If you’re a horn player, you’ve almost certainly heard of David Cooper.
From some of his incredible videos of solo repertoire (I love this recording of Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro), to his tenure as the principal horn of the Dallas Symphony from 2013-2019, to his winning auditions for principal spots in some of the top orchestras (National Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony), he has been a topic of conversation (and probably some jealousy) in horn circles the past few years!
Listening to him talk about his playing and parts of his practice routine, though, it’s no wonder he’s had as much success as he has. He simply works his ass off.
David Cooper on Pathways Podcast
I’ve mentioned the Pathways podcast before back when I talked about Dan Vidican and Lukas horns for the second time.
The host of Pathways, Adam Wolf, recently did a two-part interview with David Cooper where they talked about a lot of things, especially relating to David’s time playing in some of the world’s top orchestra’s and the preparation he required to win those jobs.
You should listen to the interview yourself (you can use your favorite podcast app or listen online here), but there were a few things that really struck me as unexpected and very interesting.
Equipment: I don’t know David at all personally, but in listening to him play and discuss his process, it seems that he has a very flexible technique. By that I mean that he seems to be able to pick up a very different style of horn and work out (over time) how to get the most out of that particular instrument. The fact that he has had major professional success on all manner of instruments (Rauch, Conn 8D, Alexander 103 (for Berlin), Lewis (for Chicago)) and in all sorts of different orchestral playing styles (he discusses aspects of articulation in Berlin that I have to imagine are very different from Chicago) really speaks to his work on his fundamental playing mechanics.
Deliberate Practice: David auditioned for the Chicago Symphony 3 times. The first time he didn’t make it out of the preliminary round. This was the 2015 audition (I believe), which a couple of years after David won his principal position in Dallas (and the National Symphony). This shows just how high the bar was set for advancement past the prelims (to say nothing of actually winning the job). David’s dive into what it actually took for him to make it to the finals (in the 2016 audition) and win the job (in 2019) is a look at what it really means to prepare for a major audition at a high level. No one “accidentally” wins a job like this without months (or years) of hard, focused work.
David Cooper’s Warm-Up
Shortly after listening to these episodes, I stumbled across a video of David Cooper going through his warm-up routine.
This was recorded in Berlin (thus, the Alex 103 he’s playing), and seems to come from his time in the Berlin Phil. Watching the video I was really intrigued by the amount of Caruso (or Caruso-inspired) exercises he used.
Carmine Caruso was a saxophone player who had an uncanny ability to see through problems and inefficiencies in brass player’s technique, and developed a whole series of unique exercises to help them. There is a Caruso book, but it’s only okay. For a great series of Caruso exercises and how to do them the “Caruso way”, Julie Landsmen has some fantastic resources (including videos).
David does many of the same exercises that Julie covers, but he doesn’t seem to worry about the more esoteric Caruso requirements like nose breathing, mouthpiece contact, and foot tapping (although he does keep that metronome going). I think these exercises do have some great value for younger students even without those Caruso requirements.
If you’ve never done “real” Caruso before, playing some of his warm-up (especially the “Golden Sounds” (13 Notes), Lips-Mouthpiece-Horn, and Intervals (but start lower)) can be especially productive, especially for high school players that are looking for ways to increase range and endurance. Once you get comfortable doing them David’s way, try them with the nose-breathing and foot tapping and see which way works better for you!
If you’re curious but maybe not ready to try it yourself, James Boldin has started going through Julie’s Caruso schedule and posting an update once a week or so on his blog. You can read starting with Caruso week 1 here.
If you’re wanting more from David, his Youtube channel has quite a few great recordings, as well as some interesting “fireside chats” with other famous horn players.