Kristina Mascher-Turner: First of all, it seems your life may have taken an exciting turn recently...a huge congratulations on behalf of the International Horn Society on your first prize at the International Horn Competition of America! Has the high worn off yet?
Josh Williams: I think it has! As amazing as this accomplishment was, it has only motivated me to get back to work!
KMT: Please tell us a bit about how you came to play the horn in the first place, and about that moment when it all "clicked" for you - when you decided to dedicate yourself to becoming a professional musician.
JW: I decided to join the band in 7th grade because I honestly had nothing better to do. My family moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the middle of the school year, so I could not play football. My dad told me to play the horn because the school would have one available to rent. He and I both saw band as a temporary thing. I guess we were both wrong! I decided to dedicate myself to becoming a professional musician in the 10th grade after being selected for the Honor Band of America. Being around some of the other top high school musicians in the country was a humbling and life-changing experience.
KMT: Preparing for a solo competition is a very specific and personal process. How far in advance did you start practicing for the IHCA? How many hours a day did you put in during the most intense period?
JW: I started preparing for the IHCA in early May. I actually quit my summer job to prepare for the competition! I was a literal depiction of a “broke college student,” but it paid off. I honestly do not know how much I practiced during the most intense period of preparation. I often get lost in the music and several hours go by. I cut the sessions down to an hour a day starting in mid-August.
KMT: Were there any passages in the competition repertoire that were particularly challenging for you? Why?
JW: Not particularly. I believe this is because I do a lot of listening without the instrument. I am constantly fingering through, whistling and singing horn rep throughout the day while I do other things. My friends sometimes notice it, and I am sure it freaks them out.
KMT: What do you do to keep yourself mentally/emotionally/spiritually balanced in the wake of such high-pressure situations?
JW: My consistent, detail-oriented approach to preparation keeps me balanced. I try to prepare to the point where I am not worried about playing the horn. My number one priority on stage is to have fun and the share my story with the audience.
KMT: What is the best advice you've received from your teachers?
JW: My teacher, Skip Snead, is always preaching about playing the music rather than playing the horn. Great performers can transcend the instrument!
KMT: What equipment do you use? Did you use the same horn/mouthpiece for your whole competition repertoire? If not, what made you switch?
JW: I play on an old Yamaha 667 that we found on the hornplayer.net classifieds over ten years ago. It had a lot of “miles” on it when I got it. Cosmetically, it leaves much to be desired, but it plays wonderfully! I am also playing on a Houser (San Francisco series) mouthpiece.
KMT: Did you bring your own pianist to the competition, or did you use one of the staff pianists? If you played with someone you didn't know, how did you connect musically with very little time to get to know one another?
JW: I used the staff pianists for the competition. I was fortunate to work with two outstanding collaborative pianists, Hsiao-Ling Lin and Dr. Kelly Ker Hackleman! They were both true professionals in every sense of the word. The rehearsals were more or less complete after one run.
KMT: What are your plans for the future? Will you be doing any more competitions? What other projects are on your plate at the moment?
JW: Well, I returned to my gig as a DMA student at the University of Alabama. That keeps me pretty busy. I will be recording the Wilder Sonatas pretty soon and I will also be making appearances as a featured artist/guest lecturer throughout the country. I am open to any and every opportunity that comes my way.
KMT: What, besides music, keeps you going and makes you happy?
JW: Fitness is a huge part of my lifestyle. I love incorporating aspects of physical training into my horn playing approach. I also enjoy cooking and my love for sports never left me. As someone who was raised in the south, I particularly enjoy college football!
Joshua Williams has rapidly established himself as one of the rising stars in the current generation of horn artists. He was recently awarded the First Prize in the professional division of the 2017 International Horn Competition of America. Joshua is a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and a DMA candidate at the University of Alabama. In addition to being an extremely fine horn player, Joshua is an active athlete and enjoys combining aspects of physical training with horn performance. He will be a featured artist at the upcoming 50th International Horn Symposium in Muncie, Indiana, next July.