Reviews: Verdi’s Aida, H-Kote and the Femenella Bellrest

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It is a busy time for me – February and March are packed with performances. Next week for example, I will be playing a both a woodwind quintet concert and a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida

Aida times out at around 3-and-one-half hours. The Horn I book leaves no time for causal book-reading; there are plenty of notes to play. Primary on my list of goals were two things:

  • to sound strong at the end of the opera,
  • and to survive the end of Act II.

In addition to playing the Horn I book without an assistant, I also have a huge insert to play. It mixes in some of the offstage banda parts.

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The end of Act II was looking like a very long haul. The entire Horn I part for Aida is about 45 pages, and this new 11-page insert added another layer to the cake.

Beast of burden

Bigger opera companies will typically hire a separate group to play these parts. In the Arizona Opera production, we will have extra trumpets onstage to play the Triumphal March of course, but otherwise the banda parts will be covered by the musicians in the pit.

Thankfully I knew ahead of time about this and so I planned accordingly. A big part of this plan was to try out two new products, ones that I hoped would help with comfort and endurance during this opera.

Playing with surgical precision

The thickness and contour of the mouthpiece rim can have an impact of endurance. Defying this logic, I have settled on a relatively thin and flat contour. In a previous review of my Houser stainless steel rim I noted that

This new Bloom rim is probably the thinnest on which I have ever played. It is noticeably thinner than the Moosewood M2. This too seems to have had an impact.

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Not wanting to rule out a possibility for improvement, I decided to try out the same rim, but with an extra surface treatment called H-Kote.

H-Kote is a very thin, hard layer of vaporized titanium/ceramic composite that is deposited on the surface of stainless steel. It is commonly used on implantable medical devices and surgical tools because of its biocompatability and on tooling for manufacturing for its hardness/toughness properties.

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Other brass players have reported positive results. Julia Rose has reported:

I’ve played on the rim now for a few months, and I’m enjoying it a lot.  Supposedly the rim is even more slippery than a gold plated rim, which theoretically increases endurance.

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Of the three materials pictured above – gold, stainless steel and H-Kote – I concur that the black H-Kote feels the most slippery and supple. I am a convert and have switched to the H-Kote version of my previous Houser rim.

The added benefit of this upgrade is that the rim now keeps very warm and this sensation seems to add to its supple feel on the lips.

And, not to be overlooked, its dark color just happens to completely match that of another item recently added to the opposite end of my horn – a wooden bell-rest.

A new bell rest

Last year I reported of the Watt Lifter and where to get one.

It is a support device that attaches onto the edge of the bell, intended for players wanting to rest the bell on-the-leg. More recently, I caught wind of a similar device but rendered in a one-piece wood construction. I had heard that members of the Metropolitan Opera horn section had adopted this device and so I was intrigued.

Femenella

Lou Femenella is a guitarist and guitar luthierTinkering and invention seem to be in the wood carver’s blood, and what originally began as a device to help his son has since developed into a commercial product.

The Femenella Custom Bellrest‘s design is simple and elegant. There are no clamps or pieces to assemble. It stays in place with custom sizing and thin felt pads.

To accommodate for variations in bell rings, there are six sizes to choose from. At $85 USD, it is reasonably priced.

Mine was an “A” size and after some tinkering I found the sweet spot to attach it on the bell. At first, I was very careful to not force or twist the device, but with practice it now slips on and quickly and easily.

I was immediately impressed.

The Femenella bellrest is very light and when resting the bell on-the-leg, the tone color appears to resemble more of what I hear when playing off-the-leg. It allows me to position the rested horn at an angle more amenable to my particular embouchure.

Also, I fluctuate at times between playing on and off the leg, and for this purpose the Femenella bellrest is ideal.

Its contact surface on the right leg is much wider than a bell ring. Dropping it on or pulling it from the right leg is easy and unencumbered.

Final thoughts

I am extremely happy with both new products and am having a lot of fun, playing some great music.

Both devices, I believe, have helped with:

  • improved endurance, using an H-Kote rim,
  • improved stamina, using a custom bell-rest.

 

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