John Williams was challenged to play the French horn... was the Force strong with this one?

22 September 2020, 17:38 | Updated: 22 September 2020, 19:37

John Williams French horn debut
John Williams French horn debut. Picture: YouTube / Sarah Willis

By Kyle Macdonald

The movie music maestro was asked to blow a few notes on a French horn. How did he get on?

Berlin Philharmonic French horn virtuoso, Sarah Willis, loves her instrument and enjoys sharing the magic that can happen at the back row of an orchestra’s brass section. You might also have heard from Willis in her infectious release bringing together Mozart and the dance music of Cuba.

And when she’s not on the concert stage or turning sonatas into salsas, she’s touring the world with a unique instrumental challenge for fellow musicians.

It’s called Sarah’s Horn Challenge, where the unsuspecting guests are asked to play a few notes on the French Horn. Sounds straightforward?

She’s posed this challenge to many of her musical friends, from conductor Gustavo Dudamel to trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. And in a newly released video, she sat down with movie music great John Williams (this was recorded pre-COVID, we should note. Horn swapping would not occur otherwise).

He’d never played the horn before. Was the Force strong with this one? Here’s how Maestro got on in his debut...

Read more: We can't stop laughing at this duet for French horn and squeaky chair >

John Williams takes Sarah Willis' Horn Challenge

I’m sure that brings a smile to all of us. The Force was very strong indeed. And what a complete gentleman the great composer is. It all took place during an interview for the new Deutsche Welle film A World Without Beethoven?

Sarah Willis told us that part of the challenge of the French horn is the twists and turns of the instrument.

“The modern day horn is around 3.5 metres long and the note you think you are blowing is never guaranteed to be the one that comes out the other end. That is why we have to practise so much...”

“Funnily enough, children never have a problem getting a note out of the horn,” she said. “You just tell them to blow a raspberry or buzz their lips as if they are trying to spit into the mouthpiece. Grownups are sometimes a bit more self-conscious about blowing raspberries, so often no sound comes out at first.”

But as with most things, the key is to keep trying. “My advice is if at first nothing buzzes, buzz and buzz again,” Willis told us with a smile.

Do that, keep up the practice, and then you might be able do something like this...

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