Silverado, and Why We Play the Horn


One project I gave to the studio last week was for everyone to learn the opening six bars of Silverado. Why I did this was partly because we are working on it in horn choir, but also I was thinking about style and inspiration.

Then, Thursday, the new issue of The Horn Call arrived with a very interesting article by Paul Stevens on the topic of “Why We Play the Horn.” The reason he gives has to do with goose bumps. Stevens wrote,

The pursuit of goose bumps is why we play, why we do long tones, why we suffer through Kling and Kopprasch. We have goose bumps playing or listening to great recordings and in concert halls to great orchestras. They are our fuel, our sustenance. We need those shivers to keep us going.

Reading in a little further, after briefly addressing the topic of film scores, he continues,

I think most of us who play the horn are real suckers for the noble and heroic, which is why, back to concert music, we can’t hear the opening (or closing) of Bruckner 9 without those shivers. If we can play the fourth movement solo in Brahms 1st without them we are seriously out of character and seriously in big trouble.

Are those rare, special moments enough to keep us going? Do we still have strong emotions, especially with the umteenth performance of that ol’ Brahms First, or practicing that list of excerpts hundreds of times? I think so. I remember playing a show I secretly loathed, The Phantom of the Opera, and every time we came to those darn particular spots, bing, there went the goose bumps again! Those heroic spots get you every time.

Stevens has a list of 45 works in the article that give him goose bumps. I won’t tip his hand on the list but it is a great list worth looking over. Every horn player really should come up with their own list, it is a great project to ponder.

While not on his list, the opening of Silverado (by Bruce Broughton) certainly would fit in any “horn goose bumps” list well. I heard Stevens conduct this work last year at the MidSouth Workshop in fact, which was why I bought the same arrangement, as I knew it sounded great (for eight horns with two solo horns by Steven Mahper). The key passage is at the opening of the video below. You can’t help but be inspired to keep playing; this is exactly the type of music that motivates. Enjoy!

University of Horn Matters