The Search for a New Horn Continues

I’ve been writing a bit lately about my search for a new horn, and I’ve gotten some very helpful advice from lots of people.  You can read my previous posts (and the resulting comments) here and here, but to sum things up at this point I have decided to stick with the double horn/descant horn combo, and look for a high quality double horn to replace my aging Yamaha 667V.  The most recent horn I tried was Hans Hoyer’s newest model, the G10.  After asking around a bit and getting some very positive feedback about the horn from reliable sources, I had one shipped out to me on trial.  After playing on the horn exclusively for several days, I decided to send it back.  As with the Yamaha triple I tried earlier, I’ve put together a brief list of pros and cons about the instrument.

Pros

  1. Great high range!  This was in my opinion one of the best things this horn had going for it.  The high range was clear, easy, and in tune.
  2. Well-balanced, comfortable grip.  This is an often overlooked but very important aspect of horn design, and in this case the G10 was very easy to hold and felt great even after extended periods of playing.  The adjustable pinky hook and thumb lever helped customize the grip.
  3. Good sound.  I thought the sound of the horn was in general very resonant, and easy to produce.  The amount of resistance felt just right to me, and I didn’t feel like I had to work very much to get a good quality sound.

Cons

  1. The lower middle range on the F horn was difficult for me to center and play in tune.  In particular the pitches between middle c and first-line e were quite flat on the F side, and I had a very tough time bringing them up to pitch even after the rest of the horn was in tune.  Many of these partials do tend to be flat for those valve combinations, but this is usually not a range I have to worry about being in tune with a centered sound.
  2. Although the horn was in general well-made, I could tell that it was a factory production instrument rather than a custom-built horn. Several small things became minor annoyances for me, such as having trouble removing some of the valve slides even after they were cleaned and greased.  A brace on the horn even came loose in the middle of a rehearsal – this may very well have been a random coincidence, and not related to this particular model at all, but it was disconcerting nonetheless.  During the entire test period I had babied the horn and treated it with the utmost care, and for a brace to come completely loose for no apparent reason made me think twice about this particular instrument.

Overall I did like certain things about this horn very much, and of course my perceptions of the instrument were influenced by my own individual playing characteristics.  Also, having only played on one particular example of this model I can’t speak to the quality or reliability of these horns as a whole, but only the actual instrument I tested.  Furthermore, I think the G10 should definitely still be an option for anyone looking for a more affordable, yet still well made instrument.  Well, what now?  I’m continuing to explore various options out there, but the more I think about things the more I’m considering looking at some of the higher-priced custom made double horns.  As I was reading through some materials on selecting and trying new horns, I came across this wonderful advice from Dr. Nicholas Smith, Professor of Horn at Wichita State University and author of the new accuracy book Don’t Miss: Ideas, Concepts, and Exercises Designed to Increase Accuracy on an Inaccurate Instrument. His comments pretty much encapsulate my thought process on finding a new horn up to this point, and helped give me some confidence about any future decisions.

For most young, professional players there comes a point when they realize that their “warhorse” is getting tired…The player can stave off the inevitable change by having the valves plated, the slides expanded, and patches put on weak areas of their old horn, but, eventually, they will come to the conclusion that they need to buy a new instrument.

They begin trying-out different horns and usually gravitate towards one of the hand-built instruments, but are often galled by the cost of these instruments. It seems extreme to have to pay three to four times as much money as their first horn to get an added five to ten percent security or improvement in playing qualities.

Here’s the advice I give my students and former students. SPEND THE MONEY!  IT’S YOUR CAREER. Besides, the horn will never get cheaper if you wait, and in the final analysis, it’s one of the few tax deductions we still have. In the long run a more efficient horn will make the job easier, decrease playing pressure, and can even extend your career. (p. 42)

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Personal Observations from Nicholas Smith

One book I’ve been reading lately is Dr. Nicholas Smith’s Don’t Miss: Ideas, Concepts, and Exercises  Designed to Increase Accuracy on an Inaccurate Instrument. The instrument mentioned in his title is of course the horn, and Dr. Smith has decades of experience teaching and performing on it, having taught for many years at Wichita State University, and having also performed as Principal Horn in the Wichita Symphony.  This book is highly recommend for horn players at any level, and includes discussions, exercises, and observations which can be applied to beginners, professionals, and those in between.  One part of this handy method book (of sorts) is Dr. Smith’s “personal observations,” brief sidebars based on his vast experience which are interspersed throughout the book.  See the quotes below for some of my favorites.  For a more extensive review of Don’t Miss, check out Dr. John Ericson’s post at Horn Matters.

On Success

Having taught students for three decades, I have found (as most teachers have) that it is most often not the most talented student who ultimately succeeds, but that student who “plugs away” and is diligent in his or her practice. Certainly, talent must be there, but it is often the student who “wants it more” or has become obsessed with the instrument who succeeds.” (p. 17)

On Loud Playing

Most every conductor will forgive the hornist if he or she can’t play as loudly as requested, so long as it looks like he or she is playing as loud as they can. However, never never play so loud that you can’t play the passage accurately. Conductors may look like they want more volume, but they don’t want missed notes with that volume. (Besides, their big, dramatic motions are mostly a show for the audience – Hey, to them it’s show biz.) (p. 47)

Warming Up On Stage

Never play excerpts from any other work than what you are playing that performance and don’t show off by playing a loud, heroic excerpt which is not on that program. It only points to immaturity and disturbs your colleagues who are also preparing in their own way. (p. 51)

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