Summer Festivals: A look back at the beginning of a busy summer

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Recent summers I have been privileged to serve on the faculty of the Interlochen Arts Camp and also the Brevard Music Center. If you are thinking about summer study, I really value it, as I outline here:

As I note in that short article, “a serious horn student can make towards a semester of progress over the summer by attending a strong summer festival.”

However, this past fall we made a family decision, I don’t plan to be out of town (or more specifically away from my son, who has special needs) for more than a week for the near future. I have enjoyed the summer teaching and playing, and will miss those interactions with colleagues and with students from all over the country, but from now on for me it will be things like the International Horn Symposium or other shorter events.

With that, an article still sitting in the archive of my original HTML Horn Notes Blog came to mind. Titled “Some notes from camp” and edited below very little (originally posted on 7/4/06), it gives a window into the start of a busy summer, my last one on the faculty at Brevard. A variety of tips may be gleaned.

I’ve had a bit of computer trouble, so I have combined what would have been several postings as “notes from camp.” Curiously, it actually might be a better read because of the troubles. [Also, as we were reminded there, Brevard is not a camp but rather a “summer institute and festival.”]

“On the road again”
Since 1999 I have been on the summer faculty at the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina, a camp for 400 high school and college aged students from around the world with more than 60 faculty, founded in 1936. Brevard has a very solid summer program, with me sharing teaching duties this summer with Jean Martin-Williams of the University of Georgia and with Richard Deane of the Atlanta Symphony. Jean will be here the full summer, and I will be here five weeks and Richard two as principal horn. There are 12 horns here this summer (5 high school, 7 college), the smallest number in several years. But …

First, a band concert in the park (near the railroad tracks) in Kansas
I need to get to North Carolina somehow from Arizona, and this year I drove through Kansas where I stayed with my mom for two days. Got some good work done on the farm but also went the last night to a concert with the Emporia Municipal Band ( It is a group with a long history, one that I performed with a number of summers actually. I often tell people that one of the quintessential small town experiences I had as a college student was playing the Memorial Day services with the Emporia Municipal band. And of course also the weekly band concerts in the gazebo in Fremont park, with several ATSF trains passing by during every concert.

At the concert I saw Don Kyle in the audience, who had been the strings teacher at my high school. Had a nice talk with him and in talking we spoke of Robert Fry, a euphonium player in the band whom I knew from years of playing in the group, still a very solid player who has been a member of the band since it was reorganized in 1946! Mr. Kyle commented how Bob Fry is a great example of someone who loves music and making music. I would hope that my students retain their love of music enough to keep with it for 60 plus years like Bob Fry has.

Computer unhappiness in Tennessee
My stop over after Emporia has for several years been Cookeville, TN. It was also a stop on run-outs with the Nashville Symphony, so I was familiar with the town, and the driving distances work out well for me. But, at the hotel, my computer died! It took several days to get it running at all after I got to Brevard, a new battery seems to be the needed item.

Too many services!
Professional orchestral players refer to rehearsals or concerts as “services,” and a typical workweek will have 7-9 services in a week. I had forgotten how busy the first week is at Brevard. Not only did I have 13 orchestral services (!), but I also played the Reinecke Trio for horn, oboe, and piano on the first chamber music concert the following Monday and had another rehearsal for the Schubert Octet that week. It all went OK, but that was really more playing than one would want to pack into one week. Had to pace things and warm up carefully to be sure.

Plan out your seating audition
On arrival at Brevard students have to re-audition for seatings in ensembles. Talking with students after the auditions, it is clear that several could have made better choices as to what they played. To borrow a term from Randy Jackson on American Idol, you want to play “the bomb” in your audition, especially in this type of audition where you have the choice to play literally anything you wish. Don’t play something you have played in maybe one lesson and are learning still. Chose “the bomb,” something you feel that you can play great. It does not need to be something standard, just something that shows off what you can do.

The stopped notes in the first and second horn parts in Brahms One
Brahms 1 snip Summer Festivals: A look back at the beginning of a busy summerAfter performances of Cosi fan tutti and a Mozart Pops program, our first big concert had Brahms One on it. The notes marked gestopft should not be played in my opinion stopped in modern performance. All Brahms is doing is emphasizing that the notes are intentional natural horn stopped effects, which, if taken on natural horn, would be soft and muffled, not buzzy like modern stopped horn. We played them open but very soft. If you wish, play them half stopped, but not fully stopped. I have an article ready on Brahms orchestral horn parts that should be published sometime in the near future in The Horn Call. […but was never published! I posted it online here.]

[Which they ultimately did not publish! It was accepted for publication, but then languished and was never published. Instead the article may be found in my Horn Articles Online website. And I have wondered, did the conductor read this part of this blog post? He was the one that wanted it open but soft. Lots of water under the bridge now, of course, but it is a reminder to be careful what you put online….]

Fake teaching and real teaching
I gave the first master class of the summer on high horn playing. In the questions after the session a student mentioned that at another recent horn event a guest artist took away the horns of the participants and played their horns behind a screen, with the students having to write down guesses as to which horn was what brand. People guessed pretty consistently which one was a Holton, Elkhart Conn, etc. BUT, in reality the guest artist actually did not play on any of their horns and played everything on their own horn, modifying the sound in various ways, presumably imitating the sounds of different brands of horns.

To my mind this is a form of grandstanding and fakery in teaching, not real teaching. There is a huge difference in sound between various brands of horns and mouthpieces and there are real reasons why certain types/brands are rarely if ever used by serious professional players, even if the advertising for that horn says it is a “professional” model.

Part of being a real teacher is mentoring students through the minefield of horn and mouthpiece choices toward a real, professional level sound. To give this type of demo is not a service. No fakery of this type in my teaching.

Part of why this topic hit a nerve for me relates to my own summer studies at Aspen and Bay View, which were pivotal for me in my progress as a player. I often tell people that I made towards a semester of progress each summer as a student, that I worked hard and with good teachers. This is the kind of experience I try to give students.

The Beethoven Six and Schubert Octet challenges
My second week featured Beethoven Six and preparations to perform the Schubert Octet.

The Beethoven was mostly a mental challenge, more than most anyone at the concert could have realized, as I had a bit of a complex about the work based on something a teacher told me once in a lesson. I try to be careful in my teaching to not pass on these complexes…but at least I could play at basically comfortable dynamics, there were no more than the usual number of curve balls from the conductor (like changing the articulations of the solos in the last movement), and I had a good assistant player to make it pretty comfortable to perform.

On the Schubert, the main thing was while I personally would rather play it like a small orchestral work, we ended up with more of a string quartet interpretation and texture. The result was I’m sure musically fine for the audience but it will be a while before I wish to repeat the work. The Reinecke Trio was much more comfortable to perform on many levels the previous week, even with the excessive service count to manage.

[I did it again! I wonder if the head of the string quartet program read this? Or other management at Brevard? I sounded a bit frazzled and was. Now, of course, these are events from years ago, and hopefully a student or colleague reading this now can glean something useful from the comments.]

Finally up and running!
That you are reading this says finally my computer is working better with the new battery and I was able to connect it to the Internet again. More postings soon–this week is Mahler 1, should generate some more “notes.”

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