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Q & A with horn professor James Naigus

Alan Flurry

Assistant professor of horn in the UGA Hugh Hodgson School of Music, James Naigus received the 2024 Michael F. Adams Early Career Scholar Award at the UGA Research Awards.

Naigus recently sat down with our colleagues in UGA Research Communications and discussed his career as a performer and composer, his love for John Williams scores, and having the New York Philharmonic perform one of his pieces:

What drew you to the horn?

Because I’m a glutton for punishment? No, I think it was because I grew up listening to a lot of film scores, mostly by John Williams, like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I thought the horn was a beautiful sound, and there were a thousand trumpet players in band [class] and not many horn players. So the teacher asked, “Why don’t you try this one and see what happens?”

When did you realize you wanted to pursue the horn as a career?

In high school, I was finding success playing in youth orchestras and doing competitions. At that time, being a band director was really attractive to me. I knew I was interested in teaching, at least enough to pursue it in college to see if it really did interest me. I ended up studying music education and performance at the University of Michigan. Later in my studies, I was doing my student teaching and working with middle schools and high schools and loved it. But I started composing at that point too.

I realized that, while I enjoyed teaching, I enjoyed working with slightly older and more advanced students—especially the kind of one-on-one interactions that we have in applied instruction and private lessons, rather than being in front of a classroom of 50 to 100 instrumentalists. I also loved performing and composing, and wanted to find a career that was a synthesis of all three.

You said film scores inspired you to pursue music. Which ones in particular stand out to you?

I’m a film score nerd. I love listening to film scores and looking at the scores, and even researching the impact that music has on film and vice versa. Some evenings, I find myself just pulling up a full score, going through the soundtrack, and trying to isolate different parts.

But my favorite film scores? That would be like having to pick a favorite kid. What immediately comes to mind is anything by John Williams, specifically “Jurassic Park” and “Hook.” And just today, I was listening to George Fenton’s score for the BBC documentary “Planet Earth.”

Read the complete interview...

Image: James Naigus (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski)

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