Stephen Laifer

We carry the music inside of us, and honing our craft is a labor of love regardless of whether we’re at work.

Stephen Laifer, 4th Horn

Hello, Rochester! This morning I was asked to write an entry for the RPO’s Beyond the Stage blog focusing on what I’ve been doing, musically, to cope with our current situation of social isolation. I had to step back and think about that, because my first thought was about how the RPO has ceased performances. Life can feel a bit like it’s in limbo right now, and music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. That’s a strange conundrum. But it’s also one I’ve experienced before.

Back in 2011, I was a member of the horn section of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, 85 miles down the road from Rochester. Much like now, we were in the middle of our season when, with very little warning, the music was interrupted. The SSO declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and concerts stopped. It would seem the music all but disappeared. But did it really? It took me a few weeks to realize that while the orchestra might have gone away, the music itself hadn’t actually gone anywhere.

Symphony orchestra musicians carry with them their love and passion for what they do, regardless of where they are. When an orchestra has a vacation week, that doesn’t mean the music is gone. We carry the music inside of us, and honing our craft is a labor of love regardless of whether we’re at work. So although the RPO might not be on the stage right now, that certainly doesn’t mean the music is gone.

“Just because the concert isn’t happening doesn’t mean I can’t still play it.” – Stephen Laifer

Each one of my colleagues has their own idea of how to stay engaged when we’re not making music together. When I don’t have my colleagues around to inspire me, my own inspiration comes from my love of my instrument, the horn—which just happens to have the most beautiful sound in the orchestra. (Just ask my dog Zoey. She’ll back me up on that.)

Since our time is our own right now and life feels rather free-form, I’ve been enjoying the chance to toss aside the necessary focus on discipline and technical accuracy required for my daily job. With no parts to learn or rehearsals to prepare for, I’ve been using this time instead to rediscover my love of the sound of the horn. The emphasis in my practicing has shifted from etudes and exercises to just simply playing. I’ll go through some of my favorite pieces, maybe a few movements from a Mozart horn concerto, or a Bach cello suite. (Shhh, don’t tell my cello colleagues. They hate when we do that.) The point of playing these pieces is to dispense with the usual discipline. So, no self judgement, no recriminations over imperfect intonation or a missed note. Just music for music’s sake. And then a wonderful thing happens: I’m reminded all over again why I play the horn, and why, decades later, I am still every bit as much in love with its noble, magical sound as I was when I started way back in high school.

The challenge, of course, is to keep all this in mind when we get back to work—which we hope will be very soon! Meantime, please stay safe, and stay healthy. We miss you all.

Stephen Laifer, 4th Horn, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra


Being a native Upstate New Yorker from the Syracuse area, this was a staple on the menus in many restaurants. It’s the ultimate New York State comfort food, and it’s way healthier than a garbage plate!


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups kale, washed, stems trimmed and chopped. (You can also use escarole, Swiss chard, or any tough-leaved greens. Spinach doesn’t work very well, as it breaks down in the heat.)
1 (15- ounce) can cannellini beans, drained
3/4 cup chicken stock


  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pot.
  2. Add onion and garlic. Sauté until tender about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the red pepper flakes and salt and pepper; stir until fragrant.
  4. Add the kale and sauté until it cooks down slightly.
  5. Add the beans and the chicken stock.
  6. Cover and let cook for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2 thoughts on “Stephen Laifer

  1. Sharon Laifer Ross April 6, 2020 — 12:59 am

    That’s my baby bro ❤️


  2. Dear Mr. Laifer, sorry to disturb you. There is a fake account on tinder with pictures of you an Zoey. Your name there is Steve McMahan. It says that you are an auditor and with this name there is a fake Website in the net…..maybe you would like to know it. What a pity…..I liked you. Best regards Ulli


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