Job Listings Page Update

Check out the Job Listings page for information on several upcoming auditions, including positions in the New York Philharmonic, U.S. Marine Band, and Wheeling Symphony Orchestra.

Thoughts on David Zerkel’s “Some Suggestions on Being an Effective Music Student”

Recently David Zerkel, Associate Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at the University of Georgia, posted a great Facebook note titled “Some Suggestions on Being an Effective Music Student, 2012 Edition.” The note quickly went viral, at least amongst music teachers, and can be easily found on Facebook. In addition, Kyle Hayes has reposted the note in its entirety on his blog here. Professor Zerkel covers a number of topics, but the bottom line is that being a successful music major takes a lot of work! This fact should not discourage students, but rather drive home the point that music is a serious field of study (but well worth it). I agree whole-heartedly with all of the suggestions presented, and I have reprinted the list and posted it on my bulletin board at school with the heading “READ THIS.” While I can hardly improve upon Professor Zerkel’s list, I’ve been thinking of some humble additions which might also be worth considering if you are a music student.

1. Consider your health, both mental and physical. College students can be notoriously hard on their bodies, often driving themselves to the point of exhaustion (needlessly, in my opinion). Simply eating more healthily and getting enough rest can do wonders for your overall state of being. Throw in some regular exercise and you’ll find yourself with more energy, a sharper mind, and better practice sessions. Mental health is also an important issue, though one which many students (and teachers) are hesitant to talk about. Most campuses have ample counseling for students and faculty, and it is generally free and confidential. There is often a negative perception about those who seek counseling, but this is unwarranted. Venting to an unbiased third party about anything from little annoyances to major life issues can be quite helpful in dealing with the stress of college life.

2. Make some friends outside of music. More so than students in other majors, music students often find themselves interacting with the same small group of people day in and day out. While this can create deep and lasting bonds of friendship between music students, it can also lead to an inability to interact with people outside one’s circle of friends. Being able to hold an intelligent conversation with someone outside your field of study is very important, not just as an exercise, but as training for a future career as an ambassador for the arts. This doesn’t mean you have to give up any of the friends you have in music, but that you ought to at least make an effort to get to know some people from another area of study.

3. Be positive, and others will follow. Lead by example; be as positive as you can be about everything (easier said than done, I know!) and it will pay off in several ways. For one, you’ll feel better. In addition, you’ll find yourself gravitating towards other positive people (and they will gravitate towards you). And finally, you’ll have a positive influence on those around you. Even when you don’t feel particularly motivated to practice, study, etc., fake it! Summoning the drive to get in the practice room or open your textbook is usually the hardest part, and once you get going you’ll find that the passage you were dreading to practice wasn’t really that difficult to get under your fingers, and that the theory homework you were having nightmares about wasn’t so bad after all.

4. And last, but most definitely not least, GO TO CLASS! Enough said, no excuses.

Thailand Tour: Day 3

We spent most of today sightseeing around Bangkok. By the way, we will be doing plenty of performing and teaching on this tour, but our concerts and master classes will take place later in the week. Although in some respects it would have been nice to perform first and sightsee later, for the most part I am extremely glad that we have had several days to acclimate to both the weather and the time zone here.

We began the day by taking a water taxi on the Chao Phraya River, which runs through Bangkok. Here’s a view from the taxi.

20120603-210424.jpg From the taxi we took an elevated train to the Grand Palace, which is a massive complex occupying several acres in the city. I wish I could post all of the 150+ photos I took of the amazing architecture and Buddhist icons, but hopefully these few will give you at least an idea of the scope of what we saw. Many of the structures and artwork are several hundred years old, dating back to 1782. The panorama below is only a small part of a mural which surrounds the entire complex.

20120603-211011.jpg And here is one of the dozens (if not hundreds) of beautiful statues which adorn the exterior of most of the buildings.

20120603-211426.jpg And now for the buildings themselves. Our tour guide presented more information than I could possibly retain, but the general idea is that each of the main buildings serves a specific religious and/or cultural purpose, usually tied to the Royal family of Thailand. Entrance to some of the buildings is only permitted a few times a year, and in some cases not at all.

20120603-211726.jpg And another.

20120603-211911.jpg Being surrounded by these intricate and beautiful artifacts was definitely awe-inspiring, as was our next stop, the Reclining Buddha located at Wat Pho. Here’s a picture.

20120603-212336.jpg It’s difficult to get a sense of the massive scale just by looking at the picture, but the statue is approximately 140 feet long.

Our last stop of the day was the Jim Thompson House, a museum dedicated to James H.W. Thompson, an American businessman who is credited with building the silk industry in Thailand into an international enterprise. After serving in WWII, Thompson permanently moved to Bangkok and devoted much of his time and efforts to promoting and preserving Thai culture. He mysteriously disappeared in 1967 while on vacation in Malaysia, and what actually happened to him is still unknown. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable about Thompson’s life as well as the numerous pieces of art and furniture located in the museum. It was a great way to end our sightseeing journey! Here’s a picture from the exterior of the house, which is modeled after a traditional Thai home but with many Western amenities such as indoor plumbing.

20120603-213823.jpg After concluding our tours for the day we spent a few minutes shopping for souvenirs at a nearby shopping mall. This six story building was packed with enough retailers to fill several American malls, and the variety of goods available was mind boggling.

Tomorrow will be a little slower because it is a national holiday in Thailand, and many businesses will be closed. Our trio will be rehearsing and resting up for our series of performances here, which kicks off on Tuesday. More to come!

Taking the Week Off

I’ll be taking this week off from blogging, but will resume next week with reports from our brass trio’s Thailand tour.

End of Semester Juries: Some Thoughts and Observations

My apologies for being behind in blog posts for last week: in addition to the normal end of semester crunch (grading, juries, etc.), we’ve also been without internet at our new residence. Hopefully the issue will be resolved soon, but for now I will be grabbing some time to blog here and there in the office. I’m headed to Denton this week for the 44th International Horn Symposium, and although I won’t be staying for the entire event I will try to post some updates while there. Today’s post was meant for last Friday, but having a few more days to ruminate on the topic of juries was actually quite nice. If you aren’t familiar with music juries, here is a short article describing them. Procedures and requirements for juries vary widely depending on the school, but here are some observations and thoughts based on my experiences as both a student and teacher.

  • Juries are a performance. Dress and conduct yourself accordingly. If you have any questions about the correct protocol at your school, ask your major professor. There might be numerous rumors and/or anecdotal information floating around about what you may or may not need to prepare for in your jury, but these are only partially reliable at best.
  • Unless a random element of the jury is agreed upon in advance (sight-reading, for example), you should be aware of all the requirements for the jury several days (if not weeks) before the actual exam. I have seen juries where the student apparently didn’t think or realize that a particular solo/etude/excerpt/scale/transposition/clef would be asked, and then disaster ensued. The sad thing about this situation is that it is completely avoidable. Plan ahead, and always ask if you are unsure about repertoire requirements or anything else.
  • It is your job to sort out your schedule. Final exam week is hectic for everyone, and there are only so many hours in the day to schedule juries. As a result, there may be several time slots which conflict with your exam schedule: but you should never skip (or be late to) a final exam in order to play a jury. By being proactive and finding out jury and final exam schedules in advance, you can avoid any unpleasantness with your applied teacher and other instructors when exam time comes.
  • The time to start thinking about and preparing for your jury is at or near the beginning of the semester, not the week (or even two weeks) before exams. Your life will be stressful and busy enough at the end of the semester, and putting in the time on the front end will make your life much easier during exam week. Yes, given enough talent and endurance, a good brass jury can probably be prepared in a limited amount of practice time, but as a teacher and performer I wouldn’t recommend this method unless absolutely unavoidable.

Do you have any suggestions or thoughts on juries?  What about some favorite stories from your jury experiences?  Feel free to comment. [N.B. Curious about the image included at the beginning of this post?  More info here.]

Students: Looking for Something to Do this Summer?

We heard some great brass juries today – bravo to all the students on their hard work!  I’m planning to post a bit more about juries on Wednesday, but for today here’s a list of some projects for horn students (and other brass players) to consider over the summer break. Summer is a great time to build on the momentum from your end-of-semester jury, and any of the projects on this list would make a good way to spend a few weeks (or more) over the break. Go ahead and take a few days if you need to decompress after the stress of final exams, but before you get too far into the summer make sure you have a plan for how you want to improve. Pick two or three things off the list to start, and come up with your own creative ideas to supplement. Have some other ideas for fun summer horn-related projects?  Feel free to comment.

Friday Review: Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians, by Jeffrey Agrell

This week we’ll look at Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians, a book by Jeffrey Agrell, Associate Professor of Horn at the University of Iowa (cover image linked from I’ve known Professor Agrell for several years, and I’m always amazed by his creativity and sheer productivity.  In addition to his teaching and performing duties at the University of Iowa, he has created two blogs, (Horn Insights and Improv Insights), regularly updates the massive UI Horn Studio site, and publishes books and articles prodigiously. (When do you sleep, Jeff?)  Though it may not be the first of its kind, Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians is certainly among the most comprehensive (over 35o pages) and well written. Professor Agrell’s writing is clear and entertaining to read, and his “think outside the box” approach to teaching is very evident in these pages. Since I don’t have the room or the time here to consider every detail of this wonderful publication, let me just say that Agrell leaves no stone unturned when it comes to the art of improvisation. He provides copious evidence of the importance of improvisation in music education, and gives the following as one of his main goals with this book.

My fondest wish is that this book introduces a wide variety of musicians to the joys of creating music. I hope that professional and amateur musicians alike discover new musical worlds through this book, as well as music educators of every age, conductors, composers, music therapists-and even jazz players, who, although this book does not use the jazz style, just might benefit from this book as much as or more than classical musicians, since they have always had the attitude and ability to learn from all sources. [p. xvii]

In keeping with the comprehensive scope of this book, Chapter 1 is titled “Introduction: Why Improvise?”, and by the time you’re finished reading it you’ll wonder why you or your students haven’t been improvising. Subsequent chapters fill in more details to help you get started, even if you’ve never improvised. As a graduate student I took an introductory jazz improvisation class, and one of the main concepts I took away from that experience is that when you start learning to improvise you have to forget about all the value judgements you put on yourself and your playing. I remember leaving several classes feeling like a 6th grade band student – it was really like learning a new language. Over time I got more proficient, though nowhere near what you would call competent as a jazz improviser. More importantly, I developed an appreciation for the art and skill of improvisation, and a much wider view of what musicianship is. Jeff’s book will help you to do the same, and you’ll have a great time doing it! These games are well-designed, fun to play, and will stretch your ears and mind. If you want proof, just head on over to Improv Insights and check out a few of the games listed there. Convince a few friends to join you in this endeavor, and then go for it. You’ll be glad you did. One of our horn studio class assignments this semester was to choose one improvisation game from the website and teach it to the class. It’s a great way to get started, but if you want the whole story buy the book.

I’ve just scratched the surface here, but I hope you get the idea. Jeff has also written a companion book, Improv Games for One Player, which is also well worth checking out.

Feeling Crafty? “Build” Your Own Horn Out of Paper!

While searching somewhat randomly on the internet, I ran across this paper horn, complete with assembly instructions and a pattern you can print out and cut (image at left). This design, created by artist K.Yoshinaka, is available for free on Canon Creative Park, a website specializing in “3D papercraft patterns”. Intricate doesn’t even begin to describe the level of complexity that would be involved in first cutting out the patterns and then gluing them together. Looking closely at the design pattern, I would assume that you’d need an X-acto Knife or something similar to make the precise cuts required. The bell and first branch patterns look easy enough, but once you get into the valve cluster and related parts things start to look a bit ridiculous. If you wanted to get really detailed, you could use different colored paper for an added layer of realism. Still, this seems like an interesting project, and definitely a great conversation starter for the teaching studio. Has anyone out there attempted to follow this pattern?  If so, did it work?  The same artist also has a pattern for a paper trumpet, which looks every bit as difficult to construct as the horn.

More on Copyright, Public Domain, and Buying Music

Thanks to some great comments on my earlier post about copyright, I decided to make this a two- parter. “horndude77” posted the following comments to my original post, which inspired some further thinking on my part. This commenter has clearly given the issue some serious thought. In the interest of clarity, I’ve broken up horndude77’s comment into various sections, with my response below each one.

horndude77: I think there are a few things going on:

* Copyrights last too long. For the Hindemith case you cited I have a hard time understanding why it still needs copyright protection. It was published in 1939 and the composer died in 1963 (in life+50 countries at least his works enter the public domain in 2014). Copyrights used to be much more reasonable (I think ~56 years was a good length).

I would assume that in the case of Hindemith’s Horn Sonata, the rights are continually renewed by the publisher, Schott Music. Given that the piece is a major work in the repertoire, and that there are no competing editions out there, it may be some time before the work passes into the public domain. Additionally, wouldn’t the Hindemith estate retain the rights to his works? Or at least the option to renew the copyright?

* Like you said, copyright law isn’t always clear and many people haven’t researched things enough to know if something is public domain. For example, if Hindemith’s Violin Sonata (pre-1923) is public domain why isn’t the Horn Sonata? There are seeming inconsistencies like the above which are muddy the waters.

I agree, but I suppose that some kind of a date has to be set for public domain purposes, even if it results in inconsistencies like the one you mention.

* People want to be able to download music. It’s easy and instant. The convenience is part of why IMSLP is so popular. Why aren’t any publishers providing music in a form that people obviously want at a reasonable price? Most costs are up-front in the scanning or re-typesetting labor. E-books suffer the same piracy problems, but they are taking off and making money.

I think that smaller publishers are catching on to this, and it’s only a matter of time before the major publishing houses start making their libraries available digitally. There will be some logistical and legal issues to overcome, of course, but “e-music” is probably on the way. Perhaps a deal with publishers similar to what Netflix has with movie studios could be worked out.

* Music is expensive. Students are poor. The Hindemith Horn Sonata costs about $20.00. (Though if you are in college and short on cash, inter-library loan is your friend.)

Trust me, I’m very sympathetic to this issue! However, a useful comparison would be to compare the cost of a college biology textbook with the Kopprasch Etudes, Hindemith Sonata, etc. In reality music is much more economical for students to buy than their other textbooks. I encourage my students to buy their music whenever they can, and put money aside for their solos, etudes, and excerpt collections just as they budget money for their other textbooks. Libraries are great for perusal, and for minor works or those unavailable otherwise.

I am not defending copyright infringement. Laws should be obeyed. However I believe that the best way to combat these problems is through clear and reasonable laws and business practices.

Agreed! I’m glad that websites like the one Cornell has exist, otherwise I’d be pretty clueless.

I’ve done some work for IMSLP and Mutopia. One thing I lament is the lack of comments or reporting back when mistakes are found. Every once in a while I’ll get an email, but it’s less often than I’ve seen them used. If you use one of my typesettings and discover problems let me know so they can become more reliable sources.

This is a great point, and I wonder if it would be possible to create a wiki community – if one hasn’t been created already – devoted to making public domain editions as accurate as possible. It might not be a good idea to make the IMSLP or Mutopia library editable by the general public, but perhaps by a pool of qualified people working together.

Well, there you have my two cents.  I’m no expert on intellectual property, so feel free to take my comments with a grain of salt. This is a fun topic to discuss, so keep the comments coming!

Copyright, Public Domain, and Buying Music

One nice feature of this blog is that I can see what search terms have directed people towards this site. Quite often these search strings result in ideas for new posts. The majority of these searches seem completely legitimate, and I am thankful for all of my readers. However, with some regularity I see searches like the following.

“free download [insert standard horn solo title and composer here] sheet music”

Or something to that effect. While I have written about a number of standard works in the horn’s repertoire, I’m not in the habit of posting complete works to this site unless they are 1) my own arrangements and/or 2) in the public domain. To do otherwise would violate copyright law and potentially rob composers and other musicians of the royalties associated with these copyrighted works.  Perhaps I’m being naive, but maybe those people looking for a free copy of Paul Hindemith’s  Sonata in F for Horn and Piano, 1939 (for example) simply don’t know that the work is still under copyright and therefore not in the public domain – or maybe they know and just don’t care.  In either case, they won’t find that work, or complete copies of any other copyrighted works, here. Copyright law can be confusing, and sometimes it isn’t clear what is in the public domain. Fortunately, there are lots of great resources on the web to help sort out the issue of public domain and copyright. In fact, Cornell University has a site devoted to explaining the finer points of copyright law.   If you’re trying to figure out if a work is in the public domain, look no further than their handy guide, “Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.”  This page contains the most thorough, yet easy to understand, description of public domain and copyright that I’ve seen, and all musicians, writers, artists, etc. should spend some time familiarizing themselves with it.

Ok, so what if you find out that a work is in the public domain, and available on  IMSLP, The Mutopia Project, or another similar site.  Should you still buy your own copy, or download the public domain version? This is a thorny question. Yes, there are advantages to downloading the free version, but public domain copies are often of inferior quality when compared to their commercial counterparts. For example, there are errors and inconsistencies in the IMSLP edition of Kopprasch’s Op. 6 etudes, not to mention the difficult-to-read manuscript. In this instance the free version will work in a pinch, but in the long run it’s preferable to purchase a clear, edited collection like this one by Cornopub, or in the case of the Op. 5 high horn etudes this one by Thompson Edition.  You’ll spend more money up front, but you’ll save yourself time and future headaches.  I’m not trying to turn anyone away from IMSLP or Mutopia – I use them myself – but they aren’t always the most reliable source. Given the choice between downloading a free, but possibly flawed, copy, and supporting a small, independently-owned publisher like Cornopub or Thompson Edition, I’ll always support the publisher. It’s money well spent.