horn hangouts

Stefan’s Big Secret

I’ve covered some of my favorite Horn Hangouts before, but the latest one with the principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic, Stefan Dohr, is pretty fantastic.

This Horn Hangout focuses a lot on discussing various concertos that Stefan is premiering, and the various difficulties that are faced by a performer in new contemporary repertoire.

However, towards the end of the conversation, Stefan dropped a pretty interesting fact that demonstrates how hard work and dedication can overcome even seemingly monumental obstacles.

You should watch the whole Hangout, but this clip (starting at 50:06) is what I’m referring to:

You should really watch it (Stefan’s delivery is hilarious to me), but if you can’t for some reason, Stefan says that he once went 6 months in the Berlin Philharmonic without starting a note with the tongue.

This is impressive, since in that 6 month period, the orchestra apparently played Bruckner’s 4th Symphony. If you’re not familiar with this piece, the first minute of this piece is very exposed, and having trouble with attacks is the very last thing that you want with this piece.


The reason he went so long without tounging is not for fun – he says in the Hangout that he had the dreaded “stutter” or “delayed” articulation. This happens to lots of brass players, where the air and tongue seem to freeze right before starting a note (usually the very first note after a rest). It seems to be especially common in high, exposed things, but it can happen all over the horn.

I know I have suffered through it several different times. Each time I’m able to fix it, but it always is a reminder to make sure and keep fundamentals top-of-mind in your practice.

One good thing, though, is that the way I currently keep it at bay is very similar to what Stefan did: air attacks, practicing with metronome, and constantly keeping your air in motion with breathing exercises.

This also a good reminder that these kinds of technical challenges can happen to anyone – it’s not necessarily a sign that you are “bad”. After all, before this happened Stefan had to be an excellent player (since he had the Berlin Phil job). It also shows a big (but hidden) part of being a professional is not a lack of challenges, but rather the determination to persist despite them.