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WRTI is proud to highlight the accomplishments of young artists in our local communities. You can donate now to champion and support WRTI's education initiatives! Learn more about what inspires and motivates these musicians through the interviews in this series.

WRTI Young Artist Spotlight: Hornist Evan Bretz

Hornist Evan Bretz
Joseph V. Labolito
Hornist Evan Bretz

Evan Bretz is a third-year student at Rowan University studying Mechanical Engineering while performing with various ensembles. Currently, he studies with Lyndsie Wilson and Ernie Tovar. He is a section leader within the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, a guest musician with the University of Pennsylvania's Symphony Orchestra, and plays in the Rowan University Symphony Orchestra.

Evan has a unique perspective on his instrument; he plays and practices not for school or a job but as a release from everything else. This allows him to maintain a personal relationship with the instrument and have as much fun as he can playing it. Evan greatly appreciates being able to pursue engineering while still being able to connect with people on a musical level.

10 Questions with Evan Bretz:

1. What’s your favorite part about playing horn in an orchestra?

My favorite part about playing horn in an orchestra is the extreme versatility of the instrument. In an orchestra, the horn belongs to three distinct roles: a brass section member, a woodwind section member, and a solo instrument. The textures and minute color changes that happen when a horn player has mastery and control of this, is something that is quite beautiful to listen to and can also be quite powerful. While this is a challenge to be able to master, it is one of the most unique aspects about playing this instrument in an orchestral setting.

2. Outside of classical music, what do you like to listen to?

Outside of classical music, the genre I most enjoy is international music. It has always been of interest to me since I started learning Italian in high school, and now in college I watch a lot of international films or television. Because of this, I have been introduced to international music (mostly from Korea / Japan / Italy) and have gained an appreciation for it. I don't care that I can't always understand it because I listen to the music more than I do the words!

3. What are some differences and similarities between studying music and engineering?

Music and engineering have many, many things in common, but the strongest of these similarities is the collaborative environment. Often, in engineering disciplines, you work in a small team. Sometimes, they work on their own project, or sometimes, this small team works in collaboration with other small teams towards a larger goal, such as building an aircraft. While studying music or engineering, the practice and studying is often individual. However, the success of the larger whole (either giving a symphonic performance or creating a new aircraft) requires everybody to put their talents together for something larger. Both require high levels of individualism, discipline, and professionalism.

One major difference between music and engineering is the instruction style. Music instruction, for performance's sake, is often one-on-one, you with your teacher and is very personal. While you have to struggle through issues and figure out how to play better, your teacher is there as a guide that can work one-on-one to get you where you can go. Engineering, on the other hand, is dissimilar as the lecture styles are not personalized and are meant to work for the general population. It is not catered to specifically teach you and improve you, but rather, everybody in the room and anything else is largely self-taught.

4. How would you describe the sound of the horn in relation to the other brass instruments?

The sound of the horn, in relation to other brass instruments, is quite difficult to describe without diving deep into context. For a simple answer, the horn is typically described as having a more "mellow" or "rounded" sound or a "darker" sound, compared to the brightness of the trumpet of the trombone, largely due to the conical nature of its tubing. But the horn can play as loud and brash as a trombone or sound as high and bright as a trumpet, depending on the context. There is an extremely wide range of what one can do with the instrument, and this versatility is one of my favorite things about this instrument.

5. What was one thing about your instrument that surprised you when you started learning to play?

One thing that was most surprising was the sheer range of the instrument. We have roughly a 4-octave range that is commonly written for in music, probably of the largest in the brass family. We have the ability to play notes at the range of both a tuba and a trumpet. The color and difficulty in each range is quite different and unique, though a professional can make any note sound exactly the same. I had originally started playing trumpet, and it really was surprising that the range of the horn was almost twice as large.

6. What are you playing right now?

Right now, I am working with my horn quartet at Rowan University to prepare Robert Schumann's Konzertstucke for Four Horns. It is a challenging concerto for four solo horns, which is a unique style of work to begin with, and at my University, we have an annual concerto competition. As most of this group is mostly seniors at this point, we thought we'd prepare this together and try to win the last one we are all eligible for this fall!

Hornist Evan Bretz
Joseph V. Labolito
Hornist Evan Bretz

7. What was an experience that impacted you in your musical journey?

One of the most impactful experiences (and one that I am still a part of) for my musical journey has been performing with the University of Pennsylvania's Symphony Orchestra. In the horn section in particular, there was a lack of horn players and I was one of the individuals to join the ensemble and fill out this section. The first piece I played with them was Mahler's Symphony No.1. The reason this had such a high impact on my musical journey is that this was a piece where I encountered many technical and musical ideas I never had imagined before in such a wonderfully intense and emotional piece. Between that and the other musicians on the stage with me, I really began to connect more with my instrument, learn the possibilities and range of the instrument, and learn that I have a long way to go to master. I have seen significant progress since then, and now I can be both a student and a mentor to others because I have worked to gain more knowledge and experience as a direct result of the impact this performance had for me.

8. How do you plan to keep playing or enjoying music as part of your life in the future?

Outside of professional organizations, there are a plethora of community ensembles that are in place for people who want to play at an older age and don't have the facilities or time to perform professionally. I plan to involve myself with these, as music is not something I want leaving my life anytime soon. For those not into classical music, there are also options for wind ensembles and marching bands for people of all ages, so there are even more options than just with classical music.

9. Do you have any advice for people just getting started with learning an instrument?

You will not be able to do everything you want to when you start learning an instrument. Take it slowly, and start with a teacher. A teacher will prevent you from forming bad habits, which are extremely hard to break down the line. Use the teacher as guidance and set yourself small, reasonable goals: with all of these, you can set yourself up for success early on and really enjoy playing later on in life.

10. What advice would you give your 9-year-old self?

The best advice I could give my 9-year-old self is that as long as you apply yourself, no matter what anybody says to you about your ability or competence, you will succeed in what you want to succeed in. You are a unique person, and absolutely nobody has the right to tell you how to live your life. If you surround yourself with the people that love you and always try your hardest in everything, even if you fail, you will have succeeded. Simpler said than done, but having that goal and mindset is one of the first steps to success.

Lydia Veilleux has worked in music education and arts administration for the past 20 years, and has taught students of all ages in various community settings. As WRTI's Education & Outreach Manager, she oversees educational partnerships, sponsorships, events, and coverage.