O HallThe last half of every June I spend as a faculty member of the Kendall Betts Horn Camp in the wilds of the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire (only 90 miles from Montreal!). About the only thing in NH that looks modern is when you drive on the roads or are in town. Get off the road a few feet and it’s the 19th century again. Or 18th. Or 17th. KBHC rents Camp Ogontz for several weeks in June every year, and what a great place it is: a beautiful view of the adjoining lake and distant mountains, trees all around, 100 rustic buildings of all shapes and sizes (but all of wood), including a concert hall that apparently had Paul Bunyan as the architect (including whole trees inside as supports). You can see the hall and a bit of the lake and the view of the mountains in the photo above.

O cloudsGlorious supersummercamp that it is, Ogontz is, with the exception of a certain amount of electricity, mostly 19th century as far as availability of recent inventions, including newspapers, TV, radio, and other distractions. There is a bit of slow internet available for the terminally addicted in the form of wifi in the dining hall. Cell phones work only in two 1-yard square spots: in front of Log Hall where I stay and in front of Kendall’s headquarters cabin and then only if you have Verizon and then just barely and only if you turn just right, hold your breath, make 3 wishes, and the wind isn’t blowing. Pixie dust might help. Better to give in to a week (or two) without the convenience/distraction of what we assert is “modern living” and buckle down to some concentrated horn study and playing with about 40 participants ages 15 to 80ish, all passionate about the horn. For the official details, see www.horncamp.org.

The weather was the wild card this time. It could change from sunny to raining in, oh, 3 minutes. And it did. So it’s a good idea to carry an umbrella when it’s sunny and sunglasses when it’s raining. You never know. The rain didn’t and doesn’t bother me. I call it “musician’s weather:” if it’s bad weather outside, a musician can stay inside and practice without feeling guilty that they are missing something. The first week is usually pretty nippy in the morning (41° at 7:00 a.m. a couple times), warming up to the 70s in the day, while the second week can go into the high 70’s or 80’s. I always bring layers and the possibility to dress for everything from quite cool to toasty, from dry to very wet. I wore a stocking cap at night the first two nights (no heating in the rustic log cabins) plus 4 blankets, but only a sheet was enough the last several warm nights.

BarnMy teaching venue is the barn. I like it. It has air conditioning: I just swing the (2nd floor) barn doors wide open, and voilá.  It’s halfway between my room in Log Hall (up the hill – great view of the lake) and the Dining Hall, my favorite destination because of the superior cuisine (seafood risotto, lavender cheesecake at a rustic camp?! Am I dreaming? No; the bathroom scale grimly reports upon my return that I was decidedly not dreaming about gobbling all that great food…). There is short cut between the two that involves crossing a 15 foot wide babbling bubbling brook, via a big log that the sure-footed and unacrophobic may cross – I’ve done it hundreds of times over the years – but this year 3 people fell off the log (forgetting Rule No. 1 of Log Walking: don’t try to cross when it is wet. And it was wet a lot.), so they banned any further log walking. Oh, well.

Every morning I see a different group: Rookies (i.e. KBHC first timers of any age or ability); Veterans (been here before; High school; College; Adults. Sometimes there are several groups of each, e.g. High School Rookies I, II. Although there are variations where not everyone (or the group itself) stays for the whole time, there is a 3 hour masterclass every morning. Except for the days or times where orchestral excerpts are scheduled, I like to cover topics that they are unlikely to get elsewhere, or at least in a different form (one of the great things about KBHC is the great variety of approaches and information from the ca. one dozen faculty). Although we all do pretty much the same thing back at school (solos, etudes, excerpts, chamber music), this format gives us a chance to stretch a bit and spend more time on some topics as well as spending time on topics that we don’t get to cover at school or don’t have to time to get in as much depth. Different teachers have different specialties that they like to cover.

moiI have a number of topics that I enjoying delving into in some detail. What I do depends first on whether they are rookies or vets. Vets have heard what I have to say in earlier years, and, although I might cover some of the same topics that we’ve done earlier because they are valuable and the vets may need or enjoy a refresher, I do try to bring something new every time if possible. I like to have a number of handouts for folks to take along. This gets more challenging when some of the adult vets have been coming to camp  for years – sometimes longer than I have. But they keep coming.

Here, in no particular order and not complete, is a list of of some of the things I like to cover in these morning sessions (most of it material from my upcoming book and accompanying web site):

Pre-warm-ups: stretch. Tension inventory. Focus exercises. Ego detachment. Head and neck massage.

Warm-ups: 2, 3, 4+ note adjacent harmonic series exercises. 2 note nonadjacent H.S. exercises (leaps). Mixed adj & nonadj exercises. H.S. patterns.

Valve technique: finger speed/consistency builders. Chromatics. Core scales. Power scales. Octave scales. Variants: tempo, articulation, rhythm, accents/meter, scale length, register. Different scale types (major, minors, modes, whole tone). Arpeggios: Arpeggio challenge. Major, minor, dom7, diminished. Extended chords /arpeggios (7, 9). Playing in all keys (cycle). Do it yourself Kopprasch. Jumbles: exploring all possibilities of a scale subset or an arpeggio. Patterns.

Advanced (upper register) overtone work: 8 to 12, 12-16, 8-16. Overtunes (playing familiar tunes on overtones only).

Technique discussion: What is the basis of horn technique? Harmonic Series 101. Valve control 101. Constructing a progressive framework of exercises. Categories of technical “vitamins.” Vitamin variety; introducing variety to warmup/workout routines.

Problem solving: finding the sticky bits. Tools to solve technical problems.

Just duet: working on technique with a partner (I’ll be presenting this topic with Dan Spencer at IHS45 soon).

Aural training: Call & response. Memory game. Playing familiar tunes by heart (in every key. Then again in minor).

Improv: Alphorn duets. Bebop alphorn. Using styles (e.g. inventing fanfares to practice arpeggios).

I also have Open Studio times where anyone can come and we can do whatever we want. Usually these are improv sessions, since that is one of specialities. I work with whoever shows up to learn how to create your own music on the spot. Sometimes I meet players who can already improvise – this is great fun; often I work them into my improv performance on faculty performance night. Last year I met Ian M., who really got around the horn improvising – he joined me on stage for an energetic bit of free improv. Harris W. and I became the O’Schaunessy twins last year and improvised some Irish jigs. This year I had help from 4 excellent young players who created a drone accompaniment for me and then each other as they took short solos (great job!). At the last concert Carlo L. did a high energy improv duet with me – I had a lesson with him a few hours earlier, and discovered that he was a very good improviser; he agreed to join me on stage and see what we might come up with. I had had an idea about basing an improv on rainy weather (using quotes from tunes about the weather), but I wasn’t happy with what I was doing with it. Carlo saved the day; it’s always more fun to improvise with someone else rather than by yourself, just as a good conversation is more satisfying than just your own thoughts. You inspire each other and new material arises that neither would have discovered by themselves. At the end of camp I jammed with Michael K., who like to improvise on Dixielandesque tunes by ear. I hadn’t done anything quite like that before, so it was fun and a challenge to stretch in this direction. It was so much fun that we vowed to pick out some tunes to work on this year and then improvise on them in concert at camp next year.

In the afternoons I teach 2 private lessons, and it’s always fascinating and fun to work with people of all ages and stages both musically and technically on their pieces. After lessons: horn ensemble hour.

KBHC is a great learning experience not only for the participants, but certainly for me – first, for the preparation for camp, planning the topics and handouts, and then working and interacting with the participants. I learn a lot from the students and from dealing with their challenges as a team. And last but not least, I treasure the time I have with the other faculty and staff – we don’t have a lot of time together, and most of that is either during meals or late at night after all the events of the day have finally wound up. But often teaching horn is a bit like being a lighthouse keeper – you do an important job all alone and don’t get to hang out with other lighthouse keepers much and trade stories. It’s great to spend time with them. My only regret at camp is that I can’t go around to all the other faculty’s classes and soak up what they have to say directly. It’s enough for now just getting to rub occasional elbows with them.

This is all just a brief sketch of my time at KBHC. There are of course a thousand little details that go into the texture of every day life there. A few:

Skunks•Two baby skunks took up residence in the woods near Log Hall. Cute as buttons and still ignorant of their olfactory powers.

•Fireworks displays on the last night (brave staff!)

•A canoe ride around the lake with Lin Foulk (her idea – thanks, Lin); we got within about 20 feet of a loon pair.

•Shopping in Littleton between weeks. Laundry. Bought Hilary Mantel’s superb historical novel Bring Up the Bodies about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s hatchet man (2nd in the trilogy; start with Wolf Hall. Fantastic writing). Bought my annual present of cool artsy earrings for spouse in the  craft store under the bookstore. Found a foot tambourine in the music store. Tried 3 flavors of ice cream at the ice cream shop. Noticed strange sign outside ice cream shop: “Horse Cemetery.”

•Found out after all these years that Doug Hill plays cribbage. And that we are evenly matched.

There's a Moose in the Distance

(Photo credit: ColorblindRain)

•Went looking for moose at twilight with Doug, Jesse, and Landon, but no luck. Saw some spooky shadows, though.

•Didn’t get to see the pigs that Ogontz now keeps to recycle food scraps, but did base an improvisation on them. Next year…

KBHC twilightTwilight: view over the lake at Ogontz


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