First Hornapalooza Draws Big Crowd

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 ·

What the heck is a Hornapalooza?

The Cleveland Orchestra, its French horn section, and partner C.G. Conn, Inc. imagined the new event as a rare opportunity for horn players to get together. It was a chance to learn from the best, and to perform together under the direction of conductor Loras John Schissel.

The first Hornapalooza, featuring Richard King, Michael Mayhew, Jesse McCormick, Hans Clebsch, and Alan DeMattia, all members of the Cleveland Orchestra’s horn section, drew 66 participants to Severance Hall on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in conjunction with the Cleveland Orchestra’s Community Open House.

Open to all ages

In a rehearsal, Michael Mayhew told the young students he was coaching, “The drive to improve has to come from you—not your band director. You have to be self-motivated.” One of the youngest participants, 6th-grader Graham Sell, said that Hornapalooza was a chance to get lessons on an instrument he just started this year.For Ethel Epstein, who predicted (correctly, it seemed) that she would be the oldest – age 89 – Hornapalooza fulfilled a long-cherished dream to perform in a large ensemble of horn players.

Another adult participant, James Rose, grew up playing horn and attended the New England Conservatory of Music. Hornapalooza, he said, “is the right thing for this orchestra to do for this community. We love and admire (the horn section’s) playing, and for them to reach out like this is very important. This makes Richard (King) and Alan (DeMattia) more than guys on the stage. They’re my people!’’

Coaching and commentary

In the morning, the participants were divided by experience level into three groups, for coaching and comments by the Orchestra musicians. Speaking to the advanced group, principal horn Richard King offered frank answers to their questions about nerves. “Stress is cumulative over the years. It’s managed by knowing that over the years, things have gone well,’’ he said. He exercises, he’s careful about what he eats, and he unfailingly puts in the daily work of practicing. Then, he joked, you have to remember one thing about this famously tricky instrument, “It’s a horn -- accidents are going to happen and innocent bystanders are going to get hurt!”

King lit up when asked what repertoire he especially enjoys, naming one Strauss work the Orchestra played recently, Don Juan, as well as Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel. “Those pieces don’t make me nervous. They’re just sprints; you get in and go,” he said with a grin.

Musicians spend a lot of time trying to play perfectly, King said. One of the things he encourages his students at the Cleveland Institute of Music to do is not be paralyzed by what’s on the page but to have the courage to put their own stamp on it.


A performance to remember

After the groups rehearsed separately and together, all of the participants and the five Orchestra horns performed for the public at the Community Open House. “Take back what you learned to your band room,” guest conductor Loras John Schissel urged all of the participants. After the performance, they and others could try various instruments on display in the Grand Foyer by local instrument dealer Royalton Music and Conn-Selmer-- instruments including the C.G. Conn “Vintage” 8D, which the company created with Richard King.

On his way out, Cory Vetovitz, a high school sophomore from North Royalton, said he came because of the chance to ask questions, and he was glad to have gotten suggestions on how to increase his range and develop a better embouchure for lip trills. What will he remember most? “There were a lot of horns—and it was a lot of fun.”


Photos by Roger Mastroianni

Top right: 66 hornists of all ages gathered at Severance Hall for Hornapalooza.

Middle: James Rose said, "This makes Richard (King) and Alan (DeMattia) more than guys on the stage. They’re my people!’’

Bottom: Cleveland Orchestra hornist Alan DeMattia coaches some of the young players who participated.

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