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Warm-Up for Flexibility

I have found that flexibility is one of the most important elements to developing ease of facility and efficiency of playing. I use a version of this warm-up every day, to calibrate and remind my lips where each partial lays, to promote ease of playing in the high register and flexible technique into the low.

This warm-up is gentle, and can be used for regular facility, to build range, or for rehab the day after heavy ensemble playing. You can download a PDF here: Horn Warm-up for Flexibility

Warming up for a concert at the Noguchi Museum in Astoria, New York. Photo Credit: Don Stahl
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TPYO Fall Retreat 2017

 

October 2017

Today marked my annual coaching session with the horn section of the Tucson Philharmonia Youth Orchestra at their Fall Retreat. The students have been working hard and they are sounding great!

We covered a range of topics on technique:

Harmonic Series Lip Slurs

Playing lip slurs throughout the harmonic series is excellent both for warm up and to develop flexibility. Any practice should start with lip slurs in a comfortable register (and simple patterns) and build out to larger intervals, increasing to higher and lower range. Anything you come up with can be useful, so get creative and invent your own noodles moving through the harmonics of the horn. If you are looking for ideas, a great book to reference is Bai Lin’s Lip Flexibilities for All Brass Instruments. The book was originally written for the trumpet, but is transfers wonderfully to the horn. You can play the exercises two ways – one octave lower (identical note pattern) or in the written octave (with extra horn notes sounding in between the printed notes).

Articulation

I gave my annual you need more articulation mini-lecture (it goes like this…you need MORE ARTICULATION, people!!!) This happens with most student groups. But where does all this mushy articulation come from? A couple of theories:

  • The players are still working to develop the confidence they need to really get after the music.
  • Players are often not aware of just how clear we must be with articulations to sound good in a hall (or at any sort of moderate distance).
  • When you add players, clarity is diminished. So you have to compensate by adding more clarity!

The antidote to mushy notes is simple – consciously employ great tonguing on every note (TA, not DA in most cases) and keep connecting with the air. You can practice this away from the horn by working on the airstream with articulation. Blow all the way through the phrase!

Stopped Horn

Always a tricky topic, we worked on stopped horn both for technical basics and for group intonation. When you fully close your hand in the bell, it shortens the length of tubing, so that makes the note 1/2 step higher. We compensate for that by playing the note 1/2 step lower on the F horn. Make sure to get a great seal all the way around your right hand. Push the heel of your hand and the pad of your thumb into the bell, while pulling the knuckles where your fingers meet your hand away from the bell.

One great way to check your stopped horn pitch (and sound quality) is to work in half steps. I think this is easier for the ear to hear than toggling between unison notes. How it works:

  • Play an open note 1/2 step lower than your written stopped note
  • Close your hand in the bell to raise the pitch 1/2 step to the written pitch
  • Go back and forth between these two notes, using your ear until intonation of the stopped note is accurate. You can double check by subbing in an open note on the written pitch here and there to make sure you have the accurate pitch in your ear.

If you are having trouble getting a good seal (and therefore adequate intonation), you can try echo horn instead. To play echo horn, close your hand down into the bell, but not completely, so it actually lengthens the instrument, dropping the pitch of the note 1/2 step lower. You will compensate by fingering a note 1/2 step higher than written. The downsides to using echo horn are: 1) it’s never going to have the characteristic sound that stopped horn does, 2) you’ll have trouble getting much louder than mf with it, and 3) it’s not stopped horn and never will be, but HEY! playing in tune is more important and for those of us with small hands you gotta do what you gotta do! This can especially work for passages in the lower register when you can’t get a stop mute in.

It was great working through these topics today with the TPYO horns. As brass players, fundamentals never get old, they truly are the foundation of every day’s practice! Hopefully these topics give you some ideas you can use for your own technique!

TPYO Horns 2017-18

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Approaching Contemporary Solo Music

 

Becoming a better musician through contemporary solo music

Unaccompanied solo pieces can be intimidating at first – but perhaps you see someone else perform one and you start to get curious…Working on these pieces can push your technical and musical abilities to new heights! They can be incredibly rewarding, since you literally hold the “score” for the entire composition, an experience that happens very rarely in the life of a brass player. You are responsible for all the musical decisions and the expression you will ultimately share with the audience.

Resources: Where to begin?

If you haven’t heard any of these pieces before, start checking them out! It may take several listenings to begin to understand the meaning behind the piece – many can be complex and foreign to our classical or pop-trained ears. Here are some web resources where you can find lists of pieces to explore:

You have chosen your piece and are ready to start practicing…But how?

As you are getting the notes under your fingers, don’t forget to think about the musical shaping. You will need to spend plenty of time woodshedding the part, but incorporating the musical phrasing from the beginning (before you practice the notes to death) is so much better for the final result. Remember, this is your chance for expression –why did the composer write what they did? What story are they trying to communicate? What is the meaning behind the piece?

Practice phrasing WITHOUT playing your instrument – sing, move, or even use internal (imaginary) singing. Once you know what you want to do with each phrase, then try singing while moving fingers in time, move on to fingers plus airstream or buzzing. Only as a final step, play.

You will encounter many technically virtuosic passages in contemporary solo music. For these, you will want to start very slowly. Get to know the scales, pitch sets, or chords that the composer is using. Play each phrase forward and backward. Change up the rhythms to different or uneven patterns. Then practice slowly again. Slow practice is huge for cementing muscle memory on challenging technical passages. Once you have the notes comfortably under your fingers, switch over to phrasing practice (above).

Your piece is ready to go and you are planning a program around it. Here are some suggestions:

  • The dramatic approach: consider opening with it, or first on the 2nd half – if you’re not going to talk
  • Weigh how challenging or tiring it may be to perform
  • The sandwich approach: put it between two contrasting pieces
  • If you are going to talk, do something to create space before you begin!

Recognize that your piece will likely be unfamiliar to your audience – it may truly be unlike anything they have ever heard before. Programing these pieces will improve your communication skills as a musician. Why have you included the piece on your program? Why should we listen? What does it mean to you? Here are some ideas to make it more approachable for your audience:

  • Talk before or after
  • Add another art element like visual arts, dance, poetry, video, etc.
  • Pair with music that complements, challenges or connects to it – and make that clear for the audience
  • Build pre-concert “buzz” around the piece, by sharing the background or other information about it on social media, or through other communication channels

Prepare the audience for what they’re going to hear. Don’t apologize for programming the piece! It is ok to share something new or unusual with a live audience. This may not be a piece they would listen to at home while eating dinner, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hear it live! Just think about paintings, sculptures, installations or other pieces you have seen at art museums – you may not wish to hang them above your fireplace at home, but does their memory stay with you once you leave the museum? Do they challenge you? Do they make you think about the world? New music is the same way.

Let your passion for the music shine through and try to connect the piece with things we all understand: emotions, themes or experiences in the world today, or by sharing an artist statement or story.

Get out there are do it!

Now that you have some ideas for how to get started, give these pieces a try! By working on contemporary solo music, we stretch our communication skills as musicians. We learn more about music and less about notes, we worry less about checking boxes, winning auditions. It helps us get to what music performance is really all about: communicating with an audience.

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Artist Collaborations for Solo Horn Project

August 22, 2017

The premiere concert featuring the solo horn project with visual accompaniment is swiftly approaching! The event will take place on August 31 at MOCA Tucson — tickets are available here! Here is more about the artists and the pieces they are creating:

Born in 1994 in Taiwan, Shiang Hwang is an illustrator who tells stories through visual images using traditional and digital media. She recently graduated from the University of Arizona, and won awards at the 2017 UA Illustration and Design Exhibition. Shiang and I worked together to create a story for the piece Concert Etude, which she has brought to life with animated illustration. The story unfolds as the wind blows a magical hat off a man’s head. Follow him through a desert scene as he tries to catch it!

 

Christine Rogers is a photographer based in Nashville, where she teaches photography at Belmont University. Recent highlights include a two-person show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago, Chile and a Fulbright Scholarship for a project in India. Christine is fascinated by our everyday scenes and actions and embraces them as magical. Her piece is based on Sea Eagle, which centers on water and wind. But like Arizona and many urban centers, Nashville has no access to the sea. Fortunately, there is one place we can all go to find wind and water – the car wash.


Robert Jaime, a native of Arizona, started his career in digital media, producing music videos, short films and commercials. He has worked as a broadcast designer and art director at television stations in Tucson and Phoenix. Robert’s piece is based on the movement Interstellar Call from the larger work From the Canyons to the Stars… by Olivier Messiaen.

Messiaen was commissioned to write the piece by New York arts patron Alice Tully. He traveled to Bryce and Zion Canyons in Utah and based the piece on that experience. He was a devout Catholic, and the music is filled with the rich symbolism and imagery of his faith. Robert and I worked together to create a visual representation true to Messiaen’s score using images of canyons, birds, and skies. Carl Bowser and James Karrer have shared their incredible nature and bird photography for Interstellar Call.

Carl Bowser was introduced to the camera early in life and it became constant companion in his 40-year career as a geologist and educator. His images are inspired by the reality of the world, striving for the camera to become invisible.

James Karrer, Principal Double Bass of the Tucson Symphony, grew up in Worthington, Ohio, where his family embraced the musical and photographic arts and exploring the natural beauty of America. His interest in birding and bird photography was sparked by friends and colleagues of the orchestra and Tucson Audubon.

 

Finally, there are two artists collaborating on my crowdfunding campaign. Amy Dunn of Red Collar Press is designing the t-shirts, which celebrate new music.

Anne Gordon Fritz is an artist based in New Mexico who has created three silk scarves based on the pieces above: Concert Etude, Sea Eagle and Interstellar Call. Each scarf is a one of a kind piece of art. See them here; they are truly stunning! If you are interested in helping me reach my goal, please click here!

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Crowdfunding Update


August 18, 2017

Thank you to everyone who has helped support my solo recording project! I am happy to announce that I am more than halfway to my crowdfunding goal!

Even though this is a solo project, it has involved more collaborators than I ever thought possible. People have shared their time, talents, networks, resources, support, and even wine! I appreciate everyone who has come out to the events; your presence means in so much! In particular, I want to publicly thank those who have financially supported the project. Art and music bring so much into our lives, but they are expensive endeavors!

I am proud that we have provided several free performances, educational programs and masterclasses. I have been able to pay for collaborative artist travel and compensation, hiring of musicians, and I have set aside funds for the upcoming recording costs. This would not have been possible without the support of so many.

I can’t wait for the performance on August 31 at MOCA when we will debut the visual art collaborations!

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Concerts in Tucson and Beyond

 

August 2017

My concert schedule is set for the summer! Here are the concerts taking place in the Tucson area:

Thursday, August 3: Pop-up Chamber Concert

6-8pm at Borderlands Brewing Company. Ellen and Rob Chamberlain, Sarah Toy and Ann Weaver will join me to play chamber music for horn and strings, including pieces by Mozart, Bach, Dohnanyi, and local composers. Kebabeque food truck will be there, so come enjoy a beer, some Indian food, and a concert!

Tuesday, August 8: Nature and Devotion

11:30am at the Arizona Senior Academy near Vail, AZ. A shorter version of the Borderlands event, this concert will feature solo horn pieces and chamber music with strings.

Visual Art Collaboration Premiere Weekend – this weekend will feature the main performances for my solo project, including art projections!

  • Thursday, August 31Art + Nature + Devotion – Doors open at 6:30pm, event begins at 7pm at MOCA Tucson, located at 265 S. Church Ave, just north of Cushing Street. This is the premiere performance of the visual art collaborations and the solo horn project!! Tickets are $10, available here, which also includes entry to the museum. Parking is available on-street, at TCC lot A, or at the La Placita Garage.
  • Saturday, September 2: Sound and Images – 6pm at The Loft Cinema, at 3233 E. Speedway Blvd. Come see the art projections on a big movie screen! Popcorn, snacks, pizza, beer and wine for sale at the venue. This will be a shorter concert, around 45 minutes. $5 suggested donation. FREE entry for students and kids!
  • Sunday, September 3: St. Charles Anniversary Concert – Performance starts at 8pm. Come down to the south side to enjoy Tuscon’s best bar, St. Charles Tavern at 1632 S. 4th Street as we celebrate their 2nd anniversary. The concert will include the visual projections and other antics outside on the patio. Parking is free, in their lot or on surrounding streets.

And if you feel like swinging by the Grand Canyon in early September, there will be two concerts on the South Rim:

September 8 and 9 at the Grand Canyon Music Festival – Two different programs exploring themes of art, nature, and devotion, held at the Shrine of the Ages at 7:30pm, both nights. The programs will include some of the visual art projections and solo material, plus chamber music and other guest performers. Tickets are $15, available here.

 

Finally, my crowdfunding website is live, so if you are interested in contributing to the project, please click here. There are fun rewards for all the levels, including a copy of my solo album, t-shirts, free tickets to the MOCA event, wearable art and even a VIP dinner.

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A Successful Premiere + Phoenix Concerts

July 2017

We had a wonderfully successful premiere of two new compositions by Jay Vosk and Dan Coleman on June 7 at Hotel Congress. Thanks to many of you who were there! The audience was packed (well over 100 people) and the response from the crowd was very positive. Thanks to Tyler Meier of the UA Poetry Center and to Hotel Congress for a great evening!

Performance dates are set in Phoenix with the Downtown Chamber Series. The concerts will feature a mix of solo horn pieces and chamber music, including the talents of Ellen Chamberlain, Rob Chamberlain, Sarah Toy and Mark Dix.

  • Saturday, August 5, 2pm at the Phoenix Museum of Art
  • Wednesday, August 9, 7pm at the Phoenix Museum of Art

On August 12 and 13, I will also perform as part of the Phoenix Museum of Art’s Discount Tire Free Family Weekend. The museum is free and open to all on those days and concerts are sprinkled throughout the day, so bring your family and friends and explore some art and music!

Speaking of art and music, there are exciting artist collaborations developing for the project. I am working with several artists to create visual accompaniment to the music, which will be projected on a screen during performance. This will take place in Tucson at the end of the summer – dates and info coming soon!

If you missed my last email about my recording project, here is a link to it on my website, plus an article in the AZ Daily Star.

More updates coming soon, including concerts at the Grand Canyon!

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Solo Recording Project and UA Poetry Collaboration

 

June 2017

I received an Artist Research and Development Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts this year to pursue a solo recording project. The project will feature pieces for unaccompanied solo horn, with composers ranging from JS Bach to living composers. I commissioned two new pieces from Tucson composers and will be performing and recording the works this summer and fall.

Over the last few months, I have been working hard to set up recording dates and performances and coordinate with the composers, musicians, artists and collaborators who will be involved in the project. I’m happy to announce that I’ll be performing programs in Tucson, Phoenix, Vail and other locations. I’ll send more information along soon, but for now, I hope you might be able to join me at the very first performance, a collaboration with the UA Poetry Center.

Tyler Meier (Executive Director of the UA Poetry Center) has to be one of the nicest people I have ever met and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be included in an event for their “Summer Social” series. It takes place at 5:30pm on Wednesday, June 7 at the Copper Room at Hotel Congress (311 E. Congress Street, parking available on-street and in nearby garages). Admission is free and will feature the premiere performances of two new works by local composers Jay Vosk and Dan Coleman, plus reading of the poems that inspired the music. You can find more info about the event here.

Here is a short preview of Dan’s piece, with the addition of terrier accompaniment.

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For Parents: Ways You Can support Your Young Musician

 

Knowing the best ways to support a young person’s pursuit in music can be elusive to many parents. Why do kids seem interested, but have trouble following through? Why don’t they practice? Learning and experiencing music adds so much value to our lives — by working together, you can encourage their growth!

 

How can you support your young musician?

Get involved.

Ask them to show you what they’ve learned. Sharing what you know with someone else is exciting and can be motivating. Get interested in their interests!

Get a great teacher and take lessons.

Invest in the best instrument you can afford, in consultation with your teacher.

Encourage a positive practice environment.

  • Give your musician a reliable space that they can work in without family or other distractions. Give them time and do not interrupt them to ‘just ask one question’ or to have them come do a chore. Help set a practice time that works for the whole family, one where where your musician can be focused and not needed elsewhere.
  •  A music stand and comfortable chair are important. Without the proper tools, it’s difficult to get quality work done. Imagine how (un)productive you are when you work from home. This is what practice is.
  • Make practicing a priority in your family schedule and be sure to give your musician time every day to devote to it.
  • If you get to “practice time” every day and your musician says, “I don’t want to”…don’t say, “go practice your ____!” Instead, ask them to show you what they’ve been working on, what music they are learning in band/orchestra/choir, ask when their next concert is, etc. Before you know it, they’ll be telling and showing you all about it and you can just let them continue!
  • For younger students—be involved in the practice session if you can. Work through your teacher’s weekly assignments together or have a “check-in” day where they show you what they’ve been working on. Help them make sure they haven’t forgotten anything on their list.

Go to concerts.

Show your musician that you are invested by attending concerts together. Research the music before you go by reading about the piece/composers online and listening to a recording. Talk about the performance afterward to discuss what you liked, didn’t like, what made sense to you or not, etc. If it’s a recital or chamber music concert, try to meet the performers after.

Do outside research.

Explore music in any way you can. Look for books, recording, scores, and articles about any musical topics. There is much to learn about music history, theory, and therapy, about performers, instruments, orchestras, conductors, opera, chamber music, contemporary, baroque, crossover, and other topics!

Remember that it can be fun!

Have fun exploring music with your child and try to make it a positive experience! You may even discover some of your own interests along the way!