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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

Thoughts on Straight Mutes

*Just a quick note that all of the mutes discussed in this post are Rittich-style mutes. Per Horn Matters, Eugene Rittich of Toronto, Canada, who was Co-Principal Horn of the Toronto Symphony for many years, is responsible for designing this most popular style of mute, used by professionals and advanced students alike. It is a simple cone shape, with a movable inner tube for tuning purposes.*

We as musicians, especially horn players, are truly blessed, because we have so many wonderful equipment and accessory options from which to choose. When I bought my first real straight mute, back in 2004, I didn’t have a lot of options. At the time, I had been using a Stone-Lined mute for years, and it was time to upgrade. I considered getting a Trumcor, but my teacher recommended a straight mute from Ion Balu, so that’s what I ordered. It was a Walnut Balu mute that cost $110, which I still have and use to this day. I had to replace the corks on it recently, but it has held up very well over the years. The market for wooden straight mutes has severely inflated over the past decade, so many of the top brands will cost anywhere from $130 to $250.

Today, a Balu mute will run you approximately $200 (US Dollars), so I’d say that the price has increased a little over the years. It has a great reputation, and it is still one of the best all-around mutes that you can buy. The Balu mute is heavy and solid, but due to its robust construction, it produces a warm and full-bodied sound that other wooden mutes tend to lack. When comparing to other brands, I am always very impressed with the quality of construction concerning the Balu mutes. I don’t feel like I’m going to break it when I hold it or put it in the bell of my horn.

Ion Balu Mutes
Balu Straight Mutes

A great “middle of the road” option, which is reasonably priced and well-made, is the Trumcor straight mute. There are a number of models available by Trumcor, but the most recommended wooden straight mute is the 45T model. The 45T is tuneable, which is what the “T” stands for, and only costs approximately $130 (it’s listed for $105 on the Trumcor site). It is also available from multiple sources, such as Woodwind Brasswind, Musician’s Friend, and even some local music stores. I know many professionals that use this model mute, and I do recommend this particular one for many of my college and high school students. It’s rare that a young student will be able or even willing to pay $200+ for an accessory that they may not use that often, so I’ve found that this Trumcor mute is a great compromise. It produces a nice sound, not stuffy or too bright, and it also feels very durable. It should be noted that Trumcor mutes are not completely made from wood, but are also made using “a specially formulated resonant fiber material.”

Trumcor Model 45T (Tuneable)
Trumcor 45T

Staying in the “affordable” range, is another wooden, Rittich-style mute produced by the Denis Wick company (sorry, no relation to John Wick). The Wick company is located in England, and it is well-known throughout the brass world for producing top-quality mutes, mouthpieces, and accessories. Like the Trumcor mutes, the Wick wooden straight mute is also lined with a special fiber that helps to dampen the sound. The sidewalls are constructed of birchwood, and the bottom panel utilizes marine plywood, which is a type of wood that is able to withstand lots of moisture accumulation. The best price for this particular mute may be found at Hickey’s Music, $108.50. Personally, I was only aware of the metal Wick mutes until recently, so I don’t have much experience with the wooden mute. I did try it once, and it seems like it would be a fine option for a younger player. It would at least be better than using the metal “silver bullets” by Wick or Jo-Ral. I would still recommend the Trumcor mute over this one, but this seems to be one of the cheaper options on the market.

Denis Wick

Another “affordable” option is the Moosic Mute, which I believe is only available through Pope Repair or Hickey’s Music. I thought that these mutes were made by Jacek Muzyk, the Principal Horn of the Buffalo Philharmonic, but I can’t find any information to support this claim. Either way, it has one of the most unique designs, and I have always wanted to try one. It is handmade, and the “design uses two layers of spiral-cut walnut and poplar veneer to create a responsive and resonant sound. It has no plastic or fiberboard and gives a very natural all wood feeling, (Pope Repair).”

Moosic Mute

The RGC mutes, which are available through Houghton Horns and produced in Spain, are a very affordable option offered in six different choices. There are three different conical versions: Ash (offers more clarity of sound and articulation), Black Ash (darker sound than the regular ash, but with same sense of clarity), and Solid Cherry (focused and projects very well, lighter than the previous two woods). All three are available for $119, and play well considering the price. Recently, after being able to try these three models at a workshop, I have begun to recommend these more often. The other three options utilize a 12-sided design, which raises the price a little, $125-$179, depending on the wood. Here are the 12-sided choices: Solid Cherry ($125, similar to the Conical version, bright sound, great projection), Cherry and Ash ($149, the Ash is meant to balance with the brightness of the Cherry), African Rosewood and Ash ($179, heavier, with a darker tone). I’m not a huge fan of the Cherry, primarily because it is a little too bright for my taste, but the African Rosewood and Ash is one of my favorite mutes. While being absolutely beautiful to look at, it also produces a very nice sound. I don’t personally own one, but after trying it numerous times at different workshops, it’s on my shortlist. My only complaint with the RGC mutes, and many of the mutes on this list, is that they are very light in comparison to my Balu mute. I’ve been using a Balu mute for so long that when I pick up other mutes, I’m always taken aback by the difference in weight. I know that all of the mutes on this list are well-made, but many of them feel flimsy when compared to my trusty Balu.

RGC Mutes Button

The last mute before we start looking at the more expensive options is the long straight mute by Don Maslet. It is currently available through Osmun Music and Elemental Brass at approximately $135. Unlike the other mutes in this list that are primarily comprised of some sort of hardwood, the sidewalls are constructed of carbon fiber, with the bottom plate being made of wood. Due to the materials, this mute produces a very bright and brilliant sound, while also being super lightweight and extremely durable. I haven’t tested this theory out myself, but I can only assume that this mute would work well for solo work or any type of muted passage that needs to cut through a big ensemble. It could also potentially work well in a brass quintet type setting. I didn’t find the brightness of this mute to be as offensive as that of the Cherry RGC mutes, but this could be due to the difference in material, carbon fiber vs wood.

Maslet_Straight
Maslet Straight Mute

Now, we’re starting to creep closer to that $200 threshold; however, we still have two makers that offer very nice mutes. The first is Marcus Bonna. We all know and love the cases, but the company also produces some very nice mutes. MB evidently has a carbon fiber option, but I’m only familiar with the regular wooden Rittich-style mutes. The latter can be found for approximately $175 from many of the major horn retail shops, and it is constructed of fiberboard and wood. MB does offer mutes with different designs on the sidewalls, but these options are also a little more expensive. Since Marcus Bonna utilizes fiberboard, their mutes are a little bit lighter than the Balu mutes, but otherwise are pretty similar in playing characteristics. If I’m already going to spend close to $200 on a mute, I would probably opt for a Balu mute over the MB mute, but at this point, it’s really up to personal preference. I prefer the solid, heavier feel and sound of the Balu mute, and I’m sure that other players might prefer the opposite.

Marcus Bonna Straight Mute for French Horn
Marcus Bonna

Horn-Crafts is a mute-making company based in the Netherlands. These mutes are sold by many of the big music retail companies throughout Europe. In the U.S., they are distributed by Dillon music, Osmun Music, Patterson Hornworks, and Pope Repair. Horn-Crafts currently offers three different models: Sylva (Beechwood), Betula (Beechwood), and Khaya (Mahogany). The Sylva and Betula models are the heavier options, 130 and 140 grams respectively. These two are also the cheaper options that are normally available for approximately $180. These models are very nice mutes, but the Khaya model, which is made of African Mahogany and weighs 125 grams, is my favorite. I normally don’t enjoy the lighter mutes, but this mute just feels and sounds better to me. It also costs about $250, which is the primary reason why I don’t own one of these models. The Khaya is a fantastic mute, but unless you have an abundance of money to spend, I would stick with the other two models. The Sylva and Betula models are very comparable in sound and feel to the Balu and MB mutes.

Horn-Crafts Horn Mute – Houghton Horns
Horn-Crafts

The Tom Snyder mutes, which are primarily sold through Pope Repair, are produced in Canada and available in the following options (wood): Koa, Walnut, Cherry, and Ebony. They are priced at $230, but I paid $200 for my Ebony mute back in 2016. I loved the look of the Ebony mute, and I loved the sound of it at the time. I tried all of the mutes that I could find at the 2016 International Horn Symposium in Ithaca, NY, and the Ebony won. It fit pretty well with the horn that I played at the time, which was a Wunderlich Schmidt. After I switched to an EB (Elemental Brass) Custom Yamaha 87, I did everything to make it work, but no matter how hard I tried to fix the issue, I couldn’t play in tune with it. I recently sold it, which is a shame, but if I couldn’t play it within a section, then the mute wasn’t worth keeping. It not only projected well, but technical passages were extremely clean on that mute. This just goes to show that a mute won’t work with every instrument, so be sure to try one before you buy it. Even though it didn’t work out in the long run, these are still great mutes, and I highly recommend them.

Snyder Mutes
Tom Snyder Mutes

This next one isn’t necessarily a new mute, because it is made by Ion Balu, but it is new to the market. It was designed by Dan Vidican, the maker of the wonderful Lukas Horns, and this mute is evidently the “Beast Mode” version of the regular Balu mutes. The Lukas mute seems to only be available through Pope Repair and is priced at $255. The site mentions that the process for making this mute is much more labor intensive, and the following characteristics are listed: “quick response, evenness across the range, and a brighter, crisp sound full of stage presence and projection in the hall.” I have not personally tried this mute, but due to my preference for Balu mutes, I can only assume that I would enjoy the Lukas mute. Would I buy one? If I performed regularly in a professional orchestra, I would maybe consider it, but as I stated previously, it’s difficult for me to justify spending more than $200 on a mute.

Lukas Mutes
The Lukas Mute, made by Ion Balu, designed by Dan Vidican

The Cadillac/Rolls Royce of the horn mute world, the Woodstop mute, which is available in Maple ($225), Cherry ($245), and Walnut ($255). These mutes are sold through The Horn Guys, Elemental Brass, and other places, but it’s actually cheaper to order the mutes directly from the Woodstop website. The Maple has a “very lively sound with a bit of edginess” and plays with great response. The Cherry is a free-blowing mute with immediate response that “gives the traditional sound with a bit more warmth.” The Walnut “gives a very warm sound with no edginess.” It is responsive and the playability is supposedly very “similar to that of your open horn.” These mutes are played and endorsed by numerous professional musicians throughout the United States. I have never tried one, mainly because it is above my pay grade, but the straight mutes and stop mutes are both world-renowned, so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

walnut stright compressed.jpeg
Woodstop Walnut Straight Mute

Well folks, we made it! I know that there are other mute brands out there, but the ones listed in this post are the most “well-known” horn straight mutes available today. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for some profound wisdom concerning the “perfect” straight mute, then you are out of luck. There will always be debate over which one is the “best,” just like how we constantly fight over which horn is the best. It all depends on personal preference, which is why you should always try it before you buy it, or you might just get stuck with a $200 mute that you never use.

Composer’s Corner: Caccia for Solo Horn

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, and since I’ve been gifted some extra time due to the quarantine, now is the moment to start sharing more information about some of my compositions. This particular piece, Caccia for Solo Horn, was somewhat inspired by the 2019 Southeast Horn Workshop in Cullowhee, NC. I had made a few previous attempts to compose a work for unaccompanied horn, but I abandoned those projects with little to show from it. For some reason, I just didn’t have the right concept or melodic ideas to make it work. I was trying to write a piece that sounded like Interstellar Call or Laudatio instead of creating my own work.

There wasn’t a particular performance that inspired Caccia, but being at Western Carolina University and exploring the beautiful mountain region surrounding it sparked an idea. The image that came to mind was that of the hunt, and I immediately began to think of the various rondos that I’ve performed throughout my career. In the beginning, I envisioned something similar to the Rondo in B-flat by Arnold Cooke, and it would be based on this central motivic figure:

Ex. 1 – Opening Motif


The “tonic” key of the piece is technically B-flat major, another homage to the aforementioned rondo by Cooke, but the opening passages do tend to gravitate more towards the dominant, F major. The opening section serves as an “Introduction,” exploring the main melodic material, which is a fusion of two different ideas: hunting horn calls and heroic motifs. I didn’t want to just write a bunch of hunting horn calls, but rather an infectious melody that conjures thoughts of heroism. I also wanted the music to give off a sense of constant forward motion, whether through rhythm or the melodic material itself. Horn calls can often halt the motion in some music, because these musical ideas are used more to draw attention and can “stop the action.” I didn’t want this opening to be a “call to arms.” We are joining the story in the heat of the chase, as the horses and hounds are barreling through the forest at breakneck speed.

Even though the piece is fairly short, approximately 2-3 minutes in length, there are four distinct sections, and each section is separated by a measure of rest. This measure of rest should be a brief pause, with a quick emptying of water if needed. Since the first part serves as an introduction, the second part is a quasi “Development” section that takes the opening motifs and expands upon the material. It contains stopped horn, mixed meter, and lots of technically challenging passages. Even though the technical difficulty is more demanding throughout this part, the music should sound fluid and effortless, which is reminiscent of a fox bounding through the forest, desperately looking for a place to hide. The performer should keep the tempo constant throughout, but some liberties and rubatos may be taken at the performer’s discretion. Slurs are marked in the part for ease of playing, but speed and keeping this section from sounding laborious should be the primary goals. If more slurs are needed in order to achieve this objective, then add more slurs. The performer should have fun with this section and keep driving the music forward.

Ex. 2 – Technical Passages from “Development” Section

The third section is much shorter than the previous one, and serves as a “Segue” or “Transition” before the final section. Here, the melody is slurred, contains less motion, and is softer. This softer, more subdued melody then gives way to a light and playful sequence of arpeggios. If continuing with the narrative approach to the music, think of this part as a slight lull in the action (a change of pace). Imagine that the hounds have lost the scent of the fox, and the animal can finally breathe a sigh of relief for a moment. The horses slow to a stop, and just as the hunting party is about to move on, the scent is suddenly rediscovered, and the chase is back on. During this part, the tempo should not change, only the mood and style should be altered. This section is also written in bass clef using new notation.

Ex. 3 – Melodic Material from Section 3 (*Bass Clef)

The “Segue” ushers a return of the melodic material of the “Introduction,” which is often referred to as the “Recapitulation.” Obviously, this isn’t a real “Recapitulation,” but I am reintroducing the original opening motifs. I added a stopped section, seen in Ex. 4, before the mad dash to the end.

Ex. 4 – More Stopped Horn

In the end, I hope that people will enjoy this piece and have fun playing it. Like I stated previously, it’s not a long piece, so it isn’t meant to be a stand alone work. It should be performed in the context of a recital, and I think it would be a great “change of pace” type of addition to any concert. While I wanted to include a lot of technically challenging issues, I intentionally kept this work from being taxing on the chops. It isn’t a clear “low horn” piece, but it definitely does include some low horn playing. As of the writing of this post, Caccia for Solo Horn has yet to be published, but it will be published soon by Brass Arts Unlimited. If you have any questions about this piece, or if you would like to perform it, please let me know. I was supposed to perform the premiere at this year’s Southeast Horn Workshop, but due to COVID-19, it did not happen. I’m hoping that I can perform it soon, but I will gladly share the piece with anyone else that is interested and wants to perform it, even if that individual is able to perform it before me.

I will update this post when it is published, and when it is performed.

Being Lazy is Easy

As most of the world is under a suggested “quarantine” right now, I thought it might be a good idea for me to revisit my blog. I won’t be teaching another university course in person until the Fall, and it looks like I won’t be in my Elementary music classroom until at least May, so I finally have time to do things. Time is such a precious commodity nowadays, and if you have small kids, you know how difficult it can be to carve out time to work on anything. I stay busy, but I’ve developed this habit of distracting myself from tasks that need to be completed. Sure, I’ve finished a couple of compositions within the past year, submitted some presentation proposals (even though the events were cancelled), and other stuff; however, I’ve been unable to make myself sit down and write, whether it be blog posts or articles. I have three or four articles that I just need to make myself finish, but I always find an excuse. I also know that I need to write more blog posts, but I continually find ways to procrastinate.

This is where the title comes in, because it has been way too easy for me to be lazy lately. When I was in undergrad and grad school, I adhered to a rigid schedule, and I would always find time for anything that needed to be done. It’s not that I sit around and do nothing nowadays, because it’s hard for me to be idle, but I’ve found that I’m constantly distracting myself from the tasks that are most important. Yes, I’m choosing to do easier things over the more time-consuming, strenuous, but also more rewarding tasks. If I still had my old drive and determination, I would have multiple articles published and probably many more compositions in my portfolio. Unfortunately, the new me starts a task, gets halfway through it, and then finds ways to procrastinate. I still have a lot of great ideas, but this new routine means that I have so many unfinished projects that need to be completed. It’s frustrating, and I need to actually spend the next few weeks doing the hard work.

This month, March 2020, was supposed to be an important month for my professional career. I was going to perform one of my compositions, Caccia for Solo Horn, at the Southeast Horn Workshop, and I was also scheduled to do a presentation about my research pertaining to etude books written for low horn. Sure, I’m happy that I have a little more time right now, but I’m also bummed that I didn’t get a chance to share my work. This was to be my first presentation at a workshop or conference and an important building block for my resume. I’m also scheduled to do a presentation about anxiety and depression at the IHS Symposium in August, but I have no idea if that conference will happen either. I was already afraid that I wouldn’t be able to attend due to monetary concerns, but now, it looks like everything will be put on hold until at least the Fall. I’m very frustrated, but I can’t let my depression or anxiety keep the next few months from being a time for increased productivity. Even if I can’t go to these conferences, I can still take this time to finish articles and compositions that could also aid me in my quest to obtain a college teaching position in music.

These are very uncertain times, especially considering that we don’t know how long schools and other organizations will need to be closed down. Will orchestras be able to present full seasons next year? When are churches going to reopen their doors? How long will teachers, especially private instructors, have to teach remotely? So many of us depend on these organizations and vocations for our livelihoods, whether it be a primary or secondary source of income. I’m lucky that my jobs have been able to seamlessly convert to remote-based, because my family and I would be in trouble if we weren’t getting paid right now.

Unfortunately, even though these are questions and issues that are valid and important, these concerns are ultimately out of our hands. I cannot control the outcome of these obstacles, so I shouldn’t let all of this stuff overwhelm me and drive me into a deep depression, because it would definitely happen. I’ve been suffering from chronic depression (Major Depression, Dysthymic Disorder, or whatever you’d like to call it) for a while now, and any sort of “bad” news or negative occurrence can set it off at any moment. Instead, I should focus on the things that I can control: spending time with my family, blogging, finishing those articles, completing my compositions, and practicing my instrument.

During the school year, I’m normally so busy that my academic pursuits, including practicing horn, are often times put on hold. Teaching elementary music, especially when you’re at a school that doesn’t give you many breaks or much planning time, is exhausting. It’s especially exhausting for me, because constantly being around people drains my energy like nothing else. It’s the curse of being an introvert, which is why I enjoyed music school so much. I was built to be stuck alone in a practice room for hours. Now, I’m lucky to even practice at all, let alone get 2-3 hours per day like I did in grad school. I miss playing horn, so I’m definitely going to continue taking advantage of the extra bit of freedom that I’ve been given for the next month. I’m also going to make sure that I do things for fun as well, because we all need time to unwind. Sure, we can’t really go out, but being an introvert, I’m perfectly happy staying at home with my video games.

For what it’s worth, here’s my advice for everyone during our quarantine: do things with your family, do things for yourself (for fun and self-improvement), and do the things that you keep putting off until another time. Whether we like it or not, this is our time, and we can choose how we deal with it. I’m choosing to look at this as an opportunity to be more productive and to finally push myself to make that next step.

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.