"David Byrd-Marrow’s tour of the line’s intricacies and quick figuration was stunning and assured." - Allan Kozinn, The New York Times
American hornist David Byrd-Marrow is the solo horn of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), a new music collective that performs internationally and serves as ensemble-in-residence at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. Working with a uniquely wide range of performers, he has premiered works by Matthias Pintscher, Arthur Kampela, George Lewis, Tyshawn Sorey, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Du Yun, Marcos Balter, Wang Lu, Kate Soper, Miguel Zenón, and Chick Corea. He frequently performs at festivals including the Ojai Music Festival, Bay Chamber Concerts, the Mostly Mozart Festival, the Tanglewood Music Center, and as faculty at the Banff Music Centre. Formerly a member of Carnegie Hall’s Ensemble Connect, he has also made guest appearances in the New York Philharmonic, The Knights, Decoda, the Atlanta and Tokyo symphony orchestras, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, and the Washington National Opera. As a soloist, he has performed Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante with the Seattle Symphony. He has recorded on many labels including Tundra, More Is More, Nonesuch, EMI, Deutsche Grammophon, and Naxos. Mr. Byrd-Marrow received his Bachelor of Music degree from The Juilliard School and Master of Music from Stony Brook University.
My earliest memories of music go back to when I was about 4. In the back seat of my parents' car, I would make nonsensical sound effect noises, most likely in an effort to get more attention. Not that I needed it, but we all want more until we don't, right? They then made the mistake of giving me a kazoo. I don't know what happened with that, but my guess is that it was "lost" soon after.
My father used to be an elementary school band teacher, so my father was my elementary school band teacher. I started on drums in 2nd grade. Because the rules of the school were that you couldn't be in band before 3rd grade, I played for the school drill team's drum section. Yes, we had a drill team, and that drill team had a stationary drum section. It was limiting, considering that drill teams march, but we made do. Once the third grade came around I had already been practicing the cornet at home, so I already had a pretty good grip on the instrument. I remember at some point, maybe the 5th grade, I played a solo in front of the entire school. The solo was called "Grand Prix". I don't remember who wrote it, and I'm not sure if I ever knew, but I still remember how it goes.
I've been good at remembering music for as long as I can remember. Not savant-genius good. Just good. Like, good-at-Simon good. My whole life I've attributed this to the fact that, around the time that I was in 5th grade, I joined the Atlanta Boys Choir. The ABC was and is one of the best collections of cherub voices in the world. I didn't know this when I joined, but figured it out when we traveled internationally. The trip with them was my first international voyage (aside from Jamaica with the fam), and I realized early on that I was a big fan of traveling. It was on this tour that I recall falling in love with the life of a musician. We were in St. Petersburg, which could have been on the moon, for all I knew. The Stalinist name had only just been changed, and the army was still policing the streets. I'm not totally sure which hall we sang in, but I think it was the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. We sang the Britten Ceremony of Carols (the harp interlude is and was my favorite movement) and I remember thinking that I could have done a better job. In any case, the crowd went wild, breaking into unison clapping applause. I had never heard this before, and I was blown away. I thought that I wanted to do this a lot more.
I took up the French Horn in the 7th grade. My father (also a Jazz french horn player) let me play his horn, and convinced me that I was really great at it. I also liked the sound, so those two factors were enough to get me to try doing it for the next twenty years.
I started off studying with my father, but in 8th or 9th grade I started studying with Richard Deane. The way he tells it, my first lesson was pretty god awful. I remember sounding great. In any case I got better, since I was (and still am) someone who is driven by positive feedback, and it's all because of Richard and his dog, Pookie. Richard and Pookie provided a perfectly nurturing and encouraging setting for me. He showed me the skills I needed to get to the next level, which was conservatory life. I was the first, but several of his past students have gone through the ropes, and are doing quite well at this point. My time at Juilliard was great. Even then I felt lucky to have the friends that I met there. And studying with Jerome Ashby was an absolute blessing. A nation of horn players know the sound that he preached.
My last year of undergrad was hectic (understatement), as I decided to undertake a massive overhaul of my physical approach to playing the horn. I'll spare you the details and just say that it was huge. In fact, Ashby had suggested that I do it my freshman year but I resisted and, in a testament to his patience, he yielded. When I did finally decide to do it, we concluded that I should study part time with William Purvis, who was known to have dealt successfully with this sort of thing. He took me to SUNY Stony Brook, and we managed to figure it out. I'd say the whole deal took about three years to complete. I know, this is all very exciting but it was honestly a huge project so I'd be remiss to leave it out.
One of the most important consequences of my time at Stony Brook was the opportunity to play with the Contemporary Chamber Players. Eduardo Leandro was the conductor at the time, and the group included both jazz and classical majors. We played Iannis Xenakis' Palimpsest and I remember thinking that if I could play the things demanded of me in that piece, I could tackle just about anything. Coincidentally, I've since recorded it with ICE.
Since I’ve been done with school, I’ve have the opportunity to be a part of an insanely wide variety of musical projects. Much more so than the freshman David had imagined. It’s attractive to want to appoint value to any one musical experience or another, but I’m realizing (perhaps later than most) that the point is something else. I’m not sure. Something like the energy you give is equal to the value you appoint. And sometimes the received enjoyment or fulfillment won’t necessarily equal to the energy you gave. And while that might be sad or disappointing, it’s not nearly as sad or as disappointing as missing out on an opportunity to give your all on a project and receive that return on your efforts in the moment. I think a lot of musicians would agree that then best feeling is crushing a concert that you worked your butt off for.