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"A Devil to Play; one man's year-long quest to master the orchestra's most difficult instrument."
". . . Luckily the home stretch is easier. On we all surge toward the tape. A beat's rest, a huge breath, and then we hit it in a slow seventy-strong fanfare.
"Suddenly I am swept back in time, like someone tumbling down one of those laundry chutes in the movies, to a feeling I last had when I was not yet an adult. I recall immediately that there is nothing quite like it. I am a small part of a huge elemental force. A torrent of man-made sound swirls around and through me. It ferrets under me and seems to raise me. It is almost impossible not to burst out laughing at the sheer exhilaration of it. All that music, all that unison.
"Amazingly, the walls are still standing as the applause peters out from an audience far outnumbered by our ensemble. I find an emotion welling up in me with which I have had only a nodding acquaintance in recent years, those years when routine traditionally sets in like a stubborn winter fog. . . when horizons close in and clouds lower dully overhead, when pipe dreams . . . shrivel and wilt in the face of steady remorseless blasts from the blowtorch of life. The swell of emotion is unfamiliar. It isn't any of the usual irritants. It isn't lust or envy or a low-grade self-hatred, a thin film of sadness or a personal brand of existential apathy. I think I recognize it as elation."
This is the start of Jasper Rees's year-long quest to conquer the French Horn he abandoned 22 years ago, and play well enough to solo at the British Horn Society's next annual meeting. If you play/ed an instrument, especially a horn; if you've ever performed; if you've embarrassed yourself in public; if you have had a mid-life crisis, you'll chortle over this book. Rees can be a bit self-involved, and yes, it's another entry in the "my-year-of-doing- a-weird-thing" genre, but it rewards the reader with horn tales galore, musical history, and the ongoing tale of a man's love for the music of his horn.
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The video below is of a recording session with Paul McCartney referenced in "A Devil to Play."