Review – MRI Horn Videos: Pedagogy Informed by Science

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

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

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

Brief Reviews: Quality Tones App and The Big Book of Sight Reading Duets

Today’s brief reviews will consider two new products for brass players: Quality Tones – an app for iOS and Android devices – and The Big Book of Sight Reading Duets, from Mountain Peak Music. Both provide a creative, fresh approach to learning fundamental musical skills.

app-iconQuality Tones was designed by Spencer Park, a member of the San Antonio Symphony Horn section, and is available for a reasonable price on both the Apple Store and Google Play. I first heard the term “Quality Tones” at a master class given by William VerMeulen, though the concept can probably be traced back to Arnold Jacobs. Essentially, quality tone studies are meant to train the brass player’s mind and body to produce any pitch at any dynamic, with varying lengths, articulations, and tonal shadings, all with a consistent and beautiful tone quality. The Quality Tones app provides a means to achieve that end, by presenting a fully customizable selection of random notes, dynamics, articulations, etc, presented on individual “slides.” The app is meant to be practiced with a metronome, and notes can be repeated until the desired effect is achieved. After trying out the app myself and with a few students, I found it both fun and easy to use. The capacity for variation built into Quality Tones is fantastic, and training sessions could easily be created for a wide range of playing levels. Development is ongoing, with updates planned for adding drone, tuner, metronome, automatic slide advancement, and tone/decibel feedback features. One other tweak that might be helpful is to include time signatures for each quality tone study.

Horn_Cover_Web__91885.1442358992.225.275The Big Book of Sight Reading Duets, created by David Vining (horn version edited by Heidi Lucas), provides a progressive, enjoyable path to  improved sight reading. I’ve been using this book for the past several months in my teaching, usually beginning each lesson with a few random selections. It has rapidly become a favorite among my students, who are quick to remind me if we forget to begin a lesson with it! Despite several quality publications on the market, sight reading still remains a mystery to many students, who often avoid practicing it out of an ill-founded belief that one either can or can’t sight read well. While it is true that some otherwise competent musicians struggle with sight reading while others seem to have an almost uncanny gift, in my experience it can be improved provided that the necessary time is invested. These duets make putting in that time less of a chore. The 100 duets are grouped by difficulty, and each skill level includes a range of styles and challenges. Transpositions as well as bass clef versions make the horn edition by Heidi Lucas even more effective. While it might be tempting to immediately dive right into this book, I strongly recommend that students and teachers first read the Introduction, which is full of practical sight reading advice, and perform the clapping duets found in the beginning. Your students may scoff at the idea of clapping rhythms, but they won’t after the first couple of examples. In some ways the clapping duets are more challenging than the regular examples, and demand an even higher level of concentration and rhythmic integrity.

If you’re looking for some innovative ways to approach the interrelated topics of accuracy and sight-reading, check out the resources above. You won’t be disappointed!

New Year’s Review: Toggl Time Tracker

Happy New Year!

If any of your resolutions for 2016 have the words “time management” or words to that effect in them, you may be interested in Toggl, a simple but very powerful tool for tracking the time you spend on various tasks. *Note to my horn students – we will be using Toggl during the Spring 2016 semester, so feel free to go ahead and familiarize yourself with it. I stumbled across Toggl while searching for an easy way to monitor and categorize practice time. Initially, I was looking for a smartphone app designed specifically for musicians, but wasn’t very happy with the usability of several apps after downloading and test-driving them. My requirements were (I thought) pretty basic:

  • Easy-to-use interface
  • Ability to enter and track time spent on different activities
  • Ability to see summaries at-a-glance
  • Compatible with iOS and Android
  • Reasonable pricing

After several unsatisfactory experiences with musician-specific apps, I expanded my search to include all time management and tracking software. So far, I’ve been very happy with Toggl, and would freely recommend it to anyone. As mentioned earlier, I am planning to use it in my studio during the upcoming semester, with the goal of encouraging more efficient and mindful practice sessions. The interface is very easy to use, and can be customized quickly. Here’s a couple of screenshots showing a few of the ways I use Toggl.

First is a general summary of practice time – which has been useful for helping me stay in shape (and motivated) over the holidays. These are my totals for the week so far.

weeklysummary

And next is a more detailed view of the time spent on specific areas of practice. I have been using this to help me stay on track with my recital practice plan.

detailedview

Toggl can be used for free via its website, or with a smartphone app (also free). The website and smartphone app sync automatically, which is very handy. Creating projects and tasks is simple and intuitive, as is the time-keeping interface. While you could also do this with pencil and paper (or a spreadsheet), the clean, easy-to-use nature of Toggl makes integrating it into practice sessions seamless and, believe it or not, fun! If you don’t believe me, create an account and try it yourself. Don’t feel limited to using Toggl just for practice time, though: you could also monitor time spent on workouts, emails, studying, etc.

 

 

Etudes in Review: 30 Etudes for Stopped Horn, by Robert Ward

I picked up this great collection of stopped horn studies at the IHS Symposium in Los Angeles, but have just now gotten around to writing up a review. Author Robert Ward is well-known in the horn world, through his long tenure with the San Francisco Symphony as well as a growing number of compositions with horn. Published by Balquhidder Music, these etudes would be a welcome addition to an intermediate or advanced player’s library.

Over the last several weeks I’ve been working my way through the book, spending approximately 10 minutes on them per day. After covering about one third of these studies, I’ve found them to be fun, challenging, musically rewarding, and a real workout for stopped horn! Before getting into too many more details, here is a brief quote from the Preface.

This collection of 30 Etudes for Stopped Horn presents a variety of challenges for the medium to advanced player. I have included different styles from simple melodies to unmeasured quasi-cadenza, to swing and 12-tone, high and low register passages, and a variety of notations that are commonly used.

The studies are more or less progressive in nature, with each number presenting a few more challenges than the one preceding it. These challenges include rapid stopped to open shifts, meter changes, transposition, and a variety of different articulations, covering a range from B to c”’. Though the primary focus is of course on strengthening stopped horn technique, there are numerous other technical and musical benefits to be gained from this material. As Ward mentions in the Preface, these studies are not recommended for learning how to play stopped horn, but rather are designed to improve one’s abilities once the basics have already been more or less mastered. On the topic of fingerings, Ward writes in the Preface:

Fingerings are the subject of much debate – my experience is that every horn and player combination is unique. What works for one player, may not work for another. But start from the place of fingering one half step lower on the F-horn and go from there. There are many good Bb horn fingerings, especially in the higher register, but again, experimentation is the name of the game.

I largely agree with this assessment, although it might have been useful to include a suggested fingering chart or a few fingering options within the score. The printing and layout are clear, and the overall package is very nice. The main strength of these studies, though, is their musical inventiveness across a range of styles and technical demands. As with the Studies for Unaccompanied Horn by Gunther Schuller and 48 Etudes by Verne Reynolds, many of Ward’s studies would be effective on a recital performance.

If you need some extra stopped horn practice (and who doesn’t?) be sure to check out these etudes!

Review: Songs of Love, War and Melancholy/Mozart: Stolen Beauties

songsoflovegallaycoverI recently received two wonderful new discs for review from Anneke Scott, a phenomenal performer on both natural and valved horns. Scott serves as principal horn of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and The English Baroque Soloists, and also performs frequently as a soloist and chamber musician. In addition to her busy performing schedule, she has also found the time to record several albums of music by the great 19th-century horn virtuoso Jacques-François Gallay. The third and final volume in this series is titled Songs of Love, War and Melancholy: The operatic fantasias of Jacques-François Gallay (read a review of the second album here.) As in her earlier Gallay recordings, Scott’s natural-horn playing is expressive, athletic, and robust; in short, very impressive! She negotiates even the most difficult passages on the natural horn with beguiling ease. The selections on this disc belong to a repertoire that was extremely popular during Gallay’s day, but is less known to modern horn players. Here’s a brief quote from Scott’s liner notes, which are copious and very informative.

During this period the opera fantasia offered virtuoso musicians the opportunity to demonstrate a number of aspects of their playing that were viewed as highly desirable by their audiences. The choice of themes, especially if Italian in origin, was à la mode and their settings offered the musician the opportunity demonstrate his amazing skills both in performing a melody in a vocal style as well as showing off with spectacular embellishments.

I think the same holds true today for these works, though they do contain plenty of “real” music, and not just virtuosic display. It is also interesting that while Gallay’s Op. 27 Preludes and Op. 57 2nd Horn Studies have become a standard part of the modern horn player’s curriculum, these equally (if not more so) substantial pieces remain more or less unknown. I was familiar with operatic fantasias for horn, mainly through Thomas Bacon’s edition and recording of C.D. Lorenz’s Fantasie, Op. 13, but I knew very little about Gallay’s contributions to the genre. One factor that probably contributes to this disparity is the difficulty in tracking down modern editions of these works. The Op. 46 Fantaisie sur ‘L’elisir d’amore’ can be found on IMSLP, and Op. 49 is available through Koebl, but I was unable to find either public domain or commercial editions of the other works. I contacted Ms. Scott, and she quickly responded with the following information.

Now, all the Gallay pieces are available but right now it’s a bit tricky. I published them as part of the crowdfunding for the original disc. (They’re all here: http://www.plumstead-peculiars.com/Index.html). But just what with one thing and another haven’t had the chance to set up selling myself. They will be available from www.corniworld.com (Sheet music) and www.devinemusic.com (downloads) I think from July onwards.

So, it looks like new editions of these will be available very soon. These are lovely pieces – especially the three works for horn, voice, and soprano – and would make excellent editions to any recital.

stolenbeautiescoverThe second recording for review today is Mozart: Stolen Beauties, a collaboration between Anneke Scott and the period instrument ensemble Ironwood. Here’s a brief introduction to the album, again from Scott’s liner notes.

In this disc we take as our central point one of Mozart’s most memorable works for horn – the Quintet in E-flat major, KV407. Rather than choosing the more common path of combining this work with a number of other late 18th- and early 19th-century works for horn and strings…we have illustrated the various ways in which Mozart’s works have been ‘appropriated’ for the horn, or, in one case how Mozart ‘appropriated’ a work for himself.

The result of this novel approach to programming is an album full of obscure, but nonetheless beautiful, works for horn and various combinations of strings and piano. The exception is of course Mozart’s well-known Quintet, but the interpretation recorded here makes for very enjoyable listening as well. There is a freshness and presence to this album that rivals anything I’ve heard from modern instruments. Like the Gallay recordings, the liner notes are meticulously researched, yet pleasant and easy to read. Horn players will be especially interested in the recording of Michael Haydn’s Romance in A-flat major, which bears a striking resemblance to the Romanza movement from Mozart’s K. 447 concerto. Scott’s explanation and subsequent thesis regarding this peculiar work are quite convincing. I must say that after listening to both works back to back the Haydn seems more musically interesting! The music on this recording is a little more difficult to track down than the Gallay disc. Here are some additional details from Ms. Scott.

For the music on the Mozart disc it’s a bit more tricky. The Mozart quintet is quite easy to get hold of. I thought the Michael Haydn was as well but now looking for it it seems more tricky. We used a copy of the original edition – maybe I should do an edition of that myself? The Punto duets I found in a library in Russia and did my own edition which again I should make available through Plumstead Peculiars. I did the same with the Anon variation – these are available from Tanglewind Music – http://www.tanglewindmusic.com/Site/Historical_%26_Urtext.html. They’ve got the variations down as being by Puzzi which is a misreading of the manuscript, also the extra variation is missing from this edition.
The Kegelstatt though… I did my own edition for this piece so it’s kind of ready to publish but I’d like to do a lot of work on it first. There’s a lot of “textural” things in it – for example places where Livius obviously made a mistake (some strange viola figurations) which needed correction and other places where he deviates from the original Mozart. Eventually I would like to publish this but there’s a lot of information that I’d like to include so that performers have various options and can make their own decisions. Basically it needs a critical report. So it’s on the cards but I need to find the time to do it.

Also of note is Scott’s use of a hybrid instrument, a natural horn by Courtois Frères, Paris, c. 1835, with a removable set of piston valves (sauterelle) by Antoine Halary, Paris, c. 1840. She seamlessly combines both hand horn and valve technique in her recording of Mozart’s Concertante for pianoforte, horn, viola, and cello, arranged by Barham Livius.

On a related topic I’ll close with a general statement about Scott’s natural horn playing, which incorporates lots of different colors and expressive contrasts. There are varying schools of thought regarding hand horn technique, one of which emphasizes absolute evenness and consistency of sound between stopped and open notes. While there is merit to this approach, I personally enjoy hearing a difference in stopped and open timbres, especially when in the hands of a consummate musician like Anneke Scott. When performed tastefully, these contrasts add an elusive, but very important, quality to the music of that era. As a primarily modern (valved) horn player, I have been inspired by these recordings to strive for more expression and timbral variations in my own playing. I think you will as well!

Recording Reviews: Uncommon Ground & En-Cor!

For this week’s post I have two brief recording reviews. First up is a recent release on the MSR Classics label, Uncommon Ground: Contemporary Works for Trumpet with Horn, Trombone, Piano, and Organ. I was particularly interested in this album because three of the performers were classmates of mine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: Amy Schendel, trumpet, Todd Schendel, trombone, and Bernhard Scully, horn. All three have gone on to distinguished careers as performers and educators, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to perform with them. A majority of the tracks on Uncommon Ground are world premiere recordings, including two works for brass trio, Jean-François Michel’s Suite pour Trompette, Cor et Trombone (1994), and Joseph Blaha’s French Suite (2011). Both are very fine compositions, and highly recommended for those looking to expand their knowledge of the brass trio repertoire. For a little bit of background on the Michel, here’s a quote from my article on brass trio repertoire in the most recent issue of The Horn Call.

Michel is a professor at the Haute Ecole de Musique in Fribourg, and is a prolific composer and arranger for brass. The first movement opens with extended solo fanfares for the horn and trombone, followed by a faster section full of syncopation and mixed meters. The lyrical second movement makes for a nice contrast with the faster, more energetic outer movements. This piece puts some new twists on a traditional form, with plenty of great writing for all three instruments. “Brass Trio Repertoire: Beyond Poulenc”, The Horn Call, May 2015.

Joseph Blaha serves on the faculty at Roanoke College, and his French Suite was commissioned by the Contrapunctus Brass Trio (Amy Schendel, Todd Schendel, Bernhard Scully). I had the opportunity to hear these players in a live performance of the piece at the 44th International Horn Symposium in Denton, TX, and was very impressed. Modeled after the French Suites of J.S. Bach, Blaha’s trio makes frequent use of counterpoint, with plenty of interesting lines for all three instruments.

The playing on this album is of the highest caliber, as one would expect, and I was especially impressed by the clear, focused sound and impeccable intonation throughout. All three players are comfortable with the entire range of their instruments, and are able to produce, in my opinion, exactly the “right” sounds required by the music.

The second and final review for today is En-Cor!, featuring the American Horn Quartet. Financed primarily through a Kickstarter campaign, En-Cor! is likely the final recording by one of the most decorated brass ensembles in the world. After nearly 30 years of concerts, competitions, master classes, and residencies, the AHQ will be collectively retiring in 2015. (For much more information on the history of the AHQ, see Kerry Turner’s article in the May 2015 issue of The Horn Call). Though the ensemble has recorded most of the major works for horn quartet, including group member Kerry Turner’s own fine compositions,  the CD booklet notes that there were many other lighter works in their repertoire that had not yet been recorded. Over the years, these brief compositions became audience favorites, and were often used as encores at AHQ concerts. Thus, En-Cor! is in many ways a retrospective of some of the quartet’s finest playing, spanning everything from Bach to Bernstein. As for their performances, I can’t really say much that hasn’t already been said. If you’re a horn player, chances are you’ve heard of the American Horn Quartet, and if not, buy this album – or any of their albums – today. You will hear playing that pushes the boundaries of what’s possible on the instrument, all the while with warmth and expressiveness to rival any other chamber group out there…period.

The AHQ holds a special place in my heart because I grew up listening to their recordings. There are only a handful of brass ensembles that I’ve listened to consistently over my 20+ years as a horn player, and the American Horn Quartet is one of them. Having heard them live multiple times, I can also say that this recording is representative of their actual abilities and sound. What you will hear is not recording studio magic; they really do sound this good! And while it is a little saddening to know that the group will be retiring after their final performances at the 47th International Horn Symposium, I am comforted by two things:

  1.  Their many fine recordings, including this one, which have left such an incredible impression on generations of horn players.
  2. The handful of other professional horn quartets currently performing, many of them modeled after the AHQ’s example.

To paraphrase the closing of Kerry Turner’s article in The Horn Call, when the AHQ began 30 years ago, a horn quartet was considered more of a novelty than anything resembling a legitimate chamber ensemble. Today, there are many other brass chamber groups (not just horn quartets) who have benefited from the AHQ’s groundbreaking career. And while the reviews, recognition, and awards the AHQ has garnered over a nearly 30-year period would be considered remarkable in any field, their true legacy is the legions of horn players they have influenced and inspired.

Summer Plans, 2015

DuetHornsCoverWebAfter a somewhat busier-than-usual end to the semester, I’m finally settling into a summer schedule. As always, the next several weeks will include some much needed relaxation and social time with family and friends. In addition, I have some exciting events and projects to plan for in the coming months. Here’s a brief summary, with more details to follow in future posts.

  • Solo Duet Training for Horns is Complete: My new duet book from Mountain Peak Music is at the printer, and should be ready around June 1. After spending the last year working on this project (you can read more about it here), I’m very excited to see the final version in print! I have plans this summer to promote and introduce these duets to the horn playing community, including more videos and a presentation at an international conference.
  • Back to Blogging: Now that the duet book is finished, I am looking forward to spending more time writing and posting content to this website. I’ve missed it! Look for more frequent updates in the future.
  • Recording Reviews: As a subcategory of the above, I have several recent recordings in need of reviews, and will be working on those throughout the summer. Among them is En-Cor!, the American Horn Quartet’s most recent (and final?) recording, Uncommon Ground, an album of works for trumpet, horn, trombone, and organ (including two world premiere recordings of brass trios), and Songs of Love, War and Melancholy: The Operatic Fantasias of Jacques-François Gallay, a brand-new release by natural horn virtuoso Anneke Scott.
  • Arranging Projects: Taking a break from big projects this summer, but will be working on a few small-scale arrangements for horn and piano and brass trio.
  • 47th International Horn Symposium: The musical highlight of my summer will be the 47th International Horn Symposium, hosted by Andrew Bain and Annie Bosler at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, August 2-8. During the symposium I’ll be participating in three events: 1) performing the world premiere of Gary Schocker’s In Arkadia for Horn and Harp, a work I commissioned through the Horn Society’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund (read more here), 2) giving a lecture/demonstration on Solo Duet Training for Horns, and 3) performing in a University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni horn ensemble, with Douglas Hill conducting. There are many more details to share about these, and I am planning separate posts about each one as the symposium approaches. In addition, I will of course be attending many other concerts and lectures, and checking out the exhibits. Hope to see you there!

As always, I want to wish my readers a safe, restful, and productive summer!

 

Review: Good Vibrations: Masterclasses for Brass Players, by Randy Gardner

Good Vibrations: Masterclasses for Brass Players is the title of a new book by Randy Gardner, goodvibrationsProfessor of Horn and Chair of the Winds and Brass Department at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. I have been meaning to write a review for the past several weeks, but as there are already some great ones out there in The Horn Call and at Hornmatters.com, I wondered if I could add anything new. As I read (and re-read) Good Vibrations, and thought about some of the themes presented in it, another book came to mind, Douglas Hill’s Collected Thoughts on Teaching and Learning, Creativity, and Horn Performance. And while it might be unconventional to begin a review of one book with an extended quote from another, I think that the following passage from Collected Thoughts summarizes my thoughts on Good Vibrations.

Do not pass on your prejudices or your own problems to your students. Try to discard such pessimistic attitudes and, as a result, raise the expectations of these students. Sure, the horn has its difficulties, maybe even a few more problems than some other instruments, but why should that become the focus? That is the challenge, and meeting challenges is what it is all about. I believe strongly that students learn as much from teachers’ attitudes as they do from the well-chosen words. (Douglas Hill, Collected Thoughts on Teaching and Learning, Creativity, and Horn Performance, pp. 67-68)

As with Hill’s book, Good Vibrations conveys an encouraging, positive attitude towards the challenges of playing the horn and other brass instruments. Drawing upon decades of experience as an orchestral musician and pedagogue at the highest levels, Gardner has assembled a detailed and practical resource. Though it appears to be geared towards the undergraduate-level horn player and beyond, Good Vibrations contains many helpful tips that could be applied to all levels, including beginners. Each chapter focuses on one or more of the components of successful and artistic horn playing, shown below.

  1. The Foundation
  2. Breathing and Embouchure Basics
  3. Tone and Dynamic Control
  4. Legato
  5. Articulation
  6. Range
  7. Flexibility and Endurance
  8. Accuracy and Intonation
  9. Lip Trills
  10. Stopped Horn
  11. Warm-Ups, Practice Routines, and Sight-Reading
  12. Appendices

Each concept is first explained, then followed by several exercises which target the development of  a specific skill or set of skills. While many of the exercises look familiar (Gardner gives credit where it is due), I have not seen them presented elsewhere in such a concise and usable manner. Good Vibrations is a book which belongs on music stands in practice rooms and/or teaching studios, so that these exercises can be incorporated into a daily routine. Most chapters conclude with “Skill Assessments” drawn from the standard orchestral and solo repertoire. These concrete musical examples provide the student and teacher with benchmarks to gauge progress in one or more areas. As in his previous book, Mastering the Horn’s Low Register, Gardner provides helpful technical and musical comments for each excerpt found in these Skill Assessments. Appendices at the end of the book include suggested Skill Assessments for trumpet, trombone, euphonium, and tuba.

Because it isn’t possible to delve into each chapter in detail, here are some other highlights from Good Vibrations.

  • Time Savers: Concise, yet powerful teaching tools which can drastically increase your rate of progress.
  • Emphasis on the importance of developing aural skills: The chapter on Accuracy and Intonation includes a discussion of the SING-BUZZ-PLAY progression, as well as several ear strengthening and intonation exercises.
  • Masterclass Tips: As the title states, Good Vibrations is written in a less formal style, similar to the way a great pedagogue might conduct a masterclass or group lesson. As a teacher, I was particularly excited about the many suggestions and “one liners” that could be used to great effect in a masterclass or other teaching situation.

I own lots of books about the horn and brass playing in general, but relatively few of them end up on my “frequently read” list. Good Vibrations is one of them, and should be on yours too!

Semester Preview, Part 2: Orchestral Bucket List, Horn Conferences, Book Projects, and More!!

UntitledHere’s Part 2 of my semester preview, with some more brief descriptions of what will be happening in Spring 2015 and beyond (Part 1 is located here).

Orchestral Performances: This spring I’ll have the opportunity to perform on three major orchestral works I’ve never played before: Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish) with the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1o with the Rapides Symphony Orchestra. I’m especially excited to perform the Schumann, as it has long been on my bucket list of orchestral works.

Horn Conferences: I have plans to perform and present at two large horn conferences this year, the Southeast Horn Workshop, March 6-8 at LSU in Baton Rouge, LA, and the 47th International Horn Symposium, August 2-8 at The Colburn School in Los Angeles, CA. I’ll be performing a new arrangement of mine, Romance, by C.M. von Weber (published by Cimarron Music Press) at the Southeast Workshop, and for the International Horn Symposium I will hopefully be performing the premiere of a new work for horn and harp that I commissioned with assistance from the IHS’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. I say “hopefully” because while my proposal to perform has been submitted, I won’t find out if it has been accepted until February. Once I have more information about the premiere I’ll post it here. The new work, written by internationally recognized composer Gary Schocker, is entitled In Arkadia. My collaborator for this work will be Dr. Jaymee Haefner, who teaches harp at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Haefner is a fantastic harpist, and we worked together previously on my recording of Jan Koetsier’s Sonata for Horn and Harp.

Solo Duet Training for Horns: My plan this spring is to finish work on Solo Duet Training for Horns, a forthcoming book for Mountain Peak Music. While I will be posting periodically to this blog and updating the job listings, most of my research and creative activity time will be spent on this project. As of now I anticipate a release in early summer of this year. Will post more details as it nears completion.

Reviews, etc. Although I won’t be posting new content every week, I plan to review a couple of horn related publications I obtained late last year: Randy Gardner‘s new book Good Vibrations: Masterclasses for Brass Players, and En-Cor! the latest (and final?) recording from the American Horn Quartet.

It’s shaping up to be a very busy, but fun and engaging semester. Good luck and best wishes to my students and colleagues for the same!

Recording Review: Table for Three

Table for Three is a brand new recording from Summit Records featuring three very prominent figures in the world of brass playing – John Ericson (horn), Douglas Yeo (bass trombone), and Deanna Swoboda (tuba). All three are members of the brass faculty at Arizona State University, with distinguished careers as performers and educators. The album contains an eclectic mix of solo and ensemble music, with an emphasis on recently commissioned and arranged works for the trio of horn, bass trombone, and tuba. Brass trio recordings tend to be pretty rare, with one challenge being assembling enough repertoire to make for an interesting and marketable album. The artists on Table for Three have certainly met that challenge, and the result is a really great recording! I have some specific comments about the album, but first here is a list of what’s on it. The asterisks indicate works which were commissioned by or written for the artists.

  • Elizabeth Raum, Relationships*
  • Louis Moreau Gottschalk/arr. Ron Geese, The Dying Poet
  • Anton Reicha/arr. John Ericson, Suite of Trios from Op. 82 and Op. 93 (2 Suites)
  • John Harmon, Silhouette for Tuba and Piano
  • Vaclav Nelhybel/adapted by Douglas Yeo, Trio for English Horn, Viola, and Tuba
  • William Schmidt, Sonatina
  • J.S. Bach/arr. Ralph Lockwood, Wenn Sorgen, auf mich Dringen
  • Benjamin McMillan, Fleeting Visions*
  • Heinrich Isaac/trans. Kenneth Singleton, Three Pieces
  • Paul Ferguson, Table for Three at Chez Janou*

Drawing upon a wide variety of styles, the works recorded here represent approximately 500 years of Western music history, from Renaissance through present day. The performers are more than equipped to meet the challenges of reproducing these various styles, doing it all with ease, sensitivity, and great sounds – both individually and as an ensemble. Though there are many positive things I could say about Table for Three, here is what struck me most about the album upon my first hearing – and which was later confirmed on repeated listening.

  • Ensemble Blend, Balance, and Precision: If you haven’t heard this particular combination of brass instruments before, you will probably be surprised by the agility and flexibility it’s capable of in the hands of great players. The overall timbre tends toward the lower, “darker” end of the spectrum simply because of the instrumentation, but there are plenty of exciting moments with just the right amount of “sizzle” in the sound. The ensemble playing is a model of precision and sensitivity, with spot-on intonation. Each player is adept at matching the style, phrasing, and articulations of the other members.
  • Reicha Trios Work Well for Lots of Different Instruments: Among the highlights of this album for me are the two suites from the horn trios, Op. 82 and 93 of Anton Reicha. Long a favorite of horn players, these works by one of Beethoven’s friends – and direct contemporaries – are delightful, and John Ericson’s arrangements for horn, bass trombone, and tuba work very well. The trio plays these pieces with a warm, rich sound, but with plenty of energy. Another suite of these trios exists in an arrangement by Bill Holcombe for trumpet, horn, and trombone. Though the overall timbre is different, the “high brass” version is also very effective.
  • Chamber Music is What You Make of It: An underlying theme of this album – as mentioned in the liner notes – is that chamber music is a wonderfully rewarding way to get to know your musical colleagues, and to explore (and create) repertoire that might otherwise be ignored. The musical material you choose is of course important, but with the right people, virtually any combination of instruments can be developed into an engaging and inspiring ensemble. Table for Three is a perfect example of the artistic potential of a non-conventional ensemble, and is highly recommended!
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 713 other followers