Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Every Horn has a Story

It's pretty amazing to get five musicians together and be able to make beautiful music. Playing in a Brass Quintet or Woodwind Quintet is an experience for both the player and the listener. One of the unique things about those groups is the different timbres of instruments playing off of each other.  Composers can transfer the melody from the flute to the oboe and immediately the mood can change just because it is a different sound.  The unique sound of each instrument offers its own color and depth to the chamber group.  What is fascinating about a quartet of all the same instrument is that we are not looking for each instrument to have its own sound but create an homogeneous sound that different colors can emerge from.  Engaging the listener, bringing them to a specific time, feeling or painting with certain colors.  

As a horn quartet (with five players!) creating a seamless sound is important to us.  It is very common to walk into any orchestral rehearsal of any major symphony to find that the entire section plays on the same make and model of instrument, specifically to aid in making this unified sound.  Because Uber is not a full time orchestra our members play on instruments unique to them.  We are constantly striving to mix and match, which allows us to create that beautiful homogeneity of horn heaven when needed but we can also stick out when the music calls for it.  We have found that it has also allowed us to expand our "color palette" to paint with.  We often talk about what we each like about our own horns and how we came to own them and we thought you might find it interesting as well.   

Mary Jo Neher:

I started playing horn in the fifth grade and played school horns through high school. I had always dreamed of owning my own horn and in junior high school that dream became a reality when my Mom told me she was able to pay for a horn and that the local instrument shop in Anchorage, Alaska had two horns for me to look at. A brass Alexander and a nickel plated  Holton 379. Looking back on it I probably should have chosen the Alex but as a young person in junior high school I had always imagined a beautiful silver horn. When we walked into the store my material side kicked in. I wouldn't even pick the horns up to try. I was too shy, embarrassed, clueless how to play test them and overwhelmingly in love with the silver mass of metal in front of me. I became the proud owner of a Holton 379. That was my horn for use at home all through High school (I played on a school owned King, which I really liked, at school). I played this horn through the first two years of my undergrad at Boston University when my teacher (Seth Orgel) and I decided it was time to invest in a "professional" horn. Once again I had my heart set on a silver horn, this time a Conn 8D. Don't ask me why. But thankfully I was a little smarter this time around. Seth picked up a few horns for me from Ken Pope. A new one every few days. Each one was worse than the first. I think he did it on purpose because when he brought what would become my horn to me and I played the first few notes on it it was like the heavens opened up. Others in the horn studio joked that it was a “magic horn” also known as the “golden horn.” I never touched my beloved Holton 379 again and I sold it a few months later. I've played on the golden horn since that day in the fall of 1997 … Almost 20 years!!! 

So what is this horn? Well that's a great question. When I bought the horn it was sold to me as  Knopf-Schmidt copy. However after moving to the Chicago area and having some others look at the horn there seems to be a consensus that it is in fact an original C. F. Schmidt. One of my favorite memories around the parentage of my horn is from Chicago legend, Dale Clevenger. He always seems to admire my horn, every-time he sees it. But, the first time he looked at/played it, after playing a few glorious notes he pulled the horn from his lips and tipped the horn away from him inspecting the back of the instrument. He leaned in close to me, and in his famous southern Illinois accent said, “my dear, there is nothing Knopf about this horn!”. That was confirmation enough for me! Knopf or not I love this horn, and so does everyone else it seems (I've been offered a nice sum of money on more than one occasion from others who also fell in love with it, but I'd never sell it!)

Kelly Langenberg:

My Hoyer 801 and I have been a rather recent pairing. I have had the luxury of acquiring several excellent instruments over my tenure as a horn player: Conn 8D, Wes Hatch Horn, 1950’s era Knopf Horn and finally my Hans Hoyer 801.  To every horn player, each horn has a story of how it was acquired. For example: to save up for my first horn, I worked a summer job as a flagger with the Ohio Department of Transportation.  Each morning when I laced my steel-toe boots to stand on the hot pavement all day, I thought about what I was going to buy with the money I was earning and it motivated me.  I would then head home and get cleaned up for my evening job at the local bookstore.  It was a hard summer, but I made enough money to buy my first horn, the Conn 8D.  After that first purchase, it has been an interesting journey of bartering and saving to get the next instrument. 

A few years back I performed at the ITG Conference in Columbus, Georgia.  After the performance a representative approached me about possibly trying a Hans Hoyer French horn.  But at the time I had five month-old twins and absolutely NO time to pursue the daunting task of learning a new horn.  We left it at that, but a year and a half passed by and I found myself standing at the Han Hoyer Horns display at the International Horn Symposium in Memphis in 2013. I asked a few friends standing by to listen and they were ecstatic with the way I sounded on the 801 and so was I!  A few weeks later I couldn’t get that sound out of my ears, or that feeling that I had while playing the Hoyer horn.  So I called the Hoyer rep to whom I had spoke at the conference and asked if they still had that specific horn. Luckily, they did.  We set up an event at a music store in the area where I would play a joint recital with the Uber Horns, and Hoyer would bring their full line of horns for me and our audience to try.  After our dress rehearsal, I played each Hoyer available to me to play, about 8 different horns.  Through blind tests and in duet settings with my fellow members of Uber, we unanimously agreed that the 801 was THE horn for me!  Among the comments they made to me were things like, “It’s so much easier to play with you because there are more overtones”, and  “You sound better on this Hoyer than you do on your regular horn”…things that might have hurt a little bit had I not been so pleased with the Hoyer horn myself!  It was the sound that I couldn’t get out of my ear, and now it’s the sound I get to enjoy every day!  I am now a Hans Hoyer Horn Artist and enthusiastically enjoy my Hoyer 801 and being part of the Buffett Group family.

Jeremiah Frederick:

Any good story has a good beginning to draw you in. For me, it started on a Bb single horn. This is somewhat unusual as most students start on single F horns, but I think a Bb single has many benefits (we can discuss that in a later blog). Gradually I moved to a double horn and my 13th birthday present - a shiny silver Holton 179! I loved that horn and played it all the way through grad school and for a few years after (even with a lovely twist in the bell courtesy of the CTA!). Realizing that a better horn would make a lot of things a lot easier, I found my current primary horn in 2002.

Built in 1998, my current horn is a Hill Geyer model originally made for Gail Williams. As she was just receiving delivery of a brand new Hill, I was in the right place at the right time to purchase the horn. Why this horn? Besides having the history of once belonging to one of my mentors and a great horn player, the depth of colors and dynamics I am able to produce are phenomenal. I have made no alterations to the instrument except removing the duck foot and replacing it with a cloth/leather strap. It continues to be a reliable and exceptional horn 13 years after purchasing it.

Being the paranoid person I am, I chose to buy a back-up horn a few years ago. I found a great deal on a new Yamaha 667D online. It was greatly reduced in price because it had been damaged in shipping, but the dents were primarily cosmetic. After modifications by Wes Hatch last year (new bell branch, lacquer removal, new lead pipe), the horn is even closer to my primary horn and at the ready, just in case...

And in case you're wondering, yes, I have named my instruments - Lois (Hill) and Billy (Yamaha). Why? You'll have to listen to the next Über quartet performance and decide for yourself!

Anna Jacobson:

My horn is an S.W. Lewis horn, made right here in Chicago.  This horn was a long-overdue change when I got it -- I had previously played a Holton H179, a more intermediate/high schooler's instrument, well into my undergrad years, and then a Paxman 20L later in undergrad and all the way through grad school.  My teachers in grad school told me that any issues in my playing could be due to technique problems on my part, or they could be problems with my horn.  I spent a lot of time in grad school trying to fix the technique problems, and almost none trying other horns to get a sense of what I really like in a horn -- despite my teachers telling me to try every horn I could get my hands on.  I was really determined not to solve my problems with equipment; I wanted to be sure my technique was completely sound.  I really regret not trying more horns -- you never appreciate what opportunities you have until you're not in the academic environment anymore! 

Luckily, a few years after I finished school, I was playing with one of my teachers and he told me that a former student was selling two horns -- a Hatch and a Lewis.  I tried them both, and with the Lewis, was amazed at how much my low register could pop out and how far I could push the volume without the tone "breaking" -- two things I had struggled with on the Paxman.  Soft playing was also a breeze.  I bought it, and the rest is history!  The Lewis definitely takes some more work to play in the upper register than my previous horns, but it's all worth it.  The moral of this story is not "you don't need to try other peoples' horns to see what you like, because the perfect horn will find you."  But I'll consider myself lucky because that's basically what happened to me! 

Liz Deitemyer:

My horn is an original Geyer that was unplayed for about twenty years. The owner had stowed it at a friend's house while moving and subsequently stopped playing and forgot to collect it. When I met this mutual friend twenty years later and mentioned I was in the market for a new horn, she tracked down its owner, who was happy to collect some income on an item he had forgotten was his! My Geyer was a big change from my previous horn, a Conn 8D, which I played all through high school and college. Living in Chicago, the land of the shiny gold horns, I was definitely out of place with my 8D! The transition was long, but I'm very happy with my horn and love the rich sound and deep colors it gets.