Minority Report

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This man was rehearsing for a concert in Dumaguete- a concert given by the Philippine Philharmonic a few years ago at Foundation University.

He plays the French Horn, a brass instrument important in classical music. You can see it on his lap- a heavy, complex tangle of brass tubes and valves. It’s very expensive to buy, and very difficult to play.

This man spent years studying and learning his instrument and it’s music, and now he is the “first chair” horn player in the country’s best orchestra, which means he is the best horn player in the Philippines. That’s quite an accomplishment, but an unusual and rather strange one in this country.

The horn is a very flexible and expressive instrument. It has a broad range of volume and feeling, from mournfully soft sounds to bright blasts that suggest triumphant action. It’s an essential element in classical symphonies and chamber music- but it’s used nowhere else.

Horns are never seen in rock bands, or in jazz, or in popular music of any kind. They’re too expensive, too difficult to play, and they don’t seem to fit anywhere but an orchestra. The horn is a purely classical instrument.

And Western classical music itself is not popular in the Philippines. You might think that with all the Western influence so prominent here in technology, style, and fashion, that symphonic music would follow. But most Filipinos have never heard a symphony- live, or even recorded.

That complex form of violent emotional expression- It’s just out of bounds. Philippine culture tends to avoid violent displays of personal feeling, except in rigidly prescribed forms: love songs, hip-hop dance troupes, boxing matches, slapstick comedy, religious devotions.

Classical music, in contrast, concerns itself with rapidly shifting waves of strong feeling- changing from tragic, to violently angry, to wildly joyful, often within seconds– not the kind of ride most people here want to take. But there are always a few people willing to take the chance.

And this man, the horn player, has taken more than a chance. Perhaps he took it up in a school band somewhere and fell in love with it, and with the music. And he must have felt that love very deeply, deeply enough that he was willing to devote his whole life to it, to mastering this difficult and demanding instrument.

And because of people like him, there will always be orchestras.


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