As a musician, even one as not as implicated as me, December can be a busy time and has proven itself to live up to its reputation of loads of concerts to finish the year, and carolling. For the moment, I have 3 out of 5 weekends taken up with playing the horn in one form or another.
At the end of the Season in the summer of 2022, I decided not to follow the new direction taken by the Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet. Not just out of loyalty to the outgoing conductor who, since 2009, become a close friend, but sometimes you just need a change of scene. I first thought of just having a complete break from music, which is a rash decision but one I have taken in the past. Friends were worried that I would stop music altogether, which would not only be a shame but also a waste of talent or work that I have put into learning the horn over the years. I had lost the love of performing, and rehearsals had become more a way of spending time on something I knew how to do but with less and less pleasure.
I was therefore on the lookout for a new ensemble that needed a horn player. When I was in the Cholet Conservatoire Symphony orchestra, I made friends who talked about this relatively new orchestra based just South of Nantes. You go to Facebook and see their page and try to make a choice. I made a choice. I am now the fourth horn in the Symphonique des Bords de Loire.
So what does this have to do with being busy in December? I’ll tell you. With concerts and rehearsals, I have been playing every weekend since the 26th of November. I am now 50, have taken up napping in a big way, and sleeping, or at least trying to sleep as a secondary calling. All this music is creating an enormous conflict of interest between music and my new vocation, napping. I have tried automatic pilot, but people seem to cotton on and even dare come up to me and try to talk to me when my body is still on, but the brain is experiencing a temporary outage. The sheer audacity of it all!
Last weekend, I did a paid gig for the Brass Quintet Arabesque, replacing my old horn teacher, the Grand, the mother Great, and all-around good egg, Jerome Percher who teaches the horn in the Conservatoire In Angers! He is also a massive football fan and maybe the evening match between our two splendid countries was just too much for him. Little did we know that Harry Kane would be less fortunate than us.
The idea was to have a brass band style quintet with two cornets, one tenor horn, one euphonium, and one tuba. Similar to what you might see the Salvation Army playing when they’re out around this time. We would play three sets of Christmas carols to add some ambience to the Christmas Market in La Roche Sur Yon, which is the administrative capital of the Vendée. It was a beautifully sunny day, but a tad cold. Yes, brass monkey weather!
Now I don’t technically play the tenor horn, but had studied the fingerings to know how to approach the instrument and not look too silly. It’s also much lighter than the more common, yet beautiful instrument, which is the French Horn.
Everything that morning seemed to go wrong. I was already nervous as I didn’t want to let the lads down and my heart was going like the clappers. Then slightly late getting out of the house, having to get the windscreen de-iced, as it was -5°C, which is chilly. Then the car pretended to not want to start. Ha ha ha, it was the car just trying to play a trick on me. The roads had been salted so fine, and I was headed down to La Roche. I had misread the text message with the meeting times and thought I was late. As it turned out, I wasn’t, and our lady answered my prayer for a parking space not too far from the meeting point. I, of course, couldn’t find my colleagues when I arrived in the square and then suddenly I saw Hervé and felt a lot less anxious!
We played our three sets, and the only upset was whilst playing I saw three ships. I think we all managed to sink them!
The organisers had prepared us some hot pretzels and some mulled wine, which just hit the spot and told us where the restaurant was, where we were to have lunch. The five of us needed feeding! Starters and main, or main and dessert, with drinks. I could get used to this. We ate, joked, finished our beer, and said see you later at Hervé’s house for the Soirée to celebrate Jean Michel’s birthday in a French and very fitting way!
I just had to get to Nantes, for confession, to get a little something for my evening’s host, wife, and daughter. Just enough time left over to pick up my wife, and get ourselves to our evening.
Jean Michel has a bit of a reputation as an epicurean, and not only a lover of fine cuisine, but a very accomplished chef! Upon arrival, we went to say hello to everyone, and were told to leave the kitchen, which is exactly what we did! The aforementioned legend that is Monsieur Percher was there with his lovely wife, and it was such a pleasure introducing each other to our respective spouses. The pre-meal beers were served and then out of nowhere appeared a magnum of very nice champagne, which was the first of quite a few exquisite bottles, which complemented Jean Michel’s cooking so well. We’re now in happy as a pig in shit territory.
It was a lovely evening and with the wine, I was beginning to feel a little tired, which is better than being a little tiring. It was time for little Ian to go beddy byes… My new vocation in life. Fortunately, my wife is a professional driver, stone-cold sober, and able to drive us home.
The next day was spent gently getting out of bed, and trying not to let on that I might be a little tired. By Sunday evening I was ready to go to mass, and who would I see, but Hervé and his family. It’s nice not being at mass on your own and was just the surprise I need to finish the evening off on a high point. That and going to the pub afterwards.
Next Saturday, I will play the tenor horn with the Tuba Class with Hervé as their teacher. The weekend after will be a lot quieter. Then three days in the factory before breaking up for two weeks holiday for Christmas, which, Dear Reader, will be a completely different story.
Until then, I wish each and every one of you a very happy, peaceful, and above all drama-free Christmas!