Mixed Nuts: Career Tips and Horn Secrets, Past and Present


Regular readers may already be aware that I occasionally share quirky memories and hard lessons from my own personal life. I do this in part to close a door on the past, but also for others in the field to learn from (and avoid if possible).

Looking at existing Horn Matters articles, there are a number of relevant life lessons and career tips for an aspiring musician to walk away with. Here are a few worth looking at:

These articles attempt to address some of the do’s and don’ts in our business. These are behaviors and people-skills that many times do not get learned until one’s career is already in full gear.

(Incidentally, I am aiming to make articles like these into a compendium open resource project that will be launched in our newly updated Resources area sometime in the near future.)

Trivial pursuits

One might say that I should have learned a thing or two from all these life lessons, but recent evidence seems to suggest the contrary. Since we are all musical colleagues and friends here, I would like to unburden myself of a few things that have been on my mind of late.

I have been harboring some horn secrets. All I ask is that you learn from these lessons.

Secret #1: I love my Girly Horn Pin

I recently bought this spectacularly shiny horn pin online. It’s a bit on the girly side with all the sparkles, but I will wear it with horn-tastic pride.

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Secret #2: I am not very good at Horn in G-flat

In Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoorthe orchestra’s horn quartet gets featured regularly as a unifying color and mood setting throughout the three acts.

The opera begins and ends with solo horn quartet passages and in the final scene, the soprano has several options for key choices. As luck would have it, her current choice translates down to me as a long chromatic passage for Horn in G-flat. I would also add that this happens at the end of a three-hour production filled with non-stop playing.

Transposing up one half step sounds rather simple in theory, but in context it can be tricky and even somewhat disconcerting.

My first attempt in rehearsal was a valiant, but flawed, effort. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I decided to put pencil to paper and write out a transposed part for the next rehearsal.

Some problems have very easy solutions.

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Secret #3: How It’s Made and long tones
Sometimes when practicing scales and long tones, I watch video.

Yes, yes … I know that this is not the best way to practice, but I have a secret addiction to a program called How It’s Made.

The premise behind the program is to show videos of manufacturing processes for commercial products, from start to finish. I turn the volume down and somehow, watching the machinery in motion keeps my head in the game.

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Secret #4: Reading materials
During breaks and rehearsal pauses I like to have reading material handy in order to keep my head engaged and prevent myself from wandering off. As with the previous #2 secret, this might sound like an outright contradiction in terms of mental concentration but in context, if I do not stay occupied when not playing I tend to get bored and start goofing around.

That being the case, it is much more productive for everyone involved to keep my mouth shut and read a book. My current selections are a few comic classics from a past era.

The comic booklets “Les” Brass and “L'” Orchestra  have been around for as long as I can remember. The before and after caricature of the horn player in the “Les” Brass book is priceless.

Click this image for a closer look.

The first image at left depicts what a typical male horn player thinks he looks like — a suave, well-dressed professional. The second image is an illustration of what he really looks like — a cross-eyed horn-geek with condensation dripping everywhere.

Seems about right I would say.

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Secret #5: The new and improved SockBlock:
Now 100% powered by years of expert horn knowledge
In the orchestra pit, most seating arrangements involve a tiered system of some kind with the conductor elevated much higher from the ground floor than with the traditional symphony orchestra set-up.

For my own comfort in holding the horn at a good angle to see the conductor I have adopted several tools, both of which have been reviewed previously:

With the SockBlock as a foot-rest, I found that some alteration and tweaking was necessary. A wider surface that was longer and a little thinner was needed. After a great deal of experimentation I found a perfect material for the job.

With a most sincere and heartfelt apology to Mr. Barry Tuckwell for the horrible punning, I find that this knowledge base has provided a much better foundation for supporting my horn-playing career.

One could say that I now have a “foot up” over the competition.

Buh-dum tssssss….

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University of Horn Matters