First Solos for the Horn Player: Romance, by Alexander Scriabin

Here’s the fourth selection in the First Solos for the Horn Player video series, Alexander Scriabin’s Romance for Horn and Piano. Here are links to the other recordings up to this point.

Along with the second movement of Mozart’s Quintet for Horn and Strings, K. 407, this miniature for horn and piano is probably the most recognized work in the collection. The score and solo part are also available on IMSLP, and  there appears to be little difference between the Mason Jones and IMSLP editions.

A few interesting technical notes about this recording, and thoughts on this project thus far:

  • I experimented with the recording process on this one, using a Blue Yeti USB microphone in stereo pattern to record the audio into Logic Pro X. My hope was to sync this audio with the video from my Zoom Q2n-4k camera, and apply some equalization and reverb to improve the overall sound quality.
  • The latter effort was successful, and the overall sound quality belies the modest recording environment, a bedroom! The sound of the digital accompaniment is pretty good too, although it would have been nice to be more flexible with the tempo and dynamic subtleties. With a collaborative pianist, this would have been easy and natural.
  • Syncing the audio from Logic Pro with the video file should have been a routine task, and one which I have done several times in the past, though not with an identical set up. But as you can tell from the absence of video footage, I could not get it to work! Despite spending several minutes playing around in Final Cut Pro and consulting help pages, it still wasn’t working. I have very limited technical knowledge, but my guess would be that the sample rate between the Logic Pro recording and the camera recording was not the same.
  • Because the sound quality of the audio-only recording was superior to the camera audio, I decided to use it without any video footage, and insert a public domain image of Scriabin and his mistress, Tatiana Schloezer. For the next video I hope to work out the syncing issues.
  • A final note: I decided early on to NOT record every solo in this book. There’s a couple of reasons for this, not least of which is that recording the entire book would probably run afoul of “Fair Use.I haven’t settled on which solos to record for the remainder of the project, but I anticipate five or six more. Enough to to be representative, but certainly not a majority of the book (or even half). After that, I have some ideas for future projects, more to come.

 

Lagniappe Brass Videos

LAGNIAPPE BRASS LOGO(3)Last week the ULM Brass Faculty presented our annual holiday concert. This is always a fun concert, but this year there were a number of things that made the event special. First, our concert was part of a new chamber music series for the Monroe Symphony Orchestra, called “MSO Presents.” Second, we were joined by some special guests, turning our brass trio (Black Bayou Brass) into a full brass quintet, the Lagniappe Brass.  The term “lagniappe” is derived from a Louisiana French Creole word meaning “something given as a bonus or extra gift.” We thought it a fitting name for this ad hoc ensemble, and we hope to schedule more performances in the future. Our extra players included Steven Cunningham (trumpet) from Grambling State University, Cory Mixdorf (trombone) from the University of Arkansas, and a few ULM students who helped out on percussion parts for Sleigh Ride. For several pieces on the program we were also joined by ULM keyboard professor Richard Seiler on the organ. It was a really fun concert, with great attendance and an appreciative audience, for which we are extremely grateful! Special thanks to Steven and Cory; Craig West, Executive Director of the MSO; and Grace Episcopal Church in Monroe, LA. This concert would not have been possible without their efforts. And now, here are some brief excerpts from the concert. Hopefully they will put you in the holiday spirit!

*For those interested in the technical side of these things, see additional note at the bottom of this post.

We recorded this performance using several different methods: two Zoom Q2n recorders set up in front and behind the ensemble (primarily for video, but also recording audio), a pair of Cascade ribbon microphones set up in a Blumlein configuration directly in front of the quintet, and a Zoom H4 set up in the balcony at the rear of the sanctuary. All of these audio sources gave us a variety of ways to mix the sound, which I did using Logic Pro X after the fact. It would have been easier to run everything into the same audio interface, but we didn’t have the capability to do that for this particular performance. The video switching was created using Final Cut Pro, which has a very handy tool for syncing audio and video from various sources. Looking at the various videos back to back, you can tell that I was experimenting with (or rather fumbling around with) different lighting effects and color balances. This was my first experience with combining video and audio from so many different sources, but I think the end product is more visually engaging than a single camera. Look for more videos like this from us in the future!

Throwback Thursday: Senior Recital Recordings, October, 2001

While going through some old CDs recently, I came across my final undergraduate recital at Appalachian State University. I don’t recall the exact date, but it would have been sometime in October of 2001. I had not listened to these recordings in years, and doing so was a great trip down memory lane. Here is the program, with embedded audio. Feel free to take a listen!

Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of the program handy, but if memory serves here are the names of the other performers.

Kudos to all of them for very fine performances! Overall I still feel good about that recital from nearly 20 years ago. *An interesting piece of information about the Mozart is that one of the viola players injured their hand the day before the recital, and we had to get a sub at the last minute. I can still vividly remember getting the call from my teacher on the day of the recital, and singing my way through an impromptu rehearsal of the Mozart that afternoon with the new violist!

I have many fond memories of Boone and Appalachian State, and  got a terrific undergraduate education there, studying with Dr. Karen Robertson. During my senior year I also had the opportunity to perform with the Asheville Symphony as well as the usual collegiate ensembles. I’m so thankful for those opportunities, as they really helped me get on the right track at an early stage in my career. Looking back on where I was playing-wise at the time, I struggled with the high range and also had issues with intonation, endurance, and consistency of sound. I continued to work through these over the course of my graduate studies and well into my first few years at ULM. To close, I think the big thing to take away from this throwback Thursday post is to never stop practicing! Be proud of your successes  – as I was and still am proud of this recital from 2001 – but always  keep trying to become a better horn player. 

 

New Brass Trio CD Released!

I’m happy to report that Scenes from the Bayou, our new brass trio album, is now available on the Mark Custom Recordings label. Anyone who was released a recording knows how much work is involved, and while I truly have enjoyed every bit of the process, I’m nonetheless relieved (and excited) to see the final product in physical form. If you’re interested in reading more about the recording and editing process, you can see my previous posts here and here. At this time the recording is available for purchase directly from me and also on the Mark Recordings store page, linked above. It will be available very soon on iTunes and Amazon. I will post updates as soon as the links are up.

Here’s a small quote from the liner notes which explains the scope and contents of this album. You can also read the Sales Sheet, a handy one-page document with more information about the recording.

The repertoire for brass trio is not extensive, especially when compared to more venerable chamber ensembles such as brass quintet or string quartet. With only three voices, the number of possible harmonies and timbres is limited, and there are few works written by major composers. Furthermore, there are only a handful of established professional ensembles. Yet, the number of student, amateur, and professional ensembles is growing, and there are jewels in the repertoire which help give the medium credibility. Since its inception, Black Bayou Brass has sought to promote brass trio music through performances, commissions, arrangements, and recordings. This album showcases several World Premiere recordings in various styles and time periods, from the 18th to 21st centuries. We feel it represents the best of what brass trio compositions have to offer, and we sincerely hope you enjoy listening to it!

And here’s a complete track listing, as found in the CD tray, along with a video containing score samples and brief clips of each work.

Allegro 
Menuetto                                                              
Adagio 
Menuetto
Rondo: Allegro assai
Preludio            
Allemanda 
Corrente 
Gavotta 
Hopak from Sorochinsky Fair by Modest Mussorgsky/arr. Aaron Witek 
The Wheel             
The Metronome 
The Periscope 
Morse Code
The Airplane     
Morning on the Bayou   
Chasing Prey                
Bayou Boardwalk              
Cypress Trees            
Fire in the Sky 
All are world premiere recordings, and with the exception of Flash by Jérôme Naulais, all the works on this album were either commissioned by us or created by members of the ensemble. If you haven’t heard any brass trio music before, or if you aren’t very familiar with the repertoire, make sure you check out Scenes from the Bayou!

Recording Reviews: Richard Deane; Steven Cohen

I seldom post recording reviews on this site, but every once in a while I either receive a complimentary album in the mail, or hear about a project that piques my interest. To close out a series of reviews from this summer, here are two horn recordings that are well worth your time.

Mid-Century Sonatas for Horn and PianoRichard Deane, horn; Timothy Whitehead, piano

  • Halsey Stevens, Sonata for Horn and Piano (1953)
  • Paul Hindemith, Sonata für Althorn in Es und Klavier (1943/1956)
  • Bernard Heiden, Sonata for Horn and Piano (1939)
  • Paul Hindemith, Sonata für Horn und Klavier (1939)
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These sonatas for horn and piano by Halsey Stevens, Paul Hindemith, and Bernard Heiden are staples in the repertoire. Deane is Associate Principal Horn in the New York Philharmonic, and served as Acting Principal for the 2017-18 season. He was previously a member of the Atlanta Symphony for many years. Though the repertoire is conventional, the extremely high caliber of the performances makes this recording special. Deane plays with a huge but focused sound. To my ear the “New York sound” has changed over the years, partially due to changes in equipment, I’m sure, but also probably as a response to the ever increasing demands of the job. Whitehead’s piano playing is equally impressive – especially in the final movement of the Hindemith E-flat Sonata – and is a fitting musical counterpart to the horn in these works.  There is not much in the way of liner notes, but there is a very nice video on YouTube with background about the project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP-kJf8xiJM  One other interesting note about this album is that Whitehead not only performed on piano, but did all of the recording, producing, editing, and mixing – not a small feat! The recording is both vibrant and clear, and for those who might be interested the recording equipment is listed in the liner notes.

Cruise Control: Horn Music from Five Emerging American Composers – Steven Cohen, horn; Jed Moss, piano; Scott Shinbara, percussion; Amanda Sealock, percussion

  • James Naigus, Sonata for Horn and Piano
  • Jenni Brandon, Dawn for Horn in F and Piano
  • Adam Wolf, Cruise Control for Horn, Piano and Percussion
  • Wayne Lu, Pranayama
  • Gina Gillie, Sonata for Horn and Piano
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Cruise Control is a contrasting but equally interesting album by New York City freelancer Steven Cohen, and features world premiere recordings by several up and coming American composers. This project was sponsored by Siegfried’s Call, with a significant portion of the funding generated through an Indiegogo campaign. Be sure to check out the Indiegogo link for more information about the project and the commissioning process.

The music on this disc is fun and fresh, and showcases what I think the horn does best: play beautiful melodies and exhibit a variety of timbres. Cohen navigates the full range of the horn with ease and expression (using similar equipment to Richard Deane, a triple horn by Engelbert Schmid). Stylistically there is a bit of everything on this recording, from Neo-romanticism in the Sonatas by James Naigus and Gina Gillie to Minimalism and Rock in Cruise Control by Adam Wolf, and avant garde extended techniques in the works by Jenni Brandon and Wayne Lu. This recording is a musical and technical tour de force, and serves as a great resource for anyone interested in new music for the horn.

Brass Trio Recording Update

When I last posted about our brass trio album, we had just wrapped up a three-day recording session in January (you can read that post here). The project is moving forward, and I’m anticipating a release sometime in the fall of 2018. The tentative title is Scenes from the Bayou, which is the same title as one of the works we commissioned for this recording, composed by Gina Gillie. Here is a complete list of what will be on the disc.

Although the actual recording was a major part of the process, there are still many steps to complete before the album is ready to go.

Step 1: Sift through all of the material from our recording session and select those takes to be used in the first edit. After three days of recording, we had roughly 4.5 gigs of wav files, over 650 tracks! For those who might be interested, these were rough 16-bit mixes, not what things will sound like after final editing and mastering. Sometimes the recording producer and/or engineer will assemble a first edit for the client, depending on their contract, but in this case I was the one going through and providing the take list. Luckily, our producer Gina Gillie took great session notes. These notes helped me group our takes into three broad categories: usable, possibly usable for a spot or two in a given set of measures, and not usable. Lots of these decisions were arbitrary, but I feel good about the choices made for the first edit. From there, the take list was sent off to our engineer, Dave St. Onge.

Step 2: Dave worked incredibly fast (but very accurately) and put together a complete first edit within a matter of days. The first edit sounds very good, and I think the album is going to be an enjoyable listen – high quality, lots of variety, and musically interesting. But, there is still some work to be done. One of my summer projects (already in progress) will be going through the first edit with an even more critical ear to find any issues that need to be addressed for the second (or possibly third) edit. Things like small intonation concerns, precision of attacks (a few cases), and any other rough spots missed during the first edit will be the priorities. Unlike the first edit, I won’t be listening for long stretches of usable material, but instead trying to find small bits and pieces which can be dropped in to address a specific issue. For example, a 16-bar take might be great except for a single chipped note or other small imperfection. I tried to account for these when choosing takes for the first edit, of course, but I’ve already found a few things that slipped through the cracks the first time.

Step 3: Mastering will include tweaking the balance of all three voices to arrive at the final sound of our recording. Again, a very subjective process!

From here there are lots of production-related items to discuss with Mark Custom Recording Service, who will be manufacturing and distributing the album. These include:

  • Mechanical licenses (mostly handled at this point)
  • Package design, cover and interior art (in progress)
  • Liner notes (another summer task)

It’s exciting to see another recording project take shape. Stay tuned for more updates!

Brass Trio Recording Session Notes

©2018 David St. Onge

Black Bayou Brass recently wrapped up a 3-day recording session of new music for brass trio. Recording took place on January 5, 6, and 7 in the Emy-Lou Biedenharn Recital Hall at the University of Louisiana Monroe. The session went very well, and we are excited to move forward with the project. Here are some details on the upcoming album.

Repertoire: The album (title TBD) will feature all world-premiere recordings. In addition, we either commissioned or arranged all but one of the works. Here’s the list, with publisher information where applicable.

When finished, the recording should be about 60 minutes, with a good mix of contemporary and historical styles.

Engineer and Producer: Our engineer for this project was Dave St. Onge, a veteran of numerous recordings with Mark Custom Recording Service. Dave did a fantastic job, and I would recommend him without reservation to anyone looking for an engineer. More details on the recording process below. Gina Gillie, who composed Scenes from the Bayou for us, lent her critical ear to the recording as producer. A great engineer and producer are essential to the recording process, and we were fortunate to work with both Gina and Dave.

Recording Process: Prior to this project, I’d recorded twice before in our hall; first for a solo album with piano and harp, and next for soprano, piano, and horn. And although I’ve been performing in a brass trio for over ten years, this was really our first opportunity to experiment with high-quality microphones and various mic placements. As you’ll notice from the photo above, there was quite a bit of equipment on stage with us! *One note about professional microphones – they really do make a huge difference. While the handheld audio and video recorders out there (Zoom, Sony, Tascam, etc.) do a fine job for rehearsal and practice purposes, they really can’t compare to what you’ll hear with great mics. We were fortunate to be able to have a separate sound check in the hall the night before recording began. This saved us time and chops on the first day of recording. Timing for a soundcheck can vary depending on a number of factors, but in our case we spent about an hour or so just trying to find the right sound/balance/blend. Based upon our impressions, as well as input from the engineer and producer, we decided to use microphones in the hall and close mics on individual players. This combination seemed to provide a good balance between clarity and resonance/reverb for all three players. While I’ve only heard the rough mixes at this point, I think the final product is going to sound great!

Equipment: For my part I performed on a Yamaha 671 double horn, with a stainless steel mouthpiece by Balu Musik. The stainless mouthpiece was a fairly recent change for me, but for this recording I felt like it gave me the right kind of clarity and projection to compete with trumpet and trombone. I’m not 100% sold on it as my regular mouthpiece, but for this project it was the right decision.

Rest/Recovery/Next Steps: We recorded in two three-hour sessions each day for three days, with a two and half-hour break between the morning and afternoon. If this sounds like a lot of playing, it was! There was a lot of stopping and starting (common on most classical recordings), and we took a short break at least every hour, so the playing wasn’t constant. I managed to make it through the entire three-day session in good shape, but took the next day off completely.  On the day after that I practiced for about an hour. My embouchure was a bit stiff (no surprise there), but after 20 minutes or so of light playing things started to loosen up and feel more or less normal again. As always, recording was a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. The next step in the process is to go back through our choice takes and decide exactly which ones we want to use for the album. From there we’ll send it off to be edited together into a complete recording.There are of course many more steps between now and the final commercial release, but it does feel good to have a major portion of the recording finished.

Stay tuned for more details on this project!

 

Carrapatoso Recording Update and Another Recording Project

Last June my colleagues Claire Vangelisti, Richard Seiler, and I recorded an album of music by Eurico Carrapatoso, which you can read about here. We were very excited to receive the first edit of the recording a few weeks ago, and are currently preparing some final editing requests to send to the engineer. From here the next steps are related to production and commercial release, including: liner notes, cover/booklet art and photography, and various other details.

Richard Price, the producer and engineer for this project, let us know that even though this was a first edit, the editing process is more or less complete, utilizing (hopefully) the best possible takes of the material. However, listening to the first edit and providing comments is still very important, as mistakes can happen.

So, how does the first edit of our Carrapatoso recording sound? In short, I think it’s really good! I was very pleased with the warmth, balance, and overall musical quality in all three parts (soprano, piano, horn). Bravo to my colleagues and to Richard Price for helping us sound our very best!  That being said, I did have a few minor requests for the final edit (more on that later). I listened to the recording multiple times, and on various devices with different kinds of equipment (speakers, headphones, earbuds, etc.) On my first listen I just popped the disc into my CD drive and let it play all the way through on my stereo. I wasn’t listening too critically at that point, just sitting back and trying to get an overall feel for the sound and making some mental notes about places I wanted to go back and listen to more critically. I did this quite a few more times, using earbuds, in the car, etc. My goal in doing this was to see if any issues I was hearing were exaggerated or minimized depending on the equipment. If something was noticeable during my casual listening on all of this equipment, I definitely wanted to go back and listen more closely with the score and a great pair of headphones. For equipment-minded people who may be curious, I own two pairs of  excellent but affordable headphones: Sennheiser HD 518 and Sony MDR-7506 (pictured above). Each is well made, durable, and good for listening to classical music.

After lots of casual and critical listening, I only had a few requests for the second round of edits. At this point they are probably more subjective than anything else, but I made note of them anyway.

  • Two places where isolated attacks weren’t quite centered. The takes were definitely usable, but something about the fronts of the notes didn’t sound quite right to me.
  • Horn sound was too “live” on a few notes above the staff. I don’t know the exact technical way to describe this, but the mikes were picking up a little more “fuzz” than I would have liked in my sound on a high A-flat. I didn’t notice this effect during the sessions, and again it is a minor issue.

As I am neither a vocalist nor a pianist, these comments are obviously geared towards the horn part. The voice and piano parts are in the more than capable hands of my colleagues. Once we send our comments back we should receive a second (and probably final) edit to listen to one more time before the recording moves to production. Keep an eye out for it in the near future from MSR Classics!

With lots of progress made on this recording I have been turning my attention lately to another project – new original compositions and arrangements for brass trio, featuring Black Bayou Brass. 

Look for more information about this project in a future post!

Brief Review: Audrey Flores, Solo Horn Recording

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

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

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

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

 

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!

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