Hospice of the Piedmont: You are playing Dukas’ “Villanelle” on both the concert and our upcoming CD. What is the difference between concert playing and the experience of recording?
Katy Ambrose: When recording, there is always the idea that you can edit and splice if a note is out of tune or cracked. That can be very freeing, because it allows you to take liberties you might not be able to in live performance. That said, there is nothing that can replace the feeling of being in the same space as a performer; breathing the same air as them and being a part of the performance experience. They really are two different arts, recording and live performance.
HoP: The French horn is a notoriously difficult instrument. What drew you to it, and what should people know about playing a brass instrument?
KA: The sound of the horn is very special. It actually wasn't my first choice, at age ten, that was the saxophone, but thankfully my parents were prescient enough to know that they did not want to listen to the sounds of a beginning saxophone student. I had always been in choir and the horn has a very vocal sound, and a lot of very lush repertoire so it was a natural fit for me. Brass instruments are the closest-related instrument to the human voice, if you think about it. We are using our lips to create vibration, and that is very similar to using your vocal chords in that it is a physical part of your body. We don't use reeds, our lips are the conduit for vibration, and that makes brass playing a unique bridge between vocalists and instrumentalists.
HoP: Why do you think that music has such a profound effect on both hospice patients and the general public?
KA: This is a great question. I think that music and memory are very closely linked, and music can be like a kind of story-telling. When I listen to a piece of music, there is always the decision of whether I am going to research what the composer intended or allow my brain to follow the story it hears based on my life at that moment. Because sound exists only in the split second of its creation there is the aspect of timelessness too; that every time you hear a piece it will be a different experience. There is something mysterious about that, to have something that is wholly mutable depending on the person experiencing it, and that can be a source of great comfort when someone is looking at the unknown in their own life.