Ways to sound more like an English Horn player - even if you are not!
As I wrote in my article “Becoming an English Horn player - my own journey”, I had never played the English Horn until after I graduated from Oberlin College and was living in Chicago. As a free-lance musician, I began to receive calls to play the English Horn in the Chicago area. I had purchased a wonderful, older Lorée English Horn from Grover Schiltz and he was kind enough to sell me the bocal that he had chosen for the horn. But, I quickly realized that I had a tremendous amount to learn in order to truly understand how to sound like a real English Horn player. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to focus solely on the English Horn in numerous coachings with Grover throughout the summer of 1986. In September of 1986, I won the audition for the position of English Horn and Assistant Principal Oboe with the San Antonio Symphony. In April of 1988, I won the audition for my current position - solo English Horn with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
I would like to share some advice for those players who have minimal experience with the English Horn, but would like to have a better understanding of how to feel more comfortable and sound more convincing when playing the instrument.
Make certain that your English Horn is sealing properly, the pads and bumper corks are in good condition and that the instrument is in proper adjustment. Any instrument that sits in a case for months on end will neither seal nor be in adjustment. So, make sure to have your English Horn serviced at least once a year by a widely respected and ethical repair person.
Take sufficient time to do a thorough search for the right bocal for your horn. Most oboists who play very little English Horn rarely consider the fact that the bocal is an integral part of the instrument. A great bocal can make a medicre horn sound really good and the wrong bocal often makes a beautiful English Horn sound mediocre - or worse. Do not assume that the bocal included in the case when you bought the instrument is the right one for your particular set up becasue it very likely is not. Please see my article on choosing a bocal for advice. Also, arrange to take your English Horn and any bocals your are considering for purchase to an English Horn player whose playing and opinions you respect. Ask them to play your English Horn with each bocal and then listen to you while you do the same.
If you make your own reeds, try several types of shaped cane to fine a shape that works well for you. Please see my articles on English Horn shaper tips and reed making. If you don’t make your own reeds, purchase reeds from a variety of reed makers to find ones that work for you. English Horn reeds generally last longer than oboe reeds, but not for months or years on end!
Remember that the English Horn is not a big oboe, but a distinctly different instrument. For starters, the resistance on the English Horn is very different and one must use more air to produce a supported tone. In addition, tuning is also a bit different from the oboe and some of the the high note fingerings are different from those on the oboe.
Don’t assume that you can take the English Horn out of the case two days before you need to play it and sound confident. Like the oboe, it takes consistent work.
Finally, if you have the opportunity to study with a professional English Horn player whose playing you respect, do so, even if this involves travel to another city. Understand and accept the fact that it will take more than one lesson to learn what you need to know to truly hone your skills. If the player is also a fine and efficient teacher, you will learn a great deal during each lesson.
With inspiration, fine instruction and hard work, you can be well on your way to feeling far more confident about your English Horn playing.