Therion – “Melek Taus”
Daniel and I were watching Gladiator tonight (during dinner. I do not recommended it as a dinner movie) and I realized something: I really miss being in band.
We’d occasionally play movie themes, and we once did a Gladiator soundtrack medley. Every time I watch the movie, it brings back memories of sitting in my row with my French Horn doing my best to hold my own. There were only ever three of us French Horn girls, one who was my best friend at the time and the other who was a sweet girl named Heather. All of us were self-taught, former flute players who defected to the brass section because it was way cooler and far more fun.
I think part of the reason French Horn was so fun was because it always seemed like us versus the rest of the band. Most of the time (especially senior year) there was only two of us, and many of the parts were French Horn only (typically whole sections play certain parts, like flutes with clarinets or trumpets with trombones, etc.) so we really had to try to be heard. The instructors argument was for us to be louder – our argument was that we were playing at the absolute top of our lungs and the rest of the goddamned band could afford to be quieter. We usually won. It sounds stupid, but since we were almost exclusively self-taught and our section was so small, I think we felt like renegades. We were always fighting to do well, always fighting to be heard.
Several songs we played had excruciatingly important French Horn solos or near solos. The most famous was Greensleeves, which was tradition to play for the Christmas concert. The first note of that particular rendition was a high D, not impossible to hit, but pretty difficult as a first note with nothing preceeding it, and it was only the French Horn playing – the entire rest of the band was silent for several measures. The first time we played Greensleeves for the Christmas concert, someone else was first chair and took care of it for us. The second time, when that girl had graduated and moved on, I ended up crying afterward. I’m not normally that emotional over concerts, but on that particular occasion the drummers had their own little bit to play in between the last song and Greensleeves and since I had such a long break, I couldn’t visualize the note in my head to play it. French Horns are like that – I had to visualize what the note was going to sound like if I was ever going to be able to hit it. My friend and I were supposed to hit the same note at the same time and… we didn’t.
We both started. I think I initially missed the right note, hit a different, lower one, and then corrected it up to the right one. She may have started on the wrong note, I don’t know, but we both started and then she just dropped off. I think she felt she screwed up and couldn’t continue. I knew there couldn’t be silence so I just had to keep playing. The note was there, it was the correct note, but it sounded weak and I had to take a breath in the middle. I was SO. UPSET. It was my one chance to prove I didn’t suck, and, well, I didn’t prove anything. The beginning of the song is supposed to be majestic, yet sweet and pretty, and it was none of those things and it was our fault. We apologized in class. That’s how bad we felt.
The following year it was revealed we were going to play the song again and while I will admit that I was filled with dread, I vowed I wouldn’t screw it up. That year, I didn’t screw it up. I hit the note dead on and it was beautiful. I finally felt like I redeemed myself for the first go-round. I wish I had a recording of it. It’s still one of my favorite Christmas songs.
My other most memorable song to play (besides the songs I went to State playing) was a commissioned song called “Where Never Lark Nor Eagle Flew.” I have yet to find a recording of it other than the one we made when we played it for a competition, but it is wonderful. It is by far the most difficult thing I have ever played in my life. The French Horn part was obviously written for someone far better than I and the majority of it was a full octave higher than the stuff I usually played, which meant it was really, really hard. I loved it.
When I listen to that recording I can still pick out the parts we played. I know what notes we were supposed to hit and which ones we actually hit, where you could finally hear us over the rest of the band and we sound awesome. It’s so gratifying to successfully hit all the notes of your part; I can’t describe it very well. It’s like you know you’ve done a good job, you’re doing a good job, and everyone had damn well better be able to hear you. I still swell with pride a bit when I think of how well we did on that song. I used to listen to that recording at night to fall asleep sometimes. That sounds so dorky to me now, but I was so proud of how we did. I still am, really.
I’ve said this before, but I was sad when I graduated because I knew I’d have to give up playing. I never owned my own French Horn; I always used the school’s. Our instructor bought my friend and I our own, very nice mouthpieces to use instead of the crap standard issue ones, and always made sure our instruments were fixed. We took good care of them. I’m sure I could still re-string a valve if I had to. I’d love one of my own, but right now I’m not sure what I’d do with it if I had it. I’ve never liked playing on my own – I feel like I sound feeble and I much prefer my own sound when I’m part of a band.
Watching Gladiator tonight brought this all back. I wish I could be a part of it again.