My Stint in the Yale Concert Band

I was blown away the first time I attended a Yale Concert Band rehearsal.

After spending four years playing French horn in my high school’s wind ensemble, I had (along with the rest of the world) taken a hiatus from group playing. Last year, as pandemic restrictions began to lift, I was determined to start playing again after a year of infrequent solo sessions. My friends egged me on, and Mr. Duffy, the Yale Concert Band’s one-of-a-kind (and amazing) conductor, kindly allowed me to join even though the audition cycle had already passed.

I gave my instrument a deep clean in the shallow sink behind the Yale Concert Band’s rehearsal space. I spent an hour or so buzzing into my mouthpiece, reminding my lips how to play across range and dynamics. I let loose with a few rounds of my favorite part of Songs of Sailor and Sea, just to be sure I still could. And I felt ready enough to play.

A tree blossoming outside of the Yale School of Music
A tree blossoms outside of the Yale School of Music, where rehearsals for the YCB are held, on a cloudy spring day.

When I showed up, the first thing I noticed was how professional the group was. Rehearsals were snappy, people knew their parts, and phones were usually away. Bliss. Even though most Yale Concert Band members don’t intend to become full-time musicians, everyone was clearly there to play good music well. As much as I loved my high school music program, it would have been impossible to achieve that level of focus with a mean age of 15.

More personally exciting was the horn section. As I got to know my section-mates, I learned that they were from the Yale School of Music’s highly competitive program and pursuing music professionally. It showed. I had never been in a horn section that good before. Though I tried my best to keep up with them, they were light-years ahead of me in their playing ability.

Me, holding my French horn in Woolsey Hall
A quick post-concert pic! Bell covers and masks are no longer required to play music on campus.

Normally, this would mean settling into a sort of ensemble purgatory. In another universe I would have played fourth horn parts for the entirety of my time in the YCB. But the graduate students were charitable, and we ended up swapping parts each rehearsal, settling into first, second, third, or fourth horn parts only when it was time to perform. This means I had a crack at a range of different parts.

And, more broadly, I got to play some really exciting music, just because I wanted to. I had never played The Planets, and now I’ve played Holst’s entire orchestral suite. We had a whole concert devoted to Mr. Duffy’s music, including Snakes!, to celebrate his 40th anniversary at Yale. (All-told, I was in about 4 or 5 concerts, but I don’t remember all of the music). 

Woolsey Hall, Yale's main concert hall
Woolsey Hall, where our concerts were held.

This year, class and lab conflicts made it impossible for me to continue with the Yale Concert Band. But I got to exercise my musicianship in a low-stress, high-level way for a year, and I will always be grateful for that.