Own the Music

He taught me more about playing the French horn than any other teacher I had.  That said, I can remember clearly only two things he taught me.

Funny isn’t it?  All that instruction and all I recall can be summarized in two sentences.  What can I say?  These gems of wisdom came from Mr. Marlar when I was in my early twenties.

It was a time in my life when I already knew everything.

I wish I had been a little more ignorant.  That wouldn’t come until later.

Mr. M’s wise words:

“You will make mistakes; play them loudly so everyone can hear them.”

“If you can hear the pitch in your head, you can play it on your horn.”

The first statement made me laugh—then. It’s not as amusing now as it once was.  Perhaps we’ll talk more about it another time.

But the second thing Mr. M taught me—that bit of brilliance has been more useful than even he could have thought.  Again and again in my work and personal life, I have proved the truth of the idea.

I was still his student when I played horn for the local university production of the musical, Brigadoon.

I’ve related the story before of my disastrous introduction to the tenor lead’s solo—the too-high pitch I played leading the vocalist astray and causing him to start his solo in the wrong key.

He started on the wrong note!  Because of me!

What a catastrophe!  A few measures into his solo, he had to stop and restart on the correct note.

If looks could kill, the Lovely Lady would have been a widow that very night.

My solution to that disaster was to show up the next evening with a pitch generator connected to an earphone so that I could indeed hear the pitch in my head and then play it on my horn.

It was, I believed, an ingenious solution, and worked splendidly.

For every subsequent night of our performances, my entrance on the opening phrase was impeccable and the tenor followed suit.

I heard the pitch.  I played it.

I was proud of myself.

I am less proud than I once was.

You see, in the years since, I have matured a little (only a little).  I have also become a better musician, understanding some of the foundational principles which escaped my youthful brain back then.

The electronic pitch in the ear missed the point of Mr. M’s statement completely.

If one is to be a successful musician, the sense of pitch, the center of the tone, must be in one’s head, not in their ear.  When I listened to the tone and then played it, the pitch wasn’t mine; I just borrowed it.

I have to own the music!  It has to come from inside of me.  It has to be a part of me.

The principle works in all of life.

Don’t believe that?  Watch what happens when kids leave home to go to college or into the work place.

For too many, the principles and beliefs they learned at their parents’ feet are shed left and right as they realize that such things have always come from somewhere outside of themselves.

They have heard the whispering (and perhaps shouting) of morals and creeds in their ears and believe them only as long as it takes to get out of range of their parents’ voices.

Instantly, there is silence where those things are concerned.  If they hear the echo at all, it is easy to ignore as the clamor around them grows in support of different ideologies and moralities.

Suddenly, they have to make decisions themselves, have to determine the appropriateness of choices in what amounts to a vacuum.

Unless we ourselves own our values and our faith, unless they speak from deep inside of us, we will never hit the mark when it comes time for the performance which will occur in the public eye.

If, deep down, all we hear in the moment of our engagement is silence, any mark will do, and we’ll hit exactly what we aim for.

Nothing. Or anything.

Either way, the result will be the same.  We will miss the mark.

The wrong note will sound and those who take their cue from us will also miss their mark.

Suddenly, I realize that anything else I write here will just be a sound coming into your ear through a head phone.

The manufactured pitch may aid temporarily, but it will have no permanent effect.  I also realize that most who are reading this already have the pitch solidly in mind and are hitting the mark on a daily basis.

It’s high time that I turn off the tone generator and get down off this soapbox.

Come to think of it, it’s time to go home and practice the horn for awhile before heading for bed.  I think I hear a high G coming on.

I only hope the neighbors won’t mind.




Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.
(Carl Von Clausewitz ~ German military leader/theorist ~ 1780-1831)


For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
(1 Corinthians 14:8 ~ NASB)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.


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