Saturday, October 12, 2013
Sam Minnich playing Bach Cantata 79 "Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild" mvt 1
Valerie: Tell us a little about your music background, Sam.
Sam: I grew up in a very musical house. My father is a huge fan of classical music, and has an enormous self-recorded collection of radio broadcast live performances. I grew up listening to the sounds of the great symphony orchestras, primarily the Boston Symphony Orchestra. My mother is a fan of folk and blues music, and taught me to play guitar at the age of 6. At age 10 I started playing the horn, after a brief unsuccessful attempt at piano lessons. A couple of years later I started playing trumpet in the school jazz band. I picked up the harmonica somewhere in my teenage years as well, starting with blues, and recently branching out into jazz. After high school I went on to study horn at the Boston conservatory, and later at New England Conservatory with Gus Sebring, associate principle horn of the Boston Symphony. I played with a lot of the second tier orchestras in the New England area before moving to Germany, where I currently live. I've built a new career consisting of a good balance of performance and teaching over the past years. The fact that I've always had diversity in my musical life has been of great benefit to me.
Valerie: What prompted you to investigate The Balanced Embouchure?
Sam: In October of 2012 I played one of the most physically taxing pieces of my career, Bach Cantata no. 79. The piece has over 20 high D's in it, and the 3rd movement is 62 bars of stratospheric Bach madness! Having barely scraped by in the red zone in the concert had already made me start thinking about ways to make my playing more efficient. A couple weeks later I met Andrew Joy, due to some questions I had about the Joy Key (which by the way is a brilliant invention!). We hit it off instantly, and spent the next several hours exchanging ideas and experimenting with different concepts. That day he showed me several books for horn I had never seen. One of those books was The Balanced Embouchure. I ordered it the next day.
Valerie: Andrew is one of BE's greatest ambassadors! What were your initial impressions after reading the book?
Sam: After reading through the book, I thought there were a lot of things in it that were very unconventional. A lot of things made sense, and I agreed with Jeff Smiley on his assessment of many aspects of playing. I tend to be very open for new ideas anyway, so it was a nice breath of fresh air for my approach to horn. One of the main things that stuck out to me was his insistence that the Balanced Embouchure method is not an embouchure change, but a system designed to develop efficiency with your already existing embouchure. I was lucky that one of my teachers early on helped me to find an embouchure that worked for me, and I haven't had to go through the horror of a major embouchure change like so many of my colleagues. Embouchure is also something that is always developing, and to be honest, I have no idea how my embouchure will look in 10 years. BE seems to be guiding me in my lifelong quest for the ultimate in efficiency, absolutely effortless playing which enables me to directly transfer my exact musical intent. It's an unacheivable ideal, but that's what we're all striving for, isn't it?
Valerie: What improvements have you noticed as a result of studying BE for the past year?
Sam: Definitely more ease and endurance when playing. I had a few heavy multiple rehearsal days a couple of months into studying BE, and was really surprised how little lasting fatigue I experienced. At the end of the day, I felt almost as fresh as at the beginning. I feel like my playing is also gaining consistency due to BE. I don't have quite as much variation from day to day as before, and I know how it's going to feel and sound when I pick up the horn. It's like flipping a switch, and it's there. Warming up is becoming less and less necessary. My high register is stretching itself out as well. E above high C is a really solid note now. F is getting there. I can feel the potential to take it much higher. I can actually get squeaks up into the double C range. They're not yet so controllable, and the strength of sound isn't yet there, but it's something that was unthinkable for me before BE. Another thing I've noticed is how quickly I recover my conditioning when taking extended time away from the horn. I recently took 16 days off from playing while on vacation, only using the Warburton P.E.T.E. training device once daily and doing the occasional lip clamp squeak during that time. I came back feeling stronger than when I left! It only took me about a day or 2 to find my accuracy, but I was really shocked by how quickly everything was there again. BE just makes it all focus.
Valerie: Wonderful, Sam! How do you feel about introducing BE to your students and other horn players?
Sam: I've been using bits and pieces with a lot of my students, getting them to practice the RO pedals, and RI high notes. I've introduced a couple of my more advanced students to the whole system, and it's had a big influence on their playing. I've also found that introducing young beginner students to RI as a means of playing high notes makes it a lot easier for many of them to play high. Some of my 8 year old students can already hit a top staff F. I think that learning these concepts at an early age will help them greatly in the future. It gets me excited to think about a new generation of students who know from the start how to get their embouchures balanced. I'm not sure how many other BE teachers use elements of it on beginner students.
I'm a little bit careful when mentioning BE to my colleagues. It's important to read the signals someone is sending to see if they are receptive to such unconventional ideas. I have a few fellow horn players that have responded with interest, and I've been very open with them about my progress due to BE. It's definitely a long term goal of mine to spread the word about BE in my circles. A lot of my colleagues also do a lot of teaching, and I think BE could be a great help for them, seeing as how they don't have large amounts of time to devote to daily practice. The efficiency of practice time that BE offers is really one of it's greatest values.
Valerie: Thank you, Sam, for your splendid example.
Monday, September 23, 2013
First, a little disclaimer! What you see demonstrated in this video is NOT a requirement of the BE method. This is Colin having fun extending a specific BE exercise beyond the norm.
- Colin Ng has taken Lip Clamp Squeak to a whole new level! Colin recently shared this on FaceBook:
I decided to conclude this wild goose chase finally. The best way to develop the Orbicularis Oris muscle (circular band around the top and bottom lips especially at the corners.) is device free, and happens to be the unsuspecting and innocent BE initiation before the RI exercises called the Lip Clamp Squeak or LCS....
In short, Once you manage to get air through the clamp setup, followed by some seemingly embarrassing and pathetic squeaks, and eventually a few workable notes in high buzz, you can observe in the mirror how much more flexed and pronounced the OO muscles have become. For the chops to maintain the clamp against the out going air, they really have to work to narrow in. and for the air to even make it through the clamp, our abdominals have to really work to get the wind support up against the resistance. chop strength and air support/speed for great sound/high notes all addressed in one exercise.
We get to have one lean mean machine there; no toys no expenses. High notes and great stamina can happen even before achieving the RI-#1 properly.
I "forced" myself to clock in 10-15 minutes of nursery rhymes (5 notes melody) on LCS. Like a body builder torturing himself because he can't wait to flex his muscles in front of a gym mirror. It looks firm and 'chiseled' in the mirror and when I play normal repertoire it really feels easy and great.
Here I've cut and pasted various posts from the Balanced Embouchure for Horn group on FaceBook. https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/101746176633232/
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
If one picture is worth a thousand words, one video is worth one-hundred thousand words. Steve Park made a video recording of me demonstrating a few of the basic BE techniques. I distribute a link to this private youtube video to all who buy the BE book. I'm always grateful and tickled when I receive feedback like this! I'm very grateful for Steve's support and, of course, for Jeff Smiley's BE method. After studying it for 8 years, I'm still mesmerized by what it helps horn players achieve!
I started BE tonight and wanted to let you know that your youtube video was a great help! I tried for 30 minutes to get a pedal f out. No luck. I can see where young players have the advantage here. Finally I found it, and was actually able to hold it out for some time.
I can't wait to move on to the other exercises. It is great to actually see you play these and hear them too, of course!
Friday, May 10, 2013
The following is a fun little email exchange I had with a "cute chemistry teacher."
Hi Valerie, It's Ron Drucker in Berkeley--I'm doing basic BE several times a week and really finding results in tone, endurance, so I can't thank you enough.
We're going to Turkey for 3 weeks, and I'm thinking of packing a mouthpiece to keep on buzzing. Do BE exercises work without the rest of the horn?
Thanks, Ronald Drucker
RON! I'm so happy to hear from you. YES! I know quite a few horn players who report good results from buzzing BE exercises on their mouthpieces. One horn player, Lou Denaro, in New York buzzes BE exercises on his mouthpiece while he's walking to his office.
I'd love to put your spontaneous little testimony above on my blog. May I? Also, if you have a picture of yourself to share, that would be great, too.
Thanks for contacting me.
Sure, happy to share. I haven't got a picture handy, sadly, nor means to get one without great fumbling. But you can assure them I'm really cute for a chemistry teacher.
(part of my cuteness may have to do with the full-style lip shape that Jeff id's in his trumpet students as making it hard to sustain tension; at any rate, it's been hard to extend my range upward, but BE really seems to be helping)
Thanks for your support!
When I asked Lou Denaro if he still buzzes on his way to work, he shared a few details:
- Absolutely and I still scare people when doing so. At work they google my name, find your blog and ask "what's BE?" and I tell them "remember those noises I made behind you in the corridor out of Grand Central and you hastened away to avoid further harassment until you found the guts to turn around and face off your tormentor only to find out it was me? That's "BE."
Friday, April 12, 2013
A horn player recently asked tips to improve the upper register on Facebook. Micah Cooper's answer was short, sweet & to the point!
Get BE and do the exercises. I went from 4 to 5 octaves in one month.
Later, he shared this with me in a message:
I wish I had BE when I was in high school. Things would have been a whole lot easier. Also, I said 5 octaves for my range in my post. When I am practicing a lot my range pushes 5 1/2. And when I come off a multiple month layoff, I can get back my chops in a week or two with the program. Just Awesome.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Six years studying The Balanced Embouchure. It just keeps giving me more & more. The progress never stops unless I stop. I'm not the greatest horn player in the world, of course. I'm just a little old lady, come back horn playing grandma with a chronic neurological disease, who plays in community ensembles and gets the occasional paid gig. But, there are so many things I can do now that I wouldn't have been able to had it not been for BE. I'm thankful.
Once again, BE has come to the rescue. I injured my upper lip in an accident December 2nd, driving my front tooth clear through the center of the under side of my upper lip. Five days later a little blob of dead flesh sloughed off leaving a small hole, then a scar right where the aperture forms. (It reminded me of the injury Adrew Joy described that prompted him to find help, and eventually BE.) http://beforhorn.blogspot.com/2011/08/joy-continues-on-balanced-embouchure_07.html After taking few weeks off, I found myself with severely limited range and endurance, not to mention horrid tone. It was definitely a déjà vu experience. My embouchure function was eerily similar to what it had been 7 years ago before I started studying BE!
I thought it would be a quick fix, but progress was slow because my lips would swell at the slightest provocation severely limiting practice time. It took a full four months before I had recovered the range & endurance I had before the accident. Thanks to BE, I'm back & enjoying playing again.
Three cheers for Jeff Smiley!