When I Was the Worst French Horn Player

When I Was the Worst French Horn Player

3-year-old Yaakov is the Weisberg family DJ. His musical taste, over recent days, has been heavy on “Chag Purim, chag Purim!.” And before that, we had a few weeks of “Tu B’Shvat Heegea.” Accompanied by certain older siblings with their hands cups over their ears yelling “Yaaaaakoooov! turn that off already!”

But yesterday morning, while I was changing Yonatan’s diaper, Yaakov, in an uncharacteristic departure, decided to blast a Mozart flute concerto instead.

And from the living room sofa with a mushy diaper in my hand, I was transported back 25 years to the brass section of the Bowdoin College orchestra–a french horn balanced on my thigh, surfing along Mozart’s waves as beautiful as a sunrise and sunset put together, counting 22 measures until I played again.

I was an awful French horn player. I never really learned how to read music, and for years I relied on a kind trumpet player/music major to explain the rhythms to me. I would bring notes that were too high for me to play, down an octave, or too low, up an octave.

But at Bowdoin, after our excellent 1st horn got braces, I was the only horn player left. I was the worst french horn player at Bowdoin and the only french horn player at Bowdoin.

Which meant I spent thousands of hours counting measures and being swept along those waves as beautiful as a sunrise and sunset put together.

Depending on my mood, I sometimes think of those thousands of hours as wasted time. Why did I spend so many hours of my life on something I was so terrible at?

But, truth is, my french horn granted me some great gifts.

Because of those thousands of hours spent counting measures in Bowdoin’s orchestra and concert band, I acquired almost enough extra credits to graduate from college a full year early.

Which meant I graduated in time to spend the following year in Jerusalem at the Pardes Institute along with a bunch of also just-graduated guys from Wesleyan. One week, those Wesleyan guys invited me over for Friday night dinner along with their former classmate and then roommate, Joshua Weisberg.


And the other great gift those thousands of hours gave me is like the difference between studying French and actually living in Paris for a few years. I haven’t only heard classical music, I’ve lived it. I’ve been there. It’s a part of me.

Yesterday, right at sunset, I needed a breather from the house and the kids and my JewishMOM life. From “Tu b’Shvat Hegeea” and “He hit me!” “She hit me!” and the “Eema, could I have cornflakes for dinner?”

I decided to take out the trash. Almost enough of a walk to come home halfway normal.

And then I heard something completely wild. The chirping of hundreds of birds sitting in a tree. They were so high up, I couldn’t see them. But oh-boy, could I hear them…a rain-forest-like symphony right there, above the trash dumpster.

And standing there, that morning’s Mozart concerto dissolved into those birds and Tu b’Shvat Hegeea and “He hit me!” “She hit me!” and “Eema, could I have cornflakes for dinner?”

As beautiful as a sunrise and sunset put together. The symphony of my life.


  1. Delightful.

  2. Hey, Chana Jenny – how funny! I also played the French horn in school! There was an awful lot of counting involved in playing in a orchestra, but I really enjoyed it and I know what you mean about being involved in the music. When I listen to a piece which I have played, it’s a completely different experience from something to which I have only listened…

  3. Enjoy the music of your life.

  4. I just want to comment on taking out the garbage as a breather. It’s funny, but I can totally relate to that. Sometimes my husband and I take out the garbage together. I go with him so he shouldn’t feel he needs to do the dirty stuff alone. And it feels like we’ve been on a tiyul together!

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