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 “Horn

“Sea Bells” for solo horn and Loopstation.

This is a recording of the first performance of my “Sea Bells”, given at the British Horn Festival in 2011, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.
The work is for Horn and Loopstation (the Boss RC-50 Loopstation).

It has four movements but the third one is rather short and is like a little epilogue or coda….

Please have a listen – it’s about 16 minutes long.


A thank you letter to Tony Halstead (extract)

Hi Tony,

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,
Pip


How not to clean your horn….

I have a big cleanup operation ongoing at the moment which is bacteriacide for all those nasties living in my various instruments who have been taking their holidays in my lungs from time to time. I explain all about this in my previous post, HERE.

So, yesterday, it was the turn of my big monster triple horn. I hunted down my horn-cleaning brush – a long flexible rod with a small nylon brush on one end. Hey, why only one end? Usually there’s a brush on both ends…   thinks, scratching head …I wonder why there’s a brush only on one end…  um…?

I filled up the bath with warm water and found an almost finished Listerine bottle to put the diluted Dettol in – half a litre of a mixure of five parts Dettol, one part Listerine and four parts water. It went cloudy, just like Pernod but with an aroma remeniscent of swimming pools and school lavatories rather than Parisian Cafes.

As I sank the horn (minus its bell and mouthpiece) into the warm water I remembered the particular problem with this tremendously complex triple horn with its eight valves and four water keys (none of which work) and fourteen tuning slides (fifteen, if you include the little mouthpiece shank): the lead-pipe is only about a foot long and goes directly into a valve, rather than a removable slide. This makes it very difficult to clean because the last thing you want to do is push all of accumulated lead-pipe sludge into the delicate machinery of a valve. I poured a little of my Dettol cocktail into the mouthpiece receiver and then carefully inserted the brush, I pushed it slowly, approximately two thirds of the way around to the valve, with the intention of dislodging all the muck, and then started to pull it back. It came most of the way back before the brush jammed and snapped off inside my horn.

What a fool I felt! Luckily there was nobody around to see that my horn rodder now had BOTH of its brushes missing. Next, I spent twenty frustrating minutes with a pair tweezers pulling out one by one the nylon fibers of the brush which, luckily, I could just about reach. Eventually the brush was so thinned out I was able to pull the remains of it out and dispose of it.

The next problem was in finding a way to run some of my cocktail backwards through the lead-pipe to flush out the loosened muck. To this end I removed the main Bb tuning slide and poured in some of my mixture. Then, with my face pressed uncomfortably against the back of the horn, I held down the Bb/F thumb lever and blew gently into the slide receiver. There was en encouraging bubbling sound and some of the mixture blew out of the mouthpiece receiver. Excellent – and not too much went in my hair! Encouraged by this, I poured in some more and blew again. It is a habit of most brass players to wiggle the valves when blowing only soundless air through their instruments. I think this is to make sure they are still working (the valves: one learns never to really trust them) and to disperse any condensed water within. I poured in some more mixture and this time blew rather harder. Out of habit I wiggled the valves, including the Bb/F thumb lever, so that the disinfectant was momentarily re-routed away from the lead-pipe and back into the F section tubing. As I had previously taken the F tuning slide out the mixture had only a short way to go before it shot at high speed out of the horn …and smacked me hard in my right eye. Even though I was wearing glasses the pipe was aimed perfectly right into the centre of my eye from below so they provided no protection. My poor wide-open eye received a high pressure jet of Dettol and Listerine. Schmid valves are excellent – I didn’t even have time to blink.

I jumped to my feet, dropped the horn and my specs into the bath and stood up, clutching my eye and howling like a shot pig. The pain was extreme and terrifying. I leaned over the basin and splashed handfulls of cold water into my eye, still yelping but aware that I was also laughing despite the fact that I didn’t know I’d ever be able to see again. My other eye, the left one, is virtually useless – I only keep it there for sake of symmetry – and I’d happily pour bleach into that one any day. Now my only good eye was either going to get a terrible chest infection or dissolve away leaving an empty smouldering socket.

After a few minutes more of whimpering, embarrassed sniggering and frantic eye-bathing I stopped and looked around, possibly for the last time, at the blurrily melting world of my bathroom.

Today, I’m pleased to say that my eye is working. It’s a little sore and my vision goes all smeary from time to time …but I managed to write all this, didn’t I?


The evolution of the bicycle

The evolution of the bicycle


A most complicated horn.

According to Engelbert Schmid, my horn is the most complicated horn he has ever built. Here’s part of a letter he wrote to me which arrived with the new instrument. 

It’s a wonderful horn, in every way, and a marvel of design and engineering excellence. It’s the only horn I’ve ever seen with eight valves.  

It’s a full triple horn – F, Bb and Eb. To me, that’s a full double horn with an added Eb jazz horn built in.

And the Bb part of it has a stopping valve. 

I’ve had it for about two years now and I love it. I’ll try to take some nice pictures of it so you can see what a fine monster it is.


Horn on a stick

This is Zak, my son. He’s actually a trumpet player and unfamiliar with the horn. I just needed a model for the photographs. 

I’ve been experimenting with variants on the PipStick, and come up with this – it’s mounted on a very sturdy photographic monopod (made by Manfrotto).

Zak is 11 years old. Look at the way he’s holding, or rather balancing, the horn. Look at his head position and the straightness of his neck. I didn’t ask him to stand like that. I just gave him the horn-on-a-stick and asked him to blow a few notes through it.

Zak doesn’t normally ever play the horn. He’s unfamiliar with the the feel of it and doesn’t know how to hold it properly. But look – he has extremely good posture in the photographs. It’s even better than his normal posture. Not only does the stick prevent bad posture, but it provokes good posture and better general use of the back, neck, head, shoulders and arms etc. 

In this second photo you can see how effortless it is to hold the horn. It’s completely weightless – all that is needed is balance – which is very easy. 

I like the feel of this very much – the horn seems to float even better than with the normal PipStick. There is one obvious disadvantage, however – I can’t easily rotate the horn to get the water out. And I can’t get it out with just the water keys (even though I have four of them!).  Doh!


Eb Tenor Flugelhorn – soundclips

These are clips from a recent live performance of improvised music at St. James’ Church, Piccadilly, 9th October, 2008.

Gabbi Faja (piano) and myself (mixed brass instruments).

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

In these two clips you can hear the new “PhatterBoy” Eb Flugelhorn.

I’d only had the new horn for three days so it was a bit of a risk to air it in public. I’m glad I did, though, as it has turned out to be an amazing instrument.

Next, here are a couple of trumpet and piano extracts:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


 
Here’s an extract from some of the horn and piano bit: 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


My hornplaying sucks

What are your thoughts about breathing and breath control for hornplayers? Try summarising them to an imaginary class of gullible horn students. What do you hear yourself saying?

Now, let me ask you how your thoughts about breathing and breath control might change if (in an imaginary world) you found it was possible to play the horn not just by blowing it but also by sucking? Would it change your ideas about breath support and the use of the diaphragm or any other bits?

A few years ago I became interested in the similarity between what happens at the the lips of a hornplayer and what happens when a violin bow moves across a string. Also, what happens when a flute player blows gently across the blowhole, or whatever it’s called…

One day I’d been doing some very quiet practise and found it interesting that a note could fade away to nothingness and then fade back in again. All that was needed to bring it back was a little air flowing through the horn making a faint wind noise, and for the lip aperture to be exactly right. For the ghost of a tone to emerge from nothing, out of a breathy wind sound, a bit of turbulence builds up inside the mouthpiece, or between the lips, and quickly falls into a stable pattern of vibration. It settles on a frequency – or a pitch – allowed by the mass of air inside the horn. It wobbles like a jelly in there – a very fast jelly. Any note produced will be from the harmonic series controlled by the length of the horn.

From this bit of experimentation I am convinced that you don’t have to “buzz your lips” to get a note going. It’s not the case that notes are produced by forcing air through your lips like “blowing a raspberry”. It seems to me that all you need is a flow of air and the right sort aperture, i.e. the right shape and the right muscle tone in the lips.

So, just as in playing a flute (not that I can) – the flow of air makes the air vibrate; and with a violin – the flow of the horsehairs across the catgut (or metal, or polyester or whatever) makes the air vibrate.

So, isn’t it perhaps a little strange that a violin bow can work in both directions – up and down – but the flowing air between a hornplayer’s lips can only do out – but not in. If the bow is the breath and the lip is the string, then why can we only make a sound by blowing, whereas a violin bow can work in both directions?

After a bit of personal research I discovered something amazing – that I can play the horn by sucking! Not only that – it’s almost exactly the same sound. How cool is that?

Tonguing during the suck is a bit tricky, as you might imagine, and the horn gets colder as I play it, which is weird – and my lungs slowly fill up with musty air from the depths of the horn, which is probably unhealthy, but apart from that it’s the same as blowing. Try it yourself.

Persevere until you can do it. Then go back to the first paragraph here and see what you now think about breathing and breath support for the hornplayer!

Okay. So you don’t believe me? Listen to this: 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

By the way, there’s much more about breathing and breath support to come in later posts.


Tounguing difference between horn and trumpet

I’m trying to get a bit of practice in every day.

More books and playalongs have arrived, so there’s no shortage of stuff to work on. The trumpet and the flugel are hanging up next to the piano, and the cornet (and mute) are upstairs next to the bed. Most of the playalongs and tons of other jazz recordings are on minidisc so I’ve always got stuff to listen to or play-along with. Also, my Revo has an ever increasing selection of “Grigson” grids to study.

It’s going quite well, although I detect a certain reluctance to get stuck into any standards. I’m not sure quite why this is but I’m hoping that Kenny might help me work this out when I go to see him this afternoon. He’s reluctantly agreed to see me for some kind of “lesson” although it’s clear he really doesn’t want to be a “teacher”.

I think what I should do is ask him to help me work on Stella – I think I have a bit of a foothold in that one.
What I really need is a tame pianist to help me work on some tunes. I’m going to phone Julian Jacobson (a very good pianist, who dabbles in jazz) in a few weeks, when he’s back from some cruise or other, and I’m hoping we can work up some tunes together.

The “LoadsOfModes” is working well. I think I’ll know them all in a couple of weeks and then I’ll just have to start speeding them up.

I’ve noticed something important. There is a tonguing difference between the horn and the trumpet. It’s a larger mass of air inside the horn so starting it and stopping it takes a bit more clout and steadier air pressure. This is the dreaded “support” but I hate the term it means totally different things to different people. I don’t think the trumpet needs any less of it than the horn but the tongue has to be used in quite a different way. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to switch tonguing styles as I switch instruments – rather like people who play both violin and viola have to learn to switch gears as move from one to the other.


I played a gig with Kenny Wheeler!

Unless I was dreaming, today I played at the Vortex (a jazz club in London) with Kenny! He was making a guest appearance with the Evan Parker Trio and asked me to come along. At first I thought he meant for me just to listen but it turned out he wanted me to actually play! I was stunned and amazed, and I only agreed to join him because he said we would be playing “free” jazz rather than jazz jazz – so it would be relatively easy. 

The first thing we played was a duet – just Kenny and me, in two sections – Kenny on the trumpet, me on flugel, followed by Kenny on flugel, me on horn. It’s hard to say if it was any good or not but it was certainly interesting and great fun. We made a lot of noise. Needless to say, Kenny was great – firing off powerful torrents of scaleic and arpeggiated notes, all fascinating. I made various squawks and rips and noodled around trying not to get in the way too much and mess things up. 

Nearly all of the free jazz I’ve done before has been with non jazzers so this was very different to the kind of stuff I used to play with Derek Bailey back in the eighties, for example.

After that we played for 40 minutes or so with Even Parker’s trio. My abiding memory is of the sensation of playing the flugel, standing up, the sound firing outwards in the direction I was facing – something of a novelty for a rear-facing (French)horn player.

After that I drove Kenny home. 

Wow!


Valves v. pistons

Having got back from holidays with the cornet I had to check my hornplaying was still working before heading off to Edinburgh with the Britten Sinfonia, to play some stuff by James Macmillan. This would be followed by a week of film sessions (Peter Pan) for Joel McNeely. To my great relief the horn playing seemed hardly changed. Perhaps a little unfocussed in the high register but elsewhere, if anything, improvements had taken place. How completely brilliant! I really didn’t know what sort of damage I might have done so I was very relieved. 

What struck me most of all was the difference of practice technique. With the cornet I had been playing scales and arpeggios and improvising bits of melody and jazz licks. With the horn, on the other hand, I found myself playing long tones with crescendi and diminuendi and bathing in the sheer loveliness of the sound. The cornet is nice but it really doesn’t have that fascinating, hypnotic timbre. I don’t think I could have spent thirty years practicing long notes on a trumpet like I have with the horn.

Another difference which became obvious was that rotary valves sound very different to pistons. I had no idea about this before learning the cornet. It’s not just a left hand versus right hand thing, it’s a different mechanism with a different sound effect. The rotary valves of a horn are capable of giving a very quick change, more like a switch than a valve, whereas the piston can be moved slower if required and the half-valve sounds are more useful and easy to use than those of the horn. I wonder now what a modern piston horn would feel like to play. I must earmark that idea for a future project.

I’m still working at Locrians (Ø), diminished whole-tone scales (C7+9), and Diminished (beginning with the semitone) (C7-9).