A closer look at Harry Berv


Working on the articles that became the “Hornmasters” series in Horn Matters, one name and method that had been unfamiliar to me was that of Harry Berv. Just a few days ago a fascinating remembrance of Berv by a former student was posted, and to begin, I highly recommend reading this article! It is a very warm glimpse into his teaching method — all that teach or aspire to teach should hope to be remembered like this.

Berv-Creative-Approach-HornHe wrote a great method book, A Creative Approach to the French Horn, that sadly is long out of print and not referenced much today. I say this as, honestly, it really is a better method book than the Farkas book. The Farkas book dates to 1956 and the Berv method was published in 1977. Berv was then 66 years old, at the end of long and very distinguished career as a member of groups including the NBC Symphony under Toscanini, not to mention also drawing on years of teaching a wide variety of students including in the pre-college division at Julliard.

A lot of quotes from Harry Berv are found in Horn Matters. Rather than list them all, start at this search result and surf or go to this article as a great starting point:

I don’t know if I had even ever seen his method before some dozen years ago when I was given a copy with some other music. The dedication reads

To my students
whose needs made me aware

What I love about his book above all is he is unafraid to just lay down what he thinks on many technical subjects. Perhaps he had a Farkas book and thought many topics in it were wrong, I don’t know, but it is written in such a way that you never get the sense that he attacks him or anyone else. He just tells it like it is, based on obviously working with many, many students over many years.

As already noted, this book is out of print. But copies are out there and it is worth the effort to track down with an inter-library loan. To close, he had this to say in his Preface, words we could all stand to ponder.

THE FRENCH HORN is the most intricate, difficult and demanding instrument of the entire brass family. Its complexities are great and its challenges numerous. Only determination, patience, discipline, and a properly maintained reserve of physical strength will overcome them. But for the individual who faces and conquers its challenges, the rewards are great.

In this book I describe the paths I have followed in working to master this singular instrument. It is above all a practical guide; I feel it can greatly help the serious horn student who has at least a rudimentary background in theory. I have also tried to make it useful to the instructor—to place at his disposal the results of my years of teaching students at all stages of development. Finally, it is my hope that this book will be of interest to the professional hornist who would like to compare his own concepts of playing and teaching with those of a colleague.

To the horn student reading these pages I must stress that no book alone can guarantee the mastery of your instrument. Only by means of great persistence, hard work, and considerable self-denial can you achieve this goal. But to the student who promises this kind of effort, and faithfully does his best to deliver it, I can at least in good conscience add this: Probably you are one of the happy few who can learn to play the French horn!

University of Horn Matters