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.