05 December 2010

The Cleveland Orchestra's horn section

EASTLAKE, Ohio -- The factory floor at Conn-Selmer Inc. in Eastlake is a decidedly unmusical place. Most employees, in fact, wear ear-plugs to drown out the noise of machines constantly cutting, shaping and baking metal.
Yet this is where a unique collaboration between the Cleveland Orchestra and a nearby manufacturer took root. It's here where some of the world's top musicians and a local producer of brass instruments first united in a harmonious partnership now garnering prestige and business around the world.
"Once people hear the Cleveland Orchestra is playing our instruments, that helps a lot," said Mark Gifford, the plant's product engineer. "They go out the door as fast as we can build them."
Like every tale of innovation, this one begins with a problem.

A few years ago, Richard King, principal horn of the Cleveland Orchestra, needed a new instrument, a replacement for the Conn 8D he'd been playing for ages. Problem was, newer versions of the widely prized horn didn't compare with the instruments made 40 or 50 years ago.

Rather than track down another second-hand horn, however, King went to Conn-Selmer, a respected maker of band and orchestral instruments, and persuaded the company to re-fashion the 8D according to principles of the original design. Before long, by late 2008, he had a shiny new replica in his hands.

"I was really surprised they started making an instrument I liked better than the one I'd been playing for 20 years," King said, noting the new horn's craftsmanship, sound quality and resonant nickel-silver alloy.

But the tale doesn't end with the making of a custom horn for one high-priority customer. At King's suggestion, Conn-Selmer resurrected the entire model, now called C.G. Conn Vintage 8D. Each horn is built from scratch in Eastlake along with trumpets, trombones, tubas and other brass instruments.


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