“Twisted Metal” upends the concept of Horn Choir

Newly installed horn professor Dan Grabois knew that an assemblage of horn players (a/k/a French horns, to those of us new to classical music) could offer much more than the standard brass literature.

"Twisted Metal" Horn Choir concert at Memorial Union
“Twisted Metal” in concert at the Memorial Union Rathskeller

(Photograph by Mike Anderson.)

From Dan Grabois, UW Professor of Horn:

“Before I arrived at UW (this is my second year), the Horn Choir used to give its annual Christmas concert at the Chazen museum, then take the second semester off. I wanted to keep going during second semester, but to go in a new direction, where we could learn a new style and increase our level of creativity. To me, this meant turning the Horn Choir into a rock band. This year, we actually did it. I told the students the plan partway through first semester, and was met with a mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism. My expectations were that we would write pieces together, as an outgrowth of group improvisation, and that the students would arrange rock tunes for the group. I had no interest in performing rock music under the name “UW Madison Horn Choir,” so I changed our name to Twisted Metal.

“A few students came back from winter break with arrangements they had done, and we started working on them. It’s funny that a style of music that is so integral to the lives of the students can be very difficult to reproduce on our instruments, but we worked long and hard at playing the music in the right style. We also improvised, coming up with our tune TM Funk Machine in our very first rehearsal (it got its name at the last possible moment, when I was typing up our concert program). Another improvisation became a section of an arrangement one of the students did. During the course of the semester, more and more of the students’ arrangements were completed and quickly learned.

“We had two scheduled concerts: one at the Rathskeller (at the Memorial Union) and one in the School of Music in Mills Hall. Performing our debut in front of people who were drinking beer was the perfect introduction to rock stardom for my students. We had found a drummer, the final missing piece to kick the band into shape, and we played a bang-up set. Everyone was primed for our Mills concert, and the outfit purchasing and makeup application moved into high gear. This concert was a real culmination for Twisted Metal: we created an identity, learned a style, moved our performance energy up several notches, and had a great time to boot. Twisted Metal is here to stay.

“Twisted Metal performed the music of Queen, Boston, Alanis Morissette, The XX, Nena, Rush, and Twisted Metal. Two students sang, and everybody rocked.”

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