Trashing a Horn

 

If you have never trashed a horn, it is kinda fun. Here are some suggestions.


My teacher was in Walter Lawson's shop one day (I can't recall why), and Lawson had this mangled horn on the table. He asked what had happened to it, and Mr. Lawson said that it was Barry Tuckwell's! Apparently, he had given a recital, at the end of which he gave a large sweeping bow, simultaneously swinging his horn into the piano behind him.


A horn player had brought his Geyer to Carl for removal of a minor dent. Carl, while working on the horn, put it on his bench, which was adjacent an open window. It fell out and ended up on an interior roof below. Geyer located the janitor and gained entrance to the roof, retrieving the horn, which was badly beat up. He phoned his wife that he wouldn't be home, and worked all night. When the player showed up he examined his horn and said, "It's perfect, Carl, you can't see where the dent was. You are a real master!


A colleaugue of mine had a Yamaha custom doulble, one piece (non-detachable bell) which he carried around in a leather gig bag. I guess he was in a hurry one day when he pulled his horn out of the locker, about six feet above the floor. The bag slipped from his hand, falling to the floor. Being a quick thinker, with a quick reaction time, he put his foot out to block/cushion the fall. Unfortunately, he put his foot out in such a way that he actually dropped kicked the horn, lofting the instrument through the air in a beautiful curve, impacting the concrete floor about twelve feet away. Crumpled the bell. He had a concert in about five hours, and the repair shop was forty miles away, an hour before closing. He made it, barely. While waiting for repairs (he sent his wife with the horn), he used one of my horns during the rehearsal.


The Chicago Symphony was on tour and had played an afternoon rehearsal in the hall. They had a four hour break before the concert. Phil had decided to stay downtown, going over some passages and grabbing some shopping time instead of going back to the hotel. For some reason, he decided not to put his horn in the case but rest it in the corner, on top of some large, heavy storage cabinets, backstage. As he reached up to put his horn in the corner, his horn fell down, out of sight. Evidently these two cabinets came together and gave the illusion of forming a complete corner, but in reality it was a square hole. The resounding "thunk" of his Geyer hitting the floor in this void made Phil's stomach sink.

Frantic, he when through the entire house to find a janitor or stage hand. By this time, everyone had since been long gone. After what seemed to be an eternity, Phil found a janitor in the uppermost reaches of the building. He pleaded for help, finally successfully, but the person was none to keen on the idea of having to call a colleague to try and help him get the equipment to move those cases.

At last, the cases were moved and Phil was able to retrieve his horn. Unfortunately, his horn was fairly trashed. The leadpipe was so severely bent that it rested only 1 1/2 inches from the first branch of tubing. The bell was severely crushed as well, being completely caved in on one side, flattening the bell throat severely while the bell flare was so exaggerated that it was folded back on itself!

Fortunately, the typmpanist had left his case on stage and Phil liberated all sorts of mallets and sticks to work the instrument to where it was at least playable. After much work, but the time the symphony members started arriving for the concert, he had been able to work the bell throat to a more open shape, as well as crudely reworking the bell flare. The leadpipe was not able to be moved much because of fear of ripping a whole in it. So, he had to play the concert in a severe crouch.

After the concert, which included EIN HELDENLEBEN!!!!!, Phil thought he had dodged the biggest bullet in his career. He was headed off-stage and there was Reiner, looking squarely at him, motioning Phil to come over. Of course, knowing Reiner and expecting the worst, Phil swallowed hard and went over.

To his astonishment Reiner, held out his hand and congratulated Phil on a superb performance, stating that it was one of Phil's most remarkable concerts he had witnessed!!!! (Ha! If he only KNEW...)


I once had a student who had the best playing Holton 177 I have ever played. He bought it at a pawn shop for somewhere around $300. He played on it for years. One day as he stood up at the end of his lesson, it "slipped" out of his hands and bounced 2 or 3 times on my hard tile floor! It looked awful. I wish I could have had a photograph of the look on his face (or mine for that matter) when it hit the floor. After some extensive dent removal, he played it for a few more years and sold it for $1100.


My own horn nightmare was when my case's latches, which had been getting less and less trustworth, undid themselves and sent my screwbell horn bouncing across the marble-tiled lobby of the Peabody Concert hall - an hour before my one and only lesson with Barry Tuckwell. The bouncing caused no real damage, but loosened a brace, which meant that on certain notes, it vibrated sympathically (and nastily). Mr. Tuckwell was very nice about it (and the lesson was great, and he was a real sweetheart). The follow-up is that my fellow graduate student, who had apprenticed with George McCracken, fixed my horn for cheap and I ended up getting an Anvil case that looks like a steamer trunk and could survive a nuclear holocaust. (But it's so heavy I broke down and bought a gig bag a couple of years ago).


Just over a year ago I was in the final preparation phase for my masters recital at McGill University. I had put together a chamber orchestra to accompany me for Mozart's second concerto. A week before my recital, we had a full rehearsal for the work. I left the room to get a drink of water while everyone was getting settled. I left my horn on a chair at the front of the room, a "safe" distance from the other musicians. On my return, I noticed the concert mistress crying in the hallway and the conductor consoling her. As I approached, the conductor told me something horrible had happened. I thought something had happened to the violinist, she was crying so hard. Fortunately (or unfortunately...depends on how much you like violinists) nothing happened to her....something had happened to my horn.

She had walked by the chair upon which my horn was sitting and accidentally bumped it. My horn went crashing to the ground with quite a breath taking clamor, so I was told. I remained very calm and told the young woman that it couldn't be that bad. It's not like it was a violin.....dents can be taken out of metal. I went in the room to inspect the damage. Huge dent just in the tubing leading up to the bell flare, the braces holding the leadpipe to the horn had popped, and there were a few other dents. I picked up my horn and tried to play some notes....still functional. I insited that the rehearsal take place since there was only one week left until my rectial. I played the concerto on my wounded soldier, holding my left hand very tightly in order to keep the leadpipe from buzzing.

After the rehearsal, my good friend took me to the local repair shop and then out to lunch to calm my nerves. The repair man had it fixed up good as new in two days and the violinist offered to pay for the repairs. Seeing as I had left the horn in the vulnerable position, I couldn't allow her to pay for all the repairs, so we agreed to split the cost.


My friend was in 6th grade, sitting in her section holding her horn in a relaxed position. Suddenly the boy sitting next to her began to drop his horn (accidentally). Being a good friend, she lunged to save it (forgetting her own horn). Her horn toppled from her lap and hit the floor lead-pipe first. The mouth piece ended up at the bottom of her lead-pipe, which was split all the way down the side. It was repairable, but it costed a lot of money.


This also qualifies for the "taking your horn on an airplane" threads. When I was at Ohio State, the concert band went on tour to Japan. We were told that our instruments would be "containerized" meaning packed into large containers which would be put on the plane so that they wouldn't be handled by the baggage folks. Everyone's instruments made it there fine. On the way back, however, we were told we had to transfer our own luggage in L.A. Imagine the panic when all of our instruments started flying down the luggage chute and slamming into the carousel! Several instruments were damaged. (Mine was in one of those wooden Holton cases and received a minor crease in the bell.)


A few years ago I was preparing to play a concerto with a local orchestra and on the Thursday before the Saturday concert I had a bad day. After a particularly stressful practice session, I threw the horn (a beautiful Alex 103) at the arm-chair. The flight must have pleased it for, in its delight, it leapt up from the sprung cushion and performed a somersault into the wall behind. The result was that the mouthpipe was bent over at 90 degrees: it looked quite novel but the tone wasn't the same. I took it to Farnell Farnell and Backhouse, instrument repairers in Manchester, who laughed like hell and repaired it free of charge within a matter of hours.


The first 'accident' that happened was in grad school. I was coming down with the flu or something; however had dragged myself and the horn over to a large practice room to try and keep up some chops for my upcoming lesson. I set the horn (in its handmade cotton bag...) on the floor, while going for a drink of water.

Coming back, I tripped and fell..right on top of the horn, putting a neat 180° (that's option-k for you Mac users) crease in the bell.

The repair guy in Sylmar (it was Dan Rauch BEFORE he got famouse and moved), tutted over it, laughed at me, and rolled the dent out beautifully for only 15 bucks!

Later on, I was playing a gig in downtown LA near USC. I ran into a representative of Mirafone (also a horn player there), who offered me and some other people a ride to a nearby hamburger stand. Again, my humble cotton bag did not prevent the bell of my horn from being slammed in his car door.

The expression on this guy's face, at seeing my folly, was unreadable. My expressions, on the other hand,were unprintable.

Much...much later, in Mexico City, we were taking a little tour to a neighboring town to play Beethoven's 5th Symphony. My horn (the same one), now comfortably esconced in a handmade fake leather case was TIED on to the upper rack of the bus. My compadre horn player's Conn 8d in its heavy 3-ton Conn case was perched a few rows back, NOT tied, also in the upper rack.

I was seated next to this horn, and was undergoing instruction from the resident 'genius' Hungarian violist about the 'only' solution to a Rubik's cube. Therefore, it did not really make a big impression on me when that big Conn case, during one of the bus's bigger jounces, jounced itself off the rack and onto the head of our principal cellist, knocking her cold.

The bus was halted and first aid administered, as it was. Meanwhile, the 'new' personnel manager of the orchestra 'saw' my horn 'apparently' in the same 'dangerous' position, right over the heads of the people in the first row.

My brain still twisted from the anomalies of the Rubik's Cube; I watched in a trance as the personnel manager 'made' my horn fit into a space two sizes too small for it.

It took about 45 seconds before I realized what he had done and began screaming.

Apologies and offers to pay for repairs from the general manager of the orchestra notwithstanding, I STILL had to play the first part of Beethoven's 5th on a horn with a VERY crumpled bell.

Also, there was no music, so I had to read off the 2nd horn player's part-in my hurry I had forgotten my part back at the hall.

Later that night, with a smooth wooden hairbrush handle, I removed all the dents from the horn bell (there were NO creases). After that, I took it to the local repair guy who gave the horn a clean bill of health.

However...after 3 accidents to that bell, the horn no longer resonated freely and I ended up selling it several years later to a guy who hadn't played the horn in 20 years. I only hope he got a new bell for it.


Richard plays on a screwbell Lawson, like the others in the section. Before a rehearsal for a performance that night, he ssat down in his chair, got out his horn and proceeded to put it together. He set the bell on the threads, then gave it a good spin to screw it down. But, he hadn't exactly set the threads well, and when he spun it, the bell flew across the stage like a frisbee. It landed about twenty feet away, and made the sound that only a horn bell spinning to a stop can make. Of course everybody knew what it was and laughed like hell. When Richard tried to put the bell back on, he found that the landing had crushed the threads! Luckily he had a spare at home...


A novice horn trasher can get a surge of well being from trashing an old single F but it just doesn't compare to the rush that comes with chucking a Paxman triple into the wall. Watching $9000 worth of horn instantly transforming itself into a $50 parts grab-bag can be a life-altering experience.

Personally (forgive me), I feel that Paxmans and Schmids provide the finest trashing experience although Lawsons, Alexanders, Rauchs, Bergs, and Lewis' work well, too. For an everyday trashing a Holton Tuckwell model or a Yamaha Symphony would be a good choice. Of course, irreplaceable classic instruments like CF Schmidts and Geyers should be saved for "that special occasion". (You might try an 11 valve Sansone Bb or an Elkhart 8D instead.)


There is much to be said about the trashing of the horn. I will give you some thoughts on the subject now and you will be able to read about these in greater detail upon the publication of my soon to be completed book on the subject. I have not decided on the title yet but I have narrowed it down to the following three: "The Art of French Horn Trashing"; "On Trashing the Horn"; "Grand Theoretical and Practical Method for Trashing the Horn". Here are some excerpts from my manuscript.

Chapter 1: To Trash or Not To Trash?

I think that most horn players have a latent desire and ability to trash. Whether your decide to trash or not is a personal decision and you make this choice based on your own instincts, passion and circumstances. Don't be ashamed of your feelings, as you are not alone in them. If you have the overwhelming desire to trash, then perhaps you should try it once to find out if trashing is the right thing for you There is nothing wrong with this if you use discretion. You can make the momentous decision of whether to trash in public, as I do, or whether just to keep your trash in the closet after you have gained experience with trashing over time. I myself trashed in private for many years before my public debut in Tallahassee in 1994. Whatever you decide is best for you is the proper choice.

Chapter Two: Why Trash?

Trashing can be one of the most satisfying experiences a horn player can have. Simply put: trashing is FUN! It is also a great stress reliever. Some experienced horn trashers I know say that trashing is the best part of their day.

Chapter Three: When to Trash

Your first trashing is your most important one as your life will be changed forever. A lot of trashers I know did their first one after a really bad lesson. Others after an embarrassing performance. Many more after a failed audition. I know of one who even went pro on his very first trashing when he threw his horn at the conductor during a rehearsal. The best time is whenever the spirit moves you and you have the opportunity. Remember, the desire to trash is a natural manifestation and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

Chapter Four: What are the Best Horns to Trash?

Any horn can be successfully trashed. Remember, it's not the horn, it's the trasher. With proper training, practice and experience you will find what is best for your own trashing situation and circumstances. I have trashed many different makes and models of horns with the utmost of success and satisfaction. Accidental trashings unfortunately do occur and usually to good instruments. These are usually repairable and/or replaceable. For intentional trashings, just about any old piece of junk is satisfactory but I prefer to trash a single F horn as I am a great admirer of the Viennese School of Trashing that was so renowned in the late nineteenth century.

Chapter Five: Trashing Techniques

As with most activities, there are many different and successful techniques. Some are simple and quite easily learned; others are extremely difficult and take not only athletic ability but years of training and practice to develop. A good one to start with is the simple "horn slam": grasp the horn firmly and with a controlled overhand motion of the arm simply slam it into the floor. Do this several times and then move on to your first "wall banger": stand eight to ten feet from the wall, grasp firmly and hurl the instrument with all your might against the wall (try to avoid hitting any furniture, artwork or windows as this may diminish the amount of damage done to the horn). Next, try "the bowler": grasp firmly and then with a forceful underhand motion, roll the horn down the hallway or across the stage or parking lot into whatever gets into the way. For variety, mix in an occasional "stomper" to help maximize your pleasure. These four simple techniques come naturally to most horn players and will get you started in your trashing career. You will see a great deal of damage to the instrument and feel the indescribable warm glow of satisfaction that results with successful trashing. With experience and practice you can move on to: "the stairmaster", "the frisbee", "the drop kick", "the soccer pass", "the gig bag three point attempt" and the "slam into the can" (which I so successfully demonstrated during my debut at IHS 25). Another technique to inject into your routine is "the tooth puller": occasionally wrench off slides and tubing and toss them around as you trash. Walter Lawson, also in Tallahassee, showed us this and then finished with a brilliant "blind, over the shoulder, double reverse tuning slide hurl into the can" which is one of the most difficult techniques to master. Another very advanced technique is the "Michelin Mash": place the horn just behind either back wheel of your car or truck, place the transmission in reverse and back the vehicle over the horn; then try changing gears from forward to reverse creating a gentle rocking motion over the horn (like getting your car unstuck from the snow). Also, always keep in mind that trashing is a spontaneous event, so feel free to experiment. This will increase your knowledge, pleasure and satisfaction.

Chapter Six: Some General Rules

Please trash responsibly. Clean up thoroughly after you trash unless you still live with your mother and repair and/or pay for any incidental damage that may have occurred during the trashing. Recycle trashed horns in accordance with local regulations (keep in mind that sometimes trashed horns make nice artwork and should be kept on display).

Above all: PRACTICE SAFE TRASH!


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