published Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Talent Show: French Horn player likes her first-chair role

  • photo
    Janelle Wigal, a sophmore at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, rehearses with the school band Thursday afternoon in the band room. Wigal is an all-state horn player as well as an accomplished swimmer and runner.
    Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Chattanooga Times Free Press.


Age: 15.

School: 10th-grader at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences.

Place she'd like to visit: Venice, Italy.

Person she'd like to meet: Michael Phelps.

Favorite piece to play: Gustav Holst's First Suite in E Flat.

Favorite composer: Frédéric Chopin.

Hobbies: Playing music, triathlons and hanging out with friends.

Pets: A dog, Skittles, and a cat, Cupcake.

Favorite book: The Maximum Ride series by James Patterson.

Favorite movie: "Happy Feet."


Janelle Wigal, 15, has been a first-chair French horn player in numerous clinics, including All-County and All-State East. In November, she was a first-chair horn in the Lee University Honor Band and in April will participate in the 2012 Tennessee All-State Band.


At 7:30 p.m. Monday, Janelle Wigal will perform with the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Youth Symphony during its winter concert at Brainerd Baptist Church, 300 Brookfield Ave.

It's not that Janelle Wigal doesn't like sharing the stage with other French horn players. She just prefers them to be sitting behind her, especially the boys.

"[When I started], there were so many guys who played French horn, and then I would get in honor band and sit in front of them," the 15-year-old said, smiling. "I thought that was the coolest thing ever.

"I'm very competitive."

Many players have seen the back of Janelle's head in honors bands since she first picked up the instrument by its gleaming metallic curves in fourth grade.

Now a sophomore at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, she has been the first-chair horn player in the school band since her freshman year. Since middle school, she also has led horn sections in East Tennessee School Band and Orchestra Association groups, including the All-County Band Clinic and Lower Area Junior Band Clinic.

Last year, she added another pair of bullets to her list of accomplishments when she was accepted into the Lee University Honor Band and the All-State East Senior Band Clinic.

The Lee University event took place in November, assembling more than 80 high school students from seven states to learn and perform a repertoire under the direction of David Holsinger, who conducts the university's wind ensemble. Once again, Janelle sat first chair.

"It was amazing," she said. "I love playing under Dr. Holsinger. He's a really great composer and an amazing band director. I learned a lot of stuff about myself as a player that I didn't know before."

Although she didn't get first-stand honors at the All-State East clinic, Janelle said she was ecstatic when she learned she was among the eight horn players who were accepted from the dozens who auditioned from across the state.

As a fourth-chair horn player in the clinic's highest-level group, the blue band, Janelle is one of six horn players who also qualified to participate in the Tennessee All-State Band, ETSBOA's most prestigious student group. The clinic will meet and rehearse April 11-13 for a concert at the Tivoli Theatre on April 14.

Janelle's band director at CSAS, David Butler, said that in his 20-year teaching career, only four of his students have qualified for All-State as a sophomore. That is a testament to Janelle's skill and betokens her future potential, he said.

"She has a really good shot at making it [to All-State] all three years," Butler said. "With the maturity she has and the musicianship, I see that being a great goal for her."

In addition to her musical accomplishments, Janelle is also a competitive swimmer and runner. She swims year-round for club leagues and for her school. She also participates in her school's cross-country program.

About three years ago, Janelle started competing in area triathlons for the Southeast Junior Development Team. She participates in about seven events annually, she said.

Janelle said she has found ways to blend swimming and music such as pacing her strokes to the tempo of "Sabre Dance," a briskly paced piece from composer Aram Khachaturian's ballet, "Gayane."

Janelle said that she finds it difficult to decide where her ultimate loyalty lies, with music or athletics.

That particular dilemma has been a lifetime in the making, according to her mother, Cecilia Wigal, who also serves as her swimming coach at CSAS.

Janelle began swimming before her first birthday, took up her first instrument, the violin, at age 3 and was tagging along on biking trips with her parents before she entered kindergarten. She has also participated in the Chattanooga Girls Choir.

Whatever Janelle decides to do as an adult, she will reap lifelong benefits from participation in so many activities, Wigal said.

"She has a great skill set, and that skill set can take her many, many places we can't even envision," she said. "I hope no one ever puts a lid on her potential."

Do you know a child age 15 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at or call him at 423-757-6205.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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