Hello faithful followers (and followers who have forgotten they subscribed to this blog)! I’ve been keeping very busy, hence my neglect. I’ve begun pursuing my Master’s degree in Horn Performance at Southern Methodist University. Graduate student busy is an entirely different kind of busy than Undergraduate student busy. Although my course load is lighter than in previous years, my time is quickly consumed by other pursuits. I teach private horn lessons for fourteen students ranging from beginner to high school senior at five different public schools. I am both a graduate assistant and a research assistant for two university professors. I helped found a brass quintet and I periodically sub with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra horn section.
“How do you live?” one of my students queried this morning upon finding out how many students I teach. Admittedly there are days when I feel like a zombie (class until 10pm, wake up at 5am to teach) but most days this is, in fact, how I stay alive – in every sense of the word. It pays the bills, but on a deeper level it is so gratifying to finally earn a living doing what I’ve been training to do for years now. Nothing makes me feel more alive than playing a powerful unison passage with a great horn section in a beautiful hall, watching a student light up when he/she plays a piece well, or finding a cleverly hidden inverted retrograde version of a theme in a complex Bach fugue. Student, teacher, musician — that’s how I live, and how I feel alive.
Now to the real reason I was driven to write today (another caffeine-fueled binge writing session. Starbucks should really sponsor this blog). Yesterday I had another one of those wonderful “this is why I do music” moments that all musicians encounter from time to time.
Last night in our horn studio class, Professor Greg Hustis played an incredible recording of a Leopold Mozart horn concerto by Jason DeWater of the Omaha Symphony. DeWater floated effortlessly through the highest register of the horn (a technique fittingly called clarino) performing graceful acrobatics, arpeggios, and trills with the finesse of an olympic gymnast.
I’ll admit an ugly truth: listening to recordings of great horn players used to seriously stress me out. All I could focus on was how much better than me they were. (Never mind the fact that they were seasoned professionals and I was nineteen.) I’ve kicked that attitude for the most part now and I find myself spending hours listening to players like Hermann Baumann, Sarah Willis, and Gail Williams to name a few. But I admit that last night that old feeling began to creep back in. Obnoxious, I thought, as DeWater spun through yet another series of effortless trills. How does he do that? I wondered in disbelief as another high C# drifted dreamily through the speakers (did I mention this was a live recording?)
Fortunately somewhere in the second movement I decided to take a different tack. I shut my eyes and let the music wash over me, following the leaps and turns, the clarion sound, and the smoothly arching melody of this lovely piece. Then I shifted my focus to the oft-neglected concerto orchestra, which followed DeWater’s phrasing with great sensitivity. When I opened my eyes the first thing I saw was the small pair of speakers through with the music played resting on either side of Mr. Hustis’s laptop. I had to smile when it occurred to me that we were listening to the sounds of ink written nearly three centuries ago being performed by living musicians, all transmitted through devices Leopold Mozart could not have imagined when he put pen to paper. The music, though historic, is anything but dead. It still speaks to us, calms us, invigorates us, and invites introspection and awe. Musicians have preserved this art by performing these works, studying the stylistic practices of the time and striving to recreate what Mozart and his contemporaries would have heard in the eighteenth century. The fact that many of these instruments are still in use is astounding – the harpsichord alone has been around since the fourteenth century!
Now with a few keystrokes and clicks we can access entire worlds of music from the centuries past. Art created by people who died hundreds of years ago is being curated and recreated by living human beings.
To my musician readers: it is so easy to get bogged down in technique, professional pressures, insecurity, and competition. These things are all unavoidable parts of the job. But I challenge you to step back and remember why you decided to pursue music in the first place. I hope it wasn’t because you wanted to win. My guess is that you were inspired by the creative energy of performing and sharing art, because you believed music had the power to unite people and energize them, or because music touched your life in some way that made you want to explore it for the rest of your career. Whatever the reason, take a moment to stop wondering How does Performer X do that and why can’t I? and appreciate the pure human creation that is music. When I noticed the beautiful anachronism of eighteenth century music being transmitted through twenty-first century technology, it reminded me of the amazing connection we — both performers and listeners — forge with human beings of the past, present, and future. What an amazing privilege!