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What makes the difference between a principal horn player & the rest of the section ?

The principal must be used to lead a section, which requires a more dynamic personality. The principal must have a better all-round coverage of the compass of the horn plus an excellent high register. The principal must have better nerves than the rest of the section as there are far more solo passages for the first chair than for the rest of the section together. The principal must have more courage as he or she will be the target for conductor's attackes, as those "aerobic masters" say only "something is wrong with the horns" & the principal is the person who is adressed by the conductor. The principal has to take over the other solo passages (often) of weaker elements in the section. The principal has to resist some "entertaining" intermission activities (gambling, drinking etc.), which are so popular with the rest of the section. The principal has to think about the performance first when planing afternoon activities before the concert (e.g. sports), as it surely is not fun to play Tchaikowsky No.5 just coming back from the pool after sunbathing. But this is no problem for the rest of the section. The principal has to develop more of his or her own musical initiatives, while the rest of the section has to subordinate themselves, otherwise a homogenous section playing will not be possible. The principal needs more physical playing power or endurance, as he or she has to play 100% more than the rest of the section, not to talk here about the difference in dynamic, in high notes or delicate notes. If you will not respect this reality, you will clash with the principals.

And, sorry again, you seem very funny to me, if you declare, that the difference in qualification between first & the rest of the section is just minimal. This would be the typical nonsense blah-blah of a hindered first horn player, who always though he or she would be the champ, but never won such a position, the opinion of those players, who cannot understand that they are not principals of CSO or BSO or VPO or BPO. We as members of those orchestras can understand why they are not members of those groups.

Let us try an experiment: the principal horn player gets sick just minutes before Bruckner No.4. Ask the fourth (second or third also) player, you know, the one with the BIG MOUTH, to take over. You will see this ambitious player (who is ambitious only inside the dressing room) sitting on stage pale like the wall & shitless scared. Or ask him or her to take over Flying Dutchman on the first chair: his or her lips will be burned through after mid ouverture. That's real ! That's the truth !

But let us do the opposite experiment: the fourth horn get's sick just before the Choral Symphony. Oops ! That's a bad experiment, as mostly the first players do the solo. Sorry ! Very sorry !

Another experiment: second horn or fourth horn or first Basso Wagner Tuba gets sick, the alternating first horn has arrived at the theatre at the beginning of Walkuere, to practise something until he or she will replace the other first for the third act. Section players usually come just minutes before the beginning of the performance (also with exceptions) It doesn't matter which position has to be filled in this case of emergency. It is NO problem for the REAL principal player to jump in & save the performance. This is real also & the truth.

Now you come ??? Some "comedians" out there ? Section player taking over "Oberon" ouverture under a nasty conductor (you cannot impress them or excuse yourself by or for just jumping in !) ? Funny ? A vibrato that one can shot his 5 gallon hat through the waves , oooohhhiiieeeooohiiieeaaaooooHHHH.

Well, there are a few exceptions in the world of horn playing, like Klaus Wallendorf in Berlin, but he was a principal for many years & plays an excellent first horn in chamber ensembles still now, so he is a principal still now, only occupying a different chair. But this is not the rule, this is one of very, very few exceptions. Or Franz Soellner from the VPO.

Nevertheless we principals need highes qualified, competent, highest motivated, high musical section players. Without section players we could do solo only, but never play the exciting horn section parts (Wagner, Bruckner, Strauss, Mahler, movie soundtracks .....). But be so kind, lets not get carried away.

Well, Professor, why don't you just see to firing everyone who is not principal? By the tone of every single post you write, you certainly don't need them- you can cover all the parts yourself. And while you're at it, why not just get rid of all the hornists? You surely could play every part in orchestras everywhere. But let's not stop there- why not fire all the other orchestra members as well? Then you could be the sole player, and you don't have to worry about others sunbathing, playing sports, drinking and gambling, or just being alive and generally messing up your orchestra.

In the early 1980's I found myself in Chicago for a couple of weeks, so I looked up Dale's number and arranged to have a lesson. It was a fabulous experience--he was very generous with his hospitality and time. As many of you know, during the late 70's and early 80's, the CSO horn section was considered by many to be the best in the world, and it was almost universally acclaimed as one of the best. He told me something about his section which I believe was true then, and may still be true there now and certainly is true in orchestras throughout the USA.

He said that the CSO contained no section players. All of their players, including the recently hired 4th (whose name I forget), had been principal players before they came to the CSO. Clevenger claimed that since all the players were principals they all led, and there were no followers. I can remember my undergraduate horn teacher telling me there could be no followers, that to follow was to be behind. I remember hearing that great CSO section on a number of occasions, and the audacity with which they attacked the great horn parts was startling. I think Dale had a point.

I play in a much smaller-time orchestra than the CSO, but we now have one of the best horn sections in the orchestra's history, and one of the reasons is certainly that all of us are principal players. That is, every one of us was the "star" at some point previously in our educational or professional careers. The number of highly-qualified players has gotten so high that one now expects that only the very best players of high school or college have a chance at any part in a pro orchestra at any level.

This brings up my harangue about specialization (low or high). I have always believed that specialization was not wise until one had a job where one was being paid to specialize. The number of jobs is just too small. Furthermore, in my experience, students frequently use specialization, esp. low horn specialization, as an excuse to avoid stretching themselves both technically and psychologically into more challeging positions of leadership. (I've also encountered cocky high horn players who have criminally neglected their low ranges, and this is an equally short-sighted policy.)

Example after example of non-specialist great players comes to my mind. Most immediately is Duane Dugger, now Asst. Principal in the Cincinnati Symphony. He played principal in Memphis for several years, and I have been told that he is frequently serving as principal with Cinci, esp. in the pops orch. He is a phenomenal player--one of the best I have ever worked with. Yet he is also a great 4th horn player, and before he came to Memphis he had played 4th horn with no less than the San Diego Symphony. While he was in Memphis, I can remember him sitting in on the low parts when we would get together for fun to play horn octet music. His low register was amazing, even after having played exclusively high horn parts for so long. I feel confident he *still* plays a mean 4th horn.

This is my third season playing regularly on 4th horn parts. Before I became a regular member of the orch., I was a free-lancer in the area, and I was usually hired to play principal or one of the high parts. Do I think I could do a fine job sitting principal? I know I could. Nevertheless, I do not wish I had our principal's job. In the first place, I highly respect the job she does. If I didn't, I might be more inclined to wish myself in her shoes. A principal player must garner the respect of colleagues, or there will be unrest. Our principal has our respect. In the second place, the time commitment required from the principal player is quite different from that of the 4th player in our orch. I have so many other demands on my time that I simply could not play all the services that the principal player is obligated to play.

I had always avoided 4th horn parts whenever possible, until being appointed to the 4th horn seat. My experience has been that the 4th horn parts are rarely very challenging, and they are almost never as challenging as the other parts. There is little pressure. I am almost never nervous either during concerts or rehearsals. In many respects, I often feel that my talents are under-utilized. Nevertheless, playing 4th can be very rewarding. Providing a solid foundation to the section sound is a skill that requires musical sensitivity and an accute ear for intonation, and producing a clear, quality sound consistently in the fuzz register (written f1 down to c), is a technique that must be cultivated. My best rewards come because I can tell that the 3rd or 1st players are glad to see me sit down next to them. Then, I know I've done my job.

I've found all this talk about 1st vs. 4th very interesting. I agree that all the parts are very important and that 4th can be fairly difficult. In college, I took on the 4th position a couple of wind ensemble semesters to help out (I was a lead trumpet player) and to broaden my horizons. I liked the horn very much, and I found the 4th part to be extremely difficult! The smaller mouthpiece was a fairly easy adjustment, but the low, low notes on a piece that small were a formidable challenge! When I had the opportunity to read 1st or when the horns were soli in a mid- to high range, it was much, much easier.

I assumed at the time (and still do) that the majority of my problems with playing 4th was because I was not originally a horn player and trumpet parts generally don't go very low.

But switching from 1st trumpet to 4th horn was a challenge- while I had a great time playing horn, it was in many ways much harder than being principal trumpet. I'm not sure where or if this fits into the debate, but it was an interesting discovery to me.

The thread about 1,2,3,4th seems to be have missed the point.

I speak as an amature player who plays for pleasure to the highest standard that his lifestyle and ability allow.

Some sections I have played in have turned in poor performances in musical terms because of a lack of co-operation within the team, and I see and hear this in professional orchs that I hear perform.

I beleive that for a horn section to acheive results they must work as a team, like any good team this means that strengths are recognised and used; and within the context of a horn section that a very close understanding of the group is developed.

As an example, I used to play in a quartet as follows:

1st Tim, a strong player high player, an organiser, a motivating force.

2nd David, superb sense of rythm, a solid low tone quality, a wicked sense of humor

3rd Me, good high register, good at following 1st's playing, good concert nerve.

4th Richard, superb sense of pitch, good low register, brought music to life.

As individuals we did not aspire to be in the Berlin Phil but as a group with music that was within our technical grasp we played as a section, as a team, and made sheet music into a good quality living performance as good many a pro.

What I am saying is that a good section is greater than the sum of its parts, that every member of that section is crucial to this happening and that no member of the section, including the principal, can say that they are better or more important. This is music I am talking about here and not just note getting or doing gigs for money.

Every horn player should have his/her moment of glory but that can come from quartet playing such as the end of Strauss four last songs, the opening of Hansel & Grettle etc etc. I find the sound of four horns playing together like no other and it surpasses solo playing in my opinion.

It's incredibly important to understand that Orchestral chairs are TEAM positions. They are not "stepping-stones" to Ego-fulfillment; and orchestras do NOT exist to showcase "Principal" players. This at least is the intention. Over the years as a Principal I learned to audition section players for two important qualities: 1) musical proficiency and 2) willingness and ability to cooperate.

If I had to choose between two qualified applicants, I would take the person of 60% virtuosity:40% cooperativeness over the one with 90% virtuosity:10% co-operativemess. It is a little like the Dutch soccer team, some years ago, which consistently won match after match. When asked how they were so proficient, they said they worked as a "team". Unlike other more famous teams, the Dutch team didn't put much stock in hiring one or two "Prima Ballerinas" at high salaries. Instead, ALL the players were excellent, and none were "peerless".

I have played both 1st and 4th an equal amount of times.

When I play first, I tend to work harder. I think this is due to the fact that I have to lead the section. Sometimes, as in my high school band, I have to play louder to cover up/make up for the players that we don't have or the ones that don't play well. I believe it is more emotionally draining as I sometimes have to get the 234 players to not talk during rehearsal.

I love 4th part. I wouldn't give it up for all the glory of 1st. I love to play really low horn, as in Mahler 1. It's an experience. 4th horn binds the section together. It is responsible for the foundation of the section. If the fourth horn is out of tune, the section sounds bad. My Youth Symphony conductor has told me more than once that he put me at fourth not because I was the worst of the 4 horns, but because he knew I was the only one who could pick out the necessary low notes out of thin air. He believed 4th horn needed to carry the section, and if the section got off, he knew I could bring it back again. He said I was the only one he trusted to come in at the right time.

Fourth horn players are not the worst! Sometimes they are the best. Granted, they never get enough credit for their work, the audience can tell the difference between a good horn section by the bottom players, not the top! First players get a lot of credit, but need the others to make them sound good. PLaying first is not easy, but neither is playing fourth. I believe that every 1st player needs to have the opportunity to sit 4th sometimes and vice versa.

I am disturbed by something someone said recently. I hear this statement from horn players who should know better.

4th chair horns may never aspire to 1st, nor should they. I continue to believe that each chair is important in its own right. Unfortunately, it is rare to find a second or even rarer to find a 4th that really enjoys playing these positions. This is not necessarily because they don't enjoy the parts given it is because to say one is less than numero uno in anything seems to mean one just hasn't achieved greatness. However, a horn ensemble is not complete without a perfect balance of high horns/low horns. Why would any 4th or 2nd horn wish to lose that wonderful bass quality to try for 1st or 3rd? High horn is no more "better" than Soprano is "better" in a quartet. Most basses I know would certainly object to being called lesser voices.

My point is that 2/4 horns need never aspire to 1/3 positions and, in fact, if that is the goal in horn ensembles, do we put all the people who just can't play horn well in those positions? I don't think so. I think it makes much more sense to let 2nd and 4th swap parts, and 1st and 3rd exchange positions occasionally to allow high and low horns to play the repertory, but don't perpetuate the myth that a 4th horn (low horn) should always reach for the 1st horn "star."

I, for one, truly enjoyed playing low horn parts. We have here in Pittsburgh a few wonderful low horn players and they complement our equally good high horn players very well. I remember my college teacher telling me that one of the more important things for a prinicpal horn is to find a good second, then take very good care of him/her.

Why should 4th chair horns (or bucket horns as we call them here in Oklahoma) not aspire to be 1st? True, good bucket players are hard to find and even harder to find are those who enjoy it, but why should they not want to also be good at something else? Currently I sit 1st at Ok. State University in the Wind Ensemble and my friend has been 4th for the last 4 years that we've been playing together. This year, he has decided that 4th isn't good enough for him. Better, he wants to try something new. He is extremely good at bucket and everyone knows this. He wants them to know that he can play other parts too. Why not?

I love to play low horn, and I'd rather play 2nd or 4th in the orchestra (in general) than 1st or 3rd, although it's fun and satisfying to play the high parts sometimes, too.

The 1st horn player of course has to be good and has to play the solos well, etc., but, given that, I think that the 2nd horn has a lot to do with how good the section sounds. If the 2nd is not together with the first, not in tune, getting wrong notes, etc. it brings down the whole section and also makes the 1st sound bad.

It is too often the case that players who can't handle the high horn parts are shunted to low horn. Better to have someone who positively, enthusiastically approaches low horn as a worthy position and appreciates the difficulties and rewards.

I have to agreee totally. I compare 2nd horn playing with being an offensive linemen in football. You may not get the glory of the quarterback (1st horn), but there's no way he could survive without you. Plus, it's a lot more fun to belt out the low notes that 2nd and 4th horns get to play ;) Justin Klotz

The 1st horn player of course has to be good and has to play the solos well, etc., but, given that, I think that the 2nd horn has a lot to do with how good the section sounds. If the 2nd is not together with the first, not in tune, getting wrong notes, etc. it brings down the whole section and also makes the 1st sound bad.

It is too often the case that players who can't handle the high horn parts are shunted to low horn. Better to have someone who positively, enthusiastically approaches low horn as a worthy position and appreciates the difficulties and rewards.

Well, you are right to honor the 2/4 positions however, it's takes time and courage to feel you are ready to perform the 1st or 3rd spots. I know. I would never sit in either spot until I felt I could play the part as well or better than anyone else in the section. I sat on 4th for 3 years in a Sunday morning rep orch with Otto Klemperer just to gain experience and I never moved to 1st in spite of the urging from the other horn players (all very seasoned studio players). Until I played 2nd to Alfred Brain (Dennis's uncle) both in the LA Phil. and Fox studios did I feel qualified to assume the responsibility. After that, It didn't matter where I sat unless the 1st position paid more. (and it normally does).

As a true "bucket" horn player(low horn) I just want to let everybody know that I would jump off a bridge if it would get me the opportunity to play, say, second horn in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 or fourth horn in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (in an orch. that didn't give the fourth horn solo to the first horn, like at Michigan) However, somebody would probably have to push me off that proverbial bridge if I was asked to play first on Shostakovitch Sym. No. 1. I just don't want that responsibility. I want to lay down the foundation for somebody else to glide off of--in my area of Texas, people call me to play low horn because they know that I can be trusted to play it with all the finesse, strength and artistry that must be put into this part--which is what most people don't understand--they just want to know who is in the first chair...

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