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A Devil to Play: One Man's Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra's Most Difficult Instrumentby Jasper Rees
Synopses & Reviews
In the days before his fortieth birthday, London-based journalist Jasper Rees trades his pen for a French horn that has been gathering dust in the attic for more than twenty-two years, and, on a lark, plays it at the annual festival of the British Horn Society.
Despite an embarrassingly poor performance, the experience inspires Rees to embark on a daunting, bizarre, and ultimately winning journey: to return to the festival in one year's time and play a Mozart concerto — solo — to a large paying audience.
A Devil to Play is the true story of an unlikely midlife crisis spent conquering sixteen feet of wrapped brass tubing widely regarded as the most difficult instrument to master, as well as the most treacherous to play in public. It is the history of man's first musical instrument, a compelling journey that moves from the walls of Jericho to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, from the hunting fields of France to the heart of Hollywood. And it is the account of one man's mounting musical obsession, told with pitch-perfect wit and an undeniable charm — an endearing, inspiring tale of perseverance and achievement, relayed masterfully, one side-splittingly off-key note at a time.
"Rees, a London journalist, decided to face his midlife crisis by picking up the French horn — an instrument he hadn't played since he was a teenager — and whip himself back into shape so he could play a Mozart concerto in front of an audience in just one year. Luckily, he had one of England's best horn players to give him lessons, but it was still an uphill battle — for starters, the concerto was composed in the key of E flat, but the horn was tuned to F, so Rees (like every performer before him) had to transpose the notes down a tone as he played along. Along the way, he recounts the instrument's colorful history, including a playful recreation of the first performance of Handel's Water Music (when the hunting horn first appeared alongside more widely acknowledged 'serious' instruments), and chats with many of the world's leading performers, as well as Holly Hunter and Ewan McGregor who, like Rees, played the instrument in their youth. Rees's self-assigned quest turns into an amiable romp with quiet bits of inspiration." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"High Fidelity meets Touching the Void in the improbably heroic adventure of an amateur French horn player who quite literally blows himself back into life again." Bob Geldof, songer/activist
"[A] great read for all amateur musicians and all lovers of the French horn." Library Journal
"Rees records his journey with impeccable research and a sharp wit, weaving together his first lessons as a youth with those of adulthood, all the while reliving the horns long history in a musical and literary achievement." Booklist
"[A]fter all the tales of addiction and affliction that have made modern memoirs such a gloomy genre, his account of turning the horn from an old foe into an old friend is as refreshing as it is uplifting." Wall Street Journal
About the Author
A journalist with two decades of experience, Jasper Rees has written for The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, the Evening Standard, and The Times. He lives in London.
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