Friday, May 2, 2014

"Try BE first... it might be the cheaper solution to your problem."

Last week, I received a delightful email from Marina in Germany.  

Dear Valerie,

First of all my husband and I want to say "thank you".  The BE book and the French horn booklet I had ordered on march 31st arrived quite quickly. Your e-mail with some additional information for French horn players was very helpful to me, too.

This e-mail is quite long and I´m going to refer to different topics.
It might be helpful for you to know what I´m going to write about. Otherwise you might find it somehow unstructured.

1. " 3 weeks of "To BE and not to BE": what happened?"
2. "Surprise, surprise: Uwe Zaiser´s performance of the LCS on Youtube!"
3. "What I (long time ago!) learned from three different teachers:
     (Short summary: lots, nothing, nothing.)"
4. "How you (with BE) can save or (without BE) can waste a big amount of 
      money ;-)"
There we go!  

1. " 3 weeks of "To BE and not to BE": what happened?"

After 10 days:  Now both of us (my husband (trumpet) and I (French horn)) are practicing BE for about 10 days and we can sometimes give feedback to each other; that´s great.  And yes, there are already funny things happening during our every day practicing sessions and during the rehearsals.For example:  I recognized that that very little bit of "finding the double pedals" , "RO#1" and "figuring out the lip clamp squeak" is affecting my flexibility in normal playing in a positive way.  Even the sound is getting richer. I should tell you that I quite soon could hear that myself, but I refused to believe my ears.  I thought: "It´s somehow psychological... you WANT that big sound and now you started practicing BE and that´s why you´re thinking you can hear it yet. It´s like going to see the doctor and while you´re speaking to him you already feel a little bit cured." But, hey! Others can hear it, too! (So I don´t have to go and see a shrink ...)

The most funny thing is that since the sound is becoming richer, there are incredibly large amounts of water in the slides, while I´m practicing in the same room and at the same roomtemperature as before. I could almost fill my dog´s drinking bowl with it!  (By the way: my dog is a ShiTzu, not a Saint Bernard, in case you start wondering about the size of the bowl...)

So I started thinking about that. Result: there can only be two reasons for it:

Reason 1: It´s not water, it´s spit. Well, I could tell you funny stories about huge amounts of spit in the third valve Bb-horn-slide, related to being the principal during Tchaikowsky 5th... but in this case, it´s NOT spit.

Reason 2: The way my lips are moving in the mouthpiece is changing. Because of this I´m blowing more air into the horn than before. The richness of the sound and the water are due to (still small) development of the embouchure. I suppose, that´s more likely. Honestly: I can´t get through an Gallay-Etude anymore because I have to stop and empty the slides. If the producer of the slide grease I use has shares on offer, I´m going to buy all of them! (Just kidding...)

After 3 weeks: After those 10 days of practicing BE I unfortunately got a serious cold that affected my breathing in a way that I could neither speak nor play horn. (But I did the Lip Clamp once a day!)  I had to stop playing for more than a week and started again 3 days ago.  The first 2 days the BE-effect seemed to be gone, but I didn´t worry about that.

Yesterday (third day of playing after the cold) I started practicing at 6 p.m. That´s normally the time of the day we have dinner. So I told my husband he would have to wait for one more hour.  At 8 p.m. he said: "I´m really hungry..." Oooops! 2 (!) hours of playing? And I had already been playing for 1 hour that morning. 3 (!!!) hours of practicing a little bit of BE, some scales and arpeggios and 4 different Gallay-Etudes? Three days after I hadn´t played for about 9 days?  And: the sound was almost as good again as after that 10 days of BE before I got ill.  And again there´s a lot of water in the slides...

 2. "Surprise, surprise: Uwe Zaiser´s performance of the LCS on Youtube!"

There´s ´something else I wanted to tell you about:  When I tried to figure out the LCS for the first time, I didn´t really understand what Jeff meant by using the word "squeak". I was asking myself if it was something like buzzing a very high pitch. So I asked my friend "Youtube" and found a guy called "Spasstrompeter" demonstrating the LCS. With his heavy German accent he says: "No-no buzzing!" This helped me a lot! Without that little video I would have done the wrong thing without being conscious of it. (Later that week I read about the fact that some years ago he had uploaded almost all BE-exercises, but Jeff convinced him not to share all of them on YouTube, because people would imitate his embouchure. And BE is not about imitating somebody, but about figuring out what your own individual balanced embouchure is like. I think Jeff is right, but I´m also very happy that the LCS can still be found on Youtube. It´s helpful because of the  "mosquito-sound". And yes, the player´s corners are quite tightened, but it´s his individual way to do the LCS...)  

When "Spasstrompeter" appeared in front of his camera I immediatly recognized him as Uwe Zaiser.  I know him for more than 20 years, even he does not know me at all. Uwe Zaiser is not only first chair in a very good German orchestra, he has also been (and still is)  a member of the excellent German brass quintett "Rennquintett". The Rennquintett was founded in 1987 and I started taking French horn lessons in 1993, when I was thirteen. The first 2 years my teacher (and band leader) was Ralf Rudolph, tuba player of the Rennquintett.  (In my first e-mail I told you that my first teacher was a tuba player, which might be the reason that I have kind of a trumpet embouchure and that I´ve never been told anything about such strange things like "einsetzen"...He also played the trombone quite well, but couldn´t get a proper sound out of a French horn (*LOL*).)  Of course I heard Uwe perform with the Rennquintett and I still have some 20 year-old Rennquintett CD´s... (Time to get the newest ones!)  

And I think it´s funny when I as a German order the BE-method (which is quite unknown here) from someone in the United States and then find my old teachers colleague on Jeff´s official BE-teachers list and as the one who solved my LCS-problem via Youtube.

 3. "What I (long time ago!) learned from three different teachers:
     (Short summary: lots, nothing, nothing.)"

 Due to the fact that I almost didn´t play between my 20th and 30th birthday, it took me quite a long time to recognize that  I have had a good teacher (-> Uwe´s colleague). I didn´t recognize until the time when I was a "come-back"  in the Dutch orchestra I´m playing now with. More than once one of the other horn players said: "You must have had a  good teacher!" Yes, I´ve had a great teacher who was not able to play French horn at all, and I´m very, very grateful for that (*LOL*)!  After two years of teaching me he decided that I  needed someone who could teach me more specific things concerning the French horn. The next 18 months I tried two professional horn players as teachers and what I learned was: nothing.

At that time I also got some health problems and so I quit.  I gave up the idea of becoming a professional player, but I went on playing in the orchestra as long as I still went to school. When I became an university student I had to move to another town and I couldn´t find an orchestra which I could have joined.  I (almost didn´t) play anymore until I was 31 years old.

 4. "How you (with BE) can save or (without BE) can waste a big amount of money ;-)"
By the way: In the second year of my come-back-period I struggled enormously with my horn, especially with the sound. (It´s one of the very early Engelbert Schmid horns, manufactured after his plans, but not by himself. My first teacher (-> the one who played tuba) found it for me in 1995. One of his colleagues wanted to sell it.) So I took it to a professional horn player near Amsterdam (The Netherlands) for a general overhaul (...the first one after 15 years...shame on me!...) This man is also a French horn manufacturer and I told him that I was thinking about buying a new horn. When he seemed very interested in buying my instrument, I became suspicious.  So I looked up Engelbert Schmid´s price list on the internet in order to find out what my kind of horn would cost right now when it would be new. I almost lost consciousness...And I decided that I´m a lucky devil.

I also decided that it must be me who creates the bad sound, not the horn. At the same time a Dutch horn player whom I had told about my plans to buy a new instrument gave me a magazine from the Dutch horn society (Nederlands Hoornisten Genootschap).  In that magazine I found an interesting article. The title was: "There exist no bad horns, just bad ...(horn players)".  The next day I opened the website of my favourite search engine and entered (in English): "French horn embouchure".  And I found a website with a picture of a very nice looking lady and her horn ... Guess who... I started practicing more seriously, which helped a lot (*LOL*), but after 4 months I wrote you an e-mail...

So if somebody says: "I need a new horn, because mine sounds badly somehow!", you can answer: "Try BE first, because it might be the cheaper solution to your problem..."

(And OF COURSE there are bad instruments and buying a good one is not a waste of money, but it doesn´t make sense to buy an Engelbert Schmid Triple or an Alexander 103 when you cannot play properly...)  It´s unnecessary to say that not all of my dreams concerning my horn sound and flexibility have come true yet.

Kind regards from Germany, Marina