Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dave on Barrows and BE

Dave Stoller, who studied with John Barrows at UW recently wrote. Below is Dave's description of his experiences with John Barrows and BE. For a little background material, see Dave’s testimonial on Jeff’s website from a couple years ago: I'm very grateful to Dave for being willing to share his personal insights & experiences. Here are Dave’s words:

Barrows died in 1974 and there was no BE back then. But Callet and Caruso were around in the trumpet world. The horn world at that time was very glued to the Farkas system. Barrow's emphasis was on aperture and total focus of the air stream. He could do things with the air stream and holding one's finger about a foot or two from his chops. You could feel the pin point accuracy of his air stream that far away. He did not like bouncing chins or sloppy chop settings. His focus was so acute it was scary. Barrows was a protege of Wendell Hoss, the leading hornplayer in LA back in the 30's and 40's. Wendell also had this amazing and mind boggling focus. I had the pleasure of playing quartets with him at his house in Glendale CA about 1970. He confessed that Barrows was, arguably, the finest player to pick up the instrument in those years. I wish there was a video of him playing so you could observe what he did with his chops. It was so clinically correct and so incredibly efficient. I just could not get over his virtuosity compared to other major players I heard.

I studied horn with the master of masters, and probably was his worst student ever from a chop standpoint. He took four years to help me develop an embouchure that would work effectively. Then I honed it more as I got into more challenging playing situations. But I have always had slumps when something would go haywire. Or I would have a year where I did not do much playing.

Obviously I could go on and on about all this, but I have given you the salient stuff. And you can post it on your blog since I believe the other hornplayers need to know about Barrows. These are only my observations about him and his teaching.

Only a handful of Barrows students are even around anymore. But I dearly wish you could have seen and heard him play. It was beyond comprehension, but a very different approach - so refined - so elegant that many horn players would not "get it."

Barrows was the true genius of the horn but few players even know about him. Obviously great horn players like Barrows, great brass players in general, have been using many of the universal principals taught in BE, but without formal knowledge of the BE program as Jeff Smiley presents it. What BE does for so many of us is to pull it all together. Yet so much of it is personal and hard to explain.

I can pull out of a slump in 15 minutes with BE. I just run the summary page and take it in about four different keys. It is the best way to open up that range without simply hammering away on high notes. Hammering away never has worked for me and I have to approach all the ranges from a literature standpoint. In other words I have to work the BE around etudes and solo/chamber works, along with orchestral stuff.

For instance, using RI coming down off of the real high licks. I never mastered that until I got into the BE protocol. You must keep the RI (rolled-in setting) going even down into a neutral range. It is almost like we have many little embouchure's and we combine them for what we are doing - subtract some - add some in. I know this sounds loony but it is hard to explain. It is more than muscle memory and allows a soloist to move more freely through very difficult phrases. I cannot imagine playing anymore with the same old chop setup. It’s like being stuck on … ‘chop stupid.’

Some more observations concerning how I apply BE. There are many wicked licks in the standard repertoire and orchestral literature. With BE they simply are not that wicked anymore. For example I might take a solo lick in Mozart and use RI for the whole thing - never relaxing my setting back to neutral. It is like having many little mini computer programs that one uses for the tasks in a piece of music. This is so contrarian to the orthodox world of horn playing/teaching where one uses a very rigid and doctrinaire approach to the music. And this traditional approach robs so many younger players from ever having great high chops.

Apparently I am in RI way more than RO (rolled-out setting). I am naturally in RO because of my classic einsetzen chop setting. It was BE that got me to change much of my chop approach and RI has allowed me to play/perform tunes that I have never done before in public. Yet I cannot explain this to someone who is not grounded in BE.

If there is one salient point about BE, it is that BE gives the player permission to be who they are, and not have to reinvent the wheel to be a second rate copy of someone else. I guess I can draw a parallel to one of the great lady golfers since they are having their US Open here at the Broadmoor Hotel Complex. Few people have the gift of the perfect swing and perfect physique to be a lady golfer, nor the innate talent that separates someone from the rest of the pack. But one can take what they have and use it to the best of their ability. That is the essence of BE from my perspective.

Gotta go, Dave

After reading this article, Eric Johnson added:

For what it is worth. I heard John Barrows play at an International Horn Society workshop in the 70's. He played the Hindemith Horn Sonata, and a couple of Alec Wilder's works as well. At that time he was retired from the University of Wisconsin. He still sounded great and, as usual, his wife was his accompanist.

He did a lot of his recordings on a very old Schmidt Horn. However when that instrument finally died, he went to a Holton H-177 (the 178, only in nickel silver) He always said: "the Holton plays close to the old Schmidt and does everything I need a Horn to do. What more could one ask for!"

The Holton was what he was playing at the time of the workshop.

Thanks to Dave for the testimonial & to Eric for sharing his experiences.
Go back home.

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