Lili Agrell is my daughter, now 14 going on 27, and the author of the best quote about horn playing I’ve ever heard:

“Horn playing is easy – you just take a big breath and pucker your lips and put your whole life through the horn.”

She said it when she was six years old. She wanted to see what playing the horn was like, so I held the horn up and gave her some basic instructions and she made a mighty blast and then cooly summed up the experience with that quote. When it was time to join the band in the fifth grade, she chose the horn. But she also chose not to study it – take lessons (except for the intro band director lessons). She just likes playing in band. And that’s OK with me. I am fine with her having a musical experience of her own choosing on her own terms that she enjoys. I’ve had a very special time with her since the end of May – mom is in Italy for five weeks leading an opera workshop. I had to give up being on the faculty of the Kendall Betts Horn Camp this June, which I miss very much, but this time has turned out to be a terrific (and mostly likely last) chance to get to know my daughter better one on one. She has never had much interest or knowledge about what I do exactly at work, but a couple days ago she asked to see this horn blog (since she started a blog of her own a couple weeks ago as a way to keep mom informed about current events here). She had a look, and then asked if she could write an entry. With a modicum of trepidation but no hesitation I said, “Sure. If it’s appropriate and I reserve the right to edit (everyone needs a good editor).” That night she sent me the following, her statement on what playing the horn means to her plus a short history of her experiences in elementary and junior high band. I present it to you with no editing. It doesn’t need it; it’s more important to let the unique flavor of her speech, ideas, and passion come through than to correct spelling and grammar. It’s the best Father’s Day present ever.

Confessions of a Reluctant Horner


Hello there horn people! (Oops, double innuendo there! Guess it comes with being a 10th grader! ). Because it’s fathers day my daddy gets the night off, he’s currently sitting on the couch covered in cat hair in a Hawkeye jersey (Hawkeye jersey  in off-season? Heck yes.)

Ever since the tender age of nine I have been truckin’ away in the great world of band, however, my Horney journey didn’t start off that easy.

Now, I know what your thinking, she only plays the horn because her father does! NEWS FLASH, I play it because it’s special, and because I believe that instruments have a personality, and I’d like to imagine that I reflect the horn’s. Let me explain. When you think of flutes you think of generally delicate beings, the perfectionist. When I think of tuba players I think of jokers, HELLO JOHN MANNING. And when we think of the dreaded trumpets (any horners worst enemy) we think of the bossy boos who like to all compete with each other, the horns, the clarinets, the conductor, and pretty much anything else they can play over. Now, the glorious horn, it balances, it triumphs, and it hold things together. The few of us that play this glorious instrument are the glue, both in lives and in bands.

Now that I’ve explained that lets move on down to my little story here. .

Imagine a room full of 5th graders, in the back  of the room the tubas are stuffing there faces with jumbo Reece’s, in the front the flutists are comparing nail colors, in the middle the oboes are reading Harry Potter.  Now, picture a blond girl with a glowing face clutching her very own shiny frickin’ frackin’ fantastic tubular instrument or her own.   Sounds presh right? WRONG.

Enter Mrs.  Umbridge (name changed so I don’t wake up in the middle of the night with a crazy woman shaking me), the band teacher from the depths of H-E double hockey sticks.  She’s a stout woman (or man, I’m not telling) who resembles Harry Potter’s Dolores Umbrige. Both in her pink frilled clothing and her sugarcoated voice, which is faker then Splenda.

After two years of tears, begging, and bribes I didn’t quit. Though once she even went as far to call the French horns the SLOW TURTLES, and compared to the karate clarinets that’s a pretty low blow. (Hey the we all know the best things take time!)

So another new “picture this”. A drabby band room, with a now brunette girl, a sullen expression, and a newly dinged up horn.  I fought back tears as I thought that I would have to put up with band for another six years. Then ENTER the god of all gods, Mr. Z. In one band session he managed to both convince the trumpets that there really was no need to play louder then the bass drum and save my love for music forever. I’m not saying I’m one of those girls who practices every day (heck, I haven’t touched a horn since May 5th [ Dad’s note: Lili has had a tough spring; she had a nasty case of mononucleosis that kept her from doing a lot of things]). but the lesson to learn here is, the teacher is everything. And I hope you can agree with me when I confidently say my dad is one of THOSE teachers, the ones who spark creativity, show you the lovee (no not that kind of love, DIRTY) and have the ability to save students shrinking love for music. Happy Fathers Day Daddy J