Outrageous Horn Things

I'll start with mine to give you a an example of what I'm talking about.

My school's horn quartet finally convinced my band director to let us play Frippery No. 8, "Barbershop", at the jazz concert. But he wouldn't let us do it unless we did something extra to add to the act. And we had to do HIS something extra. We had to come out in full concert regalia--us three girls in our dresses and Trey in his tux. Trey stands center stage and announces in a rather snooty voice that we will be playing the "Grand Horn Quartet" by Jaques Francouis Gallay, the hardest peice ever written for horn quartet. Then Mr. Bertman comes out and yells "WHAT are you DOING? This is a JAZZ concert! It's supposed to be fun and laidback! You can't play that here!" And Trey says, "I'm sure we have something in our *vast repertioure* that we can play tonight." And Mr. Bertman says, "But what will you do about your clothes?" And then Trey says, "Would you like us to change?" Then we proceeded to take off the concert clothes to reveal the T-Shirts and Shorts we had on underneath. Trey had on big yellow shorts. Not only that, but he threw his clothes into the audience. It was a wild time to be remembered by all as the the concert where the horn players stripped.

Now for everyone elses

I have been asked to mime as part of a stage play about a lunatic who thought that there was an orchestra with him in his hospital ward. Also to sit on a farm wall in East Lothian (Scotland) to be photogrphed playing to an inquisitive cow (this for a publicity shot about a Don Giovanni stage band for Scottish Opera - do not ask me what the connection was!).

Then there was the time that Dave Wise and I turned up to a choral date in Scunthorpe - it was the Bach 'Christmas Oratorio' (two numbers involving horns). We were told - " you have two parts each" - we replied "yes we know, on the performance, can we leave after the second one?" We were told -" you misunderstand, there are two horn parts each and two parts for 'old fashioned french horns in F' each". These turned out to be Oboe de Chasse parts which we played, just about living to tell the tale.

My most (not quite only) outrageous/embarassing moment happened about 10 minutes before a performance with a reconstructed Sousa band. It was the first of two performances between Durango, CO and Farmington, NM. We were to play in the Fort Lewis College gymnasium, and so we were assembled in a "secondary", smaller gym, hanging out talking, warming up, or just relaxing. The second horn player was doing a very comfortable combination of two, sitting on a rolled up exercise mat that had been pushed against the wall, and warming up. It looked comfortable enough that I decided to join him. I climbed up onto the mat next to him, we played some tuning notes together, chatted for a while, and then just relaxed for a while. When I leaned back onto the wall, however, the rolled up mat started to slide away from the wall.... I could not get off. As big as the rolled mat was, as short as I am, plus the widening hole that I was slipping into, I had no chance to get out, except straight down. My horn had been on my lap, but as the mat kept sliding away from the wall and I was sliding into the gap, my legs ended up pinning my horn against my body (it was fine!). All of this happened slowly enough that there was quite an audience by the time my toes disappeared down the back of the mat; silence had descended as soon as the other horn player jumped off the mat, cursing. When I crawled out, it was to a standing ovation. My face was still beet-red when we had to go out for the concert.

There was the time our 3rd horn player needed to be broken of an extremely annoying habit of standing up in the pit to rubber-neck the stage action. As I recall, the cure involved a large yellow rubber "whoopee" cushion, a pregnant pause in the stage dialogue and a well-timed "pssst!" They say the resultant plangent tone was heard all the way to the back seats of the theater; at any rate, our esteemed colleague now remains seated in the pit, most of the time, and when he sits down, he does so EXTREMELY carefully...

The most outrageous moment occurred when it was all I could do just to finish a concert. This was a Wind Ensemble concert, and as principle, I sat on the outside, end of the row, two rows from the conductor. My second horn player broke a string halfway through the first half of the concert. I was the only person with "lightning-nimble-quick-fingers", so immediatley upon intermission, I grabbed his horn and dashed backstage. I made a leap onto a riser in true "jete'" form, only to strike the edge of the riser on one foot with the full weight of my body in motion behind it. I collapsed on the foot. In true "save-the-instrument" form, I rolled with the fall, hitting the edge again, only with my body (saved the horn!). Massive waves of pain did not daunt me from the task of restringing the horn.

I managed to limp onto the stage and take a seat, noticing the increasing size of my foot. Two works into the second half, I had to untie, and remove my shoe. We were asked to rise and acknowledge the applause after every piece, and I was the only person remaining seated, looking very obviously "odd". Post-concert medical appraisal revealed a fractured foot/ankle, and several bruised ribs.

But . . . I saved the horn!

We had a party to celebrate the 60th anniversary of our community orchestra (and believe it or not the bass clarinettist has been there for 57 of those 60 years!) and each section was asked to contribute a performance/sketch/whatever.

We argued that since we were the only section to play on two instruments at once (F and Bb horn), we should get double the credit (we're amateur: otherwise it would have been double the pay). But we don't. So we decided to construct a REAL double horn, one that would in the name of equality take two people to play.

Materials required: one horn, two mouthpieces, three lengths of plastic tubing, one Y- or T-connector for the tubing, two hornplayers. Put them together so that both mouthpieces are connected to the same horn. One player operates the valves left-handed, the other fixes the intonation right-handed (a highly responsible position). Both blow. The best effects are obtained with different mouthpieces: one tuba and one horn gives unprecedented opportunities for playing both up- and downbeats on the same instrument. And the balance is redressed: it now requires two players to manage the double horn, and the number of instruments in the band is equal to the number of instrumentalists.

The sequel is not yet written. We are considering approaching Alexander, Paxman, Lawson, Schmid, Yamaha and Conn to see who will make the best offer for the manufacturing rights. And the Union of Unemployed Hornists (UUH) will be approached for contributions towards the development costs - after all, the four horn parts in the standard symphony orchestra will now require 8 horn players... Development of the triple horn along the same lines offers some interesting challenges with respect to the relative placing of the players.

Dr. Capps at FSU once told me a story of the best time the Siegfried Short Call was ever played. I forget what orchestra it was but it was one of the big boys in Europe. As a joke they told the horn player that was suppose to play the call to forget about it, they had hired a younger college kid to do it. This made the man so mad that the day of the performance he went out to a bar and got mega-drunk. He went to the concert and the other players told him that they were just kidding around and that he needs to play the call. He played it, "played the hell out of it" from the words of Dr. Capps. He said it was the best it's ever been played!!

Well my most outrageous experiences occured during a Gilbert and Sullivan show, back around the time I was just starting to switch over from trumpet. Situation number one was a result of having a music director who was harder to work with than any I've played under. He mistreated the oboist to the point that she quit the day before opening night - and with her went her boyfriend, the first horn. During the whole series of rehearsals I'd been hungrily eyeing the horn part (G&S trumpet parts are mostly tacets). So I jumped in and played 1st trumpet AND 2nd horn for the first 1 1/2 shows, until they were able to bring in a sub. It was loads of fun - only by the end of the first performance the director was starting to get frustrated that I was ignoring the trumpet parts in favor of the horn ones (what can I say - I was becoming enlightened!)

Situation number two happened in one of the last performances. The bassoonist (you all KNEW it was going to involve a double reed) put the wrong swab in the wrong joint after the afternoon performance, and discovered shortly before the evening show that he couldn't get it out. The tech crew volunteered varios power tools and bent coat hangers, to no avail. Finally, we started the show 45 minutes late with the bassoonist sitting in the trombone section and showing the 1st trombone how to cover the bassoon parts. Meanwhile the 2nd trombone and I were kneeling on the floor during the tacets and trying to poke the swab out of the bassoon joint with a screwdriver. Finally we had to use a hammer to drive the screwdriver. I distinctly remember watching the conductor to coordinate the hammer strokes with downbeats, while trying to guide the screwdriver with my fingertips to keep it from gouging the bore.

Believe it or not, the bassoonist still speaks to me. I saw the same thing happen on band trip with an oboe. Double reeds - got to wonder if their little water vials get contaminated with something?

Playing Vivaldi Concerto for two horns (and piano) in the foyer of a Motorway service station in full DJ/Tux (using valves, in case anyone gets smart!), and then going outside and playing one of Mozarts duets live on local Radio in the carpark...... got in national newspapers for that one......

Playing outdoors inside the Artic Circle in the north of Finland in November wearing full Scottish Highland Dress (including kilt!).

Playing on a Paddle Steamer on the River Clyde.

Playing in a 'pit' orchestra for an outdoor performance of a musical on a platform built 12 foot above the stage.... and then it rained......

Playing on tables in a Beer Keller in Munich during their Schutzenfest

Arriving in a small town in the south of Germany, trying to find the concert hall, only to be directed to the town cattle auction ring......the concert started with 6 people and a dog sitting on the wooden steps around the ring.

Most proud thing.......

Playing to a capacity audience in Madason Square Gardens after a three month tour of the USA.

Playing at a private dinner party for QE1, The Queen Mum

Most stressed concert I've ever played

A concert in Edinburgh where I knew that the principal horn of the BBC Scottish Symphony, Ian Lambert, was in the audience.

Some students of Anton Bruckner became a little tired of their professor continually extolling the virtues of Wagner at the expense of his own great compositions and they decided to set up a rather elaborate trick to demonstrate that he was too modest about his own work.

One of the students owned a dog and every time one of his colleagues played the horn reprise of the "Ride of the Valkyries", the others would chase the dog out of the room, whereas when Bruckner's 4th was being played, they patted the dog, gave him food, and generally made a fuss of him.

One day they told Bruckner that his music was appreciated even more than Wagner's, and when Bruckner denied this, they said that even a dog could prove their point.

As soon as the "Ride of the Valkyries" was played, the dog ran howling from the room but when the strains of Bruckner were heard, the dog came racing back into the room, tail wagging, jumping up and down, and obviously very happy.

Whether Bruckner was convinced, Herr Sabor never said, but the students certainly had a smart dog. Pavlov eat your heart out :)

I had the pleasure of being involved an a Mahler 8 which was aiming for a thousand strong performance, the orchestra was made up of all the teachers in the area plus the country youth orchestra's stronger players plus strong amateur players from the area. I was 16 or 17 and playing assistant 3rd horn. I think we had about 12 horns !!

Our conductor was a very good choral man but not comfortable with Orchestral scores; at the end of the symphony there is a long loud chord ( about 8 or 16 bars ) followed by a "full stop like" last note; and being a serious young horn player I was carefully counting as I played and watched the conductor when I released HE had lost count and was not going to give a clear beat at the end of the chord; he was happily conducting circles in the air until he realized what would happen next, then he looked a bit concerned !!!


Now this was a big, big occasion, my teacher was playing with me, the cathedral (Litchfield) was full of people, every good player in the County of Staffordshire who was not performing was in the audience along with my family, panic time. I looked around by eye movement for help - nothing - everybody was watching the conductor like a thousand rabbits looking at the headlights of a car, powerless to stop the inevitable.

I reached 16 with my counting and stopped playing - dead on the spot with everybody else - took a deep breath for the last note - watching the conductor like a hawk - I was ready to launch into the last note at fffz like a fearless horn player should - at the last possible moment I bottled out and omitted the last note as I had seen no movement from the conductor to guide me, and to my amazement so did every single other performer. Nobody played the last note.

The conductor seemed very relieved !!!!!

And a moment later the audience applauded.

I had come within a millisecond of being the only one to have played the last note in front of almost everybody who's opinion of me I valued.

Had I done this I would have heard it, stopped playing, and then heard it echo around the cathedral all on its own for a couple of seconds.

I cannot describe how that felt ( I have been trying to think what word to put here for some time)

It is the worst concert situation I have ever been in.

The winds, brass and percussion were all seated on risers. During one week's rehearsals, Reiner decided to work on one of the percussionists who was playing suspended cymbal. Reiner was all over the poor guy. He would spend 10 to 15 minutes of every rehearsal making him play the entrance (one strike with one stick) over and over again and it was never right. "Early", "late", "too loud", "too soft", etc. interjected with insulting comments about his playing in general. By concert time the percussionist was a complete, nervous wreck.

When the big moment arrived, the percussionist was so rattled that he missed the cymbal completely and whacked the second trombone player on top of his head causing him to emit a very loud BLAT!

Reiner fired the trombonist.

Approximately 3 years ago the first horn in the Army Band at Fort Knox was given an article 15 (non-judicial punishment that normally includes a fine and restriction to barracks) for "musical insubordination". He missed an octave in a concert band rehearsal after having been ordered not to (I believe it was a Holst Suite)

Once, when playing at a Band festival on Baltimore's waterfront, I was inspired but the amount of excellent German beer consumed to stand for a solo in the middle of one of the pieces we performed. Needless to say, it was not written in the music, cued by the conducter, or practiced during rehearsal.

It went well, as far as I can remember, and I didn't get chewed out. In America we call this "hot dogging" or "showboating". I imagine serious musicians have more colorful names for this type of behavior, but I figured, "Oh what the heck? It's in character with the type of outdoor concert, horns never get asked to rise in these situations, I give myself permission".

It was a gas! I think far more band memebers appreciated it (got a laugh out of it), ot thought nothing of it, than resented it.

The scene was the U.S. Sixth Army Band at the Presidio during a recording session (1954). We were playing a march called "U.S. and You", and at the intro to the trio the horn section flubbed the introductory fanfare.

CWO Commack, a soft spoken southern gentleman and a good musician, stopped the take and said "We will take a 10 minute break, after which Cpl. Rhodes will play this alone on the next take".

I went up to him at the break and said, "you know, this is kind of a difficult spot for the horns". He looked at me and said "Cpl. - it is NOT difficult". "No sir, - not difficult" was all I could reply.

His next statement was marvelous - "Corporal, I ORDER you not to miss that note".

Sequel: Fortunately I nailed the note - otherwise I might still be in the stockade.

Isn't it wonderful what a positive attitude can do?

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