A modern-day Odyssey of learning
by Anneke Scott
My colleague Ab Koster kindly invited me to contribute a few thoughts about my approach to teaching for the IHS e-newsletter. This request came at this strange point in our recent history, which has required many things that we have taken for granted to change. Being asked to stay at home and isolate ourselves has led to huge modifications in how we teach and share our expertise. The last couple of months have entailed me mixing the past, in the form of my specialist work with historical horns, with cutting-edge present-day technology, in the form of online teaching. It has additionally provoked me into thinking a lot about the future.
Over the course of my career I have been slowly collecting a large number of old horn methods, instruction books and treatises. These have been written over the past couple hundred years. I use them to help me develop my own understanding and interpretation of how the instrument has been played. Moreover, I find that, in order to help my teaching of these instruments, I very much enjoy raiding these old sources for exercises and techniques, not to mention that many stories and anecdotes in them that can help inspire and intrigue students.
I’m certain I’m not the only one who has been reflecting on how fortunate we are, thanks to the internet, to have access to so much information. Besides that, I’ve been thinking about how much harder the current crisis would be if we were not able to access so many things online. Surfing the internet, one finds recordings, videos, concerts, sheet music, books, and so much more, all of which are available quickly and often for free. Many of the sources in my collection are now accessible online via sites like IMSLP. You can drown in all the opinions and discussions being bandied about in social media forums dedicated to our instrument. We find ourselves awash with choice and sometimes we find ourselves suddenly overcome with waves of frustration when we can’t access something swiftly, or if we are only able to access it by being forced to pay for it!
A side effect of this sea of knowledge can be that we find it hard to navigate our way through it all. Where do we start? How do we first plunge into these sources? It can be hard at times to know which are the trustworthy ones, which are less so, and why? One of the great things about having been able to collate so many sources is that one starts to see what the common practice may have been and, what is more, the outliers start to be visible. These outliers can be incredibly valuable, often just nudging us out of the normal way of approaching things, and sometimes this can be the key that offers a breakthrough moment in learning.
In 2019 I published the first volume in what is planned to be a series of "Historic Horn Handbooks." The initial book focuses on the basics of natural horn playing, and in it I explore a number of the sources that I have found personally useful as well as in working with my students. In it I introduce practitioners of the horn throughout history and share the exercises that they constructed, guiding the reader through the various challenges we have on the instrument. Like many other teachers, my goal has been to share information and knowledge in a way that will lead students to become self-sufficient and for them to steer their own autonomous learning, hence it being critically important for them to be able to dive into the same sources I use. I’m always delighted when they independently retrieve new treasures out of the depths of these old sources.
When, in March 2020, everything suddenly needed to change I was very thankful that I had been teaching online for several years. I wonder if it is a particular characteristic of horn-players, or perhaps something to do with the flexibility of the instrument but many horn-players (both professional and amateur) have been drawn to the natural horn and have bought an instrument, only to find that there is no teacher in their local area. Whilst there is an ever-increasing number of highly skilled performers on the instrument, horn specialists are comparatively rare and specialists in the historical instruments are even rarer. Again, I wonder whether it is something to do with the mindset of horn-players, but I’ve been delighted by the attitude of many such neophytes who have looked to the internet in order to find a way around this problem and thus have found their way to me for online lessons. Regardless of the benefits of my pre-pandemic experience I’ve found myself quickly learning new skills. Rather than seeing online teaching as an occasional pursuit I’ve been looking to the future and developing it as part of a more long-term, holistic way of teaching. It is undoubtedly incredibly beneficial for teachers to be put in the position of students, to remember what it is like to be on that side of the partnership, and I have found it hugely stimulating learning a number of new skills and new resources in order to enhance the experience that my students have of learning online with me.
One of the motivations for me in writing my first "Historic Horn Handbook" was a desire to get away from Louis-François Dauprat and his Méthode pour cor-alto et cor-basse. This is such a canonic work. For a long time I had felt that it has rather monopolised some aspects historic horn pedagogy, hence me setting out to collect as many other points of view as I could. But one of the things that I have found myself returning to of late is Dauprat’s thoughts on the art and philosophy of teaching, subjects that he considers in great depth not only in his Méthode but also in other writings. In 1836 Dauprat wrote a short autobiography in which he quoted a line from Fénelon’s Les aventures de Télémaque (The Adventures of Telemachus), with which I find myself nodding in agreement right now: "Heureux ceux qui se divertissent en s’instruisant" ("Happy are those who are entertained by learning").