UA Doctoral Student Named One of Best Horn Players in the World

Joshua Williams playing the French horn
Joshua Williams

From the October 2017 Desktop News | Titles like best of the best and best in the world still don’t sit well with University of Alabama doctorate of musical arts candidate Joshua Williams.

But, the 25-year-old Tuscaloosa native will have to get used to them, because the French horn virtuoso recently won first place in the professional division of the International Horn Competition of America held in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“It happens every two years, bringing in horn players from multiple continents who are literally the best of the best at what they do,” said Charles “Skip” Snead, chair and professor in UA’s School of Music.

“Though he’s still a student, Joshua entered the professional division and won. The winner of the professional division represents the finest in solo horn playing throughout the world.”

Snead said William’s achievement is among the most monumental in the 100-year history of The University of Alabama’s School of Music.

Williams said he hasn’t grasped the magnitude of the win.

“Honestly, I am still blown away,” he said. “Professor Snead has encouraged me to compete in this competition three times in the past. I backed out every time thinking I wasn’t ready.”

Joshua Williams (left) and Charles “Skip” Snead at International Horn Competition of America
Joshua Williams (left) and Charles “Skip” Snead at International Horn Competition of America

The professional division started with 30 competitors from across the United States, Asia, Europe, and South America.

It ended with the final three: Markus Osterlund, a highly decorated player and member of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.; Jorge Mejia, principal horn of the Bogotá Symphony Orchestra in Bogotá, Colombia and one of the most widely recognized South American professional horn soloists of this generation; and Williams.

Williams said he didn’t listen to his competitors performances. He just concentrated on his strategy of letting his music tell a story.

“I went in thinking that it wasn’t about competing, but it was about creating music and sharing my music with the audience. And I didn’t focus on hitting the right notes all the time, just telling a story.”

The win came with $3,500 in award money, membership in the Laureates Council of preeminent international solo competitors, enormous publicity, and opportunities to perform around the globe.

Williams started playing French horn in seventh grade at Hillcrest Middle School. Though he felt like he had a natural knack for the instrument, it wasn’t until he got to Hillcrest High School and met his band director, Andy Pettus, that he decided to pursue a career in music.

“He had me send in an audition tape to the National Honor Band of America as a sophomore, and I got second chair at that event. At that moment I realized that this is something that I was meant to be doing.”

Williams said he owes a great debt of gratitude to the Sneads. Snead’s wife, Angie, was the one who first heard him play in the ninth grade and connected him with her husband, who gave him private lessons and has been one of his primary music professors at UA.

They also influenced his decision to attend UA, where he attained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in horn performance, is a candidate to attain his doctorate degree, and teaches an introduction to listening class.

“A lot of students peak in their senior year, but I’ve felt a steady progression throughout my entire time here at UA. I feel like the music culture at UA and in Tuscaloosa is seriously underrated.”