By Eric Reed

e reedIdentity and Balance: Who am I, really?

Is anyone feeling a little disoriented these days? not sure who you are, or which way is up? You’re not alone.

On April 2, 2021, a year into the pandemic that caused a major shift in the lives of all artists, I caught a glance of myself in the mirror of a cluttered practice studio and unexpectedly said aloud, “I feel like a horn player again.” This practice session had not contained any breakthrough aside from that one. I can’t remember what I was practicing or why. But when I saw myself in the mirror that day, my identity, or the way I saw myself, had changed from what it had been for many months prior.

Like many artists I know, I took long stretches of time away from the horn during the previous year. Practicing has never come easily to me, but during a time when I had little if nothing for which to practice, I struggled with motivation. Consequently, my identity as a horn player was up for debate. If I don’t play my horn in concerts, and if I’m not motivated to pick it up just for fun, how can I call myself a horn player?

During this time, like many people, I picked up many old pastimes and discovered some new interests. The list looks a lot like what you would imagine: sourdough, meditation, crossword puzzles, Netflix, etc. Playing horn did not make the short or even medium list, which was unusual and disorienting. I had been calling myself a horn player since age 10!

What does balance have to do with identity? I believe that the answer is in the things we choose to do with our time. The choices we make each moment of each day help determine our satisfaction with life. There is an adage with which many of us are familiar: “You are what you eat.” This is literally true, of course, and I would argue that, especially when it comes to our lives as functional musicians and members of society, we are what we do.

Some readers might be thinking “I am a horn player, I’m good with doing just that, and I want to get better.” I would argue that highly motivated and dedicated craftspeople also need balance to succeed. Whether that means making time for rest and recovery or finding other interests which complement our work as horn players, or simply learning to balance our practice sessions so that we can improve most efficiently, we definitely need balance in our habits.

Three practice sessions in a day, spread out, with time and other activities in between, has been the most successful time-management plan for me and my students. An ideal practice day might look like this:

Morning: 30-45 minutes of fundamentals. Simplicity is key. Examples: breathing, note attacks, slow scales, long tones;

Midday: 45-60 minutes of technical work, patterns. Examples: scales with articulations, etudes, arpeggios, flexibility;

Evening: 45-60 minutes of repertoire. The juicy stuff. Examples: solos, excerpts, ensemble music.

What you do between these sessions is also obviously up to you. I like to encourage getting outside, doing some type of exercise, reading, resting, listening to music—this is YOU time. Of course, this is in addition to meals, rest, work, family time…basically everything else your life might contain. So, you must make adjustments to suit your lifestyle. Vary the length, time of day, and content to suit your needs.

Within each session, strive for balance and manage time wisely. I suggest using a kitchen timer to limit the time spent on each piece or technique. Stay organized and keep it flowing. If something isn’t where you want it to be, that’s okay. It’s a process. Move on and reassess in the next practice session. Your balanced approach has a funny way of making you better even if you don’t recognize it in the moment.

In truth, identity is complex, even if being a horn player is all we want to be. I am a father, husband, teacher, colleague, writer, and amateur baker. As horn players, we are soloists, chamber musicians, accompanists, collaborators, roots, thirds, fifths, low- and high-horn players… ALL these things depending on the circumstance. Isn’t it wonderful?

I am Eric Reed, and I am writing this. I also play and teach the horn—among many other interests and priorities in my life. I’ll never forget that day last April, when the balance in my life shifted, and I recognized that horn player in the mirror. You are what you do. What are you doing today?

Eric Reed


Eric Reed is the horn player of the American Brass Quintet, and he serves on the faculties of The Juilliard School and New York University. Eric performs regularly with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and the Orchestra of St. Luke's. He is a former member of the Canadian Brass and Carnegie Hall's Ensemble Connect as well as of the New Jersey, Harrisburg, Oregon, and New World Symphonies. Mr. Reed holds degrees from Rice University and The Juilliard School, and he resides in the Bronx with his wife, violinist Sarah Zun, and their sons Oliver and Elliot.

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