Marc Lumley is a veteran of the Air Force and a retired school band director. Basically, he’s someone who is not accustomed to standing idly by in times of chaos. Just one week into the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Lumley founded the nonprofit Horns United, with a mission to raise money for COVID relief and infectious disease research.
“I said a really simple prayer, and just said, ‘What can I do? How can I help?’ And two hours later, I was talking with the first horn player of the Chicago Symphony,” says Lumley, whose specialty is the French horn. “I just started putting out feelers, putting out contacts. I was cold calling. And I ran across some of the most wonderful people in the horn world.”
Horns United offers online French horn master classes, lessons, and concerts, all taught by master hornists and attended by players around the world. As Horns United grew from Lumley’s solo mission to a team that comprises seven admins, six composers, and more than 80 instructors, Lumley realized that he needed to grow his production chops alongside the nonprofit.
Horns United Founder Marc Lumley
“I had asked 23 muti-Grammy award-winners if they wanted to record, and I thought to myself, ‘I better learn how to record,’” Lumley says with a laugh.
This prompted him to enroll in Berklee Online’s Music Production and Technology advanced certificate program and after just one semester, Lumley says he feels much more proficient with implementing recording technology and he even arranged a recording of the final two and a half minutes of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 1.
Because of his veteran status, Lumley received a discounted tuition.
“Horns United is the whole reason I’m at Berklee,” says Lumley. “I’m a disabled veteran. I hurt my back pretty seriously when I was in the Air Force Band, so I was able to use my VA benefits to get to school.”
To date, Horns United has raised more than $13,500 for COVID research, and has instructors from the Boston Symphony, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Minnesota Orchestra, and many more orchestras. Instructor Ernie Tovar Torres, the fourth horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was eager to help Lumley with Horns United because he runs his own nonprofit, One World Horn, to help Latinx kids learn the French horn.
“We realized that we’re both trying to do the same thing from different parts of the world,” he says. “Whatever name you want to call it, One World Horn, Horns United, horn players have been sticking together before the pandemic and during the pandemic. We’re all trying to do the same thing: Play music, touch people’s lives, and inspire the next generation of musicians and horn players.”
Horns United instructor Erik Ralske, a principal horn player for the Metropolitan Opera, says that Horns United was a welcome distraction during a difficult time. The Met Opera made national headlines for furloughing their orchestra and canceling their entire 2021 season. Ralske says he is now compensated through an arrangement where he makes a fraction of his salary, and that the 2021/2022 season is expected to start this September. But the pandemic severely impacted him and his colleagues. He says 40 percent of the orchestra relocated outside of New York City because they couldn’t afford housing, and many members either retired or moved on. Two members of the orchestra even passed away from COVID-19.
“I do consider myself lucky within the profession, just because I’m not at the start of my career,” says Ralske. “You’ve gotta be compassionate to those who are less fortunate. And we try to do our best online to at least provide people with that sense of humanity that music performance provides. It’s the oneness of humanity that we have to keep at the forefront, and I’m thrilled to be a part of a united effort in whatever small way I can.”
Lumley, Torres, and Ralske share the same positive feelings about having attended summer band camps in their youth, and feel badly that young players have to miss out on that experience because of the pandemic. Horns United offered Cor Camp, which for a requested donation of $145 offered 75 students month-long expert instruction from nearly 40 master hornists.
“You live for those summer camps if you’re into music as a high school student,” says Ralske. “You got to find your people. So going to these camps, being around like-minded people was a big deal. Marc had this brilliant idea of doing it online.”
Even though the pandemic is looking much better in the US and other countries with vaccination rollouts, Lumley says there is still plenty more work to do raising money for the aftermath of the virus. Right now, Horns United is encouraging its patrons to donate directly to University Health System, UC San Francisco Medical Research, and Mayo Clinic.
“We tell people to please keep donating,” says Lumley. “There’s going to be mutations. Yes, we have the vaccines but we don’t know, are we going to need boosters in six months? A year? We don’t know the answer yet and the thinking is simple: we want to keep pushing money towards the research.”