Saturday, November 23, 2013

Upcoming Concert: Bach - and Doubling!

This Sunday, we’re performing Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at the University of Chicago, in the venerable Rockefeller Chapel, with a terrific orchestra and choir and soloists.  Playing music this great is a pleasure that never gets old.  I’ve done this piece many times, but this is the first time I’ve sat at the bottom of the section, playing Second English horn.

The first best thing about this is that I get to listen to a LOT of great playing while I wait for my movements.  The orchestra is marvelous, and I adore my oboe colleagues, who make the difficult solos and duets sound simply effortless.  The second best thing is that I enjoy the challenge of playing the English horn, which is far from my main instrument. 

What I love, generally, about the English horn is how easy it is to sound good on it.  Much of the orchestral music written for the instrument is soloistic, and it has such a pretty sound, and you get to blow so satisfyingly through it, rather than having to finesse it all the time like the oboe.  But what I always remember with chagrin when I am hired for a part like Second English horn in the Christmas Oratorio is that the instrument is easy to play WITH but hard to PLAY.  Here’s what I mean.

When I pick up the English horn, I practice the exposed parts of my music.  I practice excerpts and solos.   I expect that when I am heard I’ll be fine, because in a solo you can always fudge a little bit.  Start louder than a strict pianissimo, or take a little time in a ritard to really set the notes, or push ahead to ease the breathing - all of the attention is on you so you can do what you need to make it beautiful and make it work.  This “How shall I play this solo” work is fun for me, and certainly is important and relevant.

But when your part is just the fourth oboe voice in a chorale, there’s not so much flexibility.  The notes have to start and end right with everyone else’s, and they have to be at the right dynamic and with the right kind of vibrato.  This kind of tight ensemble playing is challenging on the oboe, too, but that at least is my instrument.  I may miss every now and then, but I know exactly what I need to do to fix the next entrance.  The English horn is pretty foreign to me once I move away from the big famous solos, and I do a lot of guessing.  How much air pressure do I need for this next low D?  Oops, too big an accent.  I’ll use less for this F# - oops, didn’t speak on time.  Softer lips?  NIIICE one.  Hope that works on the G, too…oops…

Of course I am speaking of subtleties.  I can basically play the thing.  But subtleties are important, and although I love playing WITH the English horn - idly, alone in my room, or in an isolated solo like the Glitter and Be Gay intro on our last Pops concert - I always realize when I go to PLAY it that I should have practiced it more.  Like, daily for the past twenty years.  

The hardest part of doubling is not soloing, but trying to competently play unexposed material on an unfamiliar tool.  Only my nearby colleagues and I know whether I’m perfect or flawed in this material, but THAT’S ENOUGH!   (Note: I get comfortable fast.  Today was better than yesterday.  Tomorrow should be solid.)

That said - this Sunday’s Christmas Oratorio at the University of Chicago will be stunning.  This would be one to attend.  You can count my mistakes for fun as you admire all of the other great performers on the stage. 

Details HERE

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Musicians for Michiana: The Music Village

Here’s my favorite thing about Kellirae Boann, of The Music Village.  When I make a suggestion she says, “Yes,” and then she says, “AND,” and she makes it bigger and better than I had even ever considered that it could be.  When I approached her hoping to perform a few concerts in her space the project rapidly turned into a four-concert series, featuring fourteen musicians, four non-profit organizations, two restaurants, a recording engineer, pre-concert lectures, a local print shop, a team of volunteers, a grant proposal, and the current crowd-funding campaign which I invite YOU to participate in. 

Kellirae and The Music Village have been my strategic partner in this project since its inception.  The Village will be hosting the concerts, in an intimate space just perfect for small-group chamber music and up-close audience engagement.  She and her superb staff and volunteers worked with me to refine the vision of the project and to craft a compelling grant proposal.  Working with The Music Village gives non-profit credibility to Musicians for Michiana (so your donations through Indiegogo are tax-deductible!), although we do intend to acquire our own non-profit status for next year. 

The vivid primary colors and friendly, casual atmosphere in their space are a dramatic contrast to many classical venues, and suggest the level of approachability I have always striven for in my own performances.  Although we can and will move upstairs to a larger and somewhat more formal hall when our attendees exceed the capacity of the room, I admit that I am quite looking forward to the intimacy and enforced proximity of audience and musicians for these interactive concerts. 

And perhaps my favorite part of the whole project is the community connection.  I’m a born introvert, so although I have lived in this town for years and eaten at the local restaurants and observed with pleasure the activities going on, I only really know people through my Symphony job and through my husband, the friendliest man in the world.  Now, through Musicians for Michiana and The Music Village, I have more connections than ever before, with people, organizations, and and happenings.  Our other partner organizations, Unity Gardens, Girls on the Run Michiana, and Hannah and Friends, are similarly outwardly focused, and I’m feeling my roots and networks growing and deepening by the day. 

I am beginning to feel as though our plan for a new chamber music series here in South Bend is more than just a pipe dream.  In fact, as our Indiegogo campaign inches through its allotted time, I not only believe in it, I believe in it wholeheartedly.  I think we’re going to do this. 

Still to come in this series of posts: The Partners.  The Concerts.  The Successful Conclusion!

Visit Musicians for Michiana HERE.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Musicians for Michiana - The Musicians

This is Part Three in a series of posts about Musicians for Michiana.  What would a chamber music series be without a fantastic set of musicians?

This is not a large town - which is why I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there were so many serious topnotch musicians living in the area, and so many more who come in every month to perform with the South Bend Symphony.  We are just far enough from Chicago and Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo that our members frequently choose to spend the week here in town during orchestra cycles - with the result that there are a large number of professional musicians who consider South Bend a home base.  Who have connections here to the community, and a stake in its success and growth.

And this was definitely another part of my inspiration in starting this project.  Musicians love to play, and crave more opportunities to dig deeply into chamber music with friends. There are few things more fun than working together in this way. And all of us have a significant level of commitment to the community but a limited amount of material resources to offer.

I’m generalizing here, from my own position.  The number of worthy organizations here in town is very large, and I would love to support them all.  The amount of cash on hand I can offer to these groups is noticeably limited.  I do have a skill, though, and a number of talented colleagues who feel the same way.  Hence, Musicians for Michiana.

Now, you may ask, why pay the musicians if the whole point is to raise money for the organizations in question?  Aren’t they willing to give of themselves for free?  In surprisingly many cases they are, in fact, but I am not willing to ask them to.

For a freelancer, like myself, time is absolutely money.  I am not on a salary, and I don’t have significant investments, so money only comes in when I work.  Work takes a certain amount of time - I can’t power through a rehearsal or a lesson by working extra hard and then get out early.  As much as I’d love to offer my services for free, I know that if I do I’ll end up resentfully turning down other paying work on the day of the performance, or accepting that work which is too good to refuse and leaving my colleagues in the lurch.  Playing for free is not a sustainable model, and I won’t ask my friends to do it.  We’re not paying them much but it can’t be nothing.

So far my favorite thing about Musicians for Michiana is the enthusiasm I’m getting from EVERYONE I talk to, and no one is more on board than the musicians. The conversation tends to go,
“Hi, Friend!  I’m starting a new chamber music series -“
“Ooh!  Can I play?  What do you need?  You know, I have this great piece…”
 It’s really humbling to have so many people leap on board with me.  I know they are all wonderful players and committed human beings, and just hope that we can bring the nuts and bolts of the project up to the level of our collective enthusiasm.

Who are these marvelous players?  These people who are eager to help out with this new series, and make it special?  They are principal and section players in your local symphony and other orchestras.  Members of professional quartets.  Tenure-track professors at real universities.  Local music teachers for your child and mine.  And active members of our community.  I love them, I’m proud of them, and I’m one of them.  We are the Musicians for Michiana!

Please visit our Indiegogo campaign before November 30, and help to support our plan.  Please tell your friends, and your families, and your colleagues to stop by and check us out!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Musicians for Michiana - The Programming

This is Part Two in a series of posts about Musicians for Michiana.  (Part One HERE) All social mission aside, the whole point of a chamber music series is the music, right?

There’s something a little frustrating about being an orchestral musician, which is that you never get to choose what you play.  The programming takes place in an office far away from your place of work, on the stage, and you just have to show up and do the job at hand.  I love my job, but this lack of control is an inescapable downside. 

In contrast, a small series like ours with a small number of enthusiastic musicians can program works that really matter to us.  Every piece on every concert was suggested by a musician.  Every piece has a personal story associated, one which we will certainly share with you during the performances as well as here, on the website, in advance.   Yes, many of these works were my suggestions, and yes, there is a lot of OBOE represented on the series - but it is important to me to keep this project collaborative and I expect that in future years the programming will be even more excitingly eclectic than it is now. 

How eclectic is it, you ask?  We have music composed two hundred and fifty years ago, music from one hundred years ago, and music that is still being written.  We have music by Mozart, Milhaud, and Ibert - European white men with real reputations - and music by contemporary American composers you probably don’t know yet, like Jenni Brandon and Jeremy Gill.  We have music by local composers, living right in this town - Marjorie Rusche and Steve Ingle.  There’s music for string quintet and reed trio, but also for more unexpected combinations like oboe and two percussionists, or clarinet and cello.

In some cases, these are pieces I have ached to perform for a long time.  The Britten Phantasy Quartet, for example, on our February 2 concert.  Like all of Benjamin Britten’s works, it is deeply intelligent.  There is a lot of complexity in the construction and in the harmonic language, which of course I completely dig - but it’s also got a terrific energy arc, taking the listener from the softest string pizzicatos through an intense march to a beautiful, liquid oboe cadenza and all the way back to a single cello note.  Perfect.

In other cases, the works are quite new to me - Jeremy Gill’s Soglie, Serenate, Sfere is one example.  Jeremy and I were at Eastman together, and he lived across the hall from me, and accompanied me on piano for at least one performance, and composed a piece for my oboe trio which we played for our final senior recital, and has the same birthday as me!  In other words, I’ve known and respected him for years, but I do not have a long history with his large-scale 2009 work for oboe and percussion.  I’ve heard a recording, I like it, and I have two outstanding percussionists on board, but I have no idea what the performance experience will be like or what to expect when we begin rehearsals.  Can.  Not.  Wait.

Although we have our plans very much in place for this year, we’re always looking for additional ideas for future seasons.  Please feel free to get in touch.  Let us know what you’d like to hear.  In fact, how about this?  Donate.  Connect with us.  Be involved.   It’s more fun when you have some ownership in the project, as I’m learning.   Would you visit our Indiegogo page and consider offering some support?   Every little bit helps, and if you can’t donate, would you at least tell your friends?  All of them - the Mozart lovers and those who want something new and extreme.  The musically literate and those who want to sample our tasting menu. 

Later in this series: The Musicians.  The Music.  The Organizations.  The People.  The Venue.  The Success of the Fundraising Venture.  Stay tuned!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Musicians for Michiana: The Inspiration

This begins a series of posts talking about my new project, Musicians for Michiana.  Maybe it’s not so new a project, as I’ve been working consistently on it since last May: talking to musicians, meeting with representatives from our non-profit partners, planning programming, working on the budget, getting catering quotes, writing grant proposal narratives, and generally trying to build all of the behind-the-scenes infrastructure before I made any kind of announcement. 

And now here we are!  Going public and raising real funds!

This project originated back in the spring.  I was out for a run, and suddenly realized that I’d been living in South Bend for years.  I’d been drowning in the busyness of raising a toddler and having an active portfolio career, and I had no idea what was going on in the town I lived in. I was ready to look around, and reach out, and try to do my part. 

I was inspired by examples like the Alias Chamber Ensemble in Nashville and the Burlington Ensemble in Vermont.  Groups which reached beyond the normal classical music audience to try to do good in the community.  I was inspired by my South Bend friend Andrea who knows everyone and everything going on in this town. I can’t imagine having roots of the depth and breadth that she has here but I wanted to start some growing.  I was inspired by what I saw of the non-profit scene here.  People really are just trying to make the world better, in whichever small, focused way they see.  I was ready to get started.

So now here we are.  There’s a full season of great music programmed.  There are four organizations partnering with us and ready to embrace this new experience.  There’s a group of musicians on board and ready to start working.  The parts have been distributed.  There’s a venue, and there’s a graphic designer, and there are two restaurants prepared to cater our receptions.  A grant application has been submitted, to partially fund the series.  The next bit is up to us.  Would you visit our Indiegogo page and consider offering some support?   Every little bit helps, and if you can’t donate, would you at least tell your friends?  All of them - the music lovers and the do-gooders, the wealthy and the ones who would like a complimentary kazoo with their $12 donation.

Later in this series: The Musicians.  The Music.  The Organizations.  The People.  The Venue.  The Success of the Fundraising Venture.  Stay tuned!