The Art of Horn Playing – David Winch

In the fourth of the series in which some of the SA banding world’s preeminent players discuss the role of their particular instrument within the brass band, David Winch, principal horn of Norwich Citadel Band and for 13 years a member of the International Staff Band (eight of them as principal horn), focuses on the role of the tenor horn.

I think it is safe to say that the tenor horn is an instrument that most players, certainly within The Salvation Army, have found themselves on following spells on other instruments. I am an exception to this rule, taking up the instrument as a seven-year-old whilst a member of the Sunday school at Sunderland Millfield Corps and playing it ever since. I received my initial tuition from my father in conjunction with group lessons at school. Formal tuition ceased when I moved to Norwich at the age of ten and since then I have predominantly been self taught, picking up many bad habits along the way, I hasten to add.

Being a tenor horn player during school years doesn’t present the playing opportunities that are afforded to those who play other brass band instruments due to the fact that the tenor horn is peculiar to the brass band and isn’t required in other forms of ensemble playing. As a result of this, divisional music school was always a highlight for me as far as my playing was concerned. Playing the tenor horn in the SA at corps level may not be the most challenging part in the band, and as a consequence, young horn players who show real potential tend to be moved to a more prominent part. Nonetheless, I have always tried to play the part to the best of my ability, making sure I contribute to the overall sound of the band. I have learned over the years that breathing correctly is fundamental to so any aspects of brass playing. Good breath control is the foundation of a good sound and assists with tuneful intonation. It also helps to control the tone for soft and loud dynamics as well as low and high register. For members of Salvation Army bands I believe that developing a good sound is essential. Possessing a secure technique without being able to make a hymn tune sound pleasant won’t enhance worship on a Sunday morning. As I mentioned earlier, I developed many bad habits as a young player, but one of the good habits I did develop was to practise long tones and slow melodies, making sure I played phrases as long as possible in a single breath. Whilst I may still strive for a fuller, richer sound throughout the range, I’d like to think that I have benefited from building on the foundations of good breath control. Horn players don’t have a huge choice when it comes to mouthpieces, but what I have found is the bigger the mouthpiece, the fuller and richer the sound. The downside of a larger mouthpiece is that the higher register takes more work/practice to achieve but I believe it is an investment worth making.

I currently find myself playing in a smaller section within the corps band and one of the things I have to take into consideration before a festival/concert is pacing myself through the programme. Flicking through some of the current repertoire in my pad, one of the challenges I face is the amount of playing I have to do, or to put it another way, the lack of rests. In addition, I may be required to perform a solo, so it is important to take the whole programme into consideration and not just individual items. I recently attended a concert given by Cory Band and noticed that during the second item, a march, the front row cornets were alternating so that for the majority of the item, only two of them were playing. They were obviously planning ahead and managing their workload. Understandably, not every part in the band has multiple players, but one tactic I often employ while negotiating a ‘heavy’ programme is to make sure I know what’s going on in the parts around me. The solo horn part can often be doubled n the flugel and 1st horn, so working as a team, it is possible to lighten the load. Two other factors that can also cause fatigue during band playing are poor intonation and over-blowing. It’s easy to get carried away in the music and play too loudly, but looking out for opportunities to back off dynamically will help to maintain a stronger lip. Always listen out for where the melody is within the ensemble and, unless directed otherwise by the conductor, play at least one dynamic below. Personally, I find that poor intonation within an ensemble causes the lip to make minor adjustments and this in turn causes it to tire more quickly. Taking time to get to know the tuning quirks of individual instruments can not only save time in rehearsal but also enhance a band’s playing.

Having just attended the first band practice of the season the day after returning from a summer holiday, I was once again reminded of the importance of regular individual practice. Within ten minutes of the rehearsal starting, my lip had gone and the sounds I was producing weren’t particularly pleasant! Perhaps this was a gentle reminder to me that if I want to get the most out of my banding, I have to put in the time and effort in between rehearsal and Sundays.

Salvation Army banding has provided me with countless blessings and I can honestly say that the more you put into it, the greater the reward is, not only for us as individuals, but also for our Lord’s Kingdom. Whilst my thoughts and opinions may be personal and to a certain extent unqualified, I pray that the readers of SA Bandsman will be encouraged to carry on doing their best for the Highest.

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