IHS 50 Report, Part 3

*This is the third part of a series on the 50th International Horn Symposium. Follow these links to read Part 1 and Part 2.

By the time you read this post, I will be returning home from the 50th International Horn Symposium in Muncie, Indiana. For a variety of reasons, I chose not to stay for the entire symposium this year, but have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. Bravo and a huge THANK YOU to Professor Gene Berger and the students and staff at Ball State University for making this week possible. From my perspective, all of the many events and other activities have been well organized and have run smoothly – not an easy feat! As I write this, I am listening via Facebook live to an exciting performance by Leelanee Sterrett and Tomoko Kanamaru on the Wednesday evening concert. Not to sound like too much of an old fogey here, but I knew Ms. Sterrett when she was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, while I was working on a doctorate there. At the time she was already a tremendous horn player, and has since gone on to perform at the highest levels. Here is the program:

Kate Soper, Into that World Inverted
(b. 1981)
Jane Vignery, Sonata for Horn and Piano, Op. 7
(1913-1974)
Ruth Gipps, Sonatina for Horn and Piano, Op. 56
(1921-1999)
Leelanee Sterrett, horn Tomoko Kanamaru, piano

After intermission, the second half will feature an All-Star Horn Big Band, but since I will be departing quite early in the morning I will be turning in for the night.

Working backwards from the final concert of the day, our 4:00 p.m. brass trio performance went very well, and as always it was a pleasure to make music with my colleagues. In my experience, audiences respond well to brass trio music. There is a surprising amount of variety in the repertoire, with some really fine original works by established and emerging composers. If you are looking for something different to program on an upcoming recital, consider putting together a trio of your own.

Earlier in the day I attended one of the IHS 50 special sessions, this one on “Horn-Making over the past 50 Years.” The speakers included Richard Bentson, presider, and Panelists Robert Osmun, Englebert Schmid, Chuck Ward, Philipp Alexander, Johnny Woody, and Dan Rauch. The panel encompassed a wide range of experiences and perspectives, including highly-skilled repairmen, custom makers, consultants, and everything in between. It was a fascinating lecture, with each panelist presenting a brief overview of their thoughts on the last 50 years of horn making. There were of course some differing opinions, but a few of the commonalities are listed below:

  • For custom (boutique) horn makers, the materials and methods of building horns have evolved significantly over the last half-century, with the trend being towards greater precision and customization to the individual player. Examples of this include greater variety of alloys (brass, red brass, nickel silver, etc.), and the use of plastics and other composites such as carbon fiber. However, as the horn playing community as a whole tends to be quite traditional, the standard double horn in F and B-flat has remained the most popular choice for a majority of players. *Several panelists did note the increasing presence (and availability) of triple and descant horns, though.
  • For large scale factory-made horns, quality has often suffered when the parent company has tried to cut costs without consideration of the effects on their instruments. One panelist even mentioned a meeting in which the idea of using glue to hold horns together was offered as a possible way to cut costs (thankfully the idea was later abandoned). One panelist also pointed out that while factory-made horns such as the Conn 8D were once the instruments of choice for professionals, those days have largely come and gone. Most professionals now have their pick of several brands of high end custom made instruments, while factory horns largely cater to the student market.

I left this session a bit early to make it to a 1:00 p.m. presentation by Dr. Stacie Mickens, “Positive Practice Strategies.” I have seen Dr. Mickens give this presentation a few times before, and it keeps getting better and better. Drawing on two books, The Perfect Wrong Note by William Westney, and Practicing for Artistic Success by Burton Kaplan, she offered some wonderful tips on how to structure practice sessions so that we actually make progress rather than feeling frustrated. If you get the chance to hear her give this presentation or to take a lesson with her I highly recommend it!

As usual, I’ll be sharing some summary thoughts about the symposium, but it will take me a few days to process everything and put together something coherent. Check back soon to read more…

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