I have been rehearsing and performing Richard Strauss’ opera Salome over the past few weeks. While it is relatively short compared to most operas, the horn parts are very taxing – both physically and mentally.
In an orchestra pit, the musicians are out-of-sight and so it is possible to do large stretches here and there in the rests and not disturb the performance for the audience. Even in performance onstage however, it is possible to do little things that can help relieve physical tension and mental stress.
During this run of Salome I was reminded of these movements. They can fall into one of three general categories – tension and release, collapsed relaxation and breathing.
Tension and release
Sometimes my hands get achy and a finger might go a bit numb after holding up the horn for a very long time.
With the horn at rest, clench one or both hands into tight fists and hold them for a few seconds. Release the clenched fists and open the hands, spreading the fingers out completely, to the point of opposing tension.
Hold this position for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat this cycle a few times.
A similar cycle of tension and release can be done with the legs and toes (and rear end), discretely and out of sight to even an audience member with the most high powered binoculars.
- With the horn secured under one arm, let one or both arms droop to the side and hang loosely.
- Drop the chin to the chest and let the back of the neck relax and collapse. Avoid a head/neck roll as this is a bit too obvious and can be seen by the audience.
Sometimes in anticipation of a important passage, I will unconsciously hold my breath or shallow breathe. A deliberate series of slow, rhythmic breathing cycles sets this straight.
Sometimes too during a big break and in tandem with these physical exercises, breathing can be enormously helpful.
These small things can be very refreshing and energizing. Done discretely, no one but yourself – and maybe your immediate colleagues – will even notice. Just be sure to keep counting your measures rest so that you do not get lost!