Monday, August 25, 2008

For Sale: French Horn

We're a musical family. At some point in our lives, we have all played at least one instrument. And every musician I know (singers excepted) cannot resist a musical instrument, even one they cannot play -- because, you know, you might learn to play it if it's lying around the house in easy reach! We have one or more trumpets, trombones, clarinets, saxophones, guitars, and pianos, and a plethora of less mainstream items including recorders, ocarinas, jaw harps, and washboards. Every one of them can be played, at least a little bit, by somebody in the house.

And they pile up -- that's how we got so many. I am trying to remember the occasions on which we have let a musical instrument go, out of our house and our lives, and there aren't many. An old student trumpet went to the daughter of a friend (we still kept two cornets, one regular trumpet, one pocket trumpet, and one slide trumpet, in varying states of repair); an upright piano is on "indefinite loan" to some other friends (replaced by a nice electronic piano). And that about covers it, up until this weekend. A few years ago, one of my sons decided he wanted to play the french horn in school band. We got him a nice used Olds in good condition. And he practiced it, and demonstrated a good ear, a better embouchure than the usual beginner, and overall a good deal of promise.

But the stress of marching band eventually got to him (don't get me started about that school's treatment of music as some kind of competitive sport) and the horn languished. This summer, he got fired up about music again, but this time he wants to be a rock drummer.

And right there, you have every parent's nightmare. Of course he wants to be a rock drummer! Every teenager in America, near as I can tell, wants to be a rock drummer. And no matter how many other instruments we've had in the house, we've never had anything quite as loud as a full drum kit. But we will not stifle any musical ambition that our children may show; so we are encouraging this. And he is working hard at it: practicing daily, finding a teacher, and listening analytically to a wide variety of rock and jazz. As he did with the french horn, he is showing considerable talent and promise at drums. If he sticks with it, he'll be pretty good.

But... there is nobody in the house to play the french horn. I'm a brass man, and I think french horns are things of beauty. And I can pick up most brass instruments and just start playing them -- I can play a baritone horn like I've practiced it for years, but I actually have less than an hour of time with the instrument, lifetime total. But the french horn is a different beast, I find. Its length gives it an incredible range and a set of harmonics that are extremely close together. The mouthpiece, while superficially similar, is different enough from cornet and trumpet to exacerbate the problem. The bottom line: my kid plays french horn better than I do. And anyway, I'm a jazz musician; I have no place to play a french horn even if I learned how.

So now it's up for sale, on Craig's List. This blog entry is not a plea for you to go buy it; if you want a french horn, you're already over at Craig's List looking for one, and you don't need my urging here. I just wanted to sigh a bit. Because although it's an awkward size and shape that we could never properly store, and the family finances will benefit from selling it... it really is a beautiful thing, and I hate to see it go.

Horns always sound distant; it's part of their allure. For a while, it was closer to us. Now it's distant again. Sigh...

No comments: