Saturday, October 12, 2013
Interview with Sam Minnich
Sam Minnich playing Bach Cantata 79 "Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild" mvt 1
Valerie: Tell us a little about your music background, Sam.
Sam: I grew up in a very musical house. My father is a huge fan of classical music, and has an enormous self-recorded collection of radio broadcast live performances. I grew up listening to the sounds of the great symphony orchestras, primarily the Boston Symphony Orchestra. My mother is a fan of folk and blues music, and taught me to play guitar at the age of 6. At age 10 I started playing the horn, after a brief unsuccessful attempt at piano lessons. A couple of years later I started playing trumpet in the school jazz band. I picked up the harmonica somewhere in my teenage years as well, starting with blues, and recently branching out into jazz. After high school I went on to study horn at the Boston conservatory, and later at New England Conservatory with Gus Sebring, associate principle horn of the Boston Symphony. I played with a lot of the second tier orchestras in the New England area before moving to Germany, where I currently live. I've built a new career consisting of a good balance of performance and teaching over the past years. The fact that I've always had diversity in my musical life has been of great benefit to me.
Valerie: What prompted you to investigate The Balanced Embouchure?
Sam: In October of 2012 I played one of the most physically taxing pieces of my career, Bach Cantata no. 79. The piece has over 20 high D's in it, and the 3rd movement is 62 bars of stratospheric Bach madness! Having barely scraped by in the red zone in the concert had already made me start thinking about ways to make my playing more efficient. A couple weeks later I met Andrew Joy, due to some questions I had about the Joy Key (which by the way is a brilliant invention!). We hit it off instantly, and spent the next several hours exchanging ideas and experimenting with different concepts. That day he showed me several books for horn I had never seen. One of those books was The Balanced Embouchure. I ordered it the next day.
Valerie: Andrew is one of BE's greatest ambassadors! What were your initial impressions after reading the book?
Sam: After reading through the book, I thought there were a lot of things in it that were very unconventional. A lot of things made sense, and I agreed with Jeff Smiley on his assessment of many aspects of playing. I tend to be very open for new ideas anyway, so it was a nice breath of fresh air for my approach to horn. One of the main things that stuck out to me was his insistence that the Balanced Embouchure method is not an embouchure change, but a system designed to develop efficiency with your already existing embouchure. I was lucky that one of my teachers early on helped me to find an embouchure that worked for me, and I haven't had to go through the horror of a major embouchure change like so many of my colleagues. Embouchure is also something that is always developing, and to be honest, I have no idea how my embouchure will look in 10 years. BE seems to be guiding me in my lifelong quest for the ultimate in efficiency, absolutely effortless playing which enables me to directly transfer my exact musical intent. It's an unacheivable ideal, but that's what we're all striving for, isn't it?
Valerie: What improvements have you noticed as a result of studying BE for the past year?
Sam: Definitely more ease and endurance when playing. I had a few heavy multiple rehearsal days a couple of months into studying BE, and was really surprised how little lasting fatigue I experienced. At the end of the day, I felt almost as fresh as at the beginning. I feel like my playing is also gaining consistency due to BE. I don't have quite as much variation from day to day as before, and I know how it's going to feel and sound when I pick up the horn. It's like flipping a switch, and it's there. Warming up is becoming less and less necessary. My high register is stretching itself out as well. E above high C is a really solid note now. F is getting there. I can feel the potential to take it much higher. I can actually get squeaks up into the double C range. They're not yet so controllable, and the strength of sound isn't yet there, but it's something that was unthinkable for me before BE. Another thing I've noticed is how quickly I recover my conditioning when taking extended time away from the horn. I recently took 16 days off from playing while on vacation, only using the Warburton P.E.T.E. training device once daily and doing the occasional lip clamp squeak during that time. I came back feeling stronger than when I left! It only took me about a day or 2 to find my accuracy, but I was really shocked by how quickly everything was there again. BE just makes it all focus.
Valerie: Wonderful, Sam! How do you feel about introducing BE to your students and other horn players?
Sam: I've been using bits and pieces with a lot of my students, getting them to practice the RO pedals, and RI high notes. I've introduced a couple of my more advanced students to the whole system, and it's had a big influence on their playing. I've also found that introducing young beginner students to RI as a means of playing high notes makes it a lot easier for many of them to play high. Some of my 8 year old students can already hit a top staff F. I think that learning these concepts at an early age will help them greatly in the future. It gets me excited to think about a new generation of students who know from the start how to get their embouchures balanced. I'm not sure how many other BE teachers use elements of it on beginner students.
I'm a little bit careful when mentioning BE to my colleagues. It's important to read the signals someone is sending to see if they are receptive to such unconventional ideas. I have a few fellow horn players that have responded with interest, and I've been very open with them about my progress due to BE. It's definitely a long term goal of mine to spread the word about BE in my circles. A lot of my colleagues also do a lot of teaching, and I think BE could be a great help for them, seeing as how they don't have large amounts of time to devote to daily practice. The efficiency of practice time that BE offers is really one of it's greatest values.
Valerie: Thank you, Sam, for your splendid example.