February 2011

Peter Pan

February 28, 2011 14:59

After dodging the first six rehearsals or so, I got an email from the pit conductor asking if I was playing or not. I finally wrote her back explaining that I thought the music was horrible and it hurt me to the core of my very being, but I'd been to afraid to tell her so. Peter Pan had a total of nine performances and at least a couple of pick-up rehearsals, and the thought of being chained to that many disco balls overwhelmed me like a whirling nightmare. But, since I'd already agreed, I wasn't one to back out on account of my own poor judgment. It looked like I was stuck.

Heading six feet under once again for the annual community musical felt a lot like attending a family reunion: quirks and clashes, but plenty of food, and familiar bonds we've shared over the years that keep us more or less loosely knit together. (You know, the kind of bond where you give a knowing nod to the bass player right before the ridiculous suspense music of #26B.) The whole production was ridiculous, but when you're in the pit, you're family. A ridiculous family.

One by one, I acquired each riff and run, flinging them up and down the finger board with all the flourish and style of a dancing queen, basking in the afterglow of last fall's Sarasate drills. Okay, I admit, it was kind of fun. After all, how many times does a violinist get the opportunity to jazz it up on the back beats and ham it up on the tremelo? I found myself, despite my classical inclinations and taste for finer compositional standards, thoroughly entertained by the various multi-octave scales that filled the pick-up beats to the disco octave rhythms. With each show, our performance improved, and we were beginning to round the corner as quite a tight ensemble. Word got out, and our shows began to sell out. Yes, we definitely had something good going on.

Over the course of things, my ears kept gravitating toward a new saxophone player across the way, who continued to impress me with his impeccable intonation and stylish, well-rehearsed solos. His warm-ups before shows and during intermissions always served as a sedative to my ears. Who was this obviously talented man, and why was he here in Soldotna? A quick post-performance google stalk provided answers.

Saxophone guy held two masters degrees in performance and education from the University of Florida, yet the opportunity to acquire a teaching position with the Kenai Peninsula Public School District was his "ultimate dream job". Ultimate dream job? What was I missing here? I'd been feeling trapped in a dead end town with no venues, playing second rate music for second rate performances. As I was looking for a way out, he'd been looking for a way into this scene.

Audience members from yesterday's show reviewed it as being better than a production they'd seen in Anchorage the previous week. Maybe we weren't so second-rate after all. Just because we don't get paid doesn't mean we can't be professional. And just because current musical venues don't exist doesn't mean we can't make them. Perhaps a community is not valued by what we get from it, but what we put into it.

We only have three shows left. Three more battles over 440 A. Three more days of crocodile themes and fairy dialogue. I'm catching myself looking forward to next weekend's performances, hoping we can make them even better. And when the last curtain falls, I dare say, I will actually be sad. After all, there's no room for loneliness down in the pit orchestra.

I struck a deal with the conductor, who's a fantastic clarinetist: I'll trade her Peter Pan for the Khachaturian trio. And maybe I'll find a good saxophone/violin duet or something, learn some Piazzola for a change of pace. There's serious musicians to be had here, and I just need to take the steps to make new music happen in this community.

Who knows, maybe I'll get lucky: maybe the next pioneer who moves to Soldotna to pursue a dream career will be a professional cellist.
My View of Peter Pan

11 replies | Archive link

Siberia, More Like It

February 12, 2011 17:21

I almost missed Paul Rosenthal on Monday, but the Anchorage Daily News featured him in the Sunday paper with a full page photo, so luckily I made it just in time to slide into a front row seat at Christ Lutheran and glance through the program to see what was on the menu this time. 

If you don't know who violinist Paul Rosenthal is, it's not because of his lack of credentials or connections to the upper echelons of the music scene.  No, it would be because once long ago, right in the middle of a series of intense master classes with Jascha Heifetz, Paul's brother invited him to visit him up in Alaska; from that point on, he was hooked.  A pioneer in every sense of the word, Rosenthal moved up with no job and no running water, but with plenty of wide open space to grow new musical venues.  With the desire to organize ensembles to perform beautiful chamber music in beautiful surroundings, he pretty much carved the Alaskan music scene, taking other members of the Heifetz/Piatigorsky circle up to perform in the most remote locations.  Soldotna happened to be one of them.

Paul always brings the greatest musicians to town, and this evening proved to be no exception.  The featured performer was cellist Jeffrey Solow, president of ASTA.  What a treat it was to be able to sit three feet from his rock stop and feel the full impact of his gorgeous instrument!  The Beethoven piano trio was ethereal.  It lifted me out of everyday existence into an entirely different realm of music making.  It made me feel so...


I have to admit, I've hardly touched my instrument since I concluded my Brahms and Beethoven recital last December.  I'm currently not playing with the Anchorage Symphony, and I haven't had any other gigs, either.  Well, that's not true, exactly: there's the Peter Pan musical--if 80's style disco pit music counts. 

As I sit through each pit rehearsal, though, I can't help but think: this is it. This is your future musical career in Soldotna Alaska. And the thought of it absolutely frightens me. It's not that I hate playing in the community musical. It's not that I'm discontent with being a much-needed violin teacher in this town: on the contrary, I love cultivating musical skills in others. But just as I keep telling each of my students how important it is to have personal goals and opportunities to perform, I also need mine.  One of my dreams was playing in a professional level string quartet.  Now, after all the hard work I put into finally achieving a professional level of playing over the past seven years, it seems I've nowhere to use it, and I'm beginning to waste away inside. I'm worried that maybe Soldotna has no place for a professional violinist; we've certainly no cellists.  So now what? Do I stay and see if things change? Or do I go somewhere else and see if I can find what I'm looking for?

As much as I loved watching Paul Rosenthal play a Beethoven piano trio, it was almost too much to bear, for even though I have the same dream of making chamber music in a beautiful place, I don't seem to have the means or the skills to assemble the musicians here to make it happen.  I don't need a big audience.  I don't need a salary.  It doesn't even have to be chamber music.  I just want other willing and able people, kindred spirits, to make music with me.

Yeah.  I'm a little lonely these days.

15 replies | Archive link

That's Nature

February 5, 2011 16:09

My dog chose to be sick in a most untimely fashion.  He didn't set a specific schedule, but randomly would throw up and get a case of the trots every few days or so.  Sometimes, a week and a half would pass between episodes, which was just long enough for us to think everything was back to business as usual.  But after a month of this recurring behavior, I decided it was time to call the vet.  Of course, we'd been hesitating to call the vet because we already knew what the next step of action would be:

Stool sample.

George and I tossed the responsibility of this procedure back and forth: he had to go cook for a retreat.  But I had to teach lessons.  "He's your dog, George.  And I don't know how;  I've never even changed a diaper, much less taken a fecal sample!"   We decided that the duty would fall on whoever happened to be available when nature called.  George headed to the kitchen, and I to my studio.

Somewhere between lesson #6 and #7, Ben began to drop some serious hints.  Wagging by the door as Sydney walked in, he threw me a pointed look.  "Ben if you can just wait an hour, I'll be finished teaching, and then we can hash everything out."  To my student I explained that my dog was sick and I needed to keep an eye on him.  Ben dutifully resumed his holding pattern, and I resumed proper bow hold with Sydney.

Lesson #7 sat waiting on the sofa as Sydney grabbed her coat and donned her shoes.  Ben was dancing all around.  Anxiously, I debated back and forth between #7 and Ben, and finally decided:  #2 wins.  "You know what, Tyler, I need to take care of something.  If you don't mind, we'll be running five minutes behind schedule.  You just have a seat there, and I'll be right back."  I tried not to look embarrassed.  Scrambling through the cupboard for an empty salmon jar, I hurried to the door with a shovel, a leash, and my desperate dog. 

--Oh my gosh, we are really going to do this.--

Ben unloaded his burden only a few seconds from the door while Tyler's dad and his girlfriend watched from their truck.  There, in front of the headlights, I jabbed the shovel into place and captured as much of a sample as I could, placed the jar in the snow, and tipped the shovel over the opening, forcing back a gag reflex as I waited for the contents to slide into the jar.  We then headed over to the truck.

"Hey...  Sorry, my dog is sick, see, so we are getting a late start on Tyler's lesson.  Do you mind if I keep him ten minutes over?"  Somehow, they seemed to understand perfectly and needed no further explanation.  

I tried to hide the jar from view as we returned to the house, making sure to send Tyler back to the studio so as not to let him see me tucking it behind a box in the corner of the living room.  "I'll be right there, just let me wash my hands real quick..."  I then tried my best to conduct our lesson as though nothing had happened, but the whole ordeal was much harder to put behind me than I'd like to admit. 

What a way to end the week.  I've had some awkward moments in my seven years of teaching in the Steele String Studio, but Stool Sample Friday really does take the cake.

5 replies | Archive link

If You Are A Student Reading This...

February 3, 2011 20:30

...make your teacher very happy and go practice!

 I'll give you a sticker--way to go!

5 replies | Archive link

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