Advice for Students: Getting Back in Shape and Surviving Band Camp

The following meme recently circulated on social media, shared on Facebook by Houghton Horns, and also found on Twitter under the bandmemes hashtag.

Funny, yes, but also painfully true for many students at the beginning of the fall semester. The schedule for high school and college marching band camps can be pretty grueling, especially if one is nursing tired or out-of-shape chops. Here’s a few tips to help you survive. *While some of these tips are geared towards the high and middle brass (trumpet, mellophone, horn), others are applicable to all instruments.

Be Realistic: If you aren’t in shape by this point, you really need to take things easy for several days in order to build back up safely. No amount of wanting to play better or be stronger will make it happen instantly. You only get one set of chops, and taking care of them is very important.

Warm-Up/Warm-Down: Make sure you are getting in a good warm-up and warm-down each day before and after rehearsals/sectionals. Depending on how strenuous the show is, you might want to keep the warm-up to 10 minutes or so, focusing on the middle register and mezzo forte dynamics. Extend the warm down at the end of the day to help prevent stiffness the next day. Alternating a warm/cool compress on your embouchure and lightly massaging your face can be beneficial as well.

Never, ever, play through pain. It’s simply not worth it.

Learn How to “Mark”: This term refers not to writing in your music, but rather to a technique singers use to save their voices during strenuous performance/rehearsal schedules. How you do it will vary depending on the music, but it can be tastefully done so that no one is the wiser.  Some examples for brass players include: performing a bit (or a lot) less than the printed dynamics, taking passages or individual notes down an octave, or simply taking a quick break every now and then to get the horn off your face. This should be done as unobtrusively as possible, and perhaps in coordination with the rest of the section.

2:1 Rule: In personal practice I’ve found that for every day off, I require two (or three) days to return to my initial playing level. If I take an entire day off and don’t touch the horn at all (this is rare), I need at least two or three days of regular practice to get it back. This recovery time can be mitigated by doing a daily warm-up/maintenance routine, even while on vacation. While it might be a pain to drag your horn with you on vacation, it could actually make life easier upon your return. This is, of course, a personal choice, and rest and relaxation are also important to your development as a brass player and overall well being.

Self-Care: Drink lots of water, use sunscreen, get the right amount of sleep, and eat mindfully whenever possible.

And above all, surround yourself with positive people and keep a positive attitude!

 

 

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Low Range in the Daily Routine: To Blast or Not to Blast?

In the past I generally avoided low register “blasting” in my warm-up and daily maintenance routine, but recently I’ve had some positive results using Denise Tryon’s routine. If you aren’t familiar with this one it is worth checking out. It’s a bit shorter than some other published materials, and covers all the basics in around thirty minutes.

Getting back to low note blasting, my previous experience was that too much of it early in the day made the high range feel unfocused. I still played over the full range of the horn in my daily routine, but left the extreme fortissimo exercises for later practice sessions. However, during a recent evaluation of my regular practice materials, I decided to incorporate some low, loud patterns back into my daily regimen. After two months of doing the exercise found in the Tryon Routine every day, here are a few of the benefits I’ve noticed:

  • It really gets the air moving. Breathing exercises are great, but playing as loud as possible (with a good sound) in the low range requires moving huge amounts of air. When done efficiently, it can help open up the rest of the range as well.
  • It helps loosen up stiff chops. I realize now that this should have been obvious, but old habits die hard, and I really had to give these exercises a chance to experience this particular benefit.
  • Flexibility and consistency in and out of the low range gets a lot easier. Passages that go across the break range (ex. opening of Ein Heldenleben) have become more fluid and dependable.

Needless to say, I’ve changed my thinking about low note blasting! However, I would offer a few caveats:

  • Avoid doing it first thing. I would recommend at least a few minutes of gentle, mid-range warming up before jumping into any kind of range or dynamic extremes.
  • Avoid distorting the embouchure. Looking back on it, I believe the problems I experienced with previous forays into this territory stemmed from over manipulating and/or distorting the lips.
  • If things aren’t working, change something. If, after trying a new variation/addition to your routine, you aren’t experiencing positive results, don’t be afraid to change. Make notes about what you notice, and keep looking for ways to be more efficient.

All right, time to go out there and get blasting!

 

Changing Up the Practice Routine

For the last several years my practice routine has been more or less set:

  • 50-60 minutes of warm-up/maintenance routine, occasionally changing up my regular materials or switching out various exercises.
  • 20-25 minute (or longer) break
  • 50-60 minutes of practice immediately following, or later in the day depending on my schedule
  • Long Break (2-3 hours)
  • Optional shorter session (20-30 minutes) as necessary

This worked pretty well for years, though from time to time I would have some issues with rebuilding endurance after heavy programs or breaks. For a variety of reasons (age among them) I decided this semester to change things up and see what differences, if any, resulted. In short, I suspected that my initial routine was too long and strenuous first thing in the day, and despite having a good break before continuing with further practice, the long first session was tiring me out instead of building things up. This is hardly a new idea, and lots of great teachers and performers have noted this before. But as any dedicated musician knows, it’s tough to change up your normal routine, even if it is less than ideal for you. For many (me included), the routine is a security blanket, a place to find refuge during tough playing times. In the midst of preparing some difficult repertoire for performances this spring, something needed to change. Here’s my newly-modified practice schedule:

  • 25-30 minute warm-up/maintenance routine
  • 10 minute break
  • 25 minute session
  • 5 minute break
  • 25 minute session
  • 5 minute break
  • 25 minute session
  • Longer Break
  • 15 minute session

It’s the same amount of time as my old practice schedule, but with more frequent breaks earlier on. In addition, I’ve made some changes to my regular warm-up/maintenance exercises. They still cover all of the essentials, but are more progressive and don’t start out so strenuously. I’ve been very pleased with the results, and feel that this the right path for me going forward. My endurance and efficiency are improved, and just as important, my recovery time after heavy performances has decreased.

I have a follow-up post coming on this, but to close I would recommend as a summer project for any horn students to switch up both your routine and practice schedule. Plan things out, take notes on how things feel at certain points in the day, and experiment with the order and pacing of your practice day. Have fun!

Horn Pedagogy Videos and More from Eli Epstein

Renowned horn pedagogue and performer Eli Epstein has a posted a  new video on Breathing and Breath Support to his YouTube Channel. Mr. Epstein gives a concise, yet detailed and anatomically correct, explanation of breathing, and also demonstrates how to put these concepts into practice. Before further discussion, you should watch the video!

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, Mr. Epstein’s approach to the horn is relaxed, methodical, and overwhelmingly positive, which makes for a very effective teacher. One especially unique element is the use of a chair to engage the same muscles used in breath support. Mr. Epstein expertly demonstrates by playing Mendelssohn’s Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, accompanied by a silhouette and animated meter showing varying levels of breath support There is a lot of information packed into this six and half-minute video, so it should be viewed multiple times if possible.

If you like this video and find it useful, be sure to check out his other videos on Relaxation Before Performance and Radical Practicing. The relaxation video comes at a very fortuitous time, as many of us in the education field are approaching the end of our academic year. If you find yourself getting tense and more stressed than usual, take five minutes to listen to this video. You’ll feel more relaxed afterwards.

In Radical Practicing, Mr. Epstein discusses and demonstrates the importance of varied repetition as the pathway to learning new material. When we repeat material over and over in exactly the same way, we become bored, even if we continue making the same mistake. Varying our repetitions to target specific elements of a passage is a much more effective way to learn and retain. On a personal note, this concept played a huge role in the development of my etude book Solo Training for Horn.

If juries, final exams, and other end-of-term tasks are starting to stress you out, take a break and view the above videos. It will be time well spent!

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!

Review – MRI Horn Videos: Pedagogy Informed by Science

In Report No. 3 of my series on IHS 48 I very briefly mentioned a fantastic presentation by Eli Epstein and Dr. Peter Iltis titled “MRI Horn, The Inside Story: Pedagogy Informed by Science.” In short, they have been doing some groundbreaking research involving the bio-mechanics of horn playing, and have created a YouTube Channel devoted to sharing their findings. If you have not yet been able to attend one of their presentations, the videos will do an excellent job of catching you up on the present state of their research. Using some remarkable technology – Real Time Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or RT-MRI – Iltis, Epstein, and a team of scientists in Germany have been able to capture detailed footage of what happens in our bodies when we play the horn. There is much more research to be done, but their preliminary findings are very exciting, and have the potential to greatly improve our understanding of how to play (and teach) the horn. There are quite a few other MRI videos of horn players circulating on the internet, and they are all fascinating. However, the “MRI Horn” channel does the best job I think of providing the scientific and musical background for the study, and gives us a framework for understanding what we are actually seeing in the videos. Without further ado, here are the first two episodes:

Each episode is several minutes in length, but if you really want to understand what is happening in the MRI videos floating around out there you should take the time to watch them. One of the main goals of their study is to measure and analyze what elite horn players actually do when they play the instrument, and use those findings as a way to positively impact horn and brass pedagogy. As Epstein points out in the introduction to the videos, much of horn pedagogy is based on what horn players feel and think is occurring inside their bodies. RT-MRI technology shows what is really taking place, versus what we think is happening.

“But what about ‘Paralysis by Analysis’?” you might be saying at this point. “Won’t all this information just confuse students, when they should really be focusing on time-tested methods of teaching and playing the horn?” While I understand this concern, I think these videos and the MRI studies can actually help combat Paralysis by Analysis by helping us focus on useful information and eliminating extraneous physical concerns in our teaching and performing. But don’t take my word for it! Watch the videos yourself and come to your own conclusions!

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.

Book Review: Notes of Hope

photoOne summertime activity I really enjoy is catching up on my reading list, which consists of a variety of books; some purely for pleasure – the Riverworld Series by Philip José Farmer and The Bourne Legacy by Eric Van Lusbader – and others for professional purposes. Notes of Hope, the topic for today’s brief review, is something I think belongs to both categories. This new publication from Mountain Peak Music consists of twelve personal accounts from musicians who have dealt with some kind of performance-related injury. Here’s an excellent video introduction to the book by its compiler, David Vining.

The book’s professional relevance is obvious, but beyond that I found each author’s story inspirational and uplifting. Their courage and perseverance in the face of potentially career-ending hardship transcends any one discipline, and each chapter is written in a straightforward manner without an excess of jargon. This is all to say that yes, musicians will be interested in this book, but I think many other readers will be as well: athletes, dancers, painters, teachers etc. The authors come from a variety of backgrounds and career paths, with vocalists, wind players, and string players being represented. Here is a list of the authors and their instruments, in the order they appear.

  • Amy Likar, flute
  • Shelley Rich, violin
  • Sarah Schmalenberger, horn
  • Adam Cole, piano
  • Bonnie Draina, voice
  • David Vining, trombone
  • Andrée Martin, flute
  • Marie Speziale, trumpet
  • Allison Dromgold Adams, saxophone
  • Constance E. Barrett, cello
  • Jennifer Johnson, violin
  • Kristin Delia Hayes, flute

There is a wealth of information in these pages, far too much to quote at length, but here is a short list of  common themes I took from their stories.

  1. Every injury is unique. Although there are generalizations that can be made about certain types of injuries (such as focal dystonia), the path to recovery for each author was incredibly personalized, often consisting of a variety of therapies. In the case of these authors, there was no magic bullet for recovery.
  2. You can’t go back to the way you used to play. Though it is tempting after an injury to try to get back to the way one used to do things, recovering from an injury often requires the retraining of neural pathways. In many of these stories, the authors had to re-conceptualize the way they produced sound in order to move forward.
  3. Seek out specialists. Performing arts medicine is a relatively new field, but there are specialists out there who can help. Groups such as the Performing Arts Medicine Association and journals such as Medical Problems of Performing Artists can help make us aware of the latest research.
  4. Perception is everything. Many of the injuries documented by the authors were at least in part the result of false perceptions – either mental or physical – about the way they produced a sound with their instrument or voice. Our kinaesthetic sense is incredibly powerful, but prone to misconceptions.
  5. Awareness matters. Disciplines such as Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, Body Mapping, and Yoga are playing an increasingly larger role in the arts, especially in the field of performing arts medicine. Though different in their specifics, each one helps bring about a greater awareness of the body/mind connection. If you aren’t familiar with any of these, you owe it to yourself and your students to find out more!

Notes of Hope is a great book, and one that I plan to come back to with my students this fall. It is also available in a version for iBooks, which at $4.99 is an incredible deal. In closing, here are a few links to related stories on this website. Looking ahead to this summer, I will post some summary comments about our visit and performance at the upcoming International Women’s Brass Conference, but will be taking a few weeks off following that.

For Further Reading

The Road to Recovery: An Interview with Bruce Atwell

bruceatwellIn the world of horn playing, Bruce Atwell has done it all. He’s performed in high level professional ensembles – the Philadelphia Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, and Milwaukee Symphony, to name a few – recorded multiple solo CDs, performed at numerous workshops and conferences, and taught at the college level. He is currently Professor of Horn at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and maintains a very active performing career. I got to know Bruce while in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and performed with him in the Oshkosh Symphony. His playing was always inspiring, and accompanied by a positive and encouraging attitude. Recently, I found out that Bruce had undergone lip surgery, and was in the process of getting back into shape. Since this was a topic that I felt would be of interest to other horn and brass players, I contacted him and asked if he would be willing to talk about this experience in a brief interview. Bruce generously agreed to share his thoughts, and responded with great candor.

James Boldin: In 2012 you had surgery on your lip. Could you share some background on why you had this procedure?

Bruce Atwell: Starting in 2010 I noticed a callus on the center inside of my upper lip-exactly at the vibrating surface. I tried not playing for several weeks but saw no change in the callus. I spent the next year talking to various doctors, dentists, oral surgeons, and dermatologists about the possible cause and treatment options. Most of the people I saw had no idea what had caused it and did not have recommendations for treatment. I saw a dentist in Chicago (John Kelly) who has experience with brass players. His analysis was that from years of playing, the skin on my upper lip had stretched and was now hanging down and rubbing against the bottom of my front teeth, causing the callus. He suggested using Invisalign to cushion against further damage. I tried this, but had no success in eliminating the callus. During the time my playing was becoming less and less reliable. The vibration would stop without warning and I was losing upper register. After two years of searching I finally decided that surgery was the only option.

JB: How helpful were your care providers (doctors, nurses, etc.) in explaining the procedure, and its possible effects on your horn playing? Did you consult with any other horn teachers/players before deciding to have surgery?

BA: I made a large mistake in this area. My insurance would not cover a surgeon out of network-meaning I only had access to a local oral surgeon who had no experience working with brass players. I was desperate at the time, so decided to trust him. He did warn me that he wasn’t sure what the end result would be in terms of playing. Initially, he said it would be a small incision. However, once he started the surgery, he decide that a longer incision was necessary. I now believe I should have seen Dr. Vander Kolk in Baltimore or at least a plastic surgeon locally to do the procedure.

JB: Do you know of any other horn or brass players who have had the same or a similar surgery?

BA:  I know of several who have had the orbicularis orbis repair done-but I haven’t encountered anyone with this same issue. With the former, the incision is on the skin between the lip and the nose-not directly in the lip.

JB: Was it a fairly simple procedure?  Inpatient or Outpatient? Local or general anesthetic?

BA: My incision was about three inches long right along the wet/dry line. It was outpatient under local anesthesia.

JB: How long did you wait after the surgery before you resumed playing?

BA: I waited about two months before playing anything. It was at least six months before I could really accept professional work.

JB: Did you, or do you, experience any residual pain or numbness after the surgery?

BA: I don’t have any pain or numbness. I do have scar tissue along the incision line that I think is now permanent. This restricts flexibility somewhat and has affected endurance and range. I used to be a high horn specialist (although I played fourth horn professionally for several years) with a range up to about concert C above the staff. Now I only have about a concert G and that is not particularly reliable.

JB: What kinds of materials/exercises did you practice when you resumed playing? Would you recommend these materials/exercises to other players recovering from injuries or medical procedures?

BA: I tried everything I could think of. I started with long tones and soft slurs through the harmonic series. I also contacted Lucinda Lewis and received some advice from her concerning blocked buzzing. I found that useful, but you have to be very careful with that, since in my case it caused me to play with too much tension. I’ve also had lessons with Bill Vermeulen, Gail Williams, Dan Grabois, and Wendell Rider and spoken to numerous other brass players. The best routine I’ve found is Wendell’s harmonic series exercises, following Bill’s and Gail’s advice to use only the minimum amount of embouchure tension to achieve each harmonic. This has resulted in gains in range and endurance-although I’m still far from 100 per cent.

JB: Aside from playing the horn, have you done any other type of physical therapy to aid in your recovery?

BA: I also saw a chiropractor who did Active Release Therapy- a type of massage to break up scar tissue. This was effective for the left side of my lip, but unfortunately was not successful in breaking up the scar tissue in the center. I am also speaking to a plastic surgeon about the possibility of having a lip filler injected in very small amounts to replace some of the tissue that was cut out.

JB: How, if at all, has your physical and/or mental approach to playing the horn changed during your recovery process?

BA: I am forced to focus much more on breathing and relaxation now. I’ve also gone back to the three well-spaced hours of practice I used to do as a student. Mentally, I still have days of extreme frustration, but I try to keep it in perspective.

JB: Did you consult with any other physicians or occupational/physical therapists during your recovery? If so, were they helpful?

BA: I did speak to Dr. Vander Kolk in Baltimore recently. He said he would be happy to see me, but didn’t really know if he could offer any more solutions at this point.

JB: Do you have any advice for other brass players who might be considering lip surgery or going through post-surgery recovery?

BA: I would strongly advise against lip surgery. I think there were other options available to me that I did not consider fully-such as an extended layoff (a year or so)-or trying different methods of playing-minimal pressure, shifting pressure to the lower lip, etc.I was resistant to a long layoff because of the financial implications-but the end result is much worse that if I had simply given up work for a year or more.  The surgery has permanently altered the structure of my lip and I’m still not sure if I will ever completely recover. Even if I am able to regain more playing ability, it will never feel the same-I don’t believe horn playing will ever be effortless for me again.

JB: Any other comments you would like to share?

BA: Don’t make decisions like this when you are in the middle of the problem. Try to get rational advice from friends and colleagues and listen to them. Try an extended period of not playing first. Then come back very slowly and carefully under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

Editor’s Note: For those interested in following his story, Bruce regularly posts updates on his progress to the Horn People group on facebook.

Thoughts on Lip Balms: Comment on Horn Matters Article

Over at Horn Matters, John Ericson is wrapping up a great 14-week online course on horn pedagogy, and one of this week’s topics is lip care and lip balm. Dr. Ericson has invited comments on this issue, but rather than take up too much space on his site I thought it would be best to put down my thoughts here. I’ve used various kinds of lip balm regularly for most of my playing career, and have experimented with quite a few brands and formulas. Here’s a sampling:

Of these, the only ones I’ve really used for an extended period are the ChapStick Moisturizer and Chopsaver, which is my current lip balm. Over time, the other products either dried out my kips or otherwise made them more – rather than less – uncomfortable, as pointed out in the Horn Matters article. I use Chopsaver at night before going to bed, and other than that I use it sparingly. Two notable exceptions to this are during long flights and car trips, when lips can get more dried-out than usual. Combined with drinking lots of water, a bit of Chopsaver (or your lip balm of choice) while flying or driving for several hours can help prevent chapping. The climate in Louisiana is humid most of the time, so I rarely experience chapped lips. If you live in an arid climate and/or spend lots of time outside with or without your instrument you might consider something different. During winters in Wisconsin I always covered my face when going outside, and I suspect that this precaution actually did more to prevent chapped lips than using lip balm. Although I haven’t done this, I have heard that the contents of a Vitamin E gel capsule applied directly to the lips can help heal any splits or chapping. **Use caution when trying any new lip product, and if you suspect a reaction of any kind consult a physician or pharmacist. If you are planning to try a different lip balm it would also be a good idea to give yourself a window of at least a few weeks when you don’t have any performances. There are lots of good products out there, but in general I recommend going with something that has relatively few chemicals, and definitely staying away from camphor, phenol, and menthol (also noted in the Horn Matters article). Just to put things in perspective, in Henri Kling’s Horn-Schule of 1865 he notes that “for the cure of cracked or slightly inflamed lips, the use of a little coldcream is to be recommended; a mixture of vinegar and water is likewise very serviceable, as it contracts the lips and thus imparts firmness to them.” (p. 77) Has anyone tried this remedy?

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