Submitted by Sean Kirkpatrick

I believe that I am Wendell's last student. I was stationed at the US Naval Station in San Diego in late '79/early '80. I had not played for 5 of the 6 years that I served in the Navy when a friend loaned me a horn and suggested that I contact Wendell to see if he would take me on as a student. I recall that he had to ask Nancy Frisch if it would be OK. Luckily for me, it was. I had about 5 months with him before I was sent on a Western Pacific deployment. Upon my return, I was very saddened to learn of his passing. He was the first person with whom I studied and helped me put a very fine polish on a pretty good self-taught technique. I still have the Kopprash etudes with his handwritten notations for my assignments, and I also have a handwritten copy of the 7/8 exercise that is posted elsewhere on your site.

Wendell and Jim Decker were the only two guys I studied with, and between them, I learned volumes about what it meant to be a player and a human being.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Marshall

Submitted By Walter Hecht

My memories of Mr. Hoss started at a very early age. I met him at the Hollywood Hills home of Jim Decker, who was hosting a party for some visiting and local horn players. I cannot remember exactly how I scored the invitation as I believe that I was the only student (youth) present. I, being only in Junior High School, was extremely naïve and impressionable and I was intent to harvest this grand opportunity to socialize with the professional elite to the utmost. The home was full of the top players from all over, and Jim was intent on showing everyone a good time. I thought that I would just disappear into the guests and keep my ears open and my mouth shut, but, that was not to be. As the room filled with people, I detected an older hornist conversing loudly with a group of others. He had a pronounced British accent and a light bulb went off in my head, he may actually have met Dennis Brain!! I had found my niche, or so I thought, and I hastened directly towards that fellow with the British accent until, seemingly from out of nowhere, Jim intercepted me and pulled me aside. This was very odd as he had a house full of guests but he was evidentially watching me. He looked down at me and asked if I was having a good time and I told him what he had already surmised. He then said to me that he didn’t want me to listen to that specific man bluster insinuating that whatever he had to say, was basically misinformation. He then reached over and spun me around and told me to walk over to where a white haired gentlemen was conversing, Wendell Hoss as I was soon to find out, and pay close attention to anything and everything he said. Jim was being very protective and obviously wanted considerable control over the information about horn playing and horn players I was being exposed to. I did manage to ask Mr. Hoss if he had ever met Dennis Brain. He told me that while on tour in the London area, he went out of his way to find out where the Philharmonia was rehearsing and took a rather harrowing cab ride to go there and introduce himself to Dennis. It didn’t end well as when he got there the principal player (presumably Alan Civil) told him that at that particular time, Dennis was on “Holiday” at the Baths.

Like David Jolley and several others, Jim Decker was our master teacher, then he moved from the Hollywood Hills home to the Naples (Long Beach) California area and told David, I, and the others that we would have to find other teachers. At first, I was not able to study often with Mr. Hoss as he lived at the opposite end of the Los Angeles area and transportation was nearly impossible. When I turned sixteen and got my driver’s license, things changed. I was able to regularly commute to Glendale for lessons with Mr. Hoss and, I also took lessons from his former co-principal from the Pittsburg Symphony, Mario A. Grilli (1892-1965), who had an apartment a short distance from my parent’s home. Mr. Grilli had difficulty with the management of his apartment building with the noise of giving horn lessons so I arranged it so he gave lessons to all his students at my home. Suddenly, one after another a parade of students would come over to have their lessons in a “studio” room we had over our garage. He gave lessons to a number of children, which, honestly, I cannot ever remember Mr. Hoss doing. Mr. Hoss, as I remember it, only had very advanced, exceptional students like David Jolley, George Cable, Dan Routch and Peggy Walsh. Mario Grilli died in 1965 of injuries he sustained after getting out of my car and slipping on wet grass next to the walkway of his apartment. Mario Grilli never spoke a bad word about Wendell Hoss and I think they were great friends. I never heard Wendell Hoss utter a bad word about anyone either. A true class act. Mario Grilli did get very animated and furious at the mere mention of Fritz Reiner though!

In the interest of brevity, I am going to advance a couple of years taking lessons from both Mr. Grilli and Mr. Hoss and just hit some highlights.

For instance, my first lesson with Mr. Hoss was actually quite frightening. I was dropped off at his wonderful home and I went to his front door and knocked. I knocked for quite a while before he answered and the first thing he did was show me another entrance that all of his students were to use, which directly connected with the hardwood floored room in which he gave his lessons. I was told to always use this door in the future so as not to bother his wife, Olive (1894-1974). Through the early years that I went to his home for lessons, Olive never appeared, but, you could hear her doing things in other areas of the house. I discussed this with other students and they said the same thing. There was a very nice garden outside and one could catch a glimpse of her occasionally, but never any verbal exchange.

Imagine my surprise one summer day when I arrived for my lesson, after getting my horn out of the case, Mr. Hoss was called to the telephone and after a few minutes Olive appeared with a tray containing fresh lemonade. I must have looked parched and she came to my rescue. It never happened again though.

The lessons were very regimented. They would begin with the question “sitting or standing?” and then the adjustment of the music stand. Mr. Hoss was a very focused and patient teacher. Samples of his handwritten lesson plans and letters are presented along with this narrative. I never knew him to let anything “slide.” If you didn’t play the passage to his liking, you would do it again and again and again until he was satisfied. He caught things I wasn’t even aware I was doing. At first, it was somewhat confusing until he divulged the missing insight. As well as I remember it, “as the player, you are hearing yourself through the bone structure of your skull and that is not what the audience hears.” “You must be aware of your playing from the perspective of the listener and adjust accordingly.” In plain English, he was telling me to exaggerate almost everything in order for it to be clear and precise to the listener in an auditorium. At this juncture, I began to think that great hornists had their own cliché’s. The late John Barrows once spent an entire hour lecturing horn students on what he called “the mark of a professional.” He did so while deliberately not defining exactly what he meant. Finally, one bewildered horn student asked Mr. Barrows, using middle English if I remember correctly, “What the ____ do you mean? What is the “mark of a professional?” John Barrows sighed and said, “I’d thought you’d never ask.” “The mark of a professional is merely a pencil, clipped to your horn and always available.”

Off I went into the military as a hornist and, after two and a half years” I returned to Los Angeles. I went to see Jim Decker and he strongly hinted that he was not interested in giving me any more lessons. I renewed my acquaintance with Mr. Hoss and he told me to my face that now I was an adult and he was to hereafter to be called Wendell, not Mr. Hoss. He was delighted to continue to teach me and I remember working out of the Farkas, Kopprasch and Galley books. All lessons though, before I was dismissed, contained some of the transcriptions he had formerly done or was in the process of doing. I can remember lots of Bach and slurring. No hint of glissando was tolerated and great leeway was given to tempo and expression.

Now that he was Wendell and I was Walter, we saw quite a bit of each other. He was a supporter of the Veneklasen Horn project. Of all the top players I constantly consulted with regarding the Veneklasen project over the years, Wendell and John Barrows were the ones to repeatedly stress researching and harvesting any and all brass-wind related scientific studies that had ever been performed.

Whenever I was in his part of town, I always tried to arrange a meeting. That didn’t prove to be very easy as Wendell did not function well impulsively. Everything seemed to have to be preplanned and well thought out. If one was hungry and you said “let’s go eat” he would step back a little and really consider the plan. I quickly learned to call and disclose the entire afternoon’s agenda and not give him any surprises. We used to go eat (he was a strict vegetarian) at a local “Two Guys from Italy” restaurant that was close to his home. In hindsight, I never ordered, out of respect, anything with meat, and I cannot remember anyone dining with us who did. Wendell taught me that Marinara Sauce does not contain meat. Something I never knew. Wendell also liked photography very much. He was always delighted to borrow my Leica camera. One of the enclosed pictures has Wendell sitting with the Leica camera case next to him. The other photo of him is with me. I think this is most likely the last photo ever taken of him.

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While jogging on the hilly street he lived on Wendell slipped on wet pavement and broke his hip. Everyone I knew was concerned that he would decline rapidly after that but he was back jogging after an alarming short recovery, considering his age. One day, on one of my regular visits to see him, I happened to notice that his car in his carport/garage was caked with dirt and dust and obviously wasn’t being used anymore. This was well after Olive had passed and he was pretty much on his own. I asked him about his car and he told me his eyesight would not allow him to drive.

Things were now evolving to the point that Wendell, alone and unable to drive, needed some help. That help arrived in a most unexpected and wonderful form, Nancy Fisch. Nancy was a hornist and very close admirer of Wendell. At this point, she took over complete care of Wendell and for the remainder of his days she saw to it that Wendell had a satisfying and happy life. They sold the big home in Glendale and moved to San Diego, where Wendell rented a studio near their apartment at the Kodish School of Music and still gave lessons. After Wendell passed, Nancy continued to reside in San Diego and became the Chief Librarian for the San Diego Symphony. I greatly admire her for what turned out to be devoting a good part of her adult life to taking care of Wendell. I know, when my decline sets in, there will be no Nancy Fisch for me.


Posted
AuthorGeorge Marshall

Submitted by George Cable

I knew and studied with Wendell Hoss from the early 1960's to the early 1970's. He was a gentle compassionate man who loved the horn and promoted it throughout his life. In or around 1974 Mr. Hoss sold his home in Glendale California and moved to San Diego to retire. The horn community here in San Diego enjoyed his comradery and the horn ensembles he arranged. Mr. Hoss had a studio in down town San Diego where he taught lessons and practiced (he was around 80 at that time.) He also taught horn at San Diego State College for a few years until he had a stay in a local hospital with a cancer scare. Nancy Fisch left her job to be a his companion and caretaker through the last years of his life. Mr. Hoss was able to stay at home during his illness with her help and not in a care facility. (he died in 1980.)

Mr. Hoss was an excellent instructor, who taught the horn student mental and physical aspects of horn playing, music phrasing, and the love of the beautiful horn sound. He would give the student exercises in which he would mentally work out in his mind without music. An example is the Chord Inversion Exercise. The interesting thing about this exercise is one needs to change only one note at a time to progress through the exercise. Mr. Hoss would instruct the student to play a major arpeggio in root position followed by a minor arpeggio in root position built on the same note, and then, keeping the bass note the same (the lowest note), progress to first inversion major and minor and again keeping the bass note the same, in second inversion major and minor. The student needs to change only one note to change to the next chord except going from first inversion major to first inversion minor. After completing the chords the student would change one note and move up to the next chord in root position a half step higher and go through that series in the same manner. The student would struggle learning these arpeggios but would learn to visualize the music in their minds. (An example is included here.)

During one of my lessons with Mr. Hoss, I asked him if he knew of any etudes in compound meter, such as 7/8, for intermediate students in. He said he could recall none, so I put it out of my mind. A few days later I received a letter from him which included an original etude in 7/8 meter. The etude is reminiscent of Strauss' Til. Several years later when he retired and had more time, the local hornists suggested he publish a book of etudes. The etudes were published in 1980 by “A Moll Dur Publishing House” as “Nine Studies For Horn.” I believe the book is out of print now. (etude printed here)

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Posted
AuthorGeorge Marshall

Submitted by David Jolley

When I think back to those almost magical days of study with Mr. Hoss, the thing I always remember most strongly is the slow walk up the steps to the front door of his grotto-like house in the hills above Glendale.  When I went for a lesson every couple of weeks or so, whether it was a cool winter evening or a dry summer day, the scent of the dry grass and mesquite would be in the air, and then I would hear it:  the soft sound of a line of Bach Sarabande floating on the air, as Mr. Hoss played a bit before our lesson.  He would play different movements, but his favorite was probably the slowest, most profound Sarabande, from the Fifth Cello Suite, the C Minor.  For me, to this day, I know that to have heard him play like this is to know hornplaying itself, music at its purest and stripped to its most lovely, timeless essence.  I would wait at the door for a phrase to end, or a whole piece sometimes, and then give a knock.  There would be a short wait and then the door would open—slowly, yet still with a deft motion—and there he would be, erect, gently smiling, with a polite inquiry after my family on his lips. Sometimes his wife Olive would come out for a quick hello, very quick, and then we would be sitting down, getting to work…. 

*     *     *

I had begun horn at the age of 10 through the LA County School System, in 1959.  My first studies were with a graduate of USC, Mr. Donald Dustin, who gave me an excellent beginning.  He would come to our house to give the lessons, and I still remember him pulling up in his VW “bug”.  Once I got the 1st and 3rd valve slides on my Bb Getzen reversed just before a lesson.  My scales were quite a mess, which mystified me, and gave him a good laugh.  Then, after about a year, through the offices of a family friend, I was able to play for and begin work with Mr. James Decker.  He was an ideal teacher, and I was so fortunate to get to work with him at such a young age.  I was very spoiled! He was thorough but patient, and always inspiring.  He gave me the grounding in Kopprasch which I have never forgotten; and we worked in the Oscar Franz Method—my favorite (I loved the old-fashioned text, something like “The History of the World” to me…)--and the Farkas Book, which was brand-new at that time.  He also had a good fatherly manner for such a young student as myself.  I remember one lesson when I hadn’t practiced enough--he suggested that I should perhaps not have a lesson the following week, if I couldn’t manage to practice more.  I remember feeling the loss of the privilege, and the rebuke, gentle as it was, keenly.  I practiced.  He was a good motivator in other ways as well.  On his recommendation, I auditioned for and joined the Peter Meremblum Orchestra, one of the best training orchestras for young musicians in Los Angeles.  Amazingly, now that I look back, he even suggested I drop by a recording session where Bruno Walter was recording Brahms Symphonies for Columbia Records—he himself was playing 3rd horn.  I did drop by with my mother, for about ten minutes—I must have been 12 years old.  Mr. Decker managed to get us into the session where we didn’t actually hear a lot of Brahms, as I remember, but we did witness a mild tirade by the great Walter.  Tirade or no, it was an unforgettable experience.  

One day I came in for a lesson and Mr. Decker said first thing, “Listen to this!” and put an lp on the phonograph.  The playing was amazing, the arrangements were amazing--it was Billy May’s “Big Fat Brass”—so many great Hollywood players!—the brass, the HORNS—I couldn’t believe such playing.  And of course, another day, he played for me one of the first pressings of “Color Contrasts,” with the LA Horn Club—more amazement, more disbelief!  What motivation indeed. 

As I look back now, I wonder at having the opportunity to study with such great players and teachers as Mr. Decker and Mr. Hoss.  I had little or no idea at the time, really—I was just trying to keep up with the other players in Meremblum’s!!  It took me years to appreciate what I had been given, to appreciate that I had truly walked a “royal road” when studying with these wonderful musicians, these fine mentors in Los Angeles.

                                                                * * * 

One day, after a lesson with Mr. Decker—I had worked with him for about two years at that point--he said that there was someone he wanted me to meet.  He went to the door and there stood a trim, elderly gentleman, faintly smiling.  This was my first meeting with Mr. Wendell Hoss—he said hello with a dry yet musical intonation, and we talked briefly—about exactly what I don’t remember—but he was a friendly, and at the same time striking, presence from the first.  I remember that.  Some two weeks later, Mr. Decker informed me that he was moving to a different part of LA—down to the Long Beach area—and cutting back on his teaching and so would like me to work with Mr. Hoss.  I knew he was very busy and so understood—finding time to teach a young one like me couldn’t have been easy.  Still, I was very disappointed.

And so I went to work with Mr. Hoss; he seemed like a very nice man—and had that presence—but I really had no idea what lay ahead.  It amounted to an immersion in Bach, as we worked each time on one or another of the Cello Suites, which he had famously transcribed for Horn.  We also did Maxime-Alphonse and Reynolds, some solos and excerpts--and other forms of abstract work.  He tried to teach me to lip trill, but I only figured that out later.  I never did learn to circular breathe, though he tried to teach me that as well.  I still have his lesson sheets which he would write out for me each time—(keeping a carbon copy for himself.)    But in the end it is the Bach that I remember most.

Part of that memory is the very room we were sitting in.  The house, now designated an historic landmark, was designed by Lloyd Wright, the son of Frank Lloyd Wright, and was built on a hillside so as to seem like it grew out of the mountain itself.  The living room where we worked had an enormously high ceiling; it was irregularly shaped, but in generous proportions, with a sort of balcony—tiled with ornamental stone tiles—arcing out over part of the room.  The lighting was dim, probably to help keep the house cool, and so it had the feeling of a wondrous cave, and I would sit playing my brief warm-ups before Mr. Hoss would come in.

We used to sit opposite one another, he at some distance away across the room.  My assignments were usually to memorize a movement or two of the Cello Suites, along with an etude or two of Maxime-Alphonse or Reynolds.  I would start with those, and he would comment or recommend some adjustment and then we would turn to Bach.  Years later, I am still struck by just how extraordinary it was.  For a pianist or violinist, to work on Bach is commonplace, a huge part of the training.  And of course Bach is musical language itself, so that when one is working on it there is no question of getting just the technical aspect of it.  Music comes first, and is always part and parcel of the technique.  For many brass players today, to study Bach is accepted practice.  Back then I don’t think it was quite so common.  In any event, I didn’t know--I just loved it.

We worked in all the Suites, but we began with the Second, as it is probably the most accessible of the six Suites.  I remember him telling me that he thought it would be a good idea—a familiar turn of phrase for him—if I would write in the chord names in each bar, so as to develop a sense of how the harmonies moved.   I hadn’t had much theory at that point, but he didn’t worry about it so neither did I—and so I dove right into the majesty and the power of the wonderful Prelude to the Second Suite.  

Next he talked about how the Prelude fell into three large sections, and how Bach worked with phrases of varying length—sometimes bar by bar, sometimes two bars, sometimes four or five—to build his cathedral-like structure (that’s the phrase he used.) And he talked about how to slow down or move forward according to what was going on in the harmony at each point (I had written in those chord names…). Rubato was not just a matter of playing “expressively” at any moment. It was a matter of understanding and expressing the harmonic events as they occurred. So that for instance, in bars 30-32 of the Prelude, the great activity of the harmonies meant that one would have to take a great deal of time, especially in bar 32. Other sections, like the sequence in bars 21-22, should flow more, move ahead, leading to a natural ebb and flow of the tempo. Someone today might call this a “Romantic” interpretation; but Mr. Hoss explained it to me as function of harmonic action—or the lack of action—and I have had many teachers, both of the horn and of music, but no one ever explained this vital point of music better. All of this explaining would be punctuated by our playing back and forth. I would play, and he would comment and he would also play. He would say, “you might want to try it like this…” or “you could try this”—over and over again, with endless patience.

In succeeding movements, the Allemande, the Sarabande—what I remember most is how he talked about taking time, whether for an often awkward grace note (filling in for the cello’s double-stops) or, even more importantly, for a dramatic harmony, and then how to regain the tempo.  Over and over he would demonstrate “the distortion”—until I could feel how it all fit into the greater line.  In the fleet Courante, he worked with me on the articulation, so that it was not a normal “brass” articulation, but somewhere between that of a horn and cello, and changing within that basic mode as well.  At one point he said to me, “You might want to cultivate six or seven lengths of note—ranging from very long to staccato and everything in between.”  It took me years to digest that advice, but eventually, eventually I figured it out.

In time I left for School in New York, of course.  When I would come back to visit on holidays he wouldn’t give me lessons anymore.  Instead we would play duets—either those from the Bach Suites—his favorites—or from the LA Horn Club Duet Book which he and colleagues were working on at that time.  I still remember him and Wally Linder reading through a couple of the early ones, which I didn’t realize at the time were written by Mr. Hoss himself.  Wally Linder, suggesting this change or that, would tease Mr. Hoss just a bit.  For his part, Mr. Hoss, with just a touch of hauteur, perhaps, would consider a bit and then say, “No, I think not…”—and Linder would end with “Oh now, Wendell!” in his broad Mid-western accent, eyes twinkling.  They were great partners in crime, those two.  Playing with Mr. Hoss myself, I remember particularly the atonal ones by Adolph Weiss—at the back of the book.  There is one slow one by Weiss we must have played every time I was visiting.  And always his sweet, flowing tone would give me the lesson I needed, whether he called it lesson or note,and recall me from my rougher New York habits.

In the several years after I left for School, Mr. Hoss moved to San Diego after his wife Olive had passed away.  There he was surrounded by a warm community of friends—George and Francie Cable, Lee and Larry Rogers, and others—and in the very special care of Ms. Nancy Fisch.  Nancy took great, great care of him in his last years, and the others were all nearby, ready to lend support.

I have one particular memory which stands out from these years:  We were sitting talking in his living room, and I was trying to learn more from him about his early career.  He was tired and in pain.  When I pressed him for a bit more about the early Hollywood years he suddenly pointed to the TV screen, which I had scarcely noticed was on—“That,” he said, “that’s what I was doing!”—and it was the 1932 “Mutiny on the Bounty” with Charles Laughton on the screen.  

During one of my last visits to Mr. Hoss he told me that we wanted me to take one of his horns for my own.  I was excited but also anxious—to have such a precious instrument handed into my care.  We went into a small bedroom in the rear of the apartment and there were two horns –the 5-valve Geyer I knew so well, and another unfamiliar 5-valve—very similar design—still a Geyer, I think—but obviously not used every day—not the well-worn feel of the favorite.  He told me to play a bit on both and choose one.  At first I leaned towards what I deemed to be the “back-up” horn.  It had a definition, a tautness, to the sound that I liked.  And I really was afraid to take his own beloved instrument.  But he was not approving of my choice; “No, no”—he said, “you should think it over more.  I think you get really quite a special sound out of this one”—meaning his own favorite.  I said it was hard to choose; maybe I could do it next time.  “No, no”—he said,”you should do it now.”  Heart pounding, I took the Horn.  Two weeks later, Mr. Hoss passed away while I was on tour in Europe.  I played the Horn for about five years after that.  It was a light, light beauty.  I played my first debut recitals in New York on that Horn, as well as my first solo recording. 

Fifty years have passed since my first studies with Mr. Hoss.  Of all the wonderful teachers and mentors I have had, and been so privileged to work with—Dustin, Decker, Chambers, Moyse, Fleisher—he is still the one, “my teacher.”  When I say those words, he is the one I mean, and his sound is in my ears, and his spirit in my spirit, to this day.  Thank you, Mr. Hoss—I will never forget you.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Marshall