150 Great Recordings - Part III: Fifty Great Orchestral Recordings
by Matthew Haislip, D.M.A.
Rounding out my series of 150 great recordings is Part III: Fifty Great Orchestral Recordings. This was the most challenging list to create by far. I spent many months carefully listening to countless recordings and asking for recommendations to make sure I was sufficiently informed before finishing this list. The process led to many wonderful discoveries. I felt like a student again; listening to the same pieces played by different ensembles for days on end. It was exciting and fun!
In order to limit myself to fifty recordings, I decided to only choose CDs of orchestral music. This eliminated many outstanding operatic, ballet, film music, and wind band options that could comprise many individual lists in each category as well. In order to create some diversity of orchestras and pieces listed, I had to leave off some of my very favorite CDs. I did not seek to form a representative list of the “Top 50” of our orchestral excerpts with this list. Instead, I listed some of my favorite recordings across the repertoire that feature inspiring phrasing, sound, color, dynamic contrast, intonation, blend and balance in the horn section from an extensive range of ensembles. There is broad representation of stylistic traditions on this list, and it features orchestras from across the world. This speaks to the great wealth of exciting and inspiring recordings that are available to us as horn players.
It is my hope that this list and this series helps hornists old and young discover exciting recordings that they have not yet heard. We have such a wonderful world of recordings! Happy listening!
Using Subdivision Musically: A Practice Guide for the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 Horn Solo
by Jonas Thoms, Assistant Professor of Horn, West Virginia University
The horn solo from the second movement of Symphony No. 5 by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky is one of the most famous horn solos in the entire repertoire. It is regularly asked for in professional auditions for every part in the horn section and is something that every horn player must be able to perform excellently.
The excerpt requires musicality and expression, dynamic control, and contains many tempo changes. A successful performance of this excerpt requires repetition of advance planning of the treatment of crescendi, changes in pulse, and musical decisions. The marking for the movement is “Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza.” “Andante” is a moderately slow tempo, “cantabile” means “songlike,” and “con alcuna licenza” means “with some freedom.” The performer should treat this solo as a melody to a beautiful song and feel free to interpret musical elements to make the solo uniquely their own.
Throughout this practice routine, eighth note subdivisions will be played for any note longer than an eighth. Treat these subdivisions as expressive at all times rather than metronomic. Using this technique, increase the volume in crescendi by ensuring that each note is louder than the previous note. Follow the same practice for decrescendi and pulse changes. This will ensure continuity in these expressive elements.
Series: 150 Great Recordings - Part II
Part II: Fifty Great Chamber Music Recordings
By Matthew Haislip, D.M.A.
Part two in my series is a list of fifty of my favorite recordings that feature the horn in chamber music settings. In order to limit the possibilities, I chose to exclude strictly jazz or popular music ensemble CDs. There are, however, numerous CDs in those categories that deserve attention, including those by Arkady Shilkloper, Tom Varner, Vincent Chancey, Adam Unsworth, Genghis Barbie, Julius Watkins, and Adam Wolf, among others.
In the first list, I featured over fifty different soloists, with some CDs featuring several horn soloists. In this list, I chose to feature more than one CD by the same artists in some instances. My aim was to feature fifty of my favorite recordings, and I did not attempt to include a representative recording of each of the most significant pieces for the horn in chamber music. I selected some CDs of transcriptions, as the technical brilliance on those CDs is electrifying. The artists on this list demonstrate peak levels of virtuosity, musicianship, blend, balance, intonation, and phrasing. There is overlap of chamber music and solo repertoire in some CDs from the first and second lists. For example, Marie Luise Neunecker’s spectacular recording of the Britten Serenade is on the solo CD list, as it also features both of the Strauss Horn Concerti, and Lowell Greer’s definitive natural horn recording of the Beethoven Horn Sonata is on this list, as the Brahms Horn Trio is also on that CD.
This list was challenging to assemble. Many equally fantastic recordings were not chosen. At another time, I would likely choose a very different list. My final list in this series will feature fifty of my favorite orchestral recordings. These recordings are organized by alphabetical order of performers or ensemble. Happy listening!
Series: 150 Great Recordings - Part 1
Part I: Fifty Great Solo Horn Recordings
By Matthew Haislip, D.M.A.
We live in an unprecedented time. Music is instantly available to us at our fingertips. YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, Pandora, and other online music mediums allow users to hear practically any known piece of music in music history whenever they desire. As these platforms have increased in popularity, the traditional physical recording format has diminished. This access to music has done some good for musicians. Unlimited access to music is educationally invaluable. YouTube can bring out the humanity of live performance where sterilized and edited recordings have often unintentionally manufactured a perception that absolute perfection as achievable and expected. A hungry student of the horn has exponentially more resources than students of any other generation have ever had.
At the same time, this on-demand access has potentially caused some harm for musicians as well. The most obvious harm is the loss of royalties for recorded music. The financial return to artists is not fair, and it is often bypassed completely. Another potential problem this availability has created is that there is now a muddled sea of music and videos online, and it is growing wider and wider. It might be challenging for a listener to discover great recordings when views or popularity is the primary metric for search engine results.
I would like to help alleviate these issues by offering a series of three articles in which I provide my recommendation of 150 of my favorite commercially released Compact Discs. Part one in this series features fifty of my favorite solo horn albums. These recordings primarily consist of traditional works, transcriptions, or arrangements for solo horn in the context of horn alone and/or in collaboration with an orchestra or a piano. Part two will feature fifty chamber music CDs, and part three will feature fifty orchestral music CDs. Many of the artists on this list have other equally worthwhile recordings, but I have only listed one recording for each artist for this first list. Additionally, there are numerous long play (LP) records that have not been converted to CD that hornists should know as well. The argument could be made that LPs sound better than digital recordings, however, many people do not have access to a record player, and artists are still releasing CDs today, so my lists will only feature CDs.
Don't Neglect Your Sight-reading!
by Kyle Hayes
Being able to sight-read is one of the most important skills in your toolbox as a musician. A lot of music instructors will say it is the most important skill. The reason is because if you can sight-read well, you are demonstrating that you have fluency in all of your key signatures, you understand all of your rhythms and are subdividing, all of those technical exercises that you’ve been drilling in your private lessons and your band classes have been mastered, and your musicality is at a level where you can read expression markings and make a phrase really come to life.
When I was in school, I never really paid that much attention to how well I was able to sight-read because we always had weeks of rehearsal before we gave a concert. I was at the top of my sections in high school and college band and orchestra, taking gigs, and was always asked to be in chamber groups. I thought I had it all figured out. “Rehearsal is where you come to learn your part, right?” was my way of thinking. Man, I have never been more wrong. In graduate school my teacher would always impress upon us the idea that we had to sight-read with 80% accuracy if we even wanted to consider having a career as a professional musician. I can’t tell you how many times I would go home after playing duets with him and questioning whether or not I had it in me- my sight-reading was absolutely terrible. Sure, I had some church gigs where you show up an hour before the church service to have a quick rehearsal of the big choir pieces, but the hymns where played on the fly. I survived, so I didn’t really pay attention to really developing sight-reading as an actual tool.
On Buying a New Horn
by Ashley Cumming
Around this time of year, I often have parents asking about instruments for their children, or students buying before they head off to college. I wanted to offer a few pieces of advice to get you started when considering buying a horn.
This advice is principally for students buying an instrument to get them through high school and potentially a music education/composition (non-performance) degree. If you plan on having a career in performance, you may want to consider an instrument that will be sufficient until you are close to achieving their first professional job, or for completing a masters' degree, at which time you will have developed enough so that you know what is ultimately the right fit for you and you career. If you plan to go to college (especially for performance), you should absolutely speak to your future professor before making any big purchases.
Single vs. Double
Horns range in size, quality and features, and it is important to understand what you are looking at before buying. First of all, I advocate buying a double horn; this is standard for students except for some of the earliest beginners. This allows more flexibility and a beautiful sound in all ranges.
Looks can be deceiving
You do not necessarily need a brand new instrument, but do need one where the horn and valves especially are in good working order. Lacquer wear and the finish can be deceptive; some of the best horns have a few scuffs on the exterior and are dozens of years old. Dents and their impact depend on the size of the tube where the dent is: if the lead pipe is dented 1/2 inch, you are drastically hurting the sound, while a large 1-inch gash near the bell might barely effect the sound and intonation. A detachable bell is a good option if you do a lot of traveling/walking, but if you are clumsy, it's something else that could get damaged! I often recommend buying used horns, because you can get a better instrument for a lower price. Think of this as buying a new car - new instruments will depreciate quickly as they are worn in, and scuffs and bumps are almost inevitable in busy band rooms and students' travels.
Musician, Heal Thyself
An Interview with Author Dr. Kristy M. Morrell
In October 2014, Glen Lyon Books released Musician, Heal Thyself, a book by Dr. Kristy M. Morrell of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and professor at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. Tagged as a “self-help guide for hornists”, this book is written to empower the horn player, help them reevaluate the way they approach the horn, and identify potential issues holding them back. Many of us spent our college years looking for the hypothetical “golden teacher”, the one that would lead us to success, but this book affirms that you are your most important teacher and shows you how to make every practice session the best lesson you will ever have. On October 24th, I met with Dr. Morrell outside of her office on the USC campus for the following interview.