From way back in my video archives, I dug out this live recording of a D.M.A. recital performance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s been really fun listening to this recording – the video quality is pretty bad, but the audio is actually ok – and reminiscing about those days. The conductor is Matthew Beecher, another D.M.A. horn candidate who was working towards a minor in conducting, and the orchestra is the Camerata Chamber Orchestra, an ad hoc group made up of graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin. Matthew and I shared this concert, with me performing the Strauss on the first half, and him performing the Britten Serenade on the second. He definitely had the more difficult job, and I remember the entire concert coming off really well. The video is too grainy to see much detail, but if memory serves the equipment is as follows:
Moosewood B 13 (Y) mouthpiece, with an M2 rim (I think)
I definitely am a better all-around horn player now, but there are some things I really do like about this performance. This would have been my first semester as a doctoral student, and I was still working out some issues in my sound and overall approach to the horn. Yet, there’s a fearlessness to the playing and some musical ideas that I enjoy. It wasn’t a “perfect” performance, but it was definitely fun!
I performed the entire concerto, but unfortunately the DVD seems to have been damaged somehow, and the only electronic backup I had was of the first movement. Perhaps at some point I’ll be able to track down the rest of the piece.
Boldin Plays Strauss 1 First Movement 10 31 2004 - YouTube
There are lots of great horn events coming up as we head into the last month of the semester at ULM. See below for a brief summary of each. If you are in the area we would love to see you!
Northeast Louisiana Horn Ensemble Concert: Wednesday, April 11, 7:30 p.m. Emy-Lou Biedenharn Recital Hall. Now in its 11th season, the NELA Horn Ensemble will present a concert loosely built around a movie theme. In addition to a few traditional horn ensemble works, we will also perform music from several films, including Silverado, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Game of Thrones. Admission is free and open to the public.
David Howard, Senior Recital: Thursday, April 12, 7:30 p.m. Emy-Lou Biedenharn Recital Hall. Senior Music Education Major David Howard will perform a recital of works by Mozart, Hindemith, and Arnold. Admission is free and open to the public.
Low Brass Day (Exhibits by Houghton Horns!) Saturday, April 14, 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Biedenharn Hall Assistant Professor of Low Brass Dr. Jeremy Marks and Adjunct Instructor of Tuba Tracy Bedgood host this event for trombone, tuba, and euphonium players, featuring Guest Artist Wes Lebo of the Memphis Symphony. Though not a horn event, per se, exhibits will be provided by Houghton Horns. In addition to a selection of S.E. Shires trombones, and lots of accessories, Houghton will also be bringing their new Verus model horns and mouthpieces. If you play the horn or low brass and live anywhere nearby, you don’t want to miss this event! Admission is free and open to the public.
Boldin Performs Pele by Brian Balmages with the ULM Wind Ensemble: Thursday, April 19, 7:30 p.m. Brown Auditorium This is the first of two solo performances for me this semester, and I’m really looking forward to it. Balmages writes really well for the horn, and Pele is a lot of fun to perform. If you don’t know this piece be sure to check out the numerous recordings available on YouTube. Admission is free and open to the public.
Boldin Performs Mozart, K. 447 with the Monroe Symphony Orchestra: Saturday, April 28, 7:00 p.m. Brown Auditorium Compared to violinists and pianists, horn players rarely get the opportunity to perform in front of an orchestra. I’m excited and honored to perform the Mozart with the Monroe Symphony, conducted by Dr Clay Couturiaux. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.mymso.org/
We live in an exciting time for horn playing and brass playing in general. The quality of instruments, mouthpieces, and other equipment is incredibly high, with so many options at all price ranges. This applies to published materials as well, including warm-ups and routines. This post is not an attempt to address the plethora of printed materials, however. For an in-depth look at those routines, I highly recommend a dissertation by Dr. Alex Manners, An Annotated Guide to Published Horn Routines, 1940-2015 (D.M.A. dissertation, Arizona State University). Rather, this post is an attempt to compile a list of routines which are available online for no charge. Some of them are standalone routines, while others are contained in comprehensive methods. Authors and their affiliations are noted where available, with links (current as of this post) to download the materials. If you know of any others, please feel free to comment!
Last week the ULM Brass Faculty gave a presentation on “Embouchure Health and Maintenance” during our weekly Recital Hour for music majors. We wanted to keep the talk somewhat informal, so each of us prepared some brief remarks based on our own experiences. Because of a family emergency, I was unable to attend the presentation. What follows here are the talking points for my part of the presentation. I hope you find them useful! Feel free to comment if you would like to add to or discuss any of these points.
Embouchure Health and Maintenance: Practical Tips for the College Student
James Boldin, D.M.A.
ULM Recital Hour 3/15/2018
…we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit… –Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (1926)
The solution to frustration is reality. -Jeff Nelsen, Professor of Horn, Indiana University
Some Basic Principles
Strive to get a healthy amount of sleep each night.
Drink plenty of water (not soft drinks) throughout the day.
Strive to play fundamentals every day.
Strive to do some form of physical exercise every day.
Take a few minutes each day to silently relax and focus on breathing, with no other distractions.
(Re)Warm-up before each rehearsal with at least 5-10 minutes to spare before rehearsal begins.
Play some low/pedal notes at the end of the day to relax and loosen up.
Light massage and cool/warm compresses can help with stiffness.
Be aware of what is in your lip balm, and anything else you eat/drink/put on your face.
Expect your embouchure and playing mechanics to be influenced by what you did or did not do the day before.
Take days off only when absolutely necessary, and plan enough time to get back in shape. The 2:1 rule often applies. For every day off, it will take two days to get back to your original playing condition.
When working to increase practice time, range, endurance, volume, etc., do so gradually. Sudden changes can lead to future problems.
Be careful who you ask for advice, and where you look for it. If you ask someone for an opinion, you will usually get one. This does not mean it is correct or appropriate for you.
Departing a bit from my previous “Equipment Update” posts, this one is not about horns, mouthpieces, or mutes. Instead it is a basic introduction to recording equipment for the classical musician, with some inexpensive, but functional, recommendations. I’ve owned recording equipment of one kind or another since my undergraduate days, starting with a Sony Minidisc recorder paired with a small Sony microphone, and later upgrading to a variety of handheld audio and video recorders manufactured by Sony, Roland, and Zoom. These were all great devices; portable, easy to use and of high enough quality to use for auditions, recital recordings, and YouTube videos.
Recently, however, I began to wonder if it might be possible to purchase individual components and put together a relatively inexpensive system suitable for live classical recording. I knew from the outset that it was neither feasible nor desirable to purchase the high end gear I’ve seen professional engineers use. My purpose was primarily educational (I teach an Introduction to Music Technology class), though I do plan to use my equipment for some future projects. I’m happy to say that for around $300, I succeeded in finding decent components which get the job done at a level equal to, or better than, the handheld devices listed above. So, what will you need if you want to do the same? Here’s a quick rundown.
Laptop or Desktop Computer For the amateur (as I most certainly am when it comes to recording equipment), this is probably the single most expensive component. Luckily I already own a slightly older, but still perfectly serviceable, laptop (13-inch MacBook Pro). A desktop computer would be just fine as well, although less portable than a laptop. If you are in the market for a new laptop or desktop, don’t worry about needing lots of computing power for basic recording needs. Games and other graphic-intensive applications require far more RAM and processing speed. My 4 year old laptop runs my recording equipment just fine. In my opinion, either Mac or PC is fine, choose the platform you are most comfortable using.
Audio Interface The next piece of essential equipment, the interface serves several functions: it converts the analog signals from your microphones into digital signals that your computer can process, provides phantom power to your microphones, and functions as a preamplifier. They can be relatively cheap (less than $100), or very expensive (thousands of $$). It all depends on what features you want and how many microphone inputs you need. After some searching around and inquiring from knowledgeable sources, I decided on the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, available for around $150. For my purposes – live solo or chamber music recording in a recital hall – I didn’t think I’d need more than two microphone inputs. I can always upgrade at some point if more inputs become necessary. So far I’ve been very pleased with the Focusrite, it’s sturdy, easy to connect and set up, and functions as advertised.
Microphones This is a deep rabbit hole, and my ignorance about them was one of the big reasons I avoided going beyond handheld recording devices. However, after familiarizing myself with the various types (see this tutorial video for a great introduction), I decided to take the plunge and purchase my own. As with audio interfaces, microphones can be had for $100, $1000, or $5000+, depending on the brand, type, and various other technical details. For brass instrument recording there are lots of good options, but I went with a matched pair of small-diaphragm (cardioid pattern) condensers, the Samson C02. These are definitely on the low end of the price spectrum, but they had good reviews and came with stands and cables (these are NOT the microphones pictured at the beginning of this post). Other microphones I considered at a similar price point include the Rode M5 and ART M-Six. There are certainly better microphones out there, but for the money spent, I think I got an excellent value.
Software (DAW) The term DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is generally used now to refer to recording and editing software, but at one point in the not-too-distant past actually meant a separate device or devices. If you’ve been keeping up with the math, you know that I’ve already reached the ca. $300 budget mentioned at the beginning of this post. The great thing about the DAWs I frequently use is that they don’t cost anything, and are fully functional. For several years I’ve used Audacity, a free, open-source DAW that incorporates many of the features of more expensive software. It is user-friendly, and simple to set up with my audio interface. I have also been using Studio One 3 Prime, a free version of the popular Studio One software by PreSonus. GarageBand is free for Mac users, and is another great way to get into the world of DAWs. There are lots of great options out there, many with free trial versions. As a teacher, I prize ease of use pretty highly, and all three of the DAWs mentioned above perform well in that category.
So there you have it, a bare-bones but hopefully useful guide to recording equipment for the classical musician. There are so many other great tutorials online that I felt it unnecessary to go into too much depth about any of the various components. Far more knowledgeable contributors have written and recorded excellent demonstrations on a plethora of recording topics. Among my favorites is a series produced by Murray State University. See below for the links:
If you’re a novice like me, it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed by all of the technical information on recording. However, as a 21st-century teacher and performer I felt I owed it to myself and my students to learn something about technology which has become so ubiquitous. It took me a little while to wrap my head around the basics, but now that I have a grasp on them I’m excited to experiment with different microphone setups and other parameters. If you are curious what the gear mentioned above sounds like, here is a rehearsal recording made using it. The excerpt is from the Trio for Horn, Trombone, and Tuba by Frigyes Hidas, which my colleagues and I will be performing this summer at the International Trombone Festival and the International Horn Symposium. It was recorded in a small classroom using a fairly close X/Y pattern microphone setup. So that you can get a clear sense of how the equipment performed, no editing has been done other than trimming the beginning and end of the clip in Audacity. I’m very pleased with how everything worked, and am looking forward to recording with this equipment in our recital hall and other venues.
Lots of great horn and brass-related events coming up this semester! Details below.
Brass Day at ULM: On February 2, Dr. Stacie Mickens, Associate Professor of Horn at Youngstown State University, will be our featured artist for this free one-day clinic open to all brass players. In addition to a recital by the featured artist, Brass Day will also include clinics, small and large ensemble rehearsals, and a finale concert. For more details, visit http://ulm.edu/music/brassday.html
Black Bayou Brass Recruiting Tour: This spring we’ll be performing at several schools throughout Louisiana. Follow our Facebook page for the latest info on our performances.
Woodwind Quintet: While I get to do a wide variety of playing – solo, chamber, and orchestral – one area where I’ve wanted to do more performing but haven’t is wind quintet. There are so many great wind quintet compositions out there ranging from the Classical through 21st Century, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the few wind quintet performances I’ve done over the years. This semester I will be performing with a new woodwind quintet composed of various music educators in the area. We have recitals scheduled in two venues on April 9 and April 30, and I’m really looking forward to it! More info on this group in a future post.
Brass Trio Recording Project – Phase 2: Now that we’ve wrapped up the recording portion of our album, we’ll be moving on to the editing, mastering, and final production phases. I’ll post more updates on this site as things progress.
Orchestral Performances: Lots of great rep coming up with the various performing groups I am fortunate to be a member of: Brahms Symphony No. 4, Schubert Symphony No. 9, de Falla Suite from The Three Cornered Hat, and a brass choir concert with the Shreveport Symphony featuring works by Michael Daugherty, Giovanni Gabrieli, Aaron Copland, Karel Husa, Joan Tower, and Benjamin Britten, to name a few.
Solo Performances: Last, but certainly not least, I’ll be rounding out my semester with two solo performances, Mozart’s Horn Concerto, K. 447 with the Monroe Symphony Orchestra (April 28), and Pele, by Brian Balmages, with the ULM Wind Ensemble (April 19). I’ll post more about my preparation for these performances as we get closer to April.
Looking ahead to summer 2018, I’ll be performing with my colleagues in July at the International Trombone Festival. Our recital will feature original works for low brass trio (horn, trombone, and tuba). You guessed it, more on this in a future post!
While our semester has gotten off to a slow start because of fierce winter weather across the region, we’ll be back up and running very soon. In the meantime, I want to wish my colleagues in the South (and everywhere else) a safe and productive start to the semester.
Black Bayou Brass recently wrapped up a 3-day recording session of new music for brass trio. Recording took place on January 5, 6, and 7 in the Emy-Lou Biedenharn Recital Hall at the University of Louisiana Monroe. The session went very well, and we are excited to move forward with the project. Here are some details on the upcoming album.
Repertoire: The album (title TBD) will feature all world-premiere recordings. In addition, we either commissioned or arranged all but one of the works. Here’s the list, with publisher information where applicable.
When finished, the recording should be about 60 minutes, with a good mix of contemporary and historical styles.
Engineer and Producer: Our engineer for this project was Dave St. Onge, a veteran of numerous recordings with Mark Custom Recording Service. Dave did a fantastic job, and I would recommend him without reservation to anyone looking for an engineer. More details on the recording process below. Gina Gillie, who composed Scenes from the Bayou for us, lent her critical ear to the recording as producer. A great engineer and producer are essential to the recording process, and we were fortunate to work with both Gina and Dave.
Recording Process: Prior to this project, I’d recorded twice before in our hall; first for a solo album with piano and harp, and next for soprano, piano, and horn. And although I’ve been performing in a brass trio for over ten years, this was really our first opportunity to experiment with high-quality microphones and various mic placements. As you’ll notice from the photo above, there was quite a bit of equipment on stage with us! *One note about professional microphones – they really do make a huge difference. While the handheld audio and video recorders out there (Zoom, Sony, Tascam, etc.) do a fine job for rehearsal and practice purposes, they really can’t compare to what you’ll hear with great mics. We were fortunate to be able to have a separate sound check in the hall the night before recording began. This saved us time and chops on the first day of recording. Timing for a soundcheck can vary depending on a number of factors, but in our case we spent about an hour or so just trying to find the right sound/balance/blend. Based upon our impressions, as well as input from the engineer and producer, we decided to use microphones in the hall and close mics on individual players. This combination seemed to provide a good balance between clarity and resonance/reverb for all three players. While I’ve only heard the rough mixes at this point, I think the final product is going to sound great!
Equipment: For my part I performed on a Yamaha 671 double horn, with a stainless steel mouthpiece by Balu Musik. The stainless mouthpiece was a fairly recent change for me, but for this recording I felt like it gave me the right kind of clarity and projection to compete with trumpet and trombone. I’m not 100% sold on it as my regular mouthpiece, but for this project it was the right decision.
Rest/Recovery/Next Steps: We recorded in two three-hour sessions each day for three days, with a two and half-hour break between the morning and afternoon. If this sounds like a lot of playing, it was! There was a lot of stopping and starting (common on most classical recordings), and we took a short break at least every hour, so the playing wasn’t constant. I managed to make it through the entire three-day session in good shape, but took the next day off completely. On the day after that I practiced for about an hour. My embouchure was a bit stiff (no surprise there), but after 20 minutes or so of light playing things started to loosen up and feel more or less normal again. As always, recording was a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. The next step in the process is to go back through our choice takes and decide exactly which ones we want to use for the album. From there we’ll send it off to be edited together into a complete recording.There are of course many more steps between now and the final commercial release, but it does feel good to have a major portion of the recording finished.
Looking for something to help you stay motivated over the holiday break? Consider taking a 30 Day Practice Challenge. I’m a big fan of these for physical fitness, and have completed several over the past year. In short, the idea is to perform a brief activity or series of activities each day for thirty consecutive days. Some of the challenges build in length and intensity, while others remain constant over the entire period. The challenge in that case is maintaining the routine. While not a substitute for a full fitness or (horn practice) routine, 30 Day Challenges are fun, and in my experience, really do provide benefits. Here are some more specific reasons for trying a 30 Day practice challenge:
Small, daily goals are easily achievable.
Fixed amount of time keeps you motivated to finish the challenge.
After 30 days you can change to a new challenge, or continue!
Excellent template for establishing positive habits.
If 30 Days seems too long (or too short), modify to a 15 Day or 60 Day challenge.
If these seem like compelling reasons, here are some ideas to get you started. These can and should be modified however you like. The important things to do are 1) pick something and 2) stick to it!
Minimum amount of practice time (example: 1 hour of practice per day)
One Kopprasch/Maxime-Alphonse/Other standard etude per day
Same melody, different transposition each day, cycle through all keys multiple times
Last June my colleagues Claire Vangelisti, Richard Seiler, and I recorded an album of music by Eurico Carrapatoso, which you can read about here. We were very excited to receive the first edit of the recording a few weeks ago, and are currently preparing some final editing requests to send to the engineer. From here the next steps are related to production and commercial release, including: liner notes, cover/booklet art and photography, and various other details.
Richard Price, the producer and engineer for this project, let us know that even though this was a first edit, the editing process is more or less complete, utilizing (hopefully) the best possible takes of the material. However, listening to the first edit and providing comments is still very important, as mistakes can happen.
So, how does the first edit of our Carrapatoso recording sound? In short, I think it’s really good! I was very pleased with the warmth, balance, and overall musical quality in all three parts (soprano, piano, horn). Bravo to my colleagues and to Richard Price for helping us sound our very best! That being said, I did have a few minor requests for the final edit (more on that later). I listened to the recording multiple times, and on various devices with different kinds of equipment (speakers, headphones, earbuds, etc.) On my first listen I just popped the disc into my CD drive and let it play all the way through on my stereo. I wasn’t listening too critically at that point, just sitting back and trying to get an overall feel for the sound and making some mental notes about places I wanted to go back and listen to more critically. I did this quite a few more times, using earbuds, in the car, etc. My goal in doing this was to see if any issues I was hearing were exaggerated or minimized depending on the equipment. If something was noticeable during my casual listening on all of this equipment, I definitely wanted to go back and listen more closely with the score and a great pair of headphones. For equipment-minded people who may be curious, I own two pairs of excellent but affordable headphones: Sennheiser HD 518 and Sony MDR-7506 (pictured above). Each is well made, durable, and good for listening to classical music.
After lots of casual and critical listening, I only had a few requests for the second round of edits. At this point they are probably more subjective than anything else, but I made note of them anyway.
Two places where isolated attacks weren’t quite centered. The takes were definitely usable, but something about the fronts of the notes didn’t sound quite right to me.
Horn sound was too “live” on a few notes above the staff. I don’t know the exact technical way to describe this, but the mikes were picking up a little more “fuzz” than I would have liked in my sound on a high A-flat. I didn’t notice this effect during the sessions, and again it is a minor issue.
As I am neither a vocalist nor a pianist, these comments are obviously geared towards the horn part. The voice and piano parts are in the more than capable hands of my colleagues. Once we send our comments back we should receive a second (and probably final) edit to listen to one more time before the recording moves to production. Keep an eye out for it in the near future from MSR Classics!
With lots of progress made on this recording I have been turning my attention lately to another project – new original compositions and arrangements for brass trio, featuring Black Bayou Brass.
Look for more information about this project in a future post!
In a post from earlier this year, I talked about the benefits of adopting a modular approach to the daily routine. In short, rather than playing exactly the same exercises every single day, you instead compile a variety of things from each of the major categories of fundamentals. From these you can then rotate exercises in and out of your routine for variety and to address specific needs.
Getting to the subject of this post, I’ve recently been drawing upon two publications for use in my routine. The first is by Denise Tryon, formerly 4th Horn in the Philadelphia Orchestra, and now full time faculty at the Peabody Conservatory. Her routine is available as a PDF download, and comes with recordings and explanations by the author for all of the exercises. It’s not lengthy as far as routines go, but covers all of the basics in a very efficient way. Ms. Tryon mentions that once perfected the routine should only take about 25-30 minutes, although it might take as long as 45 at the beginning. Don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity of these studies; when played correctly they are challenging and very effective. One other notable feature of this routine is the marketing. To my knowledge there are no physical materials to buy – the entire package is sold as a “course” through Ms. Tryon’s website, and everything is accessible online. In addition to the routine there is another course available dealing specifically with auditions and low horn excerpts. I’m really enjoying working out of this routine, and highly recommend it!
Another great collection of routine-type materials that has been around awhile but isn’t really talked about too much is Marvin Howe‘s The Advancing Hornist series. Edited by Randall Faust and available through Faust Music, this two-volume set contains some unique and progressive exercises that were really ahead of their time. I’ve been using the descending scale studies in my own practice routine, and the lip slurs and long tone duets during lessons. As someone who wasn’t that familiar with Marvin Howe’s pedagogy, it’s been interesting to note the similarities and differences among Howe and his contemporaries like Farkas, Schuller, and others. In many ways Howe was very forward-thinking, and his publications are certainly deserving of a place among the other great horn pedagogues of the 20th century. Both volumes are very reasonably priced, and well worth checking out.
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