by Daren Robbins
I launched hornexcerpts.org on August 13, 2003. At that time I had just finished my doctoral dissertation project at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The goal of that project was to streamline the process of studying orchestral excerpts. I did not enjoy studying excerpts from the traditional books where the excerpts which had been neatly re-engraved but contained typos and bore little visual similarity to the original parts, and I found the process of going to the library to find several recordings and then hunt for the thirty-second excerpt within a sixty-minute symphony to be inefficient. My aim was to make a combined resource where the excepts could be studied in a single volume as they appeared in the original parts, and where recordings of the excerpts could be heard as easily as entering a track number on a CD player. The result was a new 154-page excerpt book created from the original orchestra parts and a set of nine companion CDs containing a minimum of four different performances of each excerpt in the book.
When I had finally completed the project it was nearly everything that I had hoped it would be. My only regret was that there were only two copies of it, one in the UW-Madison music library and the other on my bookshelf. This was good for me and the other horn students in Madison but not so helpful to the rest of the horn world. I discussed the possibility of somehow having it all published but nobody thought is was worth the effort of even trying to convince a publisher to take it on. The nine CDs contained hundreds of recordings by dozens of orchestras on dozens of record labels. It would have been a nightmare getting permission to reproduce those audio excerpts for commercial sale. But what if it could all be given away for free? Fair-use copyright law makes it legal to use copyrighted material if it meets certain criteria, namely (1) it’s not-for-profit, (2) it’s educational, and (3) the material in question only constitutes a small portion of the original body of work. This project was three-for-three!
And so the idea of a horn excerpts website was born. The internet seemed like the perfect venue to ensure that my dissertation wouldn’t suffer the fate of collecting dust on a library shelf. I had never built a website but I had a few months of summer vacation to learn, so in June of 2003 I bought a few books about Dreamweaver and HTML and got to work teaching myself enough about web design to make hornexcerpts.org a reality.
By August I had assembled a website that I thought was ready for prime-time. I launched it by posting announcements on the Yahoo and Memphis horn email lists. I hoped that a few dozen people might take notice. I was a bit shocked when, by the end of the first week, a few hundred people were visiting the site every day. The site quickly became a destination for horn students all over the world. It has inspired the creation of several similar websites for other instruments. Even today, eleven years after its launch, it remains one of the most popular horn-related websites with an average of nearly 800 unique visits every day.
My wish is for hornexcepts.org to remain a relevant resource for generations to come. Website technology has advanced a great deal in the past decade but my web skills have not. This is why I turned to the International Horn Society for help. The IHS webmaster, Dan Philips, somehow finds the time to stay abreast of all the latest web advances. He has done a fantastic job of revamping the site in a way that has improved yet retained its familiar layout. I owe him a debt of gratitude for taking the time to migrate the 529 MP3 files and the 264 image files that are used in the 50 new webpages and 75 new menu items. Thanks also to the Horn Society’s new president, Jeff Nelsen, for his enthusiasm and support of this project.
Daren Robbins, D.M.A.
Chair of Brass and Percussion
Instructor of Horn
College of Music, Mahidol University