STARLIGHT, PA — Linda Lovstad and her French horn have traveled the world together, performing in symphony and opera orchestras, bands, wind and brass quartets and even Broadway pit ensembles. Now, as one of the “Iron Maidens,” the female French horn players of Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier Symphony Orchestra (NTSO), she will perform this Saturday, April 6 at the Honesdale High School auditorium, not so far from her weekend and future retirement home in Starlight in northern Wayne County.
This professional musician of four decades admits to being very excited about the concert. “It’s not often in a rural area that you have an orchestra at this level to play in,” says Lovstad, who is also on the board of directors of the three-year-old organization based in Tunkhannock.
Growing up an only child in a musical family, the first instrument she ever played was the piano; her grandmother gave her lessons starting at age seven. Her grandfather, who played violin, had five of them in the attic, and at age nine, Lovstad took up the violin. And then in the sixth grade in Sparta, NJ, she discovered the French horn. “The school only had a band,” she explains—not much opportunity for a girl who played the piano and the violin. “They bought me a brandnew French horn,” she recalls, the first French horn ever in the school’s band.
“I knew early on I was going to stick with music,” she recalls, although her mother wanted her to take up something that would make a little more money. Her grandmother’s influence won out, however. “She tried with each child,” Lovstad recalls fondly, “but Mother became secretary; my uncle became a bus driver (though he learned to play the piano by ear); and my cousin became a baseball player.”
Asked to explain what she loves about the French horn, she responds that it’s “the tone quality of the instrument. It has a lot of overtones.” It also has a kind of universal range for playing with many other instruments, including the human voice, she adds. Of all the brass instruments, it has the biggest range, covering four-and-a-half to five octaves.
Immediately upon graduation from the Manhattan School of Music, she joined the New Orleans Symphony, where she remained for 16 years. She’s also been a principal player in the Corpus Christi Symphony in Texas, the Indiana University Festival Orchestra, the Hudson Valley Philharmonic and several pops and summer musical theater orchestras. Touring included most European countries, China and two thirds of the United States. “Music is its own language, understood everywhere,” she says.
Back home, she played in the New Jersey Symphony for 18 years. In New York, she put in stints in the pit orchestras of such Broadway shows as “Man of La Mancha” and “Cats.” And she’s taught her instrument everywhere, from Indiana University, to giving private lessons, to being a substitute music teacher in Wayne County schools.
Born and reared in Sparta, Lovstad still lives in her grandfather’s house there. She bought her one-bedroom home on four acres in Starlight, a short walk to the West Branch of the Delaware River, intending to spend her days training her beloved Chesapeake Bay retrievers for dog shows, tending her vegetable garden and keeping bees. But when she heard that Robert Helmacy, a childhood friend and fellow veteran pro, had launched an orchestra, she decided to audition. Helmacy, conductor and founding musical director of NTSO, has drawn in top notch musicians with similar bona fides and blended them with players of varying ages and experience into a 68-member orchestra that has been playing to sold-out houses across the region.
Enthusiastic regional audiences like the one that is expected in Honesdale are especially gratifying to play for, Lovstad says, because they crave good music and have few opportunities to hear a symphony orchestra live. Ray Stendenfeld, who lives in Lake Ariel and is the band director at Western Wayne High school, said “We’re so enthused and excited about this concert, we’re actually chartering buses for our students.”
Lovstad says the Honesdale concert “is a terrific program for first-time concertgoers” because the music is familiar—Aaron Copeland, some Strauss waltzes, Smetana’s “The Moldau.”
Even so, she says, the old never really gets old. “I’ll play the horn,” she declares, “until I just can’t pick it up anymore.”
[The Northern Tier Symphony Orchestra is playing on Saturday, April 6 at Honesdale High School at 8 p.m.]