How Nine-Ball Led to an Improved Musician
I’m sure that most people wouldn’t know how nine-ball (the dominant billiards tournament game) could help make a better musician, but for Aaron Brask, French horn player for the Jacksonville Symphony, nine-ball has been both a rehabilitative treatment and a hobby. Aaron Brask grew up in Gainesville among a musical family. Dad was a pianist, mom a singer and an older brother was a drummer. His mom was determined to get young Aaron involved in music and she suggested the French horn. While he participated in band activities and was a Boy Scout earning Eagle Scout status, he also participated in sports. Playing in a softball game in high school, he suffered a concussion during a collision while chasing a foul ball. At the time, he thought nothing of it. But years later that injury caused major compensation on his right side.
Though he grew up in the center of “Gator Nation,” he decided to go off to college at Boston University after attending the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. Boston provided a tremendous backdrop for him to attend symphony concerts and hear a variety of musicians. That experience was the biggest part of his music education, he says.
After graduation, Brask spent two years in Tampa and then joined the Jacksonville Symphony in 1986. He recalls that when he auditioned for the JSO there were seventy-five others in the running; many from some of the most prestigious music schools in the nation.
All that time, the injury he sustained in high school was worsening: Brask was losing flexibility in his facial muscles and respiration, affecting his embouchure (ability to adjust his mouth to the mouthpiece). “It turns out that the French horn is a wonderful diagnostic tool,” he says. “If I was getting better, my playing sounded better.”
After trying several different methods that didn’t seem to work, one innovative therapist suggested playing nine-ball. Initially Brask was so inflexible he couldn’t bend over the billiards table, but in time, playing the game taught him to focus, to stretch out the left side of his body and improved his flexibility.
“Playing French horn is like being a right fielder,” he explains. “You don’t do anything until the ball is hit to you and you have to field it without a flaw. Playing pool is the same way. If you are playing someone stronger than you, you are trapped in your chair while they hit ball after ball. You have to be ready when it is your turn.”
Today, besides playing with the JSO and teaching at JU and FSCJ, he plays pool tournaments. There are Monday night tournaments in Jacksonville as well as pool leagues, he reports: a great way to mix therapy and fun.
To learn more about Aaron Brask and his fellow Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra musicians, visit jaxsymphony.org or like them at www.Facebook.com/jaxsymphony. To hear some of Brask’s recordings, visit his website www.lasthorn.com.
Article written by Amy Rankin