Kristina Mascher-Turner: First of all, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and inspiration with our international horn community! When did you first become involved with music, and what motivated you to choose the horn?
Gabby Giffords: Music has always been an important part of my life. I loved to sing as a child, and I even got to play the role of Annie in my elementary school play. I started playing the French horn in fourth grade and was initially drawn to the instrument because of its beauty. I didn’t know anything about the incredible music it could create before I started learning it.
KMT: At what point did your other passions or commitments cause you to set the horn aside? Was it a difficult decision to make?
GG: After college, I wasn’t able to keep up with the horn. My first job was at a consulting firm in New York that had me working very long hours, and then I moved back to Tucson to run my family’s tire business, which took nearly 100% of my time. I certainly missed playing, but would often listen to classical music to relax.
KMT: You have been beautifully open with the world about your journey and recovery since your life-threatening injury, and your courage and determination shine forth every step of the way. Still, there must have been times when you wondered how you were going to get through another day. Was there a particular inner dialogue that brought you past those moments and back into your strength? What got you through them?
GG: I believe it is always important to keep moving forward, no matter what challenges life throws at you. While my recovery is still a daily struggle, I have learned so much through this journey, like the importance of making time for the people you love and giving back to your community. I have also found great purpose in my work to end gun violence in America.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how important music was in helping me get through each day. Early in my recovery, when speaking felt impossible, I could still sing parts of American Pie by Don McLean. That really gave me hope, even on the most challenging days.
KMT: What was it that put the horn back into your hands, after so many years? When did you start playing again?
GG: Through each step in my recovery, I’ve tried to challenge myself to do more and regain abilities I once had. My love of music made returning to the French horn a very logical challenge. I started working with an instructor about three years into my recovery.
KMT: Are you studying with a teacher or following any particular method?
GG: I’m working with an instructor who was a professional musician in Germany for thirty years before she retired in Tucson. She wrote me and Mark a letter when she heard I used to play the French horn and offered to help me relearn it. She has been incredible to work with and so patient with me. Like all good teachers, she always pushes me to practice more!
KMT: All horn players, whether amateur, student, teacher, or professional, have times when it drives us up the wall! What has been the most challenging aspect of starting up again for you?
GG: It seems so basic, but the biggest challenge for me was re-learning how to read music. Thankfully, I remembered most of the technical elements of playing.
KMT: Music is one of the greatest tools for healing. What role would you say music has played in your own life, especially throughout your recovery these past several years?
GG: Music has played an incredibly important role in my life and recovery. It has not only helped me keep my spirits up when times are tough, it also helps me express myself when I struggle to find words. Musical intonation has also helped me learn new sentences. In the early days of my recovery, musical therapy was part of my daily routine.
KMT: What music do you listen to at home when you want to feel inspired? What pieces would you love to play yourself?
GG: Whenever I need a burst of energy in the morning, I start my day with 80s music. For inspiration, I usually turn to music from Hamilton. I’ve listened to Hamilton so many times that I know almost all the lyrics. My favorite song to play on the horn is Edelweiss from the Sound of Music. I also love playing anything from Pink Floyd.
Gabrielle Giffords is a former member of the Arizona State Senate and served in the United States House of Representatives. Her life took an unexpected and tragic turn in 2011 when she suffered a grievous head injury from a gunshot wound in an attempt on her life. Since then, her immense courage and openness about her long and arduous recovery is well-documented, and she has continued throughout the years as a political activist and advocate for social justice. Music, and the horn specifically, have played an important role in her life. She is married to former astronaut Mark Kelly and has two daughters. https://giffords.org/