My Big Horn Solo

A couple of years ago, I started playing the French Horn again after a 15+ year hiatus. At first, I was terrible. I could barely make a sound out of it- it is a difficult instrument. But I found a really supportive concert band and at this point, they’ve even given me a crack at ***First Chair.***

However, first chair has solos, and through this I came to find out- I get stage fright. If I’m performing comedy, I generally just channel the nervous energy into my characters and *most* the time it turns out okay. But if I have an instrument… suddenly the fact that my body is shaking and my hands have gone numb becomes a problem.

My trial solo- 7 notes long- was stripped away from me and I was so rattled from it that I requested to be bumped down to 3rd- this horn stuff is supposed to be for fun! Case closed, 3rd horn, no more solos.

Then, the improv theatre I used to play at announced a talent show. I thought, “GREAT! I can try and solo and the audience, (thinking I’m just an improv bozo, perhaps even doing a comedy bit) will have such low expectations there will be no need for nerves.” I have a song that I’ve had in my folder since highschool and I play it almost every time I practice. Perfect. I’ll show off my special song.

In rehearsal, my song was at about a 95% success rate. I figured with stage fright, it would go down to an 80. That’s still pretty good for an improviser doing a French Horn Aria of Mozart’s Magic Flute >:(

I arrived at the theatre and the first thing I saw was a french horn case. Someone else was playing the horn- there go my novelty points. The player was Liz, and she waved at me. “Hi!!” I waved back… and when I lifted my arm, I accidentally rammed the end of my music stand into my eye. Just below my eye. It was hard enough that if it had been in my eye, maybe I’d be missing an eye right now.

After getting some ice, I found a corner to warm up for my act. I did another stupid thing- I didn’t try. I didn’t play it right- afraid that if I tried and made mistakes, 30 minutes later I’d lose confidence. I didn’t try and so all the other improvisers walking around heard me missing notes and playing badly. I thought “won’t they be surprised when I rock the fuck out of this thing in 30 minutes.”

Then I lost my music, then I found my music.

Paul Bates was there. Everything I could possibly project, I projected onto Paul Bates. On top of the fact that I’ve long known that he plays a brass instrument, he’s also seen me flop some bad ones in other settings. I remember him from a small panel on a particularly bad Second City audition of mine, and I also recently had him guest on a show I produced that no one showed up to. Paul Bates is a major player. “This girl is a hot mess, what’s she gonna do today?” thought Paul Bates. He said, “You lost your music? The Aria?” He thought, “An Aria? Bit ambitious, don’t you think?”

I did NOT think! Yes, I did think! Whatever, doesn’t matter what I think, now it’s time to play!

Toot tooooot fart- toooot toot toot fart *fuck* fart. (Long Pause.) Fart. Toot tooot fa-ooot TOOT!! Fart.

The lights made my music hard to see. The air conditioning was moving the music and I was afraid it would fall off the stand. Biggest factor- the stage was mic’d. I think. With the horn, you have to blow HARD and that combined with the mic made it LOUD. Unpleasantly loud. If I pulled back, the note would just stop. So I stopped. And started and stopped– Nerves snowballed. “Fuuuuck” I muttered under my breath, in disbelief. My performance was around a 20%- that may be generous.

I heard Paul Bates laugh from the audience. It’s okay. I told them they could laugh. I passed it all off as a big joke. Ish. They knew I cared but they also knew I could see the humour in this exquisite train wreck. The laughter of Paul Bates fueled me as we both thought, “Yeah, this is okay. Horns are hard. Faaaack.” I finished with the greatest jazz hands you’ve ever seen. Extra 30% for comedy recovery skills bringing the entire performance up to a barely passable 50%.

All good EXCEPT that no one EVER heard me play it right. For all they knew, I could NEVER play this Aria and was just a CRAZY PERSON.

I had been planning to record this anyways- and so glad I did. The next day I broke my arm and so I won’t be playing horn again for a while.

Here’s a one-take video version that I’d give a 76%, and, then the recorded version with a couple (two!) edit points… and reverb so it sounds like I’m in a church!

(I get that most people would be embarrassed of this but I’m proud.)

One Comment
  1. If there’s a person in the world more charming than you, Ames, I haven’t met them : )
    And you were super-charming in the talent show that night.

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