I’m off today for two weeks at Kendall Betts Horn Camp in the wilds of the mountains of New Hampshire: no email, no internet, no TV or radio, no newspapers, no movies (streaming, DVD, or on TV), no commuting, and only about one square meter where – if you can find it and you stand just right – you can get cell phone reception. It’s almost heaven. No distractions, just wall-to-wall horn: masterclasses in the morning, lessons and horn ensemble in the afternoon, concerts and presentations in the evening, 40-some campers ages 14 to 80 from every possible musical walk of life and level, a dozen fabulous faculty, accommodations in log cabins, terrific food, a concert hall en bois apparently built by Paul Bunyan from local trees. Everybody, including faculty, has a chore: Camp Ogontz, the host of the camp has only a small staff, so each inhabiting group must share in the daily chores. The camp abuts a small lake (where you may fish or swim during that rare bit of free time between four and six in the afternoon) and has a view of the distant rounded peaks of the White Mountains. For horn teachers, it is a joy to 1) work with passionate students and 2) get to hang out with other horn teachers – the job throughout the year is in one sense a bit like being a lighthouse keeper – it’s just you there, doing your particular job. Replacing that brand of splendid isolation with camaraderie during dinners and after-hours every day is a special treat. Your spouse back home does not want to hear (yet again) about your daily teaching in any sort of detail; they are not equipped with the vocabulary, background, or (by this time) interest in the minutia of your teaching day (just an overview will do, thank you very much, honey). Not so your faculty buddies. So you trade stories until late into the night, and it feels good, this little lighthouse keepers’ microconvention, hey, let me tell you about the new glass polish I got mail-order that makes the bright beam shine even farther in bad weather, that sort of thing. Many, many laughs. It’s a great place to share experiences, get new insights on solving thorny pupil problems, and also, to talk at length about things other than horn (nothing like beer, chips, and cheeses to help you ponder and solve (until morning at least) all the mysteries of the universe, local and distant, known and unknown). This is soul-soothing therapy that you can’t buy, barter, or bottle, just be there and enjoy.
News, views, rhythm n blues gleaned from a quick blog tour…
Pip Eastop (creative London superhornist) hates the harmonic minor scale. He finds it pointless and recommends that it be stricken from exams. He favors the jazz minor scale, which is the ascending melodic minor scale that does not lower steps 6 and 7 when descending. This scale is very handy for improvising since it doesn’t change anything descending; also, there is only one note different from the major scale (1 2 b3 4 5 6 7 vs 1 2 3 4 5 6 7). I mostly agree. The notes of the harmonic minor scale (1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7) are useful in improvising, but not as an octave scale. In either composing or improvising, you use the b6 to turn around at 5. The b6 leads down, not up – it makes not a lot of sense to use it to ascend in the usual harmonic minor scale. The 7 does the same thing at 1. Your ear wants a 7 instead of a b7 to turn around at 1 (1 7 1). Now: if you’re descending from 1 down to 5, say, the b7 and b6 make sense. They sound just fine. If you’re using the jazz minor scale (6 and 7 both directions) consistently, the ear gets used to hearing the unflatted descending 6 and 7. Also: there are some scales that use the augmented 2nd interval, most b2 to 3 (e.g. Spanish Phrygian or Klezmer: 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7; Middle Eastern: 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 7) where that wide interval is used melodically to evoke that exotic flavor, but for normal Western/tonal improvisation – jazz or contemporary classical – I agree with Pip that the harmonic minor is an artificial construct without much use that simply shows you are familiar with that collection of pitches. In combat conditions (improvising or composing) you should be able to inflect the 6 and 7 any way you want to match what you hear your melodic line doing.
Another thing comes to mind on the subject of scale proficiency exams. What if… instead of testing the artificial – octave scales – we tested – for want of a better word – music? That is, the ability to use any version of minor in a musical situation. Testing one (or two or three) octave scales are of very limited use to either practice much or in exams. It doesn’t tell you much. It’s a very superficial way of knowing a scale. What about all the other ways you can arrange the scale? I don’t care if you can find your way up and back. I want to know what you can do with a scale. I don’t need to hear Flight of the Bumblebee. But I would like to hear that you can think in music and use the scale appropriately to some degree.
Here’s your new scale proficiency exam: Picture this: a woman in a red dress stares at a crescent moon at 3 a.m. A solitary tear slides down her cheek. She has just lost the love of her life. Now: draw a card at random: Ab minor. Now, using any form of minor scale that you wish, make up a 2 minute piece depicting that scene, built mainly around that scale. You pick the tempo (hint: slow is fine). The piece should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should have unity and variety. It should have some recognizable (or better, memorable) melodic motifs that are developed in the course of the improvisation. Add a brief coda at the end.
Now that would tell me if you really know your scales. I wouldn’t care if you missed a note here or there if you created a strong, memorable line and did some interesting things. Something expressive, something that communicates thought and feeling. Right now all we seem to care about in exams is mindless rote perfection of things that seldom or never show up in actual music (ever seen a two octave scale in a piece for horn?).
Dr. Noa Kageyama has some great advice on audition prep and mental toughness for musicians.
Richard Kessler concludes a series of arts on Getting the Best High School Arts Education in Dewey21C.
The lead current article in Entrepreneur the Arts is “The Long Wait of ‘Artistic’ Careers” by Peter Spellman of Berklee College of Music.
James Boldin’s Hornworld blog always has something interesting. The latest post calls attention to a recent doctoral dissertation by Margaret Tung on Dale Clevenger.
[A revised version of an earlier article. -J.A.]
Memorization is the difference between performing a solo with the mind and ears totally focused on the flow and expressive qualities of music versus the eyes and fingers being consumed with a note to note response or other technicalities of notation. The mental connection made with the fine detail of musical phrases and listening is far more discriminating than the visual or sight response to notation. – Edward Lisk
I have seen some astounding live horn performances in my day, by Arkady Shilkloper, Douglas Hill, Peter Damm, John Clark, Frank Lloyd, to name just a few. But if I were forced at gunpoint to select the single most electrifying performance I’ve ever experienced, it would have to be the time I heard Frøydis Ree Wekre perform Buyanovsky’s España for solo horn at the IHS workshop in Avignon in 1982. The stage was outdoors (in Provence, as in Camelot, it rains only at 3 a.m., and briefly). The night air was warm and dry. A quilt of laser starshine was our ceiling. Heaven must be almost this nice. Frøydis commanded the stage alone, in a long colorful dress. As she stepped up to play, she had that patented look of hers: assertive, focused, relaxed, glad to be here. [NB: since that time, España has become a much more regular feature of the repertoire, still thrilling, but a more familiar story. Back then it was all new, like electricity to Franklin, flight to Orville and Wilbur, the moon to Neil Armstrong.] What a performance! She just stood there and let fly, and sparks crackled out of that horn. We were stunned, stupefied, speechless at first; then we screamed and stamped for more, more, more. It was a certifiable synapse sizzler. Among my personal pantheon of superlative horn performance experiences, this is the 29,002 ft. summit, done with the off-the-chart, over-the-fence supernatural brio and panache that Frøydis has always had in abundance.