Friday, October 22, 2010

"Horn Matters" Linked My Blog - Wow!

Dr. John Ericson has posted an article, "Joy on The Balanced Embouchure," featuring Andrew Joy. He's also linked my humble blog. And please note Lyle's excellent comments.

It's thrilling to know that I'm part of a movement that's helping hornplayers get more satisfaction from playing their instruments. It is also thrilling to see BE recognized by a respected horn professor with a very popular blog. (Wow!)

Back in March of 2007, when I made my first awkward attempts to introduce BE to the horn world, I was met by a surprizing amount of opposition. I'm glad to see hornists from all over the globe embracing BE in spite of my awkward publicity efforts.

Congratulations to all of you who bravely went where few hornplayers had gone before! (I'm hearing the Star Trek them in my mind!) Thanks to Dr. John Ericson, Andrew Joy, Lyle Sanford, and Steve Park and all my BE friends for your contributions and continued support to the BE movement. But, most of all, my heart felt gratitude goes to Jeff Smiley for developing and publishing The Balanced Embouchure.

The progress of The Balanced Embouchure in the horn community demonstrates the power of the BE message.

Warm regards, Valerie Wells

Thursday, October 21, 2010

BE for French horn Poster Child!

I just received this email from Keren in Sydney. Keren's experience in her first two weeks with BE is as close as can be to being text book perfect. Keren could be the BE for French horn poster child! Here is her testimonial:

Hi Valerie

Just thought you might like an update on how things are progressing.

It's been just over two weeks since I received the BE book - I've been practising pedal notes & lip clamps/squeaks every day and all of a sudden just now I've noticed some progress - When I picked up my horn today I suddenly found I could hit a high c - not just one - but over and over and without all the mouthpiece pressure. So I am thrilled! I just hope that it works tomorrow too!

I could already play the pedal notes quite easily - but the roll in embouchure was a
challenge - For two weeks I've been making primitive airy erratic squeaks (Goodness knows what the neighbours think) Very occasionally, out of the blue, I would hit a high note which felt good - but I could never repeat it. I kept re reading the book and the BE info on the internet was very helpful too. Anyway the persistence seems to be paying off. I've noticed that air pockets seem to make the big difference for me - it was helpful to see the youtube videos on the trumpet teacher website of players with big air pockets.

So now that I can hit the high notes I need to try and tame them - also my head has to get used to all of this - I get very lightheaded and headachey when I play the high
notes. Lip clamps are a good exercise to do while driving - but lip squeaks make me too giddy - so I thought I better be careful with those!

Anyway - now that I can play high notes with the roll in embouchure I'm looking forward to working on the exercises properly.

I'm so glad I stumbled across BE on the internet. I'm very impressed with how well the book is written - How precisely it describes the mechanics of working out your own effective personalised embouchure - I'll certainly be recommending it to any brass players I know.

Thanks for your help - I'm enjoying the feeling that high notes don't have to be a no go zone anymore!

Kind regards


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Love Stories

Most of the comments I post on this blog are related to honists' success in overcoming the technical aspects of horn playing. The following two messages are little different. These unsolicited comments were sent me in emails expressing tender feelings of why the writers study the horn.

The first is from Doug Wagner who has a professional background in low brass, but now pursues the illusive horn tone with passion.
I think it was Barry Tuckwell that wrote that the F side is very inefficient in terms of the way the instrument is built. Somehow the physics of the instrument make it more difficult to create a centered tone that can be played without danger of splitting and chipping, BUT --- that's what gives the instrument its great sound. I'm working more and more on the F side because the sound is so much better in the low and middle ranges. In some cases, I play on the F side even into the higher register, because there is a subtle but very real difference in the tone quality. For many years, I wrote arrangements that featured the horn because I loved the sound so much. As a player, I'm constantly striving for that great horn sound. When I make it, it is such a thrill!

The horn is the greatest instrument ever. It stands to reason that it would be more difficult than all the others, otherwise anyone could play it. And even though I know I'll never be the master of it, the joy is in the pursuit. And every once in a while, it's just pure magic. When I create that gorgeous sound, even for a moment, it's what keeps me going.

Last Sunday [my two children] and I played an arrangement I wrote at a recital. What a great time we had! The piece was well received and we had fun. It was such a thrill to play with my kids! What fine young persons they are. My proud Poppa buttons were bursting! It was worth every agonizing minute I have spent wrestling with the horn, all the times of self doubt and discouragement just to be able to play competently along with my kids. There is a tremendous thrill at seeing my children grow into young adults and excel at something I have loved so much.

I let music go for a long time because I burned out. Now that I've re-kindled, it's even more fun. I'm listening to music again and finding more enjoyment than ever. What a marvelous thing to experience. I loved [my daughter's]answer when I asked her if she wanted to major in music. Her reply was, "What else would I do?"



The second quotation is from Larry Jellison, a retired engineer who returned to his childhood sweetheart, the horn, a little over 10 years ago.

Hi Val,

Just checking horn playing on Youtube, came across this performance. ... I could guess the shape of the horn bell by listening. It is a medium belled horn. The recording is enhanced with some reverb. He is able to play high without becoming shrill. I admire this recording, because it focuses on what horn playing should be-- total beauty of the sound of the horn. I'm encouraged that one thing musicians like us can do is achieve an incredibly beautiful horn tone. I had just finished listening to Mason Jones on the Internet play Chabrier, using a large belled horn. Much
different sound, yet still total beauty. I think Mason played an 8D.
Articulation becomes different with a large belled horn, more difficult, but the
challenge is to find an articulation that stays true to the characteristics of the horn without sounding sluggish.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Looks can Deceive

Here's a splendid example of why we should not try to look like someone else when we play the horn:

Hi Valerie,

When I play I have a RI (rolled in) feel and when I look in a mirror at my embouchure it is still significantly RO (rolled out) . . . and that is up to high F with a
strong sound up to high E! That is weird, but h--- it works ;-)


Comment from Jonathan West:

I've had discussions with Lyle Sanford that touch on this issue. In orchestra rehearsals, conductors talk about what they want from the strings in terms of tone. They describe the techniques to be used - heel or tip of the bow, pressure vs bow speed, start on or off the string. Likewise percussionists have a well-established vocabulary for their techniques - stick speed and weight, whereabouts on the surface to strike the drum, hardness of stick etc. But for wind players, there isn't that same vocabulary of techniques. The vocabulary is more about effects than techniques. This is because what goes on for a wind player is internal (air support, tonguing etc) or consists of minute outwardly imperceptible changes around the lips. And I rather suspect that everybody visualises what is going on internally and with the lips a bit differently - and almost all the visualisations are wrong to some degree. This is probably why, if BE works for you, you can't quite tell why or how. What you See more... think is going on is probably different from what is really going on. But that doesn't matter all that much. What matters is whether the visualisation involved works for you!
By Jonathan West on Looks can Deceive on 10/14/10