36 Years Ago

36 Years Ago, Vienna 1971—A Student Journal

Day 077: Barry's in town; Sight singing


Vienna 1971—A Student Journal
A year of music, study, travel, sightseeing & friends.

Day 77 — Barry's in town; Sight singing
18-October-1971 (Mon.)


Starting to be busy. Had lesson (so-so). Practiced—still not satisfied. Went to classes.

Solfege class. Very interesting (in German, of course). I am in the hardest group, and I can tell it’s going to be hard. Today—the first day—we had sight singing examples. They were
atonal. What a way to start learning sight singing. (Perhaps this isn’t for beginners). It should be a great experience. Start shaping up my ear for contemporary music. (Wait till dictation.) Fixed do is used...[confusing talk on sight singing edited out].

The Big Day. Barry is in town. Went to see Barry Tuckwell, world-famous British horn player, playing with a British string ensemble—Academy of the Fields of St. Martin. It was one of the best concerts. All of the concert was done without a conductor. The small string ensemble followed the 1st violinist—as in Handel’s time. It was unbelievable. Always together and extremely musical. (Bartok, Handel, & Mozart)

Tuckwell was fantastic and the sound and control he had was unbelievable. He played a Holton [French horn]. He was a very “
mental looking guy.” He played a Haydn concerto and a Cherubini concerto—both fairly hard and well done. He made it seem so easy.

Guess what? Two surprises.

(1) I smuggled in a tape recorder (my friend's) and thus, I have a tape of the horn pieces and the strings also. What a memento of Vienna. The quality is excellent. Why? Well, my seat was the 3rd row, seat 3, and I was looking at him, like I could have been a teacher giving him a lesson. Of course, I couldn’t really get the secret to his embouchure.

(2) I actually met and talked with Barry. I can call him Barry, now. He was really nice and we exchanged a few words about the Holton horn, and that I was playing on Alexander now. (He didn’t like the Alexander.) I also asked him if I could borrow his embouchure. Incidentally, he gives workshops in the U.S.—it would be great to get in something like that. He also gave me his autograph and shook my hand (2x). I’ll never wash it again. Actually, I hope that some of his “power” will go into me. I can use all I can get.

Well, tonight has been a real exciting night.


A long post today. The clarity of my writing is starting to suffer and I’m fragmenting. Maybe I’m writing very late at night. Regardless, I edited out the paragraph on sight singing as it was confusing. Here goes.

If you are not a music major or music student, skip down to Barry.

Sight singing. First, if you’re not a musician and familiar with the concept of singing music by sight, most often using solfege syllables, then you won’t understand anything in the second paragraph.

A music major will take
sight singing classes along with their music theory class. You learn to sing music by sight. It is not easy, but it is a skill that is gradually learned. [I taught music theory and sight singing to freshman and sophomores as a TA in one of my graduate music programs.] Actually, it’s a great musical skill that will help you in all facets of music, from conducting to composing to performing. It “tunes” your ear to the music that you “see.” With sight singing, you sing by sight. On an instrument, playing music by sight for the first time is called sight reading.

Solfege syllables. There are different schools of sight singing. Most often, you sing using solfege syllables. Think about the movie, The Sound of Music, those beautiful Austrian alps, and that do-re-mi song they sing. Fixed-do means that do (do, a dear, a female dear) is always the same pitch. Movable do means that do is always the first pitch of a scale. The pitch syllables relate to the steps of a tonal scale. In 1971, I though fixed do was easier, but now I like moveable do because it is easier to anchor the harmony and intervals you sing (using pitch syllables) to a tonal scale.

Atonal. I’ll leave you with this point, singing atonal solfege is crazy-hard. I could not do it well nowadays. It is easier to sing to tonal scales. Fixed do might be best for contemporary (or atonal) music.

If none of the above makes sense, concentrate on those beautiful Austrian alps instead. That’s actually the most important thing here. The beauty of nature.

Moving on.

Barry [the best] Tuckwell. Barry Tuckwell has always been one of the premier performers on the French horn. I’m three rows away from one of my French horn heros. How cool is that? You didn’t know that was possible, did you? Toss aside Madonna, Michael, Iggy Pop, and Britney. Barry’s in town!

Seeing a pro performer, especially for your major instrument, from that close is amazing. As you can tell it was an incredible experience. And I get to meet him. We’re on a first-name basis now. “Hi, Barry.” I shake his hand, get his autograph, and try to exhume his “French horn talent” from his hand into me—because I need help with my embouchure. Maybe it worked a little bit. By the way, in college we used the word “mental” to describe someone looking wild, unique, cool, or whatever. Perhaps Barry’s hair was frizzed up or something. It was a good term, for us.

I was actually taping a bootleg of Barry Tuckwell. I was just a kid and I never gave it to anyone. Really. No, really. (Really.) (Yes, really.)

A great day.


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