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.

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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!

Recording Project Update: Music by Eurico Carrapatoso

As mentioned in an earlier post, one of my big projects this summer was recording several works for soprano, horn, and piano for a forthcoming album of music by Eurico Carrapatoso. I’m pleased to say that we recently wrapped up recording, and I thought it would be good to share a few observations about the process while details are still fresh in my mind. Thank you to my colleagues Claire Vangelisti and Richard Seiler for inviting me to participate in this project, and Bravo on your inspiring work!

Engineer/Producer: We were very fortunate to be able to work with engineer and producer Richard Price of Candlewood Digital on this project. Mr. Price has a fantastic reputation, and even if you don’t recognize his name I would be willing to bet that you own or have heard his recordings. I had not worked with Mr. Price previously, but after two solid six-hour-plus days of recording, I would recommend him to anyone without reservation! His incredibly discerning ears and easy-going demeanor made him a joy to work with as a producer and engineer. While I don’t know the exact technical aspects of what he did with microphone placement and other variables, I do know that the sound he was able to capture was great – warm and nuanced, with exactly the right balance among all three parts. And this was just from the raw takes! The final edited and mastered recording should be really fun! See below for a few shots of the stage setup.

Horns, Endurance, and Rehearsals: As I’ve mentioned before, much of this project emphasized high and light playing, for which I used an older Paxman Model 40M double descant horn. My sincere thanks go out to Craig Pratt for the generous loan of this fine instrument! There were a few movements on which I used my regular Yamaha 671 double horn, but the majority of the playing on this album is on the Paxman. In my preparation for the recording sessions I focused on familiarizing myself as much as possible with the tendencies of the instrument, as well as getting creative with some different fingering choices.  Despite the intense schedule (on both days we did a 3-hour session in the morning, followed by a 2.5 hour break, and concluded with another 3-hour session in the afternoon, plus about another 30 minutes on a third day to wrap up some minor things), my endurance held up well. For those that might be interested, I believe this success can be attributed to a few different factors:

  • Balanced practice between double and descant horn It was tempting to cram in lots of practice on the high horn, especially in the days leading up to the recording sessions. However, I can speak from experience that too much intense practice on the High F side can tire out your chops quickly! I didn’t practice more than 25 minutes at a time on the descant horn without a break, and always made sure to end each day on the double horn with some relaxing low register playing.
  • Mindful Warm-Ups/Warm-Downs I crashed and burned once in graduate school by practicing too much on the day of a recording session, and vowed never to make that mistake again. On each day I warmed up very lightly for about 25 minutes, beginning in the mid-low range and gradually expanding outwards (but still avoiding extremes). At the end of each day I warmed down for a few minutes, then followed up with light massage and alternating cool and warm compresses on my cheeks and upper lip for 5-10 minutes after getting home. *The cool “compress” was a soft drink can from the refrigerator, and the warm compress was a washcloth soaked in warm water. I was tempted to try some ibuprofen, but not really being in the habit of taking that type of medication I decided to forgo it in favor of the compresses.
  • Lots of Great Rehearsals One other major factor in the success of this recording was being able to perform and rehearse frequently with my colleagues before starting the recording process. It seems like an obvious assertion, but is probably worth mentioning anyway. Having performed and rehearsed this repertoire frequently just prior to the sessions made things go very smoothly for the most part. Most of our discussions during the actual recording had to do with minor variations in interpretation, and adjusting to the modified stage setup. Because of the sight lines and lighting, I ended giving lots of cues for both piano and voice.

Final Thoughts: Recording a classical album can be a grueling process, and the bar for technical perfection and artistry is extremely high. High quality microphones and a great producer will quickly expose any and all weaknesses in your playing! I’ve always found it a humbling yet enjoyable experience, though distinctly different from the act of live performance. Though a major part of the work is now complete, the project is still a ways off from completion. Now comes the editing, followed by mastering and various other procedures involved in the production of a commercial recording. Be on the lookout for more updates in the coming months!

Thoughts on Voice and Horn Collaborations

One of the things I love about my job is the opportunity to work with talented colleagues in two  faculty ensembles: Black Bayou Brass, a brass trio, and Trio Mélange, a voice, horn, and piano trio. I’ve written extensively about performances with the former, but haven’t posted nearly as much about the latter. However, Trio Mélange is quite active, having performed at the 45th and 48th International Horn Symposiums, and at various other venues in Louisiana and surrounding states. This summer, we’ll be engaged in two major projects: performing at the New Music on the Bayou Summer Festival, and recording a CD of music by Eurico Carrapatoso. We’ve been rehearsing intensively in preparation for both of these projects, and I thought this might be a good opportunity to put down a few thoughts about collaborating with vocalists. Of course, the basic principles of  chamber music still apply; collegiality, communication, putting the ensemble first, etc., but this article is geared towards horn players who may not have worked with singers before. Working with a great singer and collaborative pianist is very rewarding, and as horn players we are lucky to have some really wonderful repertoire by composers old and new. See the end of this post for my short list of recommended voice, horn, and piano works. And now, here are some considerations for the horn player working with a vocalist.

  • Know the Text: As instrumentalists, we sometimes get preoccupied with notes and forget to consider the text. You don’t need to have every word memorized, but you should definitely have a good idea of the basic structure and content. In addition, pay attention to the differences in sound of the various common languages (German, French, Italian, and English).  They each have their own idiosyncrasies, which can help inform our approach to sound and articulation.
  • Balance: Achieving the right balance between the voice, horn, and piano will depend on several factors, but in general it pays for the horn player to be sensitive to what register the singer is in. For example, a soprano or tenor’s high range projects extremely well, and in those instances balance with the horn will be less of an issue than when the singer is in the low range. Depending on the repertoire and other factors, there will be times when you will need to play extremely softly (think woodwind quintet) for the voice to be heard clearly (remember, the audience needs to hear the words!) In other situations, you will be able to play at a full forte or even fortissimo and not worry about covering the voice.
  • Read from the Score if Possible, or Write in Cues: I like to have copies of both the full score and my own part in rehearsals, but for most performances I use a horn part with lots of vocal and piano cues written into it. Singers are used to rehearsing and performing from a piano-vocal score, and having your own copy of the score will help rehearsals run more smoothly.
  • Rhythm is Flexible: Good singers have excellent rhythm, but in my experience their training prepares them to be much less rigid than instrumentalists when it comes to rhythm and phrasing. This is a good thing!  Learn everything you can from the fluid, expressive way singers approach phrasing, and learn to anticipate and follow in the same way a great collaborative pianist or opera conductor does.
  • Differences in Response: The voice is a different instrument than the horn, and is subject to its own peculiarities. Depending on the tessitura, sometimes it can take a little time for the singer’s note to sound, but in other instances a note can begin more or less instantaneously. The timing of entrances and releases together will take some conscientious practice in rehearsals, but it can be done.
  • Breathing, Watching: Related to the above point, ensemble will be vastly improved through good communication – namely breathing together and watching each other. I’ve found that watching the vocalist’s mouth is a reliable indicator for entrances. It can even be helpful for the singer to “conduct” a little when working through challenging passages for the ensemble.

Hopefully these tips will be of use the next time you collaborate with a vocalist. Above all, listen intently, and follow your musical instincts. To close out this post, here is a short list of recommended works for voice, horn, and piano. Some of them are in the public domain, and available on IMSLP (links provided) Feel free to add to this list in the comments.

  • Hector Berlioz, Le jeune Pâtre breton, H 65 (soprano or tenor)
  • Benjamin Britten, Canticle III: Still Falls the Rain (tenor)
  • Benjamin Britten, Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings (available with a piano reduction)
  • Gina Gillie, To the Seasons (soprano)
  • Franz Schubert, Auf dem Strom, D.943 (Usually with soprano voice, but also with tenor)
  • Richard Strauss, Alphorn, TrV 64 (mezzo soprano)

For more details on repertoire, check out the following dissertations, which are available through the International Horn Society’s Thesis Lending Library.

  • Burroughs, Mary. “An Annotated Bibliography of the Works for Horn, Voice and Piano from 1830-1850 with an Analysis of Selected Works from 1830-1986.” D.M.A. diss., University of Illinois, 1990. UMI# 90-26150
  • Lewis, Gail. “Benjamin Britten’s Writing for Horn with Tenor Voice: Serenade Op. 31, ‘The Heart of the Matter,’ Nocturne Op. 60.” D.M.A. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1995. UMI# 95-26717.
  • Ulmer, Marissa L. “Bibliography of Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century Chamber Works for Voice, Horn, and Piano with Selected Annotations.” D.M.A. dissertation, West Virginia University, 2006.

 

Upcoming Performances Part 2: International Women’s Brass Conference

Shortly after the New Music on the Bayou Festival, my colleagues and I will be traveling to Glassboro, New Jersey for the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference, hosted by Dr. Amy Schumaker Bliss at Rowan University. If you haven’t had a chance to attend an IWBC, it’s a wonderful conference, with lots of great performances, presentations, and exhibitors. Of particular interest to horn players is Featured Artist Michelle Baker, Second Horn of the MET Orchestra (she recently announced her retirement after 27 years with the orchestra). I had the opportunity to work with her for a brief time at the Round Top Festival Institute. She’s a fantastic performer and teacher, and an all-around nice person! For more information about Baker’s career, see Barbara Jöstlein Currie’s interview with her in the May 2017 issue of The Horn Call.

At this year’s IWBC I’ll be involved in two performances, as well as running an exhibit table for Mountain Peak Music.  The first performance will feature Black Bayou Brass in performances of music by Gina Gillie and Adriana Figueroa Mañas. Here’s our program:

Trio for Brass, Gina Gillie (b. 1981)

  1. Fanfare and Chorale

Triad, Adriana Isabel Figueroa Mañas (b. 1966)

  1. Magic Dreams

Scenes from The Bayou, Gina Gillie

The first work by Gina Gillie is one of our favorites in the repertoire, and makes a great opener. It’s published by Veritas Musica Publications. If you’re looking for a fun, challenging, and musically rewarding work for brass trio be sure to check it out.

Adriana Mañas has composed some very fine works for brass trio, including her Three Chorals and Triad. Magic Dreams, the final movement of Triad, is notable for the variety of timbres and articulations it employs. It makes for a nice contrast with the opening work on our program.

We’re especially excited about performing the newly-commissioned Scenes from the Bayou. We premiered this work locally back in March, and are looking forward to sharing it with a larger audience. This commission was funded in part by the Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Program of the International Horn Society, and is a substantial addition to the repertoire. Here is a video compilation of several excerpts from the premiere.

On the last day of the conference I’ll be collaborating with several University of Wisconsin-Madison alums (Gina Gillie, Sarah Gillespie, Stacie Mickens) for a performance of Gina Gillie’s Horn Quartet No. 1. Like her brass trio compositions, Gillie’s horn quartet is a really strong work with lots of great writing for all four parts. Like Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for Four Horns, the final movement of Gillie’s quartet is a set of variations on Ich schell’ mein Horn. Here’s a recording of the piece with the following performers: Gina Gillie, Mark Robbins, Gustavo Camacho and Becky Miller.

If you’re planning to attend the conference, we’d love to see you at either (or both) of the above performances, or at the Mountain Peak Music booth. I’ll also be posting regular reports to this site during the conference. If you won’t be attending the 2017 IWBC , I hope you’ll consider attending some kind of a conference or festival this summer. They are wonderful opportunities to hear great performances, and to network and connect with friends and colleagues.

Upcoming Performances: 2017 New Music on the Bayou Festival

New Music on the Bayou

The spring semester is winding down, but my colleagues and I are gearing up for several performances this summer. First up is the 2017 New Music on the Bayou Festival, May 31-June 3 in Monroe, LA and Ruston, LA. Now in its second year, this year’s festival is shaping up to be even more exciting than the inaugural season last year. An impressive array of composers and performers have been brought together for a few intense days of rehearsals, performances, and presentations, and if you are within driving distance I highly recommend coming out for one or more of the events. As with last year’s festival, a few ensembles will be featured, including the Implosion Percussion Group, and Trio Mélange, a voice, horn, and piano trio comprised of faculty at the University of Louisiana-Monroe.  We’ll be performing two works, For Jessica, by Jason Mulligan, and Connect All. We All Connect., by Oliver Caplan.  Both works were chosen for the festival through a competitive submission process, and we are excited about sharing them with audiences here. Contrary to some opinions about contemporary music, not all of it is highly abstract, esoteric, or demanding on traditional audiences. In fact, these two works are very accessible, and the horn parts are rewarding to play. Don’t take my word for it, though! Listen for yourself, and see what you think. Here’s a sample recording of Oliver Caplan’s Connect All. We All Connect, linked from the composer’s Soundcloud account. Caplan writes the following about this work:

Are we individual actors, alone together? Or are we bound by our common humanity? Connect All. We All Connect. explores the interconnectedness of people in today’s world. At times fragile and questioning, at times confident and affirming, the piece ultimately sounds a message that we are our best selves when we embrace heartfelt connection.

The performers aren’t listed, but they really sound great! Perhaps this piece will strike you (as it did me) with its simple beauty and profound message. If you want to hear more new music, be sure to check out the New Music on the Bayou Festival this summer!

Brass Trio Performance Videos

Here are some videos from two of our recent brass trio performances. The first is from our recent faculty recital at ULM, and features excerpts from Gina Gillie’s Scenes from the Bayou, a work we commissioned with assistance from the International Horn Society’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. It’s a great piece, full of catchy melodies and fun writing for all three parts. We’ll be performing the piece again this summer at the International Women’s Brass Conference in at Rowan University in New Jersey.

Next is our complete Contributing Artist Performance at the 2017 Mid-South Horn Workshop. We performed Diversions for Brass Trio, by Roger Jones, another composer who, like Gina Gillie, really knows how to write well for brass trio.

One interesting thing for me with this work is that I performed it as a member of the same ensemble (but with different personnel) back in 2011 at the Big 12 Trombone Conference in Lubbock, TX (you can check out the recording here). Both performances went really well, I think, and it was quite interesting for me to listen to these two recordings back to back and hear how my playing has changed in the last six years.

Upcoming Projects, Part 2: June Recording Session

cropped-412093_10151188927572199_2111445695_o4.jpgThis is the second in a series of posts about some upcoming activities this semester and beyond. You can read the first one here. In addition to my normal performing and teaching schedule, I’m very excited to be involved in two recording projects, the first slated for June 2017, and the second for January 2018. Here’s a brief description of the first one.


Music of Eurico Carrapatoso: I’m honored to be collaborating with colleagues Claire Vangelisti and Richard Seiler on a recording featuring the music of Portuguese composer Eurico Carrapatoso. Carrapatoso is well known in his native Portugal, and is beginning to get some exposure here in the U.S.  Vangelisti and Seiler will be recording several of his works for voice and piano, and I’ll be joining them for three soprano, horn, and piano works:

  • Duas porcelanas musicais
  • Sete melodias em forma de bruma
  • Dois poemas de Miguel Torga

All three are substantial, multi-movement compositions, with fun (and challenging!) horn parts. I’m planning to write more about the details of this project in a future post, and one interesting challenge for me in the preparation of the music has been the choice of equipment. Carrapatoso’s writing for horn tends to emphasize the high range, with lots of light, lyrical passages above the staff, often in harmony or in counterpoint with the voice. Here’s an example of one from the first movement of his Dois poemas de Miguel Torga:

carrapatoso1

And another one from his Sete melodias em forma de bruma:

carrapatoso2

While certainly playable on a standard double horn, these passages and others like them fit well on a descant horn. We performed the Sete melodias em forma de bruma at the 45th IHS Symposium in Memphis, and for that performance I used a Paxman 40M descant horn, on generous loan from a colleague in the Shreveport Symphony. I’m planning to use that same instrument for our recordings in June, although I’m not entirely sold on which mouthpiece to use. My normal mouthpiece, a Houser GS12, works pretty well, although I’m considering some other options tailored more for the high horn. Updates to come!

 

 

 

Fall 2016 Semester Preview

Chamber Arts Brass Quintet: Marilynn Gibson, Micah Everett, James Boldin, Jack White, Myron Turner

Chamber Arts Brass Quintet: Marilynn Gibson, Micah Everett, James Boldin, Jack White, Myron Turner

With the first week of classes at ULM finished, I now have the chance to catch my breath and post a few thoughts about the upcoming semester.

Ten Years of Teaching: This semester marks the beginning of my 11th year at ULM. I’m extremely grateful that after ten years of full-time college teaching, I still enjoy it! Though working in higher education is not without its challenges, I remain optimistic and excited about my career. I’m planning to post a few more reflections about this, but for now I’ll just leave it as-is. As a throw-back to my first year of full-time teaching, see the picture of our faculty brass quintet at top left, taken in December of 2006.

New Low Brass Faculty: Related to the above post, one of the reasons I still enjoy my job is the opportunity to work with faculty who are both dedicated and gifted. This semester we welcome a new member to the brass faculty at ULM, Dr. Jeremy Marks. It should be noted that our previous Low Brass professor, Dr. James Layfield, recently won a position with the United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C. Congratulations to both Dr. Marks and Dr. Layfield on their new positions!

Upcoming Recital: On October 4th I’ll be giving a solo recital, collaborating with Dr. Richard Seiler on piano. It’s been awhile since I gave a strictly solo horn and piano recital, having performed with lots of other combinations (horn and percussion, horn and organ, horn and voice) over the last few years. Our program will feature all transcriptions and arrangements, the majority of them by yours truly. More on the program in a future post.

Recording Projects: Now that Solo Training for Horn is on shelves, I will be turning my attention to two recording projects. The first is a collaboration with ULM voice professor Dr. Claire Vangelisti for a recording of voice, horn, and piano works  by Eurico Carrapatoso. We’ve performed several of his very fine compositions over the years, and are looking forward to recording them for this project. Following that will be my second solo CD, this time a collection of my own transcriptions and arrangements for horn and piano and horn with other combinations of instruments. Both projects are still in the planning phase, and I’ll share more details as we move forward.

Orchestra Concerts: Though not a full-time orchestral musician, my work with the Shreveport Symphony, Monroe Symphony, and Rapides Symphony orchestras keeps me plenty busy. I feel very lucky to perform with these groups regularly, and to have the opportunity to play major repertoire with great horn sections. Some highlights of the 2016-2017 season include Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 with the Shreveport Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 with the Monroe Symphony.

Commissions: Black Bayou Brass has been very active recently in commissioning new works for brass trio. Among these is a new work by Sy Brandon, Inventions for Brass Trio, and a forthcoming work by Gina Gillie. Brandon’s commission was funded by an eleven-member consortium of brass trios, and Gillie’s commission was made possible through a grant from the International Horn Society’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. One of our trio’s missions is to promote and premiere new works, and we are very excited about performing these new pieces.

Upcoming Blog Posts: I have several posts planned for the coming weeks, including reviews of recent recordings and publications, helpful websites for practicing, planning recital tours, and various other topics. Be sure to follow Hornworld for the latest updates.

To close I want to wish all my students and colleagues a great fall semester!

Upcoming Conference: 48th International Horn Symposium

79941_photoAfter a very successful New Music on the Bayou Summer Festival, I’m looking forward to attending the 48th International Horn Symposium, hosted by Alexander Shuhan and the Ithaca College School of Music. As with last year’s symposium, I’ll be posting brief updates each day about concerts, lectures, and other events. The list of Featured Artists is fantastic as usual, including several performers that I’ve not had the opportunity to hear live. For more information, you can consult the official program book, which is available online. In addition to attending as much as possible, I’ll be performing with Trio Mélange on a Contributing Artist recital, and giving a presentation titled Solo Training for Horn: Exercises and Etudes for Standard Solo Repertoire. For more information about the ensemble and our upcoming performance, check out this press release, and for more details about the presentation, check out this post. Although I will of course talk about the forthcoming publication, the presentation will include lots of other helpful tips and hints for practicing some of the most common solo literature. On a personal note, I’ll be staying with relatives in Ithaca, and look forward to spending time with them as well as attending the symposium.

After the symposium I’ll be dialing things back a little bit, although I do have a few reviews and other summer projects in the works. Safe travels to everyone traveling to the IHS Symposium, and I hope to see you there!