Random Monday: If Looks Can’t Kill, Perhaps a Relaxed Throat and a Triple-Fortissimo Will…

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Quotes from Strauss
At Horn Insights we have a nice list of Richard Strauss quotations, including the timeless favorite

Never look at the trombones; it only encourages them.

Vocal chords and horn playing
When I was younger I had a peculiar crutch for playing off-beat patterns – I would grunt on the downbeats.  As I remember, grunting on the downbeat helped with the timing of playing the upbeat.

Over time this faulty habit went away by itself.

Most recently, the ever-curious Dave Wilken took a look at a few scope videos of singer’s throats. Mr. Wilken brings up the “open throat” concept in brass playing and wonders if whether or not it is actually true. (Myself, I have adopted the terminology “relaxed throat” as a fail-safe word.)

What do you think?

Add your thoughts in the comments section below.

The best way to practice
From a conductor (gasp?!) we get some excellent ideas on practicing.

The best way to practice is always the way you haven’t practiced yet. 


Yet the best way to practice is even more likely to be the way your teacher never taught you. Teachers are only human; no one teacher is going to have the time or creativity to give you every possible way of tackling a piece.

Try to think beyond your training- come up with your own strategies, or, better yet, try strategies used by your teacher’s rival or arch-nemesis. Then you get the dual reward of undermining authority while improving your playing (best not to tell your teacher, though).


Strikes are complicated
There are a lot of labor conflicts in the U.S recently, and the intricacies of unions and contracts can be a lot for the public to digest.

Each situation has its own rules, strategies and game plans. And the resulting public opinion can be a very fickle thing, depending on what game was played or how it ends up in the press.

Thankfully with the recent Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) strike, the strike action was short and it was resolved quickly. In the aftermath, Ellen McSweeny looks at three myths that came up in the social media world:

  1. CSO musicians make a ton of money, and times are difficult in the arts. They should stop complaining.
  2. CSO musicians are not workers, and orchestral playing is not labor.
  3. It’s wrong for the CSO to withhold their services. They’re inconveniencing patrons and hurting the orchestra’s image.


Not all of us that study music performance in college go on to full-time employment or stay in the field for life. That is not to say that the college degrees are wasted or cannot be applied towards other fulfilling work. (This, coming from a guy who plays horn and makes web pages.)

Brian Bell, a well known producer, interviewer, and announcer on WGBH and WCRB, began his career playing horn and working in radio stations in various positions.

When I graduated, I won an audition for second horn in the Columbus Ohio Symphony and managed to get on the faculty teaching horn at Wright State University in Dayton (I was 23!) as well as work at WOSU. It looks pretty impressive in retrospect, but I was starving.

My total income barely cracked 5 figures—as Wright State was paying just 12 dollars an hour, and rehearsals in Columbus were just 25 bucks in 1979. Knowing that I couldn’t even consider further teaching without a Master’s Degree, I departed for Boston and studied with Chuck Kavalovski at NEC.

Free-lancing here was a higher level of starvation, but I did manage to play in Cape Cod, the Rhode Island Phil, the Plymouth Phil, Portland, Nashua, Rockport Festival, Newport Festival, but really my favorite concerts were the eleven seasons I was 4th horn in Benjamin Zander’s Boston Philharmonic.


Getting into the Zone
Recent research suggests that if you want to tap into your creative zone a little better than usual, try doing your usual in a completely different way.

Creative people think differently. But why? There is no magic bullet or single pill. We all have the potential for creativity, but there are so many different triggers that can broaden our minds, inspire, and motivate. Of course, there are just as many triggers that can shut down our minds.

Since creativity is so important for individual well-being and societal innovation, it’s important that we systematically pull the right triggers.


Do you always start with long tones and move on to scales?

Try starting the scales instead and following up with long tones … or combining the two. While this might sound like a very simple thing to do, it could have a profound and positive effect on your performance mindset.

What’s popular

Here are the top 24 Horn Matters articles and pages, dating from January 1, 2012 to September 30, 2012.

Random videos

Looks like this might be someone’s graphic rendering project.

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It is nice to see more and more of these kinds of instructional videos for district, region and all-state ensemble auditions. They give students a good model to follow for their audition.

This one is Souvenir de Mozart by Kling, played with commentary and hints by Kurt Civilette.

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Time and Space for 2 Horns and Piano by Richard Bissill, performed by Steve Park.

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University of Horn Matters