Oregon Symphony


The Orchestra

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John Cox

Principal Horn

First season with the Oregon Symphony:


Most influential teacher(s):

For someone as thick-skulled as I can be, it took two teachers, Mildred Blake and Paul Nolte, to influence me away from math and physics towards music. Miss Blake was the K-12 music teacher at the New Harmony (IN) public schools. She taught class music for grades K through 8 in which we sang and learned elementary theory, she conducted the high school choirs and band, started children on band instruments, and also produced the grade school Christmas play. That much energy prevailed over my apathy towards starting an instrument, and I received my first instrumental lesson on my 10th birthday.

Three years later she introduced me to Paul Nolte, who became my first official horn teacher. Paul had left the Pittsburgh Symphony to join the University of Evansville (IN) faculty, and of course part of his interest in me was to recruit me for the U of E program. It worked. He had me doing enough playing (for money) by the time I was 16 that I couldn't afford to leave the area. He was responsible for getting me my first paying job, at age 14, as an extra part player for Respighi's "Pines of Rome" (which the Oregon Symphony will record soon).

Paul made a practice of sending an orchestral score and recording home with me each week — the first one was Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Paul initiated me to his dry sense of humor early, as the score that accompanied the record was written in Russian. Even the instrument names at the beginning of each staff were in the Cyrillic alphabet. The only things remotely legible to me were the notes, tempo markings, and dynamics. When I returned the next week with this score thoroughly learned, he continued this for all lessons. He did have the courtesy to wait until my sixth lesson to give me Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." This particular exhibition of sadism did introduce me very early on to the wonders of Brahms (my favorite composer), and especially his Fourth Symphony. The passion, drama, joy, terror, and humanity of this work have always spoken to the deepest parts of my soul, and it has been my favorite piece of music for 30 years.

Earliest musical memory:

One of the few luxuries we had on the farm was a victrola, which I learned how to wind at age 3. It was my first experience with a musical instrument (other than beating on my mom's pots and pans), and I became enamored with waltzes, which became favored melodies of mine. Growing up on the farm gave no hint that I would one day be playing many of those same melodies, but it did give me enough bucolic experiences to want to pursue other lifestyle choices.

"I first knew I would make music my career when ... "

I realized I can get paid to do this!

"Other than performing music, I've always thought it might be fun to be a ... "

If I could go back in time and make different life and career choices, I would probably end up in some sort of community service work, even if only as a volunteer. My current "second" job is working with one of the City of Portland's steam locomotives, the SP&S 700. The preservation of this unique piece of Northwest history and Americana, and what is accomplished with it on excursions, tell me that I could have been a railroader, an historian, a teacher...

Why did you choose this pose for your photograph?

The picture of Poka Dot and myself represents the fine balance of playing the horn (its own brand of religion) and life. It's fun, hard work, and you are never sure how long you can keep up that balancing act before gravity takes over (or reality interferes with perfection). The game is to see how well I can balance my quest for perfection and resolve the conflict with reality.

What do you enjoy most about performing?

There are many facets to music performance, especially on the horn, that make my job rewarding. Sometimes it is the very attempt of technical perfection that makes the job interesting. At other moments, it is the joy of making music with my colleagues. The aspect I consider most satisfying and, in my opinion, the most important roles the Oregon Symphony fills, is to provide relaxation, entertainment, and above all, inspiration to each and every member of our audiences. When I look out to the audience, I see upwards of 2,800 individuals congregated from 2,800 different directions and lifestyles — all in search of an individual experience they can take home with them. If we can inspire just one person each night with something we do, the Oregon Symphony has fulfilled its role in the community and society.

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