Monday, March 4, 2013

Meet the French Horn Section

The double horn

The Intrument

Interestingly, the French horn is actually German in origin. In addition, is really two instruments in one. In 1971, it had its name officially changed to simply horn by the International Horn Society.
The horn is a brass instrument made of about 12-13 feet (3.7-4.0 meters) of tubing wrapped into a coil with a flared bell. Pitch is controlled through the adjustment of lip tension in the mouthpiece and the operation of valves by the left hand, which route the air into extra tubing.
Most horns have lever-operated rotary valves. The double horn (the most common type) has three rotary valves and a fourth valve, usually operated by the thumb, which routes the air to one set of tubing tuned to F or another tuned to Bb.
The horn is the third highest sounding instrument group in the brass family, below the cornet (second) and the trumpet (see range, at right). It has a very different mouthpiece from other brass instruments, but has the widest usable range, depending on the ability of the player. To produce different notes on the horn, one must do at least seven things―six involving the mouth, and placing the hand in the bell, which can lower the pitch by as much as a semitone in the instrument's midrange.
The conical bore of the horn (as compared with the cylindrical bore of the trumpet or trombone) is largely responsible for its mellow tone. Early metal horns were less complex than modern horns, consisting of brass tubes with a slightly flared opening (the bell) wound around a few times. These early horns were originally played on a hunt, often while mounted. The horn was used primarily to call hounds and created a sound much like a human voice, but carried much farther.
The use of valves, beginning in around 1815, created a great deal more flexibility in playing in different keys; in effect, the horn became an entirely different instrument, fully chromatic for the first time.
Concord Band horn section (l. to r.)—Sarah Postlethwait,
Elizabeth Irvin, Jean Patterson and Cameron Owen

The Players

In terms of music degrees and doctorates per member, it would appear that the Concord Band’s  horn section leads all others, with ratios of 3/4 in both cases.
Elizabeth Irvin, a native of Bethesda, MD, joined the Band in 2007. She is a conservatory (Eastman)-trained cellist whose co-principal instrument later became the horn. She has studied (and plays) numerous other instruments, but her participation in a performance of Mahler's 8th Symphony led to her taking up the horn. She has “not been able to put the instrument down since.” In her second term as a Band Trustee, Liz has served as an event planner and editor of the members’ weekly newsletter.
Liz’s career has taken a different route: a master’s degree (Smith), a PhD (Simmons), and certification (ACSW, LICSW) in social work have led to her current position as Director of the Medical Social Work Service at the Franciscan Hospital for Children. She is a resident of Arlington.
Cameron Owen, born in Massachusetts and currently a Concord resident, is a classicallytrained hornist (Blair Academy of Music) who is now in his third career. After becoming a professional musician (Nashville Symphony), he pursued molecular biology (BA, Vanderbilt) and structural biology (PhD, UPenn.). He has subsequently become a leading consultant in the management of information technology (Collaborative Technology Partners).
In the decade since joining us in 2002, Cam has recognized the need for all Concord Band members to participate in such non-performance activities as mailings, equipment handling and cleanup. “The Concord Band is a wonderful fit for me, with a dozen or so performances a year, covering a broad range of music. Often highlighted are the commissioned works that the band is rightly proud of―challenging music and fulfilling to play.”
Jean Patterson, the longest serving member of the section (1998), was born in Lexington, KY, and was trained as a chemist (BS, Univ. IL; PhD, Scripps Research Inst.). She worked initially as an organic chemist, and more recently as an cheminformatician(!). Jean began as a flutist, but she has been a horn player for the past 26 years.
She has played in school bands at all levels and other community bands before joining us. She met her husband, also a horn player, in the Concord Band. Both of their kids also play the horn.
Jean appreciates the Concord Band because it gives a nonprofessional musician the highest level of challenge and the opportunity to play so many new commissions and to work with first-rate guest conductors and soloists. She also recognizes the need to help with non-musical tasks.
Sarah Postlethwait, who joined us this season, is a product of Ohio, born and educated (Muskingum College, BME). She has studied both horn and piano since childhood. At Muskingum she was principal horn in the Wind and Percussion Ensemble for three years. In those same years, she was selected to perform with the Ohio Private College Instrumental Conductor's Association honors wind and percussion ensemble. Says Sarah, “I am very excited to finally be a part of this prestigious group.”
A resident of Lincoln, where she is a child caregiver, Sarah is also a member of the Lincoln-Sudbury Civic Orchestra.

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