My Rehearsal Room: Isaac Shieh

My Rehearsal Room: Isaac Shieh

Getting to know the natural horn. 

Isaac Shieh
Melbourne, Australia

My Rehearsal Room: Isaac Shieh

Getting to know the natural horn. 

Part Two: Retracing the Past, Reshaping the Future

As a child, I grew up listening to great orchestras like the Vienna Philharmonic and London Symphony play masterpieces on CDs my dad brought home, and I remember being so excited, experiencing unexplainable emotions and sensations. But quite frankly, I never imagined being a musician myself, nor did I know what a horn was. So when I first took music seriously as a career, I was both shocked and excited by the challenges that lay within such a self-fulfilling journey. 

The professional world of music performance is often isolating and alienating to those not familiar with this unique field. Many people I have come across (for example, in the bowls club) often ask me whether I am going to “become a teacher” or “play in the orchestra”. But when I tell them I am pursuing a career in natural horn and performing as a chamber soloist, they seem both intrigued and distanced by this “unconventional” answer. Even a lot of my friends and colleagues are perplexed by such a unique pursuit of self-expression through music.

Glancing back to the 7-year-old me, I played the horn for two reasons: to wear the cool band uniform and to have fun. As I mature as a person and musician, I begin to realise that music offers the rare opportunity for expressing indescribable sensations and emotions. It is a universal way to reach and heal the hearts of unsuspecting listeners, from all ages and backgrounds. 

So why the natural horn? I mean, isn’t it odd to attempt to find my own voice through something ancient and forgotten?

Follow Isaac on Instagram @naturally_isaac

Follow Isaac on Instagram @naturally_isaac

As a musician, I always strive for truth in the music – a way to express universal themes through expressive and lyrical phrases or poignant and tragic motifs. It is through the discovery of the deeper meanings behind music that I find ways to express and experience something otherworldly, something divine. 

The natural horn in many ways is an instrument of self-discovery. There is no one definitive method of playing. Different people have different sized and shaped hands, and it is through these connecting series of individualised hand gestures that the melodic lines in music are formed. Through uncovering the “secrets” to such an “imperfect” instrument, I learnt and continue to learn more about myself not only as a musician but also as a person. It shifts the focus from the final outcome of performances to the process behind creating and recreating great art. If we focus so much on the final product of music, I think we lose sight of something very important and special: the power of imagination. In many ways, playing on natural horn encourages me to convey uncharted emotions from my caprice within the structure of the music. This shift of focus from the execution of notes to the creative process of music not only encourages active music-making but also promotes the preservation of invention and innovation in creative arts. By reconnecting with the past, I feel I am encouraged to construct something that is new and beautiful. 

Yes, it is vulnerable to expose myself completely, expressing my deepest desires and emotions that often I keep closely to myself. But for me, it is far more important to connect with the listeners by opening up my world to them, allowing myself to be vulnerable in the moment of creating music. While I may be doing something completely different to what the previous owners of my horn did 200 years ago, I am still going through the same process of making music – the performer as a creative artist that encapsulates the essence of time through self-expression. I am still trying to search for a truth through my natural horn, yearning for beauty that lies ahead of time. 

“Where is great art kept? Great art is kept in those who yearn for beauty.” – Fabian Russell

By opening myself up, I am providing listeners with a rare glimpse into this “mystical” profession. Classical music may still be alienating for some, but self-expression often opens up the most heavily guarded hearts and minds, in a moment of intense intimacy through raw emotions that rush past our bodies. In the end, my unconventional pursuit of self-expression through music will lead me to become a storyteller: a messenger of inexpressible emotions and sensations through fantasies from within. 

Read Part One of Isaac's My Rehearsal Room series here