Recording Project Update: Music by Eurico Carrapatoso

As mentioned in an earlier post, one of my big projects this summer was recording several works for soprano, horn, and piano for a forthcoming album of music by Eurico Carrapatoso. I’m pleased to say that we recently wrapped up recording, and I thought it would be good to share a few observations about the process while details are still fresh in my mind. Thank you to my colleagues Claire Vangelisti and Richard Seiler for inviting me to participate in this project, and Bravo on your inspiring work!

Engineer/Producer: We were very fortunate to be able to work with engineer and producer Richard Price of Candlewood Digital on this project. Mr. Price has a fantastic reputation, and even if you don’t recognize his name I would be willing to bet that you own or have heard his recordings. I had not worked with Mr. Price previously, but after two solid six-hour-plus days of recording, I would recommend him to anyone without reservation! His incredibly discerning ears and easy-going demeanor made him a joy to work with as a producer and engineer. While I don’t know the exact technical aspects of what he did with microphone placement and other variables, I do know that the sound he was able to capture was great – warm and nuanced, with exactly the right balance among all three parts. And this was just from the raw takes! The final edited and mastered recording should be really fun! See below for a few shots of the stage setup.

Horns, Endurance, and Rehearsals: As I’ve mentioned before, much of this project emphasized high and light playing, for which I used an older Paxman Model 40M double descant horn. My sincere thanks go out to Craig Pratt for the generous loan of this fine instrument! There were a few movements on which I used my regular Yamaha 671 double horn, but the majority of the playing on this album is on the Paxman. In my preparation for the recording sessions I focused on familiarizing myself as much as possible with the tendencies of the instrument, as well as getting creative with some different fingering choices.  Despite the intense schedule (on both days we did a 3-hour session in the morning, followed by a 2.5 hour break, and concluded with another 3-hour session in the afternoon, plus about another 30 minutes on a third day to wrap up some minor things), my endurance held up well. For those that might be interested, I believe this success can be attributed to a few different factors:

  • Balanced practice between double and descant horn It was tempting to cram in lots of practice on the high horn, especially in the days leading up to the recording sessions. However, I can speak from experience that too much intense practice on the High F side can tire out your chops quickly! I didn’t practice more than 25 minutes at a time on the descant horn without a break, and always made sure to end each day on the double horn with some relaxing low register playing.
  • Mindful Warm-Ups/Warm-Downs I crashed and burned once in graduate school by practicing too much on the day of a recording session, and vowed never to make that mistake again. On each day I warmed up very lightly for about 25 minutes, beginning in the mid-low range and gradually expanding outwards (but still avoiding extremes). At the end of each day I warmed down for a few minutes, then followed up with light massage and alternating cool and warm compresses on my cheeks and upper lip for 5-10 minutes after getting home. *The cool “compress” was a soft drink can from the refrigerator, and the warm compress was a washcloth soaked in warm water. I was tempted to try some ibuprofen, but not really being in the habit of taking that type of medication I decided to forgo it in favor of the compresses.
  • Lots of Great Rehearsals One other major factor in the success of this recording was being able to perform and rehearse frequently with my colleagues before starting the recording process. It seems like an obvious assertion, but is probably worth mentioning anyway. Having performed and rehearsed this repertoire frequently just prior to the sessions made things go very smoothly for the most part. Most of our discussions during the actual recording had to do with minor variations in interpretation, and adjusting to the modified stage setup. Because of the sight lines and lighting, I ended giving lots of cues for both piano and voice.

Final Thoughts: Recording a classical album can be a grueling process, and the bar for technical perfection and artistry is extremely high. High quality microphones and a great producer will quickly expose any and all weaknesses in your playing! I’ve always found it a humbling yet enjoyable experience, though distinctly different from the act of live performance. Though a major part of the work is now complete, the project is still a ways off from completion. Now comes the editing, followed by mastering and various other procedures involved in the production of a commercial recording. Be on the lookout for more updates in the coming months!

Back to Basics: One Month with the Standley Routine

At the beginning of September I decided to take a break from my regular warm-up and maintenance routine – Douglas Hill’s Warm-ups and Maintenance Sessions for the Horn Playerand began working on the Standley Routine. Going in, I decided to commit to it for one month before making any long term decisions. If you are not familiar with the Standley Routine, here’s a brief summary, excerpted from the previous post linked above.

From 1949 to 1957, Forrest Standley performed as Principal Horn of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and later taught for many years at what is now Carnegie-Mellon University.  Two of his former students, son Gene Standley of the Columbus Symphony, and H. Stephen Hager of Southwest Texas State University, have made available a revised and edited version of their teacher’s warm-up and daily routine.  Although the Standley Routine is fairly lengthy when compared to other daily routines – one hour and forty minutes according to the original preface – the level of thoroughness and organization is unparalleled.

Before getting to my conclusions about the routine, an explanation for the switch is in order. There were a few big reasons why I thought a change could be helpful to my playing, and here they are in no particular order.

  • Endurance: After returning from a wonderful week at the 47th International Horn Symposium, I had a difficult time getting back in shape for some upcoming solo, chamber, and orchestral performances. As anyone who has attended a large conference like the IHS Symposium (or ITG Conference or ITA Festival) can attest, the irony of these events is that you don’t really have time to practice very much. I managed to get the horn on my face every day during the symposium, with the exception of the day I departed, but resuming a full practice regimen upon returning was a challenge. I did what I normally do to build endurance, which is add five minutes of practice time to my routine every other day, but wasn’t totally satisfied with the results. Having had some prior experience with the Standley Routine, and having heard that it was good for building endurance, I decided to give it a shot.
  • Concentration: As with the first reason, this one probably has very little to do with what I was practicing, and more to do with how I was practicing it. Nevertheless, after many years of playing my regular routine on a daily basis, I began to notice my focus and attention wandering during the first hour of practice – precisely when they needed to be most present. I should state for the record that this doesn’t mean there are any shortcomings in design or content with Hill’s routine, nor does it indicate that I had mastered it so well as to be bored. Nothing could be further from the truth! Still, I thought changing routines might help me break out of this habit.
  • Consistency: One of the strengths of Hill’s routine is that it covers everything, within a reasonable amount of time. I knew that if I played the full warm-up plus routine I had touched on pretty much every technique required of modern horn players. But, over time I began to think that maybe it might be useful for me to forego some of that variety in favor of more similar patterns which emphasize the same basic techniques. For example, the Standley Routine doesn’t include any stopped horn, multiple tonguing, or lip trill patterns (Hill does), but instead presents four types of exercises (scales, arpeggios, endurance, and overtone) in every key. Is it a comprehensive routine? No, not in the sense of Hill’s Warm-Ups and Maintenance Sessions, but it is very thorough.

Ok, so what has the past month with the Standley Routine been like? On the whole, it’s been very productive, and I’ve noticed improvement in all of the above mentioned areas. It is taxing, especially the endurance exercises, but seems to be exactly what I needed at this point in my career. The entire routine takes me about 65-70 minutes to complete, although instead of performing the arpeggio exercises both slurred and tongued (as indicated), I alternate articulations each day. In addition, I use a tonic drone, and play the endurance exercises on the F horn. I would also recommend supplementing with various etudes and/or exercises to cover stopped horn, multiple tonguing, and lip trills. Recently I’ve been working through Robert Ward’s 30 Etudes for Stopped Horn, which I picked up at the IHS Symposium. It’s a fantastic collection of stopped horn studies; look for a more detailed review in the coming weeks.

I plan to continue with the Standley Routine for the immediate future, although at some point I will probably return to Hill’s Warm-Ups and Maintenance Sessions. To be clear, they are both great routines, and I am not necessarily advocating for one over the other. What I think is important, though, is that we periodically take stock of our daily routines, and consider trying other patterns and approaches.

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