I got the Geyer back from Gale Lawson a couple of weeks ago. He had taken it completely to pieces, removed all the little dents and ripples, overhauled the valves, stripped off nearly all of the old patchy lacquer and then soldered it all back together again. He had also made a very nice new PipStick for it to float on and reshaped the pinky-hook and thumb lever to fit my left hand. So, it being perfectly playable, I took it along to the Festival Hall for its first outing: The complete and original film score of “Singin’ In The Rain”, brilliantly reconstructed and conducted by John Wilson, with the Philharmonia.
The film is from 1952, so my 1961 horn, made in Chicago, wasn’t far off the mark – only 9 years! It felt very good to have a period instrument for this concert (I think some of the violinists were overdoing it by a few hundred years…). The horn parts are extremely wonderful – perfect horn writing – effective without being too difficult. There are only three horn parts, but my old friend Jim Handy was bumping so that made four of us. Kira O’Doherty and Carsen Williams were the 2nd and 3rd, making a very comfortable, friendly and mutually supportive little group.
The Geyer felt very good and everyone liked the sound of it!
Encouraged by this I used the Geyer again last week when I was guesting with the LPO. We played Bruckner 9 in the Festival Hall and at the Dome in Brighton. That’s a piece I had never played before but always wanted to. Gunther Herbig conducted – a very experienced German gentleman who knew exactly how he wanted his Bruckner and seemed pretty efficient at getting us to do it his way. I thought it was very clever of him to bring a complete set of parts absolutely covered with pencil markings. It meant there was little room for manouver but I’m sure this cuts down a lot of tedious rehearsal time. I think he was pretty shocked, at first, with the lighthearted and casual manner of the LPO. The first rehearsal must have seemed to him like a chimp’s tea-party (after a lifetime of working with German orchestras) but his shock turned to delight when the concert started – at least he looked really delighted. The Wagner tubas and the horns got stood up at the end of both concerts. I felt like waving my new Geyer in the air!
So, I’m very happy with it. It’s not a perfect horn, by any means, there being a couple of dangerous notes on it – but nothing that can’t be worked around. I really like the sound and the feel of it for orchestral playing. Also, I’m definitely using it for my next Konzertstuck, if another one comes along, as it has the best top D and top E of any double horn I’ve ever known. I wish it had a stopping valve, and I wish it had a detachable bell, and water keys – but I’m not going to make any drastic changes like that. I want to preserve it as it is, to which end I’m going to have it lacquered – with a gold coloured lacquer. It’s going to look fabulous! Photographs to follow, as soon as the work is done…
So, Tony, thank you so much for letting me buy this horn from you! I know you had a queue of keen buyers – all willing to pay up without even trying it – so I’m grateful that you let me have the first crack at it.
I hope you are keeping well and keeping warm,
All the best,
November 29, 2010 | Categories: hornplaying | Tags: Brighton, Bruckner, dents, Gale Lawson, Geyer, Gunther Herbig, Horn, John Wilson, lacquer, Philharmonia Orchestra, PipStick, Royal Festival Hall, Singin' In The Rain, Tony Halstead, valves, Wagner Tuba | Leave A Comment »
Here is Gale Lawson, a wizard with horns (and also a halo, if you look carefully). The valves of my Phatterboy Eb Flugelhorn had been sticking and no amount of cleaning or drowning in valve oil seemed to free them up. Also, the main tuning slide and the first valve slide were too free-moving. The combination of valves that didn’t come back up again and tuning slides which kept falling out was driving me ABSOLUTELY NUTS so I took the thing to Gale to be healed.
Gale was very keen to show me his new machine for deep-frying instruments:
It’s not really a deep-fryer. It’s an ultra-sonic cleaning machine. It contains 90 gallons of a liquid with magical properties. You submerge anything from a trumpet to a whopping great tuba into it, making sure that the instrument is completely filled with the liquid, and then press the ON button for a minute or two. The machine hums, the magical molecules in the wizard’s liquid jiggle at an ultrasonic frequency and clouds of colourful dirt emerge …even from a relatively new instrument like my Phatterboy. Gale is very proud of his new machine, particularly of the fact that nobody else in the UK has one.
My Dad used to do what Gale does. He had a lovely workshop full of wonderful specialised tools and machines. When I was growing up I spent many happy hours watching my Dad working on all manner of wind instruments. He was considered a bassoon specialist but was equally at home with brass instruments. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t inherit any of my Dad’s patience, dexterity or methodical nature. Some people are destined to make or repair instruments, others to damage and destroy them – I fall into the latter category. Until his Parkinson’s Disease stopped him from working my Dad used to do all the repairs to my instruments, including a lot of customisation. He was a genius. He once made a complete set of detatchable levers for my Alexander so that I could play it the other way around – with the bell over to my left.
Gale Lawson is also a genius, and I very much like watching him work. His workshop looks and smells like my Dad’s used to, so I think when I am there I get somehow transported back to some very happy times.