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Sweet music: French horn skills land local student spot at prestigious Juilliard

August 29th, 2011 7:02 am by Amanda Marsh

The boy who once had a duct taped French horn is now a man about to attend Juilliard in New York City.

Patrick Hodge, 19, is a recent Science Hill graduate and the first of such to attend the prestigious school since the mid-’70s. His move to New York may be delayed a bit due to Hurricane Irene. However, the tiny setback will probably become just another part of the story that led this athlete-turned-musician to worldly travels and a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“I originally wanted to play the trumpet,” said Hodge, who was inspired by his older sister Alexis, a clarinet player. “He (Randy Coapstick) played all the instruments for us and then he brought out the French horn. I thought it was cool because it was circular. I liked the sound so I asked to play it.”

After buzzing on the mouthpiece, Coapstick agreed that the French horn was a good fit for the 12-year-old. It didn’t take long for Hodge to make progress and to quickly outgrow his duct taped instrument. He swept clinic competitions in seventh through ninth grade. Another teacher, Anthony Parnther, also pushed him in the right direction by persuading him to learn songs from memory and perform in public.

“I just developed a knack for it,” Hodge said. “I like it a lot.”

After getting first chair in the Science Hill wind ensemble as a freshman, the young musician decided to really take things seriously and started thinking about a possible career in music. The first step was extending his studies beyond school, so Hodge attended music festivals in the U.S. and across the Atlantic for four straight summers. He spent two weeks in Saarburg, Germany, last month and previously attended the Eastern Musical Festival for five weeks.

“I have been to a festival every summer and that really develops your skill,” he said. “You stay away from home and you really focus on music. Mentally, it makes you tougher.”

Hodge has also traveled hours just to take lessons from the best. He made numerous trips to Appalachian State to learn from Karen Roberts and even longer trips to the North Carolina School of the Arts to receive instruction from David Jolly. As the lengthy lessons added up, Hodge realized that his time in high school was running out. Both of his teachers encouraged him to apply to numerous schools. He settled on six, including his future school of Juilliard, another Manhattan school — Mannes College, plus a few others. Then, the tedious application process began.

Each one required an audition.

“At the time I applied to these schools I thought, ‘there’s probably no way I can get into to any of these schools,’ ” Hodge said. “I’m just going to go up there and do what I do. I knew it was a long shot.”

And that’s exactly what he did. Hodge and his mother Jo Ann arranged a weeklong trip from New York to Philadelphia and Boston, so he could perform for each possible school. Juilliard was the first school on the list.

“I just went in there and played my stuff,” he said. “The audition lasted 10 minutes, but it felt like 30 seconds. They asked me a few questions about myself and I was so nervous that I probably sounded like an uninteresting person because I didn’t know what to say.”

With acceptance letters from Mannes College, the University of Miami and the North Carolina School of Arts, Hodge was delighted to have options. Then, he checked the Juilliard website.

“They said I was accepted into the Juilliard Horn Studio,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s a pretty big blessing just to have the opportunity.”

Although he toyed around with the idea of going to Miami or Mannes, the scholarship money offered to him from Juilliard gave Hodge the reassurance that New York was where he belongs.

“I just really wanted to go to a place where it’s all about the arts,” he said. “It was pretty much Juilliard from the beginning because it’s such an honor to get into that school. It provides for so many connections outside college and just the name helps you.”

The Juilliard freshman was one of three undergraduates accepted into the horn program and will move into a dorm on the 24th floor. He’ll start classes in ear training, music theory, music history and piano on Sept. 8 and will study under Julie Landsman, the former principal horn at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Hodge says he’s a bit nervous, but looking forward to playing in an orchestra and seeing where his studies will take him. His goal is to play in a symphony orchestra, and Hodge says he’ll have to “play amazingly” to make that happen.

Going to Juilliard isn’t quite the traditional college experience. Giving up the chance to go to the University of Miami for a typical semester of academic classes and football games isn’t something Hodge regrets.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I get distracted very easily and I decided that if I can really focus in my undergraduate and get really good on the French horn, it will develop my professional career.”

He’s not sad about giving up sports, either.

“Before I played music, I originally wanted to be a pro baseball player,” Hodge said. “I didn’t hit a growth spurt until I was in eighth or ninth grade. That’s when other guys were a lot bigger than me and I was unmatched in sports. I just accepted it. I still play for fun, but my main dream is music. I know I’m good at it.”

Craig Campbell, a 1976 Science Hill graduate, studied the organ at Juilliard. Patrick Hodge is the first to follow in his footsteps and since Campbell still lives in the New York area, he’s volunteered to be a mentor of sorts, which makes Kelly and Jo Ann Hodge very happy. With the assurance that their son won’t be all alone in the “Big Apple,” Hodge’s parents say they’ll miss hearing his two-hour practice sessions in the basement.

“It was a dream we wanted him to go for,” Jo Ann said.

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