ave atque vale

A surprise phone call tonight from my cousin, who lives in Florida was in the area for various things, suggesting that now might be a good time for the hand-off I had e-mailed him about months ago.

That abruptly, my French horn was gone.

It isn’t my horn; it never was. It belongs to my cousin, who played it professionally before giving that over in favor of the bass. And it isn’t abrupt. I haven’t played with an ensemble since the Lowell House 1812 Overture, Arts First weekend of my senior year; I haven’t played regularly since before that. I brought the horn with me to Indiana, where it has sat, unplayed, for six years. I’ve known that I won’t be playing with an orchestra or wind ensemble again. And back in February, I contacted him to say that I should probably give it back.

I don’t know how long I had it. They gave me a single horn when we started in sixth grade, because that’s how you start off; with the training wheels. Then they upgrade you to the double horn: another valve, another layer of tubing. (Way more heavy.) Did I play a school horn at first? I think I must have, before my cousin gave me the horn he used to play, a Holton that was — so the story went — one of three or four played by some famous musician at the Holton factory, but not the one he chose to take. Good enough for him to try, though. More than good enough for me.

Three years of high school, certainly. Three years of college, before I stopped. Probably at least a year or two more than that. Long enough for me to get sentimental.

It isn’t the object. It’s the admission that I’m done: I may still remember fingerings of pieces long gone, and listen instinctively for the horn line in any piece of music that has one — why do you think I love film scores so much? — but I’m not going to play again. I’ve lost my embouchure, and probably half the abs that used to support me on the high notes. (I used to still have decent abs, even after I stopped dancing, which I think must have been caused by propelling air through more than four yards of brass.)

Why did I pick this instrument? I don’t know. My mother always wanted to play it. One of my teachers told us years later that we had all been steered toward it because we had good faces, but that was before the orthodontist got hold of me. I don’t recall making the choice.

But anybody who did band in high school knows the types. Me? I’m not a trumpet player, or a flute, a clarinet, a drummer. I am very much a horn player.

It’s hard to let go of the symbols and tools of something that used to be such a part of your life.

Dear Mom and Dad: if you get rid of the piano before I get my own, I will cry.

0 Responses to “ave atque vale”

  1. leahbobet

    *knows the types*

    I’m a horn player too. Or at least I was part-time. I was a mezzo soprano before I was a horn player.

    I wonder now if your types are the same as mine.

    • Marie Brennan

      Do they vary regionally? Makes me want to do a folklore study. <g>

      • leahbobet

        As far as I know a friend and I made ours up in grade 11, mostly through observation. I’m wondering now if there’s something to them — namely, if the same traits get observed in the same sections everywhere.

        • Marie Brennan

          Mine seem to have matched up with those of people from other parts of the country. Trumpet players, for example, come in two breeds: egotists and boy scouts. Trombones have the maturity of twelve-year-olds, whatever their age. Saxophones are oversexed.

          French horn players are less pigeonholed; we were generally the weirdos, but not in a socially-ostracized sense. Maybe “individualists” would be a better term.

          • leahbobet

            …and the clarinets are the perfectionists, the worriers, the Good Kids, and the flutes are the girly girls even if they’re the boys.

            Yup, they match. *g*

          • mmegaera

            Heh. I played clarinet when I was young, and, well, yup [g].

  2. diatryma

    I sometimes wish I’d kept up with instrumental music. But I was never more than a mediocre player on anything– which I why I switched so many times. I am still proud of my bassoon skillz. When my band director mother asked me to teach her some bassoon basics, her hands went numb after five minutes. She seemed surprised when I asked to play her French horn (since I was little, that’s kind of the deal– Mom practices once in a very great while, and any kids around get to blow once or twice) and my bassoon embouchure kicked out a higher note than expected.

    Now I’m also missing singing, but I think I still have choral baggage.

    • Marie Brennan

      I never practiced over the summers, which produced a strange effect when I came back in the fall: for the first ten minutes or so, my high range was fantastic.

      When that wore off, I couldn’t produce a note for a good half hour or so.

  3. mrissa

    In some ways, my long-haired femmey studious self can still pass for a flutist in a pinch.

    But the piano’s always had my heart, and I think that shows, too.

    • Marie Brennan

      You could look very much like a flutist, but I don’t think you’re one at heart, no.

      Oddly, I’m not sure what the piano type would be.

      • mrissa

        It’s harder to pick out than band or orchestra types, because by our very nature, piano types are less required to interact with others displaying whatever qualities are relevant. Which is probably a piano type right there: wants to do it all themselves.

        • Marie Brennan

          <g> Point. I’m not a pianist, then, though I play piano; I don’t have much interest in soloing. What I love it for is sitting on the bench when no one else is around, headphones stuck in my ears, teaching myself to play whatever I’m listening to.

  4. carbonel

    I’m playing Flanders and Swann’s “Ill Wind” in memory of your French horn.

    • shui_long

      I wondered if anyone else would come up with that link…

      But don’t you have to be of a certain age, and or British, to appreciate Flanders & Swann?

      • carbonel

        Well, I’m definitely of a certain age, but not British. On the other hand, I grew up with Flanders and Swann on the Midnight Special, not to mention Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. (The Midnight Special was a folk music/comedy radio show in Chicago that aired for three hours every Saturday night.)

  5. grliepixie

    Oversexed you say? 😛 I know the feeling. Why exactly do I need a bari sax taking up so much space in our not huge place? But what if I *need* it again (for who knows what definition of need)? On the other hand the flute I take out pretty often and tool around on, so that one would be hard to part with.

    Farewell, good horn!

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