Dave Stoller in Colorado recently posted some wonderful reminiscences about his former teacher John Barrows on my earlier article “What Alec Wilder Thought of John Barrows.” With Dave’s permission I am re-posting them here because they will probably be of interest to lots of readers. Thanks again to Dave for sharing these! At the end of the article I’ve included some links to additional resources on John Barrows, who was a very colorful personality in the horn world.
Barrows did not practice much – sorry to disappoint you guys who thought this was all fiction. He did not warm up in the traditional sense either. Just picked up the horn and “got at it.” But he did play pretty much all day, everyday, except maybe a break on the weekends to go bowling, hang out with friends. He was so gracious to play the etudes that were assigned, then play them with you for a boost. And he would demo all sorts of pedagogical techniques during lessons. (I studied with him four years at the University of Wisconsin). I also was well grounded in natural horn and spent one full semester under his mentorship with the hand horn. And he could play natural horn as well or better than any current virtuoso.
HIs playing and performing schedule was staggering i.e. chamber music, the various performances, his touring in the UK and Europe with Serkin, his work with Casals, the New York Woodwind Quintet, then the quintet at the University of Wisconsin. He also did a series of recordings for the Library of Congress with the Julliard String Quartet. Few know about this and I wonder what happened to these recordings of rare and forgotten works for the horn in chamber music and solo settings. He also helped out with the Chicago Symphony and was quite fond of Dale Clevenger. He was a warm and gracious guy and had talent/pedagogical virtuosity that most current players simply would not believe. And he had a marvelous sense of humor. He loved the stunt of playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto on the horn as a gag. And he played it beautifully.
He played his two old C.F. Schmidts, his Mirafone descant, and a few odds and ends until the Holton Company sent a new nickel silver Farkas model horn over to his studio from Elkhorn, Wisconsin. I was in his studio when this horn arrived. He fell in love with this Holton horn immediately. It was what we now call the model H-179. He eventually switched to the model H-177 in nickel for the smaller bell throat that was closer to his old Schmidts. This is anecdotal and conjecture, but I think Barrows had great influence on the Holton company and their horns and mouthpieces. He was able to help Carl Geyer in a number of ways as well. Carl reached the point where he could no longer bend brass, hence the Holton Company made a model of Geyer’s horn, the H-190. These are exquisite horns and few players even know they exist. And Carl helped to promote this horn at various shows. Barrows arranged for Carl and his wife to move to Madison, Wisconsin and become the instrument tech for the UW School of Music. But we could not get old Carl out of Chicago.
His friendship with Alec Wilder was quite touching and Barrows helped Alec keep track of his finances, royalties etc. Wilder would often be seen on the music school annex steps reading Popular Science. He was a distinguished guy and always wearing a sport coat and tie. It was a thrill to have him compose a work for our freshmen horn quartet. And of course we took him out for pizza and beer. I don’t think he was a fan of either, but was so gracious to indulge us.
What a joy it was to be mentored into horn playing by John Barrows, arguably one of the all time greatest virtuosos of the instrument. And of the natural horn.
Dave in Colorado
Additional Resources on John Barrows
- Historic recordings of Barrows, restored by Sotone Historical Recordings
- Recording of Barrows playing the solo from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony with the Morton Gould Orchestra (from hornexcerpts.org)
- “Views on Horn Playing and Teaching: John Barrows and Milan Yancich” Article by Milan Yancich in the February 2007 issue of The Horn Call
- Development Exercises and Etudes for the Horn, John Barrows
- There used to be a very nice archival recording of a clinic with Barrows at an International Horn Symposium. This was located on the multimedia page at the IHS website http://www.hHOornsociety.org/multimedia-mainmenu, but the entire podcast page seems to have disappeared. Anyone out there know what happened to it? **Update the podcasts are back up, and are now located here. Here are links to the individual recordings with Barrows.
- Honorary Member Biography on the International Horn Society Website