Horn playing is fun

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Horn playing is fun! For some readers, they certainly agree, yes, it is fun! But for others, maybe not so much. It is an interesting topic to ponder. How fun it is for you may depend on where you are in your career and what the music is.

One thing that got me thinking about this topic recently was an article by a violinist. The article is here; in short she had a youthful love of making music squashed by a teacher that had her work exclusively on technique for a whole year. The result was she became a very technically proficient violinist and has had a career of some note but she lost a love of making music, only occasionally catching glimpses of it now.

In horn we have a parallel to this too, and there is a cautionary side note to make. I know there were and are teachers who feel strongly that you should work on nothing but Kopprasch until they decide that you are ready to play something other than Kopprasch. It is a technique for teaching a mastery of certain specific technical foundations to be sure, but not a real balanced method of teaching and musically not the most healthy. (Not to mention you may have other things coming soon that you need to practice for such as recitals or upcoming auditions!)

But back to the topic of horn playing being fun, it is fun! There are a lot of easier things we could do than play French horn. Enjoyment of the analog activity of playing horn is a factor that keeps us going to be sure.

The people for whom horn playing will be the least fun are those for whom it has purely become work. This sounds like you would be hitting this only as a pro but actually I think it can hit at any level. For the pro, really, horn playing is work. Enjoyable work mostly, but I can assure you from my six seasons as Third Horn in Nashville, music really is not your hobby in this context. There are peaks to be sure, Mahler and Brahms and Strauss are a joy to play with a great group, but then you have the rest, not every concert is really all that fun. It is your craft, but it becomes work.

Enthusiastic students won’t like hearing this, but some pro players become “browned out” over years of this and a percentage eventually get burned out from the grind of this work year after year. I have seen it. Some quit, never to come back. Some quit, temporarily, and come back renewed. There clearly will be times to take a break.

Going back to a prior thought, for a lot of the people reading this article making music truly is your hobby, and hobbies by definition are fun! I am thankful to have made a lot of music with amateurs over the years in various situations, community bands, orchestras, church groups, etc. I have experienced a number of phases of horn playing in a variety of places at different times in my life. Usually amateurs in particular do still have a lot of that joy of music making, it is great to be around these players and I also appreciate so much that amateur and community hornists are among our most dedicated readers here at Horn Matters.

Of course, those various community music groups can become not fun, possibly due to bad chops but more likely due to group politics, music issues, bad conductors, etc. In those cases, it may just be time to move on and do other things that are more fun with different people. Horn playing can be fun again.

Speaking of fun, my most recent recital was among the most fun music making I have had the past few years. The video is below, the performance starting a bit over five minutes in:

Why was it so fun for me at this point? In part it is context in life. These recent few years I have had to slow down my performance schedule for a reason I don’t mention much on this site, my adult son is handicapped. In retrospect, he was doing great up to about age 19, but now he is 23 and it causes huge issues if his routines are altered to any great extent. Thus, I am home every evening and we start the day exactly the same every day. Things were worse a year ago, and we believe are on track to be better still next year, but for now I can’t play evening concerts, travel to workshops, etc. As with anything, you are better off focusing on what you can do (such as make a new CD) rather than what you can’t, and this accentuates my enjoyment and appreciation of the live musical experiences I can have here, such as the recent recital at Arizona State, where I am horn professor. It didn’t at all feel like work (even though it, strictly speaking, was work), and the works performed were all fun to play.

In the big picture these days I even enjoy warming up! Which gets back to a fact: horn playing is fun, it is an enjoyable activity, and that enjoyment keeps us going. If you are finding it not fun, maybe it is time to retool or take a break. In relation to that, I should disclose that there was actually a point when even I was burned out, at the end of my MM study. There is a point any player can hit, a wall, you can work so hard that you absolutely need a break. Slow it down, play some fun music, explore different groups. Take a day or two off.

Overall I am very thankful. I have had wonderful colleagues now, have fond memories of my jobs before ASU, and am enjoying what I do to this day. Horn playing is fun.

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