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This past weekend the 2017 edition of the Southwest Horn Conference was held at Phoenix College in, you guessed it, Phoenix, Arizona. There are a lot of angles you could explore in any report on an event like this, but this time around I would like to focus on some of the things I saw that were new or at least will be new to many readers.
To start, one thing that was extremely refreshing to me, having attended quite a number of regional conferences at this point, was that the featured artists invited by Rose French were not artists that have been featured at events previously. They were Mark Houghton (son of the owners of Houghton Horns) and Zachary Smith, both members of the horn section of the Pittsburgh Symphony. Also notable was that they both performed works on the final concert (for example) that are hardly ever performed at horn workshops but worth hearing. Houghton performed the Canticle III of Britten, and Smith performed William Schuman: Three Colloquies. Both were performed beautifully, and Smith joked that his might be the first workshop performance ever of this work. He might be right; it was, to say the least, a work that serves as a great advertisement for triple horns!
Turning to horns, one horn I was excited to try was the actual prototype of a new Paxman model, the 27 which is a Geyer style horn. This will be a horn to watch, as they tweak and refine the design, and it is a horn that will be I think well received in the US market.
Of course there were many others to try. I spent quite a bit of time playing the Patterson Geyer and Knopf models myself, but liked a lot of horns in the room really. This is such a golden age. There are so many good horns out there, with Chinese (Briz) horns in particular rising in quality.
And then there are mouthpieces. I did see a lot of people playing on Houghton mouthpieces (which I play), but for sure there were mouthpiece sales being made on the Osmun table, Atkinson had his new line of mouthpieces available (the most interest was in his Geyer model), and Balu had actually sold out of his most popular new models by the time I talked to him.
Besides trying things in the sales room (!), I also presented a session related to the MRI horn studies, judged the solo competitions, conducted the ASU horn ensemble, did a master class with high school students, led a group warmup, and performed! An exciting and interesting weekend with so much to see and hear.
Speaking of things to hear, another great thing was the variety of music heard, well beyond the typical “jury piece” and student recital rep most are familiar with. Bravo to all! It was a fun workshop.
To close, a few words on trends in the horn world. The big, general one is toward better equipment. I think back to say the 1980s when I was in college, so many people were playing then on horns and mouthpieces that, when you look back, they were really not that good. I hate to be too specific on negatives here, but there are brands and types of horns and mouthpieces that were used widely in the recent past that have really fallen out of favor with advanced students and pros (not to mention enthusiastic amateurs). The fact is that back then the better, older horns were wearing out (and probably had funky intonation and borderline ergonomics), and new production horns were becoming very geared to a school market. Selling a horn at a price point and not denting easily became goals above the goal of really playing and sounding great. And, if it looked like a mouthpiece it was a mouthpiece! We really expect something better now, and there were many flavors of “better” available to try in the vendor room. The final thought being, if you are one of those older players that is reluctant to try new things, you really do owe it to yourself and your students to give some new products a try. Get to a workshop, talk to some vendors, be open minded. It will be worth your time.
For a few more thoughts on the topic of equipment and trends, check out this recent episode of the Horn Notes Video Podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXZ5GJzRjjc