This month, our featured craftsman for “Meet Your Makers”, is Dan Vidican, the maker of Lukas Horns. His handiwork can recently be heard on the soundtrack to “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens”, played by principal horn, Andrew Bain. Enjoy a look into the development and workings of an artisan horn builder!
I'm honored and very happy to have the opportunity to share my story here.
I grew up in Romania, more precisely in Cluj, one of the biggest cities in Transylvania. My aunt, who was a music teacher and played violin at the time, had a huge influence in my life. There is a certain musical tradition in my family and that certainly contributed to the decision to start playing an instrument. I started violin in the first grade when I was 6 years old, but that didn't go very well, so by the time I was 11 years old I wanted to switch to, of course, the trumpet, and somehow I got stuck with horn! After graduating from high school, and while attending the Gh. Dima Academy of Music, I won my first professional job with the Transylvania State Philharmonic, where I worked for 6 years.
I’ve always had a certain affinity for the Chicago sound, even back in Romania. I remember we had a small listening booth in high school and unfortunately the horn LP selection was fairly limited to maybe 3 recordings or so, Dennis Brain Mozart s concertos, Hermann Baumann, and Schumann's “Konzertstuck” with Dale Clevenger and the famous Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I remember listening to that LP for hours at the time over a period of 6-8 months, and hoping that one day I would get to sit in a hall and hear the orchestra play live. Little did I know that fate would put me directly in the heart of that amazing town in just a few short years. Upon arrival, in 1998, I was lucky enough to study with Jon Boen, Principal Horn of Lyric Opera of Chicago, at DePaul University, and then win an audition and become a member of Civic Orchestra of Chicago and play on the very same stage where Chicago Symphony plays. A dream come true!
During my years in Chicago I was lucky enough to get work as a freelancer, and worked with a plethora of orchestras, including the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, Green Bay Symphony and substituting with orchestras like the Nashville Symphony and Grant Park Symphony among others. In 2006 I started performing as Assistant Horn with Memphis Symphony where I am currently residing and playing 4th horn.
I started working on small repairs in January of 2014 with the intent to learn some quick basic things, and focus on working on Yamaha conversions. I did that type of work for about 4 months as a hobby, more than anything else, and with absolutely no future plans or desires to build a horn at that time. During that time the "shop", and I use that term very lightly (a good friend of mine calls it " the closet "), started taking shape and I began adding tools; a lathe, and some other toys. One thing led to another, and I remember one day I saw an old F.E. Olds horn for sale on Ebay that had a valve cluster that looked very similar to a Geyer. That was the moment when the wheels started spinning. I bought that horn and disassembled it, then I had the cluster redone, and the rest is history. That's how the first Lukas horn was made. We built a new shop in the spring of 2015 and we now have the amenities to accommodate our clients should they choose to visit.
This may come as a surprise, but I did not apprentice with anyone, and in a sense I am glad I developed my own techniques and ideas about how to build a horn as this basically allowed me to start with a clean slate, so to speak; since I had a clear, ultimate goal in mind to materialize something I was hearing in my head. I did have a lot of contact with Ron Pinc, for whom I have a tremendous level of respect. The guy is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to horn and I have to say his lead pipes are absolutely terrific! During my years in Chicago he was always gracious enough to take care of the horns I was using and educate me in terms of how instruments work and what could be done to alter some playing characteristics. What I want to build is a horn based on the Geyer model, and improve upon its evenness, sound color variety, intonation, response, projection, and, most important, efficiency. In other words I want to build the perfect horn, understanding that that unicorn doesn't exist! In all seriousness, while I am absolutely convinced there is no perfect horn, I firmly believe there is room for improvement, and, through a careful thought process and balancing act, that could be achieved. I found myself countless times in a position where I said to myself "…man, if this horn played a little bit easier, it would be awesome" or "…if this one had the sound of the other one that doesn't play quite as easy that would be perfect" or "…the response on this one is a little bit too slow for my preference", and so on. That being said, I want to combine a lot of the traits found in great horns and make a horn that stands out, and is defined by a few things: incredibly good response, traditional Geyer-type sound core with a wide palette of colors and dynamics, great intonation, evenness throughout the range, incredible smoothness all throughout, and maximum efficiency.
My vision is very simple, make a good horn and keep everybody satisfied. I'm simply going do my best to build every single one of them as well as I can and continuously improve, based on input from other professional players. Now, to the NAME! I get asked this a lot, and it is one of my favorite questions. When my wife and I were brainstorming about the name, nothing seemed to work. "Vidican" just didn't look, or sound right, and I didn't think it would resonate with people at all. Longer, more complicated names are fairly difficult to remember, so the next step was to name it "Dan", but that name was already taken, unofficially, by none other than Dan Rauch! And then it hit us "LUKAS" !!! Lukas is the name of our 6 year-old son, and that felt immediately right. We were both looking at the prototype and said, "That's a Lukas horn". The horns are made in Memphis, Tennessee, in our Lukas Horns shop, and they are all hand-made by me, one by one. The building process is fairly complex and it involves a lot of moving parts. It ranges from getting the highest quality parts, like valves and bells from Germany, to putting on the finishing touches, and play-testing and adjusting the horns for about 7-10 days, with the help of my wife and co-worker, Caroline Kinsey; who happens to be the Principal Horn of Memphis Symphony Orchestra. I play 4th horn, so between the two of us I feel we are able to determine how each horn plays and what it does, or what area would need improvement. The whole process takes about 4 weeks or so. It all depends on how much time I manage to spend in the shop. A good number per year seems somewhere between 9-12 horns a year depending again on how well I can stay on track.
Having the chance to start this new business is the absolute definition of the American dream. I am grateful to each one of you who helped and made this become reality. Thank you!