Gabe Boyd ranked top French horn player in Virginia

Gabe Boyd at the All-Virginia Band, Chorus & Orchestra competition pre-Covid. Courtesy of John Boyd.

Gabe Boyd at the All-Virginia Band, Chorus & Orchestra competition pre-Covid. Courtesy of John Boyd.

Emma Halman, Staffer

For junior Gabe Boyd, practice really does make perfect. Along with being a member of Princess Anne’s Fabulous Marching Cavaliers for the past three years, Boyd has spent time focusing on perfecting his French horn prowess. Clearly paying off in the end, Boyd received first chair in March in the All-Virginia band ensemble, ranking him the No. 1 French horn player in the state. 

In his third year of auditioning, Boyd went through an extensive process to reach the state level. First, regional auditions were held to select the top six horn players from across the Virginia Peninsula, Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach. Then, the top four of those six qualified for the All-Virginia audition, along with the top four players from the Virginia Beach District Band audition. Finally, during the All-Virginia audition, all of the top four horns from the different ensembles competed by playing their scales, a chromatic scale, a prepared étude (a short, considerably difficult musical composition designed to perfect a specific musical skill), and a sight-reading piece. 

A sight-reading piece, Boyd explains, is “a piece of music that we have never seen before that we get one minute to figure out how to play without actually playing it. We turn it over, we get a minute to look at it, and then we have to play it.”

The audition is anonymous, with the judges behind a black screen scoring each player based on what they hear. The players are scored out of 200 points, based on criteria such as their tone and overall accuracy. 

With such an extensive audition process, it is important that each player has the sufficient amount of time to fully prepare. Arguably, the hardest aspect of the audition is playing the étude, which is why the players receive it a month and a half beforehand. Boyd attests, “It is stacked full of notes and when playing that fast it gets difficult to make each note speak and sound like its own note.”

While the All-Virginia audition is normally held at James Madison University, this year it was conducted virtually. Using the online program, Boyd comments, “You get one opportunity to record as opposed to millions of opportunities, which is good because it more accurately emulates what the online audition process is actually like.”

Gabe Boyd with his French horn at the All-Virginian Band, Chorus & Orchestra competition pre-Covid. Courtesy of John Boyd.

Boyd auditioned in late February and received his results about a month later, in mid-March. Last year he was ranked the sixth French horn player in Virginia, and 11th the year prior to that. 

Boyd is continuing to practice for the All-Virginia concert event to be held April 22-24. He will be leading the other four horn players in the symphony in playing two different pieces. After practicing over Zoom for a total of 14 hours, Boyd will record his individual parts and send them in to be mixed and turned into the final online performance. 

PA band director John Boyd summarizes his view on his son’s practicing and success: “As his band director, I am continually amazed at the level of proficiency Gabe already had when he came to our school, and at the amount of growth he has shown in his time since. As his dad, well, it’s hard because I am of course proud of him, as any dad would be, not just as a player but as a young man. But I also have the insight of being his dad and a band director at home. I sit downstairs sometimes and listen while he practices upstairs and my wife will look over and just kind of see me staring at the ceiling, and I say, ‘He is simply unreal. What he is doing right now is unreal. I never achieved that level of musicianship when I was in high school.’”