Anneka Zuehlke-King

Principal, Charles W. Wofford and Nancy B. Thomas Endowed Chair

Principal Horn

For Anneka, origins of family tradition evolved into a quarter-century (and counting) of impassioned dedication to the French horn. As a fifth-grader in northern Virginia, she was set to begin band classes with just a year of experience on the piano. She had ideas of playing the violin, but was also the progeny of horn players; her father, aunt and grandmother all played (though not professionally). So her father — who worked for the government — had other preferences as to what habitual sounds he’d hear from a young practicing musician. He handed her a French horn instead.

Up for the challenge, she had no problem with it. “Lots of people don’t tend to give horns to young kids,” she says. “You play trumpet first and move on to the horn – but I got to play it first! It was rare that I started on it. It’s one of the most difficult brass instruments to play, and probably one of the most difficult in the whole orchestra.”

Again, later on, it was family that lured her to the Upstate for an audition with GSO, which resulted in her first job out of school. Her then-boyfriend was a Travelers Rest native, and classical musicians must cover the expense of auditions themselves; so to have a few days of free room and board at his parents’ home during such an endeavor seemed like a great plan. He’s now her husband — a trumpet player who sometimes subs with the symphony. She now considers the Upstate home after playing with GSO for 10 years.

She received a Bachelor’s from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and then a Master’s from the Yale School of Music (where she also met her husband). But as a teen, she assumed she would go do something else in college and life, until she began to study under Sylvia Alimena — the 2nd horn player in the National Symphony who also conducted brass ensemble for high school students. “Sylvia’s affected lots of people, especially with connecting the brass ensemble. She has students out all over the world.” Her distinct style and enthusiasm made Anneka fall in love with the instrument and its versatile power, and she convinced Anneka that playing music could be a career instead of something done just for fun.

“I’m pretty idealistic in the sense that I don’t want everything to be about making money. I don’t think that’s why we are here on this earth. I think music and the arts are a great way to live and to actually experience something other than worrying about paying your bills and going to work. I’ve never even had a real part-time job — I’ve just always done music! I can’t imagine finding something else that would be so personally rewarding.”

However, she’s had numerous other musical side gigs in tandem with GSO. She plays with the Asheville Symphony, Spartanburg Philharmonic and numerous chamber groups. In addition to giving lessons to kids from her home, she’s also taught at Limestone College, Newberry College, and is currently at Converse College, the SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities and Furman.

“It’s fun to figure out different ways to teach something so that it makes sense to a certain student. Everyone has their own problems that they have to figure out. Brass is a very physical type of instrument to play. You have to figure out a lot of stuff you can’t see; you have to feel it; you have to imagine it to be able to do it the right way. So it’s always interesting to figure out different ways to approach it according to each student – and they all have different personalities, so that’s fun!

“Being a classical musician — or any musician — kind of makes up your entire life. Everything is based around making music. It’s the way you communicate with others, and how you can make life better for other people — not just yourself. You can share it with someone right next to you, and when you’re sharing it with people, it’s a different experience when it’s live. It can mean totally different things to people; but they are still participating, and enjoying it, and still being humans together. There’s nothing else I would rather do to contribute to the world.”