Summertime…. and the livin’ is… different. For teachers and students, it means 3-4 months off with no school, which is not to say no work. Students may have to get summer jobs, or they may go to a summer music camp or workshop or festival, or both. Teachers have time (theoretically) to catch up on all that they didn’t get done last semester or year, and must plan and prepare for the following semester and year. Teachers may also attend workshops, festivals, or camps, often as faculty or performers. If both groups are lucky, there will also be some vacation in the vacation, to recharge the batteries and rest up for another year. In any case, the routine and location are likely to be different than during the semester concerning horn playing. How to best make use of the time?

In my practice-round-the-clock student years and some years into my first professional years, there was not much in the way of vacations. As a student, I knew if I wasn’t practicing, someone else was, and there was too much to do, to learn, and I was too terrified of post-school prospects not to practice during nonschool weeks. I didn’t slow down for some years after I got an orchestra job. But finally I did. I found I just plain needed a break after a long season. I was exhausted mentally and physically and needed some time away from the beast to recharge. What I did for several years was to take the first three or so days of vacation and go up in the alps (I lived Switzerland). I stayed at a rustic hotel far from the madding crowd. Every morning, early, after breakfast I would pack a lunch and a yoga mat and set out hiking up and up. After an hour or even two of hiking I would find a bucolic spot high on a ridge somewhere, very alone, and would spend the whole day alternating doing yoga, yoga meditation, and just sitting. At about four or five p.m. (depending on how far I had to go) I would pack up and head back to the hotel. The first day was astonishingly crazy-making. It was very very hard just to sit there and focus. Everything screamed MUST DO SOMETHING ACTIVE NOW NOW NOW. It was agony. I wanted to quit every moment. And this was at a time when I didn’t have a TV and there was no internet – it would probably be worse now. Somehow I stuck out the endless, boring, fidgety day. Somehow I headed up the mountain again the next day. The second day it was somewhat easier. The organism had gone through most of its adrenalin withdrawal, but was still kicking a bit. Finally on the third day I was able to sit there with something resembling peace and patience and equanimity. It was tough, but I finally learned how to do nothing pretty well. I even started not playing the horn at all for about four weeks back then (we had 6 weeks vacation; I started up again the last two before the season began).

Summer is here again, and it’s time to consider how to spend the time hornistically speaking. Summer break is a time to do a number of possible things.

•Work on the sticky bits of repertoire coming up in the coming year.

•Play for fun. Play duets (if there’s someone in town who wants to play).

•Take a technique inventory. Work on those areas that are the weakest.

•Listen to a lot of CDs. Pick out new tunes to work on.

•Go through stack of music. Look for gaps in the repertoire, decide on pieces to work on.

•Get fit. I don’t know about you, but I never get in quite enough fitness during the school year. Summer break is time when it’s harder to make excuses why you’re not doing something physical every day: go to the gym, take a fitness class, bike, hike, jog, play _____ (fill in blank: tennis, softball, basketball, swimming), stretch, do yoga, put a set of dumbbells near the TV and use them during the commercials. We sit so much during all our practicing, teaching, study, computing, commuting, and performing that we need sitting’s opposite (see my earlier post (Move It Move It). Now’s the time!

•Read a book or three. Either/or: a big summer blockbuster novel, some tasty nonfiction (anything by John McPhee is always good), or finally read something like The Early Horn by John Humphries, The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments, or re-read Farkas’s Art of Playing the French Horn. You might also experiment with reading samples of all the blogs listed in the blogroll on the right of this page.

I would be delighted to hear ideas from readers – what do you do in the summer, hornwise? What would your desert island piece be? I think mine would be a book of the Bach Cello Suites.

I’ve always been interested in the idea of what would be the least amount of sheet music possible to provide the maximum amount of material for the desert isle or summer vacation (especially if one travels). I came up with some general principles, which, if creatively applied, could provide nearly endless playing time. The material for this fits easily on a 3″ X 5″ note card. To wit:

Overtone series. Create etudes and pieces using only one fingering (i.e. Horns in F, E, Eb, etc. + Bb alto, A alto, Ab alto, etc). Start with adjacent overtones only. Then work on nonadjacent overtones. Then mixed adjacent and nonadjacent. Narrow range, then wider range. Different registers, dynamics, articulation, rhythms.

Valve work. Learn scales of all lengths (3, 4, 5 notes especially). Play around the circle of fifths (C F Bb Eb Ab etc). Add arpeggios of various types (major, minor, dominant, diminished, etc) and lengths (135, 1357, 13579). Add diatonic (played in sequence up and down) patterns such as 1231; 123; 13. Vary tempo, articulation, dynamics, register, rhythms.

That’s it.

Enjoy your summer!