Horn Pure, an impressive horn ensemble


Back in my series of reports on IHS Brisbane 2010 I especially noted of horn choirs that a group from Thailand, Horn Pure, was very impressive. At the time I wrote,

Concerts are not a contest but in a way in this type of concert at this type of event for the audience they become a bit of a contest, and in this case it actually mirrors a contest at the event. The next group threw it down and to my mind pretty much stole the show, Horn Pure from the Mahidol University College of Music in Thailand. The octet opened with Kerry Turner, Farewell to Red Castle, performed from memory with no conductor. Digest that for a moment; I don’t recall seeing such a thing from any college horn ensemble I have seen at a workshop and I hope they get a video up on YouTube soon. They for sure raised the bar and performed this work beautifully, a great example of the real variety of works and sounds that have come from the pen of Kerry Turner. The octet followed this with an arrangement of Thai folk songs and closed with Pirates of the Caribbean. Their director (but all was performed with no conductor) is Daren Robbins, who many Horn Matters readers will know as the brains behind www.hornexcerpts.org. They performed impressively for sure and it was clear why they won the horn ensemble competition this week at the symposium. I would love to hear this group again.

Daren Robbins was just interviewed by James Boldin in his Horn World site. Part I is well worth reading in full but I was particularly interested to learn more about Horn Pure in Part II.

JB: The horn ensemble you coach, Horn Pure, has gained international recognition lately, winning competitions at the national and international level. Could you talk a little bit about the history and membership of the ensemble?

DR: This group exemplifies what I mean when I say students here are hungry. Horn Pure is an octet of my students currently ranging in age from high school seniors to a junior in college. They got started about two years ago when they approached me about creating a horn ensemble to compete in the Thailand International Wind Ensemble Competition. I have to admit that, inwardly, I rolled my eyes a little at the thought of a horn ensemble competing against brass quintets and sax quartets but I told them to go for it. They put together an octet, we chose some repertoire, and they proceeded to work harder than I’ve ever seen any horn ensemble work. They surprised everyone including myself when they won the First Prize. That really set them on fire and they began setting their sights on other competitions.

Their next big event was the IHS Symposium in Brisbane. When they found out that there would be a horn ensemble competition they decided that they had to do it and they set to work raising money, finding sponsors, even going on local TV. The fund raising was only half the work. In the weeks leading up to our departure to Brisbane they rehearsed nearly every night, starting at 7:00pm when all their other obligations were finished and usually ending at 10:00pm. They usually rehearsed outside because the classrooms are locked at 6:00pm. Sometimes I was there to listen but if wasn’t able they would ask other horn players to listen or they would simply rehearse on their own.

They had a great week at the Symposium which culminated in their winning the competition. Their coup de grâce was performing Kerry Turner’s “Farewell to Red Castle” from memory. That was their idea, not mine–another instance where I’m glad I kept my reservations to myself. One thing I’ve learned from them is never tell students what you think they can’t do. One of the highlights for me came earlier that week when they performed “Red Castle” in a master class for the American Horn Quartet. I don’t imagine that group is easily impressed but there were lots of smiles, handshakes and hearty congratulations. It was a proud moment for me as a teacher.

Since then they’ve traveled to Japan where they were finalists in the Osaka Chamber Music Competition. Earlier this year we were awarded a travel grant that we used to tour to three universities outside of Bangkok, giving clinics and concerts at each one. It’s been a fun ride with that group.

JB: How does working with a larger horn ensemble differ from coaching a smaller group, such as a horn quartet?

DR: I don’t approach Horn Pure much differently than I would a smaller group because I’m not the conductor or director. When a group has a conductor it becomes more about what that person wants rather than the group. The beauty of chamber music is the ability of the group to come to a consensus on its own. With Horn Pure, I see myself as the advisor and coach. I suggest repertoire, I help with the preparation, give lots of musical suggestions, and encourage them to go in certain directions, but I don’t conduct and when I leave rehearsal they are free to do what they want. They’ve proven they can do what it takes I’m happy to stand back and watch them do their thing.

I don’t know that any American horn octet has ever put in that kind of time for a competition. As someone who was there and saw the performance happen in real time their IHS performance truly was very impressive, and knowing now the ages and commitment of the students involved just makes it that much more impressive. I have yet to find a video of them performing but for a few photos at least do check out their Facebook page, which was the source of the logo linked in this article.

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