“You never eyeball a horn player. You just don’t. They’re stuntmen. You don’t eyeball stuntmen when they’re about to dice with death.”
- Sir Simon Rattle, Chief Conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker
WELCOME TO FRENCH HORN WEEK!
Welcome to my week dedicated to the brass instrument known as the French horn.
Having pretty much only ever played with mellophones in marching bands and not with actual French horns, I’ve learned quite a lot the last few weeks while talking to the talented horn players of my Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO). I hope you enjoy reading about this wonderful instrument and meeting the CSO horn players as much as I have.
Today you’ll be treated to a double dose of musical goodness as I introduce the French horn itself followed later this morning by the first of four horn players, Erin Lano. Tomorrow morning, you’ll get to meet Adam Koch. On Wednesday, Julia Rose and on Thursday, Principal horn player, Gene Standley. By Friday, when you’ve had a chance to meet everyone and soak in a bit of how the French horn fits into the world of music, I hope you’ll enjoy some more great samples of music as well as our thoughts on the future of the CSO.
Symphony seasons are just starting up and these musicians are people who do nothing but create beauty in the midst of chaos. If your life is as hectic and crazy as mine, you’ll want to support them because maybe, just maybe, you could use some of that beauty, too. If all goes well, maybe you’ll even be inspired by the end of this week to go hear your local symphony play. I promise you, it’ll be worth the trip!
But until you get there, I hope you’ll feel free in the meantime to join in the discussion every day, leaving your thoughts on the French horn and music as well as saying hello to each of these amazingly talented musicians.
So with that in mind, I bid you welcome!
“God made some people Horn players; others are not so fortunate.”
- Anton Horner, first horn professor at Curtis Institute of Music
THEY’VE COME A LONG WAY
French horns originally got their start as nothing more than carved out animal horns or even conch shells used primarily to send signals over long distances. Over the centuries, they eventually became a bit more formal in a way – made of metal with a single loop used most often in Renaissance Europe by men on horseback sounding the hunt. There were no valves, so the horn player had to use his breath and his embouchure in order to play different notes.
Playing the French horn is still a challenge today. According to Associate Conductor of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Peter Stafford Wilson,
The French horns are…the bridge between the woodwind and brass sections. They appear in both brass and woodwind chamber music settings, as their sound can have the warmth of woodwinds yet the power of the brass.
It probably is one of the most difficult instruments in the orchestra to learn as technical success relies not only on pressing the right buttons, but a keen sense of pitch and a strong control of embouchure.
During the 17th century, modifications were made to the Hunting Horn, or Cor De Chasse, to turn it into the French horn similar to what we know today. The rest, as they say, is history.
I WOULDN’T TOUCH THAT WITH A 12-FOOT HORN!
OK, so that might not catch on as well as not touching something with a 10-foot pole, but horn players everywhere are working to change that.
Here’s some of what I’ve learned about the French horn.
- When uncoiled, a French horn is 12′ long. (See?)
- Screw bell – ever see one of those big, clunky French horn cases? Being able to unscrew the bell makes it much easier to carry. You can see the joint in the picture above of Julia’s horn. It also makes it compact enough to fit inside the cabin of an airplane because no musician wants to check their instrument with an airline.
- Southpaws take note! It is the only brass instrument that is played left-handed.
- French horn players however, switch to the right-handed Mellophone when playing in marching band as it plays the same range, but is more easily portable.
- The French horn has the smallest mouthpiece of all the brass instruments.
- Handstopping – horn players can change the tone and essentially add more notes just by using the right hand which rests inside the bell while playing.
- Often thought of as one of the hardest instruments to play.
- Often seen in Christmas decorations. (Think we can change it from Three French Hens to Three French Horns?)
- Makes for a tasty pastry!
- French horns have their own cocktail! French Horn Cocktail Ingredients: 2.5 cl Vodka, 2 cl Chambord (Raspberry liqueur) and 1.25 cl Lemon Juice. Chill the cocktail glass while making the cocktail, and once chilled rim the glass with salt. Shake the ingredients together in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into the chilled rimmed cocktail glass. Cheers!
The French horn itself has definitely evolved over time with its popularity’s really coming into being during the romantic period.
Maestro Wilson has this to stay about that evolution:
You find the best writing for horn from the romantic era to the present time. The instrument in the classical (and baroque?) periods was just so difficult and unwieldy and even limited in the pitches it could deliver that composers like Mozart and Haydn used it primarily to reinforce the harmony and supply fanfare effects on occasion. Beethoven’s music is the earliest I can recall that uses it with any particular soloistic flair.
Later on today, you’re going to meet Erin Lano, the first of four CSO horn players. She, along with Adam Koch, studied at Rice University, home to Professor Bill VerMeulen, Principal horn player with the Houston Symphony and former Principal Horn player with the CSO. He had this to say about them.
I couldn’t be more proud of Erin and Adam. They are both terrific hornists and people. I have been so fortunate to both play in the Columbus Symphony and now help staff its horn section with wonderful students. I wish everyone the best.
To me the French horn is a beautiful instrument. I love the middle voices and, with apologies to trumpet players everywhere, the best part of Fanfare for Common Man by Copland is when the French horns come in. Mozart, Richard Strauss and Schumann have some beautiful pieces for the horn. But, because I cannot deny my love of science fiction, I have to say that I absolutely love the theme music to all of the Star Trek movies which strongly features the French horn. The theme to the Star Trek remakes (with J.J. Abrams at the helm) are especially nice.
Even if you’re not into SciFi movies, you can’t deny the beauty of this haunting melody.
Now if I’m really lucky, I’ll get one of the CSO horn players to play the theme to Star Trek for me. I don’t even care from which movie or show. I know for a fact that at least two of them played with the Cincinnati Pops in a concert that featured Star Trek theme music, so I know they know it. I’m optimistic! (scheming – scheming – scheming)
So glad you made it to French Horn Week! Come back starting at 10am today to meet Erin Lano!
- Star Trek and French Horns (giocosity.com)
Even in the strangest of places, classical music seems to find its way into a variety of settings. Listen to any original music movie soundtrack and there’s a good chance you’ll hear some. Whether it’s an original composition, something we’d now call 21st-century classical or even a quote of some earlier piece, such as the quoting of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathéthique in Billy Joel’s song, “This Night” from his 1983 album, “An Innocent Man,” classical music seems to find its way into the music we hear every day.
In my first-ever outing to the Opera Columbus this weekend, I saw my first-ever Gilbert & Sullivan opera: HMS Pinafore. It was so much fun! I’d never even heard any of the songs before excepting a piece of one song back in 1998 in the movie Star Trek: Insurrection. The only time I’d ever been exposed to any music from HMS Pinafore was during an early scene when Captain Picard started singing, “A British Tar.” Watch this video, you’ll laugh out loud about 25 seconds in!
Even in Star Trek, they have the bouncing ball over the lyrics! The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players joined the Opera Columbus in this past weekend’s performances with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s accompanying the entire production. Performed in the acoustically-awesome Southern Theatre, it put on three performances that each had the audience in stitches – laughing out loud in many places throughout the opera.
Now I can’t be 100% sure, but there seemed to be a couple of places where they went a little off script – such as when the captain promised Jeni’s Ice Cream for his entire crew or the time when Sir Joseph asked the Captain where they were (They’d had a bit of wine in the last scene!) and the Captain responded “I don’t know, somewhere in Ohio.” “Ohhh” “Yeah – O – H!” (Audience: “I – O”) Nice to get a bit of audience participation in there! Finally he said “He thought he had a little ‘buck in his eye’” and suggested they get back on script! Maybe I’m wrong but it’s entirely possible Gilbert & Sullivan originally had references to the Buckeyes of The Ohio State University but edited them out at the last moment before its first performance in 1878. Hey – OSU was founded in 1870, so anything’s possible, right?
No? OK. Fine.
Opera Columbus has a great season planned for next year including The Merry Widow, Madama Butterfly, another Gilbert & Sullivan opera: The Pirates of Penzance and with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Carmen in Concert. I definitely want to see Pirates of Penzance. I hope to see you there!
This weekend was the 2013 Annual Columbus Arts Festival where folks from all over central Ohio had the opportunity to journey downtown to enjoy a day of wandering amongst beautiful art of all kinds from artists around the region and country. In addition to 270+ artists’ hawking their wares all along the Scioto Mile downtown, festival attendees were also treated to some great food and live music and storytelling all day long on three different stages interspersed throughout the festival.
This weekend and along with other local arts organizations, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) had a great presence next to CATCO and CAPA. Musicians (and other assorted volunteers) were out in full force talking to everyone who stopped by – or even walked by! We had a great time talking to everyone about the pops season that starts next week and the upcoming Classical Music series which is going to be absolutely incredible (slightly biased opinion admitted) in 2013-2014. Seriously – it’s like Candy Land for classical music lovers!
People we talked to were very excited about the upcoming performances of Beethoven’s 5th, Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2 and one person stopped dead in her tracks when I told her about Mozart’s Requiem. “They’re performing his requiem? Really? WHEN?!” I loved her enthusiasm! And by the way, it’ll be performed April 11-12 along with Four Last Songs by Strauss.
We all wore name tags which included a picture of the instrument we play (or in my case, played – past tense!) I was always pretty amused when people would ask me if I played clarinet for the Symphony. HA! “Oh heck no! The Symphony is GOOD! They don’t want me to play. I just stay back and watch from the balcony. You should join me!” Whenever they’d ask that, I’d also refer them to the real musicians, such as Betsy – Bassonist or Jude – Harpist or Adam who plays the French Horn (pictured above with his wife, Kat). I discovered that he and I have a shared appreciation of the theme music to several Star Trek movies (including the two recent releases) which employ French Horns for the main melody. Gorgeous! I also learned that he played in a concert down in Cincinnati that showcased music from various Star Trek movies. I’m guessing that was his version of musical Candy Land!
I’ve never been to a Picnic With the Pops performance with the CSO before so it was interesting talking to people about it based on zero experience. That’s OK – learning a lot along the way, I muddled through and could talk at least about upcoming performances like the Pointer Sisters this weekend to kick off the series (Chaka Khan had medical issues and had to cancel), Kansas and Natalie Merchant on July 6 and 13th, respectively. A lot of us also talked about a group I’d never heard of before, called Pink Martini, which is performing on June 22. No one could really describe their music, except to say that they were extremely good and quite entertaining. One couple I spoke to said that NPR’s Ari Shapiro occasionally performs with them which they liked because they think he’s cute. Had to laugh at that one!
I did talk to a couple who just moved to Columbus from Portland, OR, which is apparently Pink Martini’s hometown. This couple, who was kind enough to fill out one of my Arts surveys, told me that Pink Martini was indeed a terrific group that not only plays an eclectic mix of music, but that also sings in a variety of languages. As a linguist, hearing this totally piqued my curiosity. Now I have to check them out!
As you can see, it was a beautiful day in downtown Columbus, Ohio yesterday. While my feet were completely sore after standing on hard pavement for 4 hours and then walking the festival with my mom for another hour and a half – even stopping by the water color-filled booth of my friend’s aunt, Wanda Zuchowski-Schick, – I must say that the day was a good one.
Downtown Columbus has so much going for it in terms of night life, festivals, live music performances of all kinds, shops, you name it. I hope that more and more people will continue to take advantage of it as the summer progresses. We’ve got a great city here, folks. Come on over and check it out!