Igor Stravinsky & James Decker
James Decker has been involved in many diverse aspects of the horn. His career has spanned symphony orchestras from Washington DC to Los Angeles, conductors from classical icons to popular figures, studio work from contracts through a strike to free-lancing, and teaching at universities to creating the IVASI video system.
Jim was born in 1921 in Venice, CA. His mother was a singer who performed on radio broadcasts. When Jim was nine years old, an infection in his right ear led to a mastoid operation that resulted in deafness in that ear. Another operation in the 1950s partially restored that hearing.
Jim started playing the cornet in school, switching to horn at age 16 at the request of the school orchestra director. Soon he was playing in Leopold Stokowski's National Youth Administration Orchestra, the Long Beach Community Orchestra, and Peter Meremblum's Youth Orchestra and taking lessons from James Stagliano.
His first truly professional positions – at the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC (1942-43), the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1943-44), Fox Studios, and Kansas City (1946-47) – were offered without audition. Returning to Los Angeles after Kansas City, he "auditioned" for principal horn at Columbia Studios by recording a sound track. His former teacher, Stagliano, didn't want to play a concert and asked Jim to play principal horn; this was his introduction to Otto Klemperer and Igor Stravinsky, conducting Tchaikovsky's Fifth and Firebird Suite, respectively.
As a contracted studio player (in the Hollywood studios at Columbia, Fox, Paramount, and CBS television), Jim had days (and sometimes weeks) without work, so he and friends started a rehearsal orchestra that used the many first class musicians under contract in the studios as well as the many free lance musicians hoping to play in the studios. He asked the many Hollywood composers/conductors: Frantz Waxman, Lalo Schifrin, Miklos Rosza, Johnny Green, Bernard Hermann, Carman Dragon, Nelson Riddle and many others to conduct. It was a truly great orchestra. When the manager of the faltering Glendale Symphony, a local community orchestra, asked if we could do our rehearsals there they would sponsor a series of concerts. It was agreed. He held new auditions and began an all union orchestra. It became the new Glendale Symphony.
Jim was the vice president of the newly formed LA Horn Club: Alfred Brain was President (uncle of Denis Brain), Wendell Hoss, Secretary, and Arthur Frantz, Treasurer. Wendell was the inspiration and truly the leader of the club and was also one of the founders of the International Horn Society. Jim was co-host of the IHS workshop held at USC in 1979 and a clinician at the IHS workshop in Claremont, CA in 1983, He was elected an Honorary Member in 2003 and has attended most of the workshops in the United States and the international workshops in Munich, Germany and in Banff, Canada.
Because of the actions of the AFM president, many of the prominent studio players, including Jim, went on strike against the studios, (James Petrillo President of the AFM in the 1950s demanded heavy royalties for his trust fund). This led to studio work going overseas. Many of the most successful musicians including Jim, formed a musicians Guild. After the strike was over, the Guild won all the contracts with the studios. Jim had steady work at Paramount, but then was hired (with Vince DeRosa, Jack Cave, Sinclair Lott, and Rich Perissi) to make recordings of Wagner, Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart, and others with Erich Leinsdorf and Bruno Walter – "the highlight of my career," according to Jim was playing principal under Stravinsky in many of the composer's most famous works. According to Robert Craft, Stravinsky’s’ prodigy, Jim was one of the three orchestra musicians most favored and requested by Stravinsky.
Commercial work with Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Nelson Riddle, Henry Mancini, David Rose, Percy Faith, and many others led to a very busy schedule. He also was principal horn of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra under Sir Neville Marriner, played chamber music with Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky, and recorded countless movie and television soundtracks. In those days, studio players could play three sessions in a day, "Now you can hardly do two dates with all the traffic."
Jim was Professor of Horn at the University of Southern California for 40 years. He also taught horn at the University of California, Long Beach and was the horn instructor at the Music Academy of the West for eighteen years. He was the horn teacher and chamber music instructor at the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival for five years and was a member of NARAS, the board for the National Association of the Recording Arts and Sciences that awards the GRAMMYS. He served as judge for the National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts in Miami, Florida (the organization that selects the annual awards of the Presidential Scholars) from 1990-1995.
For many years Jim and his family owned a landmark castle in the Hollywood hills where they entertained musicians from the world over. During the cold war when the Moscow Symphony from Russia toured the United States, the LA Horn Club invited the brass section to a reception at the castle. It was the only home in the United States they were allowed to visit. Needless to say, the many Russian musicians living in Hollywood seized on the opportunity to meet with them. It started out as a very formal affair but gradually, after many vodka toasts were exchanged it turned it into a gala polka dancing event. They couldn’t believe this castle was owned by a musician but were convinced after his wife took them upstairs to the sleeping kids bedrooms. Later Jim met many of these same musicians in Moscow including Timothy Dokshitsor and Valeriy Polekh. Jim kept in touch with the Polekh family and authorized an English translation of his life story, “Your Valeriy Polekh”, for the Horn Call.
Jim's devotion to teaching is evidenced by his book The Master Series for Horn, which includes demonstrations of many exercises, conducted excerpts of famous audition requests, and a master class group series of drills. Along with his son Douglas, they developed the IVASI Systems (Interactive Video Audition Systems International), which consist of conducted DVDs. Currently there are ten virtuoso systems for the advanced player and three performance systems aimed at the high school musician. The DVDs use a conductor leading an orchestra in standard repertoire to help students learn in a realistic situation of preparing for auditions, They are now being used in over forty universities and in The Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Spain, Thailand, Canada, China, Australia, and Mexico.
The IVASI products can be purchased online at: www.ivasi.org/store
Friends of iVasi
"It has been a great pleasure to see the warranted growth and development of the "The Video Conductor." It is truly a valuable contribution to the music world; every serious conductor should take advantage of the priceless benefits of this remarkable tool. Satisfaction guaranteed...and even more."
Executive Director of Education, Conn-Selmer, Inc.
"The IVASI system has been an invaluable tool for our instrumental program. It exposes our young brass and wind players to valuable repertoire not covered by our Symphony Orchestra. IVASI is flexible for use by individuals preparing for auditions, or by any size of group. Thank you for creating such a useful educational tool for our students!"
Dr. Paul Stevens
Horn Professor, University of Kansas
"The Video Conductor" (IVASI) has been used by the University of Wisconsin since the very beginning. So many of our students have enjoyed and grown immensely from their exposure to all of that great repertoire. Spending two to four years in a University Orchestra simply cannot provide the necessary experiences for a striving orchestral player. IVASI opens new worlds and provides valuable opportunities to hear and feel what it's like to play the music of the great composers. Thank you for creating and continuing such a major educational tool."
Douglas Hill, University of Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin was the first University to develop an actual class to perform with iVASI.
"We have used the IVASI system at our summer horn workshops with great success. Participants, who have often never had the chance to play with a big orchestra, are thrilled to play what they have worked on for years in the practice room. Thank you for making this possible."
David and Heather Johnson
"I am an ardent believer in the IVASI system and a vocal fan of it. As a teacher it is an invaluable aid to teaching orchestral excerpts as if the student were in the ensemble; thereby learning the entire work not just the excerpt. As a performer, I can speak from my personal experience. Growing up in Northern New England, where the ability to hear live orchestras regularly was very limited, IVASI was my lifeline to understanding orchestral music beyond a surface level. It has been a major influence on my own success as an orchestral musician."
Andrew Pelletier, Principal Horn, Detroit Opera House, Ann Arbor Symphony, Assistant Professor of Horn, Bowling Green State University
"In the short time that even the most prestigious of schools has with its students, it is impossible to acquire the breadth of knowledge that is required in today's symphony orchestras. The IVASI system is an indispensable tool for learning orchestra repertoire that is important for every instrumentalist."
Steve Gross, DMA. Professor of Horn, Director, Wind/Brass/Percussion Program University of California, Santa Barbara. Principal horn, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.
"I have found this particular method invaluable and would personally like to thank you for the time and effort it took to put it together."
Miriyam Beth Karasik
University of Arkansas, Little Rock, AK
California State University, Santa Barbara, CA
Columbia State Univ., Columbus, GA
University of Arkansas, Little Rock, AK
University of So. California at Los Angeles, CA
California State University at Santa Barbara, CA
California State University at San Diego, CA
California State University at Long Beach, CA
University of Denver, CO
University of Miami, FL
Stetson University, DeLand, FL
Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL
Columbia State Univ., Columbus, GA
Univ. of Georgia, Athens, GA
University of Kansas at Lawrence, KS
University of Louisiana at Baton Rouge, LA
University of Mass/Amherst, MA
University of Missouri at Columbia, MO
Western Michigan, Kalamazoo, MI
New Mexico State, Las Cruces, NM
University of Nevada at Las Vegas, NV
University of Nebraska at Lincoln, NE
State University on New York at Purchase, NY
Mannes School in Manhattan, NY
Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY
University of New York at Ithika, NY
University of Oklahoma at Norman, OK
University of Oklahoma at Stillwater, OK
University of Oregon at Eugene, OR
Mansfield University, PA
Bob Jones University, Greenville, SC
University of S. Carolina, SC
University of Texas at Denton, TX
University of Texas at Austin, TX
University of Texas at Kingsville, TX
Omar N. Bradley Middle School, San Antonio, TX
University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point,WI
University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
University of Wisconsin at Appleton,WI
University of W. Virginia at Morganstown, WV
University of Tennesee at Murfreesboro, TN
INTERNATIONAL EDUCTIONAL INSTITUTIONS
National University of Singapore,
Conservatories della Svizzera
Italianavia, Soldino, Switzerland,
Conservatory of the Netherlands,
Conservatory of Valencia, Spain,
University of Thailand,
Tel Aviv, Israel, Mexico,
China, Japan, Sweden