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Classical Notes

Horns Aplenty

Posted at 9:53 AM on August 15, 2008 by Gillian Martin (1 Comments)

As a singer, I don't have the inside knowledge of the orchestra that some of my colleagues have. So I was glad when former Classical MPR announcer Craig Curtis sent around this New York Times article (registration required) about the joys and terrors of playing the (French) horn.

Author Allan Kozinn describes some disastrous horn performances of this past season (alas, no audio!), but then goes on to say this:

I like the horn, honest. And I know how difficult it is to get a good, centered, well-tuned sound out of it.

But here's the thing about musical performance: It's all difficult. It's meant to be. Composers write, and have always written, music that pushes the limits of technique. And if you're onstage in a professional capacity, you're expected to be able to negotiate it. That's the least audiences expect, and it's a precondition for what they buy tickets for: to be moved by an interpretation; to savor its nuances and to hear something revelatory, whether the work is new or familiar.

If, instead, they end up wincing at mistuned notes and reminding themselves how tough the instruments are, they've been pushed out of the zone. And at that point, no amount of rationalization will make the performance anything but a sow's ear.

This all reminds me of a disastrous audition I gave early in my college career. I was holding a high note--not terribly high, a G, maybe--and though my mouth stayed open, the note itself disappeared and reappeared. Horrifying, but I remained calm and got through it. (Unlike the pretty girl who couldn't complete an audition without bursting into tears but still got cast in everything...not that I retain any lingering bitterness.)


Comments (1)

Here's a "trumpet bloopers" link from John Birge.

Posted by Gillian Martin | August 15, 2008 11:47 AM