Briefly following up on my recent article on testing a new or used French horn, a topic that has come up several times since then is the topic of soft playing.
One would tend to think all you need to do to play soft is to play soft! Of course there is a long discussion of that topic in the “Horn Masters” series in this website, but even then there is always more to consider. Part of the puzzle is clearly related to horn and mouthpiece choices.
The plain fact is that different setups will be easier to dial right down to the softest possible dynamic without sounding fuzzy or hollow. While imitating the setup of some famous player is never the solution, it can be a starting point. The key items on the equipment side of this would seem to me to be the mouthpiece and the leadpipe. Certainly at least I have tried enough of both to say that clearly both do impact the way soft dynamics are produced.
Of course there is a balance. If all we had to do was play soft you could design a horn that had a great soft dynamic production and lacked any power at all. Still, don’t forget to check the soft end and explore options, you will spend more time playing soft than playing loud in the real world of orchestral and chamber music.