Classically Trained: As they say, practice makes perfect

April 12, 2012|By Bradley Zint

Editor's note: This column is the second 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.


From within a case on the floor of a suburban San Diego living room I picked it up, a battle-worn and scarred French horn, made that way after years of playing exhaustive symphonies.

Not long after I buzzed a few notes, the sounds piqued the interest of my girlfriend. She was seated nearby, listening with amusement.


"Can I try it?" she asked.

It was an innocent enough question, though it was a significant moment. There in San Diego, the city where I grew up, was the first time she heard me really play my instrument.

"Sure," I quickly replied, equally piqued by her sudden interest. "Why not?"

It was around 10 p.m. — late for most, but go-time for a night owl like me. The two of us were visiting my family for the weekend, and to continue preparing for the Pacific Symphony's OC Can You Play With Us? I had brought my horn along for the trip.

I try to play every day, and my jaunt down south was no exception to my dedication.

"The first thing you need to know is how to properly hold the horn," I told her. "Your left hand holds the top."

Then I showed her where all those human digits go: three valves, each for one finger, unused pinkie in the holster, thumb on the trigger valve.

"Then your hand goes in the bell, on the upper-right side of it," I explained.

"Why does it go inside?" she inquired.

In all my years of playing, I've rarely been asked that question. I guess that's why I maneuvered around the technical answers to it, most of them along the lines of giving the horn its signature sound, keeping the horn in tune and utilizing hand-muting techniques.

"You just do."

And there she was, all of three minutes into learning the orchestra's most difficult instrument. I was proud of her. She held the horn with the best of them.

Onto the playing part.

"Now buzz your lips, like this." I made a buzzing sound, which resembled the flapping rubber of a deflating balloon. (How pathetic we brass players' buzzing is out of context.)

She responded happily, but not quite correctly — good enough for me.

"Try it on the horn," I said.

The result of her effort was a struggle but not quite a sound. She was also puffing her cheeks.

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