Studio Visit: Bernhard Scully
Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, Melissa Merli visits with musician Bernhard Scully, 36, of Urbana.
Q: How long have you been a professor in the University of Illinois School of Music? Were you a Karl Kramer hire?
A: Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. I think I was his last hire. This is my fourth year here.
Q: So you play French horn. I always wondered, what is a French horn?
A: The term horn is a modern term. Actually, it's the formal term for the instrument. Believe it or not, there's an International Horn Society, and it formally changed the name from French horn to horn in the 1970s because the instrument has nothing to do with France.
Q: Why was it called the French horn, then?
A: When the horn became prominent in the 1700s, around the time of Mozart, the instrument was widely known as the French horn because it was mainly manufactured in France.
It had essentially been a signal instrument before — to signal the mail, the king's arrival, and for hunting. In the mid-1600s, orchestras began to want a horn.
Q: How long have you been playing it?
A: I started when I was 11, in sixth grade, when I entered band. That was in Georgia.
My parents are both professional pianists. My dad is a professor of piano at Valdosta State University in Georgia. My mother always taught piano at home. So I grew up with music, big time.
I played piano and violin when I was a kid, and sang a lot. It turned out my lips and disposition were good for the French horn, and I had good teachers.
Q: When did you start winning awards?
A: I wrestled and broke an arm when I was 13. So I started practicing hard on the horn. I think I was in eighth grade when I auditioned for and got into the all-state orchestra. Then I won other awards.
Q: How old were you when you started playing in the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Canadian Brass?
A: The Canadian Brass was essentially my first big gig. But one of the first I got, right after college (Northwestern) was Ian Hobson's hiring me to play horn in Sinfonia da Camera.
I would come down here once a month from the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) to rehearse and play with them. I was doing other things, too. I joined Canadian Brass in 2004, right after graduate school at the University of Wisconsin.
Q: Isn't Canadian Brass a major ensemble?
A: It's definitely the most famous brass group. They've been at the top of the brass profession since the group began in 1970. They had a huge influence on me because I listened to their records when I was young and saw them on TV.
Q: How long have you been with them?
A: I first joined in 2004 and left in '07 for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
I was sad to leave Canadian Brass because I loved it, but we toured two-thirds of the year and I had just gotten married. When the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra contacted me, my wife and I decided if there's anything to leave Canadian Brass for, that was it. We're both from the Twin Cities.
I left the St. Paul orchestra in 2010. That's when this job came open. Now, 3-1/2 years later, the horn player in Canadian Brass left and they called and asked whether I wanted to rejoin the group.
I thought this is the perfect time to do that. They've scaled back on their touring, so I have time for teaching and my family. I was excited to do it because the group is so much fun to play with.
Editor's note: Scully didn't mention that he is the first classical brass player to be awarded the McKnight Artist Fellowship for Performing Musicians and was the only American invited to participate in the Geneva International Horn Competition in 2004.