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Introduction

Welcome! I’m glad that you have decided to join me on this weird and intriguing journey. If you’re a horn player, you’ve come to the right place. I am a professional horn player and teacher, so much of what I write will have some link to the horn playing world; however, if you are a brass player, then you’ll still find some interesting stuff within, especially if you have ever suffered from an embouchure injury. Even if you are a musician of another breed, I think you will still find something of use scattered amongst my meanderings.

As I mentioned, this site is going to have a wealth of information regarding horn technique and pedagogy, but I also plan to write about any music-related topic that strikes my fancy. I will be especially interested in learning and writing more about how anxiety and depression affects musicians, and I also want to learn more about embouchure injuries. As someone who was afflicted by and suffered from the side-effects of an embouchure injury for a long time, I am very motivated to learn more about the topic in order to help others and keep them from experiencing what I had to go through.

Just remember that these are my thoughts, and even if you don’t agree with my point of view, try to keep an open mind. I will always try to keep things civil and professional, and I also hope that I will never post anything that is untrue or uninformed. again, thank you for reading my blog, and I hope that you find something useful here.

Thanks!

Dr. J

What Happens When You Lose Your Passion?

This is a difficult blog to write, because for the longest time, I couldn’t picture my life without music. It’s been part of my identity for so long that I don’t even know what I would do if I ultimately had to choose another vocation. Still, the past year or so has been very difficult for me, because I genuinely don’t enjoy my “money-making” job, and I am legitimately beginning to question and explore my current career options.

I always wanted to be a college professor, but with only a couple of interviews, and working adjunct positions that weren’t paying the bills, I had to do something. I needed to support my family, so I took a job teaching music for four days a week at an elementary school. Unfortunately, when I was in school as an undergrad learning to become a music educator, this was the job option that I was least interested in. I was trained to be a band director, and all of my graduate work trained me to work in higher education. Don’t get me wrong, I can do it, but I don’t have the personality for it, nor the energy level. Yet, this is what I’ve been stuck doing for the past three and a half years. I should also mention that my school is pretty awful for many reasons that I won’t divulge publicly, but this just adds to my frustrations.

I’m an introvert, and I’m at my most comfortable in calm and controlled circumstances, which everyone knows is not how one would describe the elementary music classroom. It saps all of my energy, so I’m extremely tired when I get home. The fact that I’m suffering from depression doesn’t help, and there are just days where I feel like I’m too tired to deal with my own kids. I’m so mentally exhausted and frustrated that I don’t even want to continue my academic pursuits, like scholarly writing, composing music, and even practicing my instrument. I used to love practicing, but now, I just don’t have any desire to pick it up. As mentioned above, I’ve always wanted to be a college professor, but this elementary job has literally taken all of the fun out of music. At this point, I don’t even know if I want to do music anymore.

Of course, here’s the logical thought, and it’s my thought process from when I originally took my current position: “Hey, I’ll work this job for a year or two, move into a band position, stay there for a while, and then work on getting a college band director job.” I can honestly say that I’ve tried this approach, and I really don’t know if it’s going to work. After applying and interviewing for numerous band jobs, I am constantly overlooked for less qualified individuals that are typically right out of undergrad. I could understand it if I just wasn’t a good teacher, but I’ve had too many very successful students to see this as being the reason. I also know that I don’t interview extremely well, but after doing so many interviews, I got pretty good at it, and I felt very positively about several of them.

The whole thing is frustrating for so many reasons. I’m at a point where I don’t know if I will ever attain a full-time position at a college or university, because I have only had two interviews over the past seven years and neither occurred recently. I definitely don’t want to spend twenty more years as an elementary music teacher, so I’m at a loss. Yes, I still have two adjunct positions, but I can’t teach many courses due to my public school job. I will keep fighting, but the doubts are becoming very real, and I have been contemplating other options. I have been applying for different “office” jobs, and even though I don’t want to, I have even thought about going back to grad school.

I have very seriously considered moving, because Augusta, GA sucks, but where would I go, and how would I afford the move? I have a family, a house, a lot of debt, and it just isn’t feasible to move right now without a very good job offer. I feel like I’m stuck with no way out, which is not great when you’re trying to cope with depression.

I have always considered my greatest attribute to be the fact that I don’t give up. People, including family members, never thought I should go into music, and I proved them wrong. Most of my undergraduate professors never really thought that I would make it as a horn player, but I did. So now, with everything trying to weigh me down, my gut reaction is to fight back. I chose this profession, I’m good at it, and I’m not going to let some disease take it away from me. I have written before about how it’s my choice to either stay depressed or work my way out of it. Depression isn’t something that is going to disappear, it will always strike you at your most vulnerable point, and it will ultimately win if you let it. You can either let it consume you, or snap out of it and take back what is rightfully yours. I want to find my passion again, not only for music, but for life as well. Who knows how long it will take, but I’m going to work hard and make it difficult for anyone to overlook me for a job again.

I Need to Write More Often

I haven’t been writing a lot lately, and recent circumstances have shown that I need to start writing again. Life has been busy, but I’ve also been lazy. I’ve started several posts over the past couple of years, and I just haven’t been able to finish anything. One of the main reasons is the fact that I’ve been suffering from chronic depression for the past 7-8 years. I’ll have a great idea, run with it for a little while, and then I’ll typically hit some sort of road block, and all of my momentum will just completely fade away. Most of the blame is on me, because I’m letting my depression dictate me and my life, and this is something that has been happening for a while now. I had a couple of good years, where I was making some progress, which just so happened to coincide with my most active blogging periods. I was also pushing myself during those years, and like I mentioned previously, I just haven’t been pulling my weight lately.

So, what do I need to do? First, I need to write and be more open about my struggles with depression. I’ve been using it as an excuse lately, and this behavior needs to stop. I’m never going to find and/or create a better situation for myself if I continue to let my depression run my life. Also, I need to make a list of things that I want to accomplish or that need to happen, and then use my blog to chronicle my progress and hopefully keep myself from quitting and giving up yet again. I need to keep myself accountable, and this is the perfect tool for that purpose.

For the past couple of years, I have been dabbling as a composer. I have enjoyed some limited success, but I really want to push myself to see if I can do more. I may not be a great composer, and it takes me a little more time to complete things, but this is something that I’m really passionate about. Plus, it makes me happy, and I have always had random melodies and compositional ideas floating around in my head, so why not put it all to good use. I have a couple of pieces that are going to be published, which I will write about later, but there are also a number of projects that I have started and just can’t seem to finish. The goal will be to pick one project at a time, chronicle the progress and/or struggles that I’m experiencing, and then maybe I can hold myself accountable and finish some compositions.

I also want to perform more often on horn. In September, I performed a Mozart Concerto with a local orchestra, which was nice, but I’m still struggling with anxiety and lingering doubts concerning my abilities as a performer. The only way to confront these issues is to meet them head on, so I definitely need to push myself to perform more as a soloist. I’m going to work towards performing one of my original compositions at the upcoming Southeast Horn Workshop, and I also need to put together another recital. I did one a couple of years ago, and I definitely programmed pieces that were not very difficult. The goal will be to schedule a recital for the Spring semester (I already have most of the music picked out), and I will chronicle my progress towards this goal. I’ll also try to include some videos or at least audio.

Lastly, but certainly not least, is a project that I have been mulling over for quite a while. I have always enjoyed playing chamber music, and I was fortunate to perform a lot of great repertoire at West Virginia University in both a wind quintet and chamber winds group. I really want to start a chamber winds group, because there is a lot of great rep out there, and the city of Augusta, GA doesn’t have a group that currently meets this need. I also want to obtain more experience as a conductor, and this just seems like the logical choice right now. Previously, I’ve been worried about people not being interested, in terms of audience and high-quality musicians, but I’m done with excuses. I’m going to use my blog to flesh out my ideas and share the group’s progress. First up, is finding musicians…

I hope that this isn’t just another singular post with a bunch of great ideas and no follow through. I really want to do something with my life, and I know that sitting around feeling sorry for myself isn’t going to help, so here’s to making stuff happen!

Reflections & Resolutions

To be honest, I have never been a fan of New Year’s Day. Sure, we all need to reflect and commit to change at times, but the resolutions made on this holiday never seem to last. Due to the “new year,” people feel the need to make resolutions and try to change the negative things in their lives, but most lack the conviction to follow through. Most individuals aren’t ready to change, but the mob mentality and group pressure associated with this holiday makes people feel the need to publicly profess a list of of resolutions.

Having said all of this, I’m going to succumb to the madness and talk about some areas that I need to address in my life. Hopefully, these reflections and resolutions won’t fall by the wayside. I tend to be a very determined person, so maybe this trait will help me to use this opportunity as a way to reset and re-establish my goals. Unfortunately, I have been horrible at finishing projects over the past six months, so there are many things that I need to fix and finish this next year.

First, I really need to get in shape. Yes, this is very cliche of me, but I feel that I have reached a breaking point. I have been overweight for the majority of my life, but when I turned 20, I got tired of being fat and lost over 100 pounds within a year. I went from 275 to 170, and I felt great. It took a lot of work and effort, but I accomplished my goal, because I was ready to change. I gained a little bit of weight when I got married, but I was able to keep my weight around 190 for seven years, until I started suffering from depression. Eating is one of my weaknesses and a coping mechanism, so when I became depressed, I ate my feelings. I also stopped exercising and maintaining my health, which culminated in me ballooning to 285 over the next four year period.

I have tried to exercise and lose some weight since gaining it all back, but I get discouraged very quickly if I don’t see immediate results. However, I hate feeling tired all of the time, and I really hate feeling winded after climbing a flight of stairs. Recently, I started taking a salad for lunch at work, and I hope to continue to make healthier eating choices now that the holidays are over. Still, I’m not young anymore, and I won’t be able to lose weight just by eating healthier. This is going to take a combination of smart eating and some sort of physical activity.

Most people will say, “Go join a gym and workout,” which is great advice; however, you forget that you’re speaking to someone with severe anxiety. I don’t like being around a lot of people in general. I also don’t really enjoy looking at myself in the mirror right now, so I definitely don’t want other people to see me while I’m working out. I know that it’s weird, but people with high anxiety are usually uncomfortable with their self-image, and it’s difficult to turn this part of my brain off, even with me being on medication.

I was able to lose weight without going to a gym last time, so I’m determined that I can do it once again. It may take a little bit longer this time, since I’m getting older, but I just really want to feel different. Not just for myself, but for my kids as well. I’m so tired when I get home that I don’t want to spend time with my kids. This has also kept me from being productive as a professional, which leads to my next resolution.

I need to set aside some time each week to work towards my professional goals. At the beginning of last summer, I was determined to write more blog posts and finally finish a couple of articles that I had started working on….this did not happen. I also wanted to write several new compositions. I had all of these wonderful ideas, and I just couldn’t wait to get it done….I finished one composition, but I have been unable to get motivated enough to finish a couple of pieces that I’ve been working on for the past several months. There have been a number of college jobs that I should have been excited about, but I just haven’t felt motivated enough to sit down and apply for them. I even need to practice more. I’ve just been so mentally and physically exhausted lately that on many occasions, I have selfishly chosen to skip anything related to music, whether it be practicing, composing, or writing a blog post. I’m working a full-time job, teaching private lessons, playing professional gigs, and trying to do all of these extra things to advance my professional goals. It’s a struggle, and I really need to be better at managing my time. Even if I need to map out a daily schedule for myself, I need to do something, because my current path isn’t working.

Aside from managing my time better, I also need to be more present as a teacher. When I say this, I’m thinking primarily about my private students, because I know that I have been very complacent over the past few months. When I started building my studio a few years ago, I was better about being innovative and pushing my students. I would always have different exercises for them to practice, and all of my students were working out of at least two different etude books, possibly more. Now, I’m not pushing them to do as many exercises and studies, and I don’t preach the importance of practice and time management as much as I once did, especially since this has become such a huge issue in my own life. They deserve better from me, and I am going to do my best to improve. Maybe I’ll try to act like I actually want to teach….it’s been so bad lately that I dread teaching at times. I hate that I feel this way, because I really do enjoy my private students, and I really get the most enjoyment and fulfillment out of teaching them. It’s nice to actually use the knowledge and skills that I went to school to develop, and I guess I need to be a little more appreciative of the fact that I have some wonderful students that I have the privilege to teach.

Lastly, but most importantly, I am determined to read more this year. I was once an avid reader, breezing through series of sci-fi and fantasy-adventure books as if they were nothing. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have read more than a handful of books to completion since graduating from WVU back in 2012. It’s sad, because this used to be such a huge part of my life. Now, I spend more time on my phone playing mindless games instead of trying to sharpen my mind and improve myself. This year, I vow to actually read a book….hopefully, more than one. I tried downloading the Kindle app and reading some books on my iPad and phone, but it just doesn’t feel the same. I need to physically hold the book to be engaged. With this goal in mind, I picked out a book last night, and I started reading it. I have so many music books to read, but in order to keep from burning out, I’m going to alternate between work and pleasure. I’m starting out with a book related to the history of the horn, and then I’ll pick out a fiction book to read once I’m done. My kids are getting to the age where they will be able to read books on their own soon, so I need to show them (and also remind myself) how much their Dad loves to read.

The Millenium Kopprasch Series

I’m always in the market for a new etude book, so I recently ordered the new Kopprasch books compiled by Jeffrey Agrell. Most of the horn world should know Agrell from his “Creative Hornist” articles that were regularly published in The Horn Call for many years. These new books by Agrell aren’t just another edition of the same etudes, but rather a reimagining of the original material. If you’re a horn player, then you own the original 60 Selected Studies (Low Horn), Op. 6 by Kopprasch. It’s a book that all players use, even other brass instruments, to develop technique, flexibility, and endurance. I started working on these etudes during undergrad, and I still use these etudes in my own practice to this day. Still, we all get tired of working on the same things, so it’s nice to have a new way to practice Kopprasch.

Currently, there are three books in the Millenium Kopprasch SeriesPreparatory KoppraschRhythm Kopprasch – Vol. 1, and Harmony Kopprasch – Vol. 1. Agrell describes his process as follows: “What we do in the Millenium Kopprasch Series is to take something familiar and stretch it, that is, we take Kopprasch’s etudes and dramatically extend them in various ways (through this series) so that the millenium musician acquires the depth and breadth they need to survive and thrive almost two hundred years after those first original etudes were written.”

After spending some time with each of the books, I can honestly say that I really like them. The Preparatory etudes are fairly simple and should be easy for the seasoned player, but I think that they will be perfect for younger students. These are a great way to introduce high school students to Kopprasch, and I have already started using them with a few of my private students. I’m even planning on using them with some of my college students. I think it will work well to pair each of the Preparatory etudes with its corresponding Kopprasch etude. With the Preparatory etudes being so accessible, I feel that working through them first will give students the confidence to tackle the original Kopprasch etudes.

I really enjoy the other two books, Harmony and Rhythm, and they definitely add a new level of difficulty to the whole process of working through Kopprasch, especially for those of us that have been using Kopprasch for years. The Harmony book is challenging, because each etude modulates through several different keys. Plus, Agrell utilizes more than just the basic major and minor modes. In the first etude, the progression is as follows: C harmonic minor, G Phrygian, Ab natural minor, Eb Dorian, D7, F Whole tone, E Whole tone, C Spanish Phrygian, Db Lydian, Gb Major, G Diminished. The etudes themselves are basically the same, except for the new harmonic framework. I can honestly say that it has been fun working through these new etudes. This may sound odd, but the hardest thing for me has been the accidentals and remembering which ones carry through the measure.

The Rhythm book is great, but it is difficult. I can play through the Harmony book without too much thought or practice, but the Rhythm etudes are going to require some woodshedding. It contains lots of syncopation, odd meters (3/16, 5/16, 7/16, etc.), lots of meter changes, odd tuplets, etc. I’m enjoying the challenge that these new etudes present, but I would be careful not to assign many of these to younger students. The Rhythm book seems more suitable for advanced undergrad, graduate, or professional players. I’m only trying to point out the fact that some students may become very discouraged while trying to learn some of the Rhythm etudes, so just be mindful when assigning them to students. Select some of the easier ones first, like K6 or K10, and work from there. I remember my teachers doing the same with the Reynolds 48 Etudes. They would assign some of the more straightforward and melodic etudes first to build confidence, and then ease students into the more technical and mentally challenging ones.

These new books by Agrell definitely won’t replace the original, but they are wonderful companion texts. He plans to release more volumes over the next few years, so horn players should be excited. I’m definitely excited, because these books will not only change the way that I practice Kopprasch, but they are also going to revolutionize the way that I teach it. As I mentioned previously, I’ve already started utilizing the Preparatory Kopprasch with my younger students, and I can’t wait to start using the Harmony and Rhythm books with my older students.

I’ve been telling everyone to buy these books, because they are very affordable at $7-$10 for the paperback version. The only thing that I don’t like about the paper version is the binding. The books are high quality, but the binding makes it difficult to keep open on the stand. It’s going to take a lot of breaking in…or I may just take it somewhere and have them put spiral binding on it.

All of Agrell’s recent publications are available for purchase through Amazon and they are all eligible for Prime shipping. The great thing is that many of his books are available for free if you have Kindle Unlimited. I believe the only etude book not available for free is the Harmony book. I myself like to have a tangible copy, but I know that many people are switching over to paperless, and a lot of musicians are now storing their entire music libraries on tablets. I will probably do this eventually, but I don’t think I will ever get rid of my books. There’s just something about reading the notes or words from an actual page. Either way, there’s no excuse. If you’re a reading this and are a horn player, then you should own these books and keep your eye out for the next volumes.

Horn Matters on Anxiety

Everyone in the horn world knows the Horn Matters site, and if you don’t, you need to check it out now. Dr. John Ericson of Arizona State University and Bruce Hembd, do an awesome job, and there is just so much wonderful information on the site that you could spend days sifting through it all. I’ve spent a lot of time on Horn Matters, and for a period of time, I visited this site every day in order to stay up to date on everything horn. When I began my battle with depression a few years ago, I stopped, because it just made me feel even worse. I know that I’ve missed out on some great articles over the past few years, so I decided to see what Horn Matters has had to say on performance anxiety. Ericson and Hembd have written so many articles over the years that I’m sure I’ll miss something, but here is a quick overview of some of the articles dealing with anxiety:

“Annie Bosler on Dealing with Nerves and Performance Anxiety”

This is a video that I have yet to watch, so it’s now on my list. Ericson doesn’t give too much information about the video, but mentions that it is definitely worth checking out. He also briefly talks about another video on YouTube that features an expert in the area of performance anxiety, Dinka Migic Vlatkovic. He is a therapist and mental coach who was interviewed by the great Sarah Willis during one of her Horn Hangouts. Yet another video to add to the list.

“Beta Blockers or The Inner Game

For some reason, I have never read The Inner Game of Tennis, by W. Timothy Gallwey . I have read The Inner Game of Music, but I just never went back to read the original. However, I plan on reading it this time around, and I will definitely devote a post to talking about said book. This post on Horn Matters brings up an interesting question: Should one use beta blockers to help ease anxiety when performing?

Ericson’s stance is quite clear on this issue. He encourages his students to try the concepts put forth in Gallwey’s book, and I definitely agree. I think it is very important to be able to gain the level of focus needed to play at a high level under pressure. On the flip side, I feel that some people, including myself, suffer from a different kind or level of anxiety that only medicine can subdue. Beta blockers by themselves won’t help you to play flawlessly, but I do believe that a combination of medication and focusing techniques could help most people suffering from performance anxiety come closer to reaching their full potential.

On a personal note, I have used beta blockers in the past. I liked how the medication took the edge off, but I still had to be able to play at a high level, which meant that I still needed to be able to focus and block out distractions. This is something that I have always struggled with, even with the aid of medication, so I would highly recommend checking out The Inner Game of Tennis or any other book/exercises that aid in clearing and focusing one’s mind.

As Ericson states in his article, consult with a doctor before taking any medication.

“Confidence and Final Audition Preparation”

I think that confidence is something that every performer needs in order to perform well. If you are not confident in your abilities, then you will never achieve the type of success you desire. I also believe that one of the best ways to gain confidence is through preparation. If you prepare to the best of your abilities, then there is no shame in what happens. I like this quote from Ericson:

“For me, careful preparation and knowing I have plenty of chops helps a great deal                 in relation to confidence and nerves.”

This is so true, because, for a brass player, if you have these two things, then everything should go as planned. It’s simple, but I think most of us tend to “overthink” when under pressure. Sometimes, you just need to stop thinking and trust the process.

“Onstage Relaxation Techniques”

A short article by Bruce Hembd that shares some of his tips for easing tension while performing. A couple of these you should probably only do if you’re playing in the orchestra pit, but you might be able to hide some of these if playing on stage. I can attest to the importance of breathing and utilizing controlled breathing exercises during rests. We often get very tense or begin to breath in a shallow manner if we are under stress, so doing some deep breathing during rests should help to relieve that tension.

“A Few Thoughts About Performance Anxiety”

Through reading many of his articles on anxiety, it is very apparent that Dr. Ericson has never had many issues with performance anxiety, which he states in this article. For him, preparation and learning how to focus under pressure has served him well. All people are affected by anxiety differently and normally deal with or handle it in different ways. Ericson states that there are different types of anxiety that can be roughly grouped into four categories: Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety, Specific Phobias, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

He also gives this wonderful bit of advice:

“If your underlying world view is different than that of the book or if advice focuses on         dealing with a type of anxiety that you don’t really experience you may need to look to           different resources.

I suffer from both General Anxiety and Social Anxiety, so I am aware of how these two disorders can affect one’s performance. Honestly, I don’t think outside distractions matter for me as much as my thoughts of self-doubt. It’s what happens in my mind that wreaks the most havoc. Instead of visibly showing how the situation is affecting me, I normally internalize things. I may look normal on the outside, but my mind is running circles on the inside. This is why I tend to focus more on altering my mindset, rather than physical strategies. For others, physical triggers are the problem, which is the reason why it is so important to understand your disorder.

There is so much advice out there, but not all techniques will work for every individual. We are all different people, and as Ericson states, we all feel or experience anxiety differently, so some of us will cope with our feelings in different ways. I think it is wonderful that we have access to so much knowledge, so it is inevitable that each of us will find something useful.

“Confidence, Optimism, Fearlessness, and Trusting Yourself”

Ericson did a survey on Twitter asking horn players to pick a word or mindset that best describes themselves and what they’re thinking when performing at a peak level. The four mindsets are in the title and Confidence and Trusting Yourself gained the most votes in the survey. Ericson mentions in the article that these words probably mean different things to different people, and he is correct in my case. Fearlessness does not have a strong connection with me, because I’m never truly without some form of fear. I’ve just learned how to cope with it. Optimism does not resonate with me as much either, because I’m not a very optimistic person; however, I do feel that it is important to be positive and enjoy your performance rather than dreading it and wanting it to be over.

Confidence is definitely a feeling or mindset that I need in order to perform well. When I feel confident, I don’t worry about messing up. The inside chatter isn’t as much of a problem, and I’m able to focus more completely. Trusting Yourself also falls into the same category, because if I’m playing confidently, then I will trust myself and my abilities, which will inevitably lead to a good performance.

“Deeper Insights 2: Anxiety”

In this article, Ericson gets personal and discusses life lessons learned from raising his son, who has Down syndrome and Autism. First off, having two young children myself, I know how difficult it is to balance personal and professional life, especially when involved in such a demanding field as music. Being able to balance the practice time, teaching schedule, and performance schedule is rough. Also, being an Elementary music teacher and having contact with special needs children on a regular basis, I know how delicate and demanding things can get. Kudos to Ericson for being such a consummate professional, while also being there for his family.

Ericson talks about the severe anxiety that his son experiences when things don’t go as planned, which I can relate to on a lesser level. For my anxiety, it is best when things go as planned. The few orchestral auditions that involved some sort of travel mishap always ended badly. I’d get there late, my nerves already frazzled, and things would spiral even further out of control once I went in to play.

Don’t overlook something as simple as keeping a regular routine leading up to a performance or audition. It could be the difference between success and failure.

“Deeper Insights 3: Fearless Optimism”

Again, I just don’t like the use of the term “fearless” (or “fearlessness” for that matter). There’s nothing against anyone that uses the term, but it just doesn’t resonate with me. I would rather focus on being positive, which is really what Ericson is getting at. I love this quote:

“Honestly, I think you might be better off cultivating optimism and faith in your life than fearlessness.”

It’s all about mindset and having the correct approach to everything that one does. Don’t worry about what happens to other people, because you can’t control their lives. You can only control your own life, so it is your obligation to do what is needed to succeed. If you’re doing everything right and things still don’t work out, then maybe you’re not in the right situation yet. Things have a way of working out for the best, but don’t be afraid to adapt and change your perspective as needed.

“They Think You Are Nervous”

If your chops are stiff during a performance or audition, then your response is going to suffer. We’ve all been there and have had to deal with it, but non-brass players don’t realize that it’s just a side-effect of playing too much. Sometimes, they might get the impression that the player is having issues, because they are nervous. This misconception is understandable, because both circumstances affect response, but brass players can normally tell the difference.

In my own experience, I will sometimes become more anxious and nervous if I suffer from response issues during a performance. Even if it isn’t related to my anxiety, it’s still a mental issue. I have to remind myself that everything is fine, but that I might not be as accurate as I would like. When I was a young undergrad, I would often struggle with issues similar to this, but as I grew as a musician, I was mentally able to deal with these circumstances. Unfortunately, as I have been battling severe anxiety issues during the past few years, this type of inner struggle has occurred more often. I honestly don’t really have a cure for it, but you just have to keep working at it. As long as you practice and continue to improve all aspects of your playing, the situation will get better. With more confidence in oneself, comes greater control over one’s feelings(anxiety).

“Anxious? A Couple of Books to Read”

The Inner Game of Tennis by Gallwey and Performance Success by Don Greene are two books that are essential reads for any serious musician. As I’m writing this, I just downloaded the Inner Game, because I’m a little ashamed that I have never read it. I read Performance Success during my doctoral studies, and I used the training log as I prepared for an audition with the Buffalo Phil. I didn’t win the audition, but I came away from that experience as a much better player.

“Nerves and Bananas?”

Another post that discusses the use of beta blockers and some other natural alternatives. Ericson also shares a link to a very informative article concerning the use of beta blockers amongst musicians: Beta Blockers and Performance Anxiety in Musicians. I have taken beta blockers in the past, and I will probably experiment with them again. I don’t feel that they enhance one’s abilities, but rather make it possible for those of us that suffer from severe anxiety to perform at our full potential. It’s not a performance enhancing drug.

I have used bananas before with limited success, but Ericson also mentions that dairy products and turkey may also be beneficial. In my experience, I have also tried drinking low sodium Gatorade before many of my performances. It has a lot of potassium, and the electrolytes help to give a little bit more energy. I had a lot of success with this strategy, but you have to make sure that you get the low sodium version, otherwise you might get too much sodium in your system, which could dry you out.

“The Dilemma of Performance Paranoia”

“Play by sound. not by feel.”

This article by Bruce Hembd discusses that wonderful moment that all brass players dread. The moment when we realize that our chops feel pretty stiff, but the show must go on, for better or for worse. For the seasoned player, this is nothing new, but for a younger player, or even someone with serious anxiety issues, it can be very traumatic. It’s second nature for brass players to play by feel, because inevitably this is how we learn to play. Usually, if what we play on our instrument sounds good, then it is going to feel good, or rather, feel like we are playing efficiently.

Playing on tired chops is not efficient, and it feels like a constant struggle. You’re having to work extra hard to sound good, which is going to have a negative effect on your psyche…unless, you don’t give in. The quote above is something that has helped Bruce get through difficult performances, and this concept is also what helped me to overcome my playing issues. Hembd doesn’t give the name of the teacher that supplied this quote to him, but I know that I myself have heard this line from many different people throughout my career. It’s something so simple, yet extremely difficult for brass players. It goes against all of our instincts to not pay attention to how our chops feel. However, it makes sense, because if you just focus on the sound, you get your mind out of they way and allow your chops to do the work. We’ve all worked hard and logged countless hours in the practice room, so just go for it. It may not be perfect, but allowing those thoughts of self-doubt take over will be much worse.

If it sounds good, then don’t try to dissect it. Don’t try to figure out what you did differently, because you didn’t actually do anything different. You were finally able to trust yourself, which is something that most people with anxiety are unable to do. Most people with severe anxiety don’t even like themselves, let alone possess the ability to trust themselves. I was finally able to get to this point, but it took countless hours of practice and a number of really good experiences for me to finally feel comfortable.

Professional players still have bad days, but they just know how to cope and forget about their mistakes. They don’t listen to their inner chatter, which is very difficult for people with anxiety. It takes a ridiculous work ethic, acceptance of a more positive mindset, and putting yourself in difficult situations and working through it. Not an easy task for people that normally shy away from adversity, but necessary to finally overcome those demons.

“Quote of the Week – Farkas on Stagefright”

This particular article, written by Ericson, attacks anxiety from a religious perspective. A religious approach doesn’t work for everyone, because not all people are very religious and some may not even believe in a higher power. Having faith, no matter the religion, can be difficult for people with anxiety, because it is difficult for us to stop worrying and believe that everything is going to be fine. We not only need tangible evidence that the issue is going to be resolved, but we also need it to happen right now, because we can’t stop thinking about it. When anxious people worry about something, it will not only affect their quality of life, but can also be detrimental to relationships, job performance, and other similar aspects of life.

I’m not trying to say that faith isn’t helpful, nor am I trying to sound negative towards religion; however, I am trying to make the point that just praying and then waiting for something to happen or for a problem to fix itself is not ideal. It’s good to have faith and to believe in a higher power, but you have to log the work and effort needed to attain your goals. You won’t become a “fearless” player overnight just by praying for it to happen. It takes a lot of hard work, and you have to be willing to fail. Failing isn’t the end, but rather a beginning. Giving up is the end.

In the case of Farkas, he used his faith to remind himself that he was in this position for a reason. The circumstances that led him to becoming the Principal Horn of the Chicago Symphony were not by luck or happenstance. He was there because he worked very hard, and he believed that God put him in the right place at the right time. Farkas had faith that he was put in this position for a reason, and therefore he didn’t need to worry or be nervous.

The text that Ericson discusses in this article is from the book, The Art of Musicianship, which is one of a few books that Farkas wrote. This one in particular isn’t just for horn players, but is meant for all musicians. The following quote speaks to the wisdom and confidence of Farkas:

“So it wasn’t just a series of unrelated, random events which eventually put me on stage. It was a series of incredibly interwoven and predestined events which put me there…I was there because I had been led there by an amazing chain of events, not just mere coincidence, and, because I had been led there, certainly I could do the work assigned to me, and failure was not a part of the plan.”

We are all musicians for a reason, and those of us that have become professionals, have gotten this far because we have earned it. Sometimes, we just need a reminder that we are worthy. Farkas had strong faith in God, and he was very wise to use this to his advantage. Ericson mentions in the article that Farkas would often read a certain scripture before performing:

“The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me…”

This text is taken from Psalm 138:8. Many performers will utilize text, certain words, and even visualization or pictures to get them in the right mindset before a performance. There are countless options out there, but I will give just one bit of advice. Whatever you choose as your “centering” device, it needs to be something that has true meaning to you as an individual. This is why the text that Farkas utilizes is so helpful, because he is very strong in his faith, and this text has a very profound and deep meaning to him. His text may work for you, but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t. Find something that is meaningful to you, whether it be religious or not, and try it out.

Conclusion

Horn Matters is a wonderful resource, and as I mentioned previously, if you’ve never visited the site, then you need to right now. Here’s the link: Horn Matters. There is a wealth of information available on the site, and I know that I might not have been able to find every article written about anxiety. These are the ones that seemed pertinent to my research. In writing this post, I’m not in any way trying to imply that Ericson nor Hembd did an insufficient job in their presentation of the material. As a person that suffers from severe anxiety, I’m merely trying to add my unique perspective. I think that those guys do an amazing job, and I hope that one day I can be on the same level as them.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on “Student” Horns

When I was a young student, I didn’t have a lot of guidance in terms of proper instrument selection. My first horn was a Yamaha (double), but I’m not sure of the model. Remember, horn was not my first instrument, so I didn’t start playing until high school. However, I quickly fell in love with the instrument and decided to buy my own. I couldn’t afford a brand new instrument, or a nice used instrument either. Someone recommended a Conn 6D, and it just so happened that I found one for sale, so I bought it. It was old, probably from the early Abilene era, definitely not an Elkhart, but it played fine. It served me well until I was in undergrad, and then I used a few different school horns: Holton 179, Yamaha 667, and 668. These horns were serviceable, but I really didn’t like them, especially the Yamahas. It’s funny now, because I have come to really enjoy playing Yamahas, but I hated them back then. Maybe it was my naivety, but it was probably because I just wasn’t a very good player at the time.

When I decided to pursue graduate degrees on horn, my teacher recommended a Conn 8D, specifically an Elkhart model, which is what I found. I played that E-series horn throughout my masters degree and most of my doctoral studies. I was comfortable playing a Kruspe-style horn, and the one experience that I had with a Geyer-style horn wasn’t very memorable (that 667), so I stuck with the Kruspe. Fortunately, I overcame my prejudice against Geyer-style horns, and I have tried many different types of horns over the past few years. I have even owned several different types of horns myself: Yamaha Triple, Yamaha 871, Schmidt, Knopf, Hoyer 801, King Fidelio. All of the horns that I have owned possess unique/distinctive qualities, and I know that good players can make any type of horn sound great, but I have come to prefer playing on Geyer-style instruments most of all. These instruments not only suit my style of playing, but they also allow me to obtain the sound profile that I want.

For my students, I try not to influence them towards purchasing a particular type of horn, but it’s difficult when our industry, mainly the orchestral realm, is becoming almost Geyer exclusive. Back in the early to mid part of the twentieth century, Kruspe-style horns reigned supreme, and everyone wanted a Conn 8D or something similar. Due to various reasons, this preference has changed, and I make sure that my students understand this. If you want to play in an orchestra, you have to fit in with the sound. Of course, this doesn’t override my true philosophy on picking the correct horn. It’s not about the style of horn or the cost, it’s about choosing the right horn for a particular student, because we are all different. I’ve had many students that hate playing on Geyers, and vice versa. First, you need to pick a horn that is well-made. Then, you just need to choose the one that feels right and helps you to play your best.

With that said, I do have some recommendations for people out there looking for a quality buy. Most of us, including myself, can’t afford a $10,000 horn, so here is the list of horns that I will normally tell people to look at first. These horns aren’t true professional/custom made horns, but they are quality instruments suitable for any student or amatuer at any skill level.

Yamaha: Especially with the introduction of the new 671 model, my go-to recommendation is typically going to be a Yamaha. The 671 is very responsive, free blowing, and extremely easy to play. I like how it feels in the high range, and it is also pretty open in the mid-low range as well. The only downside with the 671 is that it is becoming difficult to find in stock due to its popularity. It’s also nearly impossible to find one used, so one will have to buy it new, which could push this option out of the price range of most students ($4600-$4800).

As an alternative, I will tell students to find a good used 667. There are many used 667s on the market now, but they are still quality horns, especially with the lacquer stripped. It’s common knowledge that Yamaha lacquer is super thick, and after stripping a couple of Yamaha horns myself, I have noticed that the playing characteristic are greatly enhanced after taking off the lacquer. Just the difference in resonance and sound quality alone makes it worth the effort. The 667V (a custom option) is also a great horn, but only worth it if you can find it used for less than $4000. If not, I would stick with the 671. In my opinion, the 671 plays even better than the 871, a custom model. Siegfried’s Call offers a customized version of the 671 that I really love.

The 668 is also a great option, if you want a Kruspe-style horn. The quality of craftsmanship puts it above a Holton and even a Conn 8D, but I don’t know if it plays better than the Hoyer Kruspe-style horns. Either way, it’s a very good horn.

Hans Hoyer: I like Hoyers a lot, and I think that they are well built horns. At present, my main horn is a Hoyer 801. The valves are fast and mechanical, and I really like the sound that the 801 produces. The downside is that it is compact, and the 801 is not as free-blowing as other Geyer-style horns. You really have to focus the air in the high range, and it will push back if you try use too much air. It has served me well the past year, because it is very responsive and produces the sound that I desire, but I do feel that I need a more free-blowing horn now that I’m back to playing at close to full strength. That being said, I still believe that the 801 is a great horn. It’s good for students, and it’s a really good option for chamber music. If you regularly play in a large ensemble, it might fight against you when playing at loud dynamics.

The G10 is the premier Geyer-style horn of the Hoyer line, and many professionals use this horn as their primary instrument. Siegfried’s Call even offers an “in-house” customized version of the G10, which is really nice. My first experience with the G10 came back in 2010. One of the undergrads at WVU had a G10, and I really loved how it played. The mid-range was stuffy on the F side, but felt great on the Bb side. Fast-forward a few years and I just haven’t been very impressed with the G10 since then. I’ve tried at least one at every single Southeast Workshop since 2013, and I just haven’t enjoyed the feel of the instrument. It sounds fine, but it just isn’t fun or easy to play. At the 2018 SEHW, I actually preferred the 801 models over the G10. Please, don’t think that the G10 is a bad instrument just because I don’t like it anymore. Try it and judge for yourself, but I know that it isn’t the best horn for me at the moment.

Hoyer also makes some fine Kruspe model horns, the 6801 and the 7801. You can get them in either brass or nickel silver. I’ve tried several different Kruspe Hoyers, and they are really good horns. A couple that I tried were even modified by Patterson, which greatly enhanced the already good playing characteristics. To be honest, if you want a Kruspe-style horn, I would go with a Hoyer or Yamaha. Coming from someone that played an Elkhart 8D, even though I loved it, they aren’t the best horns. I also don’t really like the new 8Ds, not even the V8D, which leads to the next maker…

Conn: As much as it pains me to say it, I just don’t really like Conn horns anymore. What used to be the gold standard of American horn makers is now falling quickly behind the competition. If you can find an Elkhart 8D for a decent price, under $3000, then go for it, otherwise, stay away from 8Ds. In general, they’re serviceable, but I feel like they have more problems than not nowadays. The valves are sluggish, and depending on the player, the tone is a little too dark compared to today’s standards. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still like to have my old 8D back, but not as my everyday horn.

I also haven’t enjoyed many 11Ds that I have played recently. The horn feels a lot like the newer G10s. There is something off about them, but I just can’t figure out exactly what’s wrong. The high range doesn’t speak well and takes more effort to play than I prefer. I’m not saying that it’s bad, but if I don’t enjoy playing a particular brand of horn, I’m not going to waste my time. You might be able to find some nice customized 11Ds, but the price point increases. In general, I would look elsewhere, unless the deal is too good to refuse.

So, what does Conn have going for it? A few things, but in terms of horns for students or amateurs, I would look for a 10D. These are economical horns, and they play surprisingly well. You can find used 10Ds for under $2000, and Siegfried’s Call has started customizing 10Ds, which makes them even more appealing. The stock 10D does have its limitations, but it’s easy play (a little stuffy in the mid-range) and sounds really good for the money.

Holton: Don’t even think about it, unless you’re buying a descant, or can find one of the elusive Tuckwell 105 models. These horns will play well for a while and then start falling apart after a few years. Holtons tend to have lots of problems, don’t sound all that great in terms of depth, and do not hold their value at all. Don’t take one unless someone gives it to you.

King: A lot of people have forgotten about King horns, especially since they aren’t in production anymore. However, one can find a plethora of Kings on the used horn market. I’ve come across many Kings over the years, but there are three models that you should keep an eye out for: Schmidt, Eroica, and Fidelio. Even the older Kings hold up pretty well due to the robust build quality. The Schmidts are old, but most of the ones that I’ve seen are in pretty nice condition and play very well. Even if you have to restore it, the investment is worth it. You’ll find more Eroicas than anything, which is fine, because they’re really good horns, especially if you can find one from the McCracken era. They’re similar to an 8D in playing characteristics and feel, but at half the cost. Most that I’ve seen are less than $2000, and some can even be found for less than $1000.

In my opinion, the crown jewel of the King line is the Fidelio. It’s a Kruspe-style horn with a medium-sized bell. The Fidelio is very responsive and really easy to play. I wouldn’t even mind having one for myself as a backup, or change-of-pace horn. On both Fidelios that I’ve tried, the high range is super easy, and the mid and low ranges are just as full as on the Eroica. Very even and full throughout the range. I found one for a student a couple of years back for about $1100, and it easily plays just as well, if not better than the Yamaha 671. An excellent choice for the price.

Jupiter, Accent, Eastman, Amati, and other stencil brands: In general, these are decent horns for middle school and/or early high school. Not bad horns for getting used to playing on a double, but don’t think that they’re going to last forever. Buying one of these horns new would be a waste of money.

Briz: We’ve all experienced this at some point in our teaching career. A student walks into their lesson, excited about the new horn they just bought, only to pull out a cheaply made Chinese horn. The worst one that I have come across is the Rossetti, but I can definitely say that the Briz horns are far superior than most other Chinese-made instruments. The Briz is the brainchild of Ken Pope and Ion Balu, two well-respected horn players and repair guys. The build quality of these horns is exceptional, and I think they all play very well. The Briz is available in several different options, including the Geyer/Knopf, Kruspe, and a custom version of the Geyer/Knopf horn (hand-hammered). One of my students bought a Briz, and I’m pleased with how it has held up. For the price, $4100, it’s difficult to find a better option. Currently, these horns can only be purchased through Pope or Balu. As usual, I prefer the Geyer/Knopf version, but the Kruspe-style Briz is pretty good as well. The Custom Briz is a very fine instrument, but at a higher price point ($6000).

Verus: To compete with the Pope-Balu Alliance, Houghton Horns developed its own Chinese-made horn. The Verus is also a Geyer/Knopf-style horn available in two options, the V and VG. The VG is completely constructed of Gold brass, which seems to be the only real difference. These horns are actually priced a little lower than the Briz, $3200, so they are very appealing. I’ve only played on them once at the 2018 SEHW, but they seemed to be very well-made. I thought that they played a little sharp, but that could just be me. I’m waiting to pass a real judgement on the quality of these horns until the next time I play them. For right now, I think the Verus is a very good option, especially considering its affordability. These are only available through Houghton Horns.

Paxman: I like Paxman horns, and the brand has been synonymous with excellent craftsmanship for decades. Around 2008, Paxman decided to venture into the student horn market. I’ve seen a few Paxman Academy horns available, but the most common Paxman students horns are the Series 4 and Series 5. The Series 4 is more of a true student model, with a modified Geyer wrap. It plays fine, but doesn’t offer anything special. The Series 5 is a much better instrument, modeled after the Paxman 20 pro horn. The Paxman student horns are all made in China, but the Series 5 is definitely one to keep in mind. The quality is on par with the Briz and Verus horns, although the price tag is very steep, retailing for $5800. The Series 5 is intriguing, but I don’t think I would recommend it over a Yamaha 671 or a Briz. Good playing horn, just too expensive for the student market. You might as well try to find a good used custom(ized) horn at this price range.

In general, the biggest misconception that I’m sure most teachers deal with is the idea or concept that you have to buy a brand new instrument for it to be good. This is totally false. I have actually never owned a brand new instrument, and I’m sure that there are plenty of other people out there that can say the same. There are plenty of great used instruments available, and if money is an issue, take a look at some of the more affordable options that I mentioned. The “Classified Ads” section of the IHS website is a great place to start. A horn player and technician in Michigan, Bruce Tubbs, posts a lot of affordable and quality instruments on the IHS website, as well as eBay. Just be careful with eBay, because you just never know when someone is being truthful. If you’re interested in an item on eBay, ask the seller some questions about it. If they sound like a horn player or a music technician, then you should be fine, if not, stay away.

It’s Been a While…Thoughts After a Year of Blogging

This past summer, I thought that I would spend a lot of time writing, but I just wasn’t as motivated as I thought I would be. Sure, I accomplished some things. I wrote a few good blog posts, and I’ve been working on an article inspired by my posts on anxiety. Much of my time over the past couple of months has been dedicated to a project that had been on the backburner for a long time, about 5 years to be exact. Ever since graduating with my DMA, I’ve wanted to make a worthwhile contribution to the horn world. Right after graduation, I began working on an idea I had for an etude book. I was really excited and very motivated at the beginning. I think I wrote about 5 or 6 etudes before I became discouraged and succumbed to depression. At the time, I was very upset by the fact that I couldn’t find a job…any job. I ended up working at an awful Comfort Inn located in Morgantown, WV for about 7 months, and the only reason I even got that job is because I knew someone that worked there. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, and even though it paid the bills, it did nothing to help my psychological state.

I’ve come back to the etude book idea once or twice since then, but my heart was never into it. Until about a year ago, I was unsure if I would even continue pursuing a career in higher education, or a career in music at all. After reaffirming my commitment to music, finishing the etude book is not only something that I want to do, but it is also a way for me to try and establish myself as an academic/professional/whatever you want to call it. I’m tired of waiting for people to give me an opportunity, so I’m trying a new tactic. I’m going to make it impossible for people to ignore me, whether it be for good or bad reasons. I mean, I’m never going to make it at all if I don’t try, so I might as well make the most of it.

There are quite a few things that I’m currently working on that could aid in my endeavor to finally establish myself. I’m in the final editing stages of my etude book. I’m about to conduct the premiere of my first all original composition, a brass octet, on Sept 17. I’m also working on a new composition for horn ensemble and a short-ish composition for horn and piano (not ready to write a sonata yet). I’m planning on premiering the latter two pieces at the next Southeast Horn Workshop at Western Carolina University. I have a lot of exciting things on my plate, and even if they all fail, at least I can say that I tried. At this point, I don’t really see failing as a bad thing. I can learn from my failures. I just don’t want to continue to hold myself back by worrying too much and not even trying. I’ve done that too much in my life, so now is the time to try, no matter if I succeed or fail.

Speaking of worrying, I started this blog over a year ago, because my anxiety was through the roof. I needed a way to constructively sort through my feelings, and I really think that this blog helped me to jump over the final hurdle. I will always struggle with anxiety and depression. I’m not naive enough to think that I’m completely cured, but I do feel stronger because of this outlet. I’m also grateful that I have this new medium with which to share my ideas. I never dreamed that I would be brave enough to be so open about many of the things that I have shared, so this experiment has definitely been a step in the right direction. Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue going in the right direction by being more active on social media and maybe trying my hand at some podcast stuff…we’ll see. For right now, I’m happy, and I truly believe that I made the best decision when I first began this blog. I was extremely nervous and afraid, but now, I’m finally getting to the point where I don’t care as much about what other people think. The doubts are still there in the back of my mind, but it’s become increasingly easier to tune them out lately.

Some things that I still need to work on: Obviously, I need to post more regularly. There are a lot of reasons and factors as to why I’ve had long stretches of inactivity on my blog. Sometimes, I do let my social anxiety get the best of me. I think I’ll always struggle with it from time to time, but I know that I’m trying to get better. Other times, I’ve just felt burnt out. This summer is a prime example, because I had all of these things that I wanted to do, and I was frantically trying to stretch myself too thin at the beginning to get everything done, and then, I just gave out. I was overwhelmed, and I felt that I needed to step back, so I did.

I also need to finish what I start. I still have two blog posts that I have yet to finish that are both at least several months old. I also have many ideas for posts that I just haven’t had the time to work on yet. It’s a struggle having to work basically four different jobs to make ends meet, and then also doing this extra stuff on the side. I know that it will pay off in the end, but there are definitely times when I just have to stop and rest.

If you’re reading this: I’m glad that you’ve stuck around, because I think this next year of blogging has the potential to be truly special. I really do appreciate everyone that reads my blogs, and I promise to do a better job, or to at least keep trying to do my best.