View from a Teacher

This was my first international horn symposium; here are some of my impressions.

Exhibits: A variety of literature and teaching materials was available at the exhibits. I was lucky to locate a nearby ATM machine, because not every vendor was set up to take credit cards.

One of the many useful books for teaching purposes that I discovered was a seven-page treasure, First Lip Slurs for Horn, by Dr. Howard Hilliard (Cornocopia Press). My beginning and intermediate students are profiting from it because it simultaneously teaches air use, middle and low range, arpeggios, listening skills, and concepts of the natural horn. The patterns include some that include skips of a 6th that demand proper air use while offering ear training. These exercises also serve as an introduction to transposition, as each pattern is repeated in descending valve combinations on the F horn.

Workshops: BE: The Balanced Embouchure Method, presented by Valerie Wells with Stephen Park. This workshop presented an approach to embouchure development that was 100% new to me. Valerie and Stephen demonstrated the exercises up close and personal, which was essential because I had no idea it was legal or possible, let alone beneficial, to do such odd things with a face. I had only two choices: write them off as nuts or try it. Given Valerie's stunning demonstrations of producing super high, pianissimo, pure pitches out of thin air, and given Stephen's gorgeous sound and security as a performer (search for Steve Park to find some lovely video performances), I chose the latter. And sure enough, the BE exercises do not demand the dreaded "embouchure change" but do lead to embouchure improvement in all registers. I recommend their website (beforhorn.blogspot.com) as a source of information for those not at the workshop.

Memorable Performers and Performances: Frank Lloyd's performance of the J.S. Bach Toccata and Fugue in d minor. I had no idea this kind of effortless agility was possible! With no compromise of tempo or accuracy, he somehow played the full range of the organ. Stunning!

William VerMeulen's performance of Steamboat Stomp. He warned the audience that we were about to experience a fun and wild ride. What a hoot!! He was clearly having as much fun as we were.

Gail Williams, horn, and Benjamin Ring, percussion, Alec Wilder's Solo Suite for Horn and Improvisatory Percussion. The charming and artistic collaboration between the amazing and experienced Gail Williams and this 13-year old imaginative and poised percussionist was something to behold. I do believe we were all touched on both an artistic and a human level.

Gail Williams and Nicole Cash, with fine string players, Beethoven's Sextet in Eb Op. 81b. We have all practiced the horn parts to this work. One can only guess that a factor in the perfect intonation and balance between the two horn performers was that Nicole is a former student of Gail's (as well as of William VerMeulen).

CD: A CD to get You in the mood for the 44th IHS Symposium in Texas next May: Texas Horns features 12 horn players from the Dallas and Houston Symphony Orchestras, including three of the featured performers at this symposium. The repertoire ranges from Samuel Barber to Thad Jones, and needless to say, the performance level is tops. Crystal Records CD774

Conclusion: I strongly encourage readers to reserve the dates for the 44th International Horn Symposium, May 15-19, 2012 at the University of North Texas in Denton.

- Jane Swanson, retired schoolteacher who teaches privately and plays horn in San Luis Obispo CA

Amateur Sessions

Is "amateur" the best term for our sessions about community music making? A more adequate term, I think, could be "community musicians." The word "amateur" carries a stigma. "Enthusiast" is another label that has been proposed.

Community groups in Tucson, Arizona (my home) serve many purposes and are important to the fabric of the community and enjoyment of residents and visitors alike. I believe that these community ensembles are valuable and that sessions about community music making or amateurs are a much-needed component at the IHS workshops. Attendance at the sessions in San Francisco was high, and I hope for more sessions at future symposiums.

The first session was a master class with Nicole (Nikki) Cash, associate principal horn of the San Francisco Symphony. Nikki started by addressing practical matters for horn players who have day jobs; mainly the obvious lack of practice time, where and how to find even ten minutes or so. Nikki, with a great sense of humor, made a point of urging several short periods of practice, which included buzzing the mouthpiece in the car along with the tunes on the radio, at your desk, etc., as opposed to a two-hour long or more session at the end of the day, after a day's work, which may or may not be available in terms of time and/or energy. Short stints allow for muscle and concentration recovery. Nikki questioned whether or not one really can concentrate for the longer period of time and had concerns about energy and overuse of muscles. Visualization can be a great tool and can be practiced without the horn. If you have just half an hour to practice, she recommended 5-10 minutes for warm-up, then 20 minutes of etudes or repertoire.

Buzzing a mouthpiece with actual pitch and even articulation has become a much more suggested part of the warm-up, and the buildup of the embouchure. In this session, with the principal horn of the Boston Civic Orchestra, Kerry Thompson, who played the Nocturne from Mendelssohn's Midsummer's Night's Dream, a short buzz period cleared up tone and approach to the horn, which has been the case every time I have observed this teaching technique at a symposium. Nikki led Kerry to a calmer playing style with her engaging approach of "breathing like a bellows" and buzzing.

The second volunteer, Emily Craparo, an aeronautical engineer stationed at the Naval Postgraduate School in nearby Monterey, played the famous solo from Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. Nikki played along with Emily after the first time through and was able in a short period of time to free up Emily's playing. Nikki brought out issues of posture and use of air and complimented Emily on her choice of material. She recommended articulating the dotted quarter notes as three eighth notes during practice to keep the rhythm steady through the rubato measures.

Nikki advocates taking in the amount of air you need, not an over amount, to produce a musical phrase. Playing musically was a consistent phrase in this master class.

Clearly these two individuals wanted to learn. It seems the case that with more than one participant in a master class that the first participant often receives the most energy and actual time in the session, and it is usually the most instructive, and to some extent that was true here.

Nikki is a thorough and energetic teacher, as well as an impeccable performer. She imparts fun and technique with urgency, which I think is of great value to the person who has a day job but is excited to play well, no matter the hour or the place. Revitalizing skills was what I observed with her. She did so with not overconfidence but with positive encouragement, making the player want to do immediately what was suggested ... buzzing, using air, and picturing the action of the bellows of an accordion or barbeque grill, extending her arms outward then inward. I felt that was a strong visual cue for everyone. As an audience member, it just seemed fun and really vital to be part of Nikki's instruction.

The second session featured a panel with Bill Scharnberg and Mike Hatfield, moderated by Marilyn Kloss. Handouts from Bill included a form to guide one's thinking about where one was in terms of musicianship and where one wanted to be in five or ten years. The session started off with Bill asking the audience what it wanted to discuss, which unfortunately led to a meandering discussion. I felt that the handouts, had they been used, would have ameliorated the pointless discussion, but they were used only as a fleeting reference.

Marilyn asked for suggestions for future "amateur" sessions. I suggested asking a community ensemble director from the Denton TX area (site of next year's symposium) to address the needs and struggles of community groups. Community music groups also have adjunct personnel who advance the musical life of the group; i.e., webmasters, artists for flyers, fundraisers, spouses who act as ushers, etc. Perhaps one of those individuals could lead or participate in a session.

- Barbara L. Chinworth, IHS Arizona Area Representative and editor of Horn on the Range

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