Sunday, March 10, 2013

Horn Diary

Here lately I've been able to fully sound out the fundamental pitch on both sides of the horn pretty much every time I try. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment, and it's a very good exercise for the embouchure. Working on the extreme low part of the register is a key part of Jeff Smiley's Balanced Embouchure method, and a number of other books I've looked at talk about the value of working with the low range as well. 

When sounding out those fundamentals it almost feels like a vibrating massage back into the muscles behind the part of the embouchure that actually touches the mouthpiece. I'm convinced that the embouchure crisis (and the lip callus that came along with it) I had a while back was due to my over using the muscles in the part of the embouchure touching the mouthpiece and under using the muscles in the part of the embouchure (of which I'm much less proprioceptively aware) back behind those front line muscles. I regret letting the band directors of the community band getting me to play first horn (because I was the only one) well before I was actually capable of doing so.

I'm still working with the Brahms Requiem and finding it a wonderful piece of music. Part of it is I think I'm very attracted to playing with voices instead of purely instrumental music. For me, tone is the foundation of music, and blending the horn tone with that of the human voice creates a sound I can't get enough of. Putting on the headphones and playing along with the CD alters my state of mind every single time.

The other thing about the Brahms is the horn writing. I knew his dad was a player of the pre-valve horn. What I hadn't realized was how every single horn phrase in the piece sounds so archetypically horn like. There are all those intervals of the hunting horn put to symphonic use, along with those amazing half steps he uses for emphasis. 

Working on the Brahms has also had the effect of crystalizing my thoughts on concert band music, which has always had the feel to me more of etudes than pure music. That the Brahms is way easier to play (just a few high F's and G's and none of those weirdly complex rhythms that are such a staple of band music) and that it's infinitely more beautiful bolsters that notion. 


  1. Concert bands haven't been going as long as orchestras, so concert band music by definition is fairly modern. And that means more complex rhythms. (Stravinsky has a lot to answer for with The Rite of Spring. Since then far too many composers think it is necessary never to have more than 4 consecutive bars in the same time signature!)

    Only the best of older orchestral music still gets played. The less good stuff has long since been neglected and largely forgotten. With more modern music, that winnowing process is still happening.

  2. The winnowing point is a very good one - as is the one about changing of time signatures a sign of hip modernity.

    I still think, though, that concert band music is written with a lot more pedagogical motivation than symphonic music - and I understand why that is, both because that's what school groups need and because so much of it is written by educators - it's the nature of the beast.

    By the way - Timepiece getting it's third performance next week down in Durham, NC and I hope to be there - and I hope to get a recording I can put up on the blog - wouldn't be happening had you not taken an interest in it - thanks again!