It’s been two months since I picked up the French horn after a 44-year hiatus. I wish I could report that dulcet tones now fill the house, but it’s taking time to retrain my mouth to have the proper embouchure. At least I can report some progress.
My first note, a middle C, came with relative ease. D, E, F, and G followed. But why did the horn crack when I tried to play an A, or burble when I continued up to C. My horn instructor, an earnest doctoral student from the Jacobs School of Music at I.U., suggested I might have a psychological block. I thought it was hard to play higher notes, therefore it was. He advised listening to horn concertos so I could hear how the horn should sound. I followed his advice, filling my head with beautiful music–on the CD player in the kitchen, on my ipod, and in the car. Then I picked up the horn to play. My scales sounded too bright, too loud. If I played quieter, the notes bobbled in an out.
After five weeks of instruction, my teacher left for a month. At our last lesson, we made a discovery–its easier for me to play low notes. In addition to telling me to work on my tone, he told me to practice pieces written in that range. Fortunately, my Essential Elements for Horn, Book 2 arrived in the mail soon after, and I found myself playing such tunes as Anchors Away and the Finale from New World Symphony.
Encouraged by my success, I sorted through piano music–a hymnal, Rogers and Hamerstein musicals, a simplified version of music from Mary Poppins. What fun to play the melodies of familiar tunes! After almost a month of this, I’m still struggling to place my mouth on the mouthpiece correctly, but I keep trying, and when I get it right, it’s music to my ears. My latest delight is being able to play a horn-piano duet with Deb, Romanze from Concerto No. 3, by Mozart. If a few measures in a row sound good, I am ecstatic!
When I left high school all those years ago, I never imagined playing the French horn again. Relearning an instrument at this stage of life is such a satisfying challenge. Practicing isn’t the burden I remember it to be when I was a teenager, and I’m not as sensitive about my deficiencies. I already know how to read music and keep timing. And experts tell us learning an instrument is good for the brain. Best of all, I don’t feel the pressure of my band director pointing his baton at me when I play a wrong note.
Music is such a positive force in one’s life, especially at times like this when I find myself turning off the television to avoid hearing hateful political rhetoric and tragic news of more shootings. I don’t know where to begin solving the problems in our world, but I know we can make it a better place by starting with ourselves, as we play music, make art, write literature, cheer children at Little League games, greet neighbors on the street, and spend time with friends over a good meal.
As far as my horn is concerned, I’m not ready for a concert yet. But stay tuned!