Well, civilization is moving forward tomorrow during the 2004 Rose Parade -- there's going to be a marching orchestra!
I had a sneak peek at them last night when my quartet played for the Tournament of Roses Directors' Banquet at the Ritz in Pasadena. Following our dinner background music was the band from Odessa, Texas. They marched into the banquet hall with violins, violas, even cellos!
The cellos were most remarkable, they seemed to be suspended in air by magic. My other quartet members and I had to look closely to see that something was holding the cellos up by the neck. It still mystifies me.
When they marched (or rather, strolled) in they dispersed around the room, playing a simple tune, which I can't remember (my brain was fried after playing for about two hours!). Then they played (I think!) "America the Beautiful." I do remember that they played together (no small feat, in that situation) and in tune. Nice job!
Tomorrow they have to march five and a half miles down Colorado Boulevard -- a very long route, even with, say, a piccolo. So watch your television for the marching string band!
Unfortunately, they were all packed on the stage. The performers seemed to outnumber the audience.
It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this phenomenon, and it seems worst at choral concerts. Saturday’s was a wonderful all-Beethoven chorale concert for a local college. The line-up in the orchestra amazed me: all solid musicians that I know from freelancing, back to the last desk. The chorale sang well, with the benefit of a committed leader who also did a decent job of conducting the orchestra. Altogether, it was a high quality show.
The last time I played for this group, it offered free tickets to everyone in the orchestra and choir, and they filled the house with what looked like more than a thousand people. This time, the audience was pathetically small, maybe a few hundred.
It just shouldn’t be!
Is getting people’s $20 more important than filling the house? I don’t think so, especially when so few people are willing to pay it. Better to fill the house and ask for optional donations for this kind of event. Students deserve to play for a full house.
But with or without comp tickets, musicians should remember what an important role they play as ambassadors for classical music and live performances.
Think about it: no comps=empty house. Flood the orchestra and choir with comps=standing room only. Musicians can play a huge role in filling the house. How many people did you personally invite to the last concert you played? Everyone has a fan club. Here are some ideas for who to invite: that one friend who takes a special interest in how your violin playing is going, the person who is always saying she wishes she’d kept playing the piano because she loves classical music so much, your entire dormitory, your entire church, your yoga teacher, your grandmother, your student, your parents, sister, brother, son, daughter, spouse, a fellow musician….
Don’t be shy.
No matter that we lured them in with a goofy character from a kids' T.V. show. We got them to listen with rapt attention to quite an eclectic mix of music, with little bits of Kreisler, Fiddler on the Roof, Blue Danube, Dvorak's New World, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Flight of the Bumblebee and more.
It all came about when my friend, Marisa McLeod, and I expressed our interest in playing some shows for the Pasadena Symphony's education program. We noticed a little note on the bulletin board during a rehearsal, asking musicians to play for school concerts for children ages six to eight. Her son is seven and my daughter is six, and watching our own children has only strengthened our conviction that children need to hear music, to feel it, to have it in their lives.
Unfortunately, the public schools in America often give music education short shrift. Children's knowledge of music is not measured with a standardized test. And being a society that doesn't seem to understand the value of something with no immediate "purpose" or measurable result, we discarded it as a "frill" of education.
The Pasadena Symphony has stepped in and come up with a very ambitious education outreach program for the children who happen to live in this district (mine!). The Symphony gives public schools lesson plan books for young children, monthly concerts for first-and second-graders, training to help teachers include music education in their classrooms and a box for each school filled with books, CDs, tapes, rhythm instruments and art supplies.
We were thrilled to be a part of it, and we decided to write a show that we thought would lure the kids in while also giving them something valuable to remember. I wrote a story about a girl losing her tooth, her brother throwing it in the river and the tooth fairy coming to give her a little money for her tooth despite the fact that it was lost. Then we chose little bits of music that fit the characters and storyline and interspersed them through the story. We called it the "Losing Teeth Leitmotif." After telling the story, we tested them to see if they remembered the "leitmotifs." They did!
I hope they also found new understanding for how music can express something without using words, how four stringed instruments can make so much wonderful noise, how fun it all is, how they should keep seeking the music that is everywhere in their lives.
Thanks, Sponge Bob!