Star horn player and Salem native returns for lessons and show with student musicians

For some of the musicians that horn player Richard Todd has played with — including Paul McCartney, Andrea Bocelli and Sean “Diddy” Combs — a chance to perform in Salem might seem like just another night on the road.

But not for Todd.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “I’m coming home.”

Todd spoke to Salem Reporter ahead of his appearances with jazz and classical music students from Salem schools. The sessions, while intended for students, are open to the public at no charge. 

Todd will teach master classes Friday, Feb. 3, from 3-4:30 p.m. and 5-7 p.m., at North Salem High School. Both sessions will be inside the school’s band room.

Todd will then play horn with the McKay and North Salem jazz bands Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. at McKay High School, 2440 Lancaster Dr. N.E. The concert will be held inside the auditorium.

“I’ll be there listening to them and giving them tips – basically doing clinic-type stuff.”

–Musician Richard Todd

“Come and support these young boys and girls that are doing this noble endeavor of playing music,” said Todd, an associate professor of horn and brass program director at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. “Music is one of the most important facets of education that I can think of.”

To him, the benefits of music are vast, from improving cognitive thinking to learning basic skills like reading and math.

The master classes, however, won’t be geared toward the rigor of theory. 

“I’ll be there listening to them and giving them tips – basically doing clinic-type stuff,” Todd said. “It will be all about the joy of performing and how to become a better performer.”

That means becoming “masters of their craft,” as Todd put it. 

“It does no good for Eddie Van Halen to jump all over the stage if he can’t play the guitar very well — and he was one of the greatest ever,” Todd said, referring to the rock star who died in 2020. “You don’t get like that unless you practice. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in.”

He also anticipates talking with the students about his career, which has included some of the most notable names in rock, pop and rap.

“I remember when I was their age, if I had the chance to meet a successful musician, it would be exciting,” Todd said.

Though it might not be like meeting Kanye West (another artist Todd has recorded with), Todd hoped a student’s chance to meet another Salem native will be inspiring.

Todd was born in Salem 1956 after his mother, Elizabeth Davis, moved from California after Todd’s father died in a military training accident at Camp Pendleton. His parents had met at Salem High School — now North Salem High School — where his mother was a pianist and oboist and his father played trumpet.

Not long after Todd’s birth, Davis moved with her son to the University of Cincinnati to get a master’s degree from the conservatory.  

“That’s why I didn’t really live much of my life in Salem,” Todd said. “But every summer, from the time I was a kid, (I’d come to Salem) to visit family. It’s been part of my life my entire life.”

Todd started playing music by learning piano. But by the time he was 8, he wanted to learn another instrument and took up the horn.

“As an 8-year-old boy, I wanted something I could make a really loud sound at,” he said. 

These days, Todd calls music “my voice.”

During the Tuesday concert, Todd will play both classical and jazz horn parts.

“I’m not bringing any jazz music with me. I’m going to be playing with them, with the music they’ve been practicing,” Todd said. “I won’t play if I don’t know it!”

He was invited by a family friend and a jazz instructor within the district. For Todd, the invite came at the right time in his career.

“The kind of performing career I’ve had is pretty unique,” he said. “As much as I enjoy performing — and I still do — my main focus at this particular point is paying it forward.”

That’s why he took a professorship at the Frost School rather than stay and record in Los Angeles. 

“For me, now is the time to give back,” Todd said. “I’m excited to be able to do it in a state that I love so much.”

STORY TIP OR IDEA? Contact Reporter Kevin Opsahl by email at [email protected].

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Kevin Opsahl is the education reporter for Salem Reporter. He was previously the education reporter for The Mail Tribune, based in Medford. He has reported for newspapers in Utah and Washington and freelanced. Kevin is a 2010 graduate of Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, and is a native of Maryland.