Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pimp My Horn!

Today was the last day to get stuff loaded in the crates before we left for Europe instruments, concert clothes, stowaways etc... (I practically fit in cello crate) I wanted to bring my new Lewis horn along on tour to begin breaking in but I am not ready to switch over to playing it entirely and so I am carrying on regular concert horn, my Rauch. I've found that it's always a good idea to have an extra horn around because you never know if anyone breaks a string, or trips and falls on their horn or even started blaming their horn for wrong notes(no not me, never )we would have a good spare on hand.  I don't know but it always seems like someone always has horn trouble when we are in another concert venue, even if it's only as far away as Greenville or Allen. Well, this is going to be a little farther trip than Greenville so I at least wanted to have a horn on hand that would play well Just In Case...

So I start going over what I need to get my horn ready to leave and I realized last week that I don't have a flipper on my new horn and I couldn't hold it for even short periods of time without it becoming uncomfortable. A flipper is a support to help hold the weight of your horn on the left hand at the index knuckle instead of having to deal with pinky hooks to hold the horn. I have a crooked left hand finger with a huge callous on it thanks to many years of holding a horn with a pinky hook. It was actually a point of pride for me and scoffed at the straps and ducks feet and ergo sticks that horn players use to help support the horn until my most recent visit to Chicago. I have to hand it to Ron Pinc, no pun intended, he makes the most comfortable hand rest flipper I have ever seen. I am a convert ever since getting one of Ron's "flipper" as I was corrected was the proper nomenclature in the Chicago horn scene. So, after playing on one of these flippers, I was unable to get used to my new Lewis horn without one. I called Ron a couple weeks ago after conceding that I do in fact need another flipper for my other horn. He said he would definitely be able to get me a flipper before the European tour. Well, he did in fact get me that flipper before the European tour, although it was a day before departure just in time for me to have it put on by local horn guru Dennis Houghton up in Keller, TX.

I love going up to Dennis Houghton's house because you never know who is going to be in his living room. Legend has it that at an international horn convention Dennis Houghton cornered Barry Tuckwell and invited him over for pancakes the next morning and wouldn't take no for an answer, he said come on, I make really good pancakes! So Barry Tuckwell might be over at Dennis' shop eating pancakes next time you are getting your horn worked on! The one and only time I met Julie Landsman she was trying out horns in Dennis Houghton's living room. I showed up at Dennis' house tonight  and in true form there was an old friend, David Lesser, Principal horn of the Dallas Wind Symphony, who I haven't seen in at least 9 months, in the shop getting a brace fixed on his horn.

Dennis' shop is also full of treasures!  It's like horn heaven! I found my 59' Geyer there on his wall the first time I came over and I have played horns that belonged to Dennis Brain and Herman Baumann as well as many many more great horns. I have played just about every make of horn on it's way through the shop. He has a wall of horns, boxes of leadpipes, and shelves of bells. This year he just expanded to include in new and improved work shop and will be making bells on a mandrel and will have a room entirely devoted to lacquering. The new addition has an Homage to Leutgeb whom the Mozart horn concertos were written for about the entrance. Plus, Dennis is just a cool guy, he'd give the shirt off his back to help you and always has time for a cup of coffee. I could tell you about the time he let me drive a bobcat in his back yard and I almost rolled the bobcat into the pool I was helping to put in, but we'll save that for another time;-)

 We had a short amount of time to do all of the stuff to get the horn concert ready and get it back in time before it went on the truck for the airport. First things first, I had to clean out my valves because they were really sluggish. We used brake cleaner from O'Reilly's to degrease my slides and rotors. Some people prefer Lanolin slide grease but I can't stand the smell and more than that it goes onto the rotors and makes them really gooey and slow. I like synthetic products by Hetman for my slides and rotors and bearings. Then we put on the flipper and moved the pinky hook. I think it must have taken about 4 trys on the flipper and 5 trys on the pinky hook of heating and re-soldering cooling then trying, then moving heating, re-soldering, cooling and trying. How does the saying go, if at first you don't succeed... I always feel so bad about having a someone move and remove again and again. That's why it's so nice to have such a easy going repairman! Then he helped me cut a hole in my hand grip so my flipper fits through the grip! He even found a couple dents that had somehow appeared from no where on my bell and made sure I didn't leave without my horn looking brand new again.

After all that work we got to enjoy the fruits of our labor and Dennis listened to me play excerpts on both horns, my new and old horn and then he played them both. There are two distinct qualities to the sound, awesome and AWESOMER!!! I'll let you guess which one we liked better, but both have really unique and complex characteristics to the sound. Can't wait to have my trusty new ax along side ol' faithful on the other side of the water! Thanks to Dennis for pimping my horn!!!

Now I just got to get my horn on the truck...

Keep ya posted!!!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

workin overtime

This week has been a pretty busy week for us here at the Dallas Symphony. Let me rephrase that... It has been a pretty busy past 2 weeks getting Mahler 6 and Der Rosenkavalier ready for the European tour! I leave this Wednesday March 7 and I am going to be gone until April 1! Wow, what a trip! Too bad we can't bring some of that Texas weather over to Europe with us.

I got home last night from a recording patch session of Mahler 6 at close to 1 in the morning. It's kind of disheartening when your coworkers say see you later today after doing a full concert and a recording session of Mahler 6, which is about a 90 minute piece. David Heyde, the associate Principal horn, even had a bottle of community Advil on the horn table for the brass players lips! 

On Tuesday we had our first rehearsal for Mahler 6 in the morning and afternoon, about 5 hours total. Then we learned that full orchestra would have overtime on Wednesday after a double rehearsal again on Mahler 6 with a meeting about the European tour over lunch. Thursday morning we had a full rehearsal with an overtime session for the Vivaldi recorder concerto musicians, thank God there weren't any horn parts on this as our lips already felt pretty beat up! Then we had our first concert Thursday night!

Thursday night was a pretty good concert for everyone considering the amount of playing that we had done in the 2 weeks leading up to it. We brought in special guest Principal horn Gail Williams formerly of the Chicago Symphony to play the First part on Mahler 6 and she NAILED IT!!! I feel like I am getting a masterclass every time I show up to work this week.  Her soft playing is effortless and could match any woodwind player in the country and her loud playing has me trying to keep up, and she's 67!!! Unbelievable! The Third(slow) movement features a beautiful First horn solo and Gail has been rocking it all week! It's a real nice change of pace from the loud and taxing first and second movements that come before. I don't play for the first 5 minutes, I timed it, so It's really nice to sit back and just close my eyes and listen to that beautiful burnished, coppery sound that Gail gets when she is blending with the woodwinds and as she emerges from the texture!

Well, Friday was my 29th Birthday and It had a little bit of an unusual start as I had to play excerpts for the brass committee and Jaap before noon. I don't know how I was able to muster up the lip to play but I seemed to manage all right! I guess that Advil really helped! Thanks to David for sharing!!! In the afternoon I really wanted a change of pace but my body just couldn't keep up, I had a little nap and then I was ready to be out in the beautiful Spring weather. I went out to get some coffee and some guys were playing hacky sack, so I joined in, I haven't played hacky sack for at least 10 years lol! Then I went to the batting cages and tried not to embarrass myself in front of Katie, my girlfriend. I felt like I was doing pretty well until this 10 year old was hitting every pitch at the 85-90 MPH batting cages and I noticed I was in the 45 MPH cages! So I decided to try my hand at the driving range. My first hit with the 7 Iron was BEAUTIFUL! Nice ark, really straight, great thwak sound to it. I should have stopped right then and there because that was probably the nicest shot I would get all day! I don't know why I always seem to think I need the LARGE size bucket of balls, but I NEVER do. I always try to make myself hit them all and by the end, I am like barely able to lift my arms over my head! When will I learn... Oh and did I say I had to play another Mahler 6 concert that evening?

Friday evening's Mahler 6 was probably the the best performance of the Mahler yet for me. I gave my ALL! I mean left it all on the stage. I didn't have worry about saving chops for excerpts or practice and I was all in! I went for it and got almost all of it! The only part that really hurt was on page 21 when we have the bells up 16th notes and then like 10 bars of whole notes that keep getting higher and higher until the high B with no place to breathe in it. I tell you I am going to NAIL that today if it's the only thing that I get right! I felt bad for the violinists stuck sitting behind me. I wouldn't be surprised if they buy airport runway earmuffs for the next concert!

Well, after the concert I got to take all of my friends out for my Birthday and Katie made Beautiful GREEN cupcakes, which is a birthday tradition for me since as long as I can remember. They looked like little lily pads with green Haribo frogs about to jump off the top! We took them to Morton's Steak house off of McKinney and had drinks and appetizers and green cupcakes. I am really lucky to have such nice friends and a great girlfriend to celebrate my birthday with. It was a LONG day, but I don't think I would rather spend it any other way! Great friends, great music, great food! Green cupcakes!

I was going to tell you about our recording session but the main thing is that we ran the Marathon during the concert then still had to run about another half marathon afterwards until 1 am. If we aren't ready for Europe after that I don't know if we ever will be! I'm looking foward to playing these two great programs with a world class orchestra and Phenomenal Conductor in the best concert halls in the world!

Friday, February 15, 2013

A new horn!!!

David Cooper French Horn: Welcome to the David Cooper | French Horn blog!: Welcome to the David Cooper | French Horn blog!

A box came in the mail today. It was about 2 feet long by 1 and a half feet high by 1 foot wide. I checked the shipping label and it was from Chicago. I opened up the box and rummaged through the packing peanuts and found a case the size of a bowling ball bag. I unzipped the case and saw a shinny brass bell sitting above a shinny new horn. Today is better than Christmas! There isn't a better feeling than getting a new horn, not just any horn, but a custom horn you have been waiting 6 years for!

Where do I start?! Two weeks ago I was getting ready to take a trip up to Chicago and every time I go out of town I always try to do a little something horn related. WELL... most of you that know me know that I usually go all the way when I do things so I set up a visit to Schilke music to see their mouthpiece factory and get my mouthpiece copied.  I also set up a visit with famed Chicago Brass technician Ronald Pinc and the Legendary Steven W Lewis horn maker and designer for the Chicago Symphony horn section. Oh, and lastly a visit to the Lyric Opera of Chicago to see The Meistersinger dress rehearsal. All of this was to take place on my rare 3 day holiday from the Dallas Symphony and while trying to squeeze in a visit with my 7 mo old nephew and family up in Lansing, Mi.

My girlfriend Katie and I arrived in Chicago at 9:30 and as soon as we got our rental car we were off to see Ron Pinc. I took my Rauch horn in to Ron to have him take out a few dents and also to make a new leadpipe and a 3rd valve slide for my horn. I had heard from numerous horn players that his leadpipes and 3rd valve slides make the horn play superbly better. So we met Ron and he told us about working at Schilke music and how he got to hear Dale Clevenger from the CSO playing Jazz in nightclubs in that late 60s and 70s.  The first thing I noticed about Ron's shop was that it was unbelievably clean. I had never seen a repair shop so clean and when I mentioned it to him he noted that he was needing to sweep the floor!Horn shops aren't supposed to be that clean!

After stopping by Ron Pinc shop we headed up to Evanston, IL to visit Steven Lewis. When we found his workshop there was a shiny 3 series BMW parked in front with the license plate that said SWL. I knew we were in the right spot!

When I had called Steve about a week ago he was really perplexed as to why I would want to visit him. My name had been on the waiting list for one of his horns since December 2007 when I came down to Chicago for my first lesson with Dale Clevenger. He said that my horn wasn't going to be ready until March or April and he doesn't let people watch him work. He said if he had time on the calendar the best he could do would be to take me out for a cup of coffee. I insisted that I wanted to visit him, and buy one of his mutes and also just play his horn. I really just wanted him to hear me play so he could make a horn specially for me like Carl Geyer used to but he said that he didn't do that and found that Geyer was a bit presumptuous to do that sort of thing.
Here I was in front of Steve Lewis' shop. As I walked in I was really impressed with all of the old horn related photographs on the walls. He had a life sized photo of the Chicago symphony horn section from the Solti days when Clevenger was just a young man on his wall. I asked him about his new location since I knew that he had just had to move from the foundry building near downtown Chicago. He said it was hard and it took about 2 years for his new home to feel complete but it was obvious now that his new location far exceeded the old space. He gave me the grand tour and showed me the machines and the new storage space that he added beautiful finished shelves to himself.  He showed me some old mutes, one from Carl Geyer that was simply a spray painted black stone line mute! He also showed me a gourd mute from the old studio days in Hollywood from his teacher.
After the tour he let me try the two horns he had in the workshop, one was fabricated to his specifications in germany and the other was a horn that he had made for himself and had beautiful intricate hand engraving on it. I picked up the German made Lewis-Duerk Clevenger model and found myself immediately impressed with the sound. I really enjoyed playing this horn so much because of the response and the warmth. I was wondering if the hand made horn could really be much better. I picked up Steve's personal horn and gave that a blow and was instantly in love. This was no doubt a special horn and Steve had good reason to have kept it in the shop for so many years so that anyone who came to his shop would know what kind of work Steve did at his best. I just closed my eyes and played for a good 10 minutes finding the colors and the sound and place of each note. I played everything from Brandenburg to Mendelssohn Midsummer's Night's Dream to Tchaikovsky 5 to Mahler 3, which Steve told me that he played in Honolulu with Eric Ruske and Bill Vermeulen and a whole section of 8 players all on his horns!

After trying Steve's horn Steve took us out for lunch nearby. My girlfriend Katie hadn't eaten all day and was STARVING at this point. She had been such a good sport for putting up with all of the horn playing and horn stories as she is a ballerina and horn is as foreign to her as a pliƩ is to me.

Steve told us over lunch how he went to the first ever horn convention and met Dale Clevenger. He told us about his first lesson with Mr. Clevenger and how he decided to come to Chicago and play in Chicago Civic and study horn with Mr. Clevenger. He told us about how he started working at Schilke and then how he apprenticed on horn making with Ukrainian master Jerry Lechniuk and how his first five horns he made were to go directly for to the Pittsburgh Symphony.

This was one of the most inspirational days I have ever had on the horn. I felt like I was meeting a living legend. Steve Lewis went above and beyond what I expected and loaned me his horn to take up to Michigan while my horn was in the shop. He told me that he would need it back first thing Monday morning and if I break it I buy it sort of thing and we were off to Michigan to visit family. I am so glad that I visited Steve Lewis and I will always remember my visit that day.

After my trip home to Lansing and after I returned Steven's personal horn Steve surprised me yet again and told me that he would have a horn ready for me before the before the European tour with the Dallas Symphony! He told me he hoped to see me down the street in the CSO someday and looked at it as an investment in my future!
I plan on holding him to it on his wonderful new horn that arrived in the mail today.  It plays even better than I remember and it is beautifully made. I can't wait to perform my first concert on this wonderful new instrument!
Best part about it is I will always have a great story about my visit to Chicago and to Steve Lewis to think about every time I pick up my horn!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013