Sunday, July 11, 2010

Horn Diary

The Mouthpiece Honeymoon Syndrome  

The last entry mentioned my wanting to go back to the Farkas deep cup (DC) mouthpiece after using the medium cup (MC) since the meltdown. I ended up back with the MC because I got fooled by the mouthpiece honeymoon syndrome one more time. In an exchange with Bruce Hembd a while back, he confirmed that this is a real issue experienced by other (real) horn players.

Basically what happens is you come across a mouthpiece different from the one you're currently using, the new one works fantastically well, you switch over, only to have the bottom fall out around 10 days to two weeks later. Back this spring I actually got into the third week before all the wonderful things turned to not so wonderful things.

What seems to be the case is that while your embouchure "set" for the initial mouthpiece can work even better on another mouthpiece, the foundation isn't there, so (for me) the part of the embouchure touching the mouthpiece gets out of whack with all the rest of your physical involvement with the instrument.

It's not as bad as a complete meltdown, but leaves the seemingly unanswerable question of whether you should go through the whole rearrangement in hopes of coming out ahead of where you are. I decided to go back to the MC, and bought a medium deep cup (MDC) to try out over time.


  1. This is something I've never experienced. I've used the same mouthpiece for about 35 years, even longer than I've owned my present horn.

    Through college my teacher was happy with it and didn't think I needed to change it. I've been able to continue improving while using it.

    My lips are perhaps a bit thicker than they used to be 20 years ago, so if I were to start specialising in low horn (by preference I play high parts at present), I might want to get one with a slightly larger diameter than I have now. But I would do some extra low-range exercises using the existing mouthpiece first to see if I could strengthen the lower range without changing mouthpiece.

    How you blow into the horn matters far more than which horn you blow into!

  2. Be happy you've never experienced it - Trust me! I think part of my problem is that given my druthers I'd be playing mid range horn, not higher than the upper F, using music of my of my own devising, whether composed or arranged, with the DC, which has a more noble or heroic tone, at least on my lips and to my ear.

    That gets trumped, though, by wanting to support the community band, which needs more high stuff and that brassy tone they prefer. Your final point is well taken, and I'm trying to get as much of the tone I want as I can from the MC.

    Going to steal your "collaborative music making" formulation, by the way. That back and forth with you was terrifically helpful. Let me know if you can come up with a more neutral term for the "autocratic" mode that's a little tighter than "top down" and "bottom up", which is all I've come up with so far.

  3. If you want a more neutral pair of terms, I would suggest "collaborative" and "co-ordinated".

    Even when you have a conductor, if the players are good and know their stuff, they can make a contribution to the interpretation. For instance, if you have the first solo rendering of a tune, it will often happen that your way of phrasing it will get picked up by those who repeat it later. So working with a conductor isn't an entirely autocratic business, and of course the best conductors work by inspiration and encouragement.

  4. Need to think this through more. Might go with collaborative and conducted. What's so great about "collaborative" is that a music therapist has to be, always checking in on everyone to make sure they're enjoying things enough to be fully engaged rather than dropping out.

    A conductor/educator needn't worry if someone's not on board. If a player drops out it's just more of the triage that's a part of that elite world. A conductor/educator is necessarily more concerned with the overall program and the upcoming concerts than equipping an average player with the tools to last a lifetime of music making.

    It comes back to the motivation. Why a music therapist wants to help someone make music is subtly, but importantly, different from why an educator seeks to do the same.

  5. Ah, that depends on the aim of the conductor/educator. I was lucky enough to play under some conductors who had a genuine desire to share the wonders of music and the techniques for achieving it.

    But if all the conductor wants is to get a group capable of playing band in the interval of the football match and has no care for the musical development of the individual players, then I can quite imagine how the triage process you've mention would kick in.

    Fortunately, when I was at school, even when I played under conductors who were essentially useless, their heart was in the right place even though their technique was absent.

  6. There are lots and lots of fine band directors, but even they use auditions to winnow down the masses to a workable few. School music programs are by nature elitist enterprises. My aim is to help those denied that opportunity to help themselves become music makers on their own in small groups.