Happy new year, and welcome to the first edition of Horn and More for 2023! What a year it’s going to be as we head toward IHS 55 to be held in Montréal, Canada. I had the pleasure of hosting IHS 42 in Brisbane, Australia, and I can promise that attending an international horn symposium will transform your life. As a long-term member of the International Horn Society, I have served as Vice President, and I am currently a member of the Advisory Council. Throughout my time with the IHS, I have made lifelong friends and great connections in the horn world that would never have happened had I not become an active member and regularly attended our symposia. So do yourself a favor and register for IHS 55 Montréal as soon as you’re able—you won’t regret it!
Australia may seem remote, but it is a mecca for great orchestras and great horn playing. I was fortunate to play with the Australian World Orchestra in August of 2022, for which Australian players from orchestras all over the world gathered to play a Richard Strauss triple bill of Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, and Ein Heldenleben under the baton of Maestro Zubin Mehta. It was a dream horn section brilliantly led by Los Angeles Philharmonic principal horn—and well known Aussie—Andrew Bain . . . I’m still pinching myself!
We have a bumper issue for you this month, including a piece about Stravinsky in Hollywood from Karen and Dennis Houghton, Horn on Record: Milan Yancich, from Ian Zook, Thoughts From Frøydis, Part 2, from Austris Apenis, and Dan Grabois secured this month’s Pedagogy Column from IHS 55 featured artist Jeff Scott…among other great articles. So read on and enjoy this edition of Horn and More.
I can’t wait to meet you all in Montréal for IHS 55.
Cheers from Down Under! Peter Luff, IHS Advisory Council
A Knock at the Door
by Dennis and Karen Houghton
Imagine answering a knock on your front door to find Igor Stravinsky standing there, and he's got a question for you…about stopped horn!
You're a kid from Venice, California, growing up in the Great Depression, and you have a chronic stutter. But Southern California has opportunities: there's a big navy base in Long Beach, oil refineries in Torrance, and factory production all over the LA Basin. General Motors is building hundreds of cars per day at the South Gate factory, and Howard Hughes is building airplanes in Burbank. There is radio technology, and the movie industry is beginning to boom. There is public transportation—you can take the Pacific Electric "Red Line" from Venice to Long Beach in about 30 minutes, or Long Beach to Hollywood in about the same time.
P&E Line - about 1940
There had been lots happening in the Los Angeles music scene for years: there were the silent films produced by a number of movie studios, each having their own theaters, and each theater had its own "house orchestra." These attracted musicians from Boston and New York, Germany and even Russia. The Los Angeles Philharmonic had been founded in 1919 by millionaire William Andrews Clark (whose family fortune was made in the Montana copper mines). The Philharmonic had naturally become a hub for the LA Society elite, and they began recruiting talent and soloists from major European orchestras. Sergei Rachmaninov thrilled audiences with his piano concerti and symphonies. Although he didn't move to LA until 1942, he was a regular guest soloist. Korngold is writing the biggest movie scores, and Schoenberg emigrated in 1934 and is now teaching at UCLA. Many of these greats have escaped the rising facism in Europe, and for many there is no option to return home...and now Igor Stravinsky has come to stay!
LOS ANGELES TIMES, FEB. 21, 1935
L.A. Goes Mad for Stravinsky
“[Stravinsky] has been in Los Angeles four days and the town is agog. Only the visit of Einstein…has created as much interest. The orchestra…has literally slaved to prepare his program of suites from the Apollon Musagète, Petrouchka, Petite, and The Fire Bird precisely as he would have them.”
Stravinsky, who eventually settled in Los Angeles in 1940, continued to guest-conduct the orchestra, on occasion, at the Hollywood Bowl.
Your name is James Decker, and your parents, Ben Decker and Margaret Hapgood, had a musical variety show in which Maggie sang and performed the "glass harp," playing tunes on pitched wine glasses. There is a longer thread of musical talent too: your grandfather Hapgood was a brass band leader in England who had been presented with a silver cornet by Queen Victoria. This silver cornet was passed down and became your first instrument. Grandfather Hapgood led the "Firehouse Band" in McPherson, Kansas, after immigrating to the USA. (There's still a band shell at the park in McPherson, but the small town can no longer support a community band.) In your early teens, you played that cornet, accompanying your mom on radio broadcasts.
James “Jim” Decker switched from cornet to the horn at the age of 16 at the request of his school orchestra director. About this time, Jim had the good fortune to meet and study under James Stagliano, the new principal horn of the Los Angeles Philharmonic who had arrived from the St. Louis Symphony in 1935. At 17, Jim played in one of FDR's depression era work programs, the "National Youth Administration Orchestra" under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. Jim was also a member of the Long Beach Community Orchestra and the Peter Meremblum Youth Orchestra.
Jim performed Oberon at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles when he was 19. Afterward, when the other musicians raved about his finesse in the delicate opening bars, Jim replied wryly, "I tried to start that note three times before it spoke!"
The Wilshire Ebell Theater
When the US entered WWII, Jim wanted to serve in the military, but due to a perforated right eardrum he couldn't pass the army physical. However, his "draft deferment" presented other unique musical opportunities: he played in the National Symphony in Washington DC in 1942-43, then back to Los Angeles for a stint with the LA Phil in 1943-44. These were still the days when the "audition" would have consisted of playing for the conductor in his dressing room—or possibly even receiving an offer without an audition, simply based on reputation or referral by a teacher or colleague. There was a downside to this system too: many conductors were tyrannical, and a player could be fired on the spot.
Jim and others, including Vince De Rosa, Gale Robinson, and Richard Perisi recorded newsreel, movie, and radio broadcasts as their contribution to the war effort. With so much recording going on, Jim played on soundtracks for wartime pictures starring Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Stewart, and Humphrey Bogart. Due to the nature of the contracts with the various studios, Jim likely wouldn't have known the movie title or the actors involved. He would say, "In those days, you just showed up to the call and played what was on the stand." Jim played the post-war 1946-47 season with the Kansas City Symphony, but moved back to LA for good after that year. He "auditioned" for the principal horn chair at Columbia Studios by recording a sound track. His former teacher, James Stagliano, didn't want to play a concert and asked Jim to play principal horn. This was his introduction to Otto Klemperer and Igor Stravinsky, conducting Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and The Firebird Suite, respectively.
The Tryon Road home as it looks today.
The 1950s brought a post-war recession as the country was flooded with returning service members. But as these folks bought homes and started families, the economy boomed and so did the birth rates...Baby Boom! By now, Jim had become a first call hornist under contract with Columbia, Fox, Paramount, and CBS television, and later Disney studios. He was playing as many as three or four sessions per day, and was able to buy a home in the Hollywood hills. The elaborate Mediterranean revival home on Tryon road became known as "The Castle."
In 1962 Jim got the invitation to record Firebird under Igor Stravinsky on the Columbia Masterworks label. "The highlight of my career," according to Jim, "was playing principal under Stravinsky in many of his most famous works." According to Stravinsky’s assistant Robert Craft, Jim was one of three orchestra musicians most favored and requested by Stravinsky. It was at this Tryon Road house where Mr. Stravinsky knocked on the door: his respect for Jim's judgement and musicianship was absolute.
James Decker with "the Maestro" circa 1963
So, the "knock at the door" didn't happen by chance. There was certainly talent, a bit of luck, and being in the right place at the right time.
What Karen and I (and, certainly, all of Jim's colleagues and students) remember best was his passion for teaching, his emotional connection to the music, and his congeniality. He was blessed with both talent and opportunity. He wanted to pass along his knowledge and wisdom, and to encourage all who followed him. Our friend Milton Kicklighter, now retired from the Buffalo Philharmonic, said it best: "Jim was a very famous hornist that made the rest of us horn players feel his equal."
Horn on Record
by Ian Zook
Volume 4—Milan Yancich
With more votes cast on the Horn on Record website for this month's topic, we will visit a pedagogical recording from noted orchestral performer and teacher, Milan Yancich. Yancich is joined by Edwin McArthur on piano, and together they perform the complete collection of solo works he arranged and published for Wind Music, Inc. titled 15 Solos for French Horn.
This recording, from 1978 and produced by Helden Records, provides interpretative recordings of each selection from his volume of arrangements. These songs are derived from opera arias, and repertoire for both violin and piano, as well as one original composition for horn. In the preface of the printed edition (and also on the reverse album jacket), Yancich explains:
"The Mastersong solos found in this book represent some of the great composers in the world. Each bears the hallmark of genius and originality. Our goal is to stir the audience with emotion, and to do this the player must enter into the spirit of the text of the song or musical composition. He must understand the correct tempo and the constant modifications of tempo, dynamics, and special accents which are the life of the music."
Milan Yancich (1921-2007) was born in Whiting, Indiana and he studied at the University of Michigan and Northwestern University. During his early career from 1946-1952, he played with Columbus Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, and the Cleveland Orchestra. He began teaching at the Eastman School of Music in 1957 while performing with the Rochester Philharmonic.
He owned a publishing business, Wind Music Inc., for which he both composed pieces and wrote pedagogical methods. Many of these are still in use today, including his Practical Guide to French Horn Playing, Method for French Horn Volumes I & II, and his arrangement of Bach’s 6 Suites for Cello. His book, An Orchestral Musician’s Odyssey: A View from the Rear is an account of his life and that of many notable musicians of that era including George Szell, Erich Leinsdorf, and Howard Hanson, as well as a matter-of-fact exposé of a musician’s life in the orchestra.
Yancich was on the IHS advisory council for two separate terms (’81-’84, ’98-’01) and was honored with the Punto Award in 1997 at the annual symposium hosted by the Eastman School of Music. Yancich also collaborated with Alexander horns to create the “Heldenhorn” Geyer-wrap model, which was recently re-introduced in 2017 as the Model 1106. As if more proof of his musical influence was needed, look no further than his children who also became professional musicians: Mark is timpanist of the Atlanta Symphony, and Paul is timpanist of the Cleveland Orchestra!
Yancich’s 15 Solos was made as a companion recording for his collection of arrangements. The first ten songs are easily approachable for early performers, as the tempos, key signatures, meters, ranges, and brevity allow for one to concentrate on sound, phrase, and expression. As Yancich emphasizes in the preface, “All successful performance results in the power to stir an audience with emotion.”
The remaining five solos increase in difficulty considerably, incorporating lip trills, high tessitura lines, rapid technical passagework, and many opportunities for bravura interpretations.
Now, let's enjoy some samples of the music on this album!
The melancholy melody in Edvard Grieg’s Solveig’s Song is played with pensive mystery:
Another somber tune from Jules Massenet’s Elegy pairs Yancich’s round tone with his yearning interpretation:
Yancich also played with humor in his arrangement of the Cavatina from Rossini’s Barber of Seville:
To conclude the album, Yancich dazzles with his rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee!
Film Noir Memoir was composed for and premiered by Jennifer Montone, principal horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The premiere took place at the 2022 Southeast Horn Workshop where composer Lee McClure remarked: "It is an honor to have my music presented with other melodic and tonal pieces…. In the 1980s, I founded the Eclectix concert series that presented [music by] 130 living composers. But back then, foundations were not supporting new melodic music, so we lost the funding battle. This concert feels like a victory in keeping new music, similar to [that of] Gershwin and Copland, alive today." Film Noir Memoir is one movement of a six-movement work titled Suite Montone which is still being composed.
Different Types of Articulation, Dynamics, and the Correct Use of the Tongue
by Gabriel Betancur
Many horn players are unaware of the use of the body at the exact moment of playing the instrument. Awareness of what happens inside our bodies during playing (specifically, the function of the respiratory system, the muscles that form the embouchure, and the different possibilities for using the tongue) is a factor of great importance necessary to optimize articulation. We, as horn players, do not have the ability to directly visualize the activity of the elements which influence the production of articulation and sound (while a pianist, for example, can see in the position of the hands, posture, and other body movements and physical actions that may interfere with articulation).
We have, in general, two types of articulation: tonguing and slurring. To tongue, as required for performance, refers to the action of the tongue to separate individual notes; we can use the tongue to start or even stop the flow of air. To slur means to connect two or more notes wherein the first note is the only one which is tongued, and the remainder of notes in the slurred grouping are played with a continuous airflow without the interruption of the tongue.
The tongue is responsible for controlling the airflow (or output), whether fast or slow. Tongue position is an individual case, because different placements of the tongue generate different types of attacks, and tonguing has a great variety of effects. When we use a thick (wide) tongue, the sound is warmer; if we use a thin (narrow) tongue, the sound is brighter.
Among the various ways we use the tongue, one of the most common faults is the method of tonguing between the lips. As the tongue draws back, it moves in the opposite direction of the airflow, and this use of the tongue prevents the most natural passage of air, thus losing sound projection, potentially creating strange noises in the sound, and resulting in unclear articulation. In such cases, the reaction of the tongue in a quick...
There’s been quite the reckoning lately with regard to what we know to be true. Do we believe what we see on media screens? Do we believe what we read? How can we be sure?
Some people remain sure. They have their systems, and what gets through is filtered by tests and checkpoints which remain in play. They continue to dance with those facts, figures, feelings, and fantasies. Oh wait, we ALL do that…we let in what we let in, and we keep what we keep. We just have varying degrees of being sure. Some of us need a greater sense of being sure, and we wait until the, “I’ll believe it when I see it” condition has been satisfied. Others watch and can take a chance with the, “I’ll see it when I believe it” approach, believing in something not yet proven by visible results.
Both approaches harvest much from life. All we want to shine a light on is how each guides your ability to walk onstage with belief in something that will help you play your best.
Belief. It’s what drives us to move in this direction or that. Do you believe you could do the work to win your upcoming audition? If you really do believe it, and you really want the job, you will find the ways to do the work that enables you to be a finalist, the winner, or not advancing but knowing a LOT of what it will take for next time! That’s how this works. Unfortunately, if you just believe you might have a shot, you’ll practice that way: you will do the work that satisfies your belief of what you should do to continue having a shot, but never win.
One of the first times I (Jeff) let my manic belief-system protection-walls go down, I was speaking with a faculty member at a summer festival. I’d played the Neilsen wind quintet, and the other horn students played the Strauss Serenade for Thirteen Winds. After the concert, the faculty member, amazing trombonist and human Dick Erb (Louisiana Philharmonic) walked up to me and said, “Nice job.” I said thanks, and he kept walking. I remember thinking, “That was nice…and now, yes, go talk to the real horn players who nailed the Strauss!” He talked to them too, but then he came back to me and said, “Can I talk to you for a minute?” I followed him to a corner of the room, and what followed was a moment like any other…just some nice things being said after a concert, right? He looked at me with his huge, Santa-white beard, and gruffly said, “Hey man, you really touched me tonight. I was moved by the way you went out there and told us how you think this goes. My wife’s an oboist, and I’ve heard that piece a hundred times, but you really said some new things. Way to go.”
I stood there stunned, and I thanked him deeply for his kind words. It could have ended there. “That was so nice…so anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I gotta not miss notes….” But I kept that moment a moment for me. As I write about this now, I still remember that summer-of-1992 moment as a massive watershed moment.
I mattered. It might not have been just another swing at the piñata, hoping to get enough of it right. It might be true, what that sweet man just said to me. It might not be what I always think, that just because I thought of this or that, I’m sure everyone else thought of it too. I don’t matter. I’m just a fake, scared to death of being found out, regurgitating the notes and hoping to not screw it up too much.
But it might be true. I should ask him if he meant it. NOPE! You don’t need that. That’s you trying to be sure, choosing to need to be sure. Just believe. What would happen if you just shut up and believed what he said? Believe that your next note can matter. Keep doing the work so your next note can sound how you want, and the rest is up to the listener. You can’t make it matter, but you can make it beautiful in your opinion, simple but obvious phrasing in your opinion, colors and climaxes that reveal a story you think is compelling.
Keep doing that. Work and share as well as you can, and then you’ll find out what others think. If they’re listening and they agree with your concepts, they’ll like it too. Or maybe not…you can’t be sure. Either way, collect some feedback, do some more work, and share that new version. That’s about all we can do, right?
What you believe now and what you wait for proof to believe is all shaping who walks into the practice room and onstage. All we can say is that Jeff’s believing that one man’s 15 seconds of words, telling him he mattered, just that one time, sure has worked for him! Sure, there’s what you believe now. But you’re not stuck with that. Keep what works. But what you WILL believe, going forward, will determine the quality of your next performance and everything that goes with it.
What will you believe?
There are people cheering you on, believe it or not.
Jeff and Katy
(two of those cheering people)
If you want to learn more about making the most of your performance training, check out Jeff Nelsen and Dr. Katy Webb’s unique courses and online performance community at https://www.fearless-performance.com.
Now that the holidays are over and all the gifts and decorations are put away, does your coffee table look a little bare? We’ve got it covered!
Thoughts From Frøydis, Part II: Feedback Among Musicians
by Frøydis Ree Wekre
When asked to give a lecture during the Lieksa Brass Week, I admit that I suggested this theme myself. However, the reason was not that I consider myself an expert—rather, the opposite.
However, I did want to take a closer look at this subject and find out more about it, and thus maybe find new ways for continuing progress as a musician (and brass player).
I am sorry to report that I found more questions than answers in my ‘research.’ Nevertheless, I think some of these questions are important and well worth sharing.
The world of performing musicians is a very sensitive one, and the general level of tension is rather high. In chamber music, the rehearsals usually include comments, feedback, and discussions; the more gracefully the members of the group can give and receive such messages, the better the progress and the musical result. Without having made any obvious ‘mistakes,’ a musician can also expect messages and critique from colleagues with different tastes and opinions.
In an orchestra, the individual member will receive feedback mostly from the conductor and from the principal player in his/her section—feedback based on their particular tastes. Comments from other colleagues may occur, but less frequently, unless you ask for them yourself.
But first, let me try to make the meaning of the word feedback in this context more precise. In Norwegian, this word is tilbakemelding, which would translate directly as “message back.” The first question then is: what kind of message, and back after what?
The message could be words or body-language signals from other people about a musical task that you just performed, or more generally about your playing, not in reference to a specific musical event. In other words, a response from the society around you as to how they respond to your music-making, whether they like what you are doing, or whether they like some parts of what you are doing more or less than other parts, not to mention the possibility that they actively dislike what they are hearing….
Sometimes, it will be YOU who gives these messages to the other musicians, for various reasons. For example, if you are a conductor or a teacher, it is your job to send out various messages to improve the musical result coming from your group or a singular student. But also, just as a colleague, it might be a natural thing to do occasionally.
Hence, I will start by discussing the GIVING of feedback.
Be sure to visit hornsociety.org/about-the-ihs/scholarships to get all the details and current information for our IHS Premier Soloist Competition, the John Hawkins Memorial Award, and the Paul Mansur Award. The deadline is coming up quickly on March 20, 2023, so please take a look and apply!
In my playing and teaching career, I’ve thought a lot about embouchures. It’s a fancy word for a simple thing: you put the mouthpiece on your lips, and you play. How could such a simple thing be so complicated?
I went through college and graduate school questioning my mouthpiece placement and mouthpiece size. I am African American, with fleshy lips, particularly my lower lip. I tried to position my mouthpiece the way my teachers suggested, but it never felt good. It just seemed impossible to get enough of my lower lip inside the rim of the mouthpiece. I have this distinct memory of my mouthpiece sliding down my upper lip as I tried to play and reposition to two-thirds upper, one-third lower.
Finally in my doctoral study, a saint entered my life: the late Jerome Ashby, Associate Principal Horn of the New York Philharmonic from 1979-2007. Mr. Ashby did two things for me that changed my life as a horn player.
First, he found a mouthpiece that worked for me. Mr. Ashby gave me a mouthpiece with a much larger interior dimension which allowed for more of my lower lip to fit. Most importantly, this extra space allowed the “sweet spot” of the embouchure, the aperture, to resonate (buzz) freely. I played a note, and it was like the heavens opened and revealed themselves to me! The right mouthpiece and rim made an enormous—and immediate—improvement in my horn playing.
Mr. Ashby also validated my technique. My setup is unconventional. To that point, in all the books on horn playing I’d read, I saw nothing on this topic. Mr. Ashby was the missing chapter that gave me confidence in my horn playing; he encouraged me to play like me.
My cardinal rule of embouchure now is this: be comfortable. Of course, some students come to me with a setup that is destined to cause problems. A typical scenario: a student has the mouthpiece too high (almost entirely on the upper lip) or too low (almost entirely on the lower lip). Such a student will typically have a discernably stronger and weaker range, combined with limited flexibility. A very slight adjustment to bring the mouthpiece higher or lower can work wonders in this situation. But it must be slight. Big changes create discomfort, and discomfort is the enemy of good horn playing.
I used to look at Philip Farkas’ book A Photographic Study of 40 Virtuoso Horn Players’ Embouchures and think, “None of these embouchures looks like mine.” But we all have different sized lips, different mouth shapes, different teeth settings. So, I have some advice for young horn players: find comfort. You may not set up the same way as your teacher (I certainly tell my students not to try to look like me when they play), and that is ok. If the comfortable spot for your embouchure is somewhat off center, that’s probably all right; some of the best brass players I know play a little off center. Also, what you see in the mirror when you play, and what your teacher observes when you play, does not tell the whole story. Things may look very different inside the mouthpiece than they look on the outside.
If you have a huge struggle to play low or high, you may need to make a change, but it should probably be a small change. Don’t be radical since that will take you away from comfort. If you do need to move the mouthpiece to a new position, you may have a temporary setback in accuracy, range, or endurance, or maybe all three. Work slowly to build back your comfort.
Talk with your teacher about mouthpieces. There are very few mouthpieces out there that feel comfortable to me, and you may have the same experience. I’m working with a mouthpiece maker right now, developing a prototype of a mouthpiece that feels perfect for me. But we’re all different. One thing is for sure, though: a mouthpiece that doesn’t fit your mouth will give you constant grief.
If you feel bad when you play the horn, you probably won’t sound very good. Work with your teacher to find comfort. Your lips should fit against the mouthpiece in a way that makes the instrument feel like it is a part of you, the way your head feels when it hits the pillow!
Once you have that all set, get practicing!
IHS 55—more amazing featured artists!
What better way to start the new year than by announcing six more featured artists for IHS 55! All are well-known players and teachers from all over the world, and we are looking forward to meeting them, sharing with them, and, of course, listening to them play.
The BBC Music Magazine says of Ursula Paludan Monberg: “The Danish horn player..., thoroughly in command of her instrument, produces a miraculously smooth and agile line with secure tuning.”
Born and raised in Adelaide, Australia, Andrew Bain has held positions and soloed around the world, including across Australasia, Europe, and the United States where he settled as principal horn of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2011.
Since receiving degrees from the Manhattan School of Music and SUNY Stony Brook, Jeff Scott has enjoyed a career as a studio, chamber, and orchestral musician, performing in Broadway shows and with ballet companies, touring with various commercial artists, and recording for film, classical, pop, and jazz genres.
At the 16th International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2019, Yun Zeng, at the age of 19, became the first ever gold medalist in the brass category and the first Chinese gold medalist in the instrumental categories. In 2022, he became principal horn of Staatskapelle Berlin.
Since 2017, Jean-Christophe Vervoitte has initiated with musician friends—members of Les Arts Florissants, the Orchestre de Paris, and the Ensemble Intercontemporain—a collaboration of chamber music in the framework of the programming of the Philharmonie de Paris. Since their creation, these chamber music concerts have considerably enriched the range of themes offered, and the public has given these concerts an enthusiastic welcome.
A native of Vancouver, B.C., and our first Canadian featured artist so far, Allene Hackleman has been principal horn of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra since 2004. Allene is a member of the Canadian National Brass Project and has performed with this group at the Festival de Lanaudière and at the Toronto Summer Music Festival. In 2015, Allene was invited to teach masterclasses at the Musikacademy in Belgrade, Serbia. She currently teaches at the University of Alberta.