by Dee Grano
You may not think of a group of mild-mannered French horn players as big risk-takers. But then again, the French horn is not actually French – it’s German, so there’s that.
The coiled instrument of many surprises will be celebrated at a Spring Concert performed by the Horn Society of the Carolinas on Saturday, May 12. More information is available at www.hornsocietyofthecarolinas.org.
How the “French” horn misnomer took is not certain. In 1971 the International Horn Society requested the instrument simply be referred to as a horn though, “all English speaking countries still call it a French horn,” Bill Tyler, president of the Horn Society of the Carolinas, said. “It’s less confusing.”
The horn’s wide range extends over four octaves, making it versatile enough for many different kinds of music. Multiple horns make a kaleidoscopic sound when several small groups play parts of a larger arrangement. Music samples performed by the Horn Society of the Carolinas can be found online via their YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/HornSocietyCarolinas.
The Horn Society of the Carolinas’ Spring Concert will be Saturday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m. at Church at Charlotte, 2500 Carmel Road. It will feature an hour-and-a-half program of sacred and secular music including “Russian Sailors’ Dance” from a 1927 Reinhold Glière ballet, “O Rest in the Lord” by Felix Mendelssohn and “Grand Canyon Octet, #1” by Eric Ewazen. The concert is free and all are welcome to attend.
To look at, the horn seems almost too shapely to be practical. It consists of 12 feet of brass coiled in circles and valves that flare out into a large bell. When played, the bell is directed behind the musician making the horn one of few instruments to “face backward.”
“The result is an indirect sound but it stands out,” said Judy White, vice president of the Horn Society of the Carolinas. In a typical orchestra setting the brass section is outnumbered due to the high volume a single horn can produce. Mistakes can be heard clearly. “It’s a high-risk instrument,” she added. “Don’t play it if you like to blend in.”
The Horn Society of the Carolinas was formed in February 2009 after a “Brass Fest” performance with the David Silden Brass Ensemble. A group of the performers were inspired and motivated to gather and play. More than 20 players turned out for the first rehearsal. Though membership evolves, the numbers have remained steady.
“At first we just practiced once a month, but everyone said ‘we want more,’” said White, who assumed the initial fervor would wane. Presently, the Horn Society of the Carolinas meets the first and third Friday of each month at 7:30 p.m. to practice. Rehearsals are open to any horn player with an intermediate playing ability and proficiency in sight-reading. No audition is required, but the website asks for advance notice from newcomers. Membership dues are reinvested in the group and pay for sheet music.
Tyler says the group has come a long way since it started.
“Now we are working on harder pieces,” he said, referring to some that feature multiple tempo changes like “Thy Hand Hath Provided” which will be played Saturday evening. For these pieces a musician may step forward to keep count though the group typically plays without a conductor.
The all-volunteer group is comprised of students, professors, doctors, paralegals, executives and engineers. Tyler, who performs in the Fayetteville Symphony and (on occasion) the Charlotte Symphony, is a retired air traffic controller. “It’s great to be able to commit time to work on things I should have in grad school,” he said.
“You may be thinking, ‘a group of horn players playing Friday nights in a church sounds dull,’” joked White, who has played the horn since the third grade. “But the truth is we have a lot of fun and we’re passionate about what we do.”
When played for pleasure the sound is sweeter. Join the Horn Society of the Carolinas and hear for yourself.