Sunday, 18 October 2009

Chance meeting

Coventry went fine - it was in fact more of service than a concert, so no audience applause. I don't think I had been in the building since I was about 12 years old, and I was surprised at how much of it I remembered.

The choir gradually got used to singing together - they were an assembly of church choirs from nonconformist churches up & down the land, and weren't all that used to singing regularly in a large group together (there were about 400 in the choir in total). They also weren't used to playing with orchestral accompaniment. About the first thing said by some of the sopranos in the front row of the choir was to complain that they couldn't hear a thing apart from the horns in front of them! (The conductor chose not even to reply to them.) But the choir got better during the rehearsal and in the service itself, they managed to produce a really good rousing sound in a a few pieces, particularly the Mendelssohn Hymn of Praise.

But the trip was additionally worthwhile for a conversation I had with one of the other horn players between the rehearsal and the service. I had met Anne Harrow for the first time just the previous fortnight, when we had been called in as extras to play the Dvorak Serenade with Ealing Symphony, but I hadn't had much opportunity to talk with her then. There was a longer interval after the rehearsal this time, and we got chatting about music and musicians we both knew. And it turned out that she, like me, had been to the Royal College of Music and had in fact done her Masters degree there.

She described the subject of her masters dissertation, which I found quite fascinating - it was on the techniques and strategies used by horn players to pitch their note for an entry. Apparently she had devised an experiment to try and work this out, and then had interviewed and run the experiment with about 60 horn players, including some London's top professionals as well as various students and amateurs. And it seems that the top players do approach this in a way different from mere mortals.

She's promised to see if she can dig out a copy of the dissertation and let me read it, and when I do so, I plan to write more about it. If there is a technique that works for the best professionals and it isn't getting taught to students, then that seems to be something of a pity. I'm not going to rely on my memory to describe the various techniques she described (except that I do recall that she mentioned that Tony Halstead's method was entirely unique to him!). I would rather wait until I read it and then be able to describe it all with more accuracy.

There's always something new to learn, if you keep your ears and mind open and ready to receive it.

By the way, I also spoke briefly to organist Rufus Frowde to say how much I had enjoyed his playing. He was really enjoying playing on the magnificent organ in Coventry Cathedral. He showed me the cover of the book that included one of the solo organ pieces he was playing, (something like "Modern pieces for organ, book 15"), and it turned out that the cover was a picture of the ranks of pipes of the Coventry Cathedral organ, and those precise pipes were right above our heads! All extra inspiration.

1 comment:

  1. You've got my full attention! That's the one issue I've never been able to figure out an approach for, other than trying to develop a stronger sense of relative pitch and to "feel" the pitch of the note in my embouchure before playing it.

    There are few place names in the English language more evocative than "Coventry" - from the carol to the bombing and everything else before, between, and after. For a colonial, the sense of history is mind boggling. Great to be reminded of it and to hear the cathedral a vibrant part of the community.