Skip to main content

From the Absurd...

This past weekend I played a concert with a college orchestra.  I use the terms "college" and  orchestra" loosely.  This tiny ensemble was nearly half filled with local musicians, players I know from other jobs - and even this quantity of pros was not able to elevate the gig significantly. 

The tiny group of students really struggled with intonation, balance, counting, articulation, and just about every other metric I can name.  They had had a long rehearsal in the afternoon before the concert, and were mentally and physically worn out.  We dragged ourselves - the conductor, bless his heart, dragged us - through a new work by Robert Paterson, the Mozart Double Piano Concerto (what a charming piece!  And beautifully played by the two soloists despite the chaos behind them), and Brahms’s Second Symphony. 

This job was hard for me. When you are surrounded by ghastly intonation, it’s almost impossible to sound good. And the harder you try to at least do your own job well, the more stressful it can feel, until you are making dumb mistakes just like the students around you and second-guessing the pitch center you have worked to achieve, and really just putting out a sub-par performance all around.  Which is frustrating, because of course you feel like your own wondrous professionalism should make a difference to the group and raise the level, but in the heat of the moment no one around you has the wherewithal to notice it or respond to it, and eventually, despite yourself, you give up and just grind on through to the end.

I left the stage, and wondered what on earth we had just accomplished.  Brahms 2 is a great work.  Great orchestras have performed it, and recorded it.  This tiny, terrible performance, by maybe 35 people FOR maybe 35 people, felt bad and I didn’t know that value had been added to the world by our evening’s work.  Brahms probably wasn't happy.

Then, as I was packing up, the clarinet player introduced himself to me.  Complimented my playing.  Was obviously energized by the performance. 

Was this your first Brahms Symphony?

YES! It’s amazing music!  I feel like I’ve heard Brahms before, and been bored by it - but this symphony is so great!


And that.  THAT.  Right there - that’s why we do it. 

One college student, who hadn’t liked or understood Brahms before, and would not have sought out the works of this great master, had sat for a semester in orchestra getting his ear attuned to the harmonic language and hearing the interplay of voices and feeling the harmonic drive, and it moved him.  It changed him.  From now on, he’ll be the guy who hears a snippet of Brahms Second on the radio and hums along.  He’ll be the person who buys a ticket to a symphony concert because this piece is being played.  And even though he won’t be in the middle of it, he’ll be able to hear it as though he is.  It’s a different experience, and a magical one.  Who knows?  Maybe over the next few years this little college orchestra will introduce him to more works he hadn’t realized were good.  Maybe he’ll start to seek out more major romantic symphonies. 

That night, as my professional colleagues and I slunk back to our cars, feeling demoralized, one proud student had had a real experience. 


That’s why.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Discouraging Words

I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music.  There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week. 

Quit NOW. 

I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt.  It was designed to discourage.

Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants.  High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.

And look, there's an element of truth to this.  Classical music is not a growing field, and it is leg…

Shaq and the Oboe

Here’s my FAVORITE thing about that Shaquille O'Neal video everyone's sharing this week - it’s how HAPPY he is playing this silly game and how little he CARES what the oboe actually SOUNDS LIKE or how to play it. 
Almost as if the oboe is not a giant obstacle to overcome.

Instead of focusing on the CRAFT of the instrument, the precise fingerings, the quality of the sound, the finesse of the vibrato - his focus is on DELIVERING the SONG.   It’s on COMMUNICATION, not perfection.


What a LIBERATING concept!


When I am playing my best, I find that I can surpass the STRUGGLE and come to a place where my focus is on communication.   I can sing through the instrument, and I can use that voice to reach out and find someone else.  This is really what being In the Zone means for me - it's when I don’t have to engage with the OBOE and instead can be generous with my VOICE for the audience.


I seek and strive for this Zone all the time - it’s the whole point of practicing! I practice long…

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

We took a vacation this summer.This is not news to anyone in my life - anyone who knows me or especially Steve on Facebook followed along with all of our pictures.We took our travel trailer out to Arizona - via St Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Roswell, Santa Fe - and then stayed a week in Clarksdale and Flagstaff and visited some ancient pueblo ruins, Sedona, Jerome, the Lowell Observatory, the Grand Canyon.We swam in swimming pools, lakes, and icy mountain streams.We hiked.Eventually we came home again, via Albuquerque, Amarillo, Tulsa, and St Louis. (our inventiveness had somewhat worn out).After a week at home we took another trip, and drove to Vermont via western NY and the Adirondack Park (stayed an extra day to hike a mountain), lived four days in East Franklin VT, and came home via Catskill and eastern Ohio.
This vacation felt different from all of our previous ones.In the 21 years we’ve been married, I can name only one - maybe two trips we ever took that were not For Work or For …