Best in the world: UA musical supernova claims title in horn rankings

Best in the world: UA musical supernova claims title in horn rankings
Photo courtesy of Charles Snead

Those who emerge victorious from The Oscars, the U.S. open, the Grammys and the World Series are considered the planet’s most accomplished in their field. To musicians specializing in the French horn, The International Horn Competition of America carries that level of prestige. Josh Williams, a second year UA doctoral student, has just been awarded this very honor.

The International Horn Competition of America is the single largest horn competition anywhere in the Americas, and it is considered the highest attainable award in the discipline. Never before has a student been crowned the winner.

“He was competing against professional players with established careers from literally all over the globe – from multiple continents,” said Charles “Skip” Snead, Williams’ teacher and Director of the School of Music. “And to achieve this as a student is an unprecedented achievement. This is the first time in the competition’s 38-year history that it has been won by someone who is not an established full-time professional.”

Williams has been playing the French horn since he was in the seventh grade. 

“I think I took to it naturally,” said Williams. “I took it home, and my first time, I played it for about eight hours.”

He was first drawn to the instrument for its versatile, enchanting sound.

“It can be extremely mellow, but also extremely bright and piercing,” said Williams. “And if you listen to any movie soundtrack, the best parts are always involving the horn section.”

Snead has been teaching Williams since he was in the ninth grade. From the beginning, he noticed outstanding talent and potential.

“When he first came to me, I was aware right up front that he was an extraordinary talent,” said Snead. “A very intelligent young man, very bright – his musical aptitude is very strong.”

Williams had been preparing to play at The International Horn Competition of America for more than a year. In fact, he quit his job the summer before and dedicated hours and hours to practicing the pieces he would play there. Practicing was not always easy, but it paid off in the end.

“The big thing is that sometimes you’re going to have to do things that you don’t want to do,” said Williams. “There were days in the summer when I didn’t want to come practice, but I did anyway. And I think that’s what separates someone who isn’t successful from someone who is successful.”

The competition played out over the course of four days. Williams beat out the best in the world to bring home a historical victory for himself and The University of Alabama. 

“Since he has won, he has become, rather instantaneously, one of the most talked-about horn players on the planet,” said Snead. “He certainly has a very long, ripe career ahead of him. This is certainly a major door that has opened and a major catalyst to seeing that career move very quickly.”

Williams has won every single solo horn competition in which he has ever participated. Furthermore, the French horn is considered by scientists and engineers one of the most difficult instruments to play. So, his musical talent sets him apart as one of the leading musicians in the world.

Snead expressed excitement for the way this achievement is a beacon for the musical success of the university. 

“We’ve had a lot of success over the years, but this is a new level of success,” said Snead. “We’ve had a shining star for years, but this is the equivalent of a supernova.”

Williams offered advice to his fellow students, encouraging hard work and perseverance. He hopes his achievement can inspire others pursuing their talents at UA.

“Really in any major, take advantage of your time here because college really is a time to develop from a young adult into a young professional,” said Williams. “So, everything you learn in the classroom will come back – you can apply it somewhere else in life. And if not that, you can at least use this as an opportunity to work hard and just to be a professional, really.”

Williams has launched his transition from student to professional with his newly won title. He has already been invited to play for symposiums and concerts all over the country. He also hopes to perform at here at UA in the near future.

“After he had gotten the news,” said Snead. “I leaned over and whispered in his ear, ‘your life has just changed in ways you cannot even yet understand.’”

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