Life with the French Horn


Tao shares her lifelong passion for the French Horn

Music has always been extremely important in my life.

When I was 13 and started high school I joined the band and we were all given the opportunity to select an instrument to play. The day they were given out however, I was not at school, so my friend picked the French Horn, for both of us. Very quickly I found myself  playing 3 octaves with a nice, big, fat, round tone even in the very low register, not an easy thing to do, and soon the French Horn became the great passion in my life.


As I entered teenage-hood, my awakening hormones, desire, love, passion, idealism and a very active fantasy life all came together, finding their expression through the mouthpiece into 12 feet of vibrating, coiled brass tubing. I had every record (remember this was in the 50’s) with a French Horn on it or in it, be it jazz, classical, blues or pop and the local music store man knew to put aside anything with a French Horn, either on the cover or in the music. The beauty of the sound, especially when a whole section of French Horns were playing together harmoniously, was totally beyond words.

Looking back, I think this was another experience of transcendence, the first having come, also unrecognized, at the age of 7 when traveling around on my own, hopping from streetcar to streetcar, and came into a residential area where turning a corner I found the most exquisite garden; for the rest of the afternoon I stayed entranced in that magical place. Nowadays I wonder what could possibly have attracted a 7 year old to remain in a garden for so many hours, and upon recollection, it seems to me that I had my first experience of God. Beauty, peace, belonging, bliss.

Dennis Brain, considered to be probably the greatest French Horn virtuoso ever, was a pioneer of making this instrument known to the world through his recordings of the Mozart and Strauss Horn Concerti as well as a hauntingly beautiful recording of Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, with the divine tenor voice of Peter Peers. He became the object of my greatest and most consistent fantasy, combining an unfathomable and unreachable beauty that comes from the depth of the artistic soul, together with my burgeoning sexuality, along with a dab of reason thrown in.

I made a decision one day at the age of 15 that I would move to England where Dennis Brain lived, become his student and his mistress, and together we would make the most legendary music, and everything I did was toward that end goal. I practiced and practiced, played along with my records, saved money and planned my trip.  One day as I was mentioning this to a friend, someone came forward and said to me;, “Don’t you know?  Dennis Brain is dead. His sports car skidded on some wet leaves. His car hit a tree. He was killed instantly.”

In that split second, my entire future disappeared. Everything was gone.

Years later when I had been living in London just a little over 2 years, I happened one day to bump into Dennis Brain’s sister.  Now who would’ve thunk it?  Isn’t life amazing?  Existence knew this saga was not yet finished. I told her the story now chuckling about it, and she dropped the biggest curve ball yet! She informed me, quite enjoying it all I must say, that my plan was doomed from the start.  She told me that her brother, Dennis Brain, had been gay.

Even so, I now had the devout passion and commitment I had developed towards music, towards brass instruments in general and especially the beloved French Horn. I would be in reverie fueled by a deeply felt desire and passion that was otherworldly.  It seemed so far away to the touch, but the feeling was immense and I totally gave myself to it.  I felt this kind of love higher than any love I could ever achieve with another person. That kind of love was so ordinary, so bourgeois, I remember writing in my teenage journal.  But the love in music on the other hand, is God.

So 40 years or so later, I again pulled my French Horn out of its case. Now not only a whole different era but a different me. I had since traveled around the world, living in London, England during the rarified 60’s to mid 70’s, had married and divorced, lived in San Francisco where I performed with a musical ensemble on piano, was called to Osho and went to India, staying for three unbelievable and life changing years in the ashram. Returned to Toronto, Canada to open a meditation center and then moved to Hawaii via Oregon in early 1986. And here I am.

This horn was given to me by a professional horn player in Toronto, an old friend called Miles Hearne. Miles, like all good horn players, had a collection of them. F horns, B flat horns, German, American, and Czechoslovakian made instruments. The double horn he presented me with was a prototype for Holton, a well-known American instrument maker. The bell (the flared section where the sound comes out and into which the musician gently places his right hand) was completely smashed, the result of a car accident.  Miles said, “Here, take the horn. If you can have it fixed, you’ve got a great instrument.”

So I brought it home to Hawaii. In those days, in the 80’s, there was a really great brass instrument repair man in Honolulu, and I brought him my smashed horn bell. He didn’t make any promises but said he’d see what he could do and I left it with him for several weeks, flying back to the Big Island. When I came back to get it, there was my beautiful silver horn with a full, albeit braced, bell. He had done an impossibly fabulous job restoring it. And I use this same instrument to this day, 25 or so years later.

There is the background. Let’s fast-forward now to 2011. I am a member of COOK, the Chamber Orchestra of Kona and of the West Hawaii County Band. COOK is made up entirely of volunteers from the Big Island. We are the only orchestra in the State who rehearses weekly and only uses local musicians. Every other group gathers for the gig and rehearses just before it with imported musicians from Honolulu, Maui and the U.S. mainland. So we are pretty proud of our COOK!  We’re all volunteers and the group is open to all levels of musicians: students, retirees, professional full-time musicians and those who like to dabble as a hobby, but the common denominator is a great love for making music and for playing together in an ensemble.

There is nothing like playing in an orchestra! Sometimes as I’m counting bars of rests and looking around, a feeling literally washes over me and I feel the luckiest person in the world in this moment, sitting here listening to beautiful music being played,  flanked by my French Horn buddies and in the midst of the presence of all these wonderful people. Here I sit, an integral part of this musical entourage and I am overwhelmed in a good way with the over-pouring of love.

We recently gave a concert, just one I’d like to tell you about because of its very special setting. It was at the Kona Village Resort, a one-of-its-kind Hawaiian resort where instead of rooms there are separate little hales, or thatched units void of phones, radios or TV’s, and many celebrities stay there because of this silence and also strict security. On the property there are little lagoons or ponds and where we performed there are two stages with a waterway in between them. We were on one stage and the dancers on the other. This was the dance company we partner with in some of our performances. On that very night there was a full moon. I recall looking up at the sky through the tall palm trees seeing a beautiful, huge, yellow, bright, clear, full moon. Looking downwards the light was luminously reflected in the water below and shining back on the dancers across from us. It was the most romantic scene one could conjure up with sound and light and mystery vibrating all around, and I was sitting in the midst of it; a magical scene to behold.

“…when you are listening to music, what really touches your heart is not the sound but the gap between two sounds. How to bring that gap to your heart is the whole art of music. But if a man can bring that gap just by his presence, and you fall into deep silence, you will know the real music. Then you will know that what you used to think of as music was only a preliminary training. And the same is true about dancing, the same is true about every creative art. What it appears to be is not the reality; it is just a device so that you can become aware of something intangible, hidden, beyond.

But to love music is good, to love dance is good, to play music is good, to dance is good — but remember, that is not the end. You have to go far — away from music, away from dance — to understand the real beauty of any creative art. Every creative art brings you to your innermost being where there is just calmness, utter quietness, absolute silence.

Then you can say, “I have heard that which cannot be heard. And I have seen that which cannot be seen.”

Osho, Beyond Psychology, Ch 20, Q 2

Read the entire question here…

Tao for Osho News

Comments are closed.