Sunday, 30 December 2007

The past few weeks have been a well-deserved rest from just about everything. I've been visiting family in Canada, and I've made the most of the opportunity to really have a good rest. It's been wonderful in many ways. I did some playing in church on Christmas Eve but haven't really picked up my horn since, which is maybe not so good.

The few weeks before that were extremely busy and stressful, with moving house and lots of rehearsals happening at the same time. I do still need to deal with some of the aftermath of that when I return home. Among other things, I got a new horn stick support, which is working better for me than the old one was.

I've made good progress on my Arrangement assignment, I think I'm about a third of the way done now. Two or three more good, solid afternoons of work before classes start should see it in pretty good shape.

Once I'm back in London I'm going to challenge myself to update this blog every day until the first of March. The idea is that as it's a music blog I'm not going to want to update it if I haven't practised or made some progress on musical projects, so by forcing myself to update every day I'll also encourage myself to stay focused on the things I need to do to improve my musicianship and succeed in my studies.

I think the most difficult day to deal with will be Sundays; I usually teach piano all day on Sunday and don't practise horn at all. I think I probably need to do more mouthpiece work on Sundays and make sure I take some written work with me to look over on the train. Another option would be to spend some time on Sundays getting my website up and running.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Horn Class with Pip Eastop

I've been busy again--but at least I've found somewhere to live, now.

On Wednesday afternoon, Pip Eastop came to do a horn class with us.

It was a bit of an unenthusiastic start, there was some orchestral music that had been set aside for working on but he didn't really want to do that and neither did any of us, so we worked on specific issues instead.


I've always had great difficulty with this because I cannot make the 'purr like a cat' noise with my tongue. I've been trying to make this noise since I was 4 (long before I started playing horn), to no avail. I can get about 2 or 3 flips of a rolled 'r' in but am unable to sustain this. As some people are congenitally unable to do this I have generally claimed it is impossible for me, despite occasionally spending a few weeks attempting to do it.

Pip thinks that being able to get 2 or 3 flips of the rolled 'r' in means that I can do this, I'll just have to practise it a lot more than most people would.

I'm not sure I'm convinced but I would very much like to crack this because then I can purr like a cat, so I'll give it a try (again). The method suggested is to keep doing those rolled 'r' sounds until I can sustain them longer and longer, and then work on doing them with the horn.

Lip trills:

These are difficult on the horn and the only real way around them is to practise some every day, but using the tongue to switch notes instead of trying to use the embouchure is a method I'd forgotten about, and will be focusing on again for a while. My lip trills are much better than last time I tried this method.

Low-range playing:

Farkas-style point-the-air-at-the-bottom-of-the-mouthpiece stuff. Useful, in that it worked for everyone, but everyone sounded a bit crap when they didn't _quite_ get it. My work is rather cut out for me in this department, though again my low range is much better than it once was; I think I'm most of the way there with this and will just have to do a lot of low playing for a month or two in order to make some small embouchure changes.


I can already do this except for very low notes, so I didn't get a whole lot out of this part of the lesson, but others present did. We went into the "actually it's not raised a semitone, it's lowered to about a semitone from the previous harmonic, also when you get high enough it's just the same note" thing, and also into the thing about where if you get high enough you run out of proper harmonics and can just gliss around like on just a mouthpiece because you're playing too high for the horn (only on the mouthpiece it's because you're too low) but you get an extra third or so of clear notes if you stick your hand in the bell which is one of the reasons we stick our hands in the bell. Interestingly, with the hand out of the bell you run out of notes at about the same pitch on the F side and Bflat side despite the fact that if it were relative it should be a fourth higher on the Bflat side. He couldn't answer my question as to why this is; I suspect it has something to do with physics and the bore of the tube rather than the length of it. I also suspect it's the sort of thing most horn players aren't really that interested in. I should probably just learn more physics as it's unrealistic to expect most people to be able to answer that question.
In general Pip was very encouraging, if a bit daunting, and he made it clear that the best methods to use are the ones that produce the best sound, and other indicators of what is the 'right way' aren't really as valuable. This 'whatever works' attitude was quite refreshing.

There were also some comments about playing on mouthpiece alone and on mid-range playing that I don't entirely agree with. Pip figures there isn't money in making quacking noises on the mouthpiece so don't practise it, but this contradicts his previous urging us to do whatever works - personally I find that if I play something mouthpiece-only a few times through it will be far more secure when I get it back to the horn.

He also thinks that if the very high range and very low range are good and solid, the middle range will work itself out, and it doesn't matter so much because things are easier there anyway, so we should practise low stuff and high stuff a lot without really necessarily trying to work our way up to them. I'm not so sure about that. I can see the point he was trying to make - the middle ranges ARE easier - but I don't think it's a good idea to just focus on the high notes and low notes and work down from high and up from low to get the middle playable. All of my major improvements in tone in my high and low range have come from expanding it outward gradually, rather than from working really hard to get good tone in high or low range as an isolated exercise. I think that working on high and low range without doing this could work for some but it could also lead to weird embouchure habits developing due to trying to play things before the muscles have developed to deal with them.

An example of this even came up in class - another player who uses a lot of pressure in the high range and very often ends up with sore teeth. She's using pressure because she doesn't have the muscular strength in her embouchure to get the notes to sound that way without using the pressure. While a certain amount of pressure is a good thing, having sore teeth after playing is bad news (and eventually her teeth will MOVE which will not be nice for her playing!). I figure the way around this is a variety of strength-building exercises employed in such a way as to gradually improve tone and range. Pip didn't suggest anything of the sort and didn't really answer her question about how to get around using excess pressure, just went on about how not having any pressure at all isn't really a good thing.

Again, I can see his point - playing with absolutely no pressure at all tends not to work very well as even very small movements of the horn can completely disrupt the sound - but he did ask if we had any questions and then did not answer some of them, and this was a bit disappointing.

All in all I found this a very useful class despite some differences of opinion, and I enjoyed it thoroughly as well.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Looooong time no post!

I've been plodding along despite having a bad cold. I've been in 2 brass band concerts, a wind dectet concert, and, um, that's it, but lots of rehearsals for the Mbawula Sing! Africa concerts this Thursday and Friday. When that's over with I have another brass band, wind ensemble, and symphony orchestra. All the rehearsals have kept me off of the Aikido mat, which is unfortunate but unavoidable; I'll be getting back to it next Thursday, I hope.

Class went really well yesterday. I generally enjoy my arranging class, but yesterday was particularly rewarding.

I learned about diminished (octatonic) scales, and quartive harmonies, and stuff like that, and got more certain about how to refer to the degrees of the chord; they're interval-based, not sequence-of-scale based (this is not actually important if you aren't in a scale with a non-standard number of notes, but I was), but using a higher number implies a chain of 3rd below it, which is why a sus-4 is different than a chord with an extension tone that's an 11th. Also learned about Lydian Dominant mode, which I hadn't encountered before; it's got the raised 4th note of Lydian, and the lowered 7th note of Mixolydian, and one of the reasons this is cool is because the harmonic series has those (before it has, say, the ordinary raised 7th or P4th from tonic).

I got a question answered about the F9#11 chord that I wasn't quite sure how to harmonize in 4-way close, as well as a typo corrected. I need to go through my draft of that assignment, chord by chord, and make sure that I've actually got the right notes in the right places. Proofreading in music is not as easy as proofreading English.

I like learning this stuff. It tickles my brain! It stretches! I might go get that Schoenberg book out of the library to read over my trip to Canada. Does that make me a hopeless swot? Probably. Do I mind? Not really.

I'm feeling a little less happy about the improvisation class, which I find rather on the ill-defined side, and don't enjoy as much as I hoped I would. I'm considering whether it's worth trying to switch to conducting. I think the only sane way to do this would be to do some of the work the conducting class has already done while I'm away over Christmas; I'll at least talk to Student Services and find out what's involved. In the meantime I'll stick with the improv class for now and see whether things settle a bit.

At the moment I'm in the process of trying to move house, which is taking up a lot of time and energy that would be better spent in other things. I need to guard my academic time carefully so that I don't fall behind in the planning and documentation aspects of the degree. After that I'm off to Canada to visit family for a while, which will be a welcome change.

Monday, 8 October 2007

UBS Verbier Orchestra

I'm considering auditioning for the UBS Verbier Orchestra in February. It's one of the few 'youth' orchestras that I'm still young enough to participate in, with an upper age limit of 29. I'm actually quite unlikely to succeed at such an audition, but it would be a good experience. I have many, many orchestral excerpts to learn for the end of year exams this year, and a February audition would be a good midpoint to aim for.

I don't really have strong career aspirations toward orchestral playing, but this is at least partly because of a lack of orchestral experience. I don't dislike orchestral playing but the images it conjures up in my mind are of amateur orchestras fraught with politics and violinists who have not practised their parts. If I were to pass an audition, either this year or next year, for the UBS Verbier Orchestra or something of similar standard, it would give me a chance to try it out in a more intensive way and see if I end up liking it. The Verbier would be particularly good because all food, travel and accommodation are paid for, plus a small remuneration of CHF50 (that's £20-ish) per day, which would keep my rent back in London covered.

Thursday, 4 October 2007


I'm a student at Trinity College of Music, London, and I'm planning to use this blog for documentation of various musical and academic projects I'm involved with. If you look hard enough you can probably figure out who I am, but I'd really rather you didn't.

It's the third week of classes this week and I'm enjoying things, so far. Improvisation classes on Wednesdays are a bit unstructured and I need to take better notes on those immediately after the class. Arrangement classes on Fridays are wonderful and I'm very glad to be studying with P. again.

There is some paperwork difficulty over my principal study lessons, but it looks like it is on the way to being sorted out properly. I'm looking forward to getting started on this.

I have many, many orchestral excerpts to try to learn in the next few months, before the big exam at the end of Year 3.

Rehearsals have started for the concert with Mbawula at Blackheath Halls. It'll be showing on Thursday, 8th November and Friday, 9th November at 19.30.

I've also been rehearsing for the Trinity Brass Band performing a selection of works by Goffin, Steadman-Allen and Eric Ball as part of the Regent Hall Brass Arts Festival 2007. This concert will be at Blackheath on Tuesday, 16th October. It will also be at Regent Hall, W1C on Friday 19th October at 12.30pm.

Finally, I'll be playing in the Van Brugh Ensemble; this wind dectet will be playing a concert on Tuesday, 23rd October at 13.00, at St. Nick's Church, Aberfeldy Street, Poplar E14 0PT.

I'm not yet sure what is happening with horn quartets or wind quintets. I'm meant to be in a quintet but the scheduling has been problematic.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Test post

This is a test post.