Two short items from ASU horn life last week are the focus today. Brahms will conclude, but first up, I was reminded this week how easy it can be to be fooled by preconceived notions what the problem could be.
Without giving away brands and models at all, a student had perplexing problems in the upper register, flat, dull, hollow sounding. The horn is a quality instrument and had an upgrade leadpipe and an expensive, upgrade mouthpiece. After trying many more traditional possibilities, finally I got a duplicate mouthpiece out and tried the exact setup of the horn. But, to state it again, I did not suspect a problem on the equipment side because they were all good products; any teacher would have thought they should not be a problem. But to the result: the entire technical problem was the mouthpiece fit in the leadpipe! We tried a few things but a $25 eBay purchased mouthpiece with a smaller than normal shank solved basically every problem, and we will be looking more to find the right setup.
There is a part 2 to this story. The next day I had a rehearsal of a work I am performing on the recital of my tuba colleague Deanna Swoboda, I will be performing it on Wagner tuba. I have played quite a bit of Wagner tuba, wrote a book about it even, but warming up I noticed that the upper register was flat and dull with the mouthpiece I had been using. So I got out the mouthpieces. Everything I tried was flat in the upper register, kind of like that student (!), and it was perplexing. Then I had a thought – what about that same, expensive mouthpiece I had tried the previous day, the one that did not work on that horn? And you know what; you guessed it, the mouthpiece worked great! It was in fact the only one that brought the upper range into pitch.
The take away here being there is an interface between the shank of the mouthpiece and the venturi of the leadpipe that ultimately is extremely important, you need a few different mouthpieces around to scope out where the problem is and don’t just think because something is expensive it will work on every horn setup.
To close, this performance is also from this past week of the Festive and Memorial Music, Op. 109, by Johannes Brahms, arr. Verne Reynolds. This is the third movement of this set of horn ensemble arrangements in eight parts (two choirs of four parts each), performed by the Arizona State University Horn Choir on 11-6-2013, I am the conductor and the sequence starting about 1:10 in the clip is one of my favorite sequences in all horn ensemble literature. Unfortunately, you don’t quite get the full impact on YouTube of the two choirs of horns playing against each other in stereo! Wish you could have heard it live! (Direct link here).