Day of Horn

Brian Benavides, Staff Writer

My freshman year, I was a starry-eyed optimist really grasping how to play the French horn for the first time. I was exploring every facet of the instrument that came my way. I  would practice after school, ask a million questions, even participate in the NYSSMA festival. My peers who played with me were just as fervent as I, so it was no wonder that I was flourishing there. But the most outstanding opportunity came to me when I caught wind of a new (to me, anyway) festival being held. It was the Suffolk County Music Educators Association’s “Day of Horn.”

I was enamored when I first heard of the event. So when I had the chance to go one more time three years later, I jumped on that opportunity once more. It takes place annually at Northport High School, a school well known for its programs concerning the arts and especially music. In a nutshell, the event is a gathering of not only the horn players on Long Island, but some of the best horn players in the world. From all ages and all skill levels, the festival features an unmatched diversity, with all performers (hundreds of them) coming together to perform at the end of the night. Participants perform classic pieces such as Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” and Burns’ “Auld Sang Lyne,” as well as more contemporary pieces such as “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Uptown Funk.”

However, before any ensemble can perform there must be a rehearsal. The horns are separated by first, second, third, and fourth parts, usually with the smallest children taking the fourth part, the younger high schoolers taking the third part, and the oldest students performing the first part. Many of the adults attending have no need to rehearse beforehand either because they have memorized the literature or have great ease when it comes to sight reading. Each rehearsal is also lead by one of the “All Star” horn players, who brandish their skill in every note they play.

As the main rehearsal began at this year’s event, there was a certain intimidating presence that could be felt as a massive host of horn players saturated the stage. It had an air of grandeur that felt earned. With everyone settled into their seats, Alan Orlof, a seasoned player with silver hair and a  conductor’s baton, strolled onto center stage. He illuminated a bit of history and a few anecdotes surrounding the festival and with charm eventually lead us into the rehearsal. Orlof conducted the first two pieces with skill and taught many of the performers what and how to improve their playing. Once he finished he introduced this year’s special guest: one of the top French horn players in the United States,  Amy Horn. She made her way onto the stage and guided us through her experience as a player and imparted musical wisdom on over 200 different horn players.

Once Mrs. Horn was finished, the rehearsal continued just as smoothly until the next break. At this point we could take the time to practice on our own, help out some of the newer younger players, or perhaps speak to one of the esteemed professionals attending. However, once this time was up it was time for the performance, which of course was free to the public. Opening the concert were ensembles from different schools (or made up of auditioned student players) performing different medleys and works of beautiful French horn literature. But before the finale was a mesmerizing solo performed by the talented Amy Horn, a skillful demonstration of some of the best horn playing in the country. The audience’s eyes and ears were captivated. Finally, the night ended with arguably the largest French horn ensemble in the country, claiming the stage with pride and a common love for the wonderful instrument that ties us all together in a Gordian knot of brass tubing. The performance that followed was sincerely something to be proud of, comprised of a variety of songs everyone loves. It simply is an event you must get to if you love the French horn or love music as a whole.