Sunday, September 24, 2017

Interview Series: Prof. John Ericson

It's been a while since I have last updated my blog. I hope that I still have some readers out there!

This blog is a continuation of my interview series. Today's blog is especially the one I am really excited about. 

Back in the time where resources were still very limited and difficult to access, especially in Thailand, looking for online resources was the only go to option. Even though that seems to be normal today, it was not back then (well, around 2000 or 2002). There were few websites that I always go to but the one that contain most interesting information was (and is still) which was founded by Prof. John Ericson and Bruce Hembd.  

When I had to do an interview with any horn professors that I have not known or met, Prof. Ericson was one of the first choices that came to my head. As the follower of his website, I decided to send him an email asking if he would be interested in answering my questions (which was part of an assignment) which he kindly agreed to do so!

I, then, sent him my interview questions and waited anxiously to have it back and to learn what he shared. To my surprised, he decided to answer my questions as 4 separates blogs which are now published on his website! 

Once again, I feel extremely humble and thankful for this opportunity. Trust me you will learn a lot from Prof. Ericson's insight and experience. 

Here are the four blog posts. ENJOY!

Part I: "From Orchestral Player to Professor" 

Part II: "On Teaching, Auditions, and the Future of Classical Music"

Part III: "Horn Matters and Other Creative Activity"

Part IV: "The Real World of College Teaching"

Monday, July 17, 2017

Interview Series: Richard Bissill (and the London Brass!)

I hope you have enjoyed reading and learning something from an interview with the German Hornsound.

For the second post of this series, I would like to share an interview with my former teacher, Richard Bissill, where we discussed about London Brass. Again, the post starts with an interview summary and if you are interested to read the full script, it will be right after the summary! I would like to sincerely thanks Richard Bissill for taking his time answering my interview!

London Brass (photo from

Interview Summary

London Brass definitely carries Philip Jones Brass Ensemble legacy in many ways, notably for their instrumentation and the ensemble virtuosity that aims to demonstrate what brass instruments are capable of beyond the confines of an orchestra. The ensemble is a limited company registered in the UK and has to submit accounts to the Inland Revenue every year. Each member of ensemble is paid per project. Even though running and managing the ensemble is very time consuming, London Brass does not have any management team. It is run by member of the ensemble. Andrew Crowley is the current manager. Richard Bissill admit that the group's success relies heavily on the energy and tenacity of the person charged with running it. This manager has to be really on the case, chasing work, following up leads, sending out publicity, maintaining social media, setting up meetings and never giving up on the pursuit. All orchestras, for example, have huge marketing and publicity departments to keep the players in work.” I wonder if this manager got paid for doing this extra work. Now, the ensemble starts to hire (per project) outsource to help with admin and travel arrangement. Similar to German Hornsound, the group budget comes from engagements but patrons nor sponsorship.

There is enough repertoire for 10-piece brass ensemble due to the success of its predecessor. The ensemble also has had very good arrangers who contribute in expanding list of repertoires for this set up which most of them are published by BrassWind publication or selling on their own website. Richard Bissill said that the only disadvantage of this 10-piece set up is that horn player has to compete with another forward-facing instrument. However, Prof. Bissill choose to be the only horn player in a group as it is easier for him to find ways to adapt in any situation for the best possible outcome. The main problem, for whole ensemble, is transport related such as flight delayed for example.

Program ideas of London Brass usually suggested by Andrew Crowley. There is also a standard formula program where the ensemble does older music in the first half and more recent music in the second half which often incorporate jazz to feature their jazz specialists. Sometime, the group will be told by their agency in Germany what to or not to include in their program. The only different from the German Hornsound programing is that there is no staging aspect includes in their program. It can be understandable as it would be more difficult to stage ten people than four. The ensemble does not have regular rehearsal schedule but one or two rehearsals before each performance to refamiliarize with the piece and the ensemble. If there is disagreement on something, they compromise. They don’t want to fall out and they want to have fun.

Younger generation are encouraged to take the advantage of today’s social media. Also, doing educational or community projects are a good route to get young (newly set up) ensemble to get work and exposure. Lastly, Prof. Bissill gave a very useful advice to young players. “…be determined to succeed to make their marks on the music world. Enthusiasm and dedication are paramount. If they want to enjoy a long, successful and enjoyable career they must be armed with a thick skin to withstand everything they will encounter. An inner self confidence is vital to help sustain through the ups and downs that they will experience. The ability to self-examine is useful too! Be sociable and always treat your fellow musicians with respect, especially the older ones.” 

And here is the London Brass performing a cool piece by John Bull called the Chicken!


Full interview transcript with Richard Bissill and London Brass

1. How did the ensemble start? What was the aim? What is the ensemble philosophy?
London Brass grew out of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. When Philip retired, he didn't want his name to continue so the group continued under the name London Brass. The aim of the group, as it always was with PJ, is to entertain and inspire audiences with musicality and virtuosity and to demonstrate what brass instruments are capable of beyond the confines of an orchestra. Our philosophy always has been to enjoy ourselves. We all get on well - we have all known each other for years and some of us were even students together. Plus, we all meet regularly outside of the group in various recording studios or on concert platforms. So, when it comes to London Brass we only tend to accept projects that are going to be enjoyable and a refreshing change from our other day to day bread and butter work. After all, we're all getting on a bit! When I joined the group, there was a huge amount of work, a legacy from Philip’s determination to establish the group’s brand and recognition. In my early days too, there were very few well-known brass ensembles in existence so London Brass carried on the work with very little competition.

2. Were there any official process of setting up an ensemble? If so, what were they? Did you have to register it as an organization? Is it easy to set up a professional ensemble in the UK? Who runs the ensemble?
Anyone can start an ensemble. You don't have to register it as such but once it starts to earn money it's advisable to get some advice on how to administer its finances. London Brass is a limited company registered in the UK and has to submit accounts to the Inland Revenue every year as would any company. Some of the players are company directors who would be ultimately responsible for the financial state of the group in extremis. London Brass Ltd pays the players per engagement and we as individuals pay tax on the fee at the end of the financial year along with all other income. Over the years, various members have run the group. This in an extremely time consuming job and the group's success relies heavily on the energy and tenacity of the person charged with running it. This manager has to be really on the case, chasing work, following up leads, sending out publicity, maintaining social media, setting up meetings and never giving up on the pursuit. All orchestras, for example, have huge marketing and publicity departments to keep the players in work. As a business model, classical music is not to be recommended! It's some sort of miracle that most outfits go on for years, never really making a profit but managing to be successful and providing its players with an income. We now pay someone on a project by project basis to help with the admin, travel arrangements, etc. It’s the sort of job that most musicians hate doing.

3. How are you being funded or supported? Is the ensemble being funded per year? Do you need to find your own sponsorship or patrons?
We have no funding but rely on income from engagements. As long as our bank account stays in the black, all is good! We charge a management fee on top of the players’ fees per engagement to make sure that we always have some money in the account. On a 2 week tour the management fees can keep the account quite healthy. If we end up with a large surplus, then that money can be put towards other projects that we might like to do such as putting on our own concert or making a new recording. The group will continue for as long as we want it to. None of us relies on it for financial security so in that respect we’ll keep going for the foreseeable future.

4. Obviously, London Brass instrumentation is probably influenced by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. When London Brass was set up, did you want to try different set up then? What about now?
I don’t think that there was any discussion about changing the lineup when the group name changed from PJBE to London Brass. Obviously, all the repertoire was already there to be used and the format was well established. As you know, being the sole horn player in a ten piece is disadvantageous! With the bell facing backwards we have to put in double the effort compared to forward-facing trumpets and trombones. This is especially tough in a terrible acoustic. If the acoustic is really dry and unhelpful and I find myself blowing into either nothing or thick curtains then, I’ll try to find a table and stand it upright on one pair of legs to provide a surface to blow into to reflect my sound back out into the audience. Of course, if I’m positioned quite close to a rear wall, say in a church, then I have no trouble being heard! I’ve often thought that it would be a good idea to have two horns; I think some ensembles do this. But actually, I quite like being the sole horn player; it means I can adapt as necessary without anyone else knowing...

5. Does London Brass publish and sell their own music and arrangement? Are there enough repertoire for this instrumentation?
Most of London Brass’s arrangements are published by BrassWind Publications as part of its London Brass Exclusive series. The group has had very good member arrangers over the years (Chris Mowatt, Roger Harvey, David Purser, myself etc) whose arrangements have been published by BrassWind. We the arrangers receive a few pennies every now and then from BrassWind when someone buys a copy of one of our pieces. I now tend to sell anything that I write from my own website. That way I can maximize any income without signing away most of it to a publisher. There seems to be plenty of repertoire for the ten-piece format. LB has commissioned many pieces over the years from well-known composers so the format is here to stay I expect.

6. What is your thought process in creating a performance program? How do you manage your relationship with different types of audience?
One of the trumpet players, Andrew Crowley (who is the current manager too) tends to come up with programme ideas. We generally work on the formula of older music in the first half and more recent music in the second, often with more jazzy elements to feature our 2 jazzers, Richard Edwards and John Barclay. Most of the older music repertoire has been arranged of course but the newer music can be both original compositions and arrangements. Often the agents who book us will ask for certain pieces or tell us that they don’t want us to play pieces we played last time we were in a certain place if we are going back there on tour. Generally, the audiences, especially abroad, are very enthusiastic to whatever we play. In fact, much more so than in the UK. I think UK audiences are spoilt for choice when it comes to concert going so can be rather apathetic. Perhaps this is down to the large brass band tradition here. German audiences are particularly appreciative and we always enjoy touring in Germany.

7. Does London Brass do any community project (such as playing in a hospital or jail)? Is it important to engage in different community?
We don’t get involved in those sort of projects. I know that some ensembles do, especially when starting out and trying to get established. Going down the ‘education’ route is a good way to get work and exposure. I think that music is very powerful emotionally and it can bring joy and relief to all sorts of people who don’t normally come into contact with live music and experience its interactive quality.

8. As social media has become part of today’s life; how important it is to be active online? Would this model change in the future?
Engaging in social media is the modern way to get noticed. I grew up in an age before computers and still feel a bit awkward when it comes to selling myself on the internet. That’s the reason that I don’t do Facebook as I’ve never been good at shouting ‘look at me’ from the rooftops. Today’s students are encouraged to engage in self-promotion and seem unselfconscious in doing just that. I think it would be seriously disadvantageous to not take advantage of all social media if you’re an aspiring artist. I can see the benefits of it so maybe one day I’ll catch up!

 9. As you are all extremely busy musicians, how often do you rehearse together? What is or have been the group rehearsal technique? What did you do if some disagreement occurs?

If we have a patch of work coming up we will generally have just one or two rehearsals beforehand. Often, we will be playing repertoire that we’ve played many times before so it will just be a case of refreshing our memories and trying to get some strong chops back! Also, there might be one or two deps who don’t know the repertoire and would appreciate the rehearsals more than the rest of us…
The LB pad is not for the faint hearted! We play through the pieces, stopping when required if someone has a question, decide who’s going to start each piece and who’s going to bring everyone off at the end. You know the sort of thing. If we disagree on something then we compromise as would anyone else. It’s only music after all. we all know each other too well to fall out, and remember that our prime motive is to have fun.

10. What are the problems that the ensemble has encountered so far and how do you solve them? It would be great if you could list as many as you can or at least few significant ones.
Honestly the problems that occur are mostly transport related. Almost without fail when we tour something will go wrong. Examples are: planes being delayed so that we have to dash straight from the airport to the venue with no time for sounchecks etc, instruments not appearing on the carousel and having to use borrowed instruments, music getting left behind in the previous venue, foreign bus drivers who get lost (this happens a lot), hotel rooms not being ready when you arrive after a long journey just when you desperately want to have an afternoon sleep, finding nowhere open to eat when you need food, etc. Luckily Andrew Crowley is very unflappable (at least externally) and always seems to find a resolution. It’s much easier touring with a small group of friendly brass players than with an orchestra and all those temperamental ‘others’! Last minute illnesses are quite tricky. Finding say a tuba player to be free for a 10 day tour the day before it starts is problematic. That’s when I’m glad that I never became an orchestral fixer. Image having to deal with people phoning in at the last minute with all number of excuses why they can’t make the date.

11. What is the ensemble future goal?
The group will continue for as long as we carry on being engaged by our agents or other random opportunities crop up. As I wrote earlier, we all play with the group for fun and musical fulfilment, not fortunately really for financial necessity and as long as we all feel that we want to continue, we will. We get to go on enjoyable tours and give lots of joy to lots of people in our concerts. For example, this December we will be in Germany touring with the Hanover Boys Choir. We did this four years ago and it was really satisfying to hear the boys singing Christmas music along with us, a group of British musicians at a lovely time of the year.

12. Any word of advice for young professional musicians who are about to go to into the ‘real’ world? What do they need to prepare?

Life continues on and there will always be a new crop of young players starting out and trying to establish their reputations to take over the mantle from the older generation. That’s the way of the world. Young players need to be determined to succeed to make their marks on the music world. Enthusiasm and dedication are paramount. If they want to enjoy a long, successful and enjoyable career they must be armed with a thick skin to withstand everything they will encounter. An inner self confidence is vital to help sustain through the ups and downs that they will experience. The ability to self-examine is useful too! Be sociable and always treat your fellow musicians with respect, especially the older ones. As for conductors, however...

More information of London Brass can be found at or on their Facebook page.

Richard Bissill
Richard Bissill (photo courtesy of Yamaha UK)

Richard Bissill is currently a principal horn at the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, UK, as well as a long time horn professor at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He is also a highly sought after arranger and composer especially music for horns which can be heard from the two London Horn Sound series CD from Cala Records. He is also a Yamaha Artist.

More information can be found at or

Fat Belly Blues by Richard Bissill

Heads up to Thai readers!

Richard Bissill is coming to Thailand!! as a jury of the 5th Princess Galyani Vadhana International Ensemble Competition in Bangkok. He, along with other jury members, will give a performance on July 22, 2017 at 7pm, and will give a master class on July 24, 2017 from 9am to 4pm! All events are at Sangita Vadhana Hall, Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music and are all free of charge!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Interview Series: German Hornsound

Welcome to the first life after "horn ensemble from around worlds" era post! 

The first HOT's topic today is part of "Interview Series" where I would share some interviews that I made throughout the year. These interviews were, again, part of some of the courses I took last year. There were, of course, some requirement or theme but it didn't stop me from wanting to know a little more in the area that I would learn and would be good for other people to know as well! So far, I have 7 interviews in stock and I will slowly post them by the end of July!

Here we go. 

I would like to begin with the great German Hornsound

(L to R. Stephan Schottstädt, Timo SteiningerSebastian Schorr, and Christoph Eß) 
Why do I interest in them?
While I was doing some research online, a Facebook video of the ensemble’s interview in Hong Kong came up. I have learned of this ensemble probably last year or two years ago through, again, a Facebook video (see below). It was one of their creative performance (acting + performing with narrator). Since I am interested in finding different ways in giving performance, I decided to interview them. I was also quite confident that they would at least response to my message on either Facebook or e-mail as they are active on social media. They replied my message within one day to let me know that they are agreed to do the interview. As the ensemble is becoming more successful it would be interesting to learn about administrative and management aspects rather than rehearsal and performing aspects. 

Besides, don't you want to know any other horn quartets apart from the American Horn Quartet? 

Hence, my questions are based on above idea.

Here is a brief history of the ensemble.
The German Hornsound is a horn quartet base in Germany. The ensemble was founded in 2009 (according to their website but 2010 according to its member) by four international recognized German hornists who graduates from Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart, studying under Prof. Christian Lampert. The ensemble have appeared in many music festivals in German speaking country and have recently made successful debut performances in Asia.
Apart performing original works or arrangements for horn quartet, the German Hornsound is famous for developing their own program. In 2013, the ensemble developed “Siegfried & Violeta“ a three-act opera fragment based on theme by Verdi and Wagner for four horns and speakers. They have commissioned and premiered a new work for four horns and orchestra by Oliver Tardy in the same year.
More information can be found from their website or Facebook page.

Interview Summary 
(You may choose to skip this summary for a full script of the interview which can be found below this summary)
The interview questions were answered by Christoph who is a member of the group as well as acting as a group manager. It is to learn that the group was formed not with an idea to have a professional group but rather to have fun making music together. After gave their first performances in 2011/2012 season, they became famous (partly due to their profiles and reputations, I believe) and started to have more engagement where they reach about 30 concerts a year. Their ensemble philosophy is a homogenous and warm French Horn sound combined with their own creative concept productions. Since they came from the same teacher, it is not too difficult for them to have a similar concept of sound to achieve the homogenous sound. Concepts, however, can be different. The ensemble take their friendship as a priority. When different opinions occur, they solve their differences by talking together. This diminish communication problems.
The ensemble registered as a company and became official in 2013 when they reached 20 concert a year. Apart from Crownfunding their first recording in 2012, German Hornsound’s budget comes from benefits of their merchandises, productions, and other investments. This proves how succesful they are. Part of their success comes from their creativity and originality in their programming. Not only playing standard repertoire or arrangement for horn quartets, they create a theme performance around different arrangements such as Siengfried und Violetta: Opera fragment based on arrangement from music of Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi or program for children - “Wie die Musik um ein Haar flöten ging” and “Auf die Hörner, fertig, los!” where we play the music and act the roles. Apart from performing in concert halls, German Hornsound also oftenly perform in school during music lessons. Not only the students would be excited about the instrument, it is a chance to meet the future generation and to obtain their interest in classical music so they can continue support classical music. The group think that, this should be a duty.
Another important aspect is to be active in social media in order to maintain an interesting image to audience as well as concert promoters, and agencies. It can be short video clips, pictures, or stories. Personally, I think they have used it effectively. The advantage of having full-time orchestra jobs provide them opportunity to take more risks in experimenting new things. Since their are fewer horn quartets out there especially after American Horn Quartet has retired, they wish to bring French Horn music to the audiences and to show how wonderful the instrument can be.

Their last word of advice is “Every musician is different. You have to find your own way of playing an instrument and performing concerts. You have to do this with self-confidence, but never stop learning from other great musicians.“

I would like to sincerely thanks Christoph  and the German Hornsound for their time and for sharing their experiences. And to my dear reader, I would love to hear your thought!

See you next post!


Full interview transcript with German Hornsound

1. How was the ensemble started? What was the aim? What is your ensemble philosophy?
The ensemble was founded by four german graduates of the French Horn Class of Prof. Christian Lampert at the State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart in 2010. Actually, the original idea was to spend more time together, to have fun and make music.  After we finished our studies, we drifted apart in four different cities; Berlin, Bamberg, Hannover and Reutlingen and didn’t see each other very often. So we organized a few concerts in 2011/2012. We never expected to go this far of having about 30 concerts a year. Our ensemble philosophy is a homogenous and warm French horn sound combined our own creative concept productions.

2. Were there any official process of setting up an ensemble? If so, what were they? Did you have to register it as an organization? Is it easier to set up a professional ensemble in Germany? Who runs the ensemble?
The ensemble became official in 2013 when we reached the level of  more than 20 concerts a year.  We had to register as a Company. All four of us are equal partners in the company.

3. How are you being funded or supported? Is the ensemble being funded per year? Do you need to find your own sponsorships or patrons?
We just took a chance on Crowdfunding for our first recording in 2012. Since then ,the ensemble hasn't need any patrons or sponsorships and we take the expenses and investments for our productions, merchandising, tours e.g. out of our own incomes.

4. Why should there be another professional horn quartet? What make a successful ensemble?
That is a good question. In our opinion, there are not many Horn quartets, which perform as frequently as we do. Most of the existing quartets are members of orchestral horn sections which perform only a few concerts per year.
Our aim is to create original programs and tour through Germany and Overseas. Since the American Horn Quartet has retired, there are fewer quartets.
You can be successful with this special Instrumentation, when you take a chance at offering interesting programs to the festival and concert series promoters.

5. What is your thought process in creating a performance program? How do you manage your relationship with different types of audience? (I was really impressed by watching your "Wie die Musik um ein Haar flöten ging" Video!)

We offer quite a lot of different programs. On the one hand there are soloistic pieces for four horns and Orchestra. We often played Schumann concert piece and the new piece written for us in 2013 by Tragve Madsen. Then we have our concept programs (sometimes with singers, with actors, with authors).
We have two different education programs for children (“Wie die Musik um ein Haar flöten ging” and “Auf die Hörner, fertig, los!”) where we play the music and act the roles. And last but not least, we have programs just for horn quartet.
But the creation process for all our programs is begun by thinking about which music is arrangeable for our instruments.  Then we create the program around the arrangements. Each of us takes part in the process of making the arrangements, the stories, art work and marketing.

6. What was your latest experience in Asia like? Are there any differences between audience there and in Europe? What else did you learn?
Our debut in Asia two weeks ago in Hongkong and Taipei was absolutely amazing. We had three fantastic concerts. The audience was very friendly and polite. Almost all of them wanted to have pictures with us, and they bought our CDs and merchandising products with our autograms. We met wonderful people and learned that the French Horn society all over the World has a strong sense of togetherness.

7. As a musician, are there any benefits from involving with or taking part in different community?  If so, what do you think the ensemble role is in the community?
We are very often playing in schools during the Music lessons. The young pupil are very excited about the French Horn, about Classical Music in general, about being a professional Musician. And also for us there is a big benefit to meet the future generation directly which we absolutely need tob e interested in classical music, to go into the concerts. For any ensemble this should be a duty!

8. As social media has become part of today’s life; how important it is to be active online? Would this model change in the future?
That is something we also learned last year, especially with our contacts  in Asia. Being active online and in social media is very important. You should keep your followers always up to date with little videos, pictures, and stories. But it is also important to keep concert promoters and agencies up to date and maintain an interesting image.

9. What are the problems that the ensemble has encountered so far and how do you solve them?
For us, the friendship between the four of us is a priority. That is our basis and is still a constant factor. So, we don't have communication problems. Of course we have different opinions in some things but we always solve our differencses with direct communication.
Sometimes we have, of course, musical decisions to make. There are different ways of playing, of articulating, and of phrasing. But we always reach a solution and solve these problems by talking together.

10. What is the ensemble goal for the next 20 – 30 years?
Of course we want to maintain it as it is. We have one big advantage compared to string quartets or other famous chamber music ensembles and that is ,we have our orchestra jobs and can play quartet just for fun on the side. So sometimes we take more risks in investmenting in some crazy things for our productions. Our experience has shown that effort (time, money, ideas) is always worth it. We want to bring French Horn Music to the audiences and show how wonderful our instrument can be!

11. Any word of advices for young professional musicians who are about to go to into a ‘real’ world?
Every musician is different. You have to find your own way of playing an instrument and performing concerts. You have to do this with self-confidence, but never stop learning from other great musicians.

P.S. I was told that I forgot to give an answer to the trivia I wrote from Feb 2, 2017 post. Here we go!

The highest note from orchestral literature is the E above high C which can be found in R. Strauss' Sinfonia Domestica, Op. 53 and the lowest note is the pedal E that can be found in D. Shostakovich Symphony no. 5! (however, I have a feeling that my answers might not be up to dated any more. So, I don't mind if I am wrong so that I can learn something new!)

May the horn sound be with you!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Table of Content from 'Horn Ensemble Around the World' time!

Hello again! It has been a long time since my last post. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome my old and new readers!

For those who don't know, this blog was part of Advanced Brass Ensemble Literature (ABEL) I mentioned above and it needed to focus on one theme so I chose 'Horn Ensemble Around the World'. Since I am done with the class, it is time that I can start to share more interesting and fun stuff! Before doing that I would like to use this blog to list out all previous blogs so you can enjoy!

Content from ABEL
1. Welcome
2. Playlist from Today's Listening Presentation

Extremely Brief History of Horn
1. Hunting Horn
2. Horn in Orchestra

Horn Ensemble Series 
1. Berlin Philharmonic Horns
2. Horn Ensemble Series: the London Horn Sound
3. Horn Ensemble Series: the Vienna Horns
4. Horn Ensemble Series: a fight back from the London Horn Sound!
5. Horn Ensemble Series: What happen after 'Give it one'?
6. Horn Ensemble Series: a Story of Horn Pure
7. Horn Ensemble Series: American Horn Quartet
8. Horn Ensemble Series: Transatlantic Horn Quartet
9. Horn Ensemble Series: Budapest Festival Horn Quartet
10. Horn Ensemble Series: Professional Horn Quartet Today

Personal Interest
1. Thoughtful Monday: 12 hours without music
2. Re-thinking Brass Ensemble: Brass Music from other culture?

See you next post!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Re-thinking Brass Ensemble: Brass Music from other culture?

In our last ABEL class, Prof. Manning presented brass music from other cultures and asked all of us to post a blog of brass music from other cultures to share with others. Well, I was thinking of doing a post about 'Brass' ensemble anyway.

In my very first blog post, I defined 'horn' and 'ensemble' but never did define brass. Here it is.

According to Meriam-Webster, Brass means

1. an alloy consisting essentially of copper and zinc in variable proportions
2. a :  the brass instruments of an orchestra or band —often used in plural
    b :  a usually brass memorial tablet
    c :  bright metal fittings, utensils, or ornaments
    d :  empty cartridge shells
3. brazen self-assurance
4. singular or plural in construction
  1. a :  high-ranking members of the militaryb :  persons in high positions (as in a business or the government)
As a musician, our mutual understanding of 'brass' is the 2nd definition that the instrument in brass family are made of brass. What about saxophone then? Well, it is a woodwind instrument because it uses wooden read to produce sound. Sure, clarinet, oboe, and bassoon use the same thing. What about flute? One can argue that flute used to be made of wood so it counts as a woodwind instrument. 

Let's go back further in time. The origins of most instrument came from natures such as animal horns or seas shells.

I know this is not brass instrument but if we consider how today's instrument built, shouldn't flute or saxophone be part of the brass instrument? or even vibraphone?

Now my 'Brass' ensemble is a little broader which allow us to enjoy more type of music from brass such as music from South East Asian traditions. Here the example of Gamelan music

Here is the introduction to Gamelan music.

And here are some Gamelan music.

Of course, there are other instruments in South East Asian tradition that are made of brass as well. 
Such as Kong Wong - an instrument consists of tuned gongs. It can be divided into two types - Kong Wong Yai which consists of 16 tuned gongs in a lower pitch (Yai means big), and Kong Wong Lek which consists of 18 tuned gongs in a higher pitch (Lek means small). 

Kong Wong Yai

It would be interesting to see a mixture of western brass instrument playing with other traditions brass instrument. What I can find so far is the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan Ensemble by Lou Harrison. Very interesting piece!

Sometime we are afraid of loosing our identity which blocks our creativity. Of course, we all need to know and to have basic understanding of things we want to explore first. Once we know where the boundaries are, we can then start to find a way to reshape it or even to melt it down so that we can create something new. 

In today's music world, classical music has arrived the point that it starts to get stuck. Once we get stuck, human's instinct yearn for something new hence new creation, new types of music. Keeping tradition is good and it should be kept and supported but, as we all know that things that can't evolved to the new setting extincts, classical music needs to be evolved too. That is why we can now see many new ways of presenting music which is a good thing.

For this last 'official' post for Advanced Brass Ensemble Literature class, I would like to end with a quote by Charles Darwin:

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”   

Extra: This is how western brass musical instruments have been evolved and used in Thai traditional ceremony.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Horn Ensemble Series: Professional Horn Quartet Today

Even though the American Horn Quartet has ended their journey, the Budapest Festival Horn Quartet, and the Transatlantic Horn Quartet do not perform as much as they used to, there are still some professional horn ensembles out there. They are Genghis Barbie, Leipziger Horn Quartet, and the German Hornsound - the latest addition to the horn quartet world.

I learned of Genghis Barbie from an article on Facebook and I am glad I found them! The group was founded in around 2010 by Alana Vegter, Danielle Kuhlmann, Leelane Sterrett, and Rachel Drehmann - 4 female hornists in New York City. They are considered, according to their website, the leading post post-feminist feminist all-female horn experience. Their repertoire includes arrangements of pop music from the 70's, 80's, 90's and today, contemporary commission, and classical works. They have released four studio albums: the self-titled debut album, the holiday album "Genghis Barbie: Home for the Holidays," "Genghis Baby: Songs for Noa," and the newly released "Amp it Up!" Genghis Barbie aspires to appear on the Ellen DeGeneres show within one calendar year.

Sweet Dreams (Are made of this) by Genghis Barbie

Above video is one of how innovative and creative they are. They definitely know where the untouched land is and they can obviously do it really well. They even have their own stage name!

  • Alana Vegter aka Freedom Barbie - a graduated from Julliard and was a substitute Assistant Principal Horn with New York Philharmonic 2014 - 2015 season.
  • Danielle Kuhlmann aka Velvet Barbie - a graduate from Julliard and Rice University. Currently 2nd horn with San Diego Symphony Orchestra
  • Leelanee Sterrett aka Cosmic Barbie - a graduate from University of Wisconsin -  Madison and Yale University. Currently 3rd horn with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Rachel Drehmann aka Attila the Horn - a graduate from University of Minnesota and the Manhattan School of Music. Freelance in NYC.
Enjoy their videos on their YouTube channel HERE.

Leipziger Horn Quartet is a more traditional oriented horn quartet comparing to the Genghis Barbie. The members are from orchestra in city of Leipzig in Germany. According to their website, they were formed in 1951. Even though members changed, the group have never disappeared. 

The group current members are all from MDR Symphony Orchestra (formerly known as Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Leipzig)
  • Max Hilpert - Solo Horn of MDR Symphony Orchestra 
  • Tino Bolk - Solo Horn of MDR Symphony Orchestra
  • Johannes Winkler - Horn of MDR Symphony Orchestra
  • Michael Guhne - Horn of MDR Symphony Orchestra

They have recorded 6 CDs. The latest CD is called "Romantische Hornquartette". Below is a track from this CD. The distinct sound of German horn playing (brighter and "Alexander 103" sound) can be heard clearly in this recording. 

Quartett für vier Waldhörner in E-Flat Major, Op. 19: IV. Alla Pollacca - Monore - Maggiore 

If you want to hear more of them, go HERE

German Hornsound is the latest addition to horn quartet world. I will talk about them and what I learn from their interview in the next post!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Horn Ensemble Series: Budapest Festival Horn Quartet

Playing chamber music with your colleagues is not only socially and musically fun, it helps bonding sectional playing as well. Once the section is strong and everybody know their respective duties, it only helps each member to become stronger both as a group and an individual.

Berlin Philharmonic Horns and its Four Corners was a good example of a group of horn quartet that came out of an orchestra (from Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra of course).

Budapest Festival Horn Quartet consists of four horn members of Budapest Festival Orchestra in Hungary. Founded in around 1983 by Ivan Fischer, the orchestra comprises of young and upcoming musicians in Hungary. Since then, they have become one of the world sought after orchestra

Budapest Festival Horn Quartet members are from the Festival Orchestra led by Miklos Nagy who is the principal horn of both the Festival Orchestra, and the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra.

According to Nagy (click HERE to read Nagy's interview), the inspiration of this ensemble was after they had heard American Horn Quartet in Barcs competition. They were very active during mid 90's up until around 2010 in which they released two CDs. There are some distinct styles in their playing which separate them from the American Horn Quartet. They are also technically amazing and can play everything with ease.

Explore their YouTube channel HERE for some more amazing playing!