Thursday, November 26, 2015

How I Stay in Shape

by Bob Ashworth
Principal Horn, Opera North

Whether it’s getting ready for Ein Heldenleben after a six week break, playing such varied repertoire in the same week (Cole Porter’s ‘Kiss Me Kate’, Rossini’s ‘Barber of Seville’, Janacek’s ‘Jenufa’ and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.4) or looking further ahead to SIX – yes, six - Ring cycles(!), it’s important to stay in shape.

What exactly does this mean for horn players (or any musicians)? There can be no doubt that horn playing (as with any musical instrument) is a very physical activity – I still regard myself as an athlete although it’s a while since I’ve done any serious running. After lots of athletics at school I went through the usual fad in my thirties (and I’m not knocking it) of doing 10K runs and marathons and it was certainly physically draining. But looking back now I think I got more from the mental strength behind it and I find more and more that the determination and staying power is so applicable to horn playing. Staying in shape for horn playing doesn’t necessarily mean doing a 5-10K run every weekend or going to the gym – it’s more than that because it’s both mental and physical. For the past few years my physical stuff is what Alfred Brain used to do – a lot of digging – not exactly aerobic fitness but looking after three  allotments is a great escape from the pressures of playing principal horn. But that’s still not the whole answer either. You have to do the 5-10K runs and marathons, but in horn playing terms. It’s the preparation and perseverance that I found from running that are the key elements.

My preparation for each of the Ring operas was to play them from beginning to end, obviously without most of the rests, in a single practice session. For Das Rheingold this probably took slightly over an hour – not too long – but at the end I knew that MENTALLY I could get through it. The same with the others – although possibly slightly longer for each opera. Not sure yet about my preparation for the whole cycle in a week....

My preparation for Ein Heldenleben, throughout my summer holidays, was the same, play it through so it feels familiar and do-able.

For the varied repertoire, as with all of the above, it’s a case of keeping everything on the boil – especially the basics – which comes from a ‘warm up’ (moving into ‘extended practice’) which is constantly being refreshed by tapping into varied material – my own Warm Ups (obviously but constantly re-vamped) plus re-worked elements of Farkas, Schlossberg, Ree Wekre, Kling, Caruso (Carmine not Enrico! – and therefore Julie Landsman too), Yancich, Schantl etc. – all of which, even though seemingly diverse, are coming from the point of using air efficiently, like a singer.

So, for a training regime (both mental and physical):
  • repetitive work – but you must keep the repetition interesting
  • stamina work – push the boundaries BUT don’t overdo it (hard but pragmatic decisions to be made here)
  • gentle work – to relax, ease off and enjoy yourself
  • rest – SO important to all athletes

Have fun!


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