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At This Summer Camp, Horn Players Of All Ages Find Community

Camp staffer Abby Martin (left) and veteran camper Torrin Hallett (right) play their horns at the Kendall Betts Horn Camp.
Camp staffer Abby Martin (left) and veteran camper Torrin Hallett (right) play their horns at the Kendall Betts Horn Camp.

To the uninitiated, it's the French horn — though that's a bit of a misnomer. To its players and students, it's simply a horn, an instrument that has featured in orchestras for centuries.

The horn's sound is easily recognizable thanks to the prominent role it's played in some of the most epic classical songs and movie themes. But it's still an uncommon instrument, and not the easiest one to build community around. To that end, dozens of horn players head into the woods in the White Mountains every summer to celebrate and learn more about their instrument.

The Kendall Betts Horn Camp in New Hampshire attracts players of all abilities, including aspiring professionals like 22-year-old Torrin Hallett of Wisconsin. When he first attended four years ago, it sealed his fate.

"It was just incredible," Hallett says. "I had never before been in a place where everybody just spoke horn all the time."

The sounds and language of the horn emanate from wood cabins from morning until night as teachers like Bernhard Scully, a horn professor from the University of Illinois, guide study groups divided by age and ability. He says that in one week, participants absorb about a semester's worth of training — finding kindred spirits in the process.

"It's sort of a family," Scully says. "For all of us, wherever we are in the world, whatever we're doing, this is a place where we can come and convene, sit together, eat together, commune together about all things related to horn, all in a positive, non-competitive environment."

The bonds form quickly, and the camp's impact lasts — it has propelled many of its alumni into careers. First-time camper Colin Lundy wants to be one of those who successfully go pro.

"As a high schooler, it's so difficult," the Illinois 16-year-old says. "It's kind of like a taste of what it's like to be in the professional music world."

That's not a world that's entered lightly — especially because, according to instructor Lowell Greer, a retired professional soloist, the horn is a particularly difficult instrument.

"When we play a concert here, we have the most sympathetic crowd in the world," Greer says. "They all know the difficulties, they all know the hurdles we have to get over, and they're cheering each for the other."

And that supportive environment and camaraderie is exactly what keeps many of these campers coming back every summer.

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