About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Searching for Schubert

I wrote about playing at the 2010 Schubertiade in an earlier post titled Auf dem Strom, which is what we performed. It was an exciting, fun experience. So naturally when I received an invitation to submit a repertoire proposal for the 2011 Schubertiade, I wanted to apply. However, Schubert didn't write all that much for horn. He is, of course, best known for his songs, and he also wrote quite a lot of piano music.There are two octets that have horn parts, but I didn't feel that I had enough time to gather seven other musicians and rehearse before January 29, this year's Schuberiade.

I had pretty much given up the idea for this year, thinking that maybe for 2012 I would start earlier and get an octet together. I spurred to action by pianist Helen Raymaker who generously offered to play something with me, if I could find something. And so I went to imslp.org, the International Music Score Library Project and Petrucci Music Library. This is a wonderful resource, where you can find and print music that is in the public domain. I was able to search Schubert's works with horn and find ten pieces, excluding the symphonies, which have wonderful horn parts. As expected, Auf dem Strom and the two octets were on the list. The Octet, D. 72 is for the standard wind octet: two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns. It is apparently incomplete, having a Menuetto and Finale. (D. 72a is an incomplete Allegro movement.) The other Octet, D. 803, is for clarinet, bassoon, horn, two violins, viola, cello and bass.

Then there is Eine Kleine Trauermusik, D. 79, for two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, two horns, and two trombones. Trauermusik is funeral music, so the mournful trombones and contrabassoon are logical instrumentation choices, though the combination of these nine instruments is unusual. There is also Nachtgesang im Walde, (Night Singing in the Forest), D. 913, for men's choir and four horns. Interesting music to investigate for the future.

Then there were five songs, D. 199, 202, 203, 204, and 205. These all have the indication "Fur zwei Singstimmen oder zwei Waldhorner." (for two voices or two horns) The first two are titled Mailied (May Song), and the others are Der Morgenstern (the Morning Star), Jagerlied (Hunting Song) and Lutzow's wilde Jagd (Lutzow's wild hunt). They are all quite short, but if sung, have a number of verses. My daughter and I tried them out and both of us and my husband thought they were charming and well worth playing, though technically they are not difficult.

So that is what I submitted as my proposal: 10 minutes of Schubert songs for horn duet that I hope to play with a friend. We will see if it makes it onto the program. There is a lot of competition and limited time. In any case, I look forward to attending the Schubertiade sponsored by Pianoforte Chicago, on January 29 at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago as an audience member. I have also decided that I don't know nearly enough about Franz Schubert, so it's time to start reading and learning.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Speaking of Carnegie Hall...

Carnegie Hall

This is the view from approximately where I was sitting in Carnegie Hall the last time I heard a concert there. That was about 30 years ago; the Cleveland Orchestra with George Szell. I did not take this photo. Interestingly, I auditioned for Eastman at Carnegie Hall, but not on stage. The auditions were in the office part of the building. It was pretty cool to tell people that I auditioned at Carnegie Hall, though.

Here is a photo a passerby took of my family in front of Carnegie Hall more recently:

Carnegie is a beautiful building to look at and listen in. We are so lucky that Isaac Stern campaigned to save it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How DO you get to Carnegie Hall?

Photo credit
This time of year always seem to be full of concerts. Today we played the second of three band Christmas concerts, all in local churches. I will be helping out at a Christmas pageant at a friend's church next weekend. And I played my two Auf dem Strom concerts a couple weeks ago. I really love playing and I am grateful for the opportunities that I have. A colleague at work recently asked me how much time playing in the various music groups takes. I realized that she was thinking only about the rehearsals and concerts. I said, "In order to play the music I want to play, with the people I want to play with, I need to practice pretty much every day, in addition to the rehearsals with the groups." She was surprised. I think many people who don't play an instrument would be surprised at the time it takes.

I have a demanding job in the daytime (I teach 4th grade) so I have a limited amount of time to practice, but I try to put in 45 to 60 minutes a day, more if I have a lot of music to learn or need to build up strength for a performance. I know other nonprofessional musicians who practice much more than that. We do have people in our community band who do not practice. That is the choice they have made and they can still have a lot of enjoyment of playing with the group and socializing.

The exciting part of practicing is setting goals and seeing improvement! Every year since I started playing again has been full of returning ability and improvement. I have worked on technical things that I didn't have a lot of success with when I was younger, like intonation, lip trills, and Kopprasch. It was a revelation to me how much working with a tuner could improve my sense of pitch. If portable tuners had been invented when I was in college, my life would have been different.

I'm looking forward to more chamber music, orchestra concerts, and band concerts. I could not do this if I didn't practice as much as I do.  Though it takes discipline to practice after a full day at work, it is rewarding, just as working out at the gym is rewarding. So, though I'm not headed for Carnegie Hall, I'll keep on practicing.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Moving forward fearlessly

Last month we went to IU to visit our daughter and learned that we are now known as the parents who went to Fearless Camp. As in, "Oh, YOU'RE the parents who went to Fearless camp!" Both of us thought it was pretty funny.

Moving on fearlessly, last weekend I performed Auf dem Strom again -- twice! The Waukegan Symphony held its annual chamber music concert and I asked Henry Pleas and Helen Raymaker if they would be interested in playing ADS again. Both of them were delighted, which made me very happy, too. Henry was able to get us on another concert the next day, given by the Chicago Music Association at the South Shore Cultural Center.

 The Waukegan Chamber Players concert was held in a small church, very pretty with nice acoustics. I felt much more confident about the Schubert this time. Rehearsals had gone well and I had my Inspiration sheet and sticky notes in place. As always, I learned a lot from performing. Overall, it was a good performance -- musical, in sync ensemble-wise, and fun. I learned that I allowed myself to get distracted instead of concentrating of music-making, thinking about when I was going to turn the page, that water was gurgling in my horn and maybe I should break down and get a water key installed, and so on. Things went best when my full attention was on making music with Henry and Helen -- we were in sync, listening to each other and telling our story!

The horn section of the Waukegan Symphony also participated in the Waukegan concert, playing the Hindemith Quartet and Frippery #20. The Hindemith required full attention all the time. The rhythms were so complex that if you stopped thinking and counting, even briefly, you were lost. We stayed together very well and I think we gave an enjoyable rendering. Our principal horn, Nancy Orbison, talked to the audience about the piece before we performed it, and played some of the themes on the piano, which was helpful for listeners. 

I went home pleased, but wanting to be more focused during performances.  I had another chance to try the very next day. This recital was in a large hall in a beautiful old, restored building right on Lake Michigan (7000 south, for Chicagoans). The recital was sponsored by the Chicago Music Association,  a group founded in 1919 to provide opportunities for Black musicians to perform. The program was made up of soloists, both singers and instrumentalists, and a choir. The musicians included adults and children. I was only able to stay for the first half, but I was sorry to leave because everything I heard was excellent.

We played first. I was focused, thinking about the story we were telling, of the young man saying good-bye to his love as he leaves on the river. Through all the changes of mood in the song, you can clearly hear the river flowing along. I was not nervous. I felt not just confident, but that I was inside the music. This was our best performance of the piece, I thought, and Helen and Henry spontaneously agreed.  Click here to hear that performance.

Speaking fearlessly, the things from Camp that helped me were the positive thinking, inspiration sheets, and segue notes (on sticky pads), plus the technical aspects we also worked on at camp -- timing, tonguing, projecting. Once I realized I was letting my focus wander and started to correct that, too, things really came together and I felt that I made a leap into better music-making.

Having left horn playing and then come back to it years later, I had never expected to have a chance to play Auf dem Strom. I was thrilled to play in last year at the Schubertiade. I thought that would be the last time I played it. When the two concerts this past weekend appeared, I thought, "Bonus!" And now it appears that we will be able to perform it again on a joint chamber music recital. 'Tis the time of year to be thankful, and I am!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Horn Humor

 From Facebook:

“Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns.” (Zechariah 1:18)
"And then God said, "Let's tune, shall we?"

I apologize to the poster -- I can't remember which horn player friend of mine posted this and I don't know the friend of a friend who posted the witty rejoinder, but I thought it was too good to disappear into the mists of FB. (If it's you, let me know!)

[The photo is of the New York Philharmonic horn section - I don't know what year.]

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Earlier this month Julia Keller wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune titled "Critics: Who needs 'em?" In the article she talked about the roles of a critic, from helping audiences decide what to see and read to acting as a link or portal between artists and audiences. I do use reviews to help me decide what movies I might like to see and what books I would read if only I had time. In fact, I read Julia Keller's literary column every week. But, as a musician and audience member for classical concerts, I disagree with her assessment of critics as the link between artists and audiences. I think if you asked most artists, you'd get a much different explanation of the relationship between critic and artist.

In explaining what she means by link or portal, Ms. Keller makes it clear that she is not saying that critics are here to promote or provide publicity, but that while critics love the arts, they will make sure "you'll get the truth, delivered quickly and fearlessly." The truth?

I have worked in the arts (not just in music) and I know that there is a whole lot going on that impacts a performance that critics have no idea about. For example, an acquaintance who is a theater directer explained to me that actors have quite a bit on input on many aspects of a performance. If an actor makes a suggestion about how the actors should stand and move in a particular scene, that would be part of blocking. When the play is reviewed, the director will get credit for the blocking if the critic mentions it. Similarly, a conductor may ask for a passage to be played in a certain way and the player may take the credit or blame.

People, whether critics or audience members, have their own perceptions and opinions. I have been to concerts and later read the review, wondering if the critic had been to the same concert as I. I trust my ears, and I did not hear what the critic heard.  The "truth" that critics deliver is really opinion, based on what they see, hear, and their prior knowledge. Music critics have extensive prior knowledge. A critic I know personally studied not only journalism, but musicology in graduate school. An experienced critic has also listened to hundreds of concerts.

However, sometimes opinion runs the show. I regularly read the music reviews in Chicago, and it has sometimes been very clear to me and my husband that a critic dislikes a particular conductor of the Chicago Symphony. When we read such a review we take into account that the reviewer is never going to give that conductor a good review and so we discount at least part of the review.

As a link between the audience and the artists, though, is it fair to give the audience a message based on such personal prejudices that the review may keep them away from a concert? We all know that classical music organizations are in trouble, with aging audiences and declining donations. A critic can't become a flack for an organization, but neither should critics want to criticize an organization to the point of damaging it. The New York Times reported a story about a critic in Cleveland who was so constantly critical of Cleveland Orchestra music director Franz Welser-Most that his paper reassigned him. The reassignment followed complaints to the newspaper from the orchestra. The editor stated that she had reassigned the critic after deciding he had a closed mind about Mr. Welser-Most. The critic argued in his lawsuit against the paper and the orchestra that the paper had discriminated against him (because of his age) and that the orchestra in complaining had defamed him. The orchestra argued for its first amendment rights to free speech. The jury found for the newspaper and orchestra. This incident got attention because of the lawsuit, but it is certainly not the only time a critic has singled out a musician for continued criticism.

Personally, I think critics would be a stronger link between artists and audiences if they spent more time talking to the artists. Perhaps critics believe that they need distance from the musicians to objectively review a concert, but it means there is a wall between critic and musician, obstructing the portal. Many orchestras are trying for more outreach to their audiences, including opportunities to meet artists. Maybe critics should also reach across the divide.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Be careful what you wish for ... or maybe not

In my first post here about horn playing, I wrote about meeting a fellow horn player while we were both traveling to the U.S. from China. While talking in the Hong Kong airport, he inspired me to find a group to play with by telling me his experience of joining one community orchestra only to have things snowball with more and more groups asking him to play until he had to turn some of them down. I wanted that to happen to me, too. And so, I joined a community band.

After three years when no one was knocking on my door yet, I contacted five community orchestras and got four auditions. As it turned out, I did not get in any of those orchestras, but that was the turning point. A horn player in one of those orchestras referred me to a chamber orchestra that needed a horn player for a concert. That led to more concerts with that group. The conductor of the band I play in recommended me to the community orchestra that he plays in and I joined that orchestra as 4th horn. The horn players in that orchestra invited me to join a horn choir. One of them recommended me to another orchestra that needed a substitute for a concert.

In the past few weeks I have been asked to played in five orchestra concerts with three different groups, plus an opera and a chamber concert. These are in addition to concerts I had previously committed to with the band, the orchestra, and the horn choir. I don't have enough time! I have had to turn most of these opportunities down. Maybe it won't last, but for now, its seems I have people knocking on my door. As a friend said, it's bittersweet; it's sad to turn opportunities down, but it feels good to be in demand.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Morris Secon: A Remembrance

Morris Secon passed away last week. Though I only studied with him briefly, he had a large and lasting impact on my playing.

I met Mr. Secon when I was a freshman at the Eastman School of Music. He was then principal horn of the Rochester Philharmonic. Even as a freshman I recognized what a beautiful horn sound he had and the musicality of his playing. Over time I also came to know that he was a caring person who always expected the best from people. My teacher, Milan Yancich, used to say that Mr. Secon saw the world through rose-colored glasses, and it was true. He was sometimes hurt and disappointed when other people didn't live up to his expectations, but he never gave up his high expectations.

At the end of my senior year at Eastman, Mr. Yancich became quite ill and had to take a leave. The school appointed a graduate student to teach his studio. A number of us approached Mr. Secon, who graciously gave our studio master classes and a few lessons. I clearly remember about a dozen horn students sitting in a circle in his house as Mr. Secon talked about phrasing, tone, being musical, and life in general.

I also spent time with Mr. Secon at some of the Horn Symposiums. Again, he was very generous with his time and knowledge and oftentimes ended up holding late night talk sessions with a crowd of young horn players. He was a pied piper, attracting those young musicians and enthralling them with stories. My two favorite Secon stories came from either the Symposiums or the master classes. The first is about an audition he went to. The audition committee had found a nightmare of a selection for sight-reading in B natural horn. (For non-horn players this means the player must play a diminished 5th lower than what is written.) Horn player after horn player mangled the sight-reading and came out shaking their heads. Finally it was Mr. Secon's turn. When it was time to do the sight-reading, he decided to take a chance that none of the audition committee had perfect pitch, took a deep breath, and played it perfectly -- in Bb horn! (For non-horn players, this means reading a perfect 5th lower than the written notes, a much easier transposition.) He won that audition.

Story number two: At one point in his career, Mr. Secon developed some problems with his playing that he felt were quite serious. He flew to Chicago to consult with Arnold Jacobs, who gave him some remedies. Mr. Secon wanted to apply them immediately -- he had concerts coming up and he wanted to fix the problems as soon as possible. So flying back home, he took his horn out and began to practice! A sewardess told him he would have to stop and to put the horn away. His response: "How are you going to stop me?" And he kept on practicing. That wouldn't work today.

Mr. Secon also made it possible for me to study with Dale Clevenger.  I had been accepted into the Master's program at Northwestern, where Mr. Clevenger taught, along with Richard Oldberg and Norm Schweikert. At my audition Dale had asked me who I wanted to study with, and I, of course, said, "Well, you." He replied that he would see. In the meantime I went back to Eastman and graduated.

I next saw Dale at the Horn Symposium at Jeunesse Musicale in Quebec province in June 1975. The application for this symposium had included a line where you could volunteer to play in a public master class. I said yes, I would like to and that if chosen, I would play the Gordon Jacobs concerto. I didn't really expect to get picked, but, probably due to the unusual piece I selected, I did get chosen! Then, one of the master teachers (Alan Civil) had to cancel because of illness and his replacement declined to do a master class, so Morris Secon volunteered, and to his surprise, he was assigned me. Mr. Secon told me this when I ran into him and Dale during the symposium. Mr. Secon said if I wanted a different master teacher, he would be happy to switch, since maybe working with someone I already knew wouldn't be so exciting. This kind of thoughtfulness was so typical of him, but I would not have switched to anyone else and I told him so. He was pleased and said he would explain that we had already worked together, which could make the master class interesting in a new way. Dale was listening closely to all of this, and then asked me, "Who do you want to study with in the fall?" And I said, "Well, you." He replied that he was awfully busy and his schedule was pretty much filled. However, he didn't really say no, so I didn't give up hope.

I had worked on the first movement of the Jacobs with Milan Yancich. I started the movement, with its repeated eighth notes aggressively, crescendoing through the phrase. Mr. Secon had a different view of the piece, a lighter, more playful way of approaching it. As he talked, sang, and demonstrated, I adapted this entirely new idea into my performance, playing softer and bouncing the eighth notes. It opened up a window for me into that piece and into interpretation in general. Right after the master class, Dale came up to me and said, "I guess I can get up an hour earlier. I'll take you as a student." Yay!!! I ended up studying with him for three or four years and learning an incredible amount from him. Was it my wonderful playing that convinced him? No, there were plenty of players better than me. It was the evidence that I could listen to a different idea and change so completely and quickly. Isn't that what every teacher wants? Thank you, Morris Secon. I miss you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I haven't written anything here since before going to Fearless Camp. That is mostly because I've been trying to decide what to write about FAT Camp. It was an amazing experience. Fearless Performance Camp is the brain child of Jeff Nelsen, horn professor at Indiana University and hornist of the Canadian Brass. It is an intense week of working on performing in front of an audience, whether at an audition, concert, or recital.

I knew from my daughter having attended last year that everyone played an audition every day of the camp. I also knew from the information sent out to us that  we needed to have the exposition of a concerto and five excerpts prepared. While getting these ready I started to have second thoughts about going to Fearless Camp. Most of the participants would be in college, serious horn students getting ready to audition for orchestras. What if I was out of my league? Focusing on my reasons for going, I kept reminding myself that my goals were different from the objectives of college students.

The first day of the camp everyone assembled in a hallway "lounge" in the music school. The "campers" ranged in age from about 17 to retired adults. I met my Facebook friend Tina Barkan in person! We reconnected with several horn players who we had met during Jamie's first year at IU. It was a friendly group of people and that spirit of support and sociability, with a dash of Let's Party! continued all week.

 Almost every morning started at 8:00 with Jeff's Routine, which I had thought was a warm-up, but it turned out to be much more. The routine is a means of working on the basics of horn playing, including timing, tonguing, tone quality, breathing. I had a big breakthrough later in the week when I applied the breathing technique from routine to all of my playing and found that I was missing fewer notes and feeling more confident.

Besides the daily audition, everyone was assigned to play in one audition class, one post-audition analysis, and one small group lesson during the week. All of these involved playing in front of other people. On the second day I was scheduled to play audition class, post-audition analysis, and of course, an audition. I was feeling like maybe I had gotten in over my head by that time. However, I played and survived and got good feedback. The most fun was playing Shostakovitch 5 (the low horn excerpt) with Jeff. Awesome! I learned I need to make more of my musical phrases, and to put more "fronts" on notes. Fronts are the nice, clean, clear articulations at the beginnings of notes.A significant part of these performances was learning to graciously accept applause. This is surprisingly difficult. Many people, myself included, tried to grab the music and leave, or grimaced painfully.

Jeff also gave lectures and brought in two guest lecturers. Jeff's talks were about his philosophy, which is a very positive one. I left every lecture feeling inspired, not just to play better performances, but to live a more positive life. Go to Jeff's website to read some of his articles that reflect his philosophy. He's also a wonderful storyteller, and shared many stories from his own life to illustrate his points.

Besides all the playing and listening during the day, we also had activities at night! Most were social, but the last evening featured the first annual Fearless Camp Talent Show. Performing was a requirement. There were funny acts, more serious acts, and Jeff did some magic for us. It was a different kind of performance opportunity.

Our last activity was a shared reflection on what the week had meant to us. It was an emotional session -- many participants felt that their lives had been changed, that they had rediscovered their love of playing music. There was so much positive energy all week it would have been difficult to resist the pull to be upbeat. This is what I took away from the week -- not only do I feel more confident about performing, but the positive philosophy has infiltrated all parts of my life. I also have made important technical improvements on the horn because of what I learned. And, I have more friends on Facebook!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

FAT Camp Prep

Tomorrow I leave for a week at FAT Camp -- Fearless Audition Training, also called Fearless Performance Camp, run by Jeff Nelsen. My husband, daughter and daughter's boyfriend, along with three horns, a tuba, and assorted suitcases, will cram ourselves into our car to travel to Indiana University for a week of learning how to control nerves while performing in front of others. I have been looking forward to this since December, when I got very nervous performing Auf dem Strom and felt that affected my performance.

For the past several weeks we have been getting emails telling us what we need for the camp: a solo, five excerpts, "audition outfit," something non-horn related to perform at the talent show. Many of the attendees are college students and recent grads who are preparing for professional auditions. I am not, so I had to work up a movement of a Mozart concerto and five excerpts not entirely from scratch, but from a different place than my daughter, who is majoring in horn and practices several hours a day. I also needed to build up more endurance, since we will be playing a lot!

Once I decided on the 1st movement of the Mozart Horn Concerto #3, I realized I needed a cadenza. Since I had never performed it in public, I had did have one. So I wrote a short cadenza and asked my daughter to listen to it. She had several suggestions --"You need a bouncier section," and "You should have it go into minor somewhere," but I ended up leaving it as is for now. It's not bad for a first attempt and I want it to be on the short side. Then she said, "Are you playing from a transposed part? You're going to get nailed for that. Go download the Eb part from IMSLP."  (Petrucci Music Library of music in the public domain) So I did that, and started practicing the concerto from the Eb part, however, my cadenza is still in F.

Challenges await! Fitting everything into the car! Performing an audition every day! The talent show! I'm still looking forward to this experience, but with somewhat more trepidation than back in December.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bohemian Rhapsody

My horn-playing daughter spent the last two weeks at the Marrowstone Music Festival in Bellingham, Washington. She had a wonderful, productive time there, playing in many ensembles, masterclasses, and enjoying the beautiful scenery. The faculty is excellent and the atmosphere friendly. My husband and I went out for the final four days of concerts and also had a wonderful time. We went to chamber music and orchestra concerts and explored the area. A highlight was the performance of the horn choir at a chamber concert, playing Bohemian Rhapsody. Dale Clevenger is one of the soloists. The performance is wonderful and it's very entertaining!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kopprasch Forever

Kopprasch is an ever popular topic among horn players. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Kopprasch, Most Revered, Respected and Holy  on Horn Matters and Hooked on Hornonics, in which the answer to all problems is Kopprasch #1.

For some reason I never did much Kopprasch as a young student. My teachers assigned me to learn maybe five of the etudes in Book 1. Milan Yancich, who I studied with in college, was very keen on Preparatory Melodies. I was quite taken aback when I came to him as a freshman and found out I would be working on these "simple" little melodies. Of course, I soon found out that working on Preparatory Melodies with Yancich was not easy or simplistic. I also worked on solos and excerpts with him. When I went on to study with Dale Clevenger, most of my time with him was spent working on orchestral music and solos.Over the years I kept playing the few etudes I had studied.

So about a year ago I decided to begin working on Kopprasch and work my way through both books. I'm now in Book 2, Nos. 41 and 42. I had feared I would be stuck on No. 39 forever, but I felt ready to move on a few days ago.

Why Kopprasch? Technique is not my strongest point and working on these etudes has improved my overall technique. In an earlier post I wrote about the Bach Partita, which is a very technical piece with lots of the big jumps typical of Bach. I found I was able to navigate those leaps with more ease than before. It's also a feeling of accomplishment to work on each etude until I feel like it's good enough to move on. I know I can always come back and work on any of them more. And, I feel that Kopprasch, along with Maxime-Alphonse and Gallay, are the backbone of the horn etudes, and I would be missing an important experience by not learning these classics.

Horn players seem to have strong feelings about Kopprasch. I found a "no Kopprasch" tee shirt, courtesy of newhornist.com as well as an "I [heart]  Kopprasch" button and this bumper sticker:
(Bumper sticker by MissMussel at zazzle.com)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Time Management

Summer is more than half over and I'm not happy with the amount of practicing I've been doing. I'm a teacher, so I always think the summer will be a great time for catching up on all those home projects, plus doing a lot of practicing, plus going to Ravinia to hear the Chicago Symphony and other great musicians, plus taking some trips. Then I'd also like to do some writing, explore Chicago neighborhoods, try out new recipes, and get back in shape. Maybe this is overly ambitious.

It seems to take me several weeks to adjust once school lets out for the summer.  Now, at the end of July, I am finally adjusting to summer. I now have the revised goals of getting into an exercise routine that I can stick with once school starts and practicing to build up more endurance and refresh my memory of some excerpts before I go to FAT Camp in a couple of weeks. I'd also like to make progress in decluttering the house. At this point I already need to begin thinking about my upcoming school year, too.

I recently read a blog post on edaxicon about time, which I strongly related to. The author is also a teacher who wanted to be productive in the summer, specifically writing a novel, but finished the summer with a half-written novel. Conversely, during the school year when teachers called for "working to the rule," school hours only, in order to avoid a strike, the author was able to finish all necessary school work without taking any home or staying late. Dax's conclusion was that your project, whatever it is, will expand to fill the time you give it.

My time issues are compounded by a tendency to procrastinate (warm-up on horn at 10 pm?) and to get sucked into other people's activities. I can't say I regret doing things with others, but I am always wishing I had gotten something done before going shopping with my daughter, or helping my son clip the kittens' nails.

One would think that if I realize all this I could take steps to use my time more efficiently. Sometimes, though, what you most need is to "waste" your time. Spend hours reading a novel, talking with friends, laying around in the backyard... Of course, none of those things are a waste of time; they are sometimes the very thing you need to recharge.

I am looking for balance.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Music making and symmetrical countenances

A few days ago I returned from the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute. This is a terrific one-week seminar aimed at helping teachers make history come alive for their students. It was a wonderful opportunity for me, and I had a great time! I saw one hunting horn in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, but other than that the music was all about fiddles, claviers, fifes and drums, and singing. Our second evening we had dinner at Christiana Campbell's Tavern, which I highly recommend -- get the crab cakes! A strolling violinist came into our dining room and played some Colonial-era tunes. I wish I had had the chance to talk with him, but he slipped away quietly. He was a very fine violinist and clearly enjoyed his work. During the week we saw other musicians and talked with the cabinet maker in his shop where the staff make claviers as well as other beautiful furniture.

As part of learning about daily life and the social classes of the 18th century, I learned that women of the time were restricted to learning only the instruments that would not distort their faces and cause them to appear asymmetrical. That means only clavier and harp. Only the gentry would have had the means to learn an instrument other than a folk instrument. It did make me a little sad to think that I would not have been able to play horn if I had lived in the 18th century, but then I probably would have had more than enough to contend with without worrying about musical instruments.

I went to the Chicago Symphony concert at Ravinia last night and as I watched Tzimon Barto play piano I wondered if the expressions on his face would have been considered distortions. He smiled, pursed his lips, sucked his lips in, and seemed to talk to himself as he played two Schumann works for piano and orchestra. Perhaps 18th century women were taught to play while maintaining a calm demeanor. (For me the highlight of the program was the Schumann Conzertstuck with Dale Clevenger, Dan Gingrich, James Smelser, David Griffin and Oto Carrillo as soloists. What an exciting piece and performance!)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Dad the Listener

In my post on Vincent DeRosa I said I had grown up listening to his recording of the Bach Partita with Laurendo Almeida. My father was the one who found and bought that album and played it frequently in our living room. My dad was an interested collector of LPs and bought a surprisingly wide variety of music, I realize in retrospect. He loved classical music, but also Broadway musicals and band music. We had a recording of every Sousa march. He was adventurous in his listening: he bought and repeatedly listened to Ives symphonies, Leonard Bernstein, and other modern composers. He purchased a recording of Mahler songs at a time when Mahler was rarely performed. I never realized how unusual this was until I got to college (Eastman) and found out that hardly anyone was familiar with Ives Symphony #2.

Our stereo, which he was very proud of, was two gigantic pieces of furniture, one large enough to be used as a buffet table, and the other, which was the second speaker, half as big. You lifted the top lid of the main component to reveal the radio and record player. My dad, who was an accountant, would come home from work and nearly always spend some time listening to records. In later years her got a pair of headphones, but when I was in junior high and high school, I often went to sleep to the sounds of Bach or Rodgers & Hammerstein floating up the stairs.

My father came from a family that enjoyed music. He and his two brothers all played instruments. My dad played both cello and baritone. All three brothers had fine signing voices as well. And, my mother was a fine pianist. So with all this music it was a given that my siblings and I would play instruments. When I started trumpet in 6th grade my dad would often practice with me on his brother's old trumpet. This was not only an incentive to practice, it gave me an early realization of the joy of playing with others.

My father was an eclectic listener. I don't remember ever hearing him say that he didn't care for a particular piece or composer. Because of this -- his attitude and all the music he played -- I went off to music school with an open mind about listening. I wasn't familiar with many of the standards of classical literature, but I was ready to listen to anything.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Vincent deRosa

It seems to me that Vincent DeRosa is suddenly getting a lot of attention. There have been several blog entries, especially Horn Matters, discussing his work. There is a new biography available, and a tribute page with a number of audio clips.

DeRosa is a soloist on Laurindo Almeida's album, The Intimate Bach, recorded in the early 1960s. I grew up listening to this album, but the only part of it I really remember now is the Partita, which is here arranged as a duet for guitar and horn. I was just beginning to play horn myself at that point and didn't listen critically. It was just cool to hear a horn soloist. I hadn't thought about that recording in years and my dad's copy of the LP has vanished along the way. Then a horn player friend of mine in Colorado mentioned to me that he was working on the Partita. He sent me both the recording and the music. Listening now, I am amazed at DeRosa's technique. He is just flying on the Allemande and is all over the horn in the final Gigue. I'm also struck by his breath control. He never seems to breathe and he holds the final note of each movement out for a long fermata.

Another thing I did not know as a teenager was that I was hearing Vincent DeRosa all the time, on movie soundtracks and TV themes. What an amazing player!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Horn Choirs and Collaboration

Today I played with a horn choir and had a great time. The last time I can remember playing with a horn choir was at the IHS Horn Conference in 1972. All the participants were divided up into four choirs, which performed at the final concert. It was such a large group that it was interesting, but not that rewarding to play. If I remember correctly it was a four-part piece, with about 20 people on each part.

Sometime since 1972 horn choir has evolved. The music we read today included several arrangements recorded by the London Horn Sound and the Vienna Horns. These pieces have many parts, some as many as 16 separate parts, and include popular music. We read Titanic, Bohemian Rhapsody, Petrushka, Gabrieli, Bach, etc. It is a lot of fun to play.

Besides the fun of playing these arrangements, the horn players were so friendly and supportive of each other. I have horn player friends from college and post-college, but there was always a lot of competition between players. I'm sure that still exists, but I see in the university horn studio that my daughter is part of, as well as studios in other colleges that we visited while deciding on a college for her, a lot more collaborative work and a lot more mutual support. It makes college a less stressful place and promotes peer sharing and learning, all positive things. Yes, my daughter and her peers will be competing against each other for jobs, summer music programs, spots in grad school. So far she seems to be handling the competitive aspect gracefully.

Here is the London Horn Sound playing Bohemian Rhapsody.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Auf dem Strom

   One of the most rewarding musical experiences I had this year was playing Auf dem Strom, the only song Schubert wrote for horn, tenor and piano. It is a gorgeous piece, with a lovely horn part, and a fairly cheery mood, for Schubert. I performed this song with two very fine musicians. We played it as part of a larger recital of Schubert songs and then again at the Schubertiade sponsored by the Pianoforte Foundation in Chicago. This was especially exciting as we played in the Fine Arts Arts Building, a beautiful landmark building on Michigan Avenue. Arnold Jacobs, the legendary tubist of the Chicago Symphony had his studio in the Fine Arts Building for years.

 It was exciting to see how many people came out to hear Schubert; there were multiple performances going on all day. We were in a small room that held maybe 25 or 30 audience members. My husband told me that the El could be heard clearly several times during our 11 minute performance, but I didn't hear it!

In my experience there are oftentimes personality problems when working on chamber music. Sometimes one person feels that he is the leader, which cuts down the collaborative nature of chamber playing, or the players have different levels of commitment to the group, or any number of other problems. I love playing chamber music and I will play even with problems, to a certain point. My experience working on Auf dem Strom with tenor Henry Pleas and pianist Helen Raymaker was perhaps the best chamber music experience I have had. Both were deeply interested in the music. We looked at different translations of the text, listened to multiple recordings of the work, and discussed changing moods, phrasing, balance and other aspects of the music. We experimented with different tempos. The first recording I had heard was Dennis Brain's, which turns out to be the fastest. Our tempo at the second performance was a middle tempo; about 11 1/2 minutes total.

The horn part is not difficult as far as range or even technique. The difficult part, for me, is that the piece is 11 or 12 minutes long and there are hardly any rests for the horn player. My main problem with this was worrying about the accumulation of condensation in my horn. Towards the end there are three bars  of rest, enough for a quick dump out of water. Of all the things to focus on, this may seem trivial, but when you've worked hard on interpretation and technique, you don't want your performance marred by gurgles.

These two performances brought on a sudden performance anxiety, which I had not had for years. As soon as I started to play, I started to shake, and naturally, I didn't play as well as I could have. I was particularly annoyed at the Schubertiade, because I had been giving myself pep talks and the sudden shaking seemed like a reaction out of nowhere. There were many really nice aspects of that performance. I felt we played very musically and thoughtfully. If I can figure out how to post audio in this blog, I will add a sample of our performance sometime in the future.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

As of now

The end of the school year became crazy and I did not update this blog since April! However, there were some exciting (to me) developments. My husband and I were invited to play with the Waukegan Symphony, a local community orchestra, for their May concert. The program included Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony, Overture to Anacreon by Cherubini, and Bruch's Double Concerto for Clarinet and Viola. We both had a great time playing with this orchestra. The horn section is very good and a friendly bunch. The conductor is also very good and a pleasure to play for. So we were both thrilled when the personnel manager emailed us to ask if we would continue with the orchestra next season!
The Salt Creek Sinfonietta has also contacted me to let me know that they would like me to play some with them. That is another group that I am happy to keep playing with.
My woodwind quintet is rehearsing for the wedding of our clarinetist's daughter. This is my first time playing for a wedding. The family chose the music, but we the players still need to consider the timing of all the music. We can't be in the middle of a piece when it's time to start the processional music. We are thinking about how to cut parts of pieces -- maybe the storm section of Vivaldi's Spring is not the most appropriate mood music for a wedding. It's an interesting process.
And of course there's the band concert on the 4th of July!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fixing Problems

As I wrote in one of the posts about auditioning, it was during an audition that I realized my tonguing was indistinct because my tongue had somehow moved too far back in my mouth. I immediately started working on correcting this. One of the most useful things I found was Jeff Nelsen's Morning Routine because it includes exercises that just focus on tonguing. Attacking notes repeatedly, I was able to concentrate on what my tongue was doing and move it to a better place. I still make a point of checking where my tongue is, but that issue has improved a lot.

Another problem I had since returning to the horn was intonation. This had always been an issue for me. My horn has a few notes that are almost impossible to get in tune with the slides or by lipping and using the hand. But I've also always felt that I just didn't have a very good ear. This was a problem, especially when I started playing more chamber music. So, I asked for a tuner for my birthday this past August and my husband gave me a wonderful tuner-metronome combination. I started using the tuner when I warmed up, just turning it on and looking at it without attempting to change the pitch. I also used it when practicing specific music to check pitches and adjust by fingering or lipping the note. To my surprise, after using the metronome this way, I started playing more in tune. What's more, I started hearing intonation better. I now know where the pitch should be and I know what notes are likely to be out of tune on my horn. This was amazing to me because I had had this problem since I was a kid and I thought it was an intractable problem.

Making progress on the intonation front gave me the impetus to try to fix other problems. I have never been able to double or triple tongue very well. I single tongue extremely fast, but it would be useful to be able to double and triple tongue. I had never worked on it much as a student, but now I have begun practicing double/triple tonguing exercises on a regular basis. I still don't feel confident about using either in performance, but maybe I'll get there yet.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Results

Four auditions done.
Audition #4 conductor had told me on the spot that as much as he liked my playing, he didn't have a position for me. The personnel manager of the orchestra from Audition #3 called to give me the news that the conductor "loved your playing, but didn't think you were right for assistant 1st." They wanted to add me to their sub list. I said yes.
I didn't hear from Orchestra #2 for quite awhile except for a phone call from the conductor asking me to check my schedule against their rehearsal and concert calendar. Wow! I thought, they are serious about me. Then one of the audition committee had a family emergency to attend to, so there was no decision. When I finally heard from them, it was an email from the personnel manager saying they had selected someone else, but I was welcome to audition again in the future. I emailed them back offering to sub or play extra. At least I knew they had seriously considered me.
The 1st horn player from the first orchestra I auditioned for called me about a month later and asked if I would be interested in playing on Ein Heldenleben as one of the extra horns. Yes!!! He was a little vague though, and we ended our conversation setting up a time for me to come play for him. He asked me to prepare some Strauss and Mahler excerpts. So I spent a week working up excerpts from Heldenleben and Mahler's 1st. I went to meet him, we found a practice room, and he got out his horn, too. We played quite a lot together -- he chose a number of duet-type sections. Unfortunately, he selected mostly different excerpts than the ones I had spent the most time on. At the end, he still wasn't completely sure what the plans were for choosing the extra horns. I left the building not knowing what to think. However, within a week he had called and asked me to play 8th horn. Yay!!!
I was so excited. I started telling all my friends and also notified the conductor of the band I'm in that I wouldn't be able to play one of the Christmas concerts. Then the principal horn called again to tell me that the conductor had cancelled Heldenleben -- the concertmaster, who has a huge solo in the piece, had injured his wrist. Maybe they would reschedule it for the next season. He was just as disappointed as I was.
Maybe to try to make up for not getting to play Heldenleben, he told me that a chamber orchestra in the area was looking for a horn player for a concert. So I called the contact person and ended up playing two concerts in the 09-10 season with the Salt Creek Sinfonietta. I had such a good time playing with this group. The first concert was Mendelssohn, including the Midsummer's Night Dream music, and the second concert was all Mozart, including Symphony #40. I played 2nd horn to two different 1st horn players, both very good. The conductor was also very good and the group had a lot of nice people in it. Best of all was getting to play with an orchestra again after so many years, and getting to play such wonderful music.
What I found out by going through all these auditions is that, at least in Chicago, getting into a community orchestra as a horn player is a daunting task. One of the horn players I met in Salt Creek said, "You can't ever quit a community orchestra because you'll never get back in." There are just so many good horn players here -- lots of nonprofessionals who are good, plus recent graduates of the excellent music schools in Chicago, and the members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. I didn't give up on ever getting a permanent spot in a community group, but it didn't look like it would be happening this year.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Audition #4

I final audition of the fall was for yet another north shore orchestra. This one had not announced any horn openings, but the conductor invited me to play for him. This audition was almost two weeks after the last one. For this, the conductor had said to bring anything I wanted to play, so I brought basically the same excerpts and solo that I had to my first audition: Beethoven 9th (4th horn solo), Brahms 3rd, Shostakovitch 5th, Til, and of course, the Mozart 3rd concerto.
The auditions were being held at a very large high school in one of the north suburbs. When I got there I realized I didn't know where in this very large building the auditions were happening. I called my husband to see if there were directions that I had neglected to take along, sure enough, there were. So now I was searching in the dark for the stage door entrance, which turned out to be next to a loading dock. In spite of this, I felt almost completely relaxed. The personnel manager greeted me and introduced me to the conductor, who took me into a large back stage area. We chatted a little, then I started with the Mozart.
It was as though I had taken some of Harry Potter's liquid luck. Everything I played was as good as I could have hoped for. I played musically, I was not the slightest bit nervous, even the trill worked! In between playing, the conductor and I talked -- about why Beethoven wrote the 9th symphony solo for 4th horn, about pets, and finally, about his orchestra.
He was clearly pleased with my playing and gave me a number of nice compliments; however, they hadn't announced an opening because there was no opening. Not only was there no opening, but one of the concerts was strings only and another used only two horns. He said he would keep me in mind for subbing and extra work, but it didn't sound as if there would be any this year.
Nevertheless, I went home beaming from this audition.
Next, the results.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Audition #3

Audition #3 was for another north shore community orchestra. This orchestra was looking for an assistant 1st horn. The list of excerpts included Til, Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony (1st horn solo), Shostakovitch 5th Symphony (the low part part), the Eroica Symphony horn trio, the Brahms Symphony #1, 4th movement, and a Mozart concerto. Several of these had been on my other auditions and it was a manageable amount of music for me. Because the scheduled audition conflicted with Meet the Teacher Night at my school, I auditioned a day early, at the conductor's house.
The conductor was very pleasant. He had me set up in his living room. At this audition I was feeling confident and not nervous, and I played better, too. The trill on the Mozart still didn't respond for me and he asked if I would like to try it again. The second time around the trill wasn't much better, but then the excerpts went well! On the Shostakovitch I was trying to play tastefully. I had been told in the past not to play too loud on that excerpt. This conductor asked me to play it again "with more buzz." To me, "buzz" means what you do with your lips and so I tried for a fuller sound. He asked again for more buzz and this time it occurred to me that he wanted more nastiness or raspiness in the sound. I asked and he confirmed, so I let loose a little more, and he seemed pleased. I thought my strongest points were playing musically with a pretty sound.
One audition to go!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Audition #2

My second audition was for 4th horn with a community orchestra in the north suburbs and was scheduled for September 2, a week and a half after the last audition. I know the bass trombonist in this group and he kindly wrote a sort of recommendation for me.
The audition list included 2nd horn excerpts from Beethoven Symphonies #3 (3rd & 4th movements), #7, and #8, Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony (Finale), and the Haydn Symphony #31 (Horn Signal); 4th horn excerpts from Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Mendelssohn's 3rd Symphony, Saint-Saens Symphony #3 (the Organ Symphony), Schumann Symphony #3, and Brahms Symphony #4. Great music, but a lot of it! And I had never played even the excerpts from the Haydn, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Saint-Saens. I also needed to play the Mozart again.
I had started learning this music before audition #1, but I was feeling the time crunch now. At the end of August we had made two round trips to Bloomington, Indiana and one trip to Milwaukee. Then teacher institute days began. September 2 would be my second day of school with my new class. I also had another audition to get ready for the following week. I was very disciplined and practiced for an hour and a half or more each evening after working all day. I listened repeatedly to all the pieces on my iPod (thank you, public library!).
However, as September 2 approached, I could tell that I wasn't going to have all of these excerpts nailed. I just didn't have enough time.
On September 2, I drove over to the hall where this orchestra performs. Checking in with the personnel manager, I met another auditioning horn player. He was quite a bit younger than me. I had been coaching myself not to be nervous, but when I got in the room with the conductor and two orchestra members who were judging the auditions, I was nervous. I know it affected my playing, and I already felt I couldn't play a lot of these excerpts as well as I wanted. I played. They thanked me.
So, I felt I had done the best I could with the music and the time I had been given, but I was disappointed that I had again been plagued with nerves.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Audition #1

August 2009. I'm getting ready to send my children off to college, thinking about my own school year starting up, and practicing, practicing, practicing. The first few auditions that I was able to schedule were in September.
Then, on August 15, I was invited to audition for the conductor of a community orchestra in the near western suburbs. The conductor is a member of the Chicago Symphony brass section. It wasn't really clear what I am auditioning for because neither the personal manager or the conductor have said there's an opening. After an email exchange about schedules, he invited me to come to his house to play anything of my choosing for him. It is August 19 and I will be going to this audition on August 21. Yikes! At least I have been practicing plenty of excerpts and the Mozart.
I chose my excerpts: Shostakovitch 5th, Brahms 3rd, Til, Beethoven 9th (4th horn), Beethoven 3rd (2nd horn on the trio), plus the first movement of the Mozart. The trill is still not falling into place.
On the afternoon of August 19, I dress up nicely, pack up my horn and music, and drive off to the conductor's home. It's a long drive and by the time I get to his town, I need a rest stop. After stopping at a handy Walgreen's, I promptly get lost. This is an older suburb, much more city-like than the farther-out suburbs, and very congested at this time of day. Fortunately I have a little time and a map and get myself turned around and find his house. He answers the door, along with his dog, and leaves me to warm up in the living room, which I find has amazing acoustics.
When he comes back and asks me what I'm playing, I start with the Mozart. I have been keyed up all afternoon, but now I'm really nervous. Shaky. I remind myself I'm playing to make music and that helps somewhat. He does not stop me before the trill, which of course sounds really lame. Then I go into the excerpts.
This man is a brass player and he had definite, clear instructions on what he would like to hear. In the Beethoven 3rd, he asked for the upbeat to be in time, rather than delayed or "mannered." As I played more, he asked if I could make my attacks sound more definite, and less like I was sneaking in. At this point I felt like a high intensity lamp was suddenly shining on my performance and everything I was doing wrong was suddenly clear to me. Most alarmingly, I realized my tongue was way too far back to clean tonguing -- no wonder it sounded like I was sneaking in. As I tried to correct the tonguing problem and make other adjustments he asked for, a familiar feeling of frustration descended on me. I hadn't felt this way in years, but now I remembered what it felt like to get to the point where getting better is so hard. I had not been challenged like this in the community band or the chamber music I had been playing. It was not a good feeling.
He finished up the audition talking for a bit about his orchestra and the music they were going to be playing. There were a couple big pieces calling for extra horns scheduled for the season and he said he would give my name to the personal manager and the principal horn. I couldn't decide if he really meant it or was being nice to me.
So I came away from this audition feeling like it had not gone very well, but that spotlight on my problems was a gift. I went home and immediately began working on tonguing. I got recordings of all the pieces that I was playing excerpts from, and kept working on the excerpts and trills.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Search for an Orchestra Position

My kids are back at their colleges after spring break and I am mostly recovered from a bad cold, so it's time to pick up the story.
As I noted in my last post, the world was not beating a path to my door asking me to play in other groups. I was having a good time playing chamber music and in the band, but I really did miss playing orchestral music. So, it was time to take action.
August 2009, I began searching on the Internet for community orchestras in my area. Many of them I knew about, so it was mostly a matter of finding contact information and scoping out who was listed in the roster, who was the conductor, and so on. I found five community orchestras that gave an email address that were within distances that I would be willing to drive for rehearsal every week. I put together a music performance resume, a cover letter/email, and sent them to the five orchestras. I got my first response within two hours, asking if I would come in to play for the conductor! Three other orchestras responded within the next several days, all asking me to audition. The fifth group I never did hear from. Two of the orchestras had actual openings, one for 4th horn (my favorite!) and one for assistant first. These both sent PDFs of the audition music. So much more convenient than the old method of getting a list and finding the music yourself! (And this just shows how long it had been since I had taken an audition!)
Now I began to practice in earnest. Unfortunately it was late August, the time when I start teaching again, so time was at a premium. There was also a lot of music to practice. There was very little overlap between the two lists and I also needed to play a movement of a Mozart concerto. I picked the first movement of the Mozart 3rd because I know it the best of all the Mozarts, but I still needed to work on many aspects of the piece -- technique, intonation, phrasing, and trills. I practiced those trills endlessly, every day. I got to the point where I was pretty happy with everything about the Mozart, except the trills, especially the one on G. I began hoping that no one would want to hear more than a few lines of the piece and would stop me before the trill.
Next: Audition #1

Friday, March 5, 2010

And the band played some more

Getting back to the story of my return to horn playing, my husband and I began our 2nd year of playing in our community band. I don't know what other bands are like since this is the only one I've played in. Our band is a no-audition band, so we have members who are music teachers, lawyers, dentists, nurses, etc. We play a variety of music from junior high level (Grade 3?) to difficult transcriptions to modern band music that is very challenging. there's something for everyone. We play two concerts during the school year, each with a theme. Our upcoming concert is Blue on Blue and we're playing the Blue Danube, the Air Force March, Blue Shades, Blues for a Killed Kat, and so on. Previous themes have included movie and dance music, and comedy in music. We also play several Christmas concerts are local churches in December, and an outdoor 4th of July concert. Sometimes we have other outdoor concerts in the summer as well.

Our second year in the band was our daughter's senior year in high school. Much to our dismay, her first youth orchestra concert conflicted with our band concert. The orchestra was playing Pictures at an Exhibition. However, we had already committed to playing the band concert, so we missed her concert. (We also experienced a nerve-racking attempt to help her drive to downtown Chicago via the phone to get to her concert. She did make it safely and on time.) When the second band concert conflicted with her final youth orchestra concert, we opted out of our band concert. The conductor was unhappy with us, but we both felt that we had made the right decision.

I also had more opportunities to perform chamber music with band members this second year. We did the Mozart Wind Quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon several times. We also played the Strauss Serenade for 13 instruments and our brass quintet did the Dahl brass quintet on the spring chamber music concert. Both the Strauss and the Mozart are such wonderful pieces. Once again, I had to step up the practicing leading up to the chamber music recital both the learn the music and to build up enough endurance to make it through the program! My woodwind quintet also kept busy with a number of performances.

The best things for me about playing in the band are the chamber music and the nice people I have met. I realized though that when the chamber music recital was over that I was bored with just playing in the band. The world was not beating a path to my door, as apparently had happened to my horn player friend in Oregon. It was time to try something different.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Youth Orchestra

And the Orchestra Played On

I played in a youth orchestra for three years in high school. The Young Artists Philharmonic, directed by Mr. Princiotti, was the best group I had played in up to that point. The young musicians came from towns in southwestern Connecticut and even nearby Portchester, New York. Mr. Princiotti was as inspiring as Mr. Kupchynsky (in the article linked above), and he has now influenced several generations of music students. We played standards of the orchestral repertoire, my first time playing these great pieces.

The truly amazing thing to me is that he's still doing it. The Young Artists Philharmonic is celebrating its 50th anniversary this May, and Mr. Princiotti has been the director for all 50 years. The celebration includes a reunion concert. I wasn't going to go -- it's expensive to fly from Chicago and stay in a hotel, I can't fly with my horn because the case won't fit under the seat, it's right before the end of my school year... However, since reading the piece about "Mr. K," I am seriously reconsidering. I think I should go celebrate this wonderful musician and teacher and 50 years of music making. Time to check out expedia.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Path to College

During my first year back at playing in the community band, my daughter was a junior in high school. She had started French horn in 5th grade and played in her school bands, but was never serious about it and never practiced. In her junior year she decided she wanted to major in music education at the University of Illinois and became serious. A big influence on her turn-around was the Illinois Youth Summer Music camp at the University of Illinois in Champagne-Urbana. Another big influence was a close friend of hers who was already intending to major in music ed. and be a band director.

So, since she was now serious about practicing, we found her a teacher who not related to her. He helped her along by strongly suggesting that she needed to join a youth orchestra. Jamie had always been resistant to joining an orchestra because she hadn't had any positive experiences in orchestras. But, she agreed and auditioned for two. She was accepted into both and chose one after talking to a number of people. That orchestra immediately recruited her for their summer chamber music, offering a very generous scholarship.

This camp, held at Carthage College in Kenosha, was her first opportunity to be around really serious young musicians and to work with a variety of excellent adult musicians. This turned out to be a life-changing event for her. She called in the middle of the camp to tell us very excitedly that Dale Clevenger was coming up to give a master class and that she and the other horn player would have public lessons with him. I studied with Dale in the late 70s and consider him a major influence on my playing and musicianship, so I was thrilled!

My husband and I drove at watch the masterclass. I had talked to Dale now and then when we had bumped into him at Orchestra Hall, but I hadn't talked to him in several years at this point. We ran into him almost immediately. He was very happy to meet Jamie and find out out that she was a horn player, too. The masterclass was awesome. He has only gotten better as a teacher over the years. He worked with her on embouchure and asked her, "Do you want to play for a living?" She said yes. From that moment on she set her sites on playing professionally.

Her senior year was exciting for her and us. She applied to 7 colleges, and we suddenly felt like we had a star athlete that we hadn't known about living in our house as colleges started calling to offer scholarships and tell her how much they would like to have her at their schools. One teacher offered to put us all up at his house and take us to a rehearsal of the major symphony that he was a member of. We did not take him up on it. Jamie also had great experiences in her youth orchestra, at her high school, and at districts. She is now majoring in music performance at Indiana University (not Illinois!).

This post has been a sort of sidebar to my main topic, but Jamie's path to college had an impact on my playing as well. I got to listen in to a few lessons and masterclasses with Dale Clevenger, Jeff Nelsen, and others, from which I learned things, too. I connected with musicians I had lost touch with as we visited colleges. It brought me further in the musical sphere.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Chamber Music!

I was inspired to start (or restart) this blog by several other horn players who have written about their returns to horn playing after years away from the horn. Among those are Tina Barkan at newhornist.com and the many folks at the Mid-Life Horn Player on Facebook. I hope I can be as interesting as you guys!

Last time I wrote about how my husband and I came to join our community band. Now that I’ve been in it a couple of years, I tell people that the best parts of being a member of this community band are meeting a lot of really terrific people and getting to play chamber music. Every year members of the band give an ensemble recital at a local library, so groups form specifically for this concert. Almost as soon as I joined the band I was asked to play in a brass quintet. I love brass quintets – I like the music, I like playing with other brass players, and I like listening to brass quintets. I happily joined and soon my husband was also in the quintet. We began working on the Ewald Quintet. Then I was asked to join the band’s woodwind quintet. I said no, explaining that I really preferred brass quintets and that the other horn players should also have a chance to play chamber music. The clarinet player/organizer persisted, telling me that none of the other horn players either had the time or was interested in playing chamber music. So I said yes, and we began working on the Hindemith woodwind quintet. Before I knew it, I was also playing in a Haydn octet.

This was a lot of playing for me. Suddenly my weekends and evenings were filling up with rehearsals. I also had to practice more, both to learn the music and to build up enough strength to make it through the concert! Each piece presented its own challenges, but the Haydn gave me particular difficulties. One movement had a long horn solo that hung around high A. Since grad school I have been mostly a low horn player, and I hadn't been practicing seriously for years, so I needed to do some chop building. I was very lucky though, I think, because the return to horn playing for me was pretty straightforward. Many aspects of horn playing came back with practice. Some things had changed -- my break in registers was higher than it had ever been, so that has taken some adapting. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the things I had trouble with in the past, still gave me trouble. I had always struggled with intonation, and I still did. (More on intonation in a later post.) The high register is harder for me than the low. I still can't really double tongue and trills are still hard.

So, that first chamber music recital was fun. Not perfect. I was happy to see that I was not the slightest bit nervous. (More on nerves in a later post!)

The woodwind quintet I had somewhat reluctantly joined is an permanent group that plays throughout the year. We are currently working on the Serenade for Woodwind Quintet by Ferenc Farkas for this year's ensemble recital. We will also be playing at our clarinetist's daughter's wedding in October!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A New Beginning

The idea had been percolating for a while. I had basically quit playing horn years ago. Oh, I played for students, but I didn’t practice and I didn’t play anywhere. I missed it. I missed being able to play easily, fluidly, and with a nice sound. I missed playing with other people.
Then I had the opportunity to go to China on a teacher exchange trip. It was a wonderful trip, which included a visit to the music school of the Central Conservatory of Beijing. On the return trip we had a stopover of several hours in Hong Kong. While sitting around in the airport, too exhausted to do any more looking or shopping, I started talking to a history teacher from Oregon who I had not talked with before. To our mutual surprise, we were both horn players. He told me how he had joined a community orchestra and once people knew about him, he had so many offers to play he had to turn some down! I decided I, too, would find a group and start playing again.
Home again in Illinois, I kept my ears open for possibilities. But I didn’t start practicing. No incentive yet. Then in the spring of 2007, my husband announced that he was retiring from his high school band director position, and he was featured in a couple of newspaper articles. It was great fun because he started hearing from friends he had lost touch with, former students, and the band director of our town’s community band, asking if he would be interested in joining. I said, let’s both try it out. The director invited us to the spring concert, which featured Gene Pokorny, the tubist of the Chicago Symphony doing “Tubby the Tuba.” Pretty impressive for a community band. So we joined, starting with rehearsals for the summer concerts.
The first rehearsals showed me how out of shape I was. I was really tired by the end of the 2-1/2 hour rehearsal. The music wasn’t terribly hard, but I had no chops. Fortunately, there were enough horn players that only the person next to me could really hear me!
I did begin practicing some, but what really got me back into practicing was chamber music.
To be continued...