Thursday, March 24, 2011

Horn Diary

I've mostly settled into the Farkas Deep Cup mouthpiece. The diameter may be a bit too big for me, but since switching back at the beginning of the year there's been steady improvement in control and endurance from that moment of switching. The improvement has slowed, but I don't think the point of diminishing returns has been reached. I so much prefer the tone of the larger mouthpiece I really want to work as hard as I can to make it work. I'm also getting those unsolicited positive comments on my tone that I used to get when I used the Very Deep Cup mouthpiece those first years, but that dried up when I was on the Medium Cup. 

Being a total long term novice at the horn, I'm not sure how best to talk about the tone I'm going for and that various band directors and musical friends, whose advice I value, have complimented. The one thing that has given me more of what I want (outside of mouthpieces) has been playing off the leg. That lets the horn vibrate throughout and fully develop its timbre. 

In his book on the Water Music and the Music for the Royal Fireworks, Christopher Hogwood makes the point that Handel was the first to bring the horn in from the out of doors to play with the instruments of the court. What I love about the horn is that it can have an amazing out of doors sound without having to be brassy. 

Two other things that happened back at the beginning of the year were my getting my first lesson ever and a fine player from the Charlottesville Municipal band joining us here in Orange so as to have the opportunity to play first horn.

The lesson went very well in that no horrible technique issues were discovered and that the embouchure I've worked out using BE looks good and sounds good to a regular teacher. Alternate fingerings were demonstrated and more of them made sense to me than when trying them previously over the years. Since I no longer am responsible for first horn parts, I get to spend a lot more time down on the F horn and get to mostly stay away from all the high stuff on the Bb horn.

Playing second horn is an absolute treat. When I was the only one playing off beats I'd always have to drop out a measure every so often to keep from sliding back on the beat. Just having to follow/be with someone else is astonishingly easier. After playing the first horn parts for so long, playing that secondary harmony under the first parts is a much different proposition, but as I get used to it is a lot of fun. Though it's all written out, it's not dissimilar to throwing on a vocal harmony line to someone else's vocal solo.

My biggest problem right now is getting used to the alternate fingerings. Playing the G above middle C on the F horn is much easier than on the Bb side, but it "tastes" very different. Sometimes it feels so different than what I'm used to I think I'm playing the wrong note. On the other hand, using the third finger instead of one and two for the A below middle C has been a revelation - it speaks more easily, and has better tone and intonation. Besides knowing more now than I used to, I think playing off the leg and having a mouthpiece that allows flexibility have really refreshed my playing. There are times it feels as though I have a new instrument.


  1. I find that the G above middle C sounds more easily on Bb side but is flat, whereas on the F side it is slightly less secure but in tune.

    As for A below middle C, I normally tune 3rd valve a bit flat so that 2-3 and 1-3 combinations are in tune, so I don't commonly use 3 alone except as an alternative in rapid passages. But if it works for you, then use it!

  2. Jonathan - Thanks as always for the comment, especially now that you're so busy. My experience with the G comports exactly with yours.

    As for that A - it's the first time I've ever really used the 3 by itself, and have had to change the left hand position a bit to accommodate that. What's weird is that the A above middle C is still better with 1 & 2. I'll check to see how much I might be lipping for intonation on 23 fingerings.

    Thanks again for being the catalyst for my starting to play off the leg. I think more than anything that's what I love about my current tone and why I find the tone of the really good players in C'ville a little too "civilized", if that's the right word for what the on the leg position does to the tone. Feeling the whole horn vibrate just like a guitar or banjo or flute is really fun, and I think leading me to better playing. There's just more of a visceral connection to the music making.