Behind the Musical Advent Calendar: Jo Withers, French Horn


Jo Withers, raised in North Yorkshire, now from Walthamstow, is a freelance french horn player who took an extended sabbatical to home educate her two children (by choice!). She continued, throughout, to play with English Touring Opera so her children have had an amazing education spanning the length and breadth of the country. Now they are 11 & 8, Jo started returning to the London freelance scene a couple of years ago.


The year in music began well for Jo, working with the LSO, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, the band of Wicked in the West End and on the soundtrack for Enola Homes: "I had a very lovely time working January to March this year - playing with a lot of orchestras for the first time so lockdown has been slightly devastating! However, I have rediscovered previous loves during lockdown - both solo horn repertoire and piano, violin and recorder - all of which I've not had the time (or inclination) to play in twenty years. Fortunately as a home educating family we are, at least, used to being together a lot so we were quite happy to hibernate under a blanket for the first few months!

Playing principal horn with the BBC Phil after returning to freelancing after 10 years.

Jo has the most cryptic hint at her advent calendar performance yet... "We've dug the holly out but we're avoiding the hall..!"

So many ideas Jo, but which holly...


Musician Mums Quick Christmas Quiz:


What will you miss most about performing music this Christmas?

The joy of audiences - it's the most heartbreaking aspect of lockdown and restrictions. I miss using my talents and hard work to make people happy. There are so many emotions which can be accessed and processed and healed through music but at Christmas it's all about the joy.

Your favourite hymn/Christmas song?

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire is the only line I need to hear to feel instantly festive, cosy and happy.

And what are you hoping for this year for Christmas?

As long as there's a chocolate orange in my stocking I'll be happy!

What's your favourite Christmas memory ?

I usually play for my friend, Jonathan Rathbone’s choirs at Christmas which marks the real start of the festivities for me every year. I love the Christmas music and it's a fabulous little chamber orchestra to play with. I'm very lucky he's arranged a piece for horns this year specially for the advent calendar! I shall watch that day with a glass of mulled wine and toast my beloved colleagues from the orchestra.

Tell us your favourite thing about Christmas ?

Food! (Definitely.) Having the excuse to indulge a little and spend longer preparing more interesting meals is lovely. (Plus cooking whilst drinking is a treat I usually only indulge in during the festive season!)

Thanks so much!