Cannon Music Camp Wrap-Up

Photo by Justin McCrary

Photo by Justin McCrary

I just finished up three weeks of teaching at Cannon Music Camp, held on the campus of Appalachian State University, my undergraduate alma mater. I last taught at Cannon in 2012, and was a camper myself  during the summers of 1995 and 1996. As before, it was a great pleasure to return to the Appalachian campus for a few weeks to work with several high school students. I even got to take a trip down memory lane by performing Bujanovsky’s España on one of the faculty recitals. *I performed that work on my senior recital at Appalachian on the same stage nearly 16 years earlier. My duties there included teaching the horn studio, conducting a twice-weekly horn ensemble, and coaching the orchestra brass in a weekly sectional. The schedule kept me pretty busy for the duration of the camp, but I also found time to visit with family and friends who live just a few minutes away from campus. All in all it was a wonderful “working vacation.” Coming right on the heels of a new music festival, an international conference, and a recording project, this resulted in  several back to back weeks of rehearsals and performances. In short, I’m definitely in need of some down time! But first, here are some summary thoughts about this year’s Cannon Music Camp, based on my experiences working with the horn students there.

  • There are lots of good horn players of all ages out there! My students ranged in age from rising high school freshman to rising college freshman. There was a wide spectrum of experience and ability levels in the studio, and everyone really did play well for where they were in their musical education. What I was most pleased to see was improvement across the studio in just three short weeks.
  • A Few “Musts” for the Serious High School Horn Student While there are lots of things young horn players can be doing to set themselves up for success, in our lessons at camp we kept coming back to a few major points:
    • Study Privately with a Qualified Horn Teacher – The definition of qualified is open to interpretation, but if possible I recommend studying with someone who has at least an undergraduate degree in horn (either music education or music performance). A professional player or college professor is even better, provided that they have space in their studio for high school students.
    • Find and Establish a Daily Routine – One of my first questions to new students, regardless of their level, is what type of daily practice/maintenance routine(s) they use. I’m not looking for a specific book or author to be named – there are many great materials available – but rather an indication that the student practices fundamentals of some kind each day. If not, then I make recommendations based on the student’s goals and current ability. You want to find something that can be realistically practiced most if not every day, and that builds confidence in your current abilities as well as challenges you and encourages growth. For a short list of recommended routines, see here. In short, if you are serious about getting better at the horn, start practicing your fundamentals now.
    • Get a Good (Better) Mouthpiece – One of the easiest upgrades you can make is a better mouthpiece. Not that there is anything wrong with the ubiquitous Holton, Conn, and other products one finds in many high school bands, but for the serious student there are lots of other options available. Consult with a private teacher or simply search the web for recommended horn mouthpieces to get some ideas. This summer I ended up directing students towards Laskey and Houser mouthpieces, primarily the 75G or 75F and the Houser Houghton line.
    • Learn Bass Clef! – This might seem inconsequential in comparison with the above points, but knowing bass clef will really set you apart from a lot of high school players, even very accomplished ones. The reason is pretty simple – good players tend to spend most of their time playing high parts (usually first), and thus spend little time performing or practicing in the low range. In addition, many high school players rarely have the opportunity to play in a horn quartet or horn ensemble – the low parts in these groups use bass clef extensively. If you don’t know bass clef yet, spend a few weeks this summer working it out. You’ll be glad you did! If you don’t know where to start I highly recommend Marvin McCoy’s 46 Progressive Exercises for Low Horn, available as a digital download from McCoy’s Horn Library. 

Teaching at this year’s Cannon Music Camp was a great experience, due largely to efforts of the camp administration and staff. Everything ran very smoothly, making for a great working environment. I hope to teach there again in the future!


Friday Review: Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs, by Bruce Nelson

Picking up a topic from the end of Wednesday’s post, here is a review of Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs: A Developmental Guide for Brass Musicians, compiled by Bruce Nelson and published by Polymnia Press in 2006 (image linked from Nelson, a former student of Jacobs and a renowned trombonist, has put together a fitting tribute to Jacobs’ legacy as a pedagogue. Though a book of this type could never replace the experience of actually studying with Jacobs or one of his students, I think it provides a great background and reference for the philosophy which guided his instruction. The book is divided into six chapters, with an introduction and two appendices. Here are the chapters.

  • Concepts Fundamental to Development
  • Mental Controls
  • The Vibrating Embouchure
  • Breathing
  • Articulating
  • Practicing and Performing

While Jacobs was a professional tuba player, it is generally recognized that his approach worked marvelously for the other brass instruments as well. Every advanced brass player and teacher should be at least familiar with some of these concepts. Nelson’s Forward provides a great context for the following chapters, and explains the development of Jacobs’ pedagogy  over time.

Even if it were all known, it would be impossible to reduce to writing all of the advice Arnold Jacobs gave to thousands of students over a period of almost 70 years. This book is an attempt to preserve in writing, by topic, the common ideas and variations of those ideas from which so many musicians have benefited. It should be noted that during the last 40 years of Mr. Jacobs’ teaching career, he gradually de-emphasized the scientific information that he knew so well. In his last years he stressed that song and wind should be major factors, and science became only a minor factor in teaching. (p. 8)

In the introduction Nelson goes on to explain just how this unique resource was compiled.

In Chapters I-VI every paragraph and even some sentences contain quotes from more than one master class, conversation, and/or private lesson. The quotes are grouped together by topic and paraphrased only for the purpose of adapting verbal quotes that have been taken from multiple sources into a useful written context. (p. 10)

I think Nelson has been very successful in coordinating and compiling all of this information into a useful, organized whole. Rather than attempting to summarize too much of the book, I thought it would be good to point out some of the underlying themes that run throughout all of the chapters. One of the most important is the idea of mentally projecting your ideal sound concept, and letting that drive your playing. As brass players, it is very easy to get wrapped up in the technical/physical side of what we do, rather than focusing on the end goal of our ideal sound. Another related idea is simplification and efficiency. Trying to directly control and order every muscle involved in playing the horn is impossible, and often results in unwanted tension. This is something I work on every single day…and some days are better than others.  For those of us who weren’t able to study with this master teacher, books like Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs are a window into his approach. This will be a book I keep returning to, for both knowledge and inspiration. To close I’ll leave you with some more quotes from Arnold Jacobs.

  • “Use the brain to control the body by thinking of song and wind.” (p. 21)
  • “Conceive, don’t perceive.” (p. 20)
  • “Buzzing on the mouthpiece and mouthpiece rim will connect thought with tissue.” (p. 29)
  • “Feel the readiness of the embouchure to vibrate.” (p. 33)
  • “Focus on the psychology, not the mechanics of breathing.” (p. 45)
  • “The tongue produces no sound.” (p. 57)
  • “Practice should always be performed musically.” (p. 60)

Horn Syllabi on the Internet

One task most new college horn teachers must undertake is writing a syllabus.  There are as many varieties of syllabus as there are styles of teaching and horn playing, and although most universities have at least some requirements regarding the form and content of the syllabus, many things are left up to the discretion of the instructor.  I remember feeling slightly overwhelmed when I sat down to write my first applied horn syllabus.  I’m sure many of the questions running through my mind at the time are shared by all teachers who are passionate about their field:  What should I include?  What should I omit?  How specific should the goals and objectives be?  Eventually, after much thought, and also quite a bit of investigating on the internet, I arrived at something with which I was at least temporarily satisfied.  Over the years, that initial document has changed and been supplemented with a variety of information, including a more extensive list of solo repertoire, as well as a list of orchestral excerpts.  I still think about my syllabus, and I still wrestle with the same basic questions that I first encountered.  For the last few days I’ve been compiling links to as many online horn syllabi as I can find – partly out of professional curiosity, but mainly to at least try to put together some type of resource for horn teachers just starting out in a college teaching position.  Depending on the guidelines set by your university/college/school/department, you may or not be able to include all of the components you see here, and you may also be required to include additional language regarding things such as compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the use of cell phones in the class room.  I’m sure there are still dozens more syllabi out there, and I plan to keep looking for them and updating this post as necessary.  But even in the relatively small number of examples I’ve posted below one can see the kind of variety and flexibility inherent in an applied lesson syllabus.  Depending on how each syllabus is set up, some of the links will take you directly to an actual document file, while others will take you to a particular university’s horn studio website (which contains a syllabus).

The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music [Technically not a college syllabus – see the comment below from Jonathan West for the full details – but still a great source for repertoire. ]

Arizona State University [This is not the actual syllabus, but rather an excellent description by John Ericson in the form of a post on Horn Matters.]

Central Washington University

Hartwick College

Lee College

Louisiana State University

Morehead State University

Northern Arizona University

Northwest College

Pacific Lutheran University

Royal College of Music London

Temple University [Jeffrey Lang]

Trinity College of London [Also not a college syllabus – see the full details below.]

The University of Alabama

The University of Central Florida

The University of Colorado at Boulder

The University of Dayton

The University of Iowa

The University of Louisiana at Monroe

The University of Mississippi

The University of Notre Dame

Wichita State University

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