Saturday, September 11, 2010

Horn Diary

The hiatus of the community band ends with the first rehearsal of the new semester tomorrow. From 7/6 until now have been playing only what I want, and that meant spending most of my time on the F horn in the octaves below and above middle C. In band music notes in that lower octave are rarely called for (for first horn) and I'd never gotten them as well as I felt I could. I did a lot of etude like improvisation, always going for the best tone and intonation I could muster, and never stressing the sound, going for full and big tone as opposed to loud. What music I played was a hunting horn tune transposed around the easy keys and the lines of arrangements I've done that fell into that range.

The results have been wonderful. All those notes come easily and well now, though the low octave C and the D above it are not as good as the rest. I really do like the F horn, and I think part of it has to do with simply feeling its reverberations in my upper body and head better than the Bb. From what I've been reading on the horn blogs, they simply are not making decent F horns any more. If they were I'd look into getting one because I'd love a lighter instrument that would be less burdensome to hold and would speak more easily as there would be less metal to set vibrating, and I'm not really interested in going above high F or G.

I helped sort the band music into folders and brought home the first and second horn folders and have looked through them. For the first time, with the exception of a piece that has a section in five sharps going up to high G sharp, all the first horn music looks playable to me. The issue is going to be endurance. I'm still the only horn, though we may get ringers for concerts. Right now I feel I have the endurance needed, but having to shift back up to higher notes in piece after piece in rehearsal is going to be wearing.

The next time Dr. Andy comes for some music I want to spend some time with him on cello and me on horn and play around with how those two instruments could work in a duet. I may have a large enough range on the horn now that something along those lines could be worth pursuing.


  1. It's great that you now feel you have the endurance to cope with the band music. Try the G# and if you feel it really isn't going to work, unless you are solo on the tune at that point, just write in the note the 2nd horn plays at that point. It may well be that the conductor never notices that you've dropped down for that one note.

  2. Jonathan - one of the few pluses to being the only horn is that I can have both the 1st and 2nd folders on my stand. What I'm doing now is trying all the 1st parts, and listening to when it's doubled and when not, then crafting a back and forth between the parts. I can get that G#, as well as a high, but very short, A. But poor endurance means I can't do that and all the 1st parts as well, thus the picking and choosing.

  3. Perfectly sensible. I've done that sort of thing as well. There was a time when I was at a Rehearsal Orchestra course - 8 horns needed for Mahler 6. Very heavy piece for all the horns. I was playing 1st with no assistant. I knew there was no way I was going to get through the weekend with enough lip to play the informal concert at the end unless I did some cheating. So during rehearsals I listened out for when I was being doubled by 3rd or 5th horn, and marked up the part so I could drop out for those bars.

    It made all the difference, and the conductor never realised what was going on. I doubt if even the other horns noticed.

  4. Jonathan - After my mind stopped reeling at the thought of 8 horns in a section, this all reminds me of my still experiencing the after effects of having started out on solo piano and then moving to guitar and singing. Leaving out notes feels WRONG! The other thing is my being totally threatened by band directors' theory mind and the ability to hear mistakes. Always sort of surprises me when they don't notice what I'm up to by leaving stuff out. Errors of omission are entirely different than those of commission.

    On a tangent to all this, I continue to do well this year, but the thing that still flummoxes me is when practicing my parts on their own, they sometimes make no harmonic sense, they can sound wrong even though correct. It's another hold over from doing it all, which is a very different experience that simply playing a part.

    Another particular issue with the horn is that you have to pay attention to the exact interval, say either a minor or major second, to get the right note. On piano, guitar and flute you just push down the right things and the note is there. I realize this is a commonplace awareness for horn players, but all those years of not worrying about that can still lead me astray.

  5. Oh yes! On the horn, if you can't visualise the note before you play it, you'll probably crack it. In this respect, horn playing has far more in common with singing than with playing woodwind instruments. With singing, if you can't hear the note you are to sing next, the note will come out wrong or at least out of tune.

    In my childhood I sang in the local church choir and in school choirs, gradually moving down through the parts as my voice broke, so there are some popular hymns and carols where at different times in my life I've sung all four voices. It has had the effect that no matter which element of the harmony I'm playing on the horn, I'm fairly good at ensuring that what I play fits in.

    I'm all in favour of instrumental musicians doing some singing as part of their training irrespective of the quality of their voices, just in order to practice pure pitch holding divorced from the technical issues of controlling the instrument.

  6. Jonathan, What a wonderful musical background you have! This gets at my point about wanting to define music making, though. I take your point that we're doing the same thing, but better understanding how differently our brains are wired will help me better work with folks like myself who came along into an environment without all that live music making. I have this notion we're doing the same thing, but in different ways, but can't really articulate the thought yet.