Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Born Again" Horn Player

When Christian Hansen first approached me about The Balanced Embouchure, he had returned to school to get his teaching certificate.   He had been performing professionally for 10 years but found it too frustrating due to embouchure issues.  About a year later, he sent me this photo.  He was happily performing  again with the 113th Army Band "Dragons" in Ft. Knox, KY.   

Below is a copy of an email he sent to Jeff Smiley in 2009:  

"I received the BE book, with horn amendments, about two weeks ago and have been in close contact with Valerie Wells since with lots of "how too" questions (Valerie has been great by the way). In all my years I have never seen a (for lack of a better word) "miracle" product that actually delivers what it says like BE has. 

RI is no problem and RO is getting better but the amazing thing is the results on my regular playing. I can easily play up to a high C and with surprisingly little effort can play scales and arpeggios up to F, G, A and Bb (only once) above that. I am not contorting my face or straining. Tone and low register have gotten stronger and more solid too. I am SHOCKED that your system has not taken the brass teaching/playing world by storm.

All my formal training was - whether they actually said it or not - with the Farkas method. Heck my Undergrad was at IU. I have never seen a horn player without something of a flat chin and tight corners. Trumpet players are another story. I have seen many with air pockets and a bunched chin and always wondered how they could play with that "screwed up" set up. I think that is funny now. 

Thanks again. I am so glad I stumbled across your system. The internet is a wonderful thing."

Christian Hansen
Band Director and born again Horn Player

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Eight Years on BE and Still Going

This is my original copy of BE purchased in 2006. 
It's been 8 years since I began studying BE.  Knowing how ADD I am and my history of flitting from one hobby to the next, I think it's amazing that I'm still playing horn.  For me, 8 years is a record for continuous engagement in one single, just-for-fun, creative endeavor.

Earlier this summer, I enjoyed playing pit orchestra for a local production of "The Sound of Music." And I'm definitely looking forward to another season with the Tacoma Community College orchestra and symphonic band.  And I'm hoping to play in the orchestra for local church productions of "The Messiah", "Lamb of God" and any other ad hoc music activities that come my way.  And I'm looking forward to many more years of horn playing.  I know, without any doubt, if it weren't for BE, I would have quit (again!) years ago.

My husband commented recently, "You'd be miserable without your music." He's right. I'm grateful for Jeff Smiley's huge contribution to my happiness.  "The Balanced Embouchure" has helped make horn playing a joyful and satisfying experience.

-----------------------

Cameron Kopf gave this feedback to this post on FaceBook:   

CONGRATS, Valerie Wells! Your sharing of this technique is valuable to the horn community, and it is gratifying to hear that it has helped you keep playing for 8 years!

BE has truly been one of the best things to happen in my playing over the past 2 years, both on trumpet and horn! I continue to evolve with it daily.

I am discovering over time that BE is a very fluid technique, enabling me to play both horn and trumpet with much more ease, and I incorporate various aspects of it in different playing situations.

After learning the basics and following the instructions as closely as possible for the first year, later on it is up to the individual to decide how to apply the techniques; it's not cookie cutter. The concepts of rolling-in and rolling-out forms the basis for all brass playing, really. It's all a matter of pacing and combining RI & RO techniques to fit the musical situation at hand.

As time goes on, it seems to be becoming more "fluid" for me, being able to shift between these techniques. And so, as a professional horn player, I have made good progress on the trumpet over the past 2 years.

I am firmly convinced that I would have NOT been able to achieve this progress without BE. Thanks again Valerie. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Losing a friend, Sandra Clark


        With sadness that I report the passing of Sandra Clark.  Sandra was not only a fine horn player, but a good friend. Sandra took the time to study BE then kindly and publicly supported my efforts to promote The Balanced Embouchure on the Memphis Horn list when many French horn players openly ridiculed it. She also took the time to email Jeff Smiley to show her appreciation for his work with the same passion she used to express herself in her every endeavor.  
         "Congratulations on your work. I believe that within ten years (less if there is any justice and fairness out there), everyone will be teaching your concept of lip rolling -- if not the entire spectrum of your method."
Read her complete testimonial here
Read her obituary here.  

Many will miss you, Sandra Clark. Rest in Peace.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

"Try BE first... it might be the cheaper solution to your problem."

Last week, I received a delightful email from Marina in Germany.  

Dear Valerie,

First of all my husband and I want to say "thank you".  The BE book and the French horn booklet I had ordered on march 31st arrived quite quickly. Your e-mail with some additional information for French horn players was very helpful to me, too.

BTW:
This e-mail is quite long and I´m going to refer to different topics.
It might be helpful for you to know what I´m going to write about. Otherwise you might find it somehow unstructured.
So:

1. " 3 weeks of "To BE and not to BE": what happened?"
2. "Surprise, surprise: Uwe Zaiser´s performance of the LCS on Youtube!"
3. "What I (long time ago!) learned from three different teachers:
     (Short summary: lots, nothing, nothing.)"
4. "How you (with BE) can save or (without BE) can waste a big amount of 
      money ;-)"
There we go!  

1. " 3 weeks of "To BE and not to BE": what happened?"

After 10 days:  Now both of us (my husband (trumpet) and I (French horn)) are practicing BE for about 10 days and we can sometimes give feedback to each other; that´s great.  And yes, there are already funny things happening during our every day practicing sessions and during the rehearsals.For example:  I recognized that that very little bit of "finding the double pedals" , "RO#1" and "figuring out the lip clamp squeak" is affecting my flexibility in normal playing in a positive way.  Even the sound is getting richer. I should tell you that I quite soon could hear that myself, but I refused to believe my ears.  I thought: "It´s somehow psychological... you WANT that big sound and now you started practicing BE and that´s why you´re thinking you can hear it yet. It´s like going to see the doctor and while you´re speaking to him you already feel a little bit cured." But, hey! Others can hear it, too! (So I don´t have to go and see a shrink ...)

The most funny thing is that since the sound is becoming richer, there are incredibly large amounts of water in the slides, while I´m practicing in the same room and at the same roomtemperature as before. I could almost fill my dog´s drinking bowl with it!  (By the way: my dog is a ShiTzu, not a Saint Bernard, in case you start wondering about the size of the bowl...)

So I started thinking about that. Result: there can only be two reasons for it:

Reason 1: It´s not water, it´s spit. Well, I could tell you funny stories about huge amounts of spit in the third valve Bb-horn-slide, related to being the principal during Tchaikowsky 5th... but in this case, it´s NOT spit.

Reason 2: The way my lips are moving in the mouthpiece is changing. Because of this I´m blowing more air into the horn than before. The richness of the sound and the water are due to (still small) development of the embouchure. I suppose, that´s more likely. Honestly: I can´t get through an Gallay-Etude anymore because I have to stop and empty the slides. If the producer of the slide grease I use has shares on offer, I´m going to buy all of them! (Just kidding...)

After 3 weeks: After those 10 days of practicing BE I unfortunately got a serious cold that affected my breathing in a way that I could neither speak nor play horn. (But I did the Lip Clamp once a day!)  I had to stop playing for more than a week and started again 3 days ago.  The first 2 days the BE-effect seemed to be gone, but I didn´t worry about that.

Yesterday (third day of playing after the cold) I started practicing at 6 p.m. That´s normally the time of the day we have dinner. So I told my husband he would have to wait for one more hour.  At 8 p.m. he said: "I´m really hungry..." Oooops! 2 (!) hours of playing? And I had already been playing for 1 hour that morning. 3 (!!!) hours of practicing a little bit of BE, some scales and arpeggios and 4 different Gallay-Etudes? Three days after I hadn´t played for about 9 days?  And: the sound was almost as good again as after that 10 days of BE before I got ill.  And again there´s a lot of water in the slides...

 2. "Surprise, surprise: Uwe Zaiser´s performance of the LCS on Youtube!"

There´s ´something else I wanted to tell you about:  When I tried to figure out the LCS for the first time, I didn´t really understand what Jeff meant by using the word "squeak". I was asking myself if it was something like buzzing a very high pitch. So I asked my friend "Youtube" and found a guy called "Spasstrompeter" demonstrating the LCS. With his heavy German accent he says: "No-no buzzing!" This helped me a lot! Without that little video I would have done the wrong thing without being conscious of it. (Later that week I read about the fact that some years ago he had uploaded almost all BE-exercises, but Jeff convinced him not to share all of them on YouTube, because people would imitate his embouchure. And BE is not about imitating somebody, but about figuring out what your own individual balanced embouchure is like. I think Jeff is right, but I´m also very happy that the LCS can still be found on Youtube. It´s helpful because of the  "mosquito-sound". And yes, the player´s corners are quite tightened, but it´s his individual way to do the LCS...)  

When "Spasstrompeter" appeared in front of his camera I immediatly recognized him as Uwe Zaiser.  I know him for more than 20 years, even he does not know me at all. Uwe Zaiser is not only first chair in a very good German orchestra, he has also been (and still is)  a member of the excellent German brass quintett "Rennquintett". The Rennquintett was founded in 1987 and I started taking French horn lessons in 1993, when I was thirteen. The first 2 years my teacher (and band leader) was Ralf Rudolph, tuba player of the Rennquintett.  (In my first e-mail I told you that my first teacher was a tuba player, which might be the reason that I have kind of a trumpet embouchure and that I´ve never been told anything about such strange things like "einsetzen"...He also played the trombone quite well, but couldn´t get a proper sound out of a French horn (*LOL*).)  Of course I heard Uwe perform with the Rennquintett and I still have some 20 year-old Rennquintett CD´s... (Time to get the newest ones!)  

And I think it´s funny when I as a German order the BE-method (which is quite unknown here) from someone in the United States and then find my old teachers colleague on Jeff´s official BE-teachers list and as the one who solved my LCS-problem via Youtube.

 3. "What I (long time ago!) learned from three different teachers:
     (Short summary: lots, nothing, nothing.)"

 Due to the fact that I almost didn´t play between my 20th and 30th birthday, it took me quite a long time to recognize that  I have had a good teacher (-> Uwe´s colleague). I didn´t recognize until the time when I was a "come-back"  in the Dutch orchestra I´m playing now with. More than once one of the other horn players said: "You must have had a  good teacher!" Yes, I´ve had a great teacher who was not able to play French horn at all, and I´m very, very grateful for that (*LOL*)!  After two years of teaching me he decided that I  needed someone who could teach me more specific things concerning the French horn. The next 18 months I tried two professional horn players as teachers and what I learned was: nothing.

At that time I also got some health problems and so I quit.  I gave up the idea of becoming a professional player, but I went on playing in the orchestra as long as I still went to school. When I became an university student I had to move to another town and I couldn´t find an orchestra which I could have joined.  I (almost didn´t) play anymore until I was 31 years old.

 4. "How you (with BE) can save or (without BE) can waste a big amount of money ;-)"
By the way: In the second year of my come-back-period I struggled enormously with my horn, especially with the sound. (It´s one of the very early Engelbert Schmid horns, manufactured after his plans, but not by himself. My first teacher (-> the one who played tuba) found it for me in 1995. One of his colleagues wanted to sell it.) So I took it to a professional horn player near Amsterdam (The Netherlands) for a general overhaul (...the first one after 15 years...shame on me!...) This man is also a French horn manufacturer and I told him that I was thinking about buying a new horn. When he seemed very interested in buying my instrument, I became suspicious.  So I looked up Engelbert Schmid´s price list on the internet in order to find out what my kind of horn would cost right now when it would be new. I almost lost consciousness...And I decided that I´m a lucky devil.

I also decided that it must be me who creates the bad sound, not the horn. At the same time a Dutch horn player whom I had told about my plans to buy a new instrument gave me a magazine from the Dutch horn society (Nederlands Hoornisten Genootschap).  In that magazine I found an interesting article. The title was: "There exist no bad horns, just bad ...(horn players)".  The next day I opened the website of my favourite search engine and entered (in English): "French horn embouchure".  And I found a website with a picture of a very nice looking lady and her horn ... Guess who... I started practicing more seriously, which helped a lot (*LOL*), but after 4 months I wrote you an e-mail...

So if somebody says: "I need a new horn, because mine sounds badly somehow!", you can answer: "Try BE first, because it might be the cheaper solution to your problem..."

(And OF COURSE there are bad instruments and buying a good one is not a waste of money, but it doesn´t make sense to buy an Engelbert Schmid Triple or an Alexander 103 when you cannot play properly...)  It´s unnecessary to say that not all of my dreams concerning my horn sound and flexibility have come true yet.

Kind regards from Germany, Marina

Monday, March 24, 2014

BE- It's Not Just for High Notes!

Val,
On Tues my BE arrived and I immediately began Roll Out 1. Did LCS, some Roll In, got acquainted, so to speak.

Late Thurs I got an emergency call from a a local Maestro that the 2nd horn had torn a retina, could I sit in on 2nd for the Fri and Sat shows? No rehearsal, no music, sight read the concerts. I am a high horn guy, I play a Bb/Eb horn, I can count on my thumbs the times I have ever played 2nd, I have no idea what a ledger below the staff is. So, naturally. I said "Sure".

In the Faure Pavane the 2nd blasts out A,G F whole notes, (below middle C), ff with accents, my worst notes and range. Long story short. The notes roared out. (I reminded myself to pull my corners in and roll out). Then the same A, breath attacked at piano with a steady cres to forte in the Bruch violin concerto. Same result.

The encore piece was Gliere Russian Sailor's Dance, which I played 1st on to spell the Principal. Decided to take the F# after the non-stop D's the end. Roared.

Nobody is more amazed than me.
Michael Langiewicz

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Questions from a BEginner

Q: Should I wait to move on to Roll out 2 until I can play every note in Roll out 1??? If I EVER hit the low C it will be something I have NEVER been able to do....

A: No. I always say do what you CAN do, keep trying to do what you CAN'T, and MOVE ON. Over time you will be able to do every note of every exercise. In the mean time, there's no need to hold yourself back unless you're trashing your chops overdoing things. But, you'll have to be the judge of how much is too much.


Q: Can I do the Roll ins and LCS with less air pocket? I find I can get more clamp and squeak by keeping the air pockets to a minimum...

A: Yes, you can. That's how I did them for two years and I progressed very nicely. But . . . I encourage you to continually strive to play RI's with one or more air pockets (in upper lip and/or lower lip and/or cheeks). If you never learn how to do the air pockets, you'll still play well and progress quite nicely, but you'll miss some additional benefits that can only come from playing RI with air pockets. The benefit of playing RI with air pockets brings a whole new shape & feel to your lips that are so "inside the mouthpiece" I can't even explain them. It's kinda like religion, it's one of those things that simply must be experienced to understand. HAH! Do it as often as you like. You will have to be the judge to determine how much is too much. I had an interesting experience with LCS when I first came back to horn. I had been playing for only a few months when I joined a community band. There was a younger man, Andy, sitting beside me who came back to horn about the same time I had. I was practicing 3 hours a day; Andy only practiced 30 to 45 minutes a day. I was killing myself to play a fourth line D; Andy was playing above the staff with ease. It was baffling to me. I chalked it up to his youth and strength. A few months later I found BE and read about LCS. I went to band rehearsal and demonstrated LCS to him. When he saw it he said, "Oh yeah, I do that all the time!" "Why?" I asked. He explained that he does LCS, not as an embouchure exercise, but for fun when he plays silly games with his 2 year old son. He also explained that he had been doing LCS since his childhood because that 's how little boys make "naughty noises" to embarrass their mothers, teachers and the girls! I carefully watched Andy play his horn, and observed that he bunched his chin upwards as he pushed his lips together to play. When it came to embouchure & the high range, Andy was just a "natural." Well, guess what? My practice habits and BE paid me big dividens. A few months later, I had all the range I needed and then some.. as if I were a "natural." This was one of several experiences in my early days of studying BE that served to convince me that Jeff Smiley knew what he was talking about. Jonathan, I can tell by your questions that you are going to progress very nicely with BE! You're grasping the concepts very well. I may want to use these questions either on my blog or a "BE for French Horn" email. Would that be okay with you?  Valerie

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Trumpet and Horn: More from Cameron

I posted a discussion from Cameron Kopf a few days ago (scroll down).  Now Cameron is sharing a picture and more information about his application of BE principals to his regular embouchure and his mouthpiece choice.  [I commented at the bottom in brackets.]  

"I'm playing on a modified Yamaha 667: Dennis Houghton mouth pipe and Lawson ambronze bell, in case you're interested. I am very happy with this horn.

"At the moment I am using a Schilke #29 stock mouthpiece (unlike the Osmun London cup in the pic). I find that the slightly wider inner cup diameter of the Schilke works much better now that I'm doing BE. It's easier to roll in.

"By the way, I am now concentrating on using RI for all registers, just over the past couple of days, and am seeing good results. My particular challenge now is to get the second line G on the staff to open up, both in sound and for tonguing. So I am now working on opening that note up with sustained tones and faster tonguing. 

"Like you, I feel more comfortable with RI for most of my playing needs, but RO exercises are very important to do regularly to keep the RI muscles properly balanced."

"Best regards,
Cameron"


[Thanks, Cameron!  I don't really understand how & why RO works, but I know it does.  One trumpet player who's been studying BE for many years tells me that RO makes RI possible.  He says he does RO so he can do RI.  And, many, many horn & trumpet players report HUGE improvements from playing RO.  One pro trumpet player Jeff taught, struggled with several years of stagnation.  He took off like a shot with RO alone so never bothered with RI.  Go figure.  Some horn players think they don't need RO because they already have a low range.  I always tell them RO is not for the low range; it's for the whole embouchure.  Whatever develops the whole embouchure, develops range in both directions.]