John Kowalchuk, Mutes etc.

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IHS 30 Banff

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IHS Banff Horn Summit 1998

Current Banff weather

Mon, June 1

I had no problem getting my horn onto the Boeing 767. My Reunion Blues, detached bell case fit in the overhead compartment like it was made for it. This was my major concern with this whole trip. Now that I can get my horn to Banff, I can almost relax. The flight was uneventful and I don't think there was another horn player on board.

After collecting my bag, I found my way outside to the Calgary Airporter bus which goes downtown every half hour. As this was the driver's last trip, he went past his last stop and let me out right at the Greyhound terminal. I had plenty of time to buy my ticket for the 11PM bus to Banff. Using my Airmiles coupon, it cost $22 for the round trip. One of the passenger a few rows back was telling someone across the aisle that he was working at the Banff Centre. He offered to share a cab from town. At least I knew I would get to my final destination. We had rain and even a bit of sleet before we reached Banff.

I arrived at the Banff Centre for the Performing Arts around 1AM after splitting the $5 cab fare from town. After chatting with the desk clerk, I headed for my room which already had two occupants. When I tried my room key, it would not go into the lock. I suspected that they had locked it from the inside so I kept trying the key until one of them came to the door. The door opened a few inches and a bleary-eyed fellow asked what I wanted. When I said that I was registered to the room he told me that they weren't expecting me that late. He let me in after a pregnant pause and I tried to get into bed as quickly and quietly as possible.

Tues, June 2

I decided to play possum and stay in bed until my roommates had left. While they were dressing, they were complaining to each other about how much money they had spent and how they had been treated. This looked like it would be fun.

I got up and dressed and found my way back to the Professional Development Centre where I had picked up my key the night before. They told me that the IHS registration was taking place at the Music and Sound Building which was quite a climb from there. I arrived at the IHS desk around 8:15 while they were setting up to open at 8:30. They were nice enough to take me a few minutes early. As I returned to my room to drop off the information package, everything was as I left it.

I went down to the dining hall with my new meal card and found an empty seat. Also at the table was Jack Blackerby of Tennessee, who was very friendly and we wound up sharing several meals together. I wanted to take it easy on my first day, so I decided to forego the Conversation with Lars Stransky and Mastering the Low Register with Randy Gardner.

I went back up to my room, which was still as I had left it, and retrieved my horn and went back down to the exhibitor's hall. I met with Lowell Shaw of Fripperies fame, saw that Besson and Willson had reps there as well. Then I poked my nose in at the Holton room where Ethel Merker and Larry Ramirez were sitting next to a table of horns. I had met both of them in Rochester last year and had spoken of the many modifications I had done to my H179 over the last 23 years. This time I had the horn with me and Larry asked to examine it.

Upon opening the case and removing the horn, Larry noticed my in-bell storage container but checked out my horn first. He admired the action of my valves. I described having a Lawson leadpipe installed and several water keys. I bevelled the slides and installed a hand rest and cut the bell off myself. He said he was impressed with the work I had done then asked about my container. The RB detached bell case has no place for even a mouthpiece so I took one of my John Kowalchuk brand wooden mutes and cut it so it would fit in the cuttoff bell inside the case. I carry mouthpieces, rags, oils and grease in it. Larry said he needs something to reinforce the bell and a place for storage in the new H105 case. He asks if he can use my idea. I say "Sure, what's a set of Merker valve caps worth?" His reply was "Give me your address and I'll send them to you."

I suggest using open-wrap Bb slides on all Holton horns. Larry likes the idea as it will eliminate some tooling in the factory since the Farkas style 3rd Bb slide requires alot of assembly. He is also asking people about valve oiling options.

The Yamaha reps are from head office in Scarborough, Ontario. Just twenty minutes west of my home. I play in a community band with another Yamaha employee who said to say hello to these guys. Steve Butterworth, who posted to the horn list before the Summit, and Allan Ash were both expecting me.

At lunch I meet several more participants and sit down with Carlberg Jones from California who is a member of the horn-list. The food is terrific but I don't think anyone is going to gain any weight climbing all these hills. You can see people panting all over the place on their way to something or other.

After lunch, I return to my room to again pick up my horn. This time, only my things are there. I suspect my roommates either don't trust me or have packed up and left.

There are sign-up sheets for the small ensembles. I sign up with Martin Hackleman. This rehearsal takes place in the Music and Sound Building, at the very top of the hill, at 2:30. When Marty comes in, I introduce myself and he recognises my name from my medley of Canadian folk songs for eight horns which I wrote especially for the conference. It eventually wound up in his hands after I had submitted it to David Hoyt. He tells me our group might get a chance to read through it.

I give him my transcription of O Canada, also for eight horns which we read that day. There's no guarantee that every group will play in the final concert. They intend to choose the groups after some rehearsal.

I catch the afternoon concert and meet up with Ron Boerger, another horn-lister and maintainer of the Community Music Mailing List.

After dinner, more great food in great quantities, I go to John Wates' talk on 1000 years of horn playing in England which is very entertaining and informative.

James Sommerville is unable to attend the Summit so is replaced on the evening program by Kathleen Farner and David Hoyt. Gail Williams performs as listed and is very impressive. There's not much to do after the concert and the days start pretty early so I return to my room for the night. I am alone in the room.

Wed, June 3

I keep seeing the same familiar faces at breakfast so I eat with Jack again. I decide to avoid Marty's warm-up, not wanting to keep turning up like a bad penny. I once again head for the exhibits. There I meet the Besson/Boosey and Hawkes rep. As it turns out, he played horn in the NORAD Band with Bobby Herriot. I have a gig with Bobby's band the week after I get home. He says "Tell him hello from Woody". We also talk about some great band music. Claude T. Smith used to be his assistant first.

It's a beautiful, clear day so I decide to grab my camera and get some photos while I can. The weather can change rather quickly I am told. I get lots of shots of mountains in every direction.

Ron B. tells me of a path to the waterfall on the Bow River so I head for that next. On my way, I hear something in the woods which turns out to be an elk. Being careful not to spook her (cow, doe?), I wait around for a good shot.

I make sure not to miss the Liège Horn Quartet session on Quartet Playing and Arranging. I bring along a copy of my quartet, Trans Canada Highway. This is a collection of Canadian folk songs I arranged for eight horns after last year's workshop when I heard Banff was the next host. It turned out to be too ambitious for an amateur group to pull off at the summit and not flashy enough for the pros.

I ask the quartet to read it and let me know what they think of my first effort. Marc Bouchard immediately pulls it out of the envelope and starts flipping through it. He points out the titles of the French-Canadian tunes to the other members. I didn't realise he was from Trois Rivieres, Quebec until they introduced themselves. They gave an excellent demonstration and played Bruce Richards' first arrangement, Londonderry Air, inspired by Percy Grainger.


At ensemble rehearsal, Marty tells us that nothing is certain yet, but our group will likely be on the final concert and that we will be first on the program with my transcription of O Canada.

Kendall Betts is the highlight of the afternoon performance for me. I think he has the best presence of sound I've heard in this hall.

Today is the first rehearsal for the massed horn choir with Paul Mansur conducting. There are seventy stands set up on the stage and I think we use most of them. Of course, since people are allowed to pick their parts, the group is heavily weighted on first and light in the middle. After some shuffling, we run through Handel's Water Music.

I'm starting to miss the fire regulation announcements from last year as I sit down for the evening concert. Jeff Snedeker came up to me and asked if I would contribute to an article for the Horn Call about the Summit from an amateur's perspective. Sure!

During the afternoon concert, Julia Studebaker halts her performance explaining that she is not capable of playing up to her usual standard. This shortens the program considerably. Someone sitting behind me says some very unkind things about the situation. I speak to several people who are more upset about those comments than the fact that Julia could not go on.

Late that night, I follow the sound of horn playing up to the Music and Sound Building to find Lowell Shaw directing a group in one of the smaller rooms. I ask if they would mind reading my piece which I run down and get after they agree. This is a mixed group of pro's, amateurs and students. We struggle through the arrangement. There are encouraging comments but I think the piece would have to be played by no more than 8 players with lots of rehearsal.

Thurs, June 4

As I walk down to breakfast, snow is falling. It isn't a whole lot colder than previous mornings, still above freezing. I think it was at breakfast that I started hanging around with Leigh Alexander.

This morning's lecture is on the alphorn, presented by William Hopson and Dr. Daryl Caswell. William Hopson is an incredible player and he makes beautiful alphorns. He answers a few questions I have had about how they are built.

I drop by to see Ethel Merker again. She tells me that they probably won't use the same slides on all their horns because it would change the original designs. I explain to her that I had checked into replacing my slides because my 1st and 3rd F valve slides have developed cracks. She is shocked to find out that a replacement 3rd slide is $135US. She tells me she has an old set of slides at home and she will send them to me. They are brass which I don't mind since I have considered doing this for the looks.

I get a ride with Ron Boerger, in his rented car, and Catherine Roche-Wallace for the alphorn excursion to Lake Louise. By the time we got there, several people were already playing down by the lake. Everyone got an opportunity to play and we even did some ensemble things with William Hopson directing.

While standing there listening to the group, someone came up to me and asked if my name was John Kowalchuk. I said yes and recognised him as Greg Prosser, a colleague from the RCAF over 12 years ago.

There is a dock on the far side of the lake with canoes for rent. I mentioned I was thinking of taking one out and my companions said I was nuts. That just about guaranteed that I would rent a canoe. The staff seem accustomed to people saying they know what they are doing but really don't. They looked at me a bit strangely when I wanted to sit on the front seat facing backwards since I was by myself. I think they relaxed a bit when I paddled off in a straight line. My companions still thought I was crazy when I paddled up to them with the canoe heeled over on one side looking like Bill Mason. I just couldn't pass up the chance to paddle in a glacial lake in the Canadian Rockies.

Lars Stransky performs beautifully on Vienna horn and Tsutomu Maruyama is quite impressive at the evening concert.

After the concert, I check out the Pallette. This is the bar next to the dining hall. It is smokey and crowded. I think this is where the staff hangs out. I have a draft and talk to the only other horn player in the room. I leave after one beer.

Fri, June 5

The IHS General Meeting was held during breakfast in a private dining room.

I try to walk off some of breakfast and chat with two members of the China delegation. I check in at the exhibits again. Larry is back after taking a couple of days off. We discuss the slides again and I convince him to consider offering the open wrap slides as an option on the Farkas horns.

I join Catherine and Leigh for lunch. Catherine is a little tense about performing in the master class this afternoon.

The master class with Tsutomu Maruyama is very interesting. Catherine has chosen to play En Foret by Bozza and does an excellent job. I can see that having Ron in the front row hasn't distracted her at all. With a bit of prompting from Maruyama-san, her performance gets even better.

Marty announces that we are definitely on the program and will be opening the concert with O Canada.

During the afternoon concert, Robert McCosh stops the performance and leaves the stage to return with a glass of water. I think this is in support of Julia's difficulties two days ago. Bravo. The show resumes when he returns.

After that, I have dinner with Catherine, Leigh and David Hoyt. Leigh took this photo. Gee, are my temples really that grey!?!

Ab Koster is phenomenal. He is the highlight of the evening concert. The Liège Quartet also do an entertaining version of Serenade for Hosepipe by Alan Civil.

Some of us are at loose ends after the concert so I suggest we check out the Sally Borden lounge. Ron, Leigh and Bruce Kelley join me for a drink and some laughs. Ron leaves early to see if his wife has called, but the rest of us close the joint with a few other IHSers. As we are leaving the rec centre, I notice a white-tailed deer chewing on the grass not more than 4 meters away.

Sat, June 6

I decide I'd better check out at least one warm-up session while I'm here so I attend Frøydis' warm-up after breakfast. Afterwards I tell her much of what she said was like an echo to me. Her references to Raphael Mendez reminded me of my mentor and close friend Bram Smith who used to fill in for Mendez in the old days.

I get a chance to speak to Ab Koster down at the exhibit hall. I tell him that I am looking forward to his master class on natural horn. He asks if I brought my horn, which I did not. Neither did he so he has to borrow one for the class. I show him a picture of the horn I converted to a natural horn with several crooks and he is quite impressed. He likes my canoe and recumbent bike as well.

After lunch, I head for the Ab Koster master class. First up is a young lady from Quebec, Julie-Anne Ferland Drolet. She is extremely well prepared and quite accomplished on the natural horn. She impliments Ab's advice and her performance gets even better. I think we should watch for her name in the near future.

There is an on-stage rehearsal for the Gala Final Concert. Since my ensemble is nearly first, I have most of the afternoon free. One last visit to the exhibit hall as everyone is packing up.

Ron, Catherine and I duck out of the afternoon concert when it appears it will run long after the Horn Ensemble Japan plays Spiral.

At dinner I sit with Ron, Catherine, Leigh and Bruce. After some serious talk things get really silly and we wind up practically falling on the floor laughing.

William Hopson opens the Gala Closing Concert followed by Marty's group playing O Canada and Pavane Pour une Infante Défunte. I hang around the lobby and chat with a few dignitaries but I make sure to catch Prof. I.M. Gestopfmitscheist's performance which is hillarious. Soon, it is time to go backstage and get ready for the massed horn choir.

After our performance, Ron, Leigh, Bruce, Catherine and I pile into Ron's car and head for downtown Banff. We have a drink at a bar and move on to a restaurant just before the kitchen closes and order some game style food.

I am able to do most of my packing before turning in for the night. I've planned my escape route and looked up the number for the taxi in the morning.

Sun, June 7

I sit down to breakfast with Leigh, Catherine and Bruce. Ron has already left at 4:30 this morning. It is a quick breakfast for me and I say my good-byes. I retrieve my luggage and phone for a taxi, then struggle down from my room.

I am fortunate and make all my connections in time. I see a few other horn players at the Calgary Airport before I have to board my plane.

The hosts, staff, IHS exec and contributing artists are very open and friendly.

I am still awed by my experiences both at Eastman last year and at Banff, coming from the backwater as I do. It amazes me the people you meet at these things. One time I came up behind an elderly gentleman and pointed out a short-cut, then I noticed it was Louis Stout climbing the hill. After giving someone else advice on setting up a mute, I looked up to see him sitting across the table from me, nodding his head. I'm not used to being in that sort of company.

I spoke to Catherine Roche-Wallace, our new Membership Development and Retention Coordinator, indicating that the focus on amateurs is moving in the right direction. Amateurs and students make up the majority of IHS membership. Amateurs have a better likelihood of playing in a band than in an orchestra. Suggestions in reference to band literature and performance were well received by other members of the executive. Including band related topics in these workshops has received enthusiastic support from other amateurs in attendance.

The Banff summit was a great experience. Being Canadian, I feel a sense of pride that it was held in my country. It's almost like I was one of the hosts as well. Foreign visitors were in awe of the surroundings. Even foul weather didn't seem to dampen spirits. Fabulous catering and service.

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