Midwest Clinic Roundup

As promised, here are some summary thoughts on last week’s Midwest Clinic.  Prior to leaving for Chicago, I listed some basic goals I wanted to meet while at the conference.

  • Check out some other clinics
  • Attend the CSO Brass concert
  • Exhibits, Exhibits, Exhibits
  • Attend Concerts
  • Reconnect with friends and colleagues
  • Update my blog

I’m happy to say that I was able to achieve all of these goals – at least to some degree.  I did attend a few other clinics, which you can read about in my previous posts, but as always there wasn’t enough time to attend everything that looked interesting. Two sessions I really would have liked to see were “Injury Prevention for Musicians,” presented by Paula Brusky, and “Brassed On: A Guide to Expressive Brass Playing,” by Gregory R. Jones.  Although I wasn’t there in person, I did download and read over their clinic handouts (here and here).

Next on my to do list was attend the CSO Brass Concert.  In an earlier post I mentioned that I had more to say about the concert, and thinking back over the performance, a couple of things really stood out to me.  First, the CSO brass section blends and matches like no other section I’ve heard. While their particular approach and sound concept may not be to everyone’s taste, their musicality and total awareness of each other is undeniable.  From tuba all the way up to piccolo trumpet, the section blends and projects a unified sound. The second thing I noticed was that although some players seemed fatigued (or were just having an “off” day) – perhaps due to Mahler 6 rehearsals earlier that week – they didn’t let that get in the way of the overall product.  Yes, there were some missed notes, which I can assure you happens in live performances, but they were clearly overshadowed by the quality of sound and phrasing.

I’ve already mentioned the sheer number and diversity of exhibits at the clinic, so I won’t go on too much about them. I did make a few purchases (books and recordings) a few of which I’ll be reviewing on this blog in 2012. I’ve listened to snippets of all the recordings, and the ones that really stand out to me so far are J.D. Shaw‘s recording with the University of New Mexico Wind Ensemble, and the Canadian Brass, Brahms on Brass.

There isn’t too much else I can say about the other concerts I attended, other than to note the extremely high quality of all the ensembles, both student and professional.  I spoke with some old and new friends, although I would have liked to spend more time with them.  And luckily, I was able to find some time each night to write regular blog posts. I also want to thank my wonderful wife Kristen for accompanying me on this trip – as always, her love and support were invaluable!

I know most of my university colleagues are now on break for the holidays, and I’m also looking forward to a few weeks of rest and relaxation.  Of course I’ll still be practicing for some performances coming up in early 2012, but I plan to dial things back a bit and enjoy some time with friends and family.  I may write another post before the end of 2011, but if not, I wish all of my readers a safe and happy holiday season. See you next year!

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Midwest Clinic Update, Part 4

Here is the final part in my series on this year’s Midwest Clinic (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). I plan to post some summary comments next week once I’ve had time to process everything a bit more, but this will be the last update while I’m actually at the conference. My wife and I have had a wonderful time here, but are looking forward to returning home. Today is the last day of the conference, and we’ll be catching a flight back to Louisiana tomorrow morning. The closing concert of the conference featured the Kunitachi College of Music Blasorchester, a very fine wind ensemble based in Japan (an English version of their website is currently unavailable, so I’ve linked to the Wikipedia entry instead). As you might expect, the performance was top notch, with a program consisting mostly of contemporary wind band works as well as a few transcriptions. Here’s a snapshot of the program booklet. In part 3 of this series yesterday I forgot to include one other session I attended, presented by Frank Ticheli. Dr. Ticheli is one of the most well known figures in the band world, and is a Professor of Composition at the University of Southern California. His session was titled “A Composer’s Secrets,” and included a number of insights about composition and conducting. A few that really resonated with me were “composers don’t always get it right,” and “sometimes it’s ok to sacrifice technical accuracy.” On the first point, Ticheli pointed out several places in his own compositions where the markings on the page don’t really communicate what he had in mind, and that it is up to the musicians to do what makes the most musical sense. And on the second point he demonstrated two different ways of conducting the same work – one was technically perfect, but bland and uninspired, while the other was more spontaneous and exciting, but perhaps not as perfectly executed as the first. The choice between the two was obviously clear – the musically convincing interpretation will win out every time.  I’ve performed Ticheli’s music several times over the years, and his horn writing is always exciting and very reasonable. One other reason I was particularly interested in his clinic is that he will be visiting The University of Louisiana at Monroe in February as a Composer-in-Residence. Ticheli has ties with both Louisiana and the Monroe area, and we are all looking forward to his visit.

Ok, that’s all for now. I want to congratulate and thank everyone involved with The Midwest Clinic for putting on a world-class conference. If you’ve never attended the Midwest Clinic I highly recommend it. Educators and performers of all levels will find something valuable here.

Midwest Clinic Update, Part 3

Here’s part 3 of my Midwest Clinic update (read Part 1 and Part 2).  As with the previous two days, day three was packed with lots of activities, including my own presentation on Stopped and Muted horn. The first event I attended was a standing-room-only performance by the Boston Brass. This group always sounds fantastic, and they put on a very entertaining show. Long time fans of the group know they recently welcomed Chris Castellanos on horn, who took over the position when J.D. Shaw left to join the faculty at The University of New Mexico. Chris and I attended the Las Vegas Music Festival together about ten years ago, and at the time Chris was already a busy freelancer in the area. He sounded great then, and he sounds even better now!

After the Boston Brass concert I headed over to a presentation by the Powers Woodwind Quintet, a faculty ensemble in residence at Central Michigan University. Their clinic was titled Gems: Music for High School Woodwind Quintet, and featured performances of several excerpts from a wide variety of wind quintet literature. The group sounded great, and I was really impressed with the horn playing of Bruce Bonnell, Associate Professor of Horn at CMU. One point they made in their presentation that really stuck with me is the importance of chamber music in high school music programs. Getting students involved in chamber music makes their large ensemble playing better, and the whole band benefits from this experience – and it’s also really fun! I have very fond memories of playing in brass quintets, wind quintets, and horn quartets in high school, and I made some lifelong friends in those ensembles. Band Directors, I know you’re busy, but it really will make a huge difference in the quality of your large ensembles if you institute some kind of a chamber music program at your school. Reach out to local private teachers and/or university faculty for help with coaching and repertoire selection.

After a brief lunch break it was time for my presentation. Everything went smoothly, thanks to the great staff at the Midwest Clinic. I had a pretty good crowd, and got lots of positive feedback after the presentation. I even made a good recruiting connection with a band director from Texas, which wasn’t something I was expecting this far from home (their band program has 29 horn players!) Another unexpected but welcome visitor included one of my former high school band directors.  I really enjoyed getting to reconnect with him after several years, and overall I think the session was a success.

To close out the day I attended a session by the founders of the ALIVE Project. ALIVE stands for Accessible Live Internet Video Instruction, and the group acts as consultants for educators who want to use video conferencing technology to host interactive lessons, performances, and master classes. This idea is gradually gaining ground, and I think it holds a lot of potential, especially in the age of decreasing budgets and increasing travel costs. Will it ever replace live lessons and classes? Probably not, but it is a great supplement and a wonderful alternative when bringing a group to campus isn’t feasible. I was intrigued by their ideas, and it’s something I’ll be looking into very closely.

Stay tuned for the fourth and final installment in this series tomorrow.

Midwest Clinic Update, Part 2

Here’s a brief update from Day 2 of the Midwest Clinic. My Day 1 update can be found here.  I started the day by attending a morning concert by the Chicago Brass Band, a British-style group who have won several national awards (image above linked from their website). The more I listen to brass bands the more I like their warm, rich sound. Especially notable on this concert was the North American premiere of Apophenia, a work for solo trumpet and brass band by Peter Meechan. The soloist was Jens Lindemann, a former member of the Canadian Brass and an internationally known soloist. Lindemann performed on four different instruments for this three movement work – cornet, trumpet, flugel horn, and piccolo trumpet – often switching from one horn to another multiple times within the same movement. The piece is highly virtuosic, and requires a soloist versed in a number of styles: classical, rock, and jazz, to name a few.  It was a great performance, and both ensemble and soloist pulled off some hair raising passages with brilliant technique and convincing musicality. Hearing this new piece as well as the premiere of Paul Terracini’s new work by the CSO brass yesterday reminded me of how much great new music is out there today.  Knowing the classics is obviously an important part of being a horn player, but it’s equally important to seek out and listen to new works.

After the morning concert I went back to the exhibit hall to make a few purchases, consisting mostly of books and CDs. Here a few notable items I picked up (look for more detailed reviews of these in the future).

  • Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians, by Jeffrey Agrell (GIA Publications) A book I’ve been meaning to get for some time now, I plan to use parts of it in lessons and chamber music coachings.
  • Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs, by Bruce Nelson (Windsong Press) Pretty much everything I’ve read by or about Arnold Jacobs has been a goldmine of insights about brass playing and overall musicianship. I look forward to reading this book as well!
  • Brahms on Brass, Canadian Brass (Opening Day Records) A new recording of piano works by Brahms arranged for brass quintet and brass choir.
  • Tales of Imagination, J.D. Shaw, horn and the University of New Mexico Wind Ensemble conducted by Eric Rombach-Kendall (Summit Records) A brand new release featuring works for solo horn and wind ensemble.

The highlight of my day was an impromptu meeting with Dr. Randall Faust, Professor of Horn at Western Illinois University and a well respected composer, teacher, and performer. Dr. Faust contacted me earlier this week and mentioned that he was going to be attending the Midwest Clinic as well, and we got together over lunch today to talk shop for a bit. I had not met Dr. Faust before, but I knew that he was very active in the International Horn Society and had written a number of works for horn and other brass instruments. He was warm and engaging, and we had a great discussion about horn pedagogy, my upcoming clinic on stopped horn, and several mutual acquaintances in the horn world. As a young horn teacher, encouragement like this from well-established figures in our field is a wonderful thing, and I’m delighted that we had a chance to meet. To top it all off, he generously passed along copies of several compositions, as well as a CD and a demonstration DVD on stopped horn!  I’ll be reviewing these materials more extensively in some upcoming posts, and I want to thank Dr. Faust for his kindness and generosity.

I think I’m blogged out for this evening, but I’ll be back tomorrow with updates on my clinic and more concert reviews.

Midwest Clinic Update, Part 1

Greetings from The Midwest Clinic!  If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’m in Chicago this week attending the conference, and I hope to provide some daily updates to my readers on the various happenings here.  I arrived in Chicago yesterday, and was greeted by the sign to the left in the baggage claim at O’Hare airport – not a bad way to start!  From there I made my way to the conference hotel/site, McCormick Place.  As there were no real events taking place yesterday, I spent some time acquainting myself with the layout of the conference center.  I’ve attended plenty of conferences before, but nothing on the scale of the Midwest Clinic, which boasts an average of 15,000 visitors annually. Size can sometimes take away from the personality of a conference, but despite the number of concerts and events taking place this week things seem to be running quite smoothly. The ballrooms and exhibit halls are massive, but with plenty of clearly marked signs to make navigation very easy. Today was the first real day of the conference, and I tried to pack in as many activities as possible. Things got started at 8:30am with an opening concert featuring chamber ensembles from The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” I was particularly impressed by some great playing from the U.S. Army Brass Quintet (MSG Joseph G. Lovinsky, horn) and U.S. Army Woodwind Quintet (SSG Aaron K. Cockson, horn).  They played some traditional favorites for these mediums, as well as some nice arrangements I hadn’t heard before. (More on these in a final post next week).

After the opening session I spent some time touring the hundreds of exhibitor booths (at right).  I didn’t spend very much time at any of them, but earmarked a few booths to come back and visit again tomorrow. Since I’m not a band director, there were a number of booths that didn’t really apply to me (uniforms, fundraisers, etc.), but that still left plenty of music, recording, and instrument exhibits to explore, as well as live demos of the latest in music technology. I’ll be spending some more time in the exhibit hall tomorrow, and will report back with more details.

The highlight of the afternoon was a concert by the Chicago Symphony brass section. This concert was not in the conference center but a few blocks down at Symphony Center on Michigan Avenue. The brass section played spectacularly, living up to their reputation for both power and finesse. Conductors included Dale Clevenger, Michael Mulcahy, and Jay Friedman, all legends in the brass playing world. The program featured mostly transcriptions, but one of the strongest and most engaging pieces in my opinion was the world premiere of an original brass choir work by Australian composer Paul Terracini.  The work was titled Gegensätze, meaning “Contrasts,” and it certainly lived up to its title with plenty of exhilarating moments as well as lots of beautiful lyrical passages. Though obviously difficult, it sounded very idiomatic to my ears, and I think it will be getting plenty more performances in the future.  I have some more to say about this concert, but will save that for the final wrap up post next week.

To close out the day we were treated to some more fine brass (and wind and percussion) playing, this time by the entire U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” The band played very well, and one of my favorite pieces on their program was Hail the Dragon! by British composer Philip Sparke. Though he’s most well known in the brass band and wind band world, Sparke has some great stuff out there for horn, including a series of etude books.

Ok, that’s enough for now – check back tomorrow for some more updates!

Headed to the Midwest Clinic

This week I’m headed to Chicago for the 65th Annual Midwest Clinic, one of the largest music education conferences in the world (image at left linked from the Midwest Clinic website).  This being my first Midwest Clinic, I’m very excited about taking in all the sights and sounds, as well as  presenting a clinic titled “Stopped and Muted Horn: A Guide for Directors.” Though I’m sure I won’t be able to see everything Midwest has to offer, I’ve put together my priority of list of things to do while I’m there.

  • Check out some other clinics: In addition to my clinic on stopped and muted horn playing, there will be a number of other brass related presentations during the conference. Visit the clinician page for more information on all the Midwest clinicians as well as downloadable handouts.
  • Attend the CSO Brass concert:  It’s been several years since I last heard the Chicago Symphony, and over the years their brass section’s annual performance at the Midwest Clinic has become legendary.
  • Exhibits, Exhibits, Exhibits: Midwest boasts the most exhibitors I’ve ever seen at a conference, and I’m looking forward to spending the better part of a few days browsing for music and other fun stuff.
  • Attend Concerts: Other than the CSO brass concert, I’m not sure at this point which other concerts I’ll be attending, but I plan to hear at least a few large and small ensembles, including the Boston Brass.
  • Reconnect with friends and colleagues: I have a number of friends from all over the country who’ll be attending the clinic, and I hope to be able to speak to as many of them as possible.  Networking and just hanging out with friends and colleagues is a very important part of conference attendance, thought it isn’t mentioned very often.
  • Update my blog: Depending on the availability of WiFi, I hope to post brief updates daily while at Midwest, followed by a more substantial write up afterwards.

If any regular readers out there will be attending this year’s Midwest Clinic, I’d love to see you at my presentation (Friday, December 16th @ 1:00pm).   See you in Chicago!

Monday Video: Stopped Horn

As a supplement to an upcoming presentation on stopped horn at the 65th annual Midwest Clinic, I put together this brief video summarizing some of the main points about stopped horn technique.  The video is meant to accompany a handout and exercises, which you can download from the Midwest Clinic’s clinician page.  One note about the video is that since the focus is on stopped horn, I shot from the somewhat unusual bell-side angle.  Hopefully this gives a better view of the stopped horn hand position.

Stopped Horn Excerpts, Part 2

In part 2 of this series on stopped horn excerpts, we’ll look at a few more orchestral works which feature prominent stopped horn parts, as well as an excerpt from the band literature.  In part 1 we focused on solo excerpts from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol and Rachmaninov’s The Rock , but in this post we’ll take a closer look at some section excerpts for stopped horn. The first, and probably most famous, tutti excerpt is found in the last movement of Tchaikvosky’s Symphony No. 6, Op. 74.  Beginning at rehearsal K, the 2nd and 4th horns have a stopped c#’, which drops an octave after four measures.  The low c# must be very loud, but also in tune (example taken from the IMSLP parts).

The excerpt can be doubled so that the whole section is playing it, and I also highly recommend using a brass stop mute.  It is possible to play the note well using hand stopping, but it can be played much louder (and brassier) with a good stopping mute like this one by Alexander or this one by Ion Balu.  I own an Alexander mute and can say that it is a very fine mute that will get the job done, and I have also heard very good things about the Balu mute.  But don’t take my word for it – see the video below for a demonstration of the Balu stopping mute featuring Ion Balu.

Mahler’s symphonies have some amazing horn parts, including lots of stopped horn.  Take for instance this excerpt from the second movement of his Symphony No. 1.   The stopped notes are loud, rapidly articulated, and must also be played bells up (“Schalltr. auf”).  All seven horn parts have variations on this figure,  but the lower parts which go down to the low a-flat can be particularly difficult to project.  The example below is from the 4th horn part.

As with the Tchaikovsky excerpt, it is worth considering a brass stop mute on this one – they can really make a big difference in volume and projection. I would practice the excerpt both ways, however, just in case you are ever required to play it using hand stopping.

The final excerpt for today is not found in orchestral music, but instead comes from the wind band repertoire – Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy. I could not get my hands on an actual part for today’s post, but I have played the work several times.  The first movement, “Lisbon,” opens with stopped horn and muted trumpet, making for a very interesting timbre when played well.  Having played this piece as both a high school and college student, I really wish I’d had some better stopped horn fingerings then.  The recording below is of the University of North Texas Wind Symphony.

To close I’ll leave you with a list I’m currently compiling: ” Orchestral and Band Works with Prominent Passages for Stopped and Muted Horn.”  If you have suggestions for the list please comment below – I’m particularly interested in band works since I’m not as familiar with that repertoire.  Looking at the list you can see that many major composers wrote lots of stopped and muted horn parts – it should definitely not be an “optional” part of your technique.

Muted

Beethoven, Ludwig van

  • Symphony No. 6

Berlioz, Hector

  • Symphonie Fantastique

Bruckner, Anton

  • Symphony No. 4

Debussy, Claude

  • La Mer
  • Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun

Dvořák, Antonín

  • Symphony No. 9

Mahler, Gustav

  • Symphony Nos. 1-9
  • Das Lied von der Erde

Mussorgsky, Modest (Ravel)

  • Pictures at an Exhibition

Prokofiev, Sergei

  • Romeo and Juliet (Suite No. 3)

Ravel, Maurice

  • Daphnis and Chloé
  • Rapsodie Espagnole

Rimsky-Korsavok, Nikolai

  • Le Coq d’Or (suite)
  • Scheherazade

Schoenberg, Arnold

  • Chamber Symphony No. 1

Shostakovich, Dmitri

  • Symphony No. 5

Strauss, Richard

  • Ein Alpensinfonie
  • Don Juan
  • Don Quixote
  • Ein Heldenleben
  • Symphonia Domestica
  • Till Eulenspiegels Lustige Streiche

Stravinsky, Igor

  • L’Oiseau de Feu, Suite (1919)
  • Le Sacre du Printemps (1913)

Stopped

Brahms, Johannes

  • Academic Festival Overture

de Falla, Manuel

  • El Sombrero de Tres Picos

Grainger, Percy

  • Lincolnshire Posy

Jenkins, Joseph Wilcox

  • American Overture for Band

Mahler, Gustav

  • Symphony Nos. 1-9
  • Das Lied von der Erde

Ravel, Maurice

  • Daphnis and Chloé
  • Rapsodie Espagnole

Rimsky-Korsavok, Nikolai

  • Capriccio Espagnol
  • Le Coq d’Or (suite)

Schoenberg, Arnold

  • Chamber Symphony No. 1

Stravinsky, Igor

  • Le Sacre du Printemps (1913)

Tchaikovsky, Pyotr

  • Symphony No. 5
  • Symphony No. 6

Williams, Clifton

  • Fanfare and Allegro

Stopped Horn Excerpts, Part 1

Lately I’ve been looking quite a bit at excerpts from the orchestral repertoire which feature stopped horn, either in solos or tutti passages.  Over the next two posts I’ll be discussing a few of them in some detail, and sharing a list of several other works which call for either stopped or muted horn.  The reason for this research is because I’m putting together a presentation for the Midwest Clinic in December.  I recently found out that my clinic proposal was accepted, and I’m really looking forward to attending this international band and orchestra conference.  I feel well prepared for the conference – I’ve given this presentation before and published an article based on it in The Instrumentalist – but for a venue as large as the Midwest Clinic I want to really make sure my clinic provides as much useful information as possible.  For a brief summary of the topic and my presentation, you can read the following clinic synopsis, which should be appearing on the Midwest Clinic website soon.

Stopped and Muted Horn: A Guide for Directors

Stopped horn is an extremely effective but sometimes misunderstood technique required for the horn.  Passages for stopped horn occur in nearly every genre of music for the instrument, from solos to chamber music to large ensembles such as orchestra and wind band.  This clinic will present some practical methods for helping your horn players learn this technique.  Mutes and mute technique can also be problematic for young and intermediate horn players.  Sometimes even choosing the correct kind of mute for a given passage can be confusing, and there are usually several workable options when it comes to mutes and mute technique. Recommendations on types and brands of mutes for purchase as well as some helpful tricks when working with muted horn sections are also included.

I’ll post more on my presentation as the date for the conference approaches, but one point I do want to make is that we all need to practice stopped horn!  It is a standard technique that pops up all the time, but there is still a good bit of confusion amongst many students (and some teachers).  Ideally you want to have a good set of stopped horn fingerings memorized – if you are still fingering everything down a 1/2 step on the F horn I encourage you to explore more B-flat horn fingerings.  Whatever you use, the goal is to be able to produce an accurate, in tune stopped horn sound with roughly the same level of confidence as when playing open horn.  Earlier this year I was reminded of these points during preparation and rehearsals for the Monroe Symphony Orchestra‘s season finale concert.  Two of the works on the concert – Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34 by Rimsky-Korsakov, and The Rock, Op. 7 by Rachmaninov – included some extended stopped playing.  The Rimsky-Korsakov excerpt is well known, and not just among horn players.

Notice that there are no pauses between the open and stopped passages – an excellent reason to work on a smooth and quick transition between open and stopped hand positions.  Here is a recording of that excerpt, recorded live from the Monroe Symphony’s concert on Saturday, May 7, 2011.  Dr. Clay Couturiaux is the conductor.

Overall I am happy with the performance, although the hall is very dry as you can tell from the recording, and the stopped horn passages don’t cut through as well as I would have liked.

The next two excerpts come at the end of the Rachmaninov, which has some very nice horn parts throughout. Both are soft, exposed solos, and when combined with the stopped horn marking make for a fun time!  The examples below are taken from the full score as found on the IMSLP.

 

There is a short tutti interlude between the two solos, which is included on the recording. As in the Rimsky-Korsakov, this is a live recording of the Monroe Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Clay Couturiaux

I practiced this passage a lot, and not just because it was an unfamiliar work to me.  I played it open and stopped back to back to work on intonation, and I did write in a number of fingering reminders. Oh, and did I mention that it’s for Horn in E?  Playing this passage using the old fingering rules (F horn, down 1/2 step) would only make it more challenging, and in fact I played everything except the written “g-sharp” and “a” in the staff on the B-flat side.  These are just two examples; there are many more out there.  We’ll continue on Friday with some more stopped horn excerpts.

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