French horn solo highlights orchestra concert

Soloist Karon Lyon inspired by British musician's memoir

Mike Easterling

FARMINGTON — It was six years ago that Farmington resident Karon Lyon again picked up the French horn — her childhood instrument — after a 40-year absence. It was not exactly a conscious decision.

Teun Fetz

"I began having vivid dreams of playing again," she said. "And I knew I needed to do it."

Lyon, who had played the instrument through high school before abandoning it, quickly found herself immersed in it again. She joined the orchestra and big bands at San Juan College, the Southwest Civic Winds group in Durango, Colo., and, for a time, even the High Desert Winds ensemble in Santa Fe before she got tired of the travel.

And when she picked up English journalist Jasper Rees' 2009 memoir "A Devil to Play: One Man's Quest to Master the Orchestra's Most Difficult Instrument," she also found inspiration. Rees recounts in a self-deprecating style his experience of picking up his childhood French horn after a 20-year absence and vowing to become good enough to perform for a paying audience within a year.

Lyon said that's exactly what Rees did, managing to wrangle a gig for himself as a soloist for the British Horn Society within 12 months of his return to music. Lyon so admired Rees' grit that she became determined to duplicate his feat, albeit on a more modest level.

She'll get her chance to make good on her pledge this weekend when she performs Mozart's "Concerto for Horn in E Flat" as the soloist for the San Juan College Orchestra.

That choice of material was not random. Lyon said that not only is it the same piece that Rees chose for his moment in the spotlight, it's also a composition that moves her deeply.

"It touches a place in my soul that I can get beyond the nuances of the music and just play it," she said. "That doesn’t happen with all music."

Teun Fetz, an assistant professor of music at the college who will conduct the orchestra during this weekend's concert, said he was delighted when Lyon approached him with the idea of soloing on the piece.

"One of the things I want to do is promote local musicians and provide them with opportunities to play music they might not be able to play with a professional group," he said. "Karon's done a great job, and I think she'll play it really well.”

Lyon acknowledged she was nervous about performing as a soloist — something she's never done before.

"This is way beyond my comfort zone," she said.

Even so, she said the atmosphere Fetz has generated around the SJC Orchestra is a comfortable one that promotes personal and group development.

"It's a very good, welcoming musical opportunity," she said. "He welcomes people of all levels, and I've been able to grow with the San Juan College Orchestra and Band."

Lyon said the pursuit of that ideal is what has led her to perform with so many groups over the last six years.

"Any opportunity I can have to improve and gain exposure to different conductors and styles, I just love," she said.

Lyon's solo will be just the highlight of the performance. Fetz said the concert includes a mix of compositions ranging from baroque and classical to contemporary film music. The lineup features Handel's "Royal Fireworks Music," Haydn's "Symphony #49," an arrangement of "Jupiter" from Guistav Holst's "The Planets" and "Hatikvah" by Elliot del Borgo. There will also be a medley of film music by such composers as John Williams and Alexandre DesPlat, including "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

The orchestra is comprised of SJC students and community members and includes about 40 musicians, though some of the pieces to be performed in the concert will be performed by smaller ensembles, most notably the works by Handel and Haydn.

Fetz said the involvement of non-students in the orchestra is essential to broadening its appeal.

"I really want to engage the community and involve the community, as well as students," he said. "We are trying to reach out and embrace everyone as best we can."

That mix of students and community members can provide challenges. Fetz acknowledged the timing of the orchestra's performance — coming only a few weeks after students returned to campus from their holiday break — is less than ideal.

"That’s the trickiest thing," he said. "We had the Masterworks concert at the end of October, and we started rehearsals for this in November, so we had only one or two weeks to practice before the break, then everybody came back a few weeks ago. So we've been trying to get the rust off."

Fetz said he strongly encouraged orchestra members to rehearse on their own over the holiday break, knowing there wouldn't be much time to get everyone on the same page again, since the orchestra only gets together for rehearsal once a week.

"The trick is retaining what you learned before and being able to move forward," he said. "So there's a lot on the players. They have to practice enough (on their own) to be sharp and ready. But that makes it exciting and gives you something to work for. It keeps you on your toes and gives you something to push for, as well."

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: San Juan College Orchestra concert

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27

Where: The Henderson Fine Arts Performance Hall on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington

Tickets: $8 for adult, $6 for students and seniors at the SJC box office or at

For more information: Call 505-566-3430.