From: Adelaide, South Australia
Instrument: French Horn
Job title: Principal Horn of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Professor of Horn at The Colburn Conservatory
Favorite Drink: Any IPA, Flat Whites, or espresso
"Everyone needs to explore their best way of learning for themselves. Following blindly what a teacher or another teacher says, and doing that without thinking is really dangerous. I give my students ideas, and some of them are going to be really great, but others, they might think to themselves, “what the hell is he talking about?” It’s OK to think that something won’t work for you. It’s really important to go through that process, and the ideas that you have or the ideas that you like, take the time to learn how to develop them further in your own way. If, for whatever reason, you need to kick the horn down the street before you warm up because you think it’ll help, then follow that idea. But, we all have such an incredible opportunity within our musical community to gather all sorts of information, from literally anyone, that we can add into our playing . If we rely just on one teacher to give us all that information, we limit all these other things. I’m very fortunate that I play in a really good orchestra. I get to work with really great conductors, great colleagues, but every day is a lesson for me. I constantly listen to how all of these world class soloists articulate or create musical lines, and every one of us has the same opportunity to be able to gather all of this information and process it in our own way. Developing the skill of processing information is really one of the most important things. The best players are the ones who continue to evolve, and continue to develop, and continue to take in new information and process it."
Advice to others: "I think everyone has to make their own decision about how they want to follow in the profession. It’s a difficult profession, but if you feel that it’s something you really want to do than it’s important to pursue it as far as you can. One of the important things, for me, in terms of preparing for auditions, I always try and imagine what the highest level of playing I can imagine is. For me it’s pretty easy because I can listen to Radek Barborak on YouTube, or Stefan Dohr, Sarah Willis, Dale Clevenger, Alissio Allegrini-you can listen to anyone. You can hear the level that they play at, and I compare my playing to that. When I reach the level that sounds like those guys would be happy with, I think, I mean I’m not going to really know, but I think to myself that I’m going to be fine. So, of course everyday I’m trying to improve, but the goal is that I want to play something like Radek Barborak in a YouTube clip. If I can play it like that, who’s not going to give me a job? The reality of an audition, any audition, is that there are two variables that you have absolutely no control over. One is what the panel is thinking and what they’re looking for, and also what time of the day that you’re playing where it might be right before their lunch break, or right after lunch when they’re really happy; you can’t control that. But, two, you cannot control who shows up. So, if I show up to an audition and Radek Barborak or Stefan Dohr is there, it makes life more difficult. But, if I show up to an audition and there’s only a bunch of preschoolers playing horn, then I’m going to sound really good. But you can’t control these things. You can, however, control your preparation. There is no such thing as the lucky day. A lucky day is great preparation, having good focus, and understanding what level of playing you need to achieve to win the job. That’s the lucky day. Picking the horn up after not really preparing that well and then suddenly everything works? Yeah, that never happens. Especially in a bigger orchestra with at least 3-4 rounds, you can’t be lucky. Because even if you get the job you have to get through a 2 year tenure process and there’s no way someone can be lucky for 2 years.
Another thing is to set up mocks with your own colleagues. Have a friend play for you, and you’re going to imagine you’re on the panel of the LA Philharmonic. They’ll get a chance to play, but you, you’re going to learn what you’re listening for, and then you can take that to a professional audition. There are a lot of people that go into auditions that don’t know what the panel wants, and sometimes the panel doesn’t even know what it wants. All it wants is great playing, it’s really simple actually. But, people go in and they play like this; “here’s my offering, I’m not sure if this is any good but, I hope you like it?” As for the people that win, they go in and the look at you, and like a salesman, they look at you and say, “look at this phone, this is the best thing you’re ever going to get. Take it.” What’s going to happen? The panel is going to go, “oh my god, this phone is fantastic! I’ll take that!” Approach auditions in this way.
How do you define inspiration? How do you define motivation?: "Inspiration can come in many forms, and I definitely don’t think it’s bad to be motivated or inspired by different things, but I don’t know, that’s a good question. I mean, I’m inspired by listening to great musicians and great playing, but I’m also inspired by anything that is at the elite level. I find that it’s great inspiration to see people achieve the absolute pinnacle in whatever profession they’ve chosen, and I find how that can relate to what I do in my life. As a kid I was a huge Larry Bird fan and I find him a great inspiration because his story is so much about work ethic, and not everything came easy to him. His ability to make people around him better and improve people in a team environment, all of those things together can apply to music and life in an orchestra. But, you mentioned discipline, and I think discipline is really one of the most important things. It’s easy to be motivated at the time, but as a horn player, you need to be motivated over many, many years, or many, many practice sessions which is really difficult to do. It’s hard at 8 in the morning after you’ve had a concert the night before to feel really motivated to practice. Most of the time I’m not that motivated to practice, other than I know that I have to do it. You don’t feel motivation at 8 am, so you need to rely on discipline and determination so that when you are in front of 2300 people you actually have the skills to match the motivation of playing well. Fear is a great motivator, that’s for sure."
How do you define success?: "Success is irrelevant. We do as well as we can, and that’s the most important thing whether it’s deemed successful or not. We need to be positive about what we’re doing and sometimes what other people deem as an enormous success can just be a stepping stone on the path of what you ultimately want to do. Motivation, discipline, drive, inspiration, they all tie into that and you cannot have success without those things, but success is a really very much in the eye of the beholder. An elementary school teacher who has to handle 25 kids and can survive to the end of the day, they are a success. My dentist who took out my wisdom teeth without damaging nerves, I think that is an enormous success. As musicians, we can get really carried away with what success means. We think that playing in a big orchestra means we’re really important, and in our field, sure, what we do is really important. But, there’s a lot more things going on in the world than playing music. Again, what we do is important, especially to our community, but we don’t need to get too carried away with how important we feel."