While the Covid pandemic has been more than trying for most people, Ossining resident Marcus Shaw has made the best of his time during the past several months perfecting his skills as a French horn musician.
In November, he had the rare privilege of playing in a Master Class held by a major American orchestra.
Shaw, 19, was exposed to music at a very young age, and it seems he was predestined for a career in the field. “My mother was a concert pianist and now teaches music at the Claremont Elementary School in Ossining,” he says, “and my father was a trumpet player on Broadway.”
Shaw first started playing the French horn in fourth grade. “I fell in love with it immediately. I really liked the sound and shape of the horn. It’s kind of an obscure instrument and I liked that it was special in that respect.”
Shaw’s skills as a French horn player soon blossomed, and he was encouraged by his teachers to participate in local New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) solo festivals.
That, in turn, led to All-County Band and Orchestra performances, and eventually to the Area All-State Band and Orchestra at Purchase College. While at Ossining High School, he qualified for All-State Band and Orchestra, and this past year, he joined the National Association for Music Education (NAFME) All-Eastern Orchestra Ensemble.
According to Rodrigo Vargas, Shaw’s music teacher at Ossining High School, “Honestly, what makes Marcus stand out is his passion and the way he displays it in such a mature way.”
While in high school, says Vargas, “Marcus practiced all the time and was always so knowledgeable about his instrument and the pieces he was performing, almost like a historian would be. Any piece he played, he researched to get a better understanding of the proper performance aspects of it. As he was honing his craft, he wanted to duplicate what the composer’s intentions were.”
Shaw is now taking a gap year between high school and college, devoting time to preparing his auditions for several prestigious conservatories.
When he’s not practicing, up to five hours a day, he plays horn for myriad musical groups, including New York Youth Symphony, Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, and Philadelphia Sinfonia. He studies with Lelanee Sterrett, Acting Associate Principal Horn of the New York Philharmonic.
Perhaps Shaw’s crowning experience to date is being invited to participate in a coveted Master Class hosted by Philadelphia Orchestra’s International Music Festival, led by Associate Principal Horn Jeffrey Lang. Shaw found the November online master class incredibly helpful.
The piece he chose to play was Richard Strauss’ No. 1 Horn Concerto in E-flat major (1882). “Mr. Vargas sent me the wording of this concerto in high school and I thought it was the most exciting pieces ever,” says Shaw. “I love how diverse this piece is. There are moments where it’s very heroic. There are tender and sweet moments, and there are fast and exciting moments. There’s really a little bit of everything in this piece.”
Shaw says, “Mr. Lang and I spent time going back to the basics of tone production, focusing on the sounds and colors of each note rather than the technical requirements needed to produce them. He explained that I could make the melody of this concerto more captivating to the listener by adding peaks and valleys to each phrase.”
Marcus enjoys showcasing his talent on Instagram. “There are so many benefits to sharing on social media. For one thing, it forces me to practice, and it’s also a good challenge to see if I can pick up my instrument every day and produce a high quality recording.
“In addition, it’s helpful because it enables me to get a whole bunch of perspectives on playing from various college students as well as professionals from around the world.”
Visit Marcus Shaw’s Instagram > @marcus_fhorn.
Laura Joseph Mogil is a freelance writer and publicist residing in Briarcliff Manor.