Hello everyone! Spring has finally sprung here in NYC. The April snow has finally turned to showers, and May brings that wonderful breeze that brushes the side of your face and makes you happy. With the change of seasons comes the inevitable wardrobe switch from hats to sunglasses, parkas to anoraks, boots to fun flats and, as an added accessory for me, a new brand of horn!
Yes everyone, I am bidding farewell to the Schmid Triples that I have so faithfully played for the last ten years, and switching my setup to a brand new Patterson Triple. I always have a month-long window of growing pains with any equipment switch, but I've had a week on this horn, and the benefits are already obvious. In many ways, the next weeks will be about relearning the approach I've been taking to intonation and accuracy. The progress I've made so far is alienating but, in a certain way, I feel like I'm coming home.
As many horn players do, I started my horn life on a Conn 8D. When you're learning a brass instrument, simplicity is key. In the '90's, that came down to "air is everything", and thus a philosophy that has followed me for many years was born. As a result of this, I learned to play as freely as possible, but not necessarily accurate. While this has all resulted in a good sound, I don't know that it has been worth the enormous cost of work because I tend to be an unreliable player. Now, I believe that anything is possible with a strong will and enough hard work, but I realized in college that none of the big audition winners were on Conns, so I decided to change some things, and that meant horns: I made the switch to a Schmid Triple, and my husband and I sold all the horns we had to get it. My husband sold a Conn, a Patterson Double, and I sold my Conn to get the triple, while we used student loan money to buy an Alex 103 for Steve that Giovanni Rossi had played in the 60s. We were happy, and I was changing my playing in my big way.
With any horn, it often takes a while to find a proper mouthpiece. I took some great advice and found the one that worked for me, and I went home to our one-bedroom apartment in a fourth-floor walkup and practiced to oblivion. While I could sight-read on the Schmid after four months, it really took another three years for me to slim down my playing enough to speak clearly on this new horn. I remember days when I would wake up at 7, warm up at 8:30, and practice for an hour, and break for 30 minutes, from 9am to 10pm. As grueling as some of those days were, I saw a lot of growth and exploration of rhythm. I grew immensely, and I came out of that time with a show, a couple of per-service jobs, and a major advance in an audition that would change my life, not to mention an album.
Looking back on all of it now, it seems like my circumstances really changed on a dime. The years after that changed so fast that I'm still learning from these successes after the fact, but one thing is for sure: the approach I took then and the experiences I'm having now are not lining up with each other The way I played that Schmid worked well in those situations, but at a certain point it just stopped. The switches I was making drove me into a spiral of neuroticism and over-thinking my technique. I spent so much time wondering "why don't I sound like everyone else when I'm playing the same thing?" The most recent professional experience I've had is playing with people that I have little to nothing in common with. While I was playing most of the same fingerings, the sound and product was just different. Sure, this isn't the end of the world, but the truth was that I couldn't have conformed if I wanted to: this aspect was just beyond my control. Similar to my journey on the Conn, I felt as if I had reached the limits of what I was capable of.
All the while, I'm asking and hearing about Jim Patterson's new triple horn design, and the most frequent comment was "it's probably the best overall horn I've ever played". And I am here to tell you, they're right. To be honest, I picked up this horn and felt all wrong on it, but I could feel it ring in my hands as I played it. I was trying it for a week from Josh Landress's shop and, as the week went by, I could feel myself relaxing into the player I used to be. Intonation issues are disappearing as I'm realizing just how tight I've had to play in these last ten years to make the Schmid work. I'm moving from a "fit the slot" mentality to a "fill the horn" state of mind.
Make no mistake, I have had a wonderful run on the Schmid. Four international tours, two Konzertstucks, five recitals, two professional orchestras, and an album would not have been possible with the craftsmanship that goes into a Schmid. It's beautiful, light, functional, and provides a color palette that is easy to access for any player that is curious about a triple. I own two and will keep at least one of them, probably the one I recorded my first album with. It cleaned up my playing and broadened my thinking as a horn player. If I were more famous, I would significantly laud this horn and submit testimonials for them to use. I think I've gone as far as I can with them, and it's time for me to move to something that fits more of who I am now.
The big question for me is "does my work justify an equipment switch, am I worth all of the trouble?" My wonderful husband is always around not to give the obvious answer, but to say "it doesn't matter: you equip for the work that you want." His many hours of listening to NPR are right on this one, I have to say. I am less tired after I play, and I am able to "let go and have fun", which to me has been a myth for many years. I am rethinking everything I have taught myself, which is daunting and thrilling at the same time. While I'm having to reteach myself, I feel like the sound I'm making is me again and I am finally sounding good on an unlacquered horn. But that's a post for another day.. I cannot wait for what's in store, and a public and special thank you to Jim Patterson, who made a wonderful horn and was generous in his phone time with me about how to approach this absolute wonder of a horn.
I had many questions about switching to this horn, so if anyone out there has any suggestions or questions, or wants to see or try it, you're always welcome! It just might cost you half an hour on Musicians of Now. :)