About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

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...