Northeast Times

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.” ••

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