Pip Eastop, Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Pip Eastop, hornplayer, teacher, horn, trumpet, jazz, sessions, London, soloist, orchestral, improvisation etc....

Posts tagged “bent mouthpiece

The Bent Mouthpiece

(This page was first published in my old website, several years ago, so the photo is rather old. I’m much better looking these days.) 

If I suggested that by bending your mouthpiece you would suddenly have an infinite range of new playing positions, would you believe me?

No, of course you wouldn’t. However, it’s true.

Having played on a bent mouthpiece for many years now and having enjoyed the advantages it brings it now seems to me, with the benefit of hindsight, such an obvious thing to want to do that I wonder why it has not been tried before. Tracing back through the path which led me to the idea I can see why bending the mouthpiece seemed logical to me then, but also why, had I gone down a different path, I might not have thought of it.

It all started with the PipStick which worked very well for me right from the start, except for one minor problem: with my back straight and my head balanced in its ideal position and the horn floating weightlessly in mid-air, my left hand was approximately level with my jaw – directly in my sightline to the music stand and blocking it from my view. Raising the music stand so I could see it was one clever solution – and this had the added advantage that it completely blocked my view of the conductor, even really tall ones.

Unfortunately, I soon discovered that absolutely the most important thing in a concert – and even in a rehearsal – is the uniform height of all the music stands. Orchestral managers, quite rightly, insist upon this.

So the bend in the mouthpiece was originally a way of angling the instrument down a bit in front of me without bending my nice newly straightened back.

Playing around with it, I soon discovered that rotating the bent mouthpiece a little one way or the other has the effect of positioning the horn slightly differently in relation to the body. For example, turning the mouthpiece so that it points a little towards my left ear means that to get it comfortably seated on my mouth I have to swing the entire horn around to my left – which gets the bell a little away from the right side of the body and allows the right arm a more comfortable position etc.

The conceptual trick here is to realise that the infinite circle of rotational mouthpiece positions corresponds to an infinite circle of horn positions. 

I find it best, when standing to play, to swivel the mouthpiece around to where it points a little downward and to my left. For me, this gives a very comfortable holding position for the horn as I allows me have it slightly lower, allowing for a lower music stand, and goes some way to equalising the position of my arms and thus taking the worst of the twist out of my shoulders. But you can put it where it suits you – I recommend experimenting to get it just where it’s comfortable. I know one player (a UK based player who “went bent” years ago – I won’t tell you the name of this marvellous hornplayer but it anagrams to”Teeth, Lips ‘n’ Grins”) who has his bent mouthpiece pointing upward, which gets the horn high up in the air so he can wave it about easily. It’s a very lightweight Alexander single Bb, so I think he can see the music stand through the pipework, there being not very much of it.

Disadvantages: People who notice the bend (although most don’t) usually ask if it changes the response of the mouthpiece. The answer to this is that undoubtedly it does make a difference – although to me it is undetectably small (and I am normally quite fussy about such things). Given that the horn itself it one great knot of bends I don’t see that one more slight extra bit of curvature is going to cause any harm.

How to make the bend? I put mine in the padded jaws of a vice and hit it lots of times with a rubber mallet. I’ve never had such fun! You can be brave and try this yourself or you might prefer get an expert to do it. Be warned, though; putting a mouthpiece in a vice and hitting it could be an extremely expensive operation!

As a general guide, 8 degrees is plenty but it doesn’t have to be exactly 8. 4 would hardly be worth bothering with whereas 12 might be too much.

Let me know how you get on.


Interviewed by Jeff Bryant for the Horn Magazine.

Pip Eastop is interviewed by Jeff Bryant 
for the Horn Magazine.

(Vol. 5 No. 1, 1994)

Bluebell Horn, by Emily

BLUEBELL HORN, by EMILY

What is your age?

36

What instrument did you first play and at what age?

Recorder. Aged seven.

When did you start playing the horn?

On the second Friday in February, 1969.

What make and model was your first horn?

A Calison compensator: it had valve linkages in solid nylon of a milky-white translucency. I’ll never forget the moment my father appeared with it, brand new, having been on a day trip to London by rail to buy it. He stepped in through the front door with it under his arm wrapped in brown paper, having been unable to afford the case to go with it. I remember feeling almost overwhelmed by the importance of this new thing in my life and fully aware of privilege for a nine-year old of having such a thing.

Who was your teacher?

My first teacher was my father who was then an oboist in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Staff Band. He read the Farkas book and taught me from that. Later, from the age of fourteen, I studied with Ifor James at the Royal Academy of Music. My Dad was a great teacher.

What make and model is your present horn?

A gold-brass Alexander 103 which I have played on since new twenty years ago, with millions of dents and several interesting features: It has a stand attached to it so that its entire weight is taken on my right leg. This is wonderful, as my arms take none of the weight whatsoever. I use a bent (fifteen degrees or so) Paxman 4B mouthpiece in it which, by rotational adjustment, gives me a large range of different head-to-horn angles and thereby enables me to get a bit more comfortable with the instrument when sitting or standing to play. This may sound weird but is actually a very useful feature, and both Steven Stirling and John Rooke have since adopted the idea and gone bent, although they both have the mouthpiece turned so it bends upwards, whereas I have mine bending downwards. The detachable bell is hanging on by a thread which, due to my negligence, is so badly worn that it won’t be long before it gives out and I will have to use gaffer tape to stick the bell on. Strangely, I am rather proud of this and deliberately never grease it, thereby hastening the day when the thread finally strips. John Ward has promised to repair this for me when finally goes.

What is your favourite horn?

The factory-fresh Schmid gold-brass double which I tried last summer in Herr Schmid’s factory at Tiefenried, near Munich. I have ordered one the same, which I am going over to collect in April.

Do you come from a musical family?

My brother is a bass trombonist and my sister is a bassoonist (so I guess the answer is no, ha-ha).

Why did you start to play the horn?

The honest truth is that I can’t remember, and my parents never found out where I got the idea from, though I probably saw one on the telly.

Who is your favourite composer?

It varies from day to day; Schubert, Brahms, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Bach etc.

What is your favourite piece of music?

This is not a constant but, for example, today it is a chunk of the last movement of Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony. Tomorrow it might be Nat King Cole singing “When I Fall In Love”.

What is your least favourite piece of music?

Ligeti’s horn trio. It stinks. I loathe it. Or anything by Harrison Birtwistle…

Who is your favourite horn player of all time?

Jeff Bryant, of course.

Which horn players have had the greatest influence upon your career?

Ifor James, Jonathan Williams, Christopher Giles – until his tragic death in 1975, Dennis Brain, Georges Barbeteau, Frank Lloyd, Philip Farkas, Richard Watkins and, of course, Jeff Bryant.

Who are your favourite non horn-playing instrumentalists?

John Wallace, Maurice Murphy & Arturo Sandoval – trumpet; Richard Hosford – clarinet; Alfred Brendel, Martha Argerich and Lyle Mays – piano; Pat Metheny – guitar; Michael Brecker – sax; Jaco Pastorius – fretless bass guitar; The Vegh String Quartet, The Chamber Orchestra of Europe etc…

What was your first job and when was it?

Principal horn in the Antwerp Philharmonic, ’76 to ’77. My second job was with the London Sinfonietta from ’77 to ’86.

What is your present job and when did you start it?

Freelance since ’87.

What qualities, do you think, make a successful horn player?

Good looks, an engaging personality and the ability to stay upright in a chair for long periods. While this tends, unfortunately, to be true I would also add the following three important things:

1. Knowing the pitch of any note before you go for it hence better accuracy.

2. Producing a sound which, whether fat or thin, small or big, has the capability of floating in the air like a still dawn mist or ripping through it like a chainsaw.

3. Perfect intonation, always.

Who is your favourite conductor?

I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.

What, where and with whom was your most exciting musical experience? A “Weather Report” Concert in 1981, in the back row of the stalls at the Hammersmith Odeon, with Hilary, my then girlfriend. The Earth moved and my hair stood on end. Massive tingle factor.

What is the best aspect of being a professional musician?

Constantly meeting friends.

What is the worst aspect of being a professional musician?

In my case, bewildering chaos: being a freelancer I feel the lack of any daily routine and sometimes I yearn for it.

If you didn’t play the horn, what instrument would you like to play?

Piano, violin, cello or alto saxophone.

What would you like to do if you were not a horn player?

Spend loads of time larking about with my kids, and making new ones.

What could you do if you were not a horn player?

Virtually anything not requiring intelligence or physical exertion. Perhaps conducting?

What is your hot tip for budding horn-players?

Having given it some thought, my most useful and concise single piece of advice would be to simply ignore anyone who tells you about the diaphragm if they can’t give you any facts about its anatomy or its physiology.

Outside of your horn-playing, what are your hobbies?

Listening to all kinds of music, making things out of wood, writing letters to my brother who lives in Sweden, growing organic pumpkins, reading the New Scientist and, of course, trainspotting in my Millets anorak.

What would your eight desert island discs be, and why?

1-4. Jeff Bryant playing the four Mozart horn concertos.

5. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, because it was played at my wedding (though, unfortunately, not live).

6. Parsifal, because I have never heard it, and I bet it is fantastic.

7. Beethoven’s “Harp” string quartet – the first movement of which has a passage which never fails to make me convulse and froth at the mouth.

8. “Mirror of the Heart” a solo piano piece written and played by Lyle Mays, which could be the most profound and beautiful piece of music I have ever heard.

What book, apart from the bible and the complete works of Shakespeare, would you like to take with you to the desert island?

It just has to be the Farkas book of embouchure photos. And please could I swap the bible for Delia Smith’s cookery book “One Is Fun”

What luxury items would you like to take?

One of the following – It’s so hard to choose: a set of traffic cones, a karaoke machine, or a pantomime horse outfit.


This picture is pretty old now – taken in 1994.

Pip Eastop