Deep satisfaction and happiness overcame me when I was challenged by my dear Prof. Ab Koster to give my contribution to the Pedagogy Column of the IHS Newsletter. Standing out as a brilliant idea, this column has presented very interesting and inspiring articles, It demonstrates once again the IHS’s role and what a truly International Society it is. Without dwelling too much on the matter, I would like to share with its readers some of my main ideas about the horn and about playing it.
The way to success is very complex and depends on a variety of interconnected aspects. As with anything in life, it requires balance and stability. On this occasion I should, however, point out a few factors which I deem to be crucial:
1 – SOUND
This is, in my opinion, what distinguishes the horn most from all other instruments. It is certainly what makes us hornists fall in love with it and what delights the audience. There will always be more powerful instruments than the horn, which might be more virtuoso, produce more high notes, lower ones, and so on. But few instruments are capable of giving delight with just one simple sound and to touch any soul. Take some of our most acclaimed orchestral solos, such as Brahms’s Symphony No. 2, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (4th horn), Mendelssohn’s Nocturne from ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream’, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 , and so on. Although these might not be the best examples of virtuosity, they represent outstanding moments of the orchestral repertoire which any audience is likely to surrender to. Why? For no other reason but the instrument’s sound capacity. To sum it up, the first fundamental is, in my opinion, sound quality. It should be something that identifies us, our voice and our soul. Regardless of the different concepts of sonority, what matters to me most is that sound is centred, clear, and that it projects itself. Embouchure, the position of our hand in the bell and the way we breathe and use the air play a decisive role in the quality of our sonority.
2 – EMBOUCHURE
Embouchure is crucial and defines our essence as hornists. A strong and stable embouchure is fundamental. The objective is to play competently the whole of the horn’s register and to be flexible while preserving the quality of sound and tuning. I recommend practising lip vibration every day, with and without the mouthpiece. Studying long tones is very useful as it strengthens the embouchure and improves resistance and the quality of sound.
3 – AIR
Air has to be flowing all the time so as to ensure horn playing is a natural action, not a forced one. It is important to apply the appropriate quantity of air for a given musical sequence, the speed of air necessary to avoid vibration disruptions and ensure enough expertise and support for the high register or intervals to not cause any problem.
4 – TECHNIQUE
Individual technique should be practised every day. I consider it important to start exercising it already during the daily warm-up period. The better and more complete our warm-up is, the better will we be prepared. It is essential that we are fit and that every technical aspect is covered. In case of difficulties in organising one’s studying time, I recommend using a table where the type and the amount of work done every day and/or week can be specified and followed. Anything we practice less will be more difficult for us to accomplish.
5 – PERSONALITY
In music, as with any other form of art, the personality of each performer influences their work. When working with my students, I try to share my experiences with them, my knowledge and my ideas, and I try to encourage them to be individuals and to add their personal touch. I have learnt to appreciate, respect and admire different ideas and concepts. Uniformity allows for predictability, but it reduces creativity and interest. Musical choices and options should be grounded and understood in order to be credible and consistent. Nowadays it is very easy to have access to information, to travel the world physically or virtually, to discover different traditions and concepts. It is for us to observe and absorb what we have learnt and to create our cultural background. A musician is an artist who transmits a message or feelings to someone listening. For the message to be successful, it has to be felt and personified. We need to be courageous enough to take the risk of being different and unique.
Much more could obviously be said. I have shared some of my thoughts and some of my main fundamentals of horn playing. Horn is something we fall in love with, either as a listener, or as a performer or professor. The will and the fun involved in discovering and learning more are a daily tonic. Enjoy it all!
J. Bernardo Silva April 2017 (Translation: Filipe Costa)
J. BERNARDO SILVA
He has been member of the Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto Casa da Música, in Portugal, since 2000. He is horn professor at the University of Aveiro and the Espinho Professional Music School.
He has presented himself in several countries across Europe, as a solo performer, chamber musician and orchestral player. He performed as a guest artist in several brass and horn festivals and symposia, including of the International Horn Society and Lieksa Brass Week, in Finland. He has been a very active chamber music musician, is a founding member of the horn quartet Trompas Lusas.
He was awarded the First Prize in the Philip Farkas Competition organized by the International Horn Society in Lahti, Finland in 2002.
His discography has several solo works, chamber music and as an orchestra member.
J. Bernardo Silva is a Dürk- Horns artist.