Natural horns of Distinction

Greer Horns

Greer Horns represents the finest in historic replica and restored natural horns, both in terms of budget, and from the perspective of authenticity. Every reasonable attempt has been made to replicate the construction of 18th and 19th century models, bore, taper, gauge of the metal, even down to the various hand techniques used. Since many modern players have little experience with historic horns, often manifesting great technical skill, but initially playing the old models with the aesthetics of the post-Wagnerian orchestral styles, the choice of historic instrument is an important consideration worthy of deliberation and study; in use, the natural horn actually becomes a teacher, one which can guide progress toward a style of playing that does not exceed the proper historic voicing of the old horns, and allows successful and efficient artistic partnering with other historic instruments, such as Fortepiano, Harpsichord, Early winds, and gut strings. While players accustommed to modern valved horns might find some of the less than perfectly authentic replica horns freer, initially, to blow, the performance of hand stopping passages will be hindered by those instruments built up from modern sized parts. This is not to disparage the work of other makers, but having lived the role of a historic horn player, I can advise the reader that the obtaining of old looking horns, which are not authentic in dimension or profile is a waste of money and time. Greer horns are models which were developed from archtypical original instruments which were the "player's choice" during their periods of original use, and have been thoroughly tested during use in some of the world's finest early music ensembles. Prices have been kept as low as possible, to enable interested players to obtain superb replicas for use in endeavors for which there is a reduced potantial for recovery of the investment costs. These prices are, of course, subject to market fluctuations, so prices can not be guaranteed.

 

Cor-Solo after Raoux, Paris, circa 1818, with sterling silver trim; shown with F crook.

About Us

I never actually wanted to become a horn builder, I only had the insatiable desire to procure an old horn. My first private teacher, Robert Gantner referred to the historic horn as a "hand horn", and he performed a major scale using no valves whatsoever during my lesson. A few weeks after that engrossing demonstration, I viewed a drama about the life of Beethoven produced by the Disney show. The story recreated a first performance of an early Beethoven Symphony, panning the section of valveless hornplayers during those glorious moments when horn sound dominated the movement. I was hooked, and annoyed my parents to distraction with requests to stop at every antique store, in hopes of locating "one of those natural horns". My was reinforced by the drawings of various old horns featured in the opening pages of the Methode of Oscar Franz. Want, Need, Gotta Have.....

My compulsion never was realized during my student days, probably a good thing, even though one of my teachers, Helen Kotas Hirsch, the superb principal horn of the Chicago Symphony for the decade before Philip Farkas, suggested playing the Mozart Concertos on the natural horn, as a way of captivating the interest of the public (she was quite ahead of her time). In those days, there was only one good maker of authentic replica natural horns, and that maker's waiting list was very long and the price was quite high. I had neither funding nor patience to wait, so my ambitions were stymied. Finally, I walked past a Milwaukee pawn shop one day, a rare day when I happened to have a little cash in my wallet, and on impulse bought a King single F horn. Getting home with my new acquistion, I suddenly felt buyer's remorse, and had to decide what to do with that abused piece of brass. Suddenly, I realized that a door had opened for me, allowing entry into the world of natural horn playing, at least on a level I could afford.

Over the years, I had been able to observe Carl Geyer, Jerry Lechniuk, Paul Rollik, Phil Melk, and Frank Brouk work on horns (as well as a young Paul Navarro), and had been given lots of oral information on the "old fashioned techniques" of instrument building by the august elder craftsmen at Holton, King, and Conn. (There was no hornbuilding Academy in the US in those days.) As a result, I knew how to solder and make some basic repairs, with a lot of theoretical knowledge in reserve for developement. Two things became immediately obvious to me; 1) the King single horn had probably never played as well as it did without valves, and 2) I had to get some crooks to enable playing in keys other than F horn. The local Milwaukee repair genius, Phil Melk, was of great help, yanking a couple of redundant crooks out of his ample spare parts bin, and modifying them to fit my retro-waldhorn. I began to practice everything I had learned with valves, without valves, including a few things that actually needed valves.

I quickly outgrew the King horn, now referred to as my "valvectomy". My right hand technique developed, as my curiousity about the aesthetics of bygone eras ruled my studies. It became rather clear that the grotesque interminglings of sonorously open and nightmarishly stopped notes had little resemblance to the desired result of the 18th and 19th century players, at least as declared in the old French treatises. This same bizarre mode of playing I had done, in the post-Wagnerian orchestral style, still seems to be every new players first approach to early horn playing, with special delight reserved for the sonic "zing' easily achieved by over-stopping the horn on chromatic tones. The welcome opportunities to try out some old French and Austrian horns in Louis Stout's horn collection proved to me that a lot had changed in the dimensions of the bore and the voicing of the horn over a 200 year period, and that I needed to return to my earlier goal of locating actual antique horns in playable condition, before I would grant myself any letters of achievement in old horn playing. Within a year, I serendipitously procured both a Roubischou (Toulouse) Trompe de Chasse and a Lucien Joseph Raoux Cor d"Orchestre. Those horns were supplemented by more antique horns bymakers of reknown and obscure makers whose instruments were, nonetheless, very fine. The creation of some fine early music ensembles in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area afforded me a luxurious chance to measure and manicure my musical output against other, often very gifted, players those who were living a parallel role on their instruments. Subsequent work with early music ensembles in San Fransisco, Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver, Les Murs, Perpignan, Cologne, and Frankfurt served as a crucible for the developement of an aesthetic for early horn playing that could not have been achieved otherwise.

But old horns always seem to need repair, restoration, or the replacement of missing parts, especially crooks, so on the encouragement of George McCracken, I built a draw bench and began pulling tapered pipes of a suitable narrow and historic dimension. It was these crooks, more than any other aspect, that made the old horns respond to the hand stopping technique as well as they finally did. I had encountered a young student in those days, a high school age horn player, whose enthusiasm for horns and pipe bending was keen, and he came over regularly for instruction and encouragement, as well as to work in my kitchen-based shop; his name was Rick Seraphinoff. Others came to learn horn making later, over a thirty year period, including Robert Losin, Robert Stagg, Jim Patterson, Adalto Soares, and Willard Zirk. All have had excellent hands and construct superb horns. Currently, I have been joined in horn building by Rory Scott, an enthusiastic and gifted metal worker. The new shop is located in (East) Toledo, in the basement of the Broadway Oratory building. Those wishing to visit Toledo for the testing or repair of their horns, will be able to lodge in a simple monastic cell located within the Broadway Oratory for a free will offering.

With so many fine custom horn builders practicing their art, I have restricted our output to building only a few models of horn, ones built by few others, in order to avoid overduplication of models already available from several other sources, or are ones which are the most difficult to procure in the normal market, either due to lack of availability or due to extremely high cost. People often ask if I will build a double, triple, or some rare model, such as the omnitonic horn. While I have built double and double descant horns, and an omnitonic model, most players with money will either prefer models available from other sources, and most players with poor funding will not be able to afford any such instruments at all. The instrument builder is foremost a servant of the player, so the options offered here have been well thought out, in terms of utility and cost/value. I hope that you will find here a tool of substantial musical value, something that can enhance or develop your artistry and advance your career.

L Greer