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Kristina Mascher-Turner:

What are three good reasons for horn players to come to IHS 50 this summer?

bergerGene Berger: The theme is "The Golden History of the Horn.” My idea was to revisit the traditions of being a horn player and our beautiful history of literature and performers throughout history. Being the 50th anniversary I had to use the word “Golden.”  We will be reminding everyone of the last 50 years of the Horn Society and monumental personalities and events. We will have a daily lecture series revisiting events of our past. Special thanks to President Jeffrey Snedeker for working on the details of this lecture series. We will have many participant ensembles to perform in during the symposium. I want everyone of all levels to play and to meet new and old friends during our week.

KMT: What about being a host has surprised you the most so far?

GB: The surprises of modern times. There have been issues that emerge from a legal standpoint. The university systems are very reactive to issues with minors, money transactions, employment issues with contracts of guests on campus. There are many details that continually change inside the business system in a university. Policies can change, and someone may not know until a form is submitted. Most of the time, it is a proactive policy change due to legal issues and institutions trying to protect and understand laws or rule changes at the state and national level.

KMT: Can you tell us a bit about the Featured Artists who will be inspiring us during the symposium?

GB: We have the winner of the International Horn Competition of America, Joshua Williams as a featured artist. He will have a solo recital and will also premiere a concerto with the US Army Field Army Band by Amir Zaheri. Frank Lloyd will also premiere a composition by Howard Buss with the band the last night of the conference. David Amram will perform with Eldon Matlick’s jazz ensemble and will host a performing lecture for all called “ Jazz Fundamentals, Blues in F.” I have invited guest lecturers Frøydis Ree Wekre, Gregory Hustis, and Carolyn Wahl who will present master classes and lectures pertaining to all membership of the IHS.  I have invited several new faces to the featured artist list including Robert Danforth from the Indianapolis Symphony, Kevin Rivard from the San Francisco Opera, Jonathan Hammill from the Tokyo Symphony, and Leelanee Sterrett from the New York Philharmonic. Some returning faces will include Karl Pituch, Elizabeth Freimuth, and Denise Tryon. I have invited the Alloy Horn Quartet from the Chicago area to be our featured ensemble. We are fortunate to have the US Army Field Band in residence at the symposium for 2 days.  We will end with a finale concert by the band.

KMT: Anyone who has hosted a workshop on this scale knows the crazy hours you must be putting in to bring everything together. How are you maintaining your work/life balance this year?

GB: I have made myself more available early in the day. I can usually get more work and practice done in the early hours.  I try to go to bed early in the evening and start early with details. The first thing I do is warm up before I open my email.

KMT: Tell us what the theme of the week, “The Golden History of Horn,” means to you and how it will manifest at the symposium. 

GB:   I needed to include “Golden” into the idea, as it is our 50th symposium. I have always been intrigued by the history and lore of the horn. We have so many wonderful traditions and great compositions for our instrument. I want people to speak about and play all of the history and traditions that make up our craft. We need to remind ourselves why we play the instrument and make the next 50 years happen. We are in changing times with a wealth of knowledge at our disposal, but our history is sometimes less clear as so many new ideas are emerging with not enough time to explore the past.

KMT: Will there be any excursions or extra-curricular activities planned? Any local attractions that we should be sure not to miss? 

GB: The current plan is to have a coffee social every afternoon in the student center where the exhibits and lectures will take place. During the summer we have a wonderful farmers’ market on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. I want to have a grand reception after one of the evening concerts where we will hopefully have the jazz competition finals. The cost of dining is relatively cheap in Muncie. Numerous bars, microbreweries and restaurants are located within walking distance of the music building and/or a short walk to downtown.

KMT: What inspired you to take up the horn in the first place, and what kept you at it?

GB: I always wanted to play horn from about the 1st grade. I started on trumpet in the 6th grade and managed to talk my band director into horn after about 3 months. I happened to have a wonderful teacher as a band director who suggested I take horn lessons from Frederick Schmitt. If you don’t know who Fred is, research him.

KMT: What advice can you offer people who are thinking about hosting their own workshops?

GB: Make sure you get things in an email. Most people are vague in their pricing and how operations happen in large institutions. My suggestion is to go to your business affairs office and have your chair negotiate a contract. Chances are you are entering into a unique situation, and they may not know how to handle your idea. Just remember everyone wants their department/area to look profitable so it justifies their existence at your expense.

KMT: You’ve been active for many years as an orchestral horn player, chamber musician, and educator. Do you have a favorite aspect to your career, and why?

GB: I don’t have a favorite aspect about my career. It has all been progression and finding a balance. There are certain things I miss about just playing daily in an orchestra, but now I feel I have variety. I really like trying out new things, and playing full time may have restricted other opportunities. 

KMT: When you have the chance to set the horn aside, what are your other interests?

GB: I have many other interests, but it seems horn dominates all my activities. I am active with family obligations most of the time with three children and my wife who puts up with horn things. I love to surf, camp, and go backpacking but seem not to be able to find the time anymore.  

Gene P. Berger is Associate Professor of Horn at Ball State University and member of the Musical Arts Woodwind Quintet.  In addition to his teaching position, Mr. Berger is the Principal Horn with Southwest Florida Symphony.   Prior to his appointment at Ball State University in 2010, Mr. Berger was a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Pops, and The Florida Orchestra.  He can be heard on numerous recordings with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel and the Grammy winning recordings of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under conductor Paavo Järvi.  

Mr. Berger has been an active educator, formerly teaching at the Interlochen Arts Academy and the University of Central Florida.  He has presented master classes, lectures, educational recitals and hosted clinics throughout North America.  In the summers, Mr. Berger is on the faculty of the Music for All Camp and the Filarmonica Joven de Colombia. 

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