Brass Pathways Q&A: Danae Eggen, French Horn

Danae Eggen is a French horn player, originally from Canada but now living in London. She is currently posted in the Irish Guards Band at Wellington Barracks with whom she has recently taken part in the Royal Wedding and the Trooping of the Colour. She is about to start studying for a Master’s of Music at the Royal College of Music.

To find out about what it takes to become a professional French horn player, we asked Danae to tell us about her education and career so far, as well as what it is she loves about playing the French horn.

Can you tell us a bit about your career to date?

Although I’m from Vancouver, Canada, my career didn’t really take off until I moved to Montreal where I completed my bachelor’s degree while working as second horn in the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 438th Helicopter Squadron Band. During this posting I got to perform all over central Canada along with a parade tour to Amsterdam. In March 2017, I won position in the Irish Guards Band at Wellington Barracks, London which I have been posted in since October 2017. Since I moved to London I have been freelancing in the city whilst taking lessons with players from the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Opera House, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

What first inspired you to learn the French horn?

I grew up listening to my eldest brother endlessly practising piano every day. Inspired by him, I started taking piano lessons from the age of eight, which taught me basic theory and harmony. By the time I got to high school and had to choose an instrument for concert band I wanted to pick something challenging since I had more training than the majority of my peers. It was very difficult to learn at first, but listening to my horn teachers play in concert showed what the French horn had to offer the orchestra.

What sort of education on the French horn did you have?

I studied at the Vancouver Academy of Music, studying with teachers from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra from the age of 16. Since then I have completed a bachelor’s degree at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University in Montreal, Canada while studying with the section of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. This upcoming term I will be enrolled in the Royal College of Music for a Master’s of Music with Simon Rayner and Tim Jones.

What was it that made you want to turn learning the French horn into a career?

When I started playing in the Vancouver Academy of Music’s youth orchestra, I was surrounded by players who not only played an instrument as a hobby, but ultimately wanted to work towards an orchestral career. I had never considered it as a possibility growing up at all. My conductors and teachers saw my potential and generously led me towards auditioning for a music school that could teach me how to play at a professional level. I saw the incredible amount of work it would take and it was challenge that seemed worth more than anything. I am still progressing to one day win an orchestral position, but for now I have many stepping stones in place to eventually get me there.

How did you first get into the industry, and what inspired you to turn learning into a career?

During my undergraduate studies I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force 438th Helicopter Squadron Band which funded my education. I learned at an early age what it meant to be supported on an income based on my playing. Opportunities I gained through the military, along with my ongoing education, led to more successful auditions and performances which propelled me towards basing my career in a growing and artistic city such as London.

What have been your career highlights so far?

There are many performances I have taken part in that I will truly never forget. Performing in concert at Domaine Forget in Charlevoix, Quebec; my first solo recital featuring a 50-minute program; winning a position in the Royal Canadian Airforce and British Army bands; performing masterclasses with world-class teachers such as Kerry Turner and Jeff Nelsen; meeting the Hornisten der Berliner Philharmoniker; and taking part in the music for the Royal Wedding.

What do you love most about what you do?

The best part about this job is being able to travel about and perform great pieces with real, true artists. I’ve learned that wherever I go, even if the culture is completely different, everyone sat on that stage and in the audience just wants to hear and perform beautiful music. Moments like this remind me why I sit in a room by myself with a horn for hours everyday.

What do you think are the most important skills needed by a French horn player?

French horn is rarely anyone’s first instrument. I took piano lessons for years and fiddled around with trombone for two years before I considered the horn. It is easier to conquer if you have some previous musical background.

Also, a trained ear. The harmonics on the horn are very close together and it can be difficult to decipher what note you could play at any moment. Practise singing intervals or playing your lines on piano in order to memorize the pitches before you start blowing through the lead pipe.

What advice would you give someone learning the French horn?

Patience is key. Even the world’s best horn players are constantly improving their playing. Take your time to learn the instrument. Utilize your mentors and teachers and ask for lessons to help you. We are all doing this for the same reason.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the industry as a professional?

Have a good balance of utilizing every playing opportunity and your own personal practice. When I was younger I was involved in so many ensembles it really got in the way of my own professional development, and of what my private teacher was trying to help me improve with. It’s very important to get your name out there and do well on a gig, but if you have three hours of rehearsal everyday it uses up all the chops you need later in order to woodshed your repertoire and études.

What are you involved with at the moment?

I’m currently quite busy as a member of the Irish Guards Band at Wellington Barracks. We have just finished a busy couple of months preparing for the Royal Wedding and Trooping the Colour. These upcoming months I will be preparing for a brass quintet tour to Israel and performing in the East Wall Project at Tower Hill this summer.

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