Friday, January 31, 2014

TV Coverage for Musicians for Michiana

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Upcoming Concert- Musicians for Michiana!

I can hardly believe it, but our first Musicians for Michiana concert is happening this very weekend!

I’ve been working on this project for so long that I’d almost forgotten that an ACTUAL CONCERT was going to be the end result - it seemed like all I was ever going to do was worry about money and harass printers - but now that we’ve had rehearsals and I’m planning my program notes I begin to think that it might be real.  And that we might actually be getting to the part I’m good at, which can’t come soon enough for my morale. 

Two years ago at a convention I heard this 2010 Martin Bresnick piece, once, and immediately recognized that I had to play it.  The composer had gone on a pilgrimage to see the tiny Belarus town his parents and grandparents had grown up in, and describes the bucolic setting with nostalgia and love.  The middle section, a lullaby, seems to reference his own childhood, and as such feels very personal. The piece is beautifully written for the instruments, has a great flow and arc to it, and should be an easy one for an audience to love.  I’m thrilled to be presenting “Going Home (Vysoke, My Jerusalem)”  with three great string players at this Sunday’s concert! 

Presenting new music to new audiences is one of my favorite things to do, and I am really looking forward to Sunday’s performance.  Lest you forget, we will be playing at 2:00 at The Music Village, 108 N. Main St in South Bend.  The entire concert supports Unity Gardens, a great local non-profit organization, and we would LOVE to see you there.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Force Majeure

This week we are putting on a huge concert with the South Bend Symphony.  Strauss, Sibelius, Smetana, and Lalo - great tone poems, huge and complex works that tell deep stories and require serious preparation. 

And tonight’s rehearsal was canceled.

Tonight’s rehearsal was canceled, and mercifully the orchestra’s management was committed to fixing the problem. 

The Force Majeure clause in our contract, as in most contracts, would mean that the canceled service was UNPAID, despite having been on our books for months.  I’ve held this Tuesday night clear of other gigs and scheduled students around the rehearsal.  I might have hired a babysitter or arranged a playdate.  It’s been my job ever since the schedule came out in August to show up at 7:30 tonight ready to play Don Juan.  And just because we have two feet of snow on the ground and wind chills of 25 below, or whatever, suddenly I’m not making any money tonight, and no one is liable. 

At nine this morning I was on the phone with our operations manager and executive director, trying to find a place in the remainder of this busy, overcrowded week to reschedule the rehearsal.  We considered adding overtime to the remaining services, but in practice that would have resulted in long, fatiguing rehearsals which were too expensive for the actual amount of extra work we could get done.  We considered letting it stay canceled, and doing the concert on less rehearsal time, which was undesirable both artistically and financially.  We considered - and eventually settled on - the addition of an afternoon service later in the week, but it was not a given that we could arrange it.

Because this orchestra is not full time, everyone works other jobs.  Some are exclusively musicians, and some do real, “civilian” work during the day, so the choice to call a rehearsal on a weekday was fraught.  We on the committee had to ensure that players whose obligations prevented them from making the rescheduled date would still be allowed to play the concert.  We had to clear it with our  union local, since it was a last minute change to a time disallowed by our contract.  We had to decide whether to wait a day and put the options to a vote by the membership, or to make the decision right away so that people could start planning their schedules and adjusting their calendars. 

So that was a flurry of exciting emailing.  Actually the busiest I’ve been since all of this snow started.  We had it all settled before lunchtime. 

I’m so glad that in this orchestra we have such a good working relationship between management and the players committee.  I’m glad that they were committed to keeping us working.  I’m glad that a solution could be found.  I’m glad that we will still get to play this exciting concert, and that we’ll have the time we need to prepare it to the high level it deserves. 

I hope that people will come out and hear us on Saturday night.  Details HERE

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fun Concert

Oh, this concert was FUN. 

Beethoven’s Second Symphony, for one thing, which is just the right amount of difficult to keep you busy and engaged and concentrating and on the edge of your chair but not quite hard enough to get stressed about or to exhaust you for the rest of the day.

 And a guest conductor, for another.  We worked with David Glover, assistant conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony.  He held our orchestra to very high standard, asking for truly soft playing, driving tempos forward despite the difficulty of the piece, and insisting on excellent ensemble work.    I have a great deal of respect for a leader who requests a specific string section articulation or wind section sound and then keeps insisting until it is achieved.  I respect a leader who comes in with preformed musical ideas and a clear mental picture of the performance, and who works efficiently to create the conditions for that performance.

I love to be asked to change something in my playing.  I love to be challenged to play more softly, more dolce, more excitingly.  I love it when someone suggests a different direction for a phrase, or proposes a new style.  Even if I don't love what I'm being asked to do I'm delighted to try something new and I enjoy the interesting task of integrating the new idea and making it mine.

The orchestra rose beautifully to the challenge.  It was a tight and exciting performance of a great and seldom-played piece, and I was proud to be a part of it. My colleagues are marvelous and I enjoyed every minute. 

Happy 2014, Everyone!  We are off and running.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Upcoming Concert- Beethoven!

I am excited to get back to work this weekend with the South Bend Symphony. 

It’s been a long vacation.  We welcomed it, and made good use of it- some traveling and a lot of sleeping, mostly, but every day is fun with Zoe. We made Hide and Seek Muffins and French Toast and Ice Cream out of Snow, and played innumerable games of Uno, and hiked and shoveled when the weather permitted and watched movies when it didn’t.  

Our family needed the break desperately, but after three snow days - right as school was supposed to begin again - extended our vacation another week I am intensely ready to get back to a routine of regular orchestra work.  My private students all came back this week, and the college kids will start up soon - but the playing is really what it’s about, isn’t it? 

So we go back to work tomorrow morning.  This will be the first non-Christmas orchestral playing I’ve done since mid-November!  I hope I remember how to maintain a tempo without the aid of sleigh bells. 

The Chamber Orchestra is playing Beethoven - the Second Symphony.  This seems like a perfect way to come back - it’s not easy playing, not at all, but gratifyingly rich material that feels good to play.  There’s something inevitable about playing Beethoven - the entrances can be unexpected but when you put the notes in the right place they just FIT so perfectly.  Playing Beethoven with a good group feels satisfying - like running with someone, separating to go two opposite directions around an obstacle, and coming back together exactly in step.  It doesn’t always work that way - it’s not always that easy - and that’s why we rehearse and why we can feel challenged even playing the same pieces we’ve played many times before. 

ALSO, we have a guest conductor!  With infinite respect for our Maestro, I will say that I am looking forward to meeting David Glover and experiencing a different energy and a different vibe.  Not like a substitute teacher, exactly, where there’s an air of “What can I get away with here?”   More like “What Fun, to play familiar music on a familiar stage with familiar colleagues - DIFFERENTLY!” 

I think I’m being a little incoherent.  I’ve barely written in the past few months - even privately, much less on this blog - and to do so again feels difficult.  As this year goes on we’ll see whether I pop back into a regular writing schedule or whether this particular creative outlet has run its course for me. 

Meanwhile - come out and see us this Sunday afternoon!  Details HERE.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Learning Curves

Things have not been going all that well in Zoe’s cello lessons.  She’s only had a couple of months worth, and I wasn’t so sure even before we started that she was ready.   And in the first few lessons all my suspicions were borne out - she was all over the place, poking around her teacher’s studio and playing with toys and asking irrelevant questions instead of focusing.  I was embarrassed and infuriated. 

After the excitement of the first week wore off, she never picked her cello up to practice it at home.  I would ask her to practice and she would put it off, and then not do it at all.  Clearly Zoe did not want to play the cello. 

I realized only recently that it’s completely my fault.  How on earth did it take me this long? 

I know how music lessons work.  I teach as many as 25 lessons a week, and I’ve been doing it for years.  Students come in for a period of time and pay attention and learn, and we can be friendly but they have to act respectfully.  They go home and work on the things we’ve talked about, and return to show me their progress. Daily practice on their own is when the magic happens.  Lesson time is when I suggest more, better work to do.  It seems totally obvious.

But none of my students is four years old. 

Why would I expect her to know this?

She doesn’t know anything else, not automatically, not instinctively.  Zoe has outstanding table manners, if I may brag, but she didn’t two years ago.  She says Thank You very reliably when complimented or given a gift, but I’ve only recently stopped nudging her to do so.  There’s no reason in the world that she should just intuit the way to behave in a music lesson, or the way to patiently practice and get just a little bit better every day at an arbitrary skill.  She has to be taught not only about the cello but about the process. 

So now we practice together.  We practice lesson etiquette and cello techniques. We pretend that I am the teacher instead of the mommy, and we try to practice showing the teacher all of her skills in an efficient amount of time.  I stress that she won’t get any new assignments or activities if she can’t do the ones she’s been given.  We remind each other about the excellent posture and bow grip she’s been taught.

And sure enough, we are having better lessons now and making more progress.  It turns out that Zoe loves the cello, or at least loves learning it.  She just needed to be taught how.

The learning curve for a music parent parallels the curve for a new student, it turns out.  It gives me much more empathy for all the nice people who bring their kids to me week after week - I've never seen this side of the equation from where I stand.  Incidentally, I also keep forgetting to pay her lovely teacher at her lessons.  I have to apologize after the fact and pay double the following time.  Perhaps I'll get better at this as I go along, if I practice and focus...