Thoughts and concepts about various aspects of English Horn playing
Common complaints among English Horn players are incidents of hand and/or wrist problems, due in part, to the weight of the instrument. Information regarding the numerous support mechanisms available to musicians is included in this discussion.
Common complaints among English horn players are incidents of hand and/or wrist problems, ranging from soreness/stiffness to tendonitis in the hand/wrist/arm. These problems, while usually temporary, can be alleviated by the use of anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Ibuprofen), ice, rest and, most importantly, some technical means to assist in supporting the weight of the instrument.
If untreated, these types of problems could escalate to more serious chronic conditions, which in the most extreme cases, could result in the need to cease playing for extended periods of time. Ideally, one should do everything possible to avoid experiencing hand problems in the first place.
According to the De Gourdon family, the makers of F. Lorée oboes, their oboes weigh approximately 696 grams (or 1.5 pounds) and their English horns weigh approximately 1050 grams (or 2.3 pounds). This may not represent a significant difference in weight, but those who have spent a significant amount of time playing the English horn would most likely disagree.
During my brief tenure (ca. 1980’s) as the English horn player in the San Antonio Symphony, I developed tendonitis starting in my right thumb, progressing through the hand and into the forearm. At the time, I was not using any external support mechanism.
After many painful weeks, including a stint of medical leave medical leave from the orchestra, I was able to schedule an appointment with Dr. Alice Branfonbrenner, the founder and Director of the Medical Program for Performing Artists at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. She diagnosed tendonitis and prescribed rest, Ibuprofen, ice and numerous hand-strengthening exercises. In addition, she insisted that I utilize some sort of support mechanism to the take the weight of the English horn off of my thumb and hand. Since that time, I have generally avoided tendonitis and the incidence of hand pain and discomfort has been kept to a minimum.
Due to the weight of the instrument and the way in which the delicate muscles of the hands, wrists and arms must work in coordination with one another, I would strongly recommend that all players, irrespective of how physically strong, employ some sort of support mechanism. In addition, I would advise regular exercise targeted to increase one’s upper body strength.
I have listed several of the various mechanisms available to support the weight of the English horn. Web sites and email addresses (when available) are included for further information. In addition, many of these systems are available for purchase from instrument dealers and double reed supply shops throughout the U.S. and Canada. The system of choice should be determined by each individual musician, but I would encourage all players to consider the various options available prior to making any such decision.
Weight Reduction Instrumental System Technology
Developed by Robert Morgan – English horn, Lyric Opera of Chicago
This innovative support clips to the music stand and hooks into the bell of the English horn.
Oboe/English horn supports
Quodlibet Company phone: 1-800-59-FHRED
English Horn Pegs
Forrests English Horn support peg. Recently redesigned and it now fits any English Horn.
English Horn Neck Straps
Available at most double reed supply shops
1. Leather neck band with standard cord
2. Elastic strap – “bungee cord” type
3. Neoprene sponge neckband with standard cord
Various thumb rests help to spread the weight of the instrument more evenly to reduce strain on the thumb.
The “Dutch” thumb rest is a wider thumb rest with a flat plate which adds thickness to the grip, resulting in a more open hand position. This is widely used on the oboe, but may also work for the English horn.
Adjustable thumb rests provide more flexibility in the position of the hand. In the case of the Lorée adjustable thumb rest, it replaces the standard thumb rest without the need to drill new holes.
Foam or rubber cushions may be slipped over the thumb rest to provide additional padding for the thumb.
The Ton Kooiman adjustable thumb rests move the weight closer to the hand to reduce strain on the thumb. These interesting and well designed thumb rests are available in several models and price ranges. http://www.tonkooiman.com/index.php/products/maestro2
Contact oboe dealers and double reed supply shops to obtain the most current and detailed information.