Department of Music
 

by Eli Hornback, Class of 2021

Eli Hornback
Eli Hornback (right) performs at the Spectrum Concert on February 2, 2019, at Moeser Auditorium. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

As I left for spring break in New York and Cape Cod, I had no idea that I’d spend the rest of my semester like this. If I had, I would have brought my horn or trumpet. But I didn’t. And the fear of a lockdown on interstate travel led me to jump on the earliest plane to Washington out of Boston I could find.

Looking back on two months and countless hours on zoom, it’s been an interesting year so far. On the one hand, being with my family is really what I needed. I needed to help take care of my brother’s kids, homeschool them, be there for my parents, and take care of the house. On the other hand, being needed is tough, and living in a house with 7 other people and two dogs with no chance for escape is very tough. Most days I feel claustrophobic and it’s hard for me to be the uncle/son/brother I want to be.

My one breath of fresh air is music.

As I said, I didn’t bring my horn or trumpet to Washington. At first, I thought this meant I couldn’t play. In our house, there’s a piano that needs to be tuned, a violin that needs to be strung, my brother’s saxophone that hasn’t been played in years, and my niece’s elementary school recorder. So, without my horn, I started working at the piano, which I haven’t touched in years, trying to learn some new pieces such as Edvard Grieg’s “Anitra’s Dance” from Peer Gynt and perfect some old ones such as Mozart Piano Sonata in C Major.

In addition, we brought back a family tradition of singing around the piano. When we were young, my mom would play the piano and we would sing, everything from show tunes and Disney songs. Being stuck together so long led us to bring this back. Learning to accompany songs from some Disney movies allowed me to get everyone singing, including the kids. My brother and I took it a step further, to varying degrees of success, arranging piano accompaniment for a few Kanye West songs.

I pressured my brother to pick up his saxophone again, telling him that if he didn’t, I would try to learn it and he would have to listen to me squeak. I guess it is like riding a bike because now, accompanied by my mother, he’s playing “Careless Whisper” by George Michael and a saxophone arrangement of “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri (cheesy, but I can’t complain because it was the song played at his wedding).

Eli Hornback holding his niece's recorder.
Eli Hornback shows off his niece’s recorder. (Photo courtesy of Eli Hornback)

The other development is that I’ve picked up my niece’s recorder. It’s actually been quite easy to pick up. I’ve advanced to the point where I can play most simple melodies, as long as they’re in the key of D Maj.

I detail the specifics of all of this, because when we’re in music – whether we’re playing, singing, accompanying, or just listening – a lot of the stress and claustrophobia go away. In a stressful moment, after spending hours homeschooling the kids, I’ll sit down and play a Disney number, and everyone around the house will sing along.

The virus has pushed us together to the point where it feels like the pressure might make us explode, but every time we play music we release some of the pressure. Living during the quarantine makes you feel like there’s a coming personal and social avalanche with the people you care about most. For my family, music has been a set of controlled explosions.

And for that I’m thankful.

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