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From Waterloo, Ill., to "From the Top," Shelby Nugent discovered the world with her French horn

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 5, 2012 - The path to Shelby Nugent’s life as a French horn player began in 5th grade with a band meeting.

In the cafeteria of Rogers Elementary School in Waterloo, Nugent sat with her mother listening as the band director explained the instruments. They needed a pianist, and Nugent had played the instrument since she was 4. But she had her eye on the flute.

Then, the band director held up a French horn. 

“Not a lot of people play this,” Nugent remembers the director telling the crowd, “but if you play this, you can get a lot of money for college.”

“And my mom turns to me and she said, ‘You’re gonna play the French horn,’” Nugent says.

And so she did (pick up the French horn and win local and national scholarships.) Mid-September, Nugent will begin her freshman year at Northwestern University, where she’ll study music performance. 

But the instrument did something else for the young musician from a small town.

“It opened up a completely different world for me,” she says. “There were so many things that were so close to me that I didn’t realize before I picked up the horn.”

On Saturday, the world she discovered can listen in to Nugent’s performance on “From the Top,” a program that airs on National Public Radio featuring young classical musicians. 

Tod Bowermaster, Nugent’s teacher and third horn for the St. Louis Symphony, says the bar is very high for the young musicians who are chosen. The show, hosted byChristopher O’Riley, is uplifting, Bowermaster says. 

“It always gives me hope for the future when you listen to a show like that and Shelby makes me feel like that working with her week to week.”

Nugent, who is an alumna of thePreparatory Program of the Community Music School of Webster University, first sent in recordings to the show last fall and never heard back. When a quartet from the program appeared on the show after winning a competition, she says, the artistic director of PREP, Vera Parkin, mentioned Nugent’s entry. 

Then, show producers remembered it, pulled it out, listened again and invited her to appear. 

In May, Nugent appeared for the recording in Houston, Texas, playing “Movement I:  Massig beweg” from the Sonata for Horn and Piano by Paul Hindemith. She recently won second place in the International Horn Society Premier Soloist Competition.

Nugent’s performance on “From the Top,” will air locally at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8 on St. Louis Public Radio

After that, Nugent’s anxious to start college, but she has her eyes turned back toward St. Louis for her future. The city where so much opened up for her through music and the St. Louis Symphony, she says, is her ideal home. 

“It’s just a great city to be an artist in,” she says, “because everyone is so supportive.”