Friday Review: Horn Playing from the Inside Out, 3rd Edition, by Eli Epstein

epstein_thirdedIn today’s review we’ll look at another great pedagogical text, Horn Playing from the Inside Out, by Eli Epstein, now in a revised 3rd edition. I first reviewed this book back in 2012, saying:

I really can’t find any faults with this book, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in improving not just their horn playing, but overall musicianship and well being. Horn Playing from the Inside Out approaches even the most challenging techniques from a very matter-of-fact, can-do perspective, which is infectious! With this book, Mr. Epstein has gone a long way towards taking the mystery out of horn technique.

At the time I was preparing for a solo recital, a recording session, and an orchestral audition, and found Epstein’s book to be incredibly helpful in all three endeavors.  The chapters on vowels and managing performance anxiety were particularly useful for me. Since 2012, Mr. Epstein has published two more editions of his book, incorporating the latest scientific and pedagogical information available. If you don’t own a copy of the first or second edition, the third edition is a must, and even if you already own the book it’s worth taking a look at this new edition. Here’s a brief look at content created or modified since the first edition.

  • Expanded and more detailed sections on breathing, vowels, articulation, and dynamics, informed by the latest real-time MRI imagery. Eli Epstein and Dr. Peter Iltis have created a YouTube channel to introduce the world to this exciting new realm of research. Explanations in the book are accompanied by detailed MRI images, which help us to visualize difficult concepts.
  • New chapter on Finger-Breathing, which also has an accompanying YouTube video.
  • Revised commentary and tips on several of the most-requested orchestral excerpts, which have been recorded by the author and are available on iTunes.
  • An appendix on How to Choose a Horn: This is one of the most comprehensive and practical guides to choosing a new instrument that I have seen.

There are numerous other tweaks and updates in this new edition, but the above list hits on most of the major ones. While the first edition was (and is) fantastic as a standalone text, the addition of videos and recordings as companions to the third edition make it even more valuable for horn teachers and students. Part pedagogical treatise, part practical handbook, Horn Playing from the Inside Out should be in every horn player’s library.

Friday Review: New Publications from AvA Editions, Little Suites 1, 2, and 3 by Ricardo Matosinhos

avaeditionsRecently I received several new publications from AvA Musical Editions, which specializes in the music of Portuguese composers. Though they aren’t very well known in the United States, AvA has a variety of high quality publications for horn and other brass instruments.

Ricardo Matosinhos, Little Suite Nos. 1-3, for Horn and Piano

I have previously reviewed other publications by Dr. Matosinhos (here and here), and am likewise impressed by these three charming compositions. The composer has recognized and filled a very important need in today’s music for horn: high quality solo music for beginning to intermediate players. Modern horn music has plenty of intermediate to difficult compositions, but it is rare to find well-written material for younger players. One exception to this observation is First Solos for the Horn Player, by Mason Jones (not to be confused with his more popular Solos for the Horn Player), but this collection contains primarily transcriptions, many of which are too difficult for young players. In addition to composing these accessible and artistic solos for horn and piano, Matosinhos has also recorded them and provided excellent annotations such as range requirements and descriptions of each movement.  Here are some brief summaries of each suite, with links to the recording page and more detailed information.

  • Little Suite No. 1: In terms of range and endurance requirements, this is the easiest of the three. However, it has plenty of melodic and rhythmic variety, and even introduces concepts such as asymmetrical meter, the blues scale, and swing rhythms. Approximate duration is 6’15”
  • Little Suite No. 2: Expanding upon the requirements in Little Suite No. 1, the second suite covers a wider range and uses more complex rhythmic and harmonic material. Stopped horn and syncopations abound, and one instance of flutter tonguing is also required. It should be noted that these techniques are rarely taught until much later in a horn player’s education, and it is refreshing to see them incorporated into a piece for intermediate players. Approximate duration is 5’40”
  • Little Suite No. 3: This would be an excellent solo for a talented young student, and would also work quite well as a lighter selection on a recital at the undergraduate level. The high range is utilized more extensively than in the previous two suites, as is fitting for more advanced players.  Approximate duration is 6’16”

This is fun music – composed especially with younger players in mind – yet full of challenges for the student and teacher to navigate together. The piano parts require a competent and sensitive collaborator, but on the whole are quite reasonable. All three works are found on competition lists in Portugal, and it would be wonderful to see them appear on similar lists in the United States.

Friday Review: New E-Books for Horn

As noted earlier this year, I have a backlog of new publications, recordings, and other items that I’m slowly working through in my review series. This week we’ll look at three electronic publications related to teaching the horn, I Like to Practice Scalesby Ricardo Matosinhos, Introducing the Horn, 2nd ed., by John Ericson, and A Mello Catechism2nd ed., also by John Ericson. All three are geared towards younger students and their teachers, but can also be quite useful for other levels as well.

Portuguese hornist Ricardo Matosinhos is extremely active as a performer, educator, composer, and author, and is probably best known for his series of jazz-inspired etudes published through Phoenix Music Editions. In I Like to Practice Scaleshe presents a logical, systematic way for students to progress through all the major and minor scales, with arpeggios. There are many other methods which seek to achieve the same goal, but what sets this one apart is the manner in which those scales are presented. Rather than assigning individual scales in their entirety – which can be quite a lot of material to digest for the younger student – he begins with exercises based on only the first note of each scale, moving through a circle of fourths progression. Two note exercises follow, then three notes, and so on, with each series following the same tonal language. Detailed theoretical discussions are omitted by design – the subtitle of the book is “First comes the practice, then the theory…” – with the emphasis placed on developing fluency first. I really like this approach, as I think it mimics the way we learn our native language(s) as children. Imagine explaining the intricacies of grammar to a child  (or adult) who only spoke a few words of a language – the conversation would break down once the limits of their vocabulary had been reached. Yet how often do we try to explain key signatures, major and minor keys, and other theoretical concepts to beginning musicians, who have the same limited vocabulary? As in spoken languages, theory is of course important, but makes much more sense once the student reaches a certain degree of fluency. The first several exercises make great material for newer students, and the later ones will provide a nice challenge for the advancing player, particularly in the low register. I Like to Practice Scales is available from the International Horn Society’s Online Music Sales page.

First published in 2007, John Ericson‘s Introducing the Horn provides a concise, effective way to give beginning horn players a great start on the instrument. The newly revised edition, available in both hardcopy and E-Book formats, takes into account the increasingly fast pace of college level brass methods courses. The reality today is that there simply will not be enough time to cover all of the potential difficulties and pitfalls of each brass instrument in a one or two semester course, and the best that many instructors can hope to do is provide an overview and a list of resources for future study. There are lots of comprehensive methods covering all of the brass instruments, but it is also recommended that brass methods instructors supplement their main text with handouts and specialist publications like Introducing the Horn. The layout and progression of topics is very practical, and all of the important points are covered. The “Suggestions and Tips for Music Educators” and “Horn Maintenance Tips” included in the appendix are by themselves worth the very reasonable price of the E-Book version. Every band director, veteran or rookie, should own a copy of this book! Download it today from the Horn Notes Edition website.

A Mello Catechism (1st ed. 2007, 2nd ed. 2013) is another book which should be on the shelves of every horn teacher and band director. Though the instrument is often met with resistance and even downright hatred from horn players and their teachers, many high school and even college players spend a significant amount of time performing on it. To my knowledge, Ericson is one of only a few high level horn teachers to devote any time to the instrument, and his book holds an important place in the pedagogical literature. It covers a little bit of everything, from history and nomenclature to tips for band directors and arrangers. On a personal note, I found the book an invaluable resource during my first few years of full time college teaching. Early in the fall semester I spent (and still spend) time working with local band students, who are feverishly preparing their marching shows for the upcoming football season. While I certainly knew about the mellophone, it had been several years since I actually played one myself, and I turned to A Mello Catechism for guidance, advice, and exercises to use when working with the students. I have also taught a number of private lessons on the mellophone, which can be quite a different animal entirely from the horn. Regardless of your personal opinions about the mellophone, if you teach the horn at an level chances are you will encounter it at some point along the way. I think it is much more productive to be prepared and helpful to your students, rather than dismissing the instrument entirely. A Mello Catechism is available from the Horn Notes Edition website.



Sunday Review: New York Brass Arts Trio, Feats of Brass

This week’s review will take a closer look at Feats of Brass, a fantastic new recording on Arabesque Records by the New York Brass Arts Trio. The ensemble is composed of nybrasstriothree world class musicians, David Jolley (horn), Joseph Burgstaller (trumpet), and Haim Avitsur (trombone). The performers themselves don’t really need any introduction, so this review will instead focus on the recording itself. I got my hands on this album in an unconventional way. While searching for brass trio arrangements online, I came across the group’s promo video. I immediately liked the arrangements, and contacted Mr. Jolley to see if they were available to purchase. Despite what must be an intensely busy performing and teaching schedule, Mr. Jolley was gracious enough to correspond with me. I ended up buying two of his arrangements from the album, Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, and the Chaconne from J.S. Bach’s Partita in D Major for Solo Violin, BWV 1004. In addition, he sent along a complimentary copy of the CD. As of this writing, the album is unfortunately not available on Amazon or iTunes, and does not show up on the Arabesque Records website. However, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time, and when it does become available you won’t want to miss this recording! All of the works are new arrangements by the members of the ensemble. For now, you can check out the promo video linked to above, as well as hear some samples at the group’s website: Here’s the track listing, with a few words about each one.

  • J.S. Bach/arr. Jolley: Chaconne, from Partita in D Major for Solo Violin, BWV 1004 This nearly 15 minute tour de force works surprisingly well for brass trio, provided that all the players have the technique, endurance, and maturity to pull it off. Even though the solo violin part is split among three players, the technical demands are still considerable. The trumpet and horn parts are worth special mention because of their virtuosic nature.
  • Beethoven/arr. Avitsur: Trio, Op. 87: Originally for 2 oboes and English Horn, the Robert King arrangement of this substantial work has become a staple in the brass trio repertoire. Those familiar with the old R. King edition will hear many similarities with Avitsur’s, but with a few nice surprises along the way. In some cases parts have been taken up an octave – perhaps to match the original scoring? – and in others articulations have been changed from slurred to tongued. Combined with the brisk tempo of this particular recording, the overall effect is a sparkling, virtuosic take on this classic.
  • Bartok/arr. Jolley, Romanian Folk Dances: I didn’t know much about this work prior to hearing the recording, but this arrangement is well deserving of a place in the brass trio repertoire. Originally for piano (and later arranged by the composer for chamber ensemble), these short dances are full of style and character. Playing them “straight,” simply won’t work, and in that respect they are similar to Chopin’s Mazurkas and Polonaises. Despite only having three voices to work with, Jolley’s arrangement creates rich, orchestral brass sounds. We’ve read through this piece in our own faculty brass trio, and it is very rewarding to play!
  • Piazzolla/arr. Burgstaller, Libertango: I know of at least one other brass trio arrangement of this very catchy tune, but Burgstaller’s certainly raises the bar in terms of virtuosity. As with all of the other works on this album, the performers make even the most difficult passages sound effortless. It is a fitting conclusion to a very impressive recording.

Although the brass trio repertoire is not nearly as large or varied as that of the brass quintet, there are a growing number of original and arranged works which are helping to bring greater exposure to this medium. Additionally, a handful of top notch ensembles like the NY Brass Arts Trio are creating, commissioning, and otherwise championing new music for trio. It is interesting to note that while the brass quintet is considered a standard medium today, it has only been since the 1950s that it has become widely recognized (with the obvious exception of Victor Ewald’s quintets). This recognition was due in large part to the efforts of another New York-based brass group, the New York Brass Quintet. If brass trio music interests you, be sure to check out some of these other articles by yours truly.

CD Review: It’s All Relative

I saw an ad for this CD in the May 2010 issue of The Horn Call, and I was particularly interested for several reasons.  First, I had previously met and heard both performers play (more on that later), and it looked like a cool concept for a CD of horn music.   Susan McCullough and Jesse McCormick are the horn players on this recording, and they are also mother and son.  Susan teaches at the University of Denver and plays with the Denver Brass, and Jesse is second horn in the Cleveland Orchestra.  The CD includes a few solo works, but the main focus, as the album cover implies, is on duets.  Check out their page on CD for more biographical information and a complete track listing for the album.  Also, the CD included a work by my  teacher from graduate school, Douglas Hill.  Going back to my first reason for being especially interested in this recording, in the summer of 2004 I had the opportunity to hear both performers at the Kendall Betts Horn Camp in New Hampshire.  They both sounded great then, and sound even better now!

I won’t go into detail about every track, but suffice it to say this is a fantastic recording.  The sound is both resonant and crystal clear.  In the duets blend and balance are superb, as one might expect from two people who have obviously played together for many years.  Some of the highlights are four Brahms songs arranged for two horns and piano, Hermann Neuling’s Bagatelle for horn and piano (performed by Jesse McCormick), and the Concertino for Two Horns and Orchestra [piano] Opus 45, by Friedrich Kuhlau.  The Neuling is becoming a more standard work in this country, and is quite a nice showpiece for low horn.  To my knowledge, this is one of the few recordings (the first?) by an American.  Jesse plays with a vibrant and rich sound in the low register, negotiating the runs and arpeggios with ease.  The Kuhlau is also a fairly rare work in the U.S., but perhaps this recording will help promote more performances of it.  Both parts are virtuosic, but the second horn is really the star, with rapid skips in and out of the low register.   Check out the recording if you haven’t already, it’s a great addition to any serious player’s library.

To close out this post I thought I’d continue with the theme from It’s All Relative – horn playing families.  How many full time players or teachers can you name with one or more close relatives who are or were also full time players and/or teachers?  Here are a few that come to mind.

[Father and Son] Forrest Standley (1916-1986), Principal Horn, Pittsburgh Symphony/Gene Standley, Principal Horn, Columbus Symphony (OH).

[Father and Daughter] Martin Hackleman, Principal Horn, National Symphony/Allene Hackleman, Principal Horn, Edmonton Symphony (Canada)

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