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!

 

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Brief Review: Horn Technique by Jeffrey Agrell

During the summer I tend to take a break from reading horn-related books and articles, reading more science fiction and other types of “for-pleasure” stuff than I do during the academic year. This summer, though, I made it a point to dive into Professor Jeffrey Agrell’s magnum opus, Horn Technique: A New Approach to an Old Instrument. As John Ericson noted in his review on Horn Matters, a “brief” review of this nearly 500-page tome is next to impossible. But…if I could offer only two words about Professor Agrell’s new book, they would be “buy it!” You won’t find a more thoughtful, comprehensive, top-to-bottom, nuts and bolts discussion of horn playing anywhere. In a holistic yet meticulously detailed way, Agrell addresses not only horn playing, but overall musicianship as well. While many of the chapters cover traditional material – warming up, practice strategies, fingering, etc. – Agrell’s approach is always fresh and full of unique ways to tackle familiar problems. Jeff loves to challenge our (mis)conceptions, and brings to bear decades of teaching and performing experience. In some ways, though, the title is misleading, as Horn Technique is much more ambitious in its scope. Agrell proposes a reboot of the traditional way we approach music education. Instead of obsessing about note names and fingerings as beginners, we ought to learn music the way babies learn spoken language – through imitation, improvisation, and memorization of brief patterns which can be built upon later. Only once those basics are mastered should notation be introduced.

Stepping back a bit, here are some of the big themes I took away from Horn Technique. There are certainly more, but these are the ones that jumped out to me.

  • Horn (and all brass) players need to have a detailed working knowledge of the overtone (harmonic) series. We need to know the overtone series number and intonation tendency for every note on the horn – Agrell calls this “horn math.”
  • Warm-ups and practice sessions should begin without using the valves (all overtone series) and then progress to using the valves. Historically, the horn developed this way, and it makes sense from a physical perspective as well. Many of the exercises in Horn Technique begin without valves and add valves later.
  • We need to know how to apply our knowledge of music theory to create real-world practice strategies. Agrell walks the reader through this approach, showing us first how to identify and analyze patterns, and then to create our own custom exercises based on those patterns.
  • Less Notes, More Music. One of the big principles in Horn Technique is that we spend entirely too much time with our heads buried in a music stand. Agrell advocates for more notation-free practice. Related to this, Agrell is also a big proponent of performing from memory.
  • Question Everything! At the heart of this book is the idea of questioning traditional approaches to horn playing. There is of course much to be learned from the great players and teachers of the past, but Agrell asks that we be willing to consider alternative methods along with traditional ones.

Although I’ve read the entire book cover to cover, I’ve only just begun to dig into Horn Technique. The principles and exercises in it will keep both my students and me occupied for some time. And at $19.99 for the hard copy, this is an incredibly affordable text.

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!

 

Conference Report: 2017 Mid-South Horn Workshop

Photo by Aaron Witek

Last week the ULM brass faculty were very busy, performing our annual faculty recital, and performing at the 2017 Mid-South Horn Workshop, hosted by Dr. Nicholas Kenney at Southeast Missouri State University. Though more brief than the International Horn Symposium, this three-day conference was packed full of performances, lectures, and exhibits. The beautiful facilities at SEMO, as well as the hard work and organization of Dr. Kenney and his students, resulted in a fantastic workshop. Bravo!

In addition to performing with our brass trio and presenting on my Solo Training for Horn book, I also ran the exhibitor table for Mountain Peak Music, who publishes both of my books. This was a new experience for me, but very enjoyable. While I wasn’t able to attend as many of the conference events as usual, the extra time to speak with both old and new acquaintances was certainly welcome. The sheet music exhibits were placed along a heavily traveled route between one of the main performance halls and the instrument exhibits, providing ample exposure. After several hours of visiting with passersby at the exhibit, here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Horn players are always hungry for duets: Visitors to the Mountain Peak exhibit were especially interested in duets for themselves and their students, with The Big Book of Sight Reading Duets and Long Tone Duets being the most popular. If you don’t know these two publications check them out, they are fantastic for teaching. I also sold a few copies of my Solo Duet Training for Horns book.
  • Horn players love routines:  Another very popular book at the MPM table was Daily Routines for Horn, and its companion Daily Routines for the Student Horn Player. Many players I spoke with were not aware of these two publications, and I enjoyed speaking with them about the various patterns and exercises found in the Daily Routines series. If you are getting tired of your regular old routine (or just looking for more teaching materials) give these some serious consideration.
  • Not enough horn players know about Mountain Peak Music: This publisher is gradually gaining more recognition in the horn world, but after my presentation and at the exhibit table I spoke with lots of people who didn’t know anything about MPM. If you are in the market for high-quality, fresh teaching materials that will energize both you and your students, consider exploring their publications. All of Mountain Peak Music’s offerings for horn can be found at this URL: http://www.mountainpeakmusic.com/horn/

Though I didn’t attend lots of performances, I was able to make a lecture-performance by the St. Louis Symphony horn section on Saturday afternoon, and the Saturday evening concert featuring Tod Bowermaster of the St. Louis Symphony and the Southeast Missouri State University Wind Symphony. I have not had the chance to hear the St. Louis Symphony live, but their horn section sounded fantastic! The presentation included performances and discussion of standard section excerpts, such as the Overture to Weber’s Der Freischütz and the Scherzo of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. The blend, balance, and overall sound of the section was quite striking, big without sounding like they were working hard. One topic that piqued my interest was Christopher Dwyer’s discussion of intonation – in his comments he mentioned the Tuneup Intonation Training System by Stephen Colley. I had heard of this book, but not much else regarding its content or effectiveness. Mr. Dwyer highly recommended it, noting that during his studies with Dale Clevenger, the entire brass section of the Chicago Symphony was working through the book. Needless to say, I will be looking into it!

For the first half of the evening concert, Tod Bowermaster performed several horn and piano works, collaborating with Kelley Ker Hackleman. These included standards –  Dukas Villanelle and Gliere Intermezzo – as well as several really nice arrangements found on Mr. Bowermaster’s CD, The Horn in Song. I really enjoyed his solo playing, very musical with a warm, vibrant sound. My favorite work on the first half was a transcription of Telemann’s Bassoon Sonata, TWV 41:f1. I’ve heard this performed on euphonium and trombone, and it also works really well on  horn! For the second half of the concert the SEMO Wind Symphony joined the soloist for Pele by Brian Balmages. This work is getting performed a lot, and it’s easy to hear why – tuneful melodies, with lots of heroic moments for both soloist and ensemble. The concert concluded with Claude T. Smith’s Eternal Father, Strong to Save. If you’ve performed this piece (or taken any military band auditions) you know that the end features a solo horn quartet playing the famous hymn. For this performance, the entire balcony was filled with horn players, who joined in for a striking surround sound effect. A great way to end the evening!

Before wrapping up this post I want to share one more anecdote from the conference. Shortly after arriving on Thursday evening, I grabbed a few minutes in a practice room to run through my Solo Training for Horn presentation materials. When I finished and went to remove my screw bell, it was stuck! This has never happened to me before, but I knew enough not to use anything more than mild force to loosen the ring. It wasn’t cross-threaded, maybe just dry from the weather in Missouri. At any rate, I was very lucky to find Mark Atkinson of Atkinson Horns setting up in the exhibit room. He was extremely generous and helped remove the bell (through a combination of elbow grease and a leather mallet). Thanks again!

I want to commend and thank Dr. Kenney for planning and hosting this terrific conference. I’m looking forward to next year’s workshop, which will be hosted by Brent Shires at the University of Central Arkansas.

 

 

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

 

Equipment Update Part 1: A New Horn

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Yamaha 671 Double Horn, with Custom Work by Houghton Horns

In an earlier post, I briefly mentioned an upcoming review about a new horn. After several weeks of playing it, I have some thoughts on my new double horn, a Yamaha YHR 671. Earlier this year at IHS 48  I did some preliminary testing on both the 671 and the higher end 871 Custom, with the following reaction.

I spent a few minutes in the exhibit rooms this afternoon, and tried out a few of Yamaha’s new horns, the 671 and 871. My initial impressions were quite good. Both horns are very well balanced and even across the range. I have to say though that based on the two horns I tried, my preference was for the less expensive 671. Of course, more thorough playing on both models would be necessary to come to any firm conclusions. If you have the opportunity, try out both horns for yourself.

Stepping back a little, here is a short list of reasons why I was even looking for a new horn in the first place.

  • I’ve played an Engelbert Schmid ES1 double horn for the last five years, and overall was very pleased with it. Schmid’s horns are incredibly light, well balanced, and built to the highest mechanical and artistic standards. I was comfortable performing on it as a soloist, and in orchestra and chamber music. But…
  • I was not 100% satisfied with my sound, especially in my university’s recital hall, where I do the majority of my solo and chamber music performances, and where I plan to record my second solo CD. Both my colleagues and I noticed a tendency for the sound to “break up” at higher dynamics. I’m sure this is due to more than just the lightness of the horn, and I definitely don’t want to take anything away from Schmid’s very fine horns. However, after trying various mouthpiece and bell options (over the course of a few years) without obtaining the desired result, I thought it might be worth looking at some different instruments.
  • In addition to looking for a slightly different sound, I was also curious about Yamaha’s new models. While I’ve played a Schmid for the last five years, I played Yamahas for the previous fourteen years before that. In many ways, returning to a Yamaha horn felt like coming home.

Ok, now for a bit more about the new horn. First, it isn’t a stock Yamaha 671. Houghton Horns, who sold me the instrument, did some custom work on it, including installing a Schmid bell ring and removing the lacquer. Out of the box the horn played great! As mentioned above, returning to a Yamaha even after so many years I felt like all the notes were in the right places. With the Schmid I always seemed to be fighting something, especially in the high range. Like the YHR 667V I played all through graduate school, this one has a great high B-flat. In addition, the horn has more “core” to the sound, and I’m able to keep that core at loud dynamics. After rehearsals with the faculty brass trio, my colleagues agreed that the sound was preferable to the Schmid. As mentioned earlier, Schmid horns are fantastic instruments, but at this point in my career the right choice for me was the Yamaha. However, in the interest of fairness and full disclosure, there are some noticeable differences with the Yamaha.

First, the horn is a little heavier than the Schmid, which I had to adjust to. For the first several days I needed to take frequent breaks while playing to rest my left arm. You wouldn’t think that a difference of a few ounces would matter, but it does. Second, and most significantly, in my opinion is the valves. I suppose I’d gotten spoiled by Schmid valves, which are more or less perfect, but the Yamaha valves are definitely slower. On top of that, they became so sluggish after a few days (despite repeated oiling) that I ended up sending the horn back to Houghton Horns to have them check it out. Houghton provided excellent service at no charge, and got the valves back in working order. I’m not exactly sure what was wrong, but Dennis (Houghton) said that spinning the valves in oil got them going again. He also sent back a bottle of Hetman piston valve oil to use for a while. As of this writing I haven’t had any major issues with the valves. The third and final difference – though not a drawback – is that both sides of the horn settle at a slightly lower pitch than the Schmid. I had to be very mindful to keep the pitch low enough on the Schmid, but it isn’t quite as much of a struggle with the Yamaha.

In summary, though it isn’t a perfect horn (none are), the Yamaha 671 is a very well made instrument, and I’m really enjoying playing on it. I’ll post some audio and video recordings of it in action very soon.

Stay tuned for part two of this series: testing mouthpieces on the new horn.

Friday Review: Rescued! Forgotten Works for the 19th Century Horn

rescuedFor today’s review we have a new recording by John Ericson, Rescued! Forgotten Works for the 19th Century Horn. Ericson is Associate Professor of Horn at Arizona State University, and is a recognized expert on horn history and the 19th-century horn in particular. I’ve been looking forward to this recording for quite some time, and have avidly followed Ericson’s series of articles related to this project on Horn Matters. The entire series is well worth reading, but to summarize, Rescued! is the culmination of Ericson’s research into the repertoire and technique of the 19th-century single F horn, which is often overlooked by modern horn players. The written description of the CD is as follows:

Rescued! celebrates the forgotten works of a group of 19th-century hornists and composers. The music included in this recording was composed between roughly 1860 and 1910 and are quality works aimed primarily at low horn players of the late 19th century who still used single F horns. The works included in this recording are:

  • Nocturno, Op. 73 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Sonate, Op. 347 – Fritz Spindler
  • Melancholie, Op. 68 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Am Abend, Op. 71 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Gondellied, Op. 15 – Karl Matys
  • Lied ohne Worte, Op. 2 – Oscar Franz
  • Serenade, Op. 20 – Louis Bödecker
  • Lied ohne Worte – Josef Richter
  • Resignation, Op. 16 – Charles Eisner
  • Wiegenlied, Op. 69, No. 1 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Sonata, Op. 7 – Hermann Eichborn

Most of the compositions on this recording will be new or at the least unfamiliar to a majority of horn players. And while the works presented here may not have been written by the “A-list” composers of the time, they are still high quality and worthy of study. The scores are all available on IMSLP for free, and I think that Ericson’s fine recording will help revive an interest in them. Any would be perfect additions to a recital.

I’ve heard Ericson perform numerous times, and both he and pianist Yi-Wan Liao are in top form on this recording. The technical difficulties involved in performing on the single F horn are daunting: mouthpieces, crooks, accuracy, intonation, etc. Yet Ericson plays with exceptional musicality, not to mention spot-on accuracy and intonation throughout the entire disc. As one might expect, the sound of the single F horn is reminiscent of the natural horn – warm and velvety in softer dynamics, with a bit of sizzle at forte volume. The piano sound is also quite warm, accentuating (without dominating) the horn sound. Most of the works emphasize the lyrical capabilities of the instrument, although the Eichborn Sonata and a few others contain some nice technical passages as well. Listening to this disc, one might assume that playing a 19th-century single F horn is an easy task – if you’ve ever tried it you know that isn’t the case! “Wolf” notes are more frequent and difficult to control than on the modern double horn, and achieving any level of accuracy requires great skill and an exceptional ear. Bravo to Ericson and Liao for releasing this fine disc!

Friday Review: Horn Playing from the Inside Out, 3rd Edition, by Eli Epstein

epstein_thirdedIn today’s review we’ll look at another great pedagogical text, Horn Playing from the Inside Out, by Eli Epstein, now in a revised 3rd edition. I first reviewed this book back in 2012, saying:

I really can’t find any faults with this book, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in improving not just their horn playing, but overall musicianship and well being. Horn Playing from the Inside Out approaches even the most challenging techniques from a very matter-of-fact, can-do perspective, which is infectious! With this book, Mr. Epstein has gone a long way towards taking the mystery out of horn technique.

At the time I was preparing for a solo recital, a recording session, and an orchestral audition, and found Epstein’s book to be incredibly helpful in all three endeavors.  The chapters on vowels and managing performance anxiety were particularly useful for me. Since 2012, Mr. Epstein has published two more editions of his book, incorporating the latest scientific and pedagogical information available. If you don’t own a copy of the first or second edition, the third edition is a must, and even if you already own the book it’s worth taking a look at this new edition. Here’s a brief look at content created or modified since the first edition.

  • Expanded and more detailed sections on breathing, vowels, articulation, and dynamics, informed by the latest real-time MRI imagery. Eli Epstein and Dr. Peter Iltis have created a YouTube channel to introduce the world to this exciting new realm of research. Explanations in the book are accompanied by detailed MRI images, which help us to visualize difficult concepts.
  • New chapter on Finger-Breathing, which also has an accompanying YouTube video.
  • Revised commentary and tips on several of the most-requested orchestral excerpts, which have been recorded by the author and are available on iTunes.
  • An appendix on How to Choose a Horn: This is one of the most comprehensive and practical guides to choosing a new instrument that I have seen.

There are numerous other tweaks and updates in this new edition, but the above list hits on most of the major ones. While the first edition was (and is) fantastic as a standalone text, the addition of videos and recordings as companions to the third edition make it even more valuable for horn teachers and students. Part pedagogical treatise, part practical handbook, Horn Playing from the Inside Out should be in every horn player’s library.

Friday Review: Low Range for the Horn Player, by Douglas Hill

hill-low-rangeReturning to my review series, which has been on hiatus for several months, we have a new edition of a publication by Douglas Hill, Low Range for the Horn Player. Originally published by Really Good Music, this new engraving has been made available through the efforts of Daren Robbins, Editor of the International Horn Society’s Online Music Sales program.

If you are unfamiliar with this book, it is part of a series of publications by Hill covering several technical issues in horn playing. Other titles in the series include High Range for the Horn Player and From Vibrato to Trills to Tremolos…for the Horn Player.  While in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I had the opportunity to preview draft versions of the high range and trill books, and the low range book was published a few years after I left. Being very familiar with Hill’s teaching and previous publications, I was excited to review this book, which provides numerous tips and exercises for developing one’s low register. Hill’s explanations are practical and to the point, including a Detailed Checklist as a well as a Quick-fix Checklist for low playing. Many of the exercises were familiar to me, but there were also quite a few new ones. In addition to the traditional methods of developing the low range – long tones, pivot/shift, power exercises – many novel approaches are presented, including the use of flutter tonguing as well as multiphonics. Hill is clearly a master pedagogue of the instrument, and brings to bear forty-plus years of teaching experience in his approach to the low range. If one of the exercises doesn’t work for you or your students, there are sure to be several that do. Perhaps the next step for this publication, and others of its type, is to produce short video demonstrations of the exercises and concepts. Having an aural example to refer to or play along with would be very useful I think.
In summary, Low Range for the Horn Player should be required reading for all serious students of the horn. While it may not earn the same glory as the high range, the low tessitura is an equally important and rewarding area of performance and pedagogy.

Website Mini-Reviews

Up this week are brief reviews of three useful websites for musicians. In a previous post, I mentioned Toggl as a great tool for tracking and managing practice sessions. I’ve been using it more or less every day for the past several months, and still highly recommend it! In addition, check out the following sites to help plan and accomplish your practice goals.

Random.org: This is probably one of the most underrated websites around, with lots of potential random.orgapplications for musicians. It doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but is stable and does exactly what it advertises. One of my favorite tools is the Random List Generator. To use, simply copy and paste text into the box, and it will generate a randomized list. For example, copy and paste all 48 major and minor scales (click here for a PDF), hit the “Randomize” button, and off you go. To generate a new,  completely random list of the same scales, just go back and do it again. Practicing excerpts for an audition? Copy and paste them into the box to create a random order. (click here for a PDF list of several common excerpts). I also use the random number generator in lessons to pick out sight-reading examples. These are just a few of the ways you could use Random.org to make your practice sessions more effective, efficient, and fun! Let me know in the comments if you come up with others.

Trombone Tools: David Vining of Northern Arizona University and Mountain Peak Music has put together a fantastic collection of videos and articles. While some of them are obviously geared towards trombone players (Alternate Positions, for example), a majority would be useful for all brass players. His pages on Breathing, Lesson Guidelines for Students, and Hesitant Entrances are great places to start.

Don’t Waste Your Time Practicing! This new website was created by Dr. Travis Bennett, Associate Professor of Horn at Western Carolina University. Though still in the early stages of development, the site looks very promising. The title of the page is taken from a presentation Dr. Bennett has given on the topic of efficient practice, available on YouTube and embedded below. I look forward to seeing this new resource take shape.