Attitudes for Solo Horn

“Attitudes” for solo horn is a bit different from other pieces for solo horn, primarily because the composer believes that performers are intelligent and creative enough to be asked to contribute to the piece in performance. This piece gives contemporary performers a rare chance to create a unique performance. There is much pressure in the classical domain toward conformity and attempting to do it exactly the same every time, and toward honoring the ideas of everyone else – the great performers and performances, or “the composer’s intentions.”


My feeling is: don’t do it, not in this case, anyway. Let me tell you this composer’s intentions. My intention is that this piece contain opportunities for the expression and imagination of the player. Thus each movement has a window for the player’s creative powers to reign in the form of an improvised cadenza. Don’t run away yet: the process is made easier by examples and by limitations that I set: 1. Use the notes given 2. Play in the style of the piece thus far. Since many players may be trepidatious of this new creative opportunity, I would like to offer some tips to make the improvisations easier. I think that given these suggestions and the examples following, anyone capable of performing the written part of the piece can play the unwritten parts of the piece as well.



1. Stay ‘home,’ i.e. stay comfortable. Don’t play faster or more notes than you can play comfortably. If you find you are tense and fumbling for notes, slow down immediately and limit yourself to fewer notes. In fact, when you practice your improvisation, start with one note. Can you make an interesting line with one note? If you’re having trouble with one note, don’t add another note until one note ‘seems like home.’ Add notes one at a time to your improv practice in this way. Remember, you don’t need a blizzard of sixteenth notes to improvise – a whole note can be a satisfying improvisation – the important thing is interesting decision-making, not quantity of notes. Make good choices and stay comfortable!

There are suggested notes for the cadenzas in the part, but feel free to abandon them and make up your own. Just have fun.


2. It doesn’t say so in the part, but you may also add extended techniques (e.g. tapping on the bell, making air sounds, singing through the instrument, etc.) at any time to the improvisation sections.


3. Can you practice improvisation? Absolutely! In the same way that you can practice for a basketball game by practicing shooting baskets, dribbling, and passing, you can practice the techniques you can use in improvisation. Practice here is made easier because you are limited in notes. As suggested above, start with very few notes, concentrating on inventing interesting rhythms. Add diverse articulations, note values, dynamics, even extended techniques. With time, experiment with moving from any note to any note. Look at the rest of the movement for clues to the style, patterns (rhythmic or melodic) that you can steal and apply to your cadenza. With enough exploring and trial and error, you will find yourself prepared to produce any number of cadenzas. It is analogous to knowing enough about a subject to converse on it, rather than just reading a prepared speech. Try to make all of your practice cadenzas in any given movement different from each other each time.


4. Length of cadenza. Whatever seems right. It doesn’t have to be too long. I think that ten or fifteen seconds is probably plenty, but you decide.


5. I know some are going to try it, but don’t: don’t compose and then memorize a cadenza. It seems safer and perhaps less stressful on the surface – but it’s not. What if you have a memory slip and get lost or go blank? You will be like a person who has memorized the Gettysburg Address and gotten lost in the middle and can’t continue. Instead, be a person who is talking intently and intensely about a subject that he knows well. Every word doesn’t have to be planned in advance to converse. You are familiar with the topic, you know what you want to say – and then in the moment you decide on the appropriate words. Trust me on this – is much easier and it will be much more convincing if you practice many possible ways to play the improvisation and then let it happen in the moment. Do practice, and practice bits and pieces well and in quantity to develop a vocabulary of possibilities. But what order they take in the moment is something best left to the moment. Just remember – you’re the one choosing the notes. Choose the ones that you can obtain reliably and that say what you want to say. (The most difficult part might be getting used to this – no one has ever asked you before what you have to say…).


Notes on the Individual Cadenzas

I. Exuberant.

While you have quite a few notes to choose from, you are under no obligation to use any or all, and certainly not in the order given (which is merely for clarity and convenience). I suspect that the key to this improvisation is to make it sparkle using interesting rhythms, accents, and syncopations. And don’t forget: rests. Mess around, with the material, see what happens.

II. Grieving

The challenge here is to create a convincing expression of grief in the low register. Key: dynamics and dynamic contrast, wide and dissonant intervals, contrasting but not complex note values, which should be relatively slow in any case. You may also discover extended techniques that serve well.

III. Peevish

Extended techniques may form the backbone of your improvisation here: stopped horn, half valve, fluttertongue, making vocal sounds through the horn, and so on. If you use extended techniques such as these, you have my permission to forget the list of notes and concentrate on the sounds, the timbres. Or you could do both.

IV. Fast Lane

Similar to the first movement: go for rhythms, accents, dynamics, syncopations, tempo variations, and so on. In this one as in the others, try to end your improvised section so that it leads neatly and seamlessly into the closing section.

Required piece for the 2006 Midwest Horn Workshop.