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Classically Trained: Abuzz with rediscovering an instrument

April 05, 2012|By Bradley Zint
  • Bradley Zint, who writes the "Classically Trained" column for Times Community News, holds his French horn that he will use for OC Can You Play With Us? on May 1. He plays on a Conn 8DY and uses several types of Schilke mouthpieces.
Bradley Zint, who writes the "Classically Trained"… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

Editor's note: This column is the first in a series about Bradley Zint's participation in OC Can You Play With Us?, an initiative where he and other Orange County amateur musicians will play alongside the Pacific Symphony professionals. The columns will run through May.

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When played at its very best, the French horn is the voice of God.

It's the call from the heavens, the beam of light illuminating the dark path, the glory rising above the storm. That's what we horn players would like to think, anyway.

Call us delusional.

The problem is, the French horn is so darn difficult. Being God's voice is hard. When mere humans designed the modern-day horn, they made the tubing long (about 17 feet), the mouthpiece small (compared to other brass instruments) and the sound headed in the wrong direction (whoops!).

A horn's bell — that flared piece of metal at the end, where the noise exits — faces away from the intended music-loving audience.

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They really made the horn players work for it.

I guess that's why the folks at Guinness World Records say the French horn is the hardest orchestral instrument, along with the oboe.

I don't think I knew all that when I took up the horn in sixth grade. But I knew it was the instrument for me.

I knew it so much that I stuck with it for 12 years.

The dedication paid off. Playing horn took me places, helped me meet a lot of great people and put years of music-making memories in my head.

I found success at it, too. In high school I won placement in some elite groups, statewide and regional.

In college, I auditioned as a non-music major. I just wanted to be in one of the bands, to keep playing for the fun of it. I also wanted to be eligible for a locker so I didn't have to store my instrument in my small dorm room.

What I got was placement in the Wind Symphony, the university's top ensemble. There, I was the only non-music major and one of two freshmen in a sea of upperclassmen and graduate students.

I also got a locker.

For seven semesters, playing in the Wind Symphony was a tremendous honor, perhaps the greatest of my life so far.

Then the music died, slowly but surely. Playing the horn nearly every day turned to a few times a week, which turned to a few times a month, which became never.

Normally, one might lament the loss of an activity that brought accomplishment and joy. But I didn't.

At least, I didn't at the time. In college I rekindled my love of writing and found a new venue for it: journalism.

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