Record Your Lessons

Lately I’ve been listening to some of my lessons from graduate school, specifically the two years spent working on my master’s degree with Doug Hill at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I stayed at Wisconsin and eventually earned a doctoral degree in horn, but I’ll save that topic for a future post.  I remember in our first lesson Doug strongly encouraged me to record at least some of my lessons, and I’m really glad I did.

Looking back on those two years I remember spending a lot of time in the practice room!  I usually practiced at least three and half hours a day, sometimes less depending on ensemble rehearsals, and sometimes as much as five hours a day if I didn’t have any other playing commitments.  Listening to the lesson recordings I can tell that I made significant improvement over the two years, even though I remember at the time not knowing if I was improving very much from day to day.  I tell students who are perhaps frustrated with their rate of progress that it’s much easier for teachers to notice improvement because they don’t hear you every single day.  Hearing those recordings now from a teacher’s perspective is also quite interesting, as I am much more interested in how Doug explains certain concepts rather than how I actually played from lesson to lesson.  Most of the lessons were pretty good, some weeks better than others, but as I mentioned earlier I did make improvements over the long term.

Another thing I notice in these recordings is that I usually came into each lesson with a definite plan, and with plenty of repertoire ready to play.  Nothing was ever perfect, but I had almost always worked out notes and rhythms – to the best of my abilities at the time – before setting foot in the studio.  Overall I would describe Doug’s approach during those lessons as very encouraging, while still maintaining high standards.  I knew I had a lot of work to do coming into graduate school, but I was motivated and ready to try new ideas.

If you are a college music student definitely try to record at least a handful of lessons and/or keep a journal of your thoughts and reactions to each week’s private lesson.  You may or may not find these records useful now, but they will almost certainly be of interest to you further into your career.

A Solo Voice: Douglas Hill

As an undergraduate I wasn’t a huge fan of modern music for the horn, but studying with Douglas Hill at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for my masters and doctoral degrees definitely opened my mind and ears to the range of sound possibilities on our instrument.  Professor Hill has been a lifelong champion of new music, and I think one of the best of his several solo recordings is A Solo Voice, released in 1987 by GM Recordings. This album is devoted to 20th-century works for unaccompanied horn, and contains several interesting pieces.  Unfortunately, A Solo Voice is not available on CD, but you can find it on LP in university libraries and perhaps purchase a used copy online.  I got mine directly from Professor Hill, who had a cache of them in his studio.  The highlight of this album is Hill’s Jazz Set, a four movement extravaganza of extended techniques in jazz style.  To hear the composer perform his own work is a fabulous resource, and proves that everything written in the Jazz Set is in fact possible and more importantly musically convincing.  Verne Reynolds’ Elegy for Solo Horn is another work to which the soloist has a direct connection, as the piece was written for and premiered by him.  There are now several recordings of this work available, but this one is a must-hear for anyone working on the Elegy.  The other side of the album contains two studies from Gunther Schuller’s Studies for Unaccompanied Horn, the Sonata for Horn Solo, Op. 101 by Avram David, and the Sonatine for Horn Solo, Op. 39b by Hans Erich Apostel, all of which are expertly rendered.  Avram David’s Sonata has also been recorded by Eric Ruske on his album Just Me and My Horn, another highly recommended album of solo horn music.

Brass Quintet Excerpts, Part I

This will be the first of three installments devoted to important horn parts in brass quintet music, which was also the subject of my doctoral dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  As part of the project, I created a website, the Guide to the Brass Quintet, as a way to make the information in my dissertation more accessible and user friendly.  As a bit of background, I’ll quote from the homepage to this website.

The initial idea and inspiration for this project came from reading the “Afterthoughts” section of Douglas Hill’s book Collected Thoughts on Teaching and Learning, Creativity and Horn Performance.  In this section, Professor Hill lists a number of intriguing research topics, including the creation of excerpt books focusing on repertoire other than standard orchestral excerpts.  I am very interested in the wonderful music being written for the brass quintet, so this project proved to be an excellent choice given my own research interests and performing background.

What is Contained in this Site?

Hopefully, horn players and other interested musicians will find the following resources contained in these pages useful.

A collection of printable excerpts of important horn passages from some of the most frequently performed and recorded original brass quintet compositions. The excerpts are formatted and edited with additional performance instructions for horn players.

A Discography showing the names of the ensembles, titles of compositions, and information on the specific recordings where each work is found.  The discography lists, at times, multiple recordings of each major work, so that players can study and listen to multiple interpretations.

Supplemental information such as an excerpt classification system, which organizes the excerpts according to their technical requirements, as well as the Range Requirements for 55 standard brass quintet compositions.

A bibliography of additional resources, both print and electronic, for further study of the brass quintet and its repertoire.

If this stuff sounds interesting to you, then stick around!  One way to use this information, which I mention in my dissertation and on the website, is as an alternative/supplementary etude collection, complete with excerpt classifications for solo passages, high horn, low horn, technical, and extended techniques.  For example, if you’re working on extended techniques and want some extra material to practice, you can consult the Extended Techniques section of the website for a list of composers, works, and measure numbers.  All of the excerpts listed are available in the Excerpts portion of the site.  Here are a couple of particularly interesting passages.

Georges Barboteu (b. 1924),  Astral, 1 mm.  after reh. G-7 mm.  after reh. G, Lento (quarter note=50) [With metronome playing at quarter note=50]

All excerpts from Astral by Georges Barboteu used by permission. Copyright © 1971 by Edition Choudens.  C. F. Peters Corporation, sole selling agents.  All Rights Reserved.

Douglas Hill (b. 1946), Timepieces for Brass Quintet, Movement I, “Good Times” mm.  43-56, Double tempo (quarter note=160)

All excerpts from Timepieces for Brass Quintet by Douglas Hill used by permission.  Copyright © 1997 Douglas Hill. Really Good Music, LLC, Sole Selling Agent.

For twenty-three of the fifty-five works, I recorded the horn parts and included them along with the printed music.  Although it’s no substitute for a full ensemble recording, it hopefully gives you an idea of the excerpt.  You can listen to the above excerpt from Douglas Hill’s Timepieces here:

If you enjoyed this post, check out the full website, it has much more information.  Much of this material can also be found in my article “Why the Brass Quintet?” published in the May 2009 issue of The Horn Call.

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