A & H Student Spotlight

April 22, 2020
Spencer Causey

Spencer shares with us a little about himself and his project in an interview with Dean Hollis Robbins:

What's your name and where did you grow up?

My name is Spencer Causey and I grew up in Campbell CA.

When did you first pick up the French Horn? Who gave it to you?

I started playing French horn in 5th grade, coming from a background of guitar and piano lessons prior to that. 

Are your parents musicians? Anyone else in your family?

My parents are not musicians, but my grandfather has played guitar his whole life and my great grandfather sang in a barbershop quartet for decades.

Who was your first horn teacher?

Scott Hartman

What convinced you to come to Sonoma State University?

The Green Music Center is unlike anywhere else, with such amazing concert halls. I also loved the campus when I was touring colleges across the state. The scholarship I received as well as the proximity to home were also some of the deciding factors.

What have you learned at Sonoma State?

I’ve learned to hone my musical skills, and apply them in meaningful ways. I’ve learned to put in the extra effort, as when I take the time to push my limits, I find that my comfort zone also expands equally. For example, if I practice music that is extremely technically demanding, the normal everyday stuff feels easy and comfortable. I’ve also made professional relationships with musicians in the area, which has helped pave the way for a future successful career.

What are your plans after graduation?

My plans are to take auditions for local orchestras when positions open up, and also teach lessons to students in the area. I also have begun publishing my music arrangements to create another form of income.

How did you create the arrangement?

First, I decided I wanted to do Egmont Overture. This is a piece that works well with the natural range of the French horn, and in one of my music theory classes, I did a project on this piece breaking down its structure. I’ve also performed this piece with my youth orchestra in the past, so I know it in and out.

I start by downloading the full orchestra score off of IMSLP, a website that hosts an enormous quantity of public domain music. I then start a new file in MuseScore, a free music notation software that allows me to write out the 8 part arrangement. I read the orchestra score, analyzing the chords and melodies and then transposing them into the horn parts in ways that make sense. Rarely, there are more than 8 things happening at once, so in those moments I have to be smart about what notes to cut out so that the full effect of the piece is not lost. I believe in this particular piece I only had to do that once. This arrangement process took approximately 5 days of work, with anywhere from 2 to 4 hours spent each day. 

How did you record the music?

To take the notes on the page and record them, I set up a file in Logic X with 8 parts. I spend time to create a click track I can listen to while playing so that all the parts line up, adding parts where the click track slows down or changes speed to match the music. I hook up my microphone to my laptop, have a tuner on my stand with the music, and press the record button. I don’t play everything in one go, I take it a little bit at a time. If I mess up somewhere, or a note is out of tune, I will redo that section until I get it right. This is a relatively straightforward process, starting with the first part and continuing until all 8 parts are recorded. This took me 6 hours across 2 days to finish.

How was the mixing and mastering done?

Within Logic X, I apply multiple effects to the tracks. First is a noise gate, which just gets rid of background noise. I also use a compressor and channel EQ to improve the overall sound of the recordings. I use a Directional Mixer to create a wider soundstage, and an Exciter to improve the presence of the sound. Together these function to make the recording sound bigger and fuller. I go through each part, cutting out dead space and fine tuning a few of the chords. The last step is adding reverb, which is different for every piece. For Egmont, I used a Large Concert Hall setting at 80%, which I felt was just the right amount. This process took me probably around 5 hours of work overall.

How did you video yourself?

For the video portion, my dad helped out by recording me just playing straight through each part while listening to the click track to keep everything lined up. This was almost exactly 1 hour of footage, since there are 8 parts and the recording is almost 8 minutes long. I then use a video editing software to line everything up, sync it up with the high quality audio that I recorded earlier, and it’s done!