tenet (ten' it), noun: a principle, doctrine, or belief held as truth

Welcome to my blog! Here I will share some of my thoughts on horn playing and teaching, which I think about a lot, and maybe some other things, too. Since my job (which thankfully, allows me to do a lot of playing and teaching) keeps me very busy, as does my wonderful family, I may not write frequently. My goal will be quality, not quantity!

Please share your comments.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Little Einsteins

My 3-year old son, Tyler, loves this show - "The Little Einsteins." Each episode features a piece of visual art, and a piece of classical music. I was very pleasantly surprised one day to hear Mozart's 2nd Horn Concerto coming out of the TV - who says TV is bad for kids?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hindemith's Horn Sonata

Tonight I'll be performing the Hindemith Sonata in F (1939) on a faculty recital. Each of our brass faculty are performing a solo piece. While doing a little fast and dirty "research" to find some things to say about the piece before I play it, I came across some interesting stuff.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Plan Your Work; Work Your Plan - A 3-Step Plan

This post is inspired by the "beginning of the semester pep talk" I've been giving to my students lately.

1) Plan your work.

Plan when you are going to practice. Don't expect practicing to "just happen!" Look at your planner for the week, and make "practice appointments" with yourself. (Btw, you should have a planner/calendar of some kind - paper or electronic.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Let's Get Physical

I hope the title of this blog entry reminds you of the Olivia Newton John song. :o) Alas, I'm showing my age. I did just have a birthday recently. I actually got to perform with her a few years ago, when she did a pops concert with the Macon (GA) Symphony - that was fun! It was the biggest crowd we ever had! She didn't wear the 1980's work-out gear, though.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Teach technique or music?

I recently took Nathan Stark's survey about accuracy on the horn. Any horn players/teachers are invited to participate. Some of the questions and response choices got me thinking about the different approaches some teachers take.

Some teachers are very "technique-oriented." They spend lots of time explaining things like airspeed and tongue position, and how the lips should move a certain way, etc. Others are very "music-oriented." They spend most of their lessons talking about what the mood of this piece is, and what childhood memory that brings to mind, and telling students to close their eyes and imagine the scene - then "play the scene," or to play this like your girlfriend just dumped you, etc.

Truthfully, most of us fall somewhere in between. In my own teaching, I make use of both tactics, but I definitely lean strongly towards the "technique-oriented" model. This is certainly influenced by the fact that most of my students are young undergraduates who have had little private instruction before they get to me. If I were teaching mostly grad students with already polished technique, then I'm sure I would spend more time waxing poetic about musical metaphors.

However, even in my own practicing, I am very "technique-oriented." I know many musicians believe that if you focus on the music, the technique will take care of itself, but I believe if you focus on the proper technique, then the music will take care of itself - sort of. Please keep reading...

We've all heard technically impeccable performances that were extremely dull and boring. That certainly isn't what I want. The desired result is a musically moving experience for your audience (if you enjoy it too, that's a bonus). The technique must serve the music. The technique is a means to an end. If I have the greatest musical intentions in the world, but I don't have the technique to execute them, then those intentions are useless.

I remember reading an article by Pip Eastop a long time ago that stuck with me, called "Vanishing Technique." In it he talks about his obsession in his own teaching with technique, so that his students can make whatever music they want, and neither they nor the audience is distracted by the technique involved. His website is really great, and I highly recommend that you check it out.

Focus obsessively on technique in your practice, so that your performance can be as musical as possible.

(Disclaimer: My primary job is to help my students become good musicians. Since they've chosen the horn as their musical medium, I must help them become good horn players in order to make good music. I do spend time equipping them with good musical sense, and helping them develop their musical instincts.)

When I'm performing, music is much more my focus (as long as I've practiced properly), but I'm also thinking lots of technical thoughts, too. There are times when I get so "in the zone" that it's like I'm a member of the audience, just enjoying the music like everyone else, but this is the minority of the time. My job is to give the audience a good musical experience. Like I said before, if I enjoy it too (which I usually do), then that's a bonus.

The magician isn't as spellbound as the audience, because he knows how the trick is done. And he's busy doing it!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

SEHW 2009

I’m finally getting around to putting down some of my thoughts about the 2009 Southeast Horn Workshop, which I hosted at WCU March 6-8. When I first took the job at Western Carolina University in the Fall of ’06, my predecessor (Alan Mattingly) told me that he was scheduled to host the workshop in ’09, and that I was welcome to take it over, since he was moving outside the region to the University of Nebraska. I was excited by the idea, and jumped at the opportunity. So, in some ways, this workshop was 2 and a half years in the making! I can say now that I didn’t really know what I was getting into!

By January ’08, I was really getting serious about the planning, because I wanted to be able to announce the dates and guest artists at the ’08 SEHW in Columbus, GA in February. For over a year, hardly a day went by that I didn’t take some steps toward putting this thing together. I didn’t have a graduate assistant in the horn studio, so almost every detail of the planning was up to me. On top of all the work that was going into the SEHW, my wife and I decided to build a house (we move in May!), and I had to deal with the aftermath of a car accident on September 1st, ’08. It wasn’t my fault, and I still haven’t settled with the other party’s insurance. Both of these major life events have meant tons of phone calls, faxes, meetings, physical therapy, and stress! I don’t recommend mixing either of these things with trying to plan a workshop!!

As the event got closer, I did get some excellent help from some of my students, who sorted through the registrations and assigned competition times, helped coordinate the T-shirt orders, and made signs for the building and the road pointing people in the right direction. During the workshop weekend, my students, and my Phi Mu Alpha brothers, were AWESOME!! They took care of anything that anybody needed, and did it with a terrific attitude. I can’t thank them enough for their work!

Also, my parents deserve a special mention, because they came up from Florida, and stayed the entire week. They worked extremely hard, and also took care of Tyler, allowing Julie to come to some of the events of the workshop. I’ve known for a long time that I am incredibly blessed with awesome, loving parents, and they proved it again. Thanks Mom and Dad!

Now, about the weekend itself… It exceeded my expectations! We ended up with over 300 registrants, which is a SEHW record! All my advance planning paid off in that once things got started, the workshop pretty much ran itself. One of the best parts of the weekend was getting to see a lot of old friends again, and getting to make some new ones. The horn world really is a small one. It pays to be nice to everyone, b/c you will see them again!

Another nice thing about being the host, is getting to spend some more time with the guest artists. I’ve known Jeff Nelsen for a few years, but this was the first time I’d met Roger Kaza and his wife, Patti Wolf. Besides being world-class musicians, all three of them are super nice, and fun to hang out with! Julie and I met them for some North Carolina barbecue at the Dillsboro Smokehouse Thursday night when they arrived. Roger and Patti warned me that this was risky, taking a couple Texans out for barbecue! In the end, I think the NC ‘cue won their approval. Or maybe they were just being polite?

One of the downsides to being the host is that I couldn’t attend everything I wanted to, because I was running around taking care of things. Some of the highlights of the weekend for me were (in chronological order):

1) Roger Kaza’s recital Friday night. Wow! What GREAT playing (Patti too)! As one of my colleagues said: “Roger may be the best horn player in the world and nobody knows it.” It’s true that he’s kinda under the radar as far as horn soloists go, but his playing is superb.

2) The military horn players’ recital Saturday afternoon. Most of these guys are great friends of mine, and I was thrilled that they were able to come be a part of the SEHW. They all sounded awesome, and they ended the program with “Fire in the Hole” for 5 horns. This was just a really pleasant program, with great playing, good variety, an exciting finish, and…the whole thing was under an hour, which was appreciated at that point in the weekend!

3) Jeff Nelsen’s recital Saturday night. This was a huge highlight for me, because Jeff decided to do a lot of chamber music on his program, and I got to play on several tunes! He is such an awesome player—and such a great showman—all the crowds love him! He played some solo stuff, some duets with Roger, and then I got to join them for a trio. I almost passed on this opportunity, b/c I knew I’d be super busy with hosting duties, and I thought it would be nice to be able to just sit and enjoy the evening concert, but I’m sooooo glad that I decided to do it. I finally realized that if I have the opportunity to play with Jeff Nelsen and Roger Kaza, I should definitely take it! I was thrilled and honored to share the stage with them—it was a blast!
Then Skip Snead joins us for a 4tet arrangement of Bach's Air on the G String. Skip was my teacher in grad school, and is Jeff's cohort in the TAHQ.

Finally, 2 of my students (Ashleigh and Lizzie) came out, and we ended the program with a great arrangement of Ashokan Farewell for 6 horns.

Oh yeah, and in a gag to be talked about in horn gatherings for ages, Roger stepped in and played the accompaniment to Strauss 1 (quite well, I might add)!!

4) "Bohemian Rhapsody" on the final concert! I am really happy that this came together. I know from past experience that these Artists Ensembles can be hard to pull off, mostly because it's hard to get us college professors to commit. But, as my friends will tell you, I'm persistent! So, I was able to assemble more than enough people to play this, including a full rhythm section, and it was a perfect ending to a great weekend! Jeff Nelsen generously agreed to play 1st, and Roger Kaza conducted! I'm playing 15th part, on an F Wagner tuba rented from the Atlanta Symphony!

All in all, I had a blast during the workshop! But, I'm glad I won't be hosting again for a while!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Recital vs. Road Race

I'm such a bad blogger!  It's been 6 months since my last post!  (I realize the date above says February, but that's just when I started the draft - the publishing date is June 12, 2009)  But, I've had several ideas started as drafts, and hopefully over the summer I can be more productive.  Thanks to John Ericson for giving me a little nudge over lunch at the IHS workshop in Macomb.  If you haven't looked at his blog, it's WAY better than mine!

In May of 2008, I took up running for fitness.  I still consider myself a beginner.  In my typical fashion when getting into a new interest, I've been reading a lot about running over the past year.  One of my favorite resources is runnersworld.com.  If you're into running, and you haven't looked at runnersworld.com, you MUST check it out!  They have an unbelieveable amount of information about all things running-related.  For a long time, I didn't subscribe to the magazine, because they had so much great stuff on the web!  Finally, I gave in and subscribed, because it was only $1 an issue.

One interesting thing I've picked up on is that runners seem to run harder in a race than they ever do in training.  I understand giving that extra effort on race day, but the distance shouldn't be anything new, right?  For a lot of marathoners, the longest training run they ever do is 20 miles.  A marathon is 26.2 miles - no wonder so many people say those last 6 miles are so hard!
I think of a recital as a marathon of sorts.  It can be very tiring physically and mentally.  But I wouldn't dream of going onstage without having "covered the distance"several times in training.  

I don't recommend doing anything on stage that you haven't practiced A LOT!  

In fact, I believe in "over-preparing"--by skipping intermission in my trial run-throughs, or getting to the end of the program, then practicing some more--just so I know that I can finish strong on the performance, even when the nerves are in high gear.

Now, I've never run a marathon, so I don't know firsthand what it feels like.  But, if I were a serious marathoner, I'd want to know that I could run 30 miles if I had to, so that I could toe the starting line on race day with complete confidence that I can cover the 26.2 miles that lie ahead.

Of course, most marathon runners are amateurs, just doing it for the thrill and the finisher's medal.  I have much more at stake when I play a recital - I'm "going for the gold!"

It's also important to remember that there are no style points in running - all that matters is that you finish the course and do it in as little time as possible.  You can't "limp across the finish line" of your recital - that would be a terrible way to end!

May you always finish strong!