Sunday, May 5, 2013

Horn Diary

This is the cover of the program for the two performances of the Brahms Requiem put on by two local vocal groups with instrumentalists from the community band (with one exception). Both performances went well with standing ovations at the conclusion.

My horn playing was as good as I could have hoped for. I got all of those amazing long held pianissimo descant type harmonies which had been the hardest things for me to learn. In the second performance I got the high G in the first movement way better than I ever had when practicing. Also hit better than ever that repeated high E in the first movement that's a bit of a solo.

I was the only horn (along with two oboes of professional quality, two flutes, two clarinets, a trumpet, bassoon, tuba and timpani - along with the piano and organ) and had cut and pasted bits from all the horn parts together so as to cover all the exposed horn playing. That meant I played pretty much the entire hour and was traversing through parts written in F, E, Eb, D, C, and low Bb.

The toughest thing ended up being the long held low notes like the middle C at the beginning. With no strings it was completely exposed and my autonomic nervous system kicked in due to anxiety and there was a slight quaver in the tone (which I'd never experienced practicing). No amount of conscious control could completely eliminate it, though it was slight enough that apparently few people noticed.

Got some very nice comments from fellow musicians and the community band director - but the best was from a lady in the audience I'd never met before who came up and said she'd watched me the entire time and had marveled at the horn playing. I explained that Brahms's father had been a horn player, that the horn writing was extraordinary, and that if I merely sketched it out it has profound effects.

She could see me easily because all the instruments were in front and because I'd taken a piano bench which had me sitting a bit higher than other players (because I wanted every possible molecule of lung capacity and I'm tall and sitting on a folding chair gives me an acute rather than right angle between thighs and torso). 

I would have much preferred being hidden back behind the chorus and standing, and putting body english on every single note. As it was I tried to not sway too much with the rhythms and to keep my facial expressions somewhat in line - but I will never be able to sit rigidly like an emotionless robot and play the horn well, just as I can't not dance a little bit when playing the guitar/banjo and singing in front of a crowd. 

Engaging the horn parts in this piece has changed my musical life. A door has opened into a world of musical expression I'd never quite realized was there. It also confirmed for me that it's playing the horn with voices that puts me in a musical world I can't get enough of. And for any horn player - working through all these parts is an absolute clinic on what the horn can do.

It's also made me realize that part of what makes the horn such an amazing instrument to play is just how emotionally vulnerable I have to allow myself to be to get that exquisite expression to manifest. I was basically in an altered state during the performances and for at least a quarter hour afterwards. Carrying on conversations with people right after the performances was an ordeal - I simply was not in a verbal state of mind and everything I said sounded trivial and trite and felt like it was pulling me back to the everyday world when I wanted to maintain that blissful state.

No comments:

Post a Comment