May 2008

the Mental Ramblings of a Deranged Concertmaster

May 19, 2008 13:37

The Lighter Side of Leadership

So I’ll admit that I’m not totally new to the concertmaster “thing”, but I still have a lot to learn. Particularly when it comes to accepting that not every concert will be “smooth sailing”, and that much can be learned from the humorous side of performance.

Therefore, this blog is dedicated to every musician who has ever had a less than stellar performance and has still come up laughing – perhaps hysterically – but still laughing.

It is to you that I publicly share the mental ramblings of a deranged concertmaster.

The program for this particular concert was:

Brahms Piano Concerto
Beethoven’s 6th Symphony
Beethoven’s Egmont Overture

Concert Begins:

“Okay, we’re tuned and ready, so far so good. Hold on! The page-turners stool was moved and I can’t see anything but the piano and the soloist’s back. This is NOT helpful.” Make silent, desperate attempt to have assistant CM lead – I think she got the message. “Ahhh…the beginning of the Brahms is so beautiful…is it hot in here or am I getting excessively nervous? Yeah right, like I’m ever not nervous. Okay here’s our entrance – calm down girl you’re always okay after the first few measures. Hey! Here’s a thought. I could use this to time to practice playing beautifully even when I’m a wreck. Focus on relaxing – whoa, time to shift – almost missed that one. Okay maybe now is not a good time to practice…

All righty’ then – we’re half way done and haven’t gotten lost yet. Aaacck! The dreaded letter ‘D’! Don’t think about the fact we’ve never gotten this right yet…count…count…count. No! The page-turner is standing up! Not now! Dang it! Where’s the beat? If the color of the conductors face is any indication this is not going good. How am I supposed to lead when I can’t see? Yes! Bless my first violins! Someone back there can see and they’re playing out strong – I think we’re all back on the same page. This last movement will be a piece of cake after all this”.


“I don’t feel like mingling with the crowd – why is it so hot in here? I wonder how the Beethoven’s 6th is going to go? Why do I get so nervous? Is it a chemical reaction? Does it really matter? Okay, you shouldn’t pace in public, it makes the other players think something’s wrong. Something is wrong – we almost died out there! Okay now you’re just being melodramatic, get a grip.”

Resuming concert:

“I feel much calmer, but it appears I’m not the only one sweating like a stuck pig. What if I drop my bow…my violin? You keep this up and you will drop something – you always worry about that and it never happens. Really? (my evil self chimes in at this point) remember the time when you were playing the William Tell Overture and you shot your bow all the way across the symphony to the trumpet section? Well almost never *sigh*
Is this first movement about Spring? I can never remember – just play it beautifully and it’ll work. Here goes that beautiful thing again – just don’t think about it. Yea! – that fingering worked out fabulously. It’s so nice that I can see the conductor – makes things much easier. You know I think I made all of my mistakes in our dress rehearsal cause’ I’m doing really good right now…Aaaaagh! Where did that passage come from? I don’t remember ever seeing it! Why isn’t it fingered? But I know just the finger to give it! Okay now the Storm! Bring out that thunder and lighting! But don’t drop your bow cause’ I’m getting more sweaty. Just ignore it – focus on the music. That man in the front row keeps staring at me. Dude! Look somewhere else! I can’t be doing that bad. We’re almost done – what’s that banging sound! I think the piano just fell apart backstage…wow! What a dirty look from the conductor – focus girl focus.

“Now the Egmont – what a great end to the concert” Okay…going good…going good – remember you’re in 3 here. Got it! Holy cow what was that? Ooops! Somebody dropped their bow – don’t glace over there! Here comes the Allegro Con Brio – get ready to fly! I love this part! Last few measures to go – yikes! Hang on to your bow. It figures! I just reinvented the bow hand to the “bow grip”. Who says I can’t play those chords holding my bow like this! Thank goodness my teacher’s not here… okay it’s over. After this concert my concertmaster career might be over – but I’ll cross that bridge if I come to it.

Stand up – and flash a big smile at the audience. Did I mean to play like that? Absolutely! Every single note...”

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Am I Playing Notes…or Music?

May 15, 2008 11:50

Am I Playing Notes…or Music?

On the streets of Seattle, busking is a common practice by both those with talent and those without.

Not long ago, while wandering around downtown I heard the most incredible rendition of Saint-Saens Rondo and Capriccio being played. After zigzagging through an alley and around a corner I found this musician. I fully expected to see some Seattle Symphony or university type looking for a change of pace, but what I found was a middle-aged man who by all intents and purposes appeared to be homeless. The case on the ground, or what was left of it, was mostly duct taped together and sporting a modest intake of donations. The man himself was dressed in torn jeans and a military type coat, he was clean-shaven but his hair was moderately long. His violin looked rough, but sounded incredible as his fingers danced their way over the strings with an abandon not often seen.

Quite a crowd of adults and children had gathered round to hear him and the silence from the people was impressive as he finished the Saint-Saen. With hardly a pause he launched into what sounded like unaccompanied Bach – after about 10 minutes or so he finished and for the first time since I stopped to listen he opened his eyes and looked at the crowd as they clapped. I was still marveling over the quality of music I had just heard, but what he played next brought a sort of shame to me as I listened. He began playing beautiful versions of children’s songs and variations on simple nursery rhymes for the children who stood around. The children in turn were delighted to hear music they recognized, and the rest of us I think were amazed to hear such beautiful renditions of these simple songs. I had to leave a short time later while he was still playing, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the music he had played.

It is always impressive when a musician skillfully plays any number of the tough repertoire for their instrument. But how many of us, myself included, would not degrade ourselves to present a simple song played with all the musicality required for “great” music. After all, I’ve graduated from Twinkle, Twinkle, and Row, Row Your Boat. That’s easy compared to what I play now…isn’t it?

It seems that the mark of a true musician is one who makes music – simple or complex. Notes are just that. Notes. It is the individual who must find the heart and soul of what they’re playing to turn “notes” into music. I went home that day determined to stop measuring my progress based on the difficulty of my pieces, but rather to ask - am I playing notes or music?

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