Five Things I’ve Learned from Going to Honor Bands

This Friday’s post was written by Phoebe Saboley, a high school-aged horn player with a number of band and orchestral experiences under her belt, on her experiences playing in honor bands.

Phoebe Saboley is a 16 year old horn player from Columbus, Ohio who has been playing for five years. With three national ensemble performances under her belt and her performance at Carnegie Hall at age 15, she is preparing for a future career in horn performance. With multiple experiences in honor bands around the Midwest, she hopes to share how she has been influenced as a musician and person. 

Bio continued at end of post.


1. Conductors are an endless source of wisdom and inspiration.

I’ve participated in a lot of honor bands during my three years of high school so far, and as a freshman, I used to be intimidated by the conductors and scared to ask them questions. It wasn’t until OMEA All-State Band last year when I learned that by not talking to them during breaks when I had the chance, I was missing out. Our conductor that year was a retired high school band director, which was abnormal because they are normally college professors. However, he had countless inspirational stories about the struggles he dealt with in his life and how he always turned to his students and music to continue remaining optimistic.

He spent his three days with us not just on notes and rhythms, but focusing on pulling emotion from us and urging us to play with feeling. Needless to say, my mindset and approach to how I interact with conductors has changed and I find myself seeking out every opportunity to introduce myself to these amazing individuals whenever I get the chance. I have learned so much about more than just music, but life in general.

2. Not every suggestion will work for you (take it with a grain of salt).

These events typically include sectionals with professors from a nearby college of music. While it is incredible to meet these people and get a better idea for my future, it can also have a negative impact. They are all great teachers, but not every teacher is the right fit for every student. Frequently, I find myself overwhelmed and spending too much mental energy focusing on small aspects of my technique attempting to follow suggestions given to me. Input from different people can be very beneficial, you gain new ideas and perspectives from each fresh set of ears. While they’re goal is always to help you improve, when professors give conflicting advice it is challenging to figure out what works best for you, and inevitably harder to recenter your playing. Luckily, my horn teacher has always been there to help me come to the realization that it’s okay to take some advice and work really hard with it, but it’s also okay to brush some of it off and acknowledge that it’s not right for you.

3. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others.

It used to go the same way every time, I’d walk in and hear everyone else warming up, and allow myself to feel intimidated and think that I did not belong there. When I finally realized that these were my nerves talking, it was very freeing and empowering. I remember the exact moment my attitude changed. I was in the group warm up room at a national honor band where everyone was warming up for seating auditions. I could see and hear all the horns (that already knew each other and were friends) showing off together. I was especially nervous because I did not know anyone there and was given an alternate spot and later accepted when a spot opened up, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. However, I walked into the audition the calmest I’d ever felt for one and decided to just play my best, and ended up earning second chair. The moral of this story is not that the horns in the warm up room were bad, it’s that I underestimated my own ability due to their ability. I later learned that some of them were intimidated by me, and from then going forward, I carry myself at these events with confidence in knowing that I do deserve to be there. 

4. The problems you think that only you struggle with, are likely the same problems a lot of other people struggle with as well.

I spent a week this summer at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music young musicians camp. I decided to take the elective “Brass Techniques”, and could not be more thankful I made that choice. That class was not just limited to playing techniques, it became an open discussion about brass playing and performing in general between high schoolers, college counselors, and two professionals. We spent an entire two hour class period discussing performance anxiety and ways we all experienced it and coped with it. I benefited a lot from hearing about other people’s ways for handling it, but also from hearing that everyone else experienced stage fright too, even the pros! I am still nowhere close to fearless performance, but I feel much more confident when I perform now, knowing that every other musician listening wants me to do well and understands what I’m going through. 

5) Musicians are the most amazing people!

To conclude, the most important thing I’ve learned from attending these events, is that all musicians, regardless of where they’re from, are incredible people with so much in common. I’ve attended camps and honor bands in Michigan, Florida, and Indiana and traveled to visit colleges all over the place, and still felt right at home. Not only do I feel comfortable, but I walk in knowing no one, and leave three days later with friends that I’m still in touch with and hope to remain in touch with for years to come. There is something very special about the bond that musicians can create with each other even if they’re only together over the course of five rehearsals and a concert.

Phoebe’s bio continued from above:
As a member of the Columbus Symphony Youth Orchestra, Phoebe had the opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall in the summer of 2018 under the baton of Maestro Peter Stafford Wilson. She’s involved with several ensembles in the city, including the Columbus Youth Symphonic Band, Columbus Symphony Youth Orchestra, New Albany Symphony Orchestra, and Chamber Music Connection, as well playing multiple leadership roles within her high school band and choir programs. Outside of her involvement in her high school and extracurricular ensembles, she has been accepted into the OMEA All-State Band and the NAfME All-National Band every year she’s been eligible, as well as the Music for All Honor Band of America in 2018. She has attended both the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp and the Interlochen Fine Arts camp and looks forward to more musical adventures next summer before her senior year. Her musical interest began in fifth grade with the violin and piano. She dropped both of those in sixth grade and joined band on horn and switched to bass in orchestra. She enjoyed many years playing both before deciding to make the commitment to focus all of her energy on horn. She has been playing horn for five years now and has spent four of them with her private instructor, David Nesmith, who is not only an excellent horn teacher, but also a highly regarded Alexander Technique instructor. She now spends all of her free time playing horn and singing in choir and is looking forward to taking her next steps towards a future in horn performance.



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