Yap Yoke Lim is an instrument technician at MusicGear and a passionate French Horn player.
(This interview was conducted in September 2011)
Tell us about your story as a horn player and brasswind technician. What started it all?
I started playing the trumpet when I was in Primary 3. I switched to the tenor horn in the secondary school because I could not play the high notes on the trumpet. I later switched to the French Horn in Ngee Ann Polytechnic because they did not have tenor horns, and I did not want to play the euphonium! I started to get interested in instrument repair during my time in NTU because the repair jobs on the instruments were done badly, and I saw the potential of doing a better job than the current technicans available at that time in the late 1990s.
As both an instrument technician and a horn player, how does your knowledge affect the experience of playing the horn?
A lot! Understanding how the instrument works helps me greatly in my understanding of playing techniques & producing a good sound. For example, playing on a large throat bell horn is very different from playing a medium European bell horn. Likewise with playing a single horn compared with playing a full double or a triple horn. I also always try to ensure that the mechanical parts of the horn are in optimum working condition when I use them because it greatly affects my playing capabilities.
How many horns have you restored so far? Can you describe your favourite and worst projects?
I have lost count on the number of horns that I repaired! During these 7 years that I was doing the repair jobs, I encountered some amazing horns, and some really badly made and over-rated instruments. The best project that I have done was to restore a really old Ed Kruspe 1940s horn (still in terrific condition) and the worst projects I have done are badly abused school-owned horns. It makes me understand that the condition of the horn is directly proportional to the attitude of the players. If you have a person who really appreciates the horn, it can easily last for 60 to 80 years. If the player does not even bother to wipe the horn after using it, it probably will not last more that 6 months!
Please tell us briefly about the double horn. Why does it interest you so much?
The double horn is a very versatile instrument because it is in 2 pitches. It produces a very beautiful yet noble sound, not achievable with other brass instruments. If you understand and practice the alternate fingerings of the horn, it is actually very easy to switch notes by playing the alternate fingerings, reducing the chances of wrong notes due to awkward fingerings. If you notice carefully, the french horn is probably the most featured instrument for posters and program notes!
What are some of the horn players or ensembles that you greatly admire?
I believe it has to be the Vienna Horn Players for ensemble playing, because the Vienna horn is so difficult to play, yet they can play it so beautifully! For solo horn players, it has to be Herman Baumann and Gerd Siefert. I have the privilege of meeting and fixing Maestro Siefert’s horn when he was playing for SSO a few years ago.
What are some of the repertoire, concertos or solos, that you enjoy practicing or listening in your free time?
I practice the horn works of Franz Strauss, and and any practice pieces I can get hold of, as long as they are not too difficult. I listen to anything from baroque to modern works, to pop works and soundtracks with great horn parts. I used to work as a classical CD buyer in Tower Records, so I am receptive to any music. Musicians should listen to everything with a open mind.
What is the most basic and essential form of maintenance every horn player should know?
Always keep your horn dry and clean and NEVER drop your instruments! These are the basic rules not just for horns, but EVERY wind instrument! A good instrument is like a delicate piece of art mixed with technology and should be treated with care and respect. Always use top quality lubricants for your horn, so that the parts are protected. Send your instrument to a respectable technician for chemical cleaning and maintenance every few years. In many ways, it is like changing the engine oil and replacing worn out tyres on a car.
In your opinion, is there any custom work that can be done to improve playing, or is it dependent on the player?
There are many things that can be done on the instruments if you want to improve the playing capabilities of the horn. The easiest way is to replace your old mouthpieces! This is relatively cheap and will make the most improvements on the playabilities. Other methods including changing a detachable bell or the leadpipe. Plating the valves will help significantly on the older horns but is much more expensive. There is also the method of adding or removing a brace on specific positions to improve the horn. However, the most important thing is to practice on your horn and stop putting the blame on the instruments. If you keep blaming on the horn, you are just giving excuses not to practice diligently. If I define music making as 100%, then the player will be 70%, mouthpiece 25% and the horn itself 5%.
Is there any way for a player to choose the one perfect mouthpiece and horn which suits them without knowing the technicalities?
There is no perfect mouthpiece or horn. You just need to find the correct size for yourself and your needs. You will need to try the mouthpiece with your current horn. Understand your playing skills and limitations. Always ask your teachers or seniors for advice when in doubt. You must feel comfortable and improve with your new equipment.
Lastly, do you have any advice for young budding horn players?
Practice, listen, practice, listen, practice!!!!