DIY Horn Repair: Conn 8D Thumb Valve Spring

Today a thumb valve spring snapped on a student’s Conn 8D during a lesson. Obviously, we had to take a break to assess what happened, and to determine if I could do the repair myself or if a trip to the repair shop was in order. While we didn’t have an identical replacement part, I was able to fashion a workable solution from existing materials, see below.

The actual replacement part looks like this (image obtained from https://bandrepairparts.com/store/brass/conn_brass/conn_frenchhorn/2185-spring/)

I did not have a spring shaped like this in my drawer of replacement parts, but I did have some generic valve springs, as shown below:

Comparing the two, I was able to fashion something close using wire cutters and needle-nosed pliers. First I cut the spring roughly in half with wire cutters:

Then I used the pliers to shape the spring into something that looked close to the original:

It isn’t a perfect fit, but after a little fiddling and bending the sharp spring edges down, it is functional. See picture and video below.

Not bad for a day’s work, and this should work nicely until a repair technician can replace the part. Do you have some horn DIY stories to share? Feel free to comment below!

 

Upcoming Recital Program

Lots of exciting things happening this fall as we begin a new semester and academic year. Instead of my usual “Semester Preview,” this time I’ll post separately about individual events as they happen. First up is my annual faculty recital on Monday, September 9, followed by a mini recital tour with performances and master classes at the University of Arkansas (Dr. Timothy Thompson) and Mississippi State University (Dr. Matthew Haislip).  I’ll be joined by a great collaborative pianist, Justin Havard, for a fun and engaging program. It includes a bit of old, but mostly new, music for horn and piano. If you are in the vicinity of any of these performances we would love to see you there!

Here are my program notes.

As a musician, I look to recordings and live performances for inspiration. My first experiences with all of the works on this program were through recordings and/or performances by great artists. It is also worth noting that with the exception of Jan Koetsier’s Romanza, these pieces were all composed by horn players.

Nocturno, Op. 73, Bernhard Eduard Müller (1842-after 1920)

Bernhard Eduard Müller served as second horn in the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig from 1876-1920, and is most well-known today for his two-volume Studies for Horn, Op. 64. Biographical information is scant, though several of his compositions for horn and piano survive. The best of these were recorded by John Ericson of Arizona State University on his album Rescued! (Summit Records). The Nocturno, Op. 73 is a compact but well-crafted piece in a thoroughly Romantic style. The range and technical difficulties are modest, making it accessible to younger players.

Sonata for Horn and Piano, Gina Gillie (b. 1981)

Gina Gillie is an Associate Professor of Music at Pacific Lutheran University, where she teaches applied horn, aural skills, and composition. She performs with two faculty ensembles at PLU, the Camas Wind Quintet and the Lyric Brass Quintet, and is active as an orchestral and freelance performer in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to her distinguished teaching and performing career, she is an accomplished composer, and has received numerous commissions for solo and chamber works. Her music is published by RM Williams, Brass Arts Unlimited, and Veritas Musica. The Sonata for Horn and Piano was commissioned in 2017 by Steven Cohen, and is featured along with several other new works on his album Cruise Control: Horn Music from Five Emerging American Composers (Siegfried’s Call). Gillie balances tradition and innovation throughout this significant three-movement sonata, simultaneously paying respect to the great horn works of the 19th and 20th centuries, while displaying her own unique voice. The first movement, with its contrasting themes and sonata-form construction, masterfully assimilates the German Romantic style. An ascending sixth motive figures prominently, and is transformed in various ways in the following movements. Gounod provides the inspiration for the second movement, a Mélodie in the French style. Gillie is especially gifted at writing beautiful melodies, and crafts long-breathed phrases worthy of the French master. The ascending sixth motive from the first movement is transformed again for the rollicking finale, a Rondo in Afro-Cuban style. This challenging but idiomatic work is great fun!

Romanza, Op. 59/2, Jan Koetsier (1911-2006)

Though relatively little known in the United States – except among brass players – Dutch-born composer, conductor, and professor Jan Koetsier is well-regarded throughout Europe, and especially in Munich, Germany, where he served as professor of conducting at the Hochschule für Musik for many years. As a composer he devoted much of his efforts to brass and wind instruments, and seemed especially interested in developing the repertoire for unusual or under-utilized combinations of instruments. As the title suggests, the Romanza, Op. 59, No. 2 (1972) showcases the lyrical qualities of the horn. In this brief yet effective work, a contrasting scherzo-like central section is framed by a beautiful melody in the outer sections. The Romanza has been recorded numerous times, and an especially beautiful interpretation can be found on the album Deep Remembering by Gail Williams (Summit Records).

Reflections for Horn and Piano, Paul Basler (b. 1963)

Paul Basler, Professor of Music at the University of Florida, is one of the most well-known contemporary composers for the horn. His works have been recorded and performed around the world to critical acclaim. Reflections for Horn and Piano was composed in 2006, and is dedicated to Manuel de Jesús Germán. In the composer’s words, Reflections is “an intensely emotional (and personal) composition and can be considered the ‘sequel’ to Basler’s Canciones for horn and piano and Lacrymosa for two horns and piano.” The five movements each have descriptive titles indicative of style and emotional content, which span a wide range. Basler explores the full range of human emotion, including joy, sorrow, anger, and, ultimately, acceptance. It is one of Basler’s most popular works, and was recently recorded by Patrick Smith for the album Reflections: Horn Music of Paul Basler (Siegfried’s Call). Another particularly inspiring performance of this work was given by Gina Gillie and Richard Seiler in October, 2015 at the University of Louisiana Monroe.

More Warm-ups and Daily Routines!

I’m overdue in posting about some new daily routines. In this post (and others) I mentioned the benefit of periodically re-evaluating the daily warm-up and/or practice routine, and the summer months are a perfect time to do so. As with mouthpieces and horns, there is no one perfect example; rather, lots of options and subtle variations to explore. Here are some of those, with dates and publisher information, where available. To read previous posts in this series, see the links at the end of this post.

Horn Warm-ups and Beyond the Warm-up, by Bob Ashworth, Emerson Edition 2011 and 2012

Bob Ashworth has been Principal Horn of Opera North in Leeds, UK since 1978. Both of these slim volumes present several traditional and unique exercises, the first collection dedicated to “consolidating basic techniques and achieving a focused sound,” and the second containing “a collection of ideas and exercises based on fundamental elements of horn playing.” Slurred and legato tongued patterns in the middle range are the primary material in Horn Warm-ups, although the later exercises include staccato variations and higher transpositions. After this thorough grounding in fundamentals, several operatic and orchestral melodies follow. As the title suggests, Beyond the Warm-up expands upon the concepts presented in the first volume, including more variations in style and articulation. Many of the exercises are based on common excerpts found in the orchestral and operatic repertoire.


20 Minute Warm-Up Routine for French Horn, by Michael Davis, Hip-Bone Music

This routine is part of a series of publications for trumpet, horn, trombone, and tuba, and includes an excellent play-along CD with Chris Komer of the New Jersey Symphony. It contains some great stuff, consisting of fundamental exercises that are common across all the brass instruments: lip slurs, broken arpeggios, articulation studies, etc. In my experience, playing the entire routine takes a bit longer than 20 minutes, especially if one takes brief rests periodically. Many of the exercises begin on the open horn and work their way down, which might be a little high for some players to begin right away. In that case I would recommend that they be played from the bottom of the page to the top.


Warm-up Variations for Horn, Op. 94 by Richard Goldfaden, RM Williams Publishing

Mr. Goldfaden has been a member of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra since 1985, and previously held positions in the Toledo Symphony Orchestra and numerous groups in Mexico. His unique take on the daily routine consists of an 8-measure theme in C major, followed by 30 variations (plus a coda) which take the player through multiple styles, techniques (stopped horn, multiple tonguing, glissando, etc.), and degrees of complexity. Several of the variations incorporate motives from the orchestral repertoire, including works by Beethoven, Brahms, and Rimsky-Korsakov. He notes in the preface:

The purpose of the Warm-up Variations is to take the player from a cold lip state to being fully warmed up. It is especially useful after a day or two off the horn. The warm-up starts very comfortably, then gradually widens in range and dynamics. A generous amount of rests are used to prevent fatigue and to keep breathing comfortable.

If you’re looking for a musical yet thorough approach to the daily routine, try these variations.


The Hackleman Routine, by Martin Hackleman, edited by Natalie Brooke Higgins, Alias Brass Company, 2018

A member of the faculty at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance since 2012, Professor Hackleman is highly regarded as a performer and teacher. Most of the material in this collection was created by the author, although there are a few patterns borrowed from (or based on) diverse sources such as Caesar LaMonaca (with whom Hackleman studied), Herbert L. Clarke, Robert Levy, and  Ottorino Respighi. Editor Dr. Natalie Higgins has done an excellent job collecting and formatting these into a unified whole. I don’t want to give too much away, but this collection is really worth checking out because it gives some insight into the author’s teaching and performing philosophy. There is a tremendous amount of food for thought here, some of which will challenge traditional thinking about warming up and horn pedagogy in general.


Daily Studies, compiled and edited by Caesar LaMonaca, published in The Horn Call, February 2017

A longtime member of the Houston Symphony, Caesar LaMonaca (1924-2012) taught horn at the University of Houston and later at Montana State University. Martin Hackleman is among his many former students, and one can certainly see the similarities between their daily practice materials. LaMonaca credits numerous influences in the development of these materials, including Bruno Jaenicke, Robert Schulze, H. L. Clarke, Anton Horner, and John Swallow. The author suggests “a light warm-up before playing the studies-a more extensive one when doing the higher keys,” though the first few exercises could effectively serve as a warm-up as well. Long tones, scale studies, broken arpeggios, breath attacks, and diatonic interval studies in all keys are among the many useful patterns to be found in this free (to IHS members) resource.


The Warm-up: A Basic and Practical Guide to Warming Up, by Wayne Lu, Veritas Musica, 2007

Though his name may not be as familiar as others on this list, Wayne Lu has established a multifaceted career as a performer, composer, and educator. His extensive list of compositions includes works for solo horn, horn in chamber music, horn ensemble, and many more. These are published by Veritas Musica Publishing, which he co-founded. In the Introduction to his very fine collection of warm-up materials, Lu credits A. Kendall Betts, Herb Winslow, John Cerminaro, and many others for their influence on his pedagogy. That being said, the ideas and patterns presented here are unique, and are accompanied by thorough written explanations. A Pre-Warm-Up section includes breathing exercises and aperture buzzing, followed by the Warm-Up proper. Although it consists entirely of slurred patterns, these could easily be adapted into tongued exercises. For more information about Wayne Lu and his music, refer to Laura Chicarello’s article “Becoming a ‘Complete Musician’ ‒ Wayne Lu’s 11 Exigent Etudes for Horn” in the February 2018 issue of The Horn Call.


Method for Trumpet Book 1: Warm-up Exercises and Etudes, by Anthony Plog, Balquhidder Music, 2003, 2015

Anthony Plog is internationally recognized as a composer, pedagogue, and performer, and is Professor of Music at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg, Germany. I first heard mention of this series of books on John Ericson’s Horn Notes Podcast, episode 28, during his interview with Gabriel Kovach, Principal Horn of the Phoenix Symphony. There are seven books in the series, covering numerous aspects of technique. I’ve not spent much time with the material in Book 1, but even a cursory glance through the pages was enough to recognize that this is not a typical brass warm-up. Each section contains a number of progressive exercises that can be combined with other sections, or played by themselves to craft an individually tailored warm-up. A series of 30 etudes follows, a logical extension of the preceding patterns. At $14.95, this volume and the others in the series are a bargain (also available as an Ebook).


Esercizi per Corno, by Corrado Maria Saglietti, IHS Online Music Sales

Corrado Saglietti joined the RAI National Symphony Orchestra of Turin, Italy in 1977, and has held the Principal Horn position in that orchestra since 1990. In addition to his distinguished performing career, he has published numerous solo and chamber works for brass and winds (see his list of works with Editions Bim, for example). His routine begins with middle register scale and arpeggio patterns to be played on the mouthpiece. And while many routines begin with long tones and/or lip slurs and save technical exercises until later, Saglietti includes slurred patterns in 16th notes right away. If performed correctly, this “flow study” approach to warming up can be effective. Later, traditional slurred and tongued patterns in the harmonic series are followed by a whole series of creative patterns covering the range of horn technique. This inventive collection is worth considering, and is very reasonably priced.


Other posts in this series:

Warm-Ups and Routines You May Not Know – Part I – Ifor James

Warm-ups and Routines You May Not Know – Part II – Dufrasne Routine

Warm-ups and Routines You May Not Know – Part III – Standley Routine

When to Change Routines

More Warm-Ups and Routines for Horn

The Daily Routine: A Modular Approach

Warm-ups and Routines Available Online

Changing Up the Practice Routine

 

 

 

 

 

 

Textbooks, OERs, and a Free Scale Book

The end of our spring semester and academic year is a good time to reflect, and this post will focus on a couple of things that should be of interest to college students and teachers. Last fall I joined a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) at my university, tasked with discussing and developing Open Educational Resources (OERs) for current and future courses. While I was already aware of OERs, this faculty group gave me the opportunity to delve into them in much greater detail, and discuss other pedagogical issues with colleagues from across campus. In addition to myself, the members included a diverse group of faculty from education, health sciences, history, political science, English, communications, chemistry, psychology, and mathematics. We ranged in experience from first-year Assistant Professors all the way to Full Professors with decades of teaching experience. Participation in this FLC was a year long commitment, with monthly meetings. It was a great experience, and I would recommend it to any university faculty who have the opportunity to participate in a group like this. *One perk that we did not know we would be receiving prior to joining was a new Samsung tablet, and a stipend(!)

One of the driving reasons behind the formation of this FLC is the rising cost of college textbooks. If you haven’t bought any yourself or paid for someone else’s lately, you are in for some severe sticker shock the next time you visit a college bookstore. There are several reasons for this high cost, but they are beyond the scope of this post, and were beyond the scope of our FLC. To sum things up, many college textbooks are far too expensive for students to reasonably afford, with the end result being that many simply do not buy them. As you can imagine, this impacts passing rates, retention, etc. While faculty have the academic freedom to choose the textbooks they feel will best fit their courses, it is important to at least consider the financial burden on students. This is where OERs come in. While music as a discipline is lucky when it comes to textbook costs – if you don’t believe me check the cost of an introductory biology book, for example – I was able to find and present on several great OERs for music. I have used many of them in the past, and in many cases they are as good or better than their paid (or higher cost) counterparts.

OERs aren’t the answer to everything, of course. Developing quality course materials is a time-consuming process, and the convenience of well-researched textbook and ancillary packages from big publishers can’t be underestimated. It is a thorny question, and our FLC did not come up with all the answers. However, we did our part to present the issues to other faculty in our respective departments, and discovered (and even created) some new OERs.

To finish out this post, I am including an OER developed a few years ago, a book of intermediate scale studies. My original thought was to publish this text at some point in the future, but I’ve decided to share it here as an OER, under a Creative Commons Attribution License.  Provided that you give appropriate attribution, you are free to do the following:

  • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format

  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.

You may already have developed something similar for use in your own studio, but if you are looking for something or simply want a change from your current materials feel free to check it out! DOWNLOAD HERE: Intermediate Scale Studies for Horn

Here is a list of other free (or low cost) OERs for music. There are of course many more, but these are the ones I use on a regular basis.

Naxos Music Library *Free access if your university has a subscription.

SmartMusic *Student subscription ranges from $4 to $12/year

Sight Reading Factory *Student subscription as low as $2/year

Horn Matters *Free

Hornexcerpts.org *Free

IMSLP *Free

 

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!

Review: Recipe for Success by Karen Houghton and Janet B. Nye

At our annual Brass Day event back in February, Karen Houghton and Janet B. Nye from Houghton Horns were our exhibitors and also guest presenters. While here, they gave a preview of their upcoming TMEA presentation, “Revealing the Secrets of Teaching Horn,” which was based on materials from their forthcoming method book, Recipe for Successs: A Balanced Curriculum for Young Horn Players. They were generous enough to give me an advance draft, which I’ve really enjoyed reading through and using with some of my students. Both authors have decades of practical experience as teachers and performers, and have worked with many successful young players. Recipe for Success is designed to take a player from beginner through the first 3-5 years, although the fundamentals presented are as applicable to advanced students and professionals as they are to young players. The dietary/cooking theme is fun, and makes a lot of sense when paired with musical education. This is a theme that should resonate with many age groups and levels of playing. Here’s an overview of the book’s contents and general organization.

Recipe for Success is organized into broad categories, which deal with essential components of good brass playing. Each Unit has a list of objectives, which should be very helpful for teachers of beginners, especially if horn isn’t their primary instrument. Units are divided into three levels of difficulty (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and are paired with a basic food group (Dairy, Fruit and Vegetables, Meat, Grains, Dessert). The authors note that students should work through all of the categories (i.e. food groups) at the same level (1, 2, or 3) with the guidance of a teacher. A sample study plan is included to help get students and their teachers started. The chapters and topics are as follows:

    • Appetizers – Addresses parts of the horn, holding the horn, basic maintenance, right hand position, posture, embouchure, and tuning.
    • Getting started – Covers breathing, buzzing, first notes, pitch ID, and horn vs concert pitch.
    • Breathing and Tone (Dairy)
    • Range and Flexibility (Fruit and Vegetables)
    • Technique (Meat)
    • Music (Grains)
    • Just for Fun (Dessert) *Contains duets from the classical repertory, holiday tunes, compositions by students ranging in age from 12-17, tunes for solo horn and piano, and even a Mad Lib style activity related to music.
    • Additional Resources
      • practice planning
      • theory basics
      • rhythm practice *Including some excellent word rhythms beneficial for students with dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning differences. This material is based on research by Drs. Benjamin and Sara Raviotta. For more information on this topic, refer to Dr. Benjamin Raviotta’s dissertation as well as their two-part article, “ADHD and Dyslexia: Learning Differences in the Private Studio,” in the February and May 2018 issues of The Horn Call.
      • bass clef introduction
      • muting/stopping
      • FAQ for band/orchestra directors
      • Glossary
      • Index
      • Fingering Chart
      • Sample Menu (practice log)

The design and overall approach of the book is light-hearted and fun, but the content is of the highest quality. This a comprehensive beginning to intermediate horn method for the 21st century, taking into account both traditional approaches as well as new information and research (ex. working with diverse learning styles, etc.) While some educators may hold differing opinions on minor points in Recipe for Success, there is hardly anything I would consider controversial. The spiral binding, quality printing and sturdy construction will stand up to multiple years of use. It is reasonably priced at $24.95, especially considering the large amount of material contained within (my draft copy comes in at 246 pages). For more information and to pre-order your copy, visit the Houghton Horns website, and the Houghton Horns Facebook page for a brief video introduction. Bravo to Karen and Janet on this fantastic resource!

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.

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!

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