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.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Raise Your Expectations

     I have a sign in my studio that says

Raise your expectations

     This is as much a reminder to me as to my students.  Too often, I find myself settling for less than my best because I simply forget how good it could be!  Sometimes I'll be listening to one of my favorite horn recordings that I haven't heard in a while, and I think "Oh yeah - I want to sound like THAT!"  I get inspired all over again, and my expectations are raised.  Here are some tips to make sure you're not settling for less than your best:

Know the Score!

     Here at Western Carolina University, my students are fortunate to be accompanied by piano faculty when they perform in recital.  Whenever possible, I like to attend their rehearsals so I can help them through any ensemble issues that might arise and offer feedback to the student on how to improve their performance before they take it to the public.  Many of my students have never performed with a piano until they get to college.
     The number one piece of advice I would give to any student preparing to rehearse with an accompanist for the first time is: Know the score!  You really need to know the piano part in great detail.  (Obviously, before you get with your accompanist, you better have YOUR part absolutely nailed!)  Knowing the score, and how your two parts interact and fit together, will make rehearsals run MUCH smoother, and will allow you to actually play as an ensemble rather than as a soloist with some nice piano music playing along.
     So, how do you get to know the score?  Spend some time looking at it while listening to a recording of the piece, and notice how the parts interact.  Yes, you are the soloist, but there are times when you will need to listen and react to what the piano is playing.  This is especially true if you're playing a sonata, like the Beethoven, where the horn and piano are more equal partners.  As you're listening, mark some cues in your part that tell you which beat the piano plays on, or what rhythmic pattern they have.  This will save valuable time during rehearsals (rehearsal time is money!).  Also, listen to the piece over and over even without looking at the score, so you get the music inside you, and you can hum the piano part while the horn part is resting.  When you practice, have the accompaniment running in your mind vividly, like a soundtrack.
     In addition to knowing the score, the next best piece of advice I can give for playing with an accompanist is to lead.  Play with confidence, and establish your tempo, and your accompanist will fall right in line.  This assumes that you have a clear musical plan, and that you have practiced enough that you can execute it.  (Remember, you also need to know when to follow, and that comes from knowing the score.)
     The best part about making music is making music with other people.  So, know the score, and you'll be able to make music with your accompanist instead of just making music next to them!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ugly Soft, Ugly Loud

     A point that I have to make often in lessons with my students is that in order to expand your dynamic range, you have to go beyond the point where it sounds good.  Get out of your comfort zone.  I call it "ugly soft" and "ugly loud."  If you don't push your limits, you won't improve.  This is true for most things in life.

If we keep doing what we're doing, we'll keep having what we're having.

     Related to this topic is the "Someone Might Be Listening Syndrome," which causes students to play things they're good at over and over in the practice room, while ignoring the passages or aspects of their playing that really need work.  I don't know who said it first, but "if you always sound good in the practice room, then you're practicing the wrong things."  Maybe it was Tuckwell.  (He's kind of the Mark Twain or the Yogi Berra of the horn world; most clever quotes are attributed to him!)

     Let me be clear: I'm not advocating playing with an ugly sound in performance.  This is merely a practice tool.  The goal is not to achieve an ugly sound!  The goal is to be able to play louder and softer with a beautiful sound.  In order to achieve this, you have to spend time practicing in the "Ugly Zone."

     The traditional long tones with crescendo/diminuendo are the #1 best way to expand your dynamic control, because they take you gradually into and out of the "Ugly Zone," and it's easy to track your progress as the "Ugly Zone" gets pushed farther and farther in either direction.  I know what some of you are thinking, but if you're focused on everything you should be focused on while practicing long tones, they are NOT boring!

     Besides these long tones, another great place to practice these "extreme dynamics" is in etudes.  I'm a big fan of Kopprasch (my students don't always share my enthusiasm), and I always write something at the top of the first page in my students' books that my first teacher wrote in mine:


     Too often, students are afraid of getting outside their comfort zone, and therefore they don't improve as fast as they might.   There is always an adjustment period, whenever we're trying to build new skills or expand existing ones.  Think of a baby learning to walk.  It looks pretty awkward when he/she tries taking their first steps, and there will be stumbles and falls.  But, they can't go on crawling forever!

     Don't be afraid of sounding bad in practice.  Be more afraid of sounding bad in performance!  Attack your weaknesses!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Power of Yielding

     The idea of yielding is a powerful image for me in many areas of life, but it also has applications in horn playing.  I first came across this idea in college, in the book Thinking Body, Dancing Mind, by Chungliang al Huang and Jerry Lynch.  To me, this book is right up there with The Inner Game of Tennis on the list of must-haves for performing musicians.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

SMBQ China Tour 2010

     This has been a record-setting year for me, as far as travel is concerned.  I just got a passport for the first time back in the Fall, and now I've been to Argentina and China in the past 3 months!
     The SMBQ had a 2-week tour of China from April 27th - May 10th.  I couldn't possibly relate all the amazing experiences we had in this blog - I don't know where to begin!  I think I'm still processing it myself, in some ways.  Looking back at the pictures, it's hard to believe that we lived all those great moments.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Isla Verde Bronces 2010

During the first week of February, I had the opportunity to travel to Argentina to be the "Profesor de Corno" at the 4th Annual Isla Verde Bronces. This international brass festival was created by Fernando Ciancio, Principal Trumpet at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

What an amazing experience!