Comparing Microphones for Recording Solo Horn

Here’s a video comparing three different ways to record a solo horn.

  1. MXL R144 Ribbon Microphone – placed approximately 6 feet in front of the horn.
  2. Samson C02 Condenser Microphones – stereo pair in XY configuration placed approximately 6 feet in front of the horn.
  3. Samson C02 Condenser Microphones – stereo pair in NOS configuration placed approximately 6 feet in front of the horn.

The above are three common microphone techniques. There are many more, but my limited skills and equipment prevented me from exploring others.

This little project came about for three main reasons:

  • While I am most certainly not a recording engineer, I teach an Introduction to Music Technology course, and have an interest in recording techniques. I enjoy learning about the equipment and principles, and used this video as a way to put some ideas into practice.
  • Back to back comparison of the two types of microphones I own – ribbon and condenser. I’ve used both in various situations, but had not compared them in this way. For more information on microphones, see here.
  • I also wanted to try out a new way of recording – using independent audio and video equipment, rather than the all-in-one approach I have used for years. Though it took a little more time to set up, I think the end product was pretty successful. Syncing up the audio and video was less tricky than I anticipated.

Before getting into more discussion of the results, here’s the video. Separate audio files are also embedded if you would prefer to listen to those. I chose an excerpt from Otto Ketting’s Intrada because I’m performing it in a few weeks, and also because it has lots of contrast in a short amount of time.

Ribbon:

Condenser Pair XY:

Condenser Pair NOS:

Even with the extremely low cost equipment I am using, hopefully you can hear a difference among the three techniques. To me, the XY configuration has the best overall sound, although there are elements of the ribbon that I like quite a bit. Ribbon microphones are very popular for recording brass instruments, because of the warmth they bring to the sound. Higher quality microphones should of course yield more perceptible results, although my cheap MXL ribbon is ok for my purposes. I hope to do some more videos like this in the future, with different techniques and ensembles. In case you are interested, here is the equipment I used (microphones are listed above). Assuming you have a decent laptop, all of the other gear is very reasonably priced.

  • Audio Interface/Preamps: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
  • Computer: 13 inch, MacBook Pro, ca. 2012
  • DAW: Logic Pro X
  • Video Camera: Canon Vixia, ca. 2009
  • Video Editing: Final Cut Pro X

While there are some great all-in-one recording products out there, if you do lots of audio and video recording of your horn playing it might be worth exploring some of this equipment.

Advertisements

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)
Front+CoverBIGGER

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
IMG_5653

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.

Equipment Update: Budget Recording Gear for the Classical Musician

Departing a bit from my previous “Equipment Update” posts, this one is not about horns, mouthpieces, or mutes. Instead it is a basic introduction to recording equipment for the classical musician, with some inexpensive, but functional, recommendations. I’ve owned recording equipment of one kind or another since my undergraduate days, starting with a Sony Minidisc recorder paired with a small Sony microphone, and later upgrading to a variety of handheld audio and video recorders manufactured by Sony, Roland, and Zoom. These were all great devices; portable, easy to use and of high enough quality to use for auditions, recital recordings, and YouTube videos.

Recently, however, I began to wonder if it might be possible to purchase individual components and put together a relatively inexpensive system suitable for live classical recording. I knew from the outset that it was neither feasible nor desirable to purchase the high end gear I’ve seen professional engineers use. My purpose was primarily educational (I teach an Introduction to Music Technology class), though I do plan to use my equipment for some future projects. I’m happy to say that for around $300, I succeeded in finding decent components which get the job done at a level equal to, or better than, the handheld devices listed above. So, what will you need if you want to do the same? Here’s a quick rundown.

  • Laptop or Desktop Computer For the amateur (as I most certainly am when it comes to recording equipment), this is probably the single most expensive component. Luckily I already own a slightly older, but still perfectly serviceable, laptop (13-inch MacBook Pro). A desktop computer would be just fine as well, although less portable than a laptop. If you are in the market for a new laptop or desktop, don’t worry about needing lots of computing power for basic recording needs. Games and other graphic-intensive applications require far more RAM and processing speed. My 4 year old laptop runs my recording equipment just fine. In my opinion, either Mac or PC is fine, choose the platform you are most comfortable using.
  • Audio Interface The next piece of essential equipment, the interface serves several functions: it converts the analog signals from your microphones into digital signals that your computer can process, provides phantom power to your microphones, and functions as a preamplifier. They can be relatively cheap (less than $100), or very expensive (thousands of $$). It all depends on what features you want and how many microphone inputs you need. After some searching around and inquiring from knowledgeable sources, I decided on the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, available for around $150. For my purposes – live solo or chamber music recording in a recital hall – I didn’t think I’d need more than two microphone inputs. I can always upgrade at some point if more inputs become necessary. So far I’ve been very pleased with the Focusrite, it’s sturdy, easy to connect and set up, and functions as advertised.
  • Microphones This is a deep rabbit hole, and my ignorance about them was one of the big reasons I avoided going beyond handheld recording devices. However, after familiarizing myself with the various types (see this tutorial video for a great introduction), I decided to take the plunge and purchase my own. As with audio interfaces, microphones can be had for $100, $1000, or $5000+, depending on the brand, type, and various other technical details. For brass instrument recording there are lots of good options, but I went with a matched pair of small-diaphragm (cardioid pattern) condensers, the Samson C02. These are definitely on the low end of the price spectrum, but they had good reviews and came with stands and cables (these are NOT the microphones pictured at the beginning of this post). Other microphones I considered at a similar price point include the Rode M5 and ART M-Six. There are certainly better microphones out there, but for the money spent, I think I got an excellent value.
  • Software (DAW) The term DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is generally used now to refer to recording and editing software, but at one point in the not-too-distant past actually meant a separate device or devices. If you’ve been keeping up with the math, you know that I’ve already reached the ca. $300 budget mentioned at the beginning of this post. The great thing about the DAWs I frequently use is that they don’t cost anything, and are fully functional. For several years I’ve used Audacity, a free, open-source DAW that incorporates many of the features of more expensive software. It is user-friendly, and simple to set up with my audio interface. I have also been using Studio One 3 Prime, a free version of the popular Studio One software by PreSonus. GarageBand is free for Mac users, and is another great way to get into the world of DAWs. There are lots of great options out there, many with free trial versions. As a teacher, I prize ease of use pretty highly, and all three of the DAWs mentioned above perform well in that category.

So there you have it, a bare-bones but hopefully useful guide to recording equipment for the classical musician. There are so many other great tutorials online that I felt it unnecessary to go into too much depth about any of the various components. Far more knowledgeable contributors have written and recorded excellent demonstrations on a plethora of recording topics. Among my favorites is a series produced by Murray State University. See below for the links:

If you’re a novice like me, it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed by all of the technical information on recording. However, as a 21st-century teacher and performer I felt I owed it to myself and my students to learn something about technology which has become so ubiquitous. It took me a little while to wrap my head around the basics, but now that I have a grasp on them I’m excited to experiment with different microphone setups and other parameters. If you are curious what the gear mentioned above sounds like, here is a rehearsal recording made using it. The excerpt is from the Trio for Horn, Trombone, and Tuba by Frigyes Hidas, which my colleagues and I will be performing this summer at the International Trombone Festival and the International Horn Symposium. It was recorded in a small classroom using a fairly close X/Y pattern microphone setup. So that you can get a clear sense of how the equipment performed, no editing has been done other than trimming the beginning and end of the clip in Audacity. I’m very pleased with how everything worked, and am looking forward to recording with this equipment in our recital hall and other venues.

 

Summer Project: Solo and Chamber Music Repertoire List

One long-postponed project I began this summer was to create an annotated list of the solo and chamber music pieces I’ve performed over the last 20 years. I should have begun this project years ago, but my memory has generally been good enough to keep track of most of the details about my performances. Additionally, most of the information is preserved in the form of old programs in either electronic or hard copy format. I always told myself if I really wanted to know the last time I performed a work I could dig back through my files and find out. This is of course easier in theory than in practice, and the benefits of having all the info in a central place outweigh the time and effort it has taken to put it together.  It’s nothing fancy, just a Google doc that I can update as new works are added. It contains the following fields:

  • Composer
  • Title
  • Instrumentation
  • Year Performed

In the “Year Performed” field I’m also making a note if the work was performed at a conference and/or was commissioned by me. Here’s a small screenshot showing the first few entries. (If you would like to see the complete list please email me and I would be glad to send you a copy).

While I do have access to the majority of my solo and chamber music programs, the list is not complete, for a variety of reasons.

  • There are some works that I know I’ve performed, but don’t have documentation to prove it or to provide the year. These include works performed for studio and/or master classes, works performed on tours, and other situations where a printed program was not produced. I’m debating what to do about these works; perhaps I’ll just put the info down and give my best guess as to the year.
  • In most cases I did not include arrangements or occasional works like Christmas and other holiday selections. To keep the list to a manageable size I needed to draw the line somewhere. One exception to this is arrangements which are major works in the repertoire, like Robert King’s brass trio arrangement of the Beethoven Trio, Op. 87 for example.

If you don’t already have a list like this, I strongly recommend starting one, regardless of your level. It’s very easy to set up, and the information will come in handy for future recital programming and other endeavors. Trust me, the longer you wait, the more difficult the task will be!

Brief Reviews: Solo Documentary Film, Snark Tuner, TuneUp System

Over the past academic year I have accumulated some new materials and equipment, but only recently sat down and put together some brief reviews.

Solo Documentary Film

First up is Solo, a unique documentary film from Limbus Production, written and directed by Přemysl Havlík. Here’s the trailer.

And here’s a description from the Limbus Production vimeo channel.

Documentary film about today’s best horn player, world renowned musician Radek Baborák and about what it is to live on the “Olympus of fame”. The film captures this musical titan in his engagement in one of the most prestigious orchestras in the world, the Berlin Philharmonic, and uncovers his private opinions through intimate conversations, as well as his doubts about the meaning of his line of work. Apart from our horn hero, whose career takes an unexpected turn in the course of the film, we have the rare chance to see gathered here several other musical stars, some of whom are top interpreters and living legends in the field of classical music. Conductors Seiji Ozawa, Daniel Barenboim, Sir Simon Rattle or musicians such as flutist Emmanuel Pahud or horn player Gerd Seifert unveil their opinions on the pitfalls of orchestral and solo playing.

The primary subject of the film is world-famous hornist Radek Baborák, who won the Solo Horn position with the Berlin Philharmonic and then resigned a few years later. The film unfolds through a series of interviews with Baborák, interviews with various conductors and colleagues, and brief historical information about the horn. Though a concrete reason for Baborák’s resignation from the orchestra isn’t given, one can surmise that there were disagreements of an artistic nature. The film is entertaining, and full of fantastic horn playing by Baborák and his colleagues. There is also some interesting information about the Berlin Philharmonic and its audition and hiring practices.  The subtitles are clear and easy to understand, and the DVD plays just fine on a laptop drive. It is a little difficult to obtain; currently the only way to get it in the U.S. is to send a PayPal payment directly to Limbus Production. I was a little hesitant to order it, but after sending payment the disc arrived promptly and in good condition. Worth watching if for no other reason than the great horn playing.

Snark Clip-On Tuner

The Snark is a chromatic tuner that clips directly to an instrument, receiving input through either a microphone or vibration from the instrument itself. If you are in search of an inexpensive, lightweight tuner for traveling, the Snark fits the bill. The display is bright, uncomplicated, and easy to read, with good battery life. Though I haven’t rigorously tested its accuracy, it would seem to be just as accurate as my go-to tuner app on my phone. While iPhone and Android apps are ubiquitous now, I think there is still a place for the standalone tuner and metronome. For one, leaving your phone off the stand (and silenced) removes the temptation to check email and/or social media during practice time. And second, a lightweight, cheaper device is less likely to be knocked to the floor and damaged. The added benefit of the Snark is that it securely clips to the horn when in use, and can be clipped to a stand for storage.

TuneUp Intonation Training System

Stephen Colley’s intonation exercises have been around for several years, but I only recently obtained a copy. As I mentioned in this post, Christopher Dwyer of the St. Louis Symphony highly recommended the book, which in turn was recommended to him by members of the Chicago Symphony. After working regularly out of the book for the past few months, here are my observations on the TuneUp system. First, the pros:

  • The approach to developing pure (just) intonation is systematic, thorough, and effective. Colley provides copious explanations and exercises in every key to help you learn where each chord member belongs, as well as your tendencies on each note. My favorite exercises are the “Interval Studies,” in which you perform first a tonic reference note with the CD, and then a series of chord tones with CD accompaniment. The first several lines go through Root, Fifth, and Third in whole notes (with whole notes in the CD), followed by half-notes (Root-Fifth, Root-Third, Third-Fifth), once again with whole notes in the CD. The final two lines in each key include seventh chords and inversions, followed by an exercise in the relative minor.
  • The accompanying CD includes a tonic drone in every key, as well as  major and minor chord progressions in all keys. The timbre of the reference CD is intentionally stark and artificial in quality, which makes it extremely easy to hear intonation discrepancies.
  • Regular practice with this system will definitely improve your ability to hear and adjust intonation! The book is available in a variety of transpositions (C, Bb, Eb, F or Bass Clef) as well as A=440 or A=442. Although I have only used the book on my own or in lessons with students, I would assume that it would be equally effective when used with a small ensemble or even a larger group.

And while I believe that the advantages of the TuneUp System outweigh its disadvantages, in the interest of thoroughness here are some “cons.”

  • There is a learning curve. Once mastered, intonation might be considered an intuitive process, but at its core is based on precise mathematical ratios. Colley does a thorough job explaining these principles, but there is quite a bit of text (27 pages) before the exercises begin. Though obviously interested in the topic, I found my mind wandering a bit while reading this extensive preface. Perhaps some of the text and explanations could be incorporated onto the same pages as the actual exercises, which would cut down on the amount of introductory material. I found it helpful to pencil in annotations from the introduction above the exercises to help me remember some important concepts.
  • The book+CD is expensive. When compared to other materials of this kind (book + CD), the price point for the TuneUp System is significantly higher. Maybe offering a digital and/or web-based version of the system would be an effective way to reach a wider audience.
  • There are quite a few typos. I encountered several instances of wrong notes in the text, especially in the interval studies. It was always easy to determine the correct pitch (usually the next line or space), but after finding them on several consecutive pages it became a little frustrating.

When weighed against the entire book, these are minor criticisms, and I would still recommend the TuneUp System to both teachers and students.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these brief reviews!

 

The Daily Routine: A Modular Approach

While working on a forthcoming project, I’ve been thinking a lot about routines, and how the various exercises we choose to play each day can be structured. For much of my playing career, I’ve tended to choose one routine and stick with it for an extended period of time. Recently, however, I’ve been experimenting with putting together a routine by selecting various exercises from multiple sources. I still cover all of the basics: sound production, flexibility, range work, technique, etc., but instead of playing literally the same exercises for days on end, I have been rotating through sets of similar exercises. This modular approach has been lots of fun to play around with, and has the added benefit of keeping me interested and engaged in what I’m doing every day. There are certain parts of the routine that stay more or less the same, but after the first 15 minutes or so I begin to vary things. Here’s where I’m getting my material these days:

For ease of use, I photocopy exercises (or groups of exercises) out of each collection and keep them together in the same folder. From these pages I choose exercises which best fit my needs for upcoming performances. As an example, I’ve been focusing on high range and endurance a bit more in preparation for some contemporary repertoire at the New Music on the Bayou Festival, as well as a recording session in June.

Of the items listed above, William Vacchiano’s book is probably the least familiar to horn players. Jeff Nelsen introduced me to this collection several months ago, and it’s been really fun working through some of the studies in it. Vacchiano was a legendary orchestral player and teacher, and his book actually contains 11 complete routines. The exercises are generally pretty short (less than a page usually), and incorporate many of the important trumpet excerpts in the orchestral repertoire. As compared to horn routines, these studies are more technical and tend to emphasize the high range. While I don’t recommend using them exclusively, several exercises work pretty well on horn. Here are two of my favorites.

Don’t these sound fun? I usually balance these out with some low range and stopped horn work.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you throw away your trusted routine. In fact, it’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable enough with my own playing to try swapping things in and out of my routine. If used correctly, a good routine instills confidence, while at the same time being challenging enough to promote growth. If the modular approach appeals to you, begin by substituting a small portion of your regular routine (5 minutes or less) and see what you think.

On a related note, I’m very excited to dive into Jeffrey Agrell’s new book Horn Technique: A New Approach to an Old InstrumentIn the Introduction, Agrell suggests a similar modular approach to the daily routine.

Musicians and Taxes

As we head into tax preparation season, I would like to share a brief personal anecdote about filing my taxes both as an educator and as a freelance musician. The following does not constitute tax advice of any kind, and to cut right to the chase, the moral of my story is to consult a tax professional. Even if you prepare and file your returns yourself, it might be beneficial to sit down with an expert to go over anything you might have missed.

For years I filed my own returns using the standard software. I was never audited, and usually satisfied with the result. However, I normally encountered at least a few tricky questions that weren’t easily answered by the computer. If you’ve ever used tax preparation software, you probably know what I’m talking about. If the program detects anything anomalous in your return, it won’t let you file until the problem is resolved. After several years of feeling like I was missing something in my self-prepared return, I decided to ask around and find an accountant who was comfortable working with musicians. One of my colleagues in the Shreveport Symphony recommended a CPA firm, and I set up a meeting. That was four years ago, and I haven’t looked back since. In short, having a professional prepare our tax return was a great decision for my family.

If you decide to do the same, here are a few tips that might help:

  • Ask around before choosing a CPA or other tax professional. Consult both in and out of your field, but try to find someone who has experience working with musicians. An experienced professional can help you identify deductions you weren’t aware of. For example, here is an incomplete list of possible  deductions to ask your tax professional about.
    • Travel/Lodging
    • Membership Fees for Professional Organizations
    • Conference registration fees
    • Cell Phone/Internet
    • Meals
    • Instrument Repair/Cleaning
    • Dry cleaning costs for tuxes, suits, other professional attire
    • Equipment, sheet music, recordings
    • Teaching supplies
  • Keep track of mileage and expenses. This is easier than ever now with the plethora of apps, online templates, and other tools for tracking expenses. I use Expensify to log my mileage and catalog receipts, but also keep electronic and hard copies of all my receipts. A quick search of the Apple or Android store will yield lots of options for apps.
  • Collect all of your paperwork and total up your expenses before meeting with your tax preparer. I like to keep all of my official documents – W-2s, 1099s, royalty statements, etc. – in one folder, and supporting documents like receipts and mileage logs in another. Shortly after January 1, I sit down and total up mileage and itemize my expenses from the previous year. Doing so will save you time and headache when you meet with a CPA.
  • Don’t assume that a deduction is or isn’t allowed without confirmation. When in doubt, ask!

That’s all I have to say on this topic for now, but perhaps you will find some of this information useful. For another perspective on the same subject, check out this post on the website of Erin A. Paul, an active freelance hornist in New York City.

 

Mouthpiece Comparison Chart and HornReviews.com

*This post has been updated as of January 29, 2017

Related to my two previous posts about choosing a new horn (here) and mouthpiece (here), I recently learned of some new websites aimed at helping players compare a number of horn and mouthpiece brands and models.

First is Colin Dorman’s “Mouthpiece Comparison Chart,” an interactive resource which can be found on his website,  colindorman.com. Mr. Dorman is an active freelancer and teacher in the Louisville, Kentucky area, and holds degrees from the University of Alabama and the University of Louisville. As of this writing, the database contains 658 separate entries for mouthpieces, which can easily be searched and compared with one another across a variety of categories, including: Maker, Model, 1 or 2-piece, Thread Type,  Rim Inner Diameter, Rim Shape, Rim Width, Cup Depth, Cup Shape, and Bore Size.  A PDF version of the entire list can also be downloaded for free. In one of the comments related to the list, Mr. Dorman states that he sourced most of the information for each make and model from the manufacturers’ websites, so one can presume that the measurements are accurate. Comparing mouthpieces can be tricky; while there are some standards regarding how various dimensions are measured, the numbers themselves can be difficult to decipher. Mr. Dorman has helped remove some of that mystery by converting all the bore measurements to millimeters, so that differences can be seen at a glance. One word of caution I would offer when comparing inner diameter (ID) measurements was related to me by a well-known maker of custom mouthpieces. Because of differences in where  ID is actually measured by different makers, the same measurement on one brand might not be the same on another. For example, an ID of 17.5mm on one brand might not actually be the same size as 17.5mm on another brand.

Virtually every major brand is represented here, and horn players should be grateful to Mr. Dorman for the amount of time and effort it must have taken to create such a detailed database. He also provides a very handy guide to choosing a new mouthpiece, as well as a great explanation of what the various parts of a mouthpiece do and how they are measured. I would also add that the rest of Mr. Dorman’s website contains some other useful resources, including a blog, technical and fundamental exercises, recordings of the Kentucky All-State Etudes, and more. Be sure to check it out!

The next resource is called Horn Reviews: The Horn Research Helper. This unassuming site actually contains quite a bit of information, including fairly extensive reviews of models by Alexander, Conn, Engelbert Schmid, Hans Hoyer, Holton, Jupiter, Paxman, and Yamaha. Like mega-retailers such as Amazon, Horn Reviews allows visitors to submit their own reviews and see what others have written about a particular make/model of instrument. Each model of horn is also rated on a five-point scale for Tone Quality, Playability, Construction, and Value for Money. After reading several of the reviews, I can say that they are for the most part well-informed, and give a good overview of the pros and cons for each type of horn (preferences of individual players and quirks of specific instruments notwithstanding). However, there are a few observations I would make about this site and others like them. They aren’t red flags, per se, just things that visitors should be aware of before putting too much stock in the reviews and other information found here.

  • I could not find any information on who wrote the reviews. I contacted the website creators using the online form, and am awaiting more information. The first rule of all online information is that you should be able to easily verify the author(s) and their qualifications.
  • There is no rubric given for how the five-point rating system works. The idea has some merit, and the graphics for each model look pretty slick, but for the ratings to provide anything other than personal opinion they really ought to have a detailed rubric for each category.
  • A statement on the website mentions an “Affiliate Program,” with the following information:

The owner of this site is an affiliate of e-commerce websites that sell French horns and related products. If you are interested in promoting your business on hornreviews.com via an affiliate relationship, please contact us. Recommendations, ratings and reviews are not influenced by participation in our affiliate agreements.

There isn’t anything unusual about websites like this one earning ad revenue, but the vagueness of the statement itself (What e-commerce websites?, How can you promote your business on hornreviews.com?) struck me as a little odd. Perhaps I’m being overly suspicious, but combined with the anonymity and unverifiable credentials of the authors, this was a sticking point for me. Despite these issues, Horn Reviews is worth more than just a casual visit. Perhaps the site will be developed more in the future, and will become even more useful. *I heard back from Carson Smith, the owner of hornreviews.com, and he provided some additional information about his site. Mr. Smith also kindly gave me permission to share his comments. See below.

Hi James,

Apologies for this delayed response to your submission via hornreviews.com last month. Going back through the user submissions I discovered your message. Happy to answer any questions you have about the website.
I’m author of the reviews, having personally played the models reviewed at horn events, owned them or taken them out on trial. Some years ago I bought and sold quite a few horns online and realized by notes could be beneficial.
Every player does have personal bias and horns vary in quality, so I do aim to write the review with a consensus tone, corroborating my take with second, third opinions – and inviting other players to contribute. A more rigorous and scientific testing process (think what DPReview.com does with cameras) is where I hope to go with the site eventually. Hope to find some partners who are interested in building this out with me.
Having just launched 20 months ago, the website’s grown organically without any promotion on my part, reaching several thousand horn players monthly. It earns a small income via Amazon.com and eBay affiliate links that pay when a user buys something.
My day job is running a consumer advice & rankings website for a media company. Horn playing is a hobby/obsession.
 -Carson

 

Horn DIY: Replace a Water Key Spring

waterkeyspring

Water Key Spring, Sold by Votaw Tool

While practicing this summer, I heard a soft “pa-ting” from my horn, and knew pretty much right away what it was; the spring on one of my horn’s two water keys had broken. Though not a common occurrence, the metal on these springs can and will wear out from time to time, requiring a replacement. Rather than take the horn to a shop, I decided to attempt the repair myself. It is not difficult, and only requires a few tools. Here’s what you will need if you want to try it yourself.

  • Wire cutters, for trimming the ends of the spring
  • Screwdriver
  • Replacement spring(s): You can order these from a variety of places, including Votaw Tool and Allied Supply.  Not knowing exactly what to use, I bought an assortment of springs for a few dollars total. The first spring I tried, listed as a “Trumpet Water Key Spring,” fit the horn just fine, but didn’t have quite enough tension to function properly.  The next one I tried, listed simply as a “Waterkey Spring,” also fit and had a similar tension as the other water key already on my horn.
  • Water Key Tension Tool/Installer:  This little device is meant to hold tension on the spring as you install it, and seemed like a very handy item to have. However, I wasn’t able to use it for this particular job because it simply wouldn’t fit in the space without hitting the tubing. Should you wish to make one of these yourself, you can find detailed instructions in Glen Perry’s The Essential Guide to Horn Maintenance.

Here’s a short video showing the process.

Upcoming Recital: Transcriptions for Horn and Piano

faculty-recital-poster-10-4-2016On October 4th at 7:30 p.m., my colleague Richard Seiler and I will be giving a faculty recital entitled “Old Wine in New Bottles: Transcriptions for Horn and Piano.” While fun and musically rewarding to prepare, this recital is also being given in preparation for a forthcoming recording project featuring many of the same works. Here’s the program:

  • The Maid of the Mist, Herbert L. Clarke (1867-1945)
  • Adagio from Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622, W.A. Mozart (1756-1791)
  • Six Studies in English Folk-Song, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
  •  Romance, Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
  • Meditation from Thaïs, Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
  •  Vocalise-Etude en Forme de Habanera, Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
  •  Fantasiestücke, Op. 73, Robert Schumann (1810-1856)/Transcribed and Edited by Kazimierz Machala

With the exception of the Schumann, all of the above were transcribed by me, and several have been published through various outlets. The Schumann isn’t slated to be on the CD; instead I have some chamber music arrangements that will be recorded in addition to the solo works. If you would like to know more about the program, I’ve included some notes below. I’m really looking forward to this recital as well as the recording project. Stay tuned for more details.

Program Notes

Transcription: The adaptation of a composition for a medium other than its original one, e.g. of vocal music for instruments or of a piano work for orchestra, a practice that began in Western music by the 14th century; also the resulting work.

~The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, ed. Don Randel

Musicians have been borrowing music from one another for hundreds of years. J.S. Bach transcribed Vivaldi’s violin concertos for the organ, and Franz Liszt transcribed Beethoven’s symphonies and Schubert’s Lieder for the piano. These adaptations served not only to enrich the repertoire for their respective instruments, but also to educate and inform them as composers and performers. None of the music on this program was originally intended for the horn, but it is my hope that you will still enjoy hearing it.

Widely regarded as one of the great cornet soloists, Herbert Lincoln Clarke performed with John Philip Sousa’s band, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic. In addition to his long and illustrious performing career, Clarke is best remembered for his many compositions and Technical Studies for the cornet. Published in 1912, The Maid of the Mist is named for the famous steam-boat used for tours of Niagara Falls, and features some of the rapid articulations and playful turns of phrase for which Clarke was famous.

Dating from the final year of his life, Mozart’s Concerto for Clarinet, K. 622 was written for his friend and fellow Freemason Anton Stadler (1753-1812). Though the rapid passages found in the first and last movements of the concerto do not lend themselves well to even the modern horn, the gorgeous lyrical writing in the Adagio second movement does. Mozart clearly had a love for the horn, as evidenced by his four concertos and other solo works for the instrument. If the horn of Mozart’s day had been capable of playing such melodic material, perhaps he would have composed similar passages for it.

With his fellow countryman Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams is often credited with leading a “Renaissance” of English music in the early part of the 20th century. Though he did make use of modern techniques such as polytonality, Vaughan Williams was especially inspired by English folk song and the modal melodies of his predecessors from the 16th and 17th centuries. Originally composed for cello and piano, his Six Studies in English Folksong have been set for many other instruments, including violin, clarinet, oboe, tuba, and horn. These brief but hauntingly beautiful melodies make excellent studies in both phrasing and tone production.

Though the title “Romance” does appear a few times in the catalog of Weber’s works, there appears to be no such composition for trombone and piano. Is it an unpublished work by Weber that was not cataloged, or perhaps the work of another composer? It is doubtful that the piece was even written for the trombone! Despite its obscure history, the dramatic melodies and quasi-operatic character of this Romance make it an effective and rewarding work to perform.

Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs is one of the composer’s most performed works. It tells the story of Thaïs, an Alexandrian courtesan and worshiper of Venus, who converts to Christianity. Among the most recognized excerpts from the opera is the “Mediation” for violin and orchestra performed between the scenes of the second act. Though brief in length, it is full of lyricism and emotion.

A gifted musical chameleon, Maurice Ravel displayed equal skill with impressionist, neoclassic, and exotic elements in his compositions. Igor Stravinsky famously derided Ravel as “the most perfect of Swiss watchmakers,” but is in fact this precision, craftsmanship, and attention to detail that have made his works so memorable. Originally for voice, the Vocalise was commissioned by the Paris Conservatory and is patterned after the famous Cuban dance known as the habanera.

Originally for clarinet (or cello) and piano, Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke (“Fantasy Pieces), Op. 73 consist of three movements unified by motivic and thematic elements. Schumann gave the same title to three other works in his catalog, all of which have an improvisatory, fanciful character. At times dreamy and contemplative, at others fiery and impetuous, these pieces are both challenging and enjoyable to perform.

%d bloggers like this: