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So You Want to be a Professional Hornist?

{Disclaimer: The below is very basic information and not intended to be the right thing for any individual person. We are all different and need different thoughts and techniques to reach the goals we seek. I believe that every music school should provide a class that is required of every music student. This class should be about the world of music, expectations, number of jobs for number of job seekers, and basically telling the student what they are getting themselves into}

Reading through tweets on Twitter today my mind began to wander. Not that what I was reading was not interesting, informative, humorous, or enjoyable, but some tweets tweaked my minds thought processes. Those individuals, fellow musicians, I follow on Twitter that have such wonderful minds. So open, fresh, thought-provoking, and they just seem to be good people. Today, especially, the posts from these individuals brought to mind some thoughts on the job as a principal horn and what takes to be a professional hornist.

Holding the principal horn position in an orchestra is quite thrilling, but also quite demanding mentally and physically. Every little thing that happens to you health-wise or in every day life can affect your performance. This is not just an issue for the principal hornist but any performing musician. Health is the utmost importance and I can say that I have played through colds, flu, strep throat, headaches, and myriad other maladies.

In speaking with other principal horn colleagues there are some that feel our necks are on the line each and every time we put horn up to play. Some expressed they felt this even when practicing at home. In the back of ones mind is the thought that one must not make mistakes. Mistakes happen, but as principal horn with the numerous solos, playing only in the upper tessitura, long periods of not playing (where are we? Rest 124?) and then being required to peg some stratospheric note out of nowhere, and so much more the expectations are quite high.

Life as a musician is quite grand. To perform music is such an honor. So many times I found myself listening to a colleague during a performance and becoming so enthralled with their expression that I felt time had stopped. It can be so glorious.

So, do you still want to be a professional hornist? Let me provide some thoughts. Most of these have been garnered from my teachers or colleagues. This is not the end-all method for anyone to become a professional hornist. Just some thoughts on the topic.

Typical Daily Regime for the serious student which was garnered from Kendall Betts, former principal horn of the Minnesota Orchestra during a master class:

  • 20-45 minutes F horn warm up such as Farkas.
  • 30-60 minutes etudes, some or all on F horn, such as Kopprasch, Kling, Gallay, Belloli, Reynolds, and others.
  • 20-45 minutes technical routines such as scales, arpeggios, broken arpeggios, chordal arpeggios, Clarke, Arban, Singer, or other technical materials.
  • 20-45 minutes long tones: pp<ff>pp; ff>pp<ff: holding pp, holding ff. (Long tones should not be performed higher than current capability. Slowly add a half-step every couple of weeks or so.)
  • 30-60 minutes repertoire: solos, excerpts, orchestral parts, etc.

After that master class I lived by the above regime. Even today I work on these areas each and every day.

As with any muscle-related activity one must be very cognizant to not overdue. If you are currently not practicing regularly do not attempt to use the above regime. One must also consider rehearsal and performance schedule. It is also very important to log your practice. As a student logging your practice regime will allow you to analyze your routine, when you are tired, when you feel fresh, and work to change your routine so that it meets your needs.

For young students work on the F horn is extremely important. Work on this side of the horn truly aids endurance, more natural slurs, better intonation, smoother piano not attacks, and more tonal color due to the sounding overtones. Truly, work on the F horn will provide one with some difficult practice After one has work through the first four or five Kopprasch Etudes the results will be clearly evident.

Kopprasch, Etudes, Op. 6, etude no. 29, mm. 1-18.

The above only provides some basic information on the time involved each day for a hornist. This will vary depending on the needs of the individual. There is so much more to being a professional musician on any instrument, and this is only the beginning. These are just thoughts from one hornist on a cold, snowy day who had a little bit of time in between playing scales and arpeggios, and going through a few Kopprasch etudes on F horn.

Let me leave you with Sir Simon Rattle’s thoughts on hornists:

You never eyeball a horn player. You just don’t. They’re stuntmen. You don’t eyeball stuntmen when they’re about to dice with death.

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The Musician Me – The Early Years

If you have read my bio page on this blog you will see that I have traveled the world as a musician, and performed with some incredible groups and people. If not, please do so before reading the rest of this entry.

I mentioned that this blog was going to be brutally honest. It is only fair that while being brutally honest I can do so with myself and my own life. So let me begin.

Like most I was involved in music in some form beginning in elementary school. When I was in elementary school music classes were quite different than what I see in the local public schools. My experience was based in the Orff and Kodály methods where students are taught to sing, play instruments, improvise, and dance from memory. Today, it appears that music classes are built around some performance such as national holidays, drug awareness, of graduation from elementary school. The days of playing rhythms on sticks, dancing (except for square dancing), clapping, and musical games are gone … it is now all about the show.

As elementary school progressed I was put into one of the classes where you were given an instrument and received weekly lessons. These weekly lessons were in a large group and probably received about five or ten minutes of individual instruction within the group. The instrument given to me was trumpet and I hated it. I did not like the sound and I had tremendous difficulties since I had to use my right hand fingers to move the valves. This difficulty is due to an extreme left-hand dominance I have and it felt very unnatural. Due to these minor issues practice was not part of my days. In fact, not one person taught me how to practice in these classes.

I had other things I enjoyed so much more. Reading was the most important to me. I could not get enough. While the books I was reading at that early age may have been Dr. Suess or the ever ubiquitous Hardy Boys, I just could not get enough. I would read in class, read while walking, read while eating, or any time I could hold a book in my hands. That was my time.

Even though I did not practice much, through some natural ability, I was able to play what was needed. Either that or the expectations were extremely low, and that is a high possibility. I ended up playing in the school orchestra, band, all-city orchestra, and all-city band. To this day I have no idea how that was possible but one should realize I was at the bottom of the section. Yes, there needs to be someone there to play that part but I was not there because I was good at that part. This continued into Jr. High as my musical life continued along this path for some time.

Jr. High is a strange time for young boys and girls. The body is changing as well as the mind. Music though stayed the same for me. It was boring and the band teacher was quite mean. As I think back to those days there never seemed to be any teaching. Just a man in front with a salt and pepper beard telling me how bad I was doing. I remember often getting called on to play by myself while the rest of the band listened. Oh, what a panic that was to hear, “Michael! Have you practiced that line? Play it for us.” Disaster every time my name was called. This was my life as a young musician and I am sure that many had the same experience, and it was not a good way to teach and instill confidence in a young person.

Time to stop for now as that is the end of the “Early Years”. Middle years will be coming up soon and those are much more interesting.

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Hello World!

Where does one begin? Blogging is such a popular idiom for putting ones thoughts out to the people of the world. But are my thoughts so important that others will read? I am just a person that has a love of music, life, and all that there is to experience. Hopefully, I will find the words that paint the good and the bad of being.

My wishes with this blog is to be brutally honest about anything and everything. This is a “no holds barred” blog where I wish to tell the world about life, travel, world affairs, cultural, socio-economic issues, and anything else that comes into my mind. Most of these views and opinions I have garnered from years of travel as a musician. Once one steps foot into another country your viewpoint about the world dramatically changes.

Let us walk together, discover new ideas, and not only discuss ideas but maybe provide some solutions to life.

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