The French Horn of Doom

Once upon a life, in a land far, far away, I played French Horn in band.

By played, I mean that I’m extraordinarily proficient in emulating both moose calls and the cacophony of migrating geese.

From Grades 6 through 9 (with a one year hiatus in grade 10 so I could take a mandatory Business Education class that conflicted with my schedule) and then again in 11 and 12, the Horn was my cross to bear.

We lived in a small town.

Band teachers didn’t really know a lot about the horn, and didn’t really know what to do with me.

I took private lessons for a while with an ex-soldier who really liked cats but didn’t like kids.

The case was nearly as big as I was, and I was pissed off that I got saddled with this gleaming pain in the ass.

I had wanted to play the piccolo trumpet, or a flute. Or if my mother really wanted me to be weirder than I was already, an oboe. At any rate, their cases didn’t take up the entire aisle of the bus, and the players of these instruments seemed to be actually having fun and learning something. I used to sit in my uncomfortable folding chair, with my lopsided music stand and gnarled horn music, and curse the clarinet section on my left, because they had parts that sounded like actual music, where I sat there, grunting whole notes for pages, or resting. I was the only one, and I didn’t belong to any of the other clusters of band lepers.

I discovered rapidly, that the best use of a French Horn was to use the perpetually full spit valves as weapons. I enjoyed flicking a good half cup of spittle at annoying sax players, and using the excuse of phlegmy brass to not play, and dawdle with emptying my spit in voluminous puddles on the floor. I hated the horn, and I resented it.

My mother, God bless her, also tried her hand at having me play piano and guitar. While the guitar vaguely interested me in a way that can only be expressed as “wanting to impress an older guy,” the piano was possibly more embarrassing than the horn, and I hated practicing. At the end of the day, I will admit that I’m not terrifically musical. It does not come easily. When I later read that music and math are intrinsically linked in the brain, it made more sense as to why I was always feeling like I belonged in a remedial group, and wanted to hide in the background.

Band class, despite the social stigma, was a fantastic way to goof off. It also afforded me trips out-of-town for a week at a time, to goof off some more. “This one time, at band camp….” a la American Pie? I have some good Band Trip stories. Which I’m not sharing. There was probably photographic evidence out there, somewhere, but in the last 15 – 20 years, has probably been tossed, lost, water damaged or burned. Yay!

My mother kept my poor, dinged up, unloved horn to use as an ornament on the mantle piece. Over the course of the years, the mouthpiece became stuck, and the string (!) in the keys  disintegrated, rendering it unplayable, unless you count a really bad rendition of Reveille “playing.”

A couple of years ago, my parents started to foist the accumulated crap of my youth back onto me, and dumped the battered and beaten horn on my doorstep. The novelty of having it back (despite the condition it was in) and showing off for my kids was great for a few days. Then the horn moved back into the basement crawl space, mostly forgotten.

This afternoon, my youngest daughter reminded me that her pre-school expected her to bring something for Show & Tell. She had a grubby teddy bear in her hands, and I thought to myself “We can do better than THAT!”

So I dug out the French Horn.

We dragged it down the road to the school.

I let my daughter carry it in to her class full of four-year olds, who gasped in unison when she walked through the door with the brass behemoth in her little hands.
They all wanted to feel, touch, hold the horn, and were absolutely in awe of it. My daughter totally felt like a rock star.

My only observations were:

a) 55-year-old French Horns that are not regularly maintained STINK like ancient valve oil and spit. Spit smells like ass after any prolonged period of time. Thusly, the horn smells like ass.

b) It is a lot lighter now that I don’t have to take it back and forth to high school on a bus and then schlep it around for an hour before and after class.

c) My moose calls bring all the bulls to the yard. Damn rights, they’re better than yours.

d) Four year olds still think band is cool.

I now feel guilty for not having taken better care of the Horn, and hope that one day my daughters will have a chance to pursue an instrument that is not a saxophone or clarinet.

Also, they are not allowed to date any drummers.


There is something wrong with drummers….


6 thoughts on “The French Horn of Doom

  1. Awesome… absolutely Awesome! Although, my sister played French Horn for years. In fact, I played it too for a while. I must admit, I also think there is something wrong with drummers… However, I encourage ALL of my students to play the saxophone and clarinet… the french horn is reserved for a “different” type of student… and by different I mean “special”… well, you know what I mean 🙂

    • I agree that all students should start with an instrument like alto sax/clarinet/flute/trumpet and then migrate to the variations of the same i.e) baritone sax. For instruments like french horn, bassoon etc. it would really help to already have a sound background, or it becomes a frustrating experience. I think that anyone who is born into a musical family that grows up with music will have an easier time too. Neither of my parents played any instruments, and my mother picked Horn for me because it’s what she wanted to play herself, had she had the opportunity.

      Horn players are very….special.
      I’m glad someone agrees w/ me about drummers!

  2. I wonder if writers (hearing the music of words) are frustrated musicians. That was a fine bit o’ narrative about the French horn that you played on your computer keyboard.
    My instrument of torture was the accordian … which got left in North Carolina one hot summer when there wasn’t enough room in the car trunk for more useful boodle.
    I pretended not to notice.
    My parents were also silent on the subject, no doubt tired of hearing ‘Three Blind Mice’ and the baleful sighs of my wounded instrument.
    I’m not so sure I agree with your opinion of drummers.
    Two of my best friends are drummers – and they are fine human beings – although prone to being a bit “twitchy.”
    Keep on writing 🙂

  3. Haha! That’s hilarious, it makes me wish I played some ridiculous instrument (I don’t) that I could someday drag out and wow any future children. Opportunity = lost.

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