New Routine Materials: Denise Tryon Routine and Marvin Howe’s The Advancing Hornist

In a post from earlier this  year, I talked about the benefits of adopting a modular approach to the daily routine. In short, rather than playing exactly the same exercises every single day, you instead compile a variety of things from each of the major categories of fundamentals. From these you can then rotate exercises in and out of your routine for variety and to address specific needs.

Getting to the subject of this post, I’ve recently been drawing upon two publications for use in my routine. The first is by Denise Tryon, formerly 4th Horn in the Philadelphia Orchestra, and now full time faculty at the Peabody Conservatory. Her routine is available as a PDF download, and comes with recordings and explanations by the author for all of the exercises. It’s not lengthy as far as routines go, but covers all of the basics in a very efficient way. Ms. Tryon mentions that once perfected the routine should only take about 25-30 minutes, although it might take as long as 45 at the beginning. Don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity of these studies; when played correctly they are challenging and very effective. One other notable feature of this routine is the marketing. To my knowledge there are no physical materials to buy – the entire package is sold as a “course” through Ms. Tryon’s website, and everything is accessible online. In addition to the routine there is another course available dealing specifically with auditions and low horn excerpts. I’m really enjoying working out of this routine, and highly recommend it!

Another great collection of routine-type materials that has been around awhile but isn’t really talked about too much is Marvin Howe‘s The Advancing Hornist series. Edited by Randall Faust and available through Faust Music, this two-volume set contains some unique and progressive exercises that were really ahead of their time. I’ve been using the descending scale studies in my own practice routine, and the lip slurs and long tone duets during lessons. As someone who wasn’t that familiar with Marvin Howe’s pedagogy, it’s been interesting to note the similarities and differences among Howe and his contemporaries like Farkas, Schuller, and others. In many ways Howe was very forward-thinking, and his publications are certainly deserving of a place among the other great horn pedagogues of the 20th century. Both volumes are very reasonably priced, and well worth checking out.

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Yamaha Performing Artist Info: “Why I Play Yamaha”

I recently found out that my application to become a Yamaha Performing Artist was accepted, and I am very excited to be joining their roster of brass players. Many major instrument manufacturers, as well as a few smaller ones, have “Artist Endorsements” or similar programs which provide mutual benefits to both parties. I can’t speak to the details of the various companies, but they generally include:

  • Being listed as an “_______ Artist” in both print and electronic media
  • Preferred pricing and other discounts on instruments and accessories
  • Updates about new instrument models and initiatives within the company
  • Funding for bringing in other endorsing artists, and sometimes funding to give clinics
  • Various other perks

In the case of Yamaha, their Artist program provides all of the above, as well as some other benefits unique to the company. Obviously, I feel very strongly about the high quality and reliability of Yamaha’s products, or I wouldn’t perform on them myself or recommend them to students. I have performed on Yamaha horns for much of my professional career, playing solo, chamber, and orchestral music. My relationship with Yamaha horns goes back twenty years, with the first instrument I owned as a student, a YHR 667V. I played on that horn all the way through my master’s degree, and continued through doctoral school and the first five years of full-time college teaching on a YHR 667VL.

Even before that I remember being captivated by the sound of my teacher on her 800 series custom model. In many ways, Yamaha instruments helped shape my concept of the ideal horn sound. As I wrote in this post, one of the main reasons I chose a YHR 671 over my Engelbert Schmid was for the sound. Over a year  later, I’m still very happy with the instrument. I later came to find out that the initial sluggishness with the valves – which is very uncharacteristic of Yamahas – was probably due to buffing compound somehow getting down into the valve casings after the lacquer was removed. This problem was taken care of by Houghton Horns at no charge, and the valves have been worry-free since then. In addition to their quality and consistency, here are a few other reasons I choose to play and endorse Yamaha horns.

  • The company is committed to music education through a variety of programs, including funding for clinicians, and the Yamaha Young Performing Artists Competition.
  • Their line of horns covers everything from beginner through professional level, while maintaining a high level of consistency. Another way of putting this is that they make horns that my students and area music programs can actually afford.

I hope that this hasn’t read as some type of overblown advertisement, but I really do feel strongly about Yamaha Horns. There are obviously  lots of great horns out there by both large and small-scale makers, but if you are in the market for a new horn I encourage you to give Yamaha a try. For the money I don’t think you can find a better instrument.

Performance Videos, Part 2: Faculty Recital

For the second part of this performance video series, here are some live and unedited recordings from a recent faculty recital, which I shared with my colleague Jeremy Marks. All but one of these works (Koetsier’s Romanza) are from the 21st century, and any would make a great addition to a recital. Please check them out, and consider programming them in the future. I’ve included some abbreviated program notes about each work, as well as links to more information about the composers.

Imaginings for Horn and Piano by Dorothy Gates

Dorothy Gates was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and holds degrees in Composition and Trombone Performance from Queens University Belfast, the University of Michigan, and the University of Salford. Her principal composition teachers were Kevin Volans, George Wilson, Joseph Turrin and Peter Graham. She has produced works in many genres, which have been performed in concert halls throughout the world. In addition, she is the Senior Music Producer for The Salvation Army’s Eastern Territory in New York and has been the Composer-in-Residence for the New York Staff Band since 2002. Dorothy is the first woman Composer/Editor to be employed by The Salvation Army in this role. Imaginings was composed for and premiered by Michelle Baker, recently retired 2nd horn of the Metropolitan Opera in 2017 at the 25th International Women’s Brass Conference.

http://www.dorothygates.com/

Romanza for Horn and Piano by Randall Faust

Dr. Randall E. Faust is a Professor of Music at Western Illinois University, where he teaches applied horn and performs with the Camerata Woodwind Quintet and LaMoine Brass Quintet. In addition, he has served for many years on the Summer Horn Faculty at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. His many fine compositions for brass have been performed throughout the world and recorded numerous times. He writes the following about his Romanza for Horn and Piano:

In 1994, I was commissioned by Randy Gardner to compose a Quartet for Four Horns for a compact disc he was producing for Summit Records in collaboration with Michael Hatfield, Douglas Hill, and David Krehbiel. This Romanza was one of the four movements of that Quartet. In the Fall of 2016, I created this horn and piano setting of the Romanza for a series of recital performances I was planning for the 2016-2017 academic year.

http://www.faustmusic.com/

Romanza for Horn and Piano, by Jan Koetsier

Though relatively little known in the United States – except among brass players –Dutch-born composer, conductor, and professor Jan Koetsier (1911-2006) is well-regarded throughout Europe, and especially in Munich, Germany, where he served as professor of conducting at the Hochschule für Musik (Music Academy) for many years. As a composer he devoted much of his efforts to brass and wind instruments, and seemed especially interested in developing the repertoire for unusual or under-utilized combinations of instruments. As the title suggests, the Romanza, Op. 59, No. 2 (1972) showcases the lyrical qualities of the instrument. Composed during the same year as the Sonatina (Op. 59, No. 1), the Romanza was first performed in 1985. In this brief yet effective work, a contrasting scherzo-like central section is framed by a beautiful melody in the outer sections.

http://www.jan-koetsier.de/index_eng.php

Hunting Songs for Low Horn and Piano, by Brett Miller

Master Sgt. Brett Miller is principal hornist with The United States Air Force Band, Washington, D.C. Miller holds degrees from Youngstown State University, Indiana University, and the University of Maryland. In addition to his Air Force performing, he is a highly-regarded composer, having published over 30 works for various brass solo instruments and chamber ensembles. Commissioned by Denise Tryon for her debut solo recording So-Low, Hunting Songs is a very accessible and programmable piece for low horn and piano. Each of the brief movements evokes the titular birds of prey: serious and brooding (The Crow); tranquil and serene (The Owl); fast and nimble (The Falcon).

http://brassarts.contentshelf.com/product?product=I130801000001D14

Azure Dawn, by Frank Gulino

Frank Gulino, bass trombonist and composer, is highly regarded in the brass communities for his compositions, as well as his performance career. A graduate of The Peabody Conservatory, he earned a bachelor of music degree in performance. He has studied with members of the Baltimore, Boston, and New Jersey Symphonies. His compositions have been commissioned and performed across the world by euphonium virtuoso, Steve Mead, St. Louis Symphony bass trombonist Gerry Pagano, Atlanta Symphony bass trombonist, Brian Hecht, and members of the trombone section from the National Symphony in Washington D.C. His works are often chosen as solo competition pieces for the International Trombone Association and the International Tuba and Euphonium Association, as well as the Leonard Falcone International Euphonium and Tuba competitions, respectively. Azure Dawn is a visual and programmatic work, depicting the beautiful imagery of the Shenandoah Valley mountains during the sun rise.

http://www.frankgulino.com/index.html

Performance Videos: 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference

As promised, here are some videos of our faculty brass trio’s performance this past summer at the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference at Rowan University. Thanks to Dr. Amy Bliss for making this recording available! The videos below are of the most substantial work we performed, Scenes from the Bayou, which we commissioned from Dr. Gina Gillie. It is an energetic and accessible new work for brass trio, and I am pleased to announce that we will be recording it – along with several other recent compositions for brass trio – in early 2018. Enjoy! NB: There is a small typo in the title screen for movement 4 – it should read “Cypress Trees.”

Kentucky/Ohio Tour and Technology Presentation

James Boldin, Jacob Coleman, Jeremy Marks (photo by Bradley Kerns)

October has been, and will continue to be, a busy month, with concerts and other activities happening every week. Last week my colleague Jeremy Marks and I shared a faculty recital at ULM (performance videos coming soon), and then traveled to the University of Kentucky in Lexington and Ohio University in Athens for some additional performances and masterclasses with their students. A huge thanks to our generous hosts Bradley Kerns, David Elliott, Lucas Borges, C. Scott Smith, Joseph Brown, and Laura Brown, for their hospitality and kindness during a very busy part of the semester. Both schools have very fine music programs – there is some great teaching and playing going on in the horn and trombone studios there! In addition to performing and teaching at these schools, I also gave a brief talk called “Technology and Horn Playing.” In my correspondence with David Elliott at the University of Kentucky prior to our visit, he requested that I speak to his students about my experiences using technology as a horn player in the 21st century. The presentation went well, and it is one that I plan to continue to develop in the future. Being somewhat familiar with technology, I created a series of bullets to use as talking points and as the basis for future discussion. Those points are listed below, with active hyperlinks where applicable and a few explanatory comments that weren’t in the original handouts. I hope you find them useful, and feel free to comment if you feel so inclined.

TRENDS

  • Mobile apps – ubiquitous
  • Facebook “Live” [for performance/audition preparation and promotional material]
  • Short Promo/Informational Videos (2 minutes or less) [Better to have several short videos on a topic than one long video. Research shows that shorter videos are more engaging to viewers.]
  • Texting/Messenger/Instant communication (Email old fashioned?) Snail mail now prestigious?
  • “Research” being done through social media (“where can I find…”)
  • Playing advice on social media [A mixed bag of sometimes helpful and sometimes irrelevant advice.]
  • Online lessons/master classes [More and more popular as technology improves and travel costs increase.]
  • YouTube great for discovering new repertoire – going to conferences is even better!
  • Death of compact discs – replaced by streaming services and websites like hornexcerpts.org

RECOMMENDED DEVICES

WEBSITES I USE EVERY DAY

  • www.random.org Create random lists of….anything! Sight-reading, scales, excerpts, etc.
  • www.toggl.com Time and task tracking software. Free, easy to use, with mobile apps.
  • www.drive.google.com Great for organizing/collaborating materials

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED WEBSITES/APPS

SOCIAL MEDIA…BE WARY

  • A powerful tool in the right hands, but can also be damaging to careers and personal well-being
  • Keep a tight rein on what you post, share, and/or like on social media. If you have to ask yourself “is this appropriate?”, then it isn’t!
  • Turn off commenting on YouTube videos [Some of the comments you receive will be less than helpful, and those who really want to reach you will use email or some other method of contact. In my experience, leaving comments on for YouTube videos invites trolls.]
  • I prefer blogging to social media – less reactionary, gives the opportunity for more reasoned discourse.

Semester Preview: Fall 2017

Allumer Quartet

Our semester at ULM began a few weeks ago, and the schedule for this fall promises to be busy but also engaging and fun. Here are a few highlights of what’s to come in the weeks and months ahead.

Dr. Heather Thayer

Guest Artists: We will be hosting two horn guest artists for performances and master classes this semester: The Allumer Quartet, and Dr. Heather Thayer, Horn Instructor at Ouachita Baptist University. The Allumer Quartet is a horn quartet based in Baton Rouge, consisting of current graduate students and graduates from LSU. The members are Centria Brown, Tom Fish, Evan McAleer, and Kyle Peterson. “Allumer” is Cajun French and means “to light” or “ignite.” Their program on September 5th will include works by Alexander Mitushin, Eugène Bozza, and Béla Bartók, as well as the world premiere of two new works by Marc Mellits and Guy Mintus. *I got to hear a bit of their rehearsal in our hall today, and they sound great!

Faculty Recital: On October 3rd I’ll be giving a shared recital with our Low Brass professor, Dr. Jeremy Marks. Immediately following our ULM performance we’ll be taking things on the road for guest performances and masterclasses at the University of Kentucky, Ohio University, and Ball State University. Stay tuned for more details! I’m very excited about the program, which for me will consist of a 50/50 mix of old and new repertoire. Here’s what I’ll be doing on my half:

  • Imaginings, Dorothy Gates (b. 1966)
  • España, Vitaly Bujanovsky (1928-1993)
  • Romanza, Op. 59/2, Jan Koetsier (1911-2006)
  • Romanza, Randall E. Faust (b. 1946)
  • Hunting Songs for Low Horn, Brett Miller (b. 1976)
  • Azure Dawn (horn and trombone), Frank Gulino (b. 1987)

Orchestral Concerts: Two big pieces on my bucket list are coming up this fall in the Monroe Symphony Orchestra, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.  Of course, these works need no introduction, and I’m really looking forward to playing 1st horn on them. Although the concert isn’t until the end of October, I’ve already begun training for these demanding parts.

Brass Trio Recital: To close out the semester, Black Bayou Brass will perform two full concerts in November and December. On November 29th we’ll be giving our annual faculty recital, in preparation for a future recording project in January 2018. This project has been a long time coming, and will feature lots of great new music for trumpet, horn, and trombone, including two works which we recently commissioned. On December 15th we’ll be giving a holiday concert for brass and organ at Grace Episcopal Church in Monroe. Though we typically present a holiday concert every December, this one will be quite special as all of the proceeds will be donated to a local animal shelter. Watch for more info as we get closer to the concert date.

Brief Review: Audrey Flores, Solo Horn Recording

This summer I was contacted by Audrey Flores, an active freelancer in New York City, with information about her recent solo recording with pianist Manon Hutton-DeWys. The self-titled album consists largely of standard 20th-century works, with the addition of a lesser-known but equally substantial piece, Barbara York’s Sonata for Horn and Piano. Here’s a complete list of the contents.

  • Reinhold Gliere, Four Pieces, Op. 35
  • Bernhard Krol, Laudatio
  • Barbara York, Sonata for Horn
  • Otto Ketting, Intrada
  • Trygve Madsen, Sonata for Horn, Op. 24

These are solid recordings of repertoire that every serious horn player needs to know, and Flores and Hutton-DeWys play with great style, tone, and phrasing. Even if you own other recordings, these are definitely worth a listen. The real gem on this album, though, is the Sonata by Barbara York. Composed in 2009 for Chief Musician Heather Doughty of the U.S. Coast Guard Band, this three-movement work is both lyrical and athletic, requiring plenty of technique, endurance, and flexibility. The third movement is given an especially impressive rendition by Flores, in what may very well be a world premiere recording. But don’t take my word for it – you can listen to the entire album on both Spotify and  YouTube. I love learning about new repertoire for the horn, and I’ll be adding the York Sonata to my list of recital program material for the near future. It’s worth noting that York has another work for horn and piano, the Arioso Gloria.

Bravo to Ms. Flores and her collaborators on this fine recording!

 

Brief Review: Horn Technique by Jeffrey Agrell

During the summer I tend to take a break from reading horn-related books and articles, reading more science fiction and other types of “for-pleasure” stuff than I do during the academic year. This summer, though, I made it a point to dive into Professor Jeffrey Agrell’s magnum opus, Horn Technique: A New Approach to an Old Instrument. As John Ericson noted in his review on Horn Matters, a “brief” review of this nearly 500-page tome is next to impossible. But…if I could offer only two words about Professor Agrell’s new book, they would be “buy it!” You won’t find a more thoughtful, comprehensive, top-to-bottom, nuts and bolts discussion of horn playing anywhere. In a holistic yet meticulously detailed way, Agrell addresses not only horn playing, but overall musicianship as well. While many of the chapters cover traditional material – warming up, practice strategies, fingering, etc. – Agrell’s approach is always fresh and full of unique ways to tackle familiar problems. Jeff loves to challenge our (mis)conceptions, and brings to bear decades of teaching and performing experience. In some ways, though, the title is misleading, as Horn Technique is much more ambitious in its scope. Agrell proposes a reboot of the traditional way we approach music education. Instead of obsessing about note names and fingerings as beginners, we ought to learn music the way babies learn spoken language – through imitation, improvisation, and memorization of brief patterns which can be built upon later. Only once those basics are mastered should notation be introduced.

Stepping back a bit, here are some of the big themes I took away from Horn Technique. There are certainly more, but these are the ones that jumped out to me.

  • Horn (and all brass) players need to have a detailed working knowledge of the overtone (harmonic) series. We need to know the overtone series number and intonation tendency for every note on the horn – Agrell calls this “horn math.”
  • Warm-ups and practice sessions should begin without using the valves (all overtone series) and then progress to using the valves. Historically, the horn developed this way, and it makes sense from a physical perspective as well. Many of the exercises in Horn Technique begin without valves and add valves later.
  • We need to know how to apply our knowledge of music theory to create real-world practice strategies. Agrell walks the reader through this approach, showing us first how to identify and analyze patterns, and then to create our own custom exercises based on those patterns.
  • Less Notes, More Music. One of the big principles in Horn Technique is that we spend entirely too much time with our heads buried in a music stand. Agrell advocates for more notation-free practice. Related to this, Agrell is also a big proponent of performing from memory.
  • Question Everything! At the heart of this book is the idea of questioning traditional approaches to horn playing. There is of course much to be learned from the great players and teachers of the past, but Agrell asks that we be willing to consider alternative methods along with traditional ones.

Although I’ve read the entire book cover to cover, I’ve only just begun to dig into Horn Technique. The principles and exercises in it will keep both my students and me occupied for some time. And at $19.99 for the hard copy, this is an incredibly affordable text.

Summer Project: Solo and Chamber Music Repertoire List

One long-postponed project I began this summer was to create an annotated list of the solo and chamber music pieces I’ve performed over the last 20 years. I should have begun this project years ago, but my memory has generally been good enough to keep track of most of the details about my performances. Additionally, most of the information is preserved in the form of old programs in either electronic or hard copy format. I always told myself if I really wanted to know the last time I performed a work I could dig back through my files and find out. This is of course easier in theory than in practice, and the benefits of having all the info in a central place outweigh the time and effort it has taken to put it together.  It’s nothing fancy, just a Google doc that I can update as new works are added. It contains the following fields:

  • Composer
  • Title
  • Instrumentation
  • Year Performed

In the “Year Performed” field I’m also making a note if the work was performed at a conference and/or was commissioned by me. Here’s a small screenshot showing the first few entries. (If you would like to see the complete list please email me and I would be glad to send you a copy).

While I do have access to the majority of my solo and chamber music programs, the list is not complete, for a variety of reasons.

  • There are some works that I know I’ve performed, but don’t have documentation to prove it or to provide the year. These include works performed for studio and/or master classes, works performed on tours, and other situations where a printed program was not produced. I’m debating what to do about these works; perhaps I’ll just put the info down and give my best guess as to the year.
  • In most cases I did not include arrangements or occasional works like Christmas and other holiday selections. To keep the list to a manageable size I needed to draw the line somewhere. One exception to this is arrangements which are major works in the repertoire, like Robert King’s brass trio arrangement of the Beethoven Trio, Op. 87 for example.

If you don’t already have a list like this, I strongly recommend starting one, regardless of your level. It’s very easy to set up, and the information will come in handy for future recital programming and other endeavors. Trust me, the longer you wait, the more difficult the task will be!

Cannon Music Camp Wrap-Up

Photo by Justin McCrary

Photo by Justin McCrary

I just finished up three weeks of teaching at Cannon Music Camp, held on the campus of Appalachian State University, my undergraduate alma mater. I last taught at Cannon in 2012, and was a camper myself  during the summers of 1995 and 1996. As before, it was a great pleasure to return to the Appalachian campus for a few weeks to work with several high school students. I even got to take a trip down memory lane by performing Bujanovsky’s España on one of the faculty recitals. *I performed that work on my senior recital at Appalachian on the same stage nearly 16 years earlier. My duties there included teaching the horn studio, conducting a twice-weekly horn ensemble, and coaching the orchestra brass in a weekly sectional. The schedule kept me pretty busy for the duration of the camp, but I also found time to visit with family and friends who live just a few minutes away from campus. All in all it was a wonderful “working vacation.” Coming right on the heels of a new music festival, an international conference, and a recording project, this resulted in  several back to back weeks of rehearsals and performances. In short, I’m definitely in need of some down time! But first, here are some summary thoughts about this year’s Cannon Music Camp, based on my experiences working with the horn students there.

  • There are lots of good horn players of all ages out there! My students ranged in age from rising high school freshman to rising college freshman. There was a wide spectrum of experience and ability levels in the studio, and everyone really did play well for where they were in their musical education. What I was most pleased to see was improvement across the studio in just three short weeks.
  • A Few “Musts” for the Serious High School Horn Student While there are lots of things young horn players can be doing to set themselves up for success, in our lessons at camp we kept coming back to a few major points:
    • Study Privately with a Qualified Horn Teacher – The definition of qualified is open to interpretation, but if possible I recommend studying with someone who has at least an undergraduate degree in horn (either music education or music performance). A professional player or college professor is even better, provided that they have space in their studio for high school students.
    • Find and Establish a Daily Routine – One of my first questions to new students, regardless of their level, is what type of daily practice/maintenance routine(s) they use. I’m not looking for a specific book or author to be named – there are many great materials available – but rather an indication that the student practices fundamentals of some kind each day. If not, then I make recommendations based on the student’s goals and current ability. You want to find something that can be realistically practiced most if not every day, and that builds confidence in your current abilities as well as challenges you and encourages growth. For a short list of recommended routines, see here. In short, if you are serious about getting better at the horn, start practicing your fundamentals now.
    • Get a Good (Better) Mouthpiece – One of the easiest upgrades you can make is a better mouthpiece. Not that there is anything wrong with the ubiquitous Holton, Conn, and other products one finds in many high school bands, but for the serious student there are lots of other options available. Consult with a private teacher or simply search the web for recommended horn mouthpieces to get some ideas. This summer I ended up directing students towards Laskey and Houser mouthpieces, primarily the 75G or 75F and the Houser Houghton line.
    • Learn Bass Clef! – This might seem inconsequential in comparison with the above points, but knowing bass clef will really set you apart from a lot of high school players, even very accomplished ones. The reason is pretty simple – good players tend to spend most of their time playing high parts (usually first), and thus spend little time performing or practicing in the low range. In addition, many high school players rarely have the opportunity to play in a horn quartet or horn ensemble – the low parts in these groups use bass clef extensively. If you don’t know bass clef yet, spend a few weeks this summer working it out. You’ll be glad you did! If you don’t know where to start I highly recommend Marvin McCoy’s 46 Progressive Exercises for Low Horn, available as a digital download from McCoy’s Horn Library. 

Teaching at this year’s Cannon Music Camp was a great experience, due largely to efforts of the camp administration and staff. Everything ran very smoothly, making for a great working environment. I hope to teach there again in the future!