IHS Symposium Report, Part 3

Today will be the last installment in my series on the 44th International Horn Symposium.  (Read Part 1 and Part 2)  I returned from Denton yesterday for some prior commitments in Monroe, but I did get a chance to do a few more things on Thursday before hitting the road. The first thing I did in the morning was stop by some exhibit rooms to try out a few horns. As usual, there were numerous vendors at this symposium, with a wide variety of instruments. I usually avoid crowded exhibit rooms, but the tables weren’t very crowded since they had just opened. Two horns I was eager to try were at the Patterson Hornworks display:  his new custom Geyer style horn, and a Hoyer G10 customized with a Patterson leadpipe. Both instruments played very well, and were quite even throughout the range.  Having played a G10 on trial a while back, I could notice a definite improvement over the stock instrument I tried. To me the custom leadpipe made the horn play more like a pricier, hand made instrument. Next I stopped by the Siegfried’s Call booth to check out the new Dieter Otto 180K , which Jeff Nelsen is now endorsing. I have heard good things about the 180K for a while now, and the representative explained that Nelsen had altered a few tapers for the newer version of the horn.  This version is also available with a hand hammered bell. The instrument felt very balanced in my hands, and also responded quite well. My final stop of the morning was Wes Hatch’s table, where I played briefly on one of his hand made horns as well as some Holtons he had customized. Many horn makers are now offering customization packages for factory instruments such as Conns, Yamahas, and now Holtons. If you are looking for an artist-quality horn without breaking the bank this is a great option.

As I was walking between exhibit rooms I ran into John Ericson, a long time mentor and colleague. We had a nice chat, and caught up on several things. Unfortunately I missed his performance of the Schumann Konzertstück on Thursday evening – I’m sure it was fantastic! In talking about various things we  discussed an upcoming project at Horn Matters. I can’t spill any details yet, but be sure to read Horn Matters frequently for updates on this exciting new venture. John has also been posting regular updates on the symposium at Horn Matters, located here, here, and here.

My last event before leaving was a presentation by Thomas Bacon called “You Look Marvelous.” Though generally geared towards the topic of stage presence, Mr. Bacon’s lecture covered a range of related issues, including practice habits and performance anxiety. It was a great talk, and Bacon is a captivating speaker and player. Here are some notes from his lecture.

  • When performing, don’t “be yourself.” Instead, act like the performer you want to be. Pick a player you admire, and imagine what that person would do. If you don’t admire one particular player enough to emulate, then make one up!
  • A performance begins the second you walk on stage, and the audience usually forms an impression of you (positive or negative) before you’ve played a note. Walk on stage confidently, and embrace the audience (figuratively speaking). You can appear confident without being calm, and pretending to be confident can actually help calm your nerves. Say “hippopotamus” while bowing to ensure that you remain down long enough. Dress appropriately for performances, especially competitions.
  • Frustration when practicing is something we create, and personifying our frustration is a useful technique for moving past it. Mr. Bacon likes to have two chairs in his studio, one for himself, and one for his frustration. When things aren’t going well, he takes a few seconds to address his frustration, which helps him clear his head and get back to the task at hand.
  • When practicing, “take it to the easy place,” meaning break up the passage into the smallest digestible units – single notes if necessary. Play high passages down an octave until you achieve the sound you want, and then work upwards progressively by half steps (ex. Beethoven 7).

Mr. Bacon also spent some time near the end of his talk discussing performance anxiety and the use of beta blockers. After acknowledging that this is a controversial topic, he mentioned that he has used beta blockers on occasion, and that performance anxiety is a clinical condition that beta blockers can help treat. He dismissed the notion of beta blockers as “cheating” or an “unfair advantage,” likening these statements to arguments against the use of descant or triple horns today, or double horns when they were first developed.  I didn’t stick around to see if anyone wanted to argue with him on any of these points, but beta blockers are a reality in the classical music business. Whatever your personal choice is regarding the use of beta blockers, the best path I think is to be as informed as possible.

Although I only got to experience a portion of this year’s symposium, I can say that there were some truly amazing performances, lectures, and exhibits. Bravo again to Bill Scharnberg and his students for organizing and facilitating a wonderful event!

IHS Symposium Report, Part 2

Here’s the second in my series of reports on the 44th International Horn Symposium in Denton, TX. As with yesterday, today’s schedule was packed with numerous performances, including my performance on one of the contributing artist recitals. The first event of the day for me was a clinic titled “Horn in the Woodwind Quintet,” presented by Nicholas Smith and the Lieurance Woodwind Quintet from Wichita State University. Professor Smith offered some very practical tips for horn players in wind quintets, and his points were expertly demonstrated by the group. Their program included a complete performance of Barber’s Summer Music, Op. 31, one of the standards in the wind quintet repertoire, as well as works by Jacques Ibert, Scott Joplin, and Anton Reicha. A couple of tips that really stood out to me were 1) horn players must often re-interpret dynamic markings to match the group and 2) an orchestral concept of sound and articulations really doesn’t work too well in a wind quintet. Using examples from their program, the quintet demonstrated each passage twice, the first time with the horn performing in a less desirable manner, and the second time in an ideal manner. One last comment that interested me was about equipment. Professor Smith said that since most of his work is in the Wichita Symphony, he plays a bigger, more orchestrally suited instrument (Paxman triple, I think). He said that he has tried switching to a lighter horn for the quintet, but it just doesn’t work for him. As a result, he has to be particularly sensitive when he plays in the quintet, adjusting his sound, dynamics, and articulations to emulate a lighter instrument. This was a great lecture, and if you haven’t heard the Lieurance Quintet before they have several CDs available on Amazon.

Next, I stopped by one of the exhibit rooms to purchase some music – one of my favorite things to do at conferences. Having already bought a good deal of solo and ensemble music earlier this year, I focused on methods and etude books. Two items I really look forward to working with are Randall Faust’s A Hornist’s Handbook of Studies for Flexibility and Technical Development, and Paul Basler’s two volumes of Etudes for Horn.  Check out a review of these etudes at Horn Matters. One other publication I picked up is a reprint of a short handbook by Christopher Leuba called The Rules of the Game. I’ve only thumbed through it a few times today, but it appears to be similar in some ways to The Art of Musicianship by Philip Farkas: i.e. it uses excerpts from the standard orchestral and solo repertoire to set out some basic principles of music making.

After lunch I squeezed in a little down time before playing on the 3:00pm contributing artists recital. Other performers and repertoire on that recital included:

All of these players (and their supporting artists) sounded fantastic – these were tough acts to follow! But overall I felt good about our performance of Jan Koetsier’s Sonata for Horn and Harp, Op. 94, and got some nice comments from people afterwards. It really is a well written piece, and horn and harp is a nice combination.

Changing gears completely from yesterday evening’s concert, tonight featured Andrew Clark, Steven Denroche, Paul Hopkins, and Bruce Atwell performing music for 2, 3, and 4 horns from the Baroque era. This was an entertaining and very informative concert, performed exclusively on period instruments. Andrew Clark was able to do things on the natural horn that would be difficult even with valves. My favorite work on the program was probably the Concerto in F Major by Johann David Heinichen. Heinichen was the court composer at Dresden in the early 18th century, and Clark informed the audience that Heinichen wrote this work for the first two full-time professional horn players (prior to them, trumpet players doubled on horn).

Due to some prior commitments in Monroe, tomorrow will be my last day in Denton. I plan to attend a lecture in the morning, so be sure to check back here in the next day or so for an update and some summary comments about my experience at this year’s symposium.

Ready for IHS 44!

In addition to the usual juries and final exam grading next week, I’ll also be getting geared up for the 44th International Horn Symposium, which will be held on the campus of the University of North Texas in Denton, May 15-19. As usual, there is a great line-up of guest artists and exhibitors, as well as an attempt to set a record for the world’s largest horn ensemble. Symposium host (and Editor of The Horn Call) Bill Scharnberg has done an excellent job coordinating everything. Although early registration has ended, attendees can still register on site for either the full symposium or on a per day basis.  If you play the horn and live anywhere near Denton, you don’t want to miss this event. Although I regularly attend regional horn workshops, it’s been several years since I attended an international symposium.  For horn players in the south, Denton, TX is the closest an IHS symposium may ever come to your area (the site for IHS 45 has not been officially announced).  I’m especially looking forward to catching up with several colleagues, as well as perusing the numerous exhibits.

I’ll also be performing as a contributing artist on one of the Wednesday recitals, playing Jan Koetsier‘s Sonata for Horn and Harp, Op. 94.   My collaborator for this performance, as well as an upcoming recording project, is Dr. Jaymee Haefner, a member of the faculty at UNT.  She is a fabulous musician, and I’m very excited about working with her. If you aren’t familiar with this work, consider checking out our performance at the symposium.   For a taste of this music, here’s an excerpt of the third movement from a recording with Sören Hermansson, horn and Erica Goodman, harp. Wishing everyone safe travels to and from Denton!

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