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.
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.