About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

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!