacon’s lecture covered a range of related issues, including practice habits and performance anxiety. It was a great talk, and Bacon is a captivating speaker and player. Here are some notes from his lecture.

  • When performing, don’t “be yourself.” Instead, act like the performer you want to be. Pick a player you admire, and imagine what that person would do. If you don’t admire one particular player enough to emulate, then make one up!
  • A performance begins the second you walk on stage, and the audience usually forms an impression of you (positive or negative) before you’ve played a note. Walk on stage confidently, and embrace the audience (figuratively speaking). You can appear confident without being calm, and pretending to be confident can actually help calm your nerves. Say “hippopotamus” while bowing to ensure that you remain down long enough. Dress appropriately for performances, especially competitions.
  • Frustration when practicing is something we create, and personifying our frustration is a useful technique for moving past it. Mr. Bacon likes to have two chairs in his studio, one for himself, and one for his frustration. When things aren’t going well, he takes a few seconds to address his frustration, which helps him clear his head and get back to the task at hand.
  • When practicing, “take it to the easy place,” meaning break up the passage into the smallest digestible units – single notes if necessary. Play high passages down an octave until you achieve the sound you want, and then work upwards progressively by half steps (ex. Beethoven 7).

Mr. Bacon also spent some time near the end of his talk discussing performance anxiety and the use of beta blockers. After acknowledging that this is a controversial topic, he mentioned that he has used beta blockers on occasion, and that performance anxiety is a clinical condition that beta blockers can help treat. He dismissed the notion of beta blockers as “cheating” or an “unfair advantage,” likening these statements to arguments against the use of descant or triple horns today, or double horns when they were first developed.  I didn’t stick around to see if anyone wanted to argue with him on any of these points, but beta blockers are a reality in the classical music business. Whatever your personal choice is regarding the use of beta blockers, the best path I think is to be as informed as possible.

Although I only got to experience a portion of this year’s symposium, I can say that there were some truly amazing performances, lectures, and exhibits. Bravo again to Bill Scharnberg and his students for organizing and facilitating a wonderful event!

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