“Why don’t you audition for the Chautauqua Summer Youth Orchestra?” “How would I prepare for the audition?” “Memorize every French horn orchestral excerpt from both volumes, and be ready to play Mozart’s Third Horn concert.” “I can do that!” “And we can take the next few months of lessons to prepare.”
I wanted to soar. Practicing alone every day in my bedroom, taking lessons from a mentor in a nearby conservatory brought a sense of contentment and accomplishment in my solitude. But I wanted something more. Out of nowhere came, “Why don’t you…?” A door opened.
I auditioned and was named “third horn.” Here I was, where I wanted to be. But in the first rehearsal I didn’t know which chair was mine or how and when to tune up. I was lost, until the second horn leaned over just before every next step and clued me in.
Our mentors were the horn players in the summer symphony. We foursome sat behind them in the amphitheater watching every move; how they counted the rests with their fingers, blew out the moisture, silently fussed over when their next entrance was, sat still when a solo lick was about to begin hoping that horn player nailed the entrance and played to perfection.
And when he did they quickly, quietly moved their shoes back and forth, meaning, “Great job,” “Fantastic,” “Beautiful,” “Slap on the old back.” All had smiles for the soloist.
But when he didn’t nail that first note, or took several shots before he got it going right, no one moved, tight and tense for their bud, as if sending straight energy to the one in trouble.
When the concert was over, the four horns were the first out the door. We raced back for the banter. There was loud back slapping and kidding to the one who had an off night. We called the mangled entrances, clams. “Another clam for the bucket,” big grin. “Reminds me of that clam I did last week for all to hear,” boisterous laughing.
We mentees smiled and laughed as our mentors packed up in such good humor. And off they went with their buckets of clams, and after a short walk tossed the buckets away.
Once we foursome had our own sequential hundred and six measures of rest. We counted them on our fingers, of course. Nearing a hundred we compared fingers and no one agreed. So four horns nailed the entrance, but at four different times.
The conductor whacked his baton to stop the orchestra. “Do I have four horns or four squawking geese?”
We hid behind our music stands nervously laughing at how awful we sounded.
But at the end of the rehearsal we blew out the moisture, packed up our horns, picked up our buckets of clams, because that’s all they were, clams, and off we went, laughing and looking forward to our next rehearsal.
We learned what really mattered; calling them clams, clams for the bucket; and fast moving shoes. And because we knew what mattered, we could create music that started from the center of our bodies and hearts and was carried by our breath through 39 feet of vibrating brass and filled a concert hall and beyond with beauty.
Is there anything more mysterious and miraculous than that?