Quarantine Blues?

Here’s a slightly edited version of a recent email I sent to my students. Perhaps it may be of use to you and/or your students.

If you are currently quarantining because of a COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure, here are some things you can do to help fill the time.

Be sure to follow all directives from your health-care provider, before doing any of the following.

Assuming you are feeling well enough

Self-Care/Well Being

  • Take a 15-minute walk outside every day, making sure you observe all health and safety protocols.
  • Read a book.
  • Sit outside and read a book/take a short nap.
  • Call/Zoom/Skype/Facetime an old friend or family member.
  • Binge watch a new series.
  • Play an online game with friends.
  • Meditate/Do Breathing Exercises (Try Insight Timer)

Music/Horn-Related: Pick ONE thing to start, and go from there. It’s not about accomplishing lots of things. Do only what you CAN do, and forget about the things you can’t.

  • Rethink/revise your daily routine. Caruso studies, transposition, scales, long tones, etc. Dig in and find something you like to practice, even if you watch TV or something else while doing it.
  • Work on your ear training/theory knowledge (Download Perfect Ear)
  • Record a virtual duet with a friend/colleague. Use an app or figure out how to sync up the videos yourself using free software like iMovie or DaVinci Resolve.
  • Listen to this Horn Solo playlist on YouTube. Then create your own! In addition to the standard works, try to find pieces by under-represented composers. Find the music and buy it!

Above all, take care of yourself and seek help if you feel overwhelmed.

Caruso Journal Wrap-up: Weeks 11 and 12

This will be the last update in my Caruso Journal [you can read the other parts here: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 |10]

I got busy last week with some other horn-related things (more on this in a future post) and had to defer my Week 11 journal entry. Rather than  post Week 11 late, I thought it would be appropriate to combine Weeks 11 and 12  into a single, final summary.

When I began practicing Caruso studies 12 weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but in my experience they have lived up to their reputation as great fundamental exercises! My consistency, endurance, and timing have improved over the last several weeks, and as I’ve mentioned before I will definitely be encouraging my students to practice them. Here are a few summary thoughts for anyone who is thinking about getting into Caruso Studies.

  • Go slowly – follow Julie Landsman’s suggested Practice Calendar, or create your own. Whatever you do, come up with something that is progressive and allows enough time (several days to weeks) on each pattern before adding more difficulty and complexity.
  • As a corollary to the above, be patient – if you are playing Caruso correctly, your playing should improve. If it doesn’t, take a break for a while, and/or consult with an experienced teacher. If you don’t have access to a teacher right now, watch (and re-watch) Julie Landsman’s excellent YouTube series.
  • Track your progress – use a chart (or mark in the music) dates and week numbers to help you adhere to the practice calendar. Be vigilant about avoiding strain when playing any of the exercises. I did not get good results when I had to force something to come out. It worked out much better to play to my comfortable limit and then repeat the pattern the next day or every other day.

I’ve enjoyed working on Caruso Studies, and doing so has helped me become more aware of my breathing and physical timing when I play the horn. I’ll keep doing them and trying to get better!

 

Caruso Journal: Week 7

I don’t have much to report this week, but if you have been reading my “Caruso Journal” posts I’ll assume that you have more than just a passing interest in the method. If so, I highly recommend that you check out this Brass Junkies interview with Julie Landsman, former Principal Horn of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Caruso Method expert. Her interview is inspiring, funny, and full of great advice for horn players and all musicians.

On a personal note, while I never had the opportunity to study directly with Ms. Landsman, I did get to work briefly with one of her former students (and section mate in the MET), Michelle Baker. Ms. Baker was on the faculty of the Round Top Music Festival in Texas when I attended in the summer of 2003. Her masterclasses and lessons were fantastic, and I still think fondly of my experiences that summer.

More updates next week as I will be adding some exercises to the routine!

Caruso Journal: Week 5

Five weeks into my work with the Caruso Routine, and things are feeling very good. *If you are new to this ongoing series, feel free to check out the previous posts, which will provide some context. Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4

No new material this week, but continuing daily with:

  • Six Notes – Version 1
  • Lips/Mouthpiece/Horn – mostly Version A, although I’ve been experimenting a bit with Versions B and C
  • Harmonic Series –  As written (but quarter=80). I also need to try the alternate beginnings found at the bottom of the page.

One observation for the Harmonic Series exercises is that foot tapping and nose breathing really seem to help with establishing consistency. My initial experience with the Caruso method was that I had to suspend my concerns about nose breathing and just “buy in” to the pedagogy of it for a while until it started to feel more natural. That being said, I do not advocate nose breathing for most other normal playing situations. But for the purposes of his routine, it has been very effective. In a few more weeks I’ll be adding some low range exercises, which will be fun. Stay tuned!

First Solos for the Horn Player: Brazilian Set, by Louis Gordon

Continuing with the First Solos for the Horn Player project, here are two brief pieces by Louis B. Gordon, arranged by Mason Jones. There is very little information online about the composer, but here is a brief excerpt from his obituary:

Louis graduated from Beaumont Texas High School. He attended Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY, where he received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1946 and his Master of Music degree in 1947. He went on to earn his Doctor of Musical Arts in 1962.

Louis was a Professor of Music at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, where he taught for 30 years until his retirement in 1993. He was a member of the American Federation of Musicians and a member of Temple B’nai Or, Morristown, NJ. He proudly served his country during World War II as an Army Air Corps cadet.

While I’m fairly certain that this is the same composer whose music appears in First Solos for the Horn Player, I am less certain about the original instrumentation for this “Brazilian Set.” Gordon has a number of other solo and chamber music compositions for winds and piano (though none for horn that I can find), and it’s possible that these two movements came from one of those works. It’s an interesting choice for this collection, and is a nice contrast to the primarily 18th and 19th century compositions found in the rest of the book. If anyone out there has more information about Louis Gordon or this piece in particular I would love to hear it.

Caruso Routine Journal: Week 1

Something that has kept me motivated in my practicing over the last several weeks has been an interest in routines. It’s something I’ve researched and published about, and at a personal level I also find them really interesting. The Caruso Routine is one that I’ve always wanted to try but didn’t feel I had the necessary time to devote to it.

After watching the videos and reading the other material several times on Julie Landsman’s Caruso Method page, I decided to give it a shot. Having never studied long term with a Caruso teacher, I’m taking things very slowly and following the detailed instructions and suggested Practice Calendar found on Ms. Landsman’s website. Initially, these exercises aren’t taking the place of my regular routine, but rather supplementing it.

For Week 1, the only thing on the calendar is The Six Notes, one of the fundamental exercises in Caruso studies. This past week I played the Six Notes first thing in the day, right after stretching and breathing exercises. The nose breath felt a little strange at first, but after a few days began to feel more normal. Foot tapping helps with coordinating the initial breath attack (and I’ve also been using a metronome along with it). So far I’ve only done Version 1, but will probably alternate with Version 2 in future weeks.

So how do things feel after a week of Caruso Routine? Pretty good! The Six Notes works great as a “first notes” pattern, and so far hasn’t made my chops feel stiff. Quite the opposite, things feel relaxed and responsive after playing it. Again, I’m taking things very slowly, and will be adding Lips / Mouthpiece / Horn for Week 2, per the Practice Calendar. As time goes on and I add more exercises, there will be more to report, but my initial impressions are good. For a great article and introduction to the Caruso Method, be sure to visit Julie Landsman’s page, and also check out this article at Horn Matters.

First Solos for the Horn Player: Song of April, by Georges Bizet

For the fifth selection in this series from First Solos for the Horn Player by Mason Jones, I chose Bizet’s “Song of April.” I wasn’t familiar with the work prior to this project, but it’s a lovely tune that lays well on the horn. Technology update: I’m still working on the sampling rate issues I mentioned in my previous post, but have so far not found a resolution. I have a couple more ideas to try…hopefully I’ll have it fixed for the next video.

In the meantime, I have posted two videos for this selection: an audio-only version with some reverb and equalization added, and a version with video that has not been edited. It’s interesting to compare the two, and in the video I get to support one of my alma maters, the University of Wisconsin. Enjoy!

New Video Project: First Solos for the Horn Player, by Mason Jones

Like many colleagues around the world, I am now working exclusively online, and all upcoming performances have been cancelled or postponed until further notice. In lieu of live chamber and solo performances, I thought it would be useful and fun to start another video project, similar to my Kopprasch Project from several years ago.

My repertoire choice this time is a book of horn and piano arrangements by Mason Jones, First Solos for the Horn Player. It’s a great collection, but not nearly as well known as his “yellow book,” Solos for the Horn Player, the contents of which can be found on a really great recording  by Gregory Miller. The works in First Solos for the Horn Player are generally shorter and less complex, but are very tuneful and lay quite well on the horn. Any of them would make a fine addition to a recital program in need of lighter, accessible pieces.

I plan to post a few of these each week, recorded with SmartMusic accompaniment. It is my hope that teachers and students find these videos useful during this difficult time. If you like these pieces, be sure to order the book!

If You Like Solo Training Duets, Check Out Solo Training for One Horn!

In looking over some year-end tax information from Mountain Peak Music, the publisher of my two books, I noticed a couple of things:

  1. Horn players like Duet Books! Solo Training Duets  did pretty well in 2019, probably because of the recently released 2nd edition, and also because duets are an enjoyable way to package useful content (fundamentals, long tones, solo repertoire, etc.) Thinking about this generated some interesting ideas for future publications…more on that in the future!
  2. People might not know about my other book, Solo Training for Horn: This book is actually more recent than the first edition of the duet collection, although it has been far less popular. There are probably a couple of causes for this, number one being that it was published in 2016 and horn players might have forgotten about it, and also because it isn’t something you can necessarily pull out and sight-read with a student or colleague. However, I would still encourage anyone who enjoys Solo Training Duets  to check out the solo book. There are several pieces covered in the one-horn book that don’t appear in the duet book, and I think there are some very useful exercises and derivative etudes. One could even put together a comprehensive warm-up/fundamentals routine by picking and choosing certain excerpts. This is a topic I plan to explore further in a future post.

Meanwhile, feel free to visit the Mountain Peak Music website and view the samples from Solo Training for Horn. I also recorded a brief promo/demo video for the book back in 2016. Take a look and listen, and let me know what you think. I would be happy to answer any questions you have about it!

Brief Reviews: The French Horn Warmup Collection and Dueling Fundamentals for Two Horns

In my last post of 2019 I want to recommend two excellent new publications for horn players, John Ericson’s The French Horn Warmup Collection and Matthew Haislip’s Dueling Fundamentals for Two Horns. Either or both would make great gifts if you are still looking for a last minute holiday present for a horn-playing family member or friend.

The French Horn Warmup Collection includes material from several earlier publications by Dr. Ericson, as well as some new exercises. They can be freely combined in various ways to create numerous warmup and practice routines. All of the basics are covered thoroughly, including range and tone development, flexibility, scales and arpeggios, intonation, breathing, multiple tonguing, and more. I regularly use the exercises for breathing and multiple tonguing, and the “breath-set-play” pattern found at the end of the “Short Daily Routine.” Everything is notated very clearly, and the exercises are explained and presented in a logical manner. The Kindle edition is listed for $3.99, which is an amazingly low price for the amount and quality of the content in this collection. It can be easily read and performed from by using a tablet equipped with the Kindle app. If you prefer a hard copy, it is available through print-on-demand for $8.99, which is also very reasonable. For more on this publication, see Ericson’s post at Horn Matters, as well as this episode of his Horn Notes Podcast. Along with Professor Jeffrey Agrell at the University of Iowa, Dr. Ericson is among a few prominent horn professors making their publications available in both print and digital format. With the ever increasing popularity of tablet devices and digital media, I think this trend is going to continue.

In a similar vein is Dueling Fundamentals for Two Horns, new from Mountain Peak Music. The author is Dr. Matthew Haislip, Assistant Professor of Horn at Mississippi State University. Here is a brief description of the book from the MPM website:

Trill Thrill, Fits of Fifths, Beethoven for Two, and Overtone Madness are just some of the fun—but make no mistake, also challenging!—duets included in Dueling Fundamentals for Horns. This book consists of five chapters: Long Tones; Intervals; Flexibility; Scales and Arpeggios; and Range Extenders. In each duet, both lines are challenging—there is no “student” line and no “teacher” line. Therefore this book works well for lessons or as an excellent tool for two friends or classmates looking to challenge themselves and each other.

I’m a big fan of Mountain Peak Music’s publications, and have published two books of my own with them. The Dueling Fundamentals series capitalizes on a need for high quality pedagogical material for use by college-level players and their teachers. The duets found in Professor Haislip’s book make excellent “lesson-starters,” to be used in the first 10-15 minutes to establish solid fundamentals and set a high standard for the rest of the lesson. They of course could be used throughout a lesson to work on specific technical needs, or assigned to pairs of students for studio class presentations, etc.  I’ve played through many of these with my students, and found them to be well-constructed, useful, and fun. Range requirements usually begin comfortably and progress to extremes, and it is quite easy to adapt these for less experienced players by skipping around and/or truncating the duets. Some of the patterns draw upon classic materials such as Stamp, Clarke, and Gallay, while others incorporate various styles ranging from Beethoven to Philip Glass. In the absence of a duet partner, any of the duets can be performed by a single player to create an individual practice routine.

I am always in the market for innovative and functional teaching materials, and these new publications by John Ericson and Matthew Haislip certainly fit the bill.

As we close out 2019, I would like to thank my readers for taking the time to peruse this site. After almost 10 years of blogging, I still enjoy reading and writing about the horn, and it’s gratifying to know that there are others out there who feel the same way. Wishing you all good health and great chops in 2020!

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