John Ericson received a 2018 Punto Award from the IHS. Individuals selected for the Punto Award shall have made a major contribution at the regional or national level to the art of horn playing. This contribution can be in any of a variety of areas, such as performance, teaching, research, or service to the IHS. John was recognized for his contributions as a performer and scholar, his past service to the IHS, and his promotion of the horn and its music through his online activities.
Mike Harcrow: "The mission of Horn Matters is: to encourage, inspire, inform, and challenge horn players; and, to promote the best musical instrument ever, the French horn." The Horn Matters mission statement is terrific, John, although a non-hornist might see the second goal as arguable. Do you believe the site is fulfilling its mission?
John Ericson: Our goal certainly is to fulfil that mission—and I believe we have—in that Horn Matters is a site with a positive tone and a big reach worldwide, presently toward 1,500 page views every day.
A word not to miss in the statement is “promote.” One thing every horn player needs to embrace is promotion of our instrument; we certainly could use more players! We hope that the information on the site is supportive to building the overall horn and “middle brass” community.
Of course, HM did not happen overnight. The site launched in September of 2009, making use of content from two existing blog sites: my own Horn Notes Blog and the Horndog Blog of Bruce Hembd. My blog content reaches back to June of 2004, with the underlying site that started it for me being my Horn Articles Online site, launched twenty years ago in August of 1998. Bruce has been online even longer; in 1996 he started the Hornplanet site of Thomas Bacon and the IHS Online. With those varied experiences, the mission of Horn Matters evolved over time as we developed the site you see today.
MH: What are the real strengths of HM, as you see it?
JE: On one level it is a huge website with over 1,500 articles. It has a little of everything in it, not just on the horn but on all the middle brass including mellophone and Wagner tuba.
However, looking a bit deeper, there is a “point-counterpoint” element to the content as well that gives it a bit of extra spark. Bruce and I met as students at Eastman way back in 1984. We are different people but have long had a good working relationship. Either of us, individually, would not have built Horn Matters, but together we were able to create something unique.
MH: Is there anything, as we approach ten years of HM, that you still hope to improve about the site or its content?
JE: In a sense, no. However, there is a side story worth mentioning in relation to content improvements. The site was hacked in the summer of 2017. It was a huge job for Bruce and me to rebuild it (I spent well over 100 hours editing content), but it was a blessing in disguise too, as we revamped things and tightened up the organization and content. We might wish there were more advertisers, but we are happy with where it is today.
MH: How do you keep content fresh, John?
JE: Besides adding several new articles every month, periodically I will go back, edit, and cut content. The 2017 hack helped focus things in this regard. In short, the many changes made to the site in recent years has kept things fresh.
Looking at this question a different way though, some content by nature will always read as being fresh if the article is new to you, but other articles become dated with time. For example, there used to be reports on old IHS workshops; those are all gone as who really wants to read about the activities of day two of a workshop six years ago? Not many people, so there is a time you have to cut things for the health of the site overall.
MH: Is there any HM content that has deeply altered your pedagogical approach to teaching horn? Your own playing? How so?
JE: One thing I tell my students is that I hope they never read what I have written in some article or book and ever think that my teaching was nothing like that. Of course, though, there are changes over time; I think a student from 20 years ago would notice some distinct changes in my teaching and approach.
I would say by far the most important things to come up in the world of horn pedagogy in recent years are the MRI horn studies. I have tried to highlight them as much as I can in the site with updates to my Hornmasters series on the site and in my Hornnotes podcast to reach yet another audience. Overall, the big point the horn world needs to embrace from the studies is that your teaching needs to be physiologically accurate. Older horn publications relied a lot on visualizations, causing problems for players. It may sound right on paper to tongue some certain way, but if it is not correct, someone trying to follow those instructions literally will have nothing but problems.
Another way I have put it is that the essence of good private teaching is having good problem-solving skills. Solving problems involves understanding the problems as they really are, and then you can address them. If your understanding of the problem is not physiologically accurate, you may be causing new problems.
This brings me to a more direct answer to your question. I thought that I tongued a certain way for a long time. I knew I was not doing it as most books said, and thought I was doing it a certain way, but then a crisis: I realized I clearly was not doing what I thought I was doing. Was I wrong? Crazy? I finally found a few non-Farkas resources that opened up a better understanding (particularly the Milan Yancich book was of help to me), and then the MRI studies literally clarified everything. It was a revolution in my playing and teaching, and was the big difference between my older teaching and my teaching today.
MH: What is your time involvement each week (or month) with Horn Matters?
JE: Most of the time now it is not a huge time commitment. The main thing that takes time is simply writing articles, and those are enjoyable to write - when the ideas are “ripe” the writing goes pretty quickly.
There is also time involvement to run the Facebook and Twitter pages associated with Horn Matters. Bruce runs the Facebook page primarily, and he regularly features positive, horn related but non-HM content; I run the Twitter account, which also features non-HM content. It is time well spent as part of our effort to promote the horn and to make horn social media a positive place.
MH: I enjoy puns and word play, so the name of the site gives me a chuckle every time I visit. How did you come to name it Horn Matters?
JE: Credit the name to Bruce. He had purchased that domain as a great name for a horn website. When I approached him with the idea of combining our blog content into a large website, he brought it to life.
MH: How long do you intend to continue as site master? And what do you hope for the site going forward?
JE: A horn student of today actually does not know a world without Horn Matters, but readers need to realize that the site will not be online forever. Turning back to my original site, Horn Articles Online, I can give a clearer answer. I hope to be teaching at Arizona State another ten years or so, but after that I do not expect to keep the site online, as it is part of my studio website. Horn Matters is independent; but again, how long we keep it up depends on a number of variables.
Another way to answer is just to say we will keep the site up as long as we are still enjoying doing it. How long that is in reality is hard to say, and technical problems will crop up eventually and close the site. This is all to say: if you enjoy any website, be sure to make use of it, tell your friends, and give the builders of the site some appreciation for what they have done.
MH: What inside secrets would you like to share with the E-newsletter readers about HM?
JE: The big one is, I think, that some people out there think we are geniuses; but actually, we are both just stubborn people at heart. I think any good horn player is stubborn. There are many easier things to do than play the horn! In our case, I think we have had an attitude that if others can do something, we can figure out how to do it too. That is how you build or fix anything really.
The other thing to note is that in a way building a website is easy. It is no harder than creating a Word document to write the content, for example, in WordPress. The learning curve is not steep at all. If you have any interest in building a website, just dive in; it is not that hard to do.
MH: Last, if you don't mind, please introduce yourself to nations and generations who may not know you.
JE: I grew up in Emporia, Kansas, a town of 20,000 plus people, and did my undergraduate study at my hometown college, Emporia State University. I started college as a music business major with a bad horn embouchure problem, but my dream was to play in a good orchestra for a while and to teach at the college level. I have been blessed to have been able to live that dream. From Emporia, I went on to earn a Master of Music degree at Eastman and my Doctorate at Indiana; and from there, I was Third Horn in the Nashville Symphony (with a year off to teach in Taiwan) and then horn professor at the Crane School of Music (SUNY Potsdam) - and now at Arizona State, since 2001. I hugely enjoy the varied things I have been able to do as a horn player, teacher, and scholar, including recording three solo CDs and publishing several books. However, I have not lost my small town roots, with memories of the summers spent playing in the Emporia Municipal Band, etc., being something that keeps me going in relation to the Horn Matters site. I am a strong believer that hard work and an optimistic attitude will take you far in the field.
MH: Thank you, John! The horn world is grateful for you - and Bruce Hembd - for the fantastic work you do and the wonderful information you are generously providing to us!