I had a terrific two weeks at Kendall Betts Horn Camp once again in the wilds of New Hampshire (which, admittedly is a rather large circle). I will relay thoughts and inspirations from that sojourn in days to come. But let me first relate a jarring postscript to that string of peak experiences.
Cautionary tale: After 11 years of travel, national and international, it finally happened. I flew yesterday on United from Manchester, NH to Cedar Rapids (2 hour delay in Chicago; could have been and usually is worse). Glad to be home. But when I opened my horn case this morning, there was a huge dent in the metal above the bell ring (which fortunately is ok). A baggage handler clearly dropped the case on its curved topside from a minimum of 3 feet on to concrete, probably more to produce such a dent; my Marcus Bonna case has been outstanding in protecting the instrument all these years. But there are limits to the abuse it can take. The United web site said to my wonder and horror that they do not consider any claims after 4 hours after the flight (NOTE to everyone – whenever you travel with you horn, open the case immediately upon landing and have a camera ready; you also have to have it witnessed by a United agent; you should also probably photograph the horn before the flight to have a BEFORE picture). I called United and was put on hold for 20 min. – I guess their way of weeding out complainers who aren’t serious. OK, I just worked at my desk until they got around to me. I reported that the case was ok, but the contents were damaged – and wondrous to say, they take no responsibility for what is in the bag – only the bag! If anyone has had anything like this happen to them, I would appreciate knowing what your experience was. Next stop: my instrument insurance company. Never had a claim with them in 12 years, so I don’t know how they deal these things – I will report on that later. Any advice on this from the crowd? What happened to you? What did you do?
The University of Iowa School of Music is getting a new school – the flood last year put an end to the old one. We’re comfortably ensconced in excellent “temporary” facilities (better than the old school, I have to say) and await the building of a brand-new state-of-the-art school of music. It’s in the planning stages right now, and since I am 1) on the Technology Committee and 2) don’t know much about technology, I would like to ask readers of this blog to post 1) their technology hopes and dreams of what they would like to see in techn0logy in the ideal music school and 2) relay any hints they might have about what not to do or to avoid. I’ve had a few informative collections of suggestions (notably from UI alum Michael Ozment), but there’s always room for more. (forgive also the double posting of this notice on the Horn List as well).
What are your tech dreams? Let me know, and who knows, they just might show up in the newest school of music in the country…
The horn [a.k.a. the French horn] can be something of a beast to master, but it is undeniably the most beautiful instrument in the orchestra. Look at every symphony orchestra poster that’s every been printed, posted, or published and what do you see? A picture of a bassoon? A snare drum? A viola? No-nein-nyet-non-uh uh: there is always a picture of the horn, this shiny, circular, complex concatenation of mysterious bended brass, glistening and glowing like a gilded Hollywooded curve of cortex, Schumann’s seductive soul of the orchestra, who will enslave you, delight you, and break your heart (sometimes within moments), take you on a life-long roller coaster ride with all the giddy heights and dizzying depths and molar-grinding twists and turns of a summer thriller movie trailer.
Got carried away there for a moment. But that’s the horn for you.
I want to focus here on the looks of the beast. The elemental circular form of the horn wrap plus the curvature of the bell is simply beautiful. It must have stirred the esthetic sensibilities of our species since metal workers figured out how to bend brass tubing without crimping it, probably some time in the early 17th century. The earliest horns were made to terrorize elk and enemies, but that’s another story.
I greatly enjoy going to gatherings of horn players such as the recent 2009 IHS Symposium in Macomb, hosted by Randall Faust. Besides the pleasures of oogling rooms full of instruments and having to take out a second mortgage because of sheet music purchases, it’s great to reconnect with old friends and to make a lot of new ones, and to tank up on new ideas and inspiration from all the energy and activity there. One of the inspirations I took home from IHS 09 was the exhortation to start a horn blog but none other than archblogger (bloggist?) himself, the indefatigable John Ericson, who has been blogging up a storm since 2006.
Many blogs are tropes on personal opinion, and there will be some of that, but I would like to use the blog as a spotlight to bring attention to interesting thoughts and information on all aspects of the horn – teaching, playing, equipment, and more. I suspect there will be a good bit of ‘fall-out’ from the University of Iowa Horn Studio web site (www.uiowa.edu/~somhorn), which I have had fun building up over the past three years. The Resources section has the most comprehensive set of (annotated) links to information on horn on the web (as far as I know), and as I run across interesting stuff, I may bring some of it here for commentary and to call attention to it. Below is some of that:
Who Plays What?
John advises me to be brief, frequent, and just talk about whatever has my attention at the time. With the help of a lot of people, I have started a list of orchestral, university, jazz, and other well-known horn players from around the world (although it’s mainly US players) with what horn(s), make and model they play. There is a link to it on the home page of the UI Horn Studio web site; otherwise you can find it at Resources>Links>Instruments>Who Plays What?
It’s interesting to see what current players are using. It’s a very different list from one that might have been made, say, forty years ago. There are still some of the old stand-bys: Conn, Schmidt, Alexander, Paxman, but many names of new custom horn makers. The latter have blossomed during recent decades; many of them make Geyer models. In the Midwest alone we have Hatch, Lewis, DeHaro, Hill, Berg, Medlin, and Sorley – quite amazing! Many professional players and teachers have clearly put their money where their mouthpiece is and are playing these horns. It is somewhat reminiscent of beer microbreweries (is it purely coincidence that both horn playing and beer really got their start in the same place, Bohemia? ; > ). Not so long ago, almost all beer sold in the US was made by a very small number of very large companies. Enter microbrews, and, alleluia and mirabile dictu, the consumer had a much greater choice and vastly broader palette of types and flavors of beer and ale. As we have seen with the banking industry and other industries, bigger is not necessarily better or wiser or healthier. It’s grand now that players have so much choice of so many fine instruments. The competition also keeps the big companies on their toes.
Another thing that the list shows is the widespread popularity of triple horns of various makes and models, as well as descant horns (strictly speaking, a descant is a single high F horn, but in popular usage it means a Bb/high F double).
I’m also happy to see the monolithic sentiment of only one make/model of horn ‘allowed’ in a section is breaking down. People should play what they are most comfortable on. Too many people judge sound with their eyes (there have been a number of blind tests over the years demonstrating this). A given piece of equipment may sound very different depending on who’s playing and their concept of sound.
If anyone has additions or corrections for Who Plays What, or wishes to comment on what they infer from the listings, I’m delighted to have them.