At 18, Sam Wood hit a milestone some musicians spend their lifetime working toward: performing at Carnegie Hall.
The recent high school graduate and French horn player is in the midst of a seven-city tour across the U.S. and Canada as a member of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.
“I’ve always been doing team stuff…baseball and countless other sports…it’s just fun to play as an ensemble,” he said. “The first day I sat down and was like, ‘This is the greatest ensemble I’ve ever played with.’”
The Colleyville resident spent his senior year in Michigan studying music at the Interlochen Arts Academy. But two of his most formative music teachers live back home — and, in fact, under the same roof — his mom and dad.
His mom, Molly, currently teaches high school English, but taught French horn lessons prior to the pandemic. His dad, Gerry, is a principal horn player for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“She’s a whole lot more proficient and patient at teaching the younger students, so she teaches them up through their freshman year,” Gerry laughed. “I have less patience, but I work with the older students a little bit better so I took over after that.”
All three siblings play the French horn, but out of the trio, Sam said he was probably the most excited to pick it up.
Sam heard French horns everywhere, and not just because he grew up in a home of brass players. Star Wars, The Avengers, Jurassic Park and a video game called ARK: Survival Evolved all had music that featured horns prominently.
“I’d be like ‘Mom, mom! Dad, dad! Listen! It’s a French horn right there!’” he recalled.
Growing up, Sam also liked the bass trombone and oboe but French horn was ultimately his favorite.
“I just really love the sound that it produces,” he said. “It can be in your face or have the most gorgeous tone in the whole orchestra, and I was so excited. I knew that I was going to play horn.”
He started playing the instrument in sixth grade, and would eventually perform with the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra.
Sam credits his mom’s teaching with helping him get accepted into the Texas All-State Orchestra his freshman year. Seeing his success there, she encouraged him to apply for the National Youth Orchestra. Sam auditioned but didn’t make the cut last year.
His dad offered him some advice: practice, practice, practice. As musicians advance in their career, Gerry said, it’s still important to continue to hone their mastery of the fundamentals like scales, long tones and arpeggios.
From his first audition to the second, Sam played similar material but changed his approach.
“I just focused more like I was performing for someone instead of ‘I have to get this right and I have to make them like this,’” Sam said. “I was more focused on ‘I want to enjoy playing this.’”
His dad is a proponent of that philosophy.
“If you tie your self-worth to the judgments of others, then you are generally going to be disappointed,” Gerry said. “But if you continue to play music for the love of the music, you will generally be successful.”
After performing with the National Youth Orchestra this summer, he will continue his music studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N. Y., this fall.
“My dad is sometimes right,” Sam conceded. “And this is one of those occasions.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.