Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Master Class with Curtis Metcalf

Curtis Metcalf came to Ottawa and gave the Maple Leaf Brass Band a master class this past Saturday. As I'm sure you know, Curtis is the artistic director of the Hannaford Street Silver Band and one of the best euphonium players in the country.

He is also a great person to have a master class from. He conducted us through a series of challenging pieces, mostly unfamiliar to us, and gave us gentle corrections where he thought we could use them.

Our regular conductor, Dave Druce, is also excellent, but I found there were two useful aspects of having somebody new work with us.

First, was the expected benefit of exposure to a different style. Curtis corrected issues that Dave might not have, for example, he focussed on the ending of notes far more than Dave typically does. He also used different words than Dave would use to get us to produce a certain sound. Sometimes all it takes to understand something that you've been missing is to have it expressed a different way.

The less expected benefit was that I found myself trying harder. Dave knows that I am going to make a mess of a challenging piece. So I'm not too embarrassed when I do. But Curtis doesn't know that and had no idea that it was pointless to make the horn section repeat something that didn't sound right. So I tried really hard to make it sound right so he wouldn't put us on the spot repeating something five times.

Anyway, I'm sure that somewhere in this there is a metaphor for other aspects of life.

9 comments:

redvera said...

Lots of interesting stuff in your blog this week. Thanks.

Always enjoy your horn playing. Kudos to David Druce for letting you play even though you sometimes "mess" up.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

It's Lee-Anne, Manon's friend at work. I also happen to play the French horn and have wondered about the Maple Leaf Brass band by times. I own my own horn, but actually haven't played in years. If you had any suggestions about a group that might exist in the city that I could play with to get back into playing horn again I would be most appreciative. Reading about your master class reminded me how much I miss playing.

Lee-Anne

David Scrimshaw said...

Vera, I'm glad that I was able to interest you this week and hope that it made up for how boring you found the previous week.

Lee-Anne, I feel I should clarify that the "horn section" I belong to is a "tenor" or "alto" horn section. One of our members like you has a French horn background and is under the unfortunate delusion that it is an instrument as worthy as the alto horn.

So, the sad news for you is that you would have to play a different instrument than the French horn to play in the MLBB. The glad news is that it would be a better instrument. (Unless you chose to switch to trombone or cornet.)

Other glad news is that just about every other group you might join would be happy to have you on French horn. [But you'd have to play French horn parts. Every now and then we get an arrangement in the MLBB where the alto horns have an exceptionally boring role, like only off beats. "French horn part," we say.]

Ottawa groups that take accept French horn players:
Oddly, nobody out there seems to have a decent comprehensive list, so I have done my best to give you one.

- Centralaires Concert Band
- Divertimento Orchestra
- Gloucester Community Concert Band
- Kanata Symphony Orchestra
- National Capital Concert Band
- Nepean Concert Band
- Ottawa Chamber Orchestra
- Ottawa Community Concert Band (OCCB)
- Ottawa Symphony Orchestra
- Ottawa Wind Ensemble
- Parkdale United Church Orchestra

Other lists of music groups:
- Arts and Heritage Ottawa Directory
- Arts-Ottawa East list
- Orleans Online List

Or, maybe we could form our own group. An alto horn - French horn duo. We could play at anti-war demonstrations and peace gatherings to show that natural enemies can get along.

Manon said...

A French horn and an alto horn...how interesting. Wouldn't that also be perfect for a du*l or to serenade someone!

Manon's friend said...

I cannot deny that French horn parts are terribly boring most of the time. Many times I have transposed an Eb horn part to make things more interesting. Even worse is trying to learn to march in a marching band while playing off beats on your French horn. The first night I marched with the military band; I was almost 17 years old and had just joined the Canadian Forces as a musician. I was wearing someone else's uniform that was much too big and thus tied around my waist with a piece of rope. I had no instruction except to start with my left foot and follow the person in front of me. I suspect they chose the hardest marching formations prior to my arrival that evening. I'll never know for sure...
It was a horrible disaster that included my music falling in the middle of the parade square directly in front of the reviewing stand. To make matters worse, many members of the band were in tears from laughing so hard. Turns out this was their idea of an initiation/welcome to the band. My fragile teen ego was destroyed and being a girl and all, I predictably ended up in tears. (believe it or not Manon, I do have tear ducts!) Back at the band office later that night, my paperwork had arrived and so I swore allegiance to the Queen with a tear stained face, in between sobs. Other than that, they were a terrific group of people....(hmm...blogging really is so therapeutic...)

Thank-you for the list of bands. I will investigate further. Gloucester band is quite close by. I think I may wait until one or two other things in my life settle before I join...

Do you really think we are natural enemies???

Manon's friend said...

Trombone or cornet? Clearly you don't know me at all...

David Scrimshaw said...

Lee-Anne, I feel your pain with the marching. We had to do formation marching once when we played the Halifax Tattoo. Not my thing. But I wasn't the only hopeless case, so no tears.

I'm afraid French horns and tenor horns are natural enemies the way Irish Protestants and Catholics are. From an outsiders' perspective they look and sound the same, but to an insider there are vast differences that cannot be placed next to each other without conflict.

Still there are noble individuals who strive for peace.

(As for the trombone or cornet comment, of course I was kidding.)

Winter Family Web Logs said...

Dave, is this conversation some sort of test to see if I still read your blog on occassion? Since I play both on a regular basis, I find the instruments very complimentary.

In any case, there are lots of great places in Ottawa to play french horn at lots of different levels. I'd encourage anyone to pick it up again or to start from scratch. There are far fewer options for a tenor horn player.

David Scrimshaw said...

Stewart, it's great of you to drop by. You say the two horns are complimentary, but I've never heard a kind word from my horn about anyone.

And I don't know of any groups that welcome both French horns and tenor horns (Except maybe Astronaut Love Triangle).

If you know of any groups in Ottawa looking for French horns that I've missed, I'll add them to the list.

It's good to see activists like you out there working for peace.