The Horn Call is the magazine for all members of the IHS – which are from all walks of life, a good many of them community musicians; i.e., amateurs. I was therefore surprised to hear from someone recently expressing their concerns as to how little in The Horn Call is for amateur horn players – "It's mainly for students and professionals, isn't it?" The last issue even has an article called "Amateur Sessions" on this very subject.
As is noted in that article (October 2011, Vol. XLII No. 1, p. 57), the word "amateur" carries a certain stigma, of which "unprofessional," "part-time," "sub-standard" are all definitions. This can be hard to accept from some amateur musicians who are, in many cases, excellent musicians. Perhaps "community musicians" would be a better choice of categorisation, as suggested in the article.
Many of our readers and horn players at large chose not to take up the horn professionally for any number of reasons, not least because perhaps the realisation dawned at an early stage that they were not going to "make the grade" in the highly competitive world of professional horn playing. You only need to do the sums to realise what you are up against as a graduate horn player say, in the US: How many state universities/music academies/conservatories are there? On average, how many horn students in each horn studio? How many of these have their eyes set on entering the profession? After working that out, you will already have a considerable number. Now estimate how many full-time positions become available per year in all of the established orchestras in the US. This realisation can be a daunting prospect for many a graduating horn player – the knowledge that for any one job, several dozen other hopefuls are in for it, which inevitably drives up the standard.
It is not surprising then, given this one example, that many horn players do not decide to enter the profession, or simply give up trying, or never even attempt. Many of these players become teachers, or enter other professions completely unrelated to horn playing or music generally. A good percentage of these players continue playing as non-professionals, and some to a very high standard. Not choosing to (try to) enter the profession should not automatically deem them to be "sub-standard" or "incompetent" in any way – stigmas of "amateur" again – although many feel they become type-cast and burdened with these labels.
Around the world, many community players work hard in promoting the horn, organising concerts and activities around their area, and bringing together players of all standards to make music. The IHS has representatives in almost all parts of the world, and for almost every state in the US, who not only promote the importance of the IHS, but work hard in organising horn events and supplying information on local horn activities, bringing together players from within the state or area to share their interests and love for their instrument.
On a personal note, I often envy the amateur players, as "doing it for fun" takes away the enormous pressure of having to do it for a living – and as fun as that can be, it is hard and demanding – and one of the reasons I left the London music scene. At that time, I had to re-evaluate the necessity of making a living having to play the horn, against a family life with hobbies, interests, etc. The work entailed in maintaining such a high standard – acceptable to yourself and expected by your reputation – is often significant and all-encompassing, leaving one little or no time to enjoy or to attend to other aspects of one's life. So being an amateur player can certainly have its advantages, when together with other like-minded players you can play music to a standard dictated by your own abilities.
A heart-warming experience: earlier in the year I was engaged to give master classes and play a solo concert in a small town in the north of France. The piece I was asked to play in the final concert was the von Weber Concertino, accompanied by the local community orchestra. The orchestra actually turned out to be a group of hobby musicians, some of whom apparently are barely able to play their instruments, let alone get through a tricky piece accompanying a soloist – which means hitting the right tempi and following the conductor! It proved to be an experience I won't forget in a while.
I became aware of what I was in for from the initial tune up, or tune at all. Consensus was somewhere in the middle of the melee. The conductor had great difficulty guiding his forces in a unified mass, which often deteriorated into a nebulous cacophony of sound – with players struggling primarily with the technical difficulties of their instruments and secondly in establishing some kind of unity. And that was just the rehearsals – add a certain degree of nervous tension and anxiety and you can imagine what the concert was like.
And do you know what? In all the hairy moments of "What piece are they actually playing?" and "I think that was my cue," it was a wonderful experience – frightening yes, but delightful in the fact that these musicians were giving their all, playing in and for their community, in a sports hall that was packed with families and local people, who had all come out to support their local orchestra and the young horn players from the area featured in the first half of the concert. It turned out to be a great event, and even though I might have aged significantly during the performance, it was enlightening to see the reaction of people enjoying something that was given by their community and their children in a true community spirit, just as it should be. Vive le France!
This is a story of just one event of the very many that take place around the world, and probably not far away from you. In addition to your community ensembles, I encourage all of you to participate in local and regional events promoted by the IHS representatives through newsletters and websites and to attend the symposium in Denton, Texas (May 15-19, 2012), which will include sessions and ensembles especially for amateurs (see music.unt.edu/ihs44).
As a player myself no longer obliged to play to earn a living, one supposes I could call myself an "amateur" player – or perhaps semi-professional – or part-time? Should teachers therefore come under a special category? Many teachers still perform a lot, or even hold down a full-time orchestral job or busy solo career, while others do not play at all! I think in my case I would be bold enough to say that I am primarily a teacher who still plays professionally (but read the story above)! But let us not forget the very people the horn teachers of the world are responsible for – the next generation of young horn players. This special group also benefits from the many amateur and community playing opportunities around the world, and in most cases gain their first valuable experience of playing in an orchestra or band within the community before entering university.