Classically Trained: O.C., can you play? Yes, we can

Editor's note: This column is the fourth and final in a series about Bradley Zint's participation in OC Can You Play With Us?, an initiative where he and other amateur musicians played alongside the Pacific Symphony professionals.


One of those little things you don't consider when first choosing an instrument is what it's like to lug it around.

For the flutists and clarinetists, their small instruments can act as stowaways in standard-sized backpacks. Even the heavies — tubas, cellos, basses, harps and the like — well, those cases are blessed with wheels.

But a horn case? Being of odd shape and decent weight, it's bothersome to carry.

I would know. I carried one many times throughout my 12-year horn career while en route to planes, trains or automobiles. On Tuesday night, I found myself carrying one again, from my car at the South Coast Plaza lot to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

It was just as annoying as I remember.

I carried my horn case through the check-in process for OC Can You Play With Us? and into warm-up area in the Samueli Theater until I could carry it no more.

Down it went next to cellist Christopher McCarthy. The Cal State Long Beach graduate was one of the many musicians warming up before our 7 p.m. showing onstage.

McCarthy, 27, lives in Long Beach. He's one of this year's participants who's also working hard at making it in the professional performance world. He's already made some headway after earning a spot with the Dana Point Symphony and doing various recordings.

"How's the music for you?" I asked, referring to Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" ballet score we were about to play.

He explained that in romanticized music like Prokofiev's, while the brass — people like me — have "lots of big, heavy stuff," the strings "are just all over."

A sensible and nontechnical explanation. I liked it.

"It's not too bad for the cellos, though," he added.

Pacific Symphony staffers say this year's OC Can You Play With Us? initiative, expanded to two nights over four sessions, attracted a crowd of about 700 audience members. It's also planned to happen again for two more years. Musicians this year came from throughout Southern California.

Due credit for making the event a reality goes to the James Irvine Foundation, its major sponsor, and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, which waived its rental fee for use of the $240-million concert hall.

Once onstage, I took my Horn II spot in the back row, directly in front of the bass drum and in between professionals Sarah Bach and James Taylor (no, not that James Taylor). Taylor, the Pacific Symphony's third/assistant principal horn, has been with the orchestra since 1995.

To Taylor I said my first words on the stage: "Is it OK if we put our spit on this wooden floor?"

For brass players, spit gathers in our instruments. And we just have to get it out of there.

Taylor jokingly scoffed. "It's not spit! It's condensation! Distilled water!" (Though he wasn't entirely kidding.)

A few minutes later, out came Carl St.Clair, the Pacific Symphony's longtime conductor, stirred and motivated as ever. He asked if any of us amateurs had played "Romeo and Juliet" before. I was among those who had. Lucky me.

Prokofiev's music is among the best by just about anybody. It calls for delicacy and ache, quiet reflection and tremendous outbursts. Even a seasoned musician like Taylor seemed giddy to be playing it again. I was too, in my own quiet way.

The rehearsal began with "Montagues and Capulets" (aka the "Dance of the Knights").

I couldn't help but remember when, during the other OC Can You Play With Us? rehearsal without the professionals alongside us, we horns messed up our entrance in the beginning of that number. We just didn't play a single note.

We didn't have that problem Tuesday. Progress.

We then played through other music, including the balcony scene and when Romeo fights Tybalt. Because the session was only an hour, things were pretty rushed.

But throughout the whole time I was excited to be playing horn again. I loved trying to get the articulations of my notes perfect on those little tidbits of Prokofiev's work that help the sound's whole but don't necessarily stand out.

I loved the horns' big entrances in the Romeo vs. Tybalt, where we had to pierce through the sound and be the melody. We were the tension in the Shakespearean drama. We were the edge of the blade that brings Tybalt to his eventual demise.

When I wasn't playing, most of the time I was just reveling in the moment — the stage lights, the size of the hall, seeing the conductor's emotions so closely. Because, after all, it's really something special being in an orchestra. There are so many sounds around you that are varied, complex and among so much tradition and history.

For myself and the other participants in OC Can You Play With Us?, it was a time to closely breathe in the most pristine musical air our county offers. It was a rare chance to gain access beyond the velvet rope, to see how it feels to be within the professionals' club.

Indeed, we are all thankful for it.

BRADLEY ZINT is a copy editor for the Daily Pilot and a classically trained musician. Email him story ideas at Follow him on Twitter @BradleyZint.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World