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.

Surviving a Three-Service Day

nutcracker_coverDecember is a busy month for musicians, especially brass players. With frequent Holiday Pops concerts, Nutcracker ballets, and church performances, double and even triple service days can and do happen. A “service” is usually defined as a 2.5 hour rehearsal or performance, and while many orchestras and other ensembles have contract language limiting the number of them in a single day, all bets are off if you accept work from multiple organizations. Here’s what my schedule this past weekend looked like:

  • Friday
    • Orchestral Rehearsal, 7:30-10:00 p.m.
  • Saturday:
    • Orchestral Rehearsal, 10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
    • Church Service Rehearsal, 2:00-4:30 p.m.
    • Orchestral Concert, 7:30-10:00 p.m.
  • Sunday
    • Church Service performance, 10:30 a.m.-noon
    • Orchestral Concert, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

I’m happy to report that I made it through the weekend relatively unscathed, with chops intact! However, these being my last professional engagements for the year, I’m looking forward to a few light days of horn playing. If you wind up with some double and triple-service days in your schedule, here are a few recommendations to help deal with them. Some are specifically related to brass playing, while others are more general and pertain to overall well being. If you have any suggestions based on your own experiences, feel free to comment below.

  1. Be in good shape: Going into a busy month like December, I try to make sure that my playing fundamentals are in shape. If you are working through any chop or breathing issues, recovering from a playing-related injury, or coming back from an extended hiatus, I would strongly advise against accepting double or triple services in a single day. Heavy playing sessions with relatively little recovery time between them will only magnify these challenges.
  2. Allow time for a good warm-up and warm-down: Some light, easy playing before and after a heavy day can do wonders to limber up or even prevent a stiff embouchure. Be aware that your lips may feel swollen just after warming up, so make sure you have plenty of time for them to loosen up before rehearsal begins. I personally like to warm up 30-45 minutes before rehearsal begins, and take at least a 5-10 minute break before the rehearsal.
  3. Get adequate sleep: The optimum amount for an individual will of course vary, but the usual recommendation is from 7 to 9 hours per night. For more information, see here.
  4. Drink lots of water: Being properly hydrated will help you stay focused and alert, among many other benefits. For more information, see here.
  5. Alternate Warm/Cool Compresses:  In the case of very stiff and/or swollen chops, alternating heat and cold can be helpful. For more information, see here. Other remedies I have heard of but not had much experience with personally are ibuprofen (for pain and/or swelling – if you have concerns, check with your physician first) and, believe it or not, popsicles.
  6. Know when to say when: Playing through pain or discomfort is NEVER a good idea, and it is  wise to lay out or at least back off on dynamics well before hitting your personal playing limit for the day. You only have one set of lips – take care of it!
  7. Make time for recovery: After all the services are finished, try to take it easy for a couple of days if at all possible. This means different things depending on the individual; for me it means a warm up and brief routine for 20-25 minutes for the next day or so after several days of heavy playing. I rarely take days off, but have found warm-up only days to be very helpful.

On that note, I’ll bring to a close my final post for 2015. Best wishes to everyone for safe and happy holidays, and a great start to the new year. Be sure to check this site in January, as I have several posts planned for 2016: more reviews, thoughts on time management, and an update on Solo Training for Horn, my forthcoming etude book from Mountain Peak Music.

Semester Preview, Part 2: Orchestral Bucket List, Horn Conferences, Book Projects, and More!!

UntitledHere’s Part 2 of my semester preview, with some more brief descriptions of what will be happening in Spring 2015 and beyond (Part 1 is located here).

Orchestral Performances: This spring I’ll have the opportunity to perform on three major orchestral works I’ve never played before: Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish) with the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1o with the Rapides Symphony Orchestra. I’m especially excited to perform the Schumann, as it has long been on my bucket list of orchestral works.

Horn Conferences: I have plans to perform and present at two large horn conferences this year, the Southeast Horn Workshop, March 6-8 at LSU in Baton Rouge, LA, and the 47th International Horn Symposium, August 2-8 at The Colburn School in Los Angeles, CA. I’ll be performing a new arrangement of mine, Romance, by C.M. von Weber (published by Cimarron Music Press) at the Southeast Workshop, and for the International Horn Symposium I will hopefully be performing the premiere of a new work for horn and harp that I commissioned with assistance from the IHS’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. I say “hopefully” because while my proposal to perform has been submitted, I won’t find out if it has been accepted until February. Once I have more information about the premiere I’ll post it here. The new work, written by internationally recognized composer Gary Schocker, is entitled In Arkadia. My collaborator for this work will be Dr. Jaymee Haefner, who teaches harp at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Haefner is a fantastic harpist, and we worked together previously on my recording of Jan Koetsier’s Sonata for Horn and Harp.

Solo Duet Training for Horns: My plan this spring is to finish work on Solo Duet Training for Horns, a forthcoming book for Mountain Peak Music. While I will be posting periodically to this blog and updating the job listings, most of my research and creative activity time will be spent on this project. As of now I anticipate a release in early summer of this year. Will post more details as it nears completion.

Reviews, etc. Although I won’t be posting new content every week, I plan to review a couple of horn related publications I obtained late last year: Randy Gardner‘s new book Good Vibrations: Masterclasses for Brass Players, and En-Cor! the latest (and final?) recording from the American Horn Quartet.

It’s shaping up to be a very busy, but fun and engaging semester. Good luck and best wishes to my students and colleagues for the same!

Recording Review: Orchestral Excerpts for Low Horn, by Eli Epstein

Although in my last post I mentioned that it might be the final one of 2014, I’ve recently acquired some great new recordings that I felt should be reviewed before the year’s end.

This week’s review begins with a short story. One of the first horn recordings I purchased was David Krehbiel’s Orchestral Excerpts for Horn, which I picked up in a Tower Records store in Charlotte, NC during my freshman year in high school. At the time I knew very little about orchestral music, let alone the important excerpts for horn, but something about the CD attracted me to it. Had it been a tape or LP I would probably have worn it out long ago, but thankfully the CD is still in great shape after countless playings over the last 20 years. In retrospect, I think this recording is what really made me fall in love with the sound of the horn, and it introduced me to some of the great orchestral parts for the instrument. My only regret was that Summit Records never pursued a sequel, though the important horn passages in orchestral music could surely fill up multiple discs. And while an entire album of unaccompanied horn playing might seem boring, or at the very least, esoteric to a general audience, I thought it was fantastic.

This brings me to the subject of today’s review, which is, as far as I’m concerned, a perfect sequel to the original horn excerpts CD. I’m a big fan of Eli Epstein, a former member of the Cleveland Orchestra, and a renowned horn pedagogue. I’ve reviewed his book, Horn Playing from the Inside Out, and his YouTube video on the finger breath, both of which address numerous pedagogical issues. What I like most about Epstein’s approach to the horn is the balance between technical and musical considerations. He not only explains how things should sound, but lays out a step-by-step process to help you achieve that sound. In Orchestral Excerpts for Low Horn, Epstein discusses and performs 21 low horn excerpts from the standard repertoire, providing a wonderful resource for teachers and students tackling these challenging passages. The accompanying website (, which includes pictures, diagrams, and links to recordings, is a great companion to his other pedagogical materials.

Of course, the real star is the recording itself. Though there are numerous valid approaches to these excerpts, you would be hard pressed to find more nuanced, musically substantial performances anywhere. Every note has a purpose, and every musical decision has a concrete, logical reason behind it, which is explained in the commentary preceding each excerpt. Mr. Epstein plays with a warm, fluid sound, with the just the right amount of brassiness when the music calls for it. Rhythm and intonation are impeccable, and these recordings would be great to play along with when preparing either the excerpts themselves or the corresponding first and/or third horn parts. Epstein’s enthusiasm and love for this repertoire come through clearly in his commentary and performances, and I highly recommend this recording to anyone who plays the horn. Whether you are studying these passages for the first time or are reviewing (or teaching) them for the umpteenth time, I am certain that you will be encouraged and inspired.

Have Horn, Will Travel: An Interview with Lauren Robinson, Part 2

This Part 2 of a 2-part interview with Lauren Robinson, a professional horn player living and working in Denmark. Read Part 1 here.

You’ve been active in music education as well, working as a teaching artist for The Philadelphia Orchestra’s School Partnership Program. Can you talk a little bit about this program and your experiences with it?

First of all, I believe every musician should be required to read Eric Booth’s fantastic book The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible. Seriously, go read it. Now.

These days, it’s really not enough to just play great. We are all required to be ambassadors for our art. I do not know a single musician who doesn’t also teach and/or do some sort of outreach. I was lucky enough to teach for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s School Partnership Program on a weekly basis in various public elementary schools in Philadelphia. Over the four years that I worked in this program, I worked in three different schools with students in grades 2 through 5 doing engaging music activities every week. I partnered with the classroom teachers for this, which means that I was in their everyday classroom, not their music classroom. Students would come to Philadelphia Orchestra concerts, as well as other concerts in the Philadelphia area. We did all sorts of things– cross curricular activities tying orchestral music into something they were learning in their literacy classes, for example. Or learning the theme to Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony on the recorder. Students did a lot of group work with compositional techniques. The sky was really the limit, and I really got to be creative with my lesson planning.

This program is based on the idea that we must engage our audiences before we inform them. Get people of all ages involved in the process and they’ll be more invested in the result. Some of the work that I am most proud of as a musician came from working with these teachers and kids, bringing them into the world of orchestral music

I could go on about this program and the importance of audience engagement for quite awhile, but rather than me jabbering, why don’t you all just go buy the book??

Who have your major musical influences been, horn playing or otherwise?

I’ve been truly blessed to have some great teachers on the horn. Cindy Carr, Doug Hill, and Adam Unsworth are my formal teachers and I’ve taken a great deal from studying with each of them. I’ve also taken a lot of inspiration from Denise Tryon and Froydis Wekre. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Sarah Willis but she’s also someone I really admire.

Do you do anything physical (besides practice!) to keep your horn playing in shape?

I practice yoga and run. I enjoy the yoga because it clears my head and helps to stretch my body after long hours of playing. Studies repeatedly show that sitting is one of the hardest things for our bodies, and in an orchestra, you do a lot of it! Yoga can also really help with core strength, which just helps everything. It helps with sitting for long hours, it helps with holding the horn, it helps with awareness of your body. I would really encourage brass players to try it, and make sure you try lots of different teachers and styles of yoga if you aren’t sure about it at first.

I also took up running about two years ago. I’m not fast by any means, but I have found that cardiovascular activity REALLY helps my playing. I find that I breath more efficiently on my horn when I’ve been running regularly, even if I’m not going huge distances. I completed my first half marathon last year and run the occasional road race. I often put symphonic repertoire on my playlist while I run, so it has the added bonus of being a time to listen to some of what’s coming up. (This has mixed results, sometimes the slow movements just aren’t great to run to!)

 Any other projects you want to talk about?

In 2011, I started a chamber music festival in British Columbia, where my husband Jeff has some roots. I actually have ceded control of the festival to a colleague of mine since moving to Denmark, but I still want to talk a little about it because it ties in with a lot of what we’re talking about here.

When I started out freelancing, I didn’t feel like I got to play chamber music on a really high level. And I found, talking to my friends, that they felt very much the same. My husband’s family has a condo in Invermere, British Columbia and Jeff and I had remarked for a long time that it would be a great place for a summer music festival. So sometime in the winter of 2011, I decided to start a festival. I had no idea what I was doing because I’d never done anything like that before. But I just picked up the phone and started making some calls to the local arts organizations and to my friends who I thought might want to come play music and hang out on the lakeshore when we weren’t rehearsing.

I think, in hindsight, what happened was that I had become so wrapped up in auditions and working as a freelancer that I didn’t have much of my own direction. And I realized that if I wanted to play chamber music in the summer, then I couldn’t just sit around and wait for the phone to ring. No one else was going to start that festival, and I knew it was a great idea and there was an audience for it. And I was right. And it is a TON of work, but it was also fantastic, and rewarding, and it was MINE. I could program what I wanted, hire who I wanted, it was GREAT. Unfortunately, moving to Europe really made running the festival unrealistic, but I’ve been invited to play in a chamber ensemble here in Denmark that I’m very excited about that is starting up this summer. And I already feel like I’m able to take a lot of the things I learned from my own festival and apply them here.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Sure, as long as you’re giving me a soapbox to stand on, I’ll take it.

Winning a job in an orchestra is not easy. Preparing for auditions is a skill set all on its own. And you have to be intense about the process, and relentless for it to pay off.

Whether it’s because of the process or because of schooling, many musicians believe that winning an orchestra job is the be-all and end-all. They believe it is going to be the key to their happiness, that the world will just be a better place once they win that job. To be perfectly clear: I love my job. I have great colleagues. I love playing orchestral repertoire. Going to work is not a chore for me. But being in an orchestra also means that you have to give up a lot of control. You don’t get to choose the repertoire. You don’t get to choose the hours. It’s a grind and it’s a JOB sometimes. You are a cog in the wheel of an organization that has the potential to be MAGICAL. Playing Mahler or Mozart or Beethoven– it’s a gift. But that’s not always what an orchestra job is, week in and week out. I know a lot of musicians who are severely disappointed that winning a job didn’t suddenly solve all of their problems.

What I’ve noticed about both freelance musicians and those with full time orchestra jobs is that the ones that are the happiest are the ones who have many projects. For example, teaching, chamber music, playing in a band, non-musical hobbies, sports, WHATEVER. Find out what’s important to you musically, and find other people who also want to do that. Sometimes it isn’t something that you do for financial gain. (And that can be the great thing about an orchestra job– it’ll give you the security to pursue other projects outside of the orchestra.) My point, though, is that sometimes if things aren’t great at work, or you have a bad day teaching, or one project just isn’t coming together, you can still look to the other stuff for inspiration. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that an orchestra job will solve your problems. It won’t. But it’s a fantastic way to make a living.

Thanks so much for the opportunity, James! Hope I wasn’t too long-winded!

Have Horn, Will Travel: An Interview with Lauren Robinson, Part 1

laurenrobinsonI recently reconnected over Facebook with Lauren Robinson, a friend and colleague from graduate school. I feel very lucky to have gone to school with some incredibly talented and hardworking musicians, who inspired me then and continue to inspire me today. Lauren currently lives in Denmark, where she plays Fourth Horn with the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra. Prior to moving overseas, she was an active freelancer in Philadelphia, performing as a regular musician in the Opera Company of Philadelphia, The Reading Symphony Orchestra, Symphony in C and the Ocean City Pops. She was also active as a teaching artist, working primarily for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s School Partnership Program. Lauren very graciously accepted my invitation to write down some of her thoughts about living and performing outside the U.S., freelance playing, and the life of a professional horn player. She shared some wonderful advice for students, teachers, and professionals alike. Thanks Lauren!

You recently won an audition for the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra in Denmark. Could you talk briefly about your background, and how you arrived in your current position?

Sure! I grew up in central PA, came through a good music program in high school, and ultimately decided to major in music at the University of Delaware, where I studied with Cindy Carr. After that, I got my Master’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I studied with Douglas Hill. After that, I decided to head back east and got a Professional Studies Certificate at Temple University, where I studied with Adam Unsworth (who now teaches at University of Michigan.) After all that, I won a one year position in the Calgary Philharmonic where I met my husband Jeff, who plays the bass. And after a few years of long distance relationship, we got married. Jeff took a sabbatical from his job in Calgary for the 2011-12 orchestra season and we both won positions here in the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra in May 2012.

What was the audition process for this orchestra? How did it compare to the audition system in the United States?

Auditions here are essentially the same as in the United States. There’s a screen, you receive the list ahead of time (although often you don’t receive the excerpt list until 2 weeks beforehand, which is quite different from American orchestras.) There’s a much greater emphasis placed on solo playing here, and there is almost always an accompanist provided at auditions. My first round was the Hermann Neuling Bagatelle for horn and piano. This is a very common piece on low horn auditions in Europe, but we almost never play it in the States. There were no excerpts at all on my first round. The second round was the entire first movement of Mozart 3 (including the cadenza) and one or two excerpts. Then the last round was entirely excerpts.

Actually, if I remember correctly, for the last round they just said “Play everything on the list that you haven’t already played for us, in any order you want.” I remember thinking at the time that I could really get into my own head and start arranging excerpts in the most convenient way, strategizing about which should be first, last, etc. (There were at least 10 excerpts left to play at that point.) But then I had this realization that the best thing to do was just go in order, start to finish. Realistically, if I didn’t know how to play the excerpts, I wasn’t going to trick anyone by playing them in a different order.

Generally, I think the committees are larger here. There were at least ten people on my committee for 4th horn. And principal positions are usually no less than 15 people. One major difference is that our music director has no say in the hiring of musicians here, so he is not even allowed to sit on committees. Of course these things can vary from orchestra to orchestra. I can only speak from my own experiences.

Are there any other differences you’ve noticed performing in an orchestra outside the United States?

Honestly, not really. Orchestras are all basically the same wherever you go. There are small stylistic things that I sometimes think are slightly more “European” but they’re hard to exactly put a finger on. I might have a better answer to this after some more time passes.

Since this is a horn blog, I’ll nerd out for a second here about equipment. There are 8 full time orchestras in Denmark, including the opera orchestra. To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a single section with a preference toward equipment. In my section, we are a Cornford, Paxman, Lewis, and Hill. We all just play what works best for us, which I think is a valuable piece of advice for horn students: get the equipment that makes you the most comfortable, that works the best, and makes you sound the way you want.

 What about major differences between life in Denmark vs. life in the United States?

Well, I’m learning to speak Danish!! That’s sort of fun. We are a very international orchestra, with about half of the orchestra coming from outside of Denmark. And Denmark is a pretty small country, so we rehearse in Danish when we have a Danish conductor. But frankly, that’s probably fewer than 10 weeks a year. So at work, English is mostly the language of rehearsals. Orchestra meetings and correspondence are all in Danish, though. So it’s important to learn it just to keep up with what’s going on and feel like you are a full member of the ensemble.

I just read your interview with Daren Robbins (Part 1 and Part 2) and one thing he said about Thailand really resonated with me as an expat. While Denmark is certainly much more like America than Thailand is, living abroad comes with a lot of challenges. Work permits and immigration, being far from home in a new country… sometimes the smallest thing can turn into a big deal because of small misunderstandings. But if you’re the type of person who likes a challenge and is adventurous, there are a lot of great opportunities in orchestras outside of America.

You also have extensive experience as a freelancer in the Philadelphia area. Do you have any advice for players looking to get into freelance work?

I feel like a lot of people come out of music school expecting that they are going to win a big job in a big orchestra. And the harsh reality is that only a tiny fraction of those people will even come CLOSE to winning a full time orchestra job. So the rest of you are going to have to find a way to make a living making music. A lot of people treat freelancing like a crappy consolation prize, but I really enjoyed freelancing in many ways and miss certain aspects of it.

When you’re a freelancer, you certainly have less stability– you don’t get your schedule ahead of time and sometimes the money can get a little dicey. But you also don’t have to sit next to the same people all the time. You have more control over your schedule. There’s a much wider variety of things you find yourself doing and projects that you find yourself involved with as a freelancer. It can be a lot of driving depending on where you are, and it can be a really tough schedule with few breaks or days off. But keeping a good attitude about it can make all the difference. A few practical pieces of advice:

When you first start out, take EVERYTHING that comes your way. Even if it seems inconsequential, like a church gig that pays $20. You don’t know who you are going to meet at those gigs, and you have to start making connections somewhere. Eventually, as you (hopefully) climb the freelancing ladder, you won’t feel like you have to take everything and you can be more discerning. Every gig is an opportunity to make a good impression, both with your playing and your professionalism.

And speaking of professionalism… My basic rule for those just starting out (and those who’ve been in it for awhile, too!) is “Don’t be annoying.” Here are a few things that are annoying and should be avoided:

  1. Showing up late. Nothing says “this job isn’t important to me” like not showing up on time. Yes, things happen that you absolutely couldn’t anticipate. I’m not talking about those events. If you’re leaving Philly at 4:30 on a Friday, it’s a pretty safe bet that there’s traffic. Leave MORE than enough time to get where you are going.
  2. Playing with your phone during rests and tacets. I don’t care if regular members of the group are on their phone. If you are a sub, keep it offstage. Your Facebook can wait until break.
  3. Practicing your concertos and excerpts for your next audition while everyone else is warming up. Yes, you sound very nice on Pavane and Ein Heldenleben, but we’re playing a pops concert and you’re being annoying. Practice at home. Use the stage time before rehearsal to double check the parts you are actually playing and make sure you sound good on the things you’ll actually be judged on.
  4. Not knowing your part. Come on, people, in the age of iTunes and Spotify, you’re telling me you really haven’t heard it? There is no excuse for this. Period.
  5. Acting like you’re too good for the gig. Be nice, be friendly, be a good sport. I don’t need you to be a cheerleader, but don’t roll your eyes or complain.

Remember, once you’ve blown the chance to show someone that you are prepared and professional, you don’t get that opportunity back.

Know that you can be replaced. No one is obligated to call you, and there is always someone behind you who would be HAPPY for the work.

Check back soon for Part 2!

Weekend Report

Here’s a brief report from my busy weekend. The Shreveport Symphony rehearsals and concert went very well, including the 3rd horn solos in the Academic Festival Overture by Brahms. The other pieces on the program – Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 – weren’t as involved for the 3rd horn but still very enjoyable to play. Bravo to Tom Hundemer and Kristine Coreil (1st and 2nd horn on this concert) for their marvelous trills in the final movement of the Dvořák. The conductor asked them to play bells-up during the final statement of the trill passage, which probably wasn’t any louder but was an impressive visual effect for the audience. Soloist Vadim Gluzman gave an exquisite performance of the Bruch, which also had some very nice horn writing in all three movements. I couldn’t help thinking of Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie during the second movement – see for yourself (skip to 2:30 and 6:08 for the best examples). There are also some good horn solos in his Scottish Fantasy, and as a horn player I really wish Bruch had written a horn concerto!  There are some more fun concerts coming up for me in the next few weeks, and I’ll be posting updates about the repertoire for those programs.

On Sunday, the SSO held an audition for 2nd and 4th horn, and I was fortunate enough to win the 4th horn spot. I’ve subbed with this very fine orchestra numerous times in the past, and I’m really looking forward to performing with them as a regular member. Congratulations to Adam Black, who won the 2nd horn position. Adam is a graduate of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, LA, where he studied with Dr. Kristine Coreil (regular 3rd horn in the SSO). Adam is currently a student of Randy Gardner at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Well done Adam!

For those who might be curious, you can check out the excerpt list here: SSO Horn Audition List

In preparing for this audition I spent a large part of my time working out of Randy Gardner’s book Mastering the Horn’s Low Register He covers most of the major excerpts that appear on low horn auditions, and provides suggestions and helpful exercises for perfecting each one. For the first several weeks of preparation I spent more time on the exercises than on the actual excerpts, which I think paid off in the long run. Constant practice with a metronome and a drone helped solidify rhythm and intonation. As the audition date got closer I practiced playing through the entire list, using flashcards to put things in a random order. Recording myself on several excerpts also helped provide some feedback. Another resource I used quite a bit in the last couple of weeks before the audition was Eli Epstein’s new book Horn Playing from the Inside Out.  His thoughts on auditions, dealing with performance anxiety, and numerous other topics were both practical and inspirational. A more extensive review of this book is forthcoming, I promise!

Friday Potpourri

An assortment of news, websites, gear, and other items of interest from around the horn world.

Just Sayin’: A new (and free)  smartphone app which allows you to “post any combination of voice, text, photos and video to your Facebook and Twitter accounts.”  Definitely some possibilities here for musicians.

Horn Playing from the Inside Out: A new book by Eli Epstein, a former member of the Cleveland Orchestra. One of the most comprehensive books of its kind, Mr. Epstein shares his thoughts on horn playing, musicianship, and overall well-being. Available in print and e-book format. I’m planning to write a more extensive review of this publication soon.

Chopsaver: Recommended lip balm for horn players. Not a new product, but as this is marching band season and many students have been spending long hours outside punishing their lips, it’s worth mentioning. A bit pricey, but overall a very fine product.

Daniel Grabois’ Blog: Now in his second year as the horn teacher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (taking over after Douglas Hill’s retirement), Dan Grabois always has something interesting on his blog. An active performer, writer, and composer, he seems to be doing quite well in his new position.

Upcoming Performances: I’m booked up with orchestral playing for the next few weekends. Here’s the rundown.

  • September 22, Shreveport Symphony (3rd horn): Brahms, Academic Festival Overture, Bruch, Violin Concerto No. 1, Dvořák, Symphony No. 8
  • September 29, Rapides Symphony (3rd horn): Outdoor pops concert, movie music, Broadway, etc.
  • October 7, South Arkansas Symphony (2nd horn): Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 3, Mussorgsky/Ravel, Pictures at an Exibition

Brahms, Academic Festival Overture, 3rd Horn

This week I’m subbing on third horn with the Shreveport Symphony, for a program that includes Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture, Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 (Vadim Gluzman, soloist), and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8. There’s some great horn writing on the entire program, but I’ve been spending most of my practice time for this concert with the Brahms as there are a couple of brief solos and several other important passages for the third horn. Here’s a look at some of them (all four horn parts are available on IMSLP). *All excerpts are for Horn in E.

In the first big tutti section the third horn carries the melody, along with the strings and woodwinds.

Next is a chorale section with the woodwinds.

The next section contains a favorite passage for audition lists (and not just for third horn auditions).

Listening to several recordings on, you’ll hear varying interpretations of the solo at m. 147, often with a ritard going into m. 149.  The third horn finishes an imitative section begun by the clarinet a few measures earlier. The passage at m. 181 can be quite fast, and I’ve actually had success using T12 for the written high G. It just seems to give me a little more facility going down to the written F and E afterwards. This passage is actually doubled by the violas.

Next is a section marked “gestopft,” although as John Ericson points out in this article at Horn Matters, Brahms was probably not asking for a brassy stopped horn in the modern sense, but something more akin to the handstopping used on the natural horn.

And last is another brief solo, doubled in the oboe. The difficulty with these kinds of solos is to pick up the line where the previous voice(s) left off, carry the tune for a couple of measures, and then pass it along seamlessly to the next voice.

It’s a great piece, and I’m looking forward to playing it – along with the Bruch and Dvořák – this week.

Excerpt Duet Revisited, or Making a Multitrack Recording with Audacity

I have been revisiting some of the excerpt duets I put together a while back (Beethoven 9, Brahms 3, Mendelssohn Nocturne), and decided to try my hand at making a multi-track recording. In other words, I recorded both duet parts separately, and put them together using Audacity, a free, open-source audio editing tool. The first excerpt I tried was the 4th horn solo from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Here’s the excerpt duet again, which is created from the original solo and woodwind parts.

And here’s a recording of the duet, made using an Edirol digital recorder and Audacity. This is a “raw” recording, with little to no editing, other than what was needed to align both parts. The recorder was placed on my music stand, approximately 2-3 feet away.

Looking at this little venture in hindsight, it was not that difficult to align both parts. I used a click-track (metronome with headphones), and copied and pasted both .wav files into the same Audacity project. From there, it was a trial and error process getting the files to begin at exactly the same time (I cut and trimmed, and re-cut and re-trimmed, several times). Once the parts were aligned, I tweaked the balance some using Audacity’s “change volume” plug-in. Without both parts playing simultaneously, it was difficult knowing how loud to play the duo part in order to balance correctly with the solo. There are a few places where the lower voice pokes out too much, but overall it isn’t too bad.  One area that was very difficult to gauge while recording – and impossible to fix in Audacity – was intonation. Again, without the other part playing along with you, it is impossible to temper the intonation exactly. If I try this again in the future with the other duets, I’ll probably play along with a recording of the solo part while recording the duo part. If nothing else, the intonation discrepancies in the recording can serve as an example of how this duet might be used in a lesson situation. Making sure the open intervals (4ths, 5ths, 8vas) are exactly in tune is very important in the first part of this solo.

Thinking in even more practical terms, the multi-track idea would be a great way to practice any duet (or trio or quartet) excerpts in the repertoire, such as Beethoven’s 3rd, 7th, and 8th Symphonies, or the opening of Weber’s Overture to Der Freischütz.  For some expert examples of multi-track recording, have a listen to Richard Chenoweth’s recent CD The Horn in Opera.

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