First, A Little Backstory
In August 2013, I spent time participating in an interpretive horn course in Prague called Hornclass. While there, I was working primarily on a piece for unaccompanied horn called “Horn-Lokk,” composed by Norwegian composer Segurd Berge in 1972 for well-known solo horn player, Frøydis Ree Wekre.
During the course, Hornclass, I performed “Horn-Lokk” twice in public concerts. Because it is a composition for unaccompanied horn, it is vitally essential to tell a dramatic and convincing story. After all, you are in total control of it. Additionally, an unaccompanied piece means there is really no appropriate place to stop and empty the water that is building up in your horn. Now, some of you may be luckier than I and not have a lot of water build up. But, alas, I’ve been told I full of hot air. Therefore, the hot air creates condensation and, thus, water in my horn.
Now, back to the performances. As I’m sure you can imagine, with water building up in my horn, the dreaded “gurgle” reared its ugly head. Here I was thinking I was depicting the frozen landscapes of Norway, and apparently I was actually playing “Water Music.”
It was embarrassing, of course.
Fast forward a six months to my first recital for my masters degree. I’m performing “Horn-Lokk.” I was absolutely diligent about emptying every slide on my horn and spinning it a dozen different ways to find every last drop of moisture. The piece was going wonderfully. I was going to make it! I’m on the last page!
GURGLE!!! Are you kidding me!
What’s a JoyKey?
After that last fiasco, I recalled a little device called the JoyKey that an acquaintance of mine named Andrew Joy had told me about. Andrew invented the device and it was manufactured in Germany, where he lived. But, what is a JoyKey?
According to the JoyKey website, “Imagine being able to eliminate the centuries old problem and the associated stress caused by water building up in brass instruments from your playing experience.” That signs like a good idea to me!
The website continues further to say “When brass players empty water out of their instruments, audience members are often turned off by what they think is “spit”. Also, all that turning, twisting and clanking can be distracting and irritating for an audience.”
Wanting to know more, I talked to some of the “celebrity” horn players quoted as using it. They all had positive things to say. So, I pulled the trigger and bought two from Siegfried’s Call to have mounted to my horn to replace the two Amado keys I already had on the leadpipe and F-side tuning slide.
Okay, but does this JoyKey thing work?
After a year of use now, I feel absolutely comfortable say a resounding, YES!
I was incredibly skeptical at first. I was sure there would be some kind of leak or change to the tone. So, I was wonderfully surprised when I started playing my horn after the initial installation of the JoyKeys. To my surprise, the tone remained the same and my horn played just as well as ever, possibly better. The design of the JoyKey means that the hi-tech Water Wick (a kind of filter made of tiny ceramic balls) lies nearly completely flush with the inner wall of the tubing. This means that the air column can continue through the tubing without interference.
After some minutes of playing, I noticed some droplets forming from the specially designed Water Wicks. I just kept playing. Every so often, a droplet would form and drop to the ground. After about half an hour of playing, I pulled my slide to empty. I was sure there had to be water building up in there. It didn’t seem possible that these JoyKeys were draining enough. Yet, when I pulled my slide to empty, there was very little water in them. I was astounded.
To be sure, water does still need to be emptied with only two JoyKeys installed. However, the frequency of the need to empty is dramatically reduced.
Do to this incredibly innovative device, I am now able to play entire movements of symphonies, concertos, and sometimes even entire pieces without worrying about emptying my horn. There have been many times that I have to remind myself to empty, “just in case,” after a long spell of not emptying. To be honest, I get a sort of guilty pleasure of sitting there in a horn section not worrying while the rest of the players frantically empty their horns during brief rests.
I will admit, there are some initial drawbacks. First is the cost. The average price for each JoyKey is nearly $50.00 plus shipping (unless you live near a dealer). Add to that the cost of installation and you are out nearly $150.00 (or more) for two JoyKeys installed. There’s also the cost of the Water Wicks which need to be replaced every 3-4 months depending on usage and individual factors. A pack of two Water Wicks runs about $23.00.
One other issue is, well, the thing it was designed for. The JoyKey drips continuously. This may not be appropriate for some places. For example, I have one teacher that insists I use newspaper on the ground and empty my slides into a trash can. So, dripping on the floor would be a big “no-no.”
Fear not, though. There’s a couple of things you can do. First, if you own a small jewelry ultrasonic cleaner (about $35-50), you can use it to clean the Water Wicks, approximately every six weeks. This will allow you to reuse them and save some money. Personally, I have 3 pairs of Water Wicks that I now rotate through. Second, to combat the dripping, JoyKey offers two solutions. The first option is the JoyKey Lap Cloth (personally I wise a black washcloth). Another option is a drop-catcher that pressure fits over the JoyKey.
The investment is 100% worth is and I can recommend it without hesitation. In addition, the creator of the JoyKey, Andrew Joy, is a wonderful and friendly person who is more than happy to help you with any questions you may have.
So, try the JoyKey. Relax. Forget about the water and focus on the music.