by Ysolt Clark
As part of a teaching team in Brisbane, Australia, I experience the joy of teaching horn almost every day. Along with Peter Luff, I teach students at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. I’m also lucky enough to combine a performance career and a private teaching studio, providing me a varied and rewarding way to spend my time.
Over the last twenty years or so, the style of educational delivery has developed and transformed in Australia, in both the general and music-specific communities. There is a far greater expectation of a co-learning experience. Gradually there has been the lessening of a master/pupil structure and a growing sense of collaborative work, both in one-to-one teaching and in a group situation. For the most part I really enjoy and relish this, and it is exciting to see the empowerment that occurs with the students who take advantage of all that is offered. Our particular teaching school has also had a significant and ongoing success rate. We have had some very exciting and inspirational guests, something that we are open to and take advantage of regularly.
Teaching is always learning. I’m of the view that we all need to be functional horn players and expressive musicians, and this is what we work towards in university. The path that each student takes in order to become a working professional in music varies, however. That is part of what I enjoy: finding solutions so that each horn student can develop their skills so that their music making career is confident and enjoyable.
At the Queensland Conservatorium we do group work two or three times a week. It’s a positive approach to creating a foundation and an opportunity for everyone to stretch their abilities and do things that they might not have been able to do before.
In one to one teaching, I look for concepts or specific exercises that will make horn playing easier and more enjoyable, and make each player confident no matter what the future may hold. I do believe in a foundation set of technical exercises with emphasis on a beautiful sound. As the technique becomes secure and reliable the student can concentrate on musical goals when playing. Technical confidence breeds musical freedom.
Playing horn can feel like entering a maze. Teachers announce a final destination, and students are expected to arrive there. I love to give students clues and tools. They still need to progress through the maze themselves, but hopefully I give them some assistance.
I do believe in repeated basics and in working to find joy doing these basics. Because I am lucky enough to work with younger students as well, I know that going back to basic beginning exercises can make things easier and more predictable on the instrument. I know in my own playing, if I have been very busy, I like to return to some simpler exercises and consider this much needed ‘recalibration’. I work with long tones, sometimes only on two notes, looking for stability, beauty, ease and resonance. Lip slur patterns, especially on the F-side, bring me similar comfort and reassurance. These exercises are especially effective moving through the typical break zone. I find that as well as assisting with flexibility and the quality of my slurs, the right type of lip slurs enhance strength and develop a useful embouchure. A well-considered and committed routine definitely assists with embouchure and developing a free and useful air flow. Developing such a routine is an individual process and is something that is a key aspect of the teaching style that occurs in Brisbane.
Group routine work is great! So much is achieved through the ‘doing’ rather than through the ‘explanation’. One of the most useful pieces of advice I was given many years ago was that explanation in great detail is not so effective with a young beginner, yet they can copy intuitively (more or less). This approach helps to solve some of the over-thinking that can also occur with our tertiary students. If I realize that a student hasn’t quickly grasped an explanation, it is my goal to demonstrate and devise an exercise or study that makes the explanation easier to absorb. Talking too much can be problematic, but just a few words or (even better) a short playing exercise can open the door to solve a problem. It is now very easy for an eager student to find answers to playing problems online, but ongoing contact with a thoughtful and aware teacher can help the individual find the solution required in a far more insightful way.
I’ve been privileged to work with and observe many inspirational teachers (not all horn players) over many years. It’s always an exciting process to develop and evolve the information I’ve experienced and used in my own playing, and I look forward to seeing how my students approach horn pedagogy into the future.
Ysolt Clark works as a horn teacher at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. She was a member of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra for several years and still freelances as an orchestral player throughout Australia. She is a member of the chamber ensemble Southern Cross Soloists and is in demand as a chamber musician. Ysolt co-directs the university horn ensemble QHorns with Peter Luff, and is passionate about music education at all levels.