Hometown harmony

Sarah Boxmeyer, who grew up on Friendship Street in Mayfair, is the only Philadelphian in this year’s graduating class at the Curtis Institute of Music.

Sweet sounds: Sarah Boxmey­er plays the French horn in her home. She is head­ing to Yale to get her mas­ter’s de­gree in mu­sic per­form­ance. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

When Sarah Boxmey­er was 5, she saw a one-man band. One of the in­stru­ments he was play­ing was an ac­cor­di­on, and she was hooked. 

“I made my par­ents sit with me for hours so I could watch him play,” she said.

By the time she was 6, she was tak­ing ac­cor­di­on les­sons and play­ing the “Bean­ie Baby Song,” which her teach­er wrote es­pe­cially for her.

Fast-for­ward through 18 years and a change in in­stru­ment. Boxmey­er now plays French horn, is gradu­at­ing from the world-fam­ous Curtis In­sti­tute of Mu­sic and is head­ing to Yale to get her mas­ter’s de­gree in mu­sic per­form­ance.

Boxmey­er, who grew up on Friend­ship Street in May­fair, is the only Phil­adelphi­an in this year’s gradu­at­ing class at Curtis.

Boxmey­er prac­tices sev­er­al hours daily — out­side of her Curtis classes and re­hears­als. Study­ing mu­sic, she said, “is every day.”

She’s been do­ing that for years, she said. Feel­ing the mu­sic, she said, is something new­er.

“Things changed for me about two years ago,” she said. “I began to un­der­stand what mu­sic­al­ity is — put­ting emo­tion in­to the mu­sic.”

You have to give your­self per­mis­sion to feel mu­sic, she said.

“Ro­mance,” by Ca­m­ille Saint-Saens, a short piece that she played for her gradu­ation re­cit­al, at­trac­ted her be­cause it is “packed with emo­tion.”

Boxmey­er, who went to grade school at Holmes­burg Baptist Chris­ti­an School, didn’t take up the horn un­til she was in ninth grade at Girls High. 

She refers to her in­stru­ment as a “horn,” not as a “French horn.” Be­sides, it’s not really French, she said. “It had its ori­gins in Ger­many.” 

It can be “a very scary in­stru­ment,” she said, but ad­ded she was en­joy­ing her­self about a year after she began.

Horn is not an in­stru­ment played of­ten in pop­u­lar mu­sic. It is, however, heard of­ten in movie soundtracks, she said. The mu­sic that ac­com­pan­ies an en­trance by Darth Vader in the Star Wars epis­odes, for ex­ample, is horn, she said. There is a lot of horn in the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings, she said. Wolfgang Amadeus Moz­art wrote many pieces for horn.

“He had a friend who was a butcher and a horn vir­tu­oso,” she said. Moz­art had a lot of fun writ­ing pieces for his pal, she said, and a lot of fun at his ex­pense, too. He craf­ted the pieces to make his friend seem to be com­ing in too early or too late, Boxmey­er said.

“He was try­ing to make it look like the horn play­er was wrong,” she said.


The Curtis In­sti­tute of Mu­sic, foun­ded in 1924, trains young mu­si­cians for ca­reers as per­form­ing artists. Since Curtis provides tu­ition-free schol­ar­ships, com­pet­i­tion to be one of the small num­ber of stu­dents ac­cep­ted each year is in­tense.

The first time she au­di­tioned, Boxmey­er said, she didn’t make it. She at­ten­ded Temple, and two years later, tried again and was ac­cep­ted.

Be­sides study­ing horn, she stud­ied mu­sic the­ory and mu­sic his­tory, she said. She has per­formed at Ve­r­i­zon Hall in the Kim­mel Cen­ter, Prince Mu­sic Theat­er, the Mann Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts and Kim­mel’s Perel­man Theat­er. She plays with the Curtis Sym­phony Or­ches­tra and is a sub for the Hart­ford (Conn.) Sym­phony.

Des­pite all the hours of prac­tice, re­hears­ing and per­form­ing that are re­quired to mas­ter clas­sic­al mu­sic, there are op­por­tun­it­ies to think — and per­form — dif­fer­ently.

In a re­cit­al for an im­pro­visa­tion class, Boxmey­er said, she put down the French horn and played the Sho­far — an an­cient Jew­ish trum­pet made from a ram’s horn.

Not only was the per­form­ance well-re­ceived by the audi­ence, she said, “It helped me to let go and trust my mu­sic­al in­stincts.”

Still, there is that one im­mut­able mu­sic­al rule learned at Curtis that can nev­er be for­got­ten. “You can be late for class,” she said, “but nev­er late for re­hears­al.” ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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