Edmund House is at home with his collection of instruments, including his “Gold Coils” horn and stand-up bass. House gives his last concert as the principal horn player for the Okanagan Symphony May 6 at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre. (Kristin Froneman photo)

Influential musician passes the horn

He stands, surrounded by orchards sloping towards Wood Lake, and blows into the brass instrument

Kristin Froneman

For The Morning Star

He stands at the window, surrounded by orchards sloping down towards Wood Lake, and blows into the coiled brass instrument. Its mellowed sound has just enough resonance to wake the birds as they squawk their displeasure from their nesting places. Then they settle down to the quiet.

It’s an imagined situation, but one that Edmund House has likely performed at his idyllic home in the hills of Oyama, which he shares with his wife Shari.

It’s a full house filled with instruments. House’s upright-up bass stands next to the piano, which is laden with sheet music. Other instruments are tucked inside their cases – the indented oblong one contains Shari’s viola.

“I want to show you something,” House says suddenly, standing up to go fetch a twisted snarl of slightly tarnished brass, which opens up to a flared bell.

“I call it the Coils of Gold,” said House, pointing out that the instrument has no valves.

“It is a 100-year-old French hunting horn.”

About to step down from his position as principal horn with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra (OSO), House has made his presence known throughout the world as well as here in the Okanagan.

“I now live in the country and play horn. I look after my one-acre property. I guess you could say I’m not your typical horn player who heads to the conservatory every morning. I am a music guy, but I also have a life outside of music.”

However, music does keep him rather busy.

Not only has House held his first seat with the OSO for 30 years, he also played principal horn with the Kamloops Symphony for 25 seasons and freelanced with both the Vancouver and Victoria symphonies.

“When I arrived here, it was surprising to me how busy I would become. Not only were Vancouver and Victoria calling me to play often, I was also playing with other groups,” he said.

House helped form and has performed in a number of brass ensembles, including Ogopogo Brass, Horns-A-Plenty, Fish on Five, and Coils of Gold, some of which continue to play events to this day.

“I have a passion for every horn,” he said. “I started on cornet then went to the French horn, then to percussion. I played in rock bands at school and played bass in the army.”

House met Shari while both performed in the Winnipeg Symphony.

They reunited in Aspen, Colo., where they played at the Aspen Music Festival, and then spent many years moving around the continent and across the pond.

In the early ’80s, the couple went back to the northwest so House could study for his master’s in music at the University of Washington in Seattle, and then they spent two years in Munich, where House completed his post-graduate studies under a Fulbright scholarship.

After soaking up the music scene in Munich and performing with the Bavarian city’s orchestra as well as doing some soundtrack work, House decided to go even further abroad. He and Shari moved to Brazil.

“We were in Belo Horizonte where I played principal horn. There was a big soccer match when we got to town and you could hear the cheers all over the city whenever a goal was scored,” said House.

“Brazil blew us away,” added Shari. “They make music all the time. We would hear samba groups playing in the streets.”

The Houses not only immersed themselves in music, they also added to their family, adopting a girl.

They left Brazil after four years, when their daughter, Lauren, was only 16 months old.

Lauren hasn’t been back to the country of her birth since then, but will be making the journey with her father this June, as House has been invited to be a contributing artist at the 49th International Horn Society Symposium in Natal, Brazil.

After performing with the symphonies in Lincoln and Omaha in his home state of Nebraska, and then in Spokane, Wash., House saw an advertisement in an international musicians’ publication calling for musicians to audition for the OSO.

“There were 20 players in the core orchestra then and about three-to-four from that group are still with the symphony,” said House.

The three decades with the OSO have been busy ones. Besides performing, House served as the OSO’s personnel manager for 10 years.

“Over the years, I have had a front row seat to several financially challenging seasons filled with fundraisers, two guest conductor search seasons, three music directors, and a revolving door of general managers,” he said.

House has enjoyed working with the current OSO music director Rosemary Thomson for the past decade.

“With Rosemary Thomson, we had the will and the way,” said Shari.

“Things have stabilized at the symphony. Rose has been good for us. She is positive and good with her banter with the audience and bringing the youth symphony in as well as the choirs. She has put her stamp on the community,” added House.

House is leaving the principal horn position in good hands now that he has decided to take a back seat. He uses the word retire loosely as he will still perform as a “utility” player and be on call whenever the symphony needs him.

House commends his fellow players, including OSO trumpeter and current youth symphony co-director Dennis Colpitts, who has played French horn since 2004, former OSO manager Scott Wilson, who has been sharing the first seat role with House the past few years, and Nealee Humphreys of Vernon, whom House has mentored, and has been playing in third and fourth seat.

A staunch advocate for local players and live music, House plans to continue running his event company with Shari called Full House Productions, and will also continue to promote the arts locally through the Lake Country Performing Arts Society, of which Shari is president. Some of the events they have booked include Okanagan Symphony fundraisers, Okanagan Wine Festival, Lake Country ArtWalk, the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce President’s Ball, and UBC Okanagan’s graduation ceremony as part of the Okanagan Symphony Wind Ensemble.

House joins the OSO in its last performance of the season, May 6 at 7 p.m. at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre. Ballet Kelowna will join in the performance of the Canadiana Suite: A Sesquicentennial Celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary. Tickets are at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, ticketseller.ca.