Learning a new language without a formal class

1995 photo of the Brass Quintet of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia. Petur Eriksson, bass trombone, Aigi Hurn, trumpet, Jon Etterbeek, trombone, Amy Schimmelman, horn. I am on the far right (everyone else in the photo is still in the OSG!). I had to learn Spanish on the job and on the street in La Coruña.

1995 photo of the Brass Quintet of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia. Petur Eriksson, bass trombone, Aigi Hurn, trumpet, Jon Etterbeek, trombone, Amy Schimmelman, horn. I am on the far right (everyone else in the photo is still in the OSG!). I had to learn Spanish on the job and on the street in La Coruña.

Trumpeters, as most musicians, come up against other languages pretty frequently. We travel and perform in other parts of the world. We collaborate in our own country with people who speak Spanish, French, Japanese, Russian or some other language. We play music with notes and directions in other languages. And if we are in academia, we do research that needs language skills. Many doctoral masters programs in music require foreign language proficiency. At George Mason University, my doctoral students have reported to me that they are required to pass a language proficiency but they do not have a foreign language course requirement in their curriculum. If you want to study on a Fulbright scholarship, or some other exchange program, you will need to demonstrate language proficiency. What are some good ways to develop language proficiency without attending a formal class?

Computer applications: Although I have tried Rosetta Stone, the highly marketed and glossy language software, it is not my top recommendation. It is fairly expensive and does not give discounts if you are studying more than one language at a time. Try instead the mobile and web app Duolingo. It’s totally free and keeps reminding you to practice your language in little increments. You listen to and pronounce the exercises. Important for language proficiency for an academic degree, you work on grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and translation. Over time you move up in levels all the way to level 25 (this is an upper intermediate level), and you can compete with other friends. When you get something wrong (on the desktop web application), you can access comments from other users to see why you missed the answer. For English speakers, you can learn Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, and Irish. Soon, (volunteer) contributors will finish courses for Hungarian, Swedish, Russian, Turkish, Polish and Romanian. There are other courses for native speakers of other languages. I currently am enrolled in French (level 11), Spanish (level 11), Italian (level 9), and German (level 5). Although my French and Spanish levels are both the same, my ability to speak the languages in real life are not. I can actually talk to people in Spanish, because I lived in Spain for a few years (see the photo above), but I have quite a bit of difficulty having any verbal conversation in French. Duolingo is great for learning the nuts and bolts of a language, but it will not help you speak the language well, at least in the beginning. There is an impressive Deutsche Welle Interaktive free course for German, but my initial impression is that it is bogged down by complex-looking modules.

Books: You should have some books that address grammar and verb conjugation issues for reference. In addition, phrase books might be helpful to get a feeling of some quick answers at first. However, because reading about languages is pretty dull and boring work, I feel that these books are best thought of as supplements to a more interactive method.

Audio lessons: One of my favorite ways to supplement what I learn on Duolingo is through listening to podcasts. There are many out there. The “Coffee Break” series by the Radio Lingua Network is fantastic, in my opinion, if you can wrap your brain around a Scottish man teaching you French (or Spanish or German). Available for Spanish, French and German. The podcasts themselves are free, but, like most language podcasts, there is a lot of extra content available for premium subscribers (meaning that you will have to pay).

People: Finally, you might want to hire a tutor or engage a friend to talk with you and address your particular difficulties. There is nothing like a live person to make your language skills much better!

Bonne chance! Buena suerte! Viel Glück! Buona fortuna!





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MSUC: Chapter 1, part 5 (conclusion of Chapter 1)

(This is the sixth part of my dissertation series. Previous: Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett, Chapter 1, part 4)


Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 2.42.50 PMTo analyze these general trends, the material for this study was gathered from more than 2,500 sources into a database. Table 1 shows data on the types of sources, their dates, and associated geographic regions. Roughly 2,100 (85%) of sources are musical, but there are more than 200 literary sources and nearly as many artistic sources.[1] Although roughly three-quarters of the sources are from the seventeenth century, they range in date from 1500 B.C. to 1801 A. D. The top three geographic regions in numbers of sources are Germany, Italy, and Eastern Europe, respectively, 38%, 26%, and 21%.

Table 2 shows the geographical distribution separately for the musical, artistic, and literary sources. Since are by far the greatest number of sources, the same top three geographic regions in sources (Gemany, Italy, and Eastern Europe) understandably have the highest numbers of , accounting for 43%, 27%, and 25% of the subtotal. However, the picture is different for artistic sources, for which Italy, Germany, and Western Europe provide, respectively, 38%, 29%, and 22% of the subtotal. For literary sources, the picture is even more different, with England providing 84% of the subtotal, followed by Italy (5%), other Western Europe (3.7%) and ancient sources (4.6%).

Table 2 also shows the chronological distribution of the three separate sources. The seventeenth century contributes about three-quarters of the musical and literary sources, but fewer than half of the artistic ones. Roughly one-third of artistic sources come from the sixteenth century, and nearly one-fifth from before 1500. Artistic sources are thus the largest group of earlier sources.


[1]. In musical sources, for statistical purposes, the individual piece and not the entire collection was counted as a single record in my database. Equal weight was given to manuscripts, non-extant pieces known only from contemporaneous inventories, and printed pieces. Only pieces which specified cornett in writing were included.

16th-century map of Europe

16th-century map of Europe



Table 1. Research Sources by Type, Date, and Geographic Region[2]

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[2]. “Eastern European” refers to Austro-Hungarian, Polish, Bohemian, and Croatian nationalities; “Other Western European” refers to Danish, Dutch, Flemish, French, Portuguese, or Swiss.






Table 2. Research Sources Shown by Type, Broken Down by Geographic Region and Date

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Because most of the sources (93%) come from the three-hundred year period from 1500-1799, with 75% alone from the seventeenth century, it makes some sense to single out that period for separate analysis. Figure 1 shows the remarkable growth in the number of sources from 1600 to 1699 during the period 1500-1799. But this overall picture obscures the fact that literary and artistic sources occur relatively early in these years; by 1680 there remain only musical sources (figure 2). Further limiting our scope to Europe, divided into “South” (Italy and Spain) versus “North” (all remaining) yields a picture similar to that of Collver and Dickey (figure 3), in which the southern sources show a peak in growth that is slightly earlier than the northern peak.

The database includes five other fields of secondary interest. First, each record includes bibliographic material.[3] Second, a field indicating whether or not the cornett was being played is included.[4] Third, each record shows instrumentation as stipulated by the source.[5]  In some musical examples, either the cornett or another instrument could play the same part; therefore, a fourth field exists to show the instrument for which the cornett substitutes.[6] Finally, when possible, each record notes the type of cornett represented.[7]



[3]. Drawing from 66 secondary sources, my database shows 2,425 primary sources authored by more than 700 writers, artists and composers.

[4]. In the 408 artistic and literary references recorded in my database, the cornett is played about 75% of the time. It is, of course, assumed that the cornett is played in all musical sources.

[5]. There were more than 800 distinctly different instrumentations. Most notable were cornett and trombone ensembles of various combinations: 2 cornetts and 3 trombones, with or without basso continuo, occured 34 times; one cornett and 3 trombones, with or without a basso continuo occured 29 times; 2 cornetts and 4 trombones occured 16 times; and there were 17 instances of unknown types of cornett and trombone ensembles.

[6].  I counted 37 unique instrument substitutes. The top three were as follows: violin was a possible substitute 494 times; trumpet substituted 55 times; flute substituted 28 times.

[7].  I recorded twenty-five distinct types of cornett in my database. The treble cornett—a term I used to denote a cornett which plays in the soprano range—is represented the most, with 1,971 records. The cornettino occured in 207 records. The mute cornett occured in 118 records, the tenor in thirty-two, the straight cornett in twenty-nine, and the alto cornett in twenty-five. The oliphant, an ancient precursor to the cornett, is represented seventeen times. Eleven records  mentioned a “storto” (not a reference to crumhorn). The bass cornett occurs in nine sources, while the shofar—in the database because of its clear linkage to the cornett—occurs ten times. There are four examples of the fingerhole horn, another ancient precursor. In addition, there are infrequent examples of fantastical cornetts, animal-headed cornetts, and unknown types.



Fig. 1. Total Number of Sources by Decade

Fig. 1. Total Number of Sources by Decade









Fig. 2. Number of Sources by Decade and Type

Fig. 2. Number of Sources by Decade and Type









Fig. 3. Northern and Sourthern Sources Contrasted by Number of Sources by Decade

Fig. 3. Northern and Sourthern Sources Contrasted by Number of Sources by Decade









Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 2.47.41 PMThe symbolic association field is the most important part of the cornett symbolism database, albeit the most difficult to categorize and quantify. One sees, many times in the course of this research, source examples that point to multiple symbols. That is the nature of most emblematic research. For instance, in Stephen Harrison’s engraving “The Garden of Plenty” from The Arches of Triumph (London), King James I is greeted by a cornettist in satyr costume.[8] In this example, the cornett has two symbolic associations: it is not only an instrument to announce royalty but also an instrument symbolic of a sylvan mythological creature. My database, therefore, allows for any one record to have multiple symbolic associations, and, since each association can have more than one record, the relationship between records and symbols is a many-to-many relationship. This makes it difficult to make meaningful statistical comparisons between the records and the associations, but it still allows for overall counting of the associations and statistical comparisons between different associations.

Over 4,000 associations were assigned to the 2,500-plus records, making a average of nearly 2 associations per record. There were 372 records with no clear association to be determined. In addition, there are associations that, because of their obvious defining rather than metaphorical natures, are devoid of symbolic meaning and could have been left out of the database.[9] Leaving these out, the top thirty associations are listed in table 3.


[8]. Reproduced in Leslie Thomson and Folger Shakespeare Library, Fortune “All is but Fortune” (Washington, D.C. and Seattle: Folger Shakespeare Library Distributed by University of Washington Press, 2000), 71, fig. 2.

[9]. These were often the most frequently assigned associations: for example, the cornett as a symbol of religious music (1,498 occurrences); the cornett as a symbol of multiple choir performances (308 occurrences); the cornett as an instrument (104 occurrences); as an accoustic phenomenon (60 occurrences); as a symbol for musicians (45); and as a symbol for a group of musicians (36).

Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 2.48.49 PM

Table 3. Top Thirty Cornett Associations

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Five thematic categories emerged from this tapestry of cornett symbols: (1) “alta” instrument—the cornett as a symbol for the large, or open-spaced venues where loud music is required; (2) sexuality and the senses; (3) learning; (4) death and rebirth; and, (5) social status. The fourth category, death and rebirth, is the focus of the next chapter in dealing with the cornett in Orfeo. The fifth category, social status, is the focal point of the third chapter, which examines the symbolic role of the cornett in the Vespers of 1610. Table 4 provides some statistical observations about all five thematic categories, the uncategorized associations, and the unspecific records.


Table 4. Thematic Categories with Statistical Analysis[10]

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[10]. In column two, the number is followed by the percentage relative to the total number in this column. In column three, each theme may have one or more records. This total number of records is followed by the percentage relative to total number in this column.


(next: Chapter 2, The Cornett as a Symbol of the Underworld in Orfeo: Cornett and Trombone Ensemble Underscores Scene Changes)



Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett: Chapter 1, part 3

((This is the fourth part of my dissertation series. Previous: Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett, Chapter 1, part 2)

General Characteristics of the Cornett

Cornett family: (l. to r.) curved descant, curved treble, lysard (tenor), bass. Unusual dragon-shaped bass cornett

Cornett family: (l. to r.) curved descant, curved treble, lysard (tenor), bass. Unusual dragon-shaped bass cornett. (from collection in Paris, musée de la musique)

A hybrid instrument according to instrument organology today, the cornett was lip-blown like a trumpet and fingered like a woodwind instrument. The cornett remains an intriguing instrument after (and perhaps in part because of) 250 years of disuse, and modern reconstructions of the instruments are now played in many early music ensembles around the world.

Cornetts: (l. to r.) mute, straight, tenor, and curved treble

Cornetts: (l. to r.) mute, straight, tenor, and curved treble

The Treble Members of the Cornett Family

There were three distinct forms of cornett: the straight, the mute, and the curved. The straight cornetts were made only in the treble range and the mute cornetts generally were made in the alto range, and both were made of a single piece of wood, turned on a lathe into a straight form. The straight cornett had a detachable mouthpiece, and its tone was bright and strident. Some researchers have claimed that the straight cornett is the oldest of the true cornetts. Although similar in outer appearance, the mute cornett had a softer and more velvety tone due to a funnel-shaped mouthpiece, carved integrally into the instrument, and a more conical bore in the body of the instrument. The range for the mute cornett was equivalent to the treble or the alto curved cornett. Although the mute cornett was not frequently specified in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scores, it was commonly used in actual performances, according to many first-hand accounts of important musical spectacles.[1]

curved wooden cornett halve being gouged with hand tools

curved wooden cornett halve being gouged with hand tools

The wooded curved cornett was the most common type of cornett. It was made from a single piece of curved wood and split lengthwise. The two halves were gouged out to form a conical-shaped bore. These halves were rejoined with glue and linen bindings. The cornett maker usually drilled six finger holes and one thumb hole, carved the outside of the instrument into an octagonal profile, and chipped a lozenge-shaped pattern into the neck of the instrument (between the mouthpiece and the thumb hole). The instrument was then covered tightly in leather or parchment to prevent air leakage.

Ivory cornetts, the most difficult cornetts to make, were carved by hand from elephant tusks with highly specialized tools.[2] These rare instruments were curved, often with the same octagonal profile and lozenge pattern as the wooden instrument.

Ivory cornett decorated with black pigment (from National Music Museum)

Ivory cornett decorated with black pigment (from National Music Museum)

The treble curved cornett had a range approximately from a to d2, about the same range as the violin or an extended soprano voice, which was significant, given the fact the cornett doubled the soprano voice or substituted for the violin in so many sources.  Although a whole curved cornett family existed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the treble member was by far the most common size.

The Less Frequently Encountered Curved Cornett Sizes

Descant cornett next to treble (?) and tenor

Descant cornett next to treble (?) and tenor

The descant cornett, or cornettino, was pitched in e1 or d1, or, in other words, it was a fourth or fifth higher than the treble cornett. The alto cornett’s range was from f or g to about c2. The larger tenor cornett often had an S shape, serpentine in form, and, indeed, was called the lysard in England. The tenor cornett was a fifth lower than the treble cornett, from c to f1. Finally, not to be confused with the more common serpent, there was the very rare bass cornett, which was pitched one octave below the treble cornett.

Because the lower instruments of the cornett family were so difficult to play, or perhaps because they were deemed “bullocky” in timbre, the trombone often assumed the role of alto, tenor, and bass in the Renaissance “brass” consort. The trombone family, for its part, could not rely upon an instrument half the size of the tenor (with twice as treacherous slide placement for intonation purposes) for the soprano member of its family. The happy mixture of secure intonation and smooth sound quality in the lower voices, provided by the trombones, together with the virtuosic technique and penetrating tone of the cornett in the soprano voice, proved a very successful ensemble combination for occasions which necessitated a projecting sound, such as processions, outdoor festivities, church music, and some of the larger theatrical productions.

The "brass" family from Praetorius' Syntagma Musicum. Notice the curved cornetts and trombones are placed in a kind of ensemble at the top.

The “brass” family from Praetorius’ Syntagma Musicum. Notice the curved cornetts and trombones are placed in a kind of ensemble at the top.

(Next: Sources for cornett symbolism)

[1]. The mute cornett is found in approximately 4% of all . For some contemporaneous descriptive accounts of mute cornetts, see Howard Mayer Brown, Sixteenth-Century Instrumentation: The Music of the Florentine Intermedii, Musicological Studies and Documents (Rome: American Institute of Musicology, 1973).

[2]. Eszter Fontana, “The Manufacture of Ivory Cornetti,” The Galpin Society Journal 36 (March 1983): 29–36.

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Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett, Chapter 1, part 2

(This is the third part of my dissertation series. Previous: Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett, Chapter 1, part 1)

Chief Claims of this Paper

Studying ’s use of the cornett offers insight into the symbolism of the cornett as well as himself. A study of ’s usage offers a contribution toward a greater understanding of the cornett, because his exceptional specificity in the scores of Orfeo and the collection known as the 1610 Vespers provides a good focal point both in terms of chronology (this was the height of the cornett’s popularity) and in terms of artistic quality (Monteverdi was arguably the best composer of his day). At the same time, a study of cornett symbolism offers a greater understanding of Monteverdi, revealing new insights into his aesthetics and personal life. Certainly in his Mantuan period, Monteverdi thought of the cornett in rich, symbolic terms, in the same way that he thought of most musical instruments. This symbolism came from both a common usage of the cornett in the late Renaissance and his own personal ideas of orchestration.

2nd-century Sarcophagus with tibia being played.  Mantua, Ducal Palace

2nd-century Sarcophagus with tibia being played.
Mantua, Ducal Palace

As will be seen in chapter 2, the cornett’s role in Orfeo draws primarily upon two traditional symbolic themes: the use of the cornett in the theater and the cornett as a symbol of the infernal. Monteverdi’s conviction that the cornett was a modern incarnation of the tibia, and therefore was in opposition to string instruments, draws upon a stereotype established by Plato. Monteverdi’s text painting in the famous aria, “Possente spirto,” is an entirely personal use of the cornett.

The cornett’s role in Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers collection will be shown in chapter 3 to draw from three traditional symbolic themes: the use of the cornett in sacred music, the cornett as a dance instrument, and the cornett as a symbol of social status. Monteverdi’s personal use of the cornett in Deposuit showed that he used the cornett to evoke the harshness of the powerful and corrupt.

The fourth chapter will re-examine these claims and look into the ancillary issue of Monteverdi’s non-use of the cornett in his Venetian period. Again, the method of argument will be to compare possible personal reasons for Monteverdi not specifying the cornett against the general decline of the cornett in Italy beginning around 1630. Aside from economic issues, Monteverdi’s non-use of the cornett in his Venetian period is a harbinger of a shift in Monteverdi’s aesthetic values and possibly a deliberate move away from what had become a personal symbol for the Mantuan duchy.

Before proceding further into the symbolic use of the cornett in Orfeo and the 1610 Vespers, some preliminary information about the cornett will prove helpful to most readers. In addition, this introductory chapter will lay out the general trends of cornett symbolism over time, geography, and types of media.

(next, “General Characteristics of the Cornett Family“)


Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett: Chapter 1, part 1

(This is the second part of this series. Previous: Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett: Prerface)

CHAPTER 1, Introduction

Rhetoric Important to

Original title page of Orfeo

Original title page of Orfeo

Gary Tomlinson writes that the composers of the Second Practice “were fascinated by the miracles supposedly wrought by ancient musicians, but . . . they remained unfettered by the authority of ancient practice and open to notions of stylistic change through history.”[1] Trying to duplicate these ancient miracles, Monteverdi sought above all else to rhetorically persuade through every possible musical artifice. Mirroring, complementing, and enhancing the text, Monteverdi exemplified the Second Practice. Instrumentation was just one rhetorical device with which Monteverdi affected his audience. Many scholars contend that Monteverdi was far from an orchestrational pioneer.[2]  Yet it is generally acknowledged that he composed at least two works that were exceptional and thought-provoking in their instrumentation and orchestration: the opera Orfeo, and the collection known as the Vespers of 1610.[3] A remarkable instrument appears in both of these works from his Mantuan period—the cornett.

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 9.57.47 AMThe cornett was an important instrument of its day. Authors such as Castiglione, Cellini, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, Marston, and even Voltaire wrote about the cornett. Botticelli, Paolo Veronese, Jan Brueghel, and Caravaggio were among the many artists who depicted it. In addition to Monteverdi, composers as renowned as Lasso, Gabrieli, Schütz, Schein, H. I. F. Biber, Fux, Telemann, J. S. Bach, and Gluck wrote music for the cornett.

The cornett stands out as a well-spring of symbolism, due to its evocative physical characteristics, sound qualities, and musical roles. This paper will examine Monteverdi’s own symbolic use of the cornett against a backdrop of general trends in cornett symbology.

(Next: Monteverdi’s Symbolic Use of the Cornett: Chapter 1, part 2)

[1]. Gary Tomlinson, Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 22.

[2]. For example, J. A. Westrup writes in his article “Monteverdi and the Orchestra,” Music and Letters 21 (1940): 242, “ Monteverdi’s orchestra is quite normal in structure for the period. . . . He employs recognized groups and recognized continuo instruments, and uses them in a way that would have occasioned no surprise among his contemporaries.” Gloria Rose makes a similar case in her article “Agazzari and the Improvising Orchestra” Journal of the American Musicological Society 18 (1965): 383-84, writing that “Monteverdi’s extensive orchestra for Orfeo in 1607 was not unusual except being so specifically described.”  In addition, in his “Liturgical Problems in Monteverdi’s Marian Vespers,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 20 (1967): 101, Stephen Bonta describes Monteverdi as “not a composer of instrumental music, per se. Unlike Giovanni Gabrieli or his other famous contemporary, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Monteverdi’s interest throughout his career lay solely in the problems generated in combining words and music. Even in his Sonata sopra Sancta Maria, obviously instrumental in style and concept, he includes the voice with text.”

[3]. According to Susan Parisi, “Ducal Patronage of Music in Mantua, 1587–1627: And Archival Study” (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1989), 164, Orfeo was produced during carnival in 1607 by “Prince Francesco for the Invaghiti Academy on 24 February and for the ladies of the city on 1 March.” Parisi speculates on the possibility of the first performance of the Vespers at the feast of Santa Barbara celebrated in 1610 with music in the ducal basilica (Ibid., 168).

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