When Ken Pope turned 10 it was time for him to pick an instrument to play. His choice was trumpet. But his mom, at one time an accordion teacher, said, “No, everybody needs a French horn or an oboe or a bassoon.” He went for the horn because, as he now says, “It was closest to the trumpet.”
But Pope, 50, who went on to be a horn performance major at Oberlin, doesn’t only play the beautiful and stately member of the brass family, he also fixes them. The basement space beneath his home in the Forest Hills area of Jamaica Plain, is also the home of , which he opened in 1989.
Why is it called a French horn?
The actual term is just the horn. Nobody really knows why it’s called French horn.
Was it always classical music for you?
As a kid I really liked all music, and I still do now. It drives my kids batty because one minute I’ll have punk music from the ’80s on, and then it’ll be followed by Beethoven or Brahms.
Is it difficult to make a living as a classical player?
Oh gosh, yes. It’s become much more difficult over the last 30 or 40 years in the U.S. because the U.S. no longer supports the arts. They’ve cut us off at the knees. They say that if people wanted classical music they’d pay for it. But they don’t want it because it’s no longer part of our education system. I think the arts are part of an education.
What is your performance schedule like?
I’m on call as a substitute with the BSO, and I do a lot of opera in town with Boston Opera. But a lot of my income comes from playing on CDs for rock and pop stars. I recently recorded for Mandy Moore. I’ve played in live concerts for Aretha Franklin, the Moody Blues, and Jethro Tull when they come through town. And a real fun gig is playing in Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica, which does the music of Juan Garcia Esquivel. We go around the country playing his stuff. His music is delightfully tacky, they call it space age bachelor pad music. It’s a blast.
How did you get into the repair business?
I originally was going to learn repairs because I didn’t think I would be waltzing out of a conservatory into a performance job, but I actually did do that. I won a job in a small orchestra – the Rochester Philharmonic in Minnesota. While I was there I met somebody who taught repairs, and I studied with him for a while. If you’re a good repairman, you can get a job anywhere in the world.
So what goes on here?
I repair all wind instruments, but my specialty is French horns, and I get them shipped in from all over the world. We also do a lot of customizing, and we sell new and used horns.
How many horns do you own?
I really only play two. One is made in England by a company called Paxman, and one I made myself. That’s the Pope horn.
Experience Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica in the accompanying YouTube clip, in which Ken Pope plays horn. For information on , call 617-522-0532.