The part of this book that most fully lines up with my memory of studies with Eli Epstein is Chapter 10, “Empowered Approach to Orchestral Auditions.” This part of the book, contained within a larger section on the topic of musicianship, is excellent and has useful information for all musicians.
Part of what makes this specific section resonate for me is that it lines up a great deal with my memories of lessons with Epsetin, and where it does not it clearly reflects on his further teaching and professional experiences. In my studies he was very focused working toward an audition in an organized manner, and the sections in this chapter follow that general scheme, with bullet points full of great tips. First up is preparation, and then we get down to the final push; pacing into the audition from two weeks before, the day before, and audition day itself, including onstage and the next round. In the time frame I was studying with Epstein I made the finals and semi-finals for several orchestral positions (although it would ultimately be several more years before I won Third Horn in Nashville), and his words at the end of the chapter reflect very accurately on the encouraging words he shared then, words that kept me going on my professional journey and appreciated to this day.
The final large section of this new book is “Orchestral Excerpts: Applying the Principles.” This section for the average reader (especially for students) might be the one they turn to first as it is on orchestral excerpts, a popular topic. Turning here first would be a mistake however, as this chapter might on first glance seem startling, even incomprehensible, without having read through the basics and having done the warm-up materials to understand the principles first.
The reason I mention this is if you flip in the book and get to the end first you will be greeted by a completely unique notation system, of which this example will serve to illustrate. The second system of music is the excerpt as notated normally. The upper system of music however has six staves to represent the point of articulation, visually working up the back of the teeth and gums. Below that is a number that represents the “floor” as a number (for jaw position) and below that the notation of the vowel. It may seem complicated if you don’t understand it, and some will feel this is over thinking the process of playing horn. But it is a most valuable series of notations that for some players can certainly be a key to finally getting tone and accuracy worked out at a higher level.
In any lessons I took with Epstein I don’t recall the system being developed much past “toe-ta-tee,” but as published the system has been expanded and refined a great deal. What I appreciate most is that Epstein has taken the time to notate it all out exactly as he perceives it as a visual aid to help develop long term muscle memory and accuracy. This aspect alone gives the reader a lot to think about. On the other hand, as was pointed out to me by a former student that I was showing the book to, this element could be polarizing for some readers. Certainly not everyone thinks of vowel sounds the same way due to variations of the mouth and tongue due to ethnicity and other factors. But I really appreciate that Epstein lays it all out for the world to see exactly as he perceives it.
In addition to the extra notations, every excerpt has great tips presented as bullet points in three categories; practice, technique, and artistry. The tips alone are worth every penny of the cost of this book and reflect on his extensive experience as a performer and teacher.
I actually studied most of these excerpts with Epstein, as I must have taken about six professional auditions the year I was studying with him. Some tips are exactly as I recall from lessons, while others reflect on more years of teaching the horn and hearing professional auditions, including a number of tips and ideas I had never considered.
A final note for this review is that this book is a huge bargain! As a publisher myself I honestly don’t see how he is making any money at all on this book. It is over 150 pages long, printed and bound nicely, has excerpts that he had to pay for rights to reprint, and still prices out at only $19.95 in hard copy and at $9.99 as an E-Book!
Everyone needs this thought provoking book, chock full of tips any horn player can apply to their playing. Further information on purchasing this book may be found in the website of Eli Epstein.