I thought for several years that there was a book called The Devil to Play about French horn playing, but when I finally went to look it up, it was called A Devil to Play and it wasn't quite what I was thinking it was. I decided to order it anyway, along with two other books that should help me improve my horn playing.
Lately, every lesson I have had has resulted in some breakthrough, large or small, that has led to my ability to reach some of the higher notes with greater ease and fluidity. It has been a combination of practicing on top of the refrigerator, which seems a strange approach, but the refrigerator in my office, which used to be my parents' is at exactly the right height so that I can set my horn on top and practice playing it entirely with my embouchure which means no hands, just open notes, and the work I have been doing with my teacher to strengthen my embouchure.
Two days ago during my lesson, I went higher more easily than ever before, and yesterday during my practice, I did it again and astonished myself. Hearing those high, clear notes reminds me why I first chose the French horn, and it also recalled a scene from two Christmases ago, when I was learning the solo part written for a soprano saxophone for "O Little Town of Bethlehem," arranged by Dan Forrest. It was an extremely challenging piece particularly in terms of timing, but I worked on it endlessly and gradually mastered it. When we rehearsed it at choir practice, and I made it to the final note, the choir director held it much longer than it was written. When he finally cut it off, he told me that my tone was so beautiful he didn't want it to end! To paraphrase Mark Twain, I could live a year on a compliment like that, especially since I was myself enraptured by the sound of that sustained note.
All the work and the lessons culminated today in playing at the Mass which was offered for my husband on the seventh anniversary of his death. I had a very productive practice session before I left for church, when the high notes again seemed to be easier to reach--and more buoyant, as my teacher says). So I told myself that I won't get flustered any more when I'm playing pieces that I have practiced endlessly, and I didn't. When I was waiting for Mass to begin, the choir director went back to find out what the homily would be about so he could choose a hymn for Communion that will echo that theme, and he came back and told me we would do "One Faith, One Hope, One Lord." I practice that nearly every day but can still see it as my nemesis, and at first my heart sank. But then I realized that I had practiced it perfectly that morning and that there was no need to be perturbed. I then sailed into the high E in the Sanctus with great verve, and played the Communion anthem confidently. When we got to the final hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy," I play a trumpet solo which has a high B which is held for nearly two full beats, and we play three verses. I had no fear and enjoyed playing it, neither worrying about the different timing nor the notes nor the four sharps, and I am convinced that Wes was listening and probably liked my playing even better than the angels' (but then they were probably only playing harps)!