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Endurance, schools of playing, etc.

08 Jan 2009 09:14 #219 by Michael Thompson
Endurance, schools of playing, etc. was created by Michael Thompson

How do you maintain your chops and stay in such wonderful shape throughout the year? Do you take a vacation from the horn?

The UK is known for its huge mass of freakishly talented/hard working players with some of the best orchestras in the world, how have you been able to rise above the masses and have such a wonderful career? Certainly, one doesn't have that much luck!!

In your opinion how do you contribute to the rich history of English horn players? In other words, what things do you Do or pass on through teaching to assure your students continue to produce on such a high level?

Have you noticed different "schools" of playing in the UK or is there more of a European approach to equipment/teaching/performing?

Thank you for your insight!!

Hoss Johnson

Michael Thompson's answer:

I think staying in shape is a balance between strength and flexibility. I consider a gentle and thoughtful warm up to be the basis of everything else. My warm up takes about twenty minutes and incorporates the usual harmonic series slurs and scales. I make a clear distinction between warm up and practice. For general stamina work I use the Arban Cornet Method; mostly the first chapter. I find twenty minutes of this feels like a workout at the gym. The rest of the time I play music. I'm not a big fan of etudes; they aren't pieces I would ever perform, so I don't see much point in practising them. I do take a vacation from the horn. A week or two in the summer if engagements allow and another week or two over the winter holiday. I find it good to stop thinking about playing the horn as much as having a physical rest.

To address your other questions in reverse order:
There are slight differences in approach within the UK as there are within the US. The major differences between the UK and the US (if I can venture such a sweeping thought) are that players in the UK are probably less analytical and less concerned with equipment than their counterparts in the US. There is also less of an emphasis on the F side of the instrument. There are players and teachers in the UK who use what I think of as the orthodox method of F horn up to second line G but there are at least as many (including me) who use predominantly B flat horn. I think this is down to a different tradition of instruments. In the US, the players who were hugely influential in the first half of the 20th century were mostly using double horns, whereas in the UK, the players with the greatest influence played single F horns and then, after the Second World War, single B flat horns. Barry Tuckwell was probably the player who did the most to change that status quo in the UK. Nowadays, most players and certainly all my students, play double horns but not necessarily in the orthodox manner.

With my students, I try to encourage them to listen; to themselves and others. Also, to play in a lyrical style whenever appropriate and to put the needs of the music above everything. We play the horn in order to play music; not the other way round.

As to my own career; the truth is, I have tried to play how I thought the music should go and have simply taken opportunities as they have come my way. When I was fifteen years old I knew I just wanted to be a horn player; nothing more, nothing less. I haven't ever felt any differently.

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