Northeast Horn Workshop - the Performances and Masterclasses

So, this past weekend was the Northeast Horn Workshop held at the University of Delaware in Newark.  By all accounts and all meanings of the word, it was a blast!  Of course, anyone who has gone to these events knows that there are generally 2 sides to the events - the performances/masterclasses and the exhibits.  In the case of this workshop, I must admit I spent a lot of time in the exhibits.  However, I did check out a few of the concerts and masterclasses.

Sadly, our little group didn't arrive until 11 PM on Friday night, so we missed a few of the classes from that day.  However, one of the more memorable masterclasses of the weekend had to have been the Phillie horn section masterclass.  It was really interesting to see how this group of world-reknowned pros works together and plays.  One of the most fascinating things that I picked up from this class was how dramatically different the section sounds when they move people around to different parts.  Jeff and Jen have such different sounds but both lead the section quite well.  To me, Denise, the new 4th horn of the section really shone as a great addition to the section.  What a wonderful sound and an amazing ability to blend with any player. 

A few of the other lectures recitals that we attended were quite cool, but it's difficult to "blog" about them without saying "well, you just had to be there."  However, one unique session stood out.  I wouldn't call it a masterclass or lecture, but it's not quite an exhibit.  The IVASI room was something alltogether different.  I got a chance to play in the IVASI room at IHS in Macomb this past summer for about 2 hours with Jim Decker and had a blast.  This time I made my student do it.  He sat in with some students from a "major" Northeastern school for music.  Since he's a senior in high school and these were all upper level or grad students, he was a little intimidated.

The pieces that got put up on the IVASI screen were Mahler 1 and Don Juan.  I good horn parts at all... ;-)  So, he was playing and doing it well but you could tell he was nervous.  The kids in that room were playing great.  However, I had to tell my student afterwards that he did do well and not to worry, he'd do that well soon too.  I also had to tell him, if he played like they did in a real orchestra, he wouldn't get called back!  Instead of blending and listening as a section, they all seemed to be competing with eachother to see who could play louder and higher.  Pitch got out of control at high volumes and there was no concept of section blend!

I's only the IVASI room - no big deal.  I just don't want him thinking that he can go sit in an orchestra and play like that and expect to get called back.  It wasn't good.  There's a lot of emphasis on teaching young people to play loud and high, yet there seems to be a lack of emphasis on HOW to play loud as a section. 

The final concert was great.  It was a very eclectic mix of music with Alphorns, ensembles, soloists and great duets by Denise Tryon and Karl Pittuch.  The performance by Jeff Lang's Temple horn studio was just cool!  The performances by the young horn players that won the various competitions was inspiring and the duets by Denise and Karl were as solid as you could ask for. 

In all, a great show.  My only complaint was on the organization side of this event.  The website didn't have an actual address for the school or the music building and there were no signs posted outside the buildings telling people that the horn workshop was there.  Then, I and many others missed some of the events because their locations were changed at the last minute.  For someone who likes to plan as much as possible in advance, this made me very uncomfortable.  However, the young student helpers were great.  They almost made up for the organization issues.

Next year's show is at Kendall Betts' place in NH.  I don't think I'll be able to make that.  It's just too far out of the way.  :-(  Of course, Brisbane's too far out this year, so I may be suffering horn-show withdrawl this time next year!

The right notes...

This is going to be an intentionally short post.  I had an epiphany the other day while working with my best student.  For the first several years of his playing, we focused on getting the right notes.  Now that he has the basic fuctionality of the horn down, I now have to get him out of the mindset of "the right notes."  Sometimes, you can tell that he's focusing so intently on the right notes that musicality takes a back seat. 

When I work with him, and also in my own practice sessions, I have definitely found that, if I work for musicality and for the ability to repeat something (articulations, dynamics, inflection, etc.) then the right notes generally take care of themselves.  However, if we focus on only the right notes, the performance sounds miserable.

This may be one of those "no duh!" type posts, but I believe that all too often, we're so fixated on the right notes that we do leave other, more important things out.  As long as the fundamentals are down, musicality should obviously be a priority.

Just a short thought.

Playing with the Richmond Symphony

After 3 years of struggling and fighting every day to rebuild my face, I decided last fall (2009) to send my resume to a few area orchestras.  Fortunately, I must have sent it at just the right time.  Within 2 days of sending it out, the personnel manager at the Richmond Symphony called and asked if I could sub on a pops concert.  I was ecstatic!  I was also terrified beyond belief.  I have played with pro orchestras in the past, so it wasn't a complete shock, but I haven't dared play in a group like this since my chops broke.  Fortunately, given that it was a pops concert, there wasn't near as much pressure.  Of course, I still had to go get a massage because I was so tied up in knots over it!

So, I went to the first rehearsal.  My first impressions - MAN this orchestra is young!  The vast majority of this orchestra was below 40.  Many of the players were below 30.  The conductor, Erin Freeman, is a pretty well known conductor and a great one at that.  She was very efficient at running the rehearsals and managed to pull out every bit of musicality from the Harry Potter Suite and The Composer Is Dead.  The pieces weren't difficult, but there was plenty of exposed horn stuff.  The principal, Rachel, is a GREAT player.  She's young and has seemingly invincible chops.  The guy playing second, Kelly, is another great horn player who plays in one of the service bands in DC (he's also the guy who sold me the Kuhn pipe that I now use on my horn).  The guy playing forth, Matt, another service band guy from the Norfolk area did a great job carrying 4th.

The job was not that challenging and ultimately, I played fine.  Of course, the proof isn't in whether I can actually play the gig, but whether I can get a call-back.  Well...fortunately, the call back came.  (Thanks Rachel!  You rock!)  I got the call to come play 2nd on the Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet Ballet with the RSO and the Richmond Ballet.  The show is 3 hours of solid playing with 9 total services.  The first day was a single rehearsal.  The second through 4th days had 2 services each.

The piece isn't terribly difficult, but it's highly romantic in harmony, melody and rhythm.  The conductor is a very nice guy, but very difficult to follow.  It's hard to tell where the downbeats are as well as what pattern is being conducted.  However, he is very consistent, so I've gotten used to it after a few rehearsals.  Sadly, I've made my fair share of mistakes in these shows, most of which have been counting (which I partly blame on the difficult-to-follow beats and partly accept for loss of concentration).  However, I'm playing the parts fine.  Tuning is working out well, blend is good and balance is great.  Rachel is again playing principal and leading the section well.  She's quite easy to follow.

On top of the wonderful experience, I must say that everyone that I've met and talked to while here both for this most recent concert and the previous concert have been wonderful!  There doesn't seem to be an over-inflated ego in the bunch.  They're great musicians and genuinely kind and funny people.  I could see myself with a group like this!

The good news is that there's a vacancy and there's an audition coming up in just a couple months.  I haven't decided if I'm going to audition or not.  While the spot would be a dream come true, there's no way I could replace my existing job with the symphony job - not if I want to keep my house and my car.  The pay is great, don't get me wrong.  If I were a few years younger and hadn't gotten used to the wonderful pay of the government contracting world, I wouldn't hesitate.  On top of that, there are some great players auditioning for that spot too.  I simply wouldn't stack up to them.  However, my yearly goal is to audition successfully - perhaps I need to try, despite my hesitations.

At least for the foreseeable future, I hope to get more call backs and continue to sub with this great orchestra.