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Emily Grossman

Peter Pan

February 28, 2011 at 9:59 PM

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

From Mendy Smith
Posted on March 1, 2011 at 1:42 AM

Every year since moving to Houston, I play in the pit for the Houston Bar Association's "Night Court" musical comedy.  Most of the brass and winds are lawyers, judges, and other lawyer-types.  The strings are brought in from other CO's with an occasional professional new out of college. The music runs the the gambit from nothing (making it up as we go along - a real test in our collective music theory knowledge which the brass seems to excel at), to some well orchestrated pieces and everything in between.  

For a week in the pit, we all become VERY close friends - in a literal sense.  It is quite crowded down there and we all share one small dressing room.  By the end of the week, we are all wiped out, bu in a good happy way.  Even in the height of the recession, the show has always managed to pay for itself and make a considerable sum for charity.

From CarmenMaria Nestor
Posted on March 1, 2011 at 4:39 AM

I enjoyed your post and loved the photo!

From Emily Grossman
Posted on March 1, 2011 at 8:21 AM

Thank you!

Mendy, it's almost like we're living parallel lives, isn't it sometimes?  Your community pit orchestra sounds exactly like mine...  I wonder if it literally sounds like mine!  Hope your brass can keep their chops up!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on March 1, 2011 at 2:08 PM

I think your attitude is the right one.  You have to play the cards you are dealt unless you go find a whole new deck.  The cards you have been dealt are some fabulous wind players.  There are a number of possibilities, but much of it will not be in classical music.  Meanwhile, I think your instinct is correct, i.e., that someone with your talents brings a good deal to a community like yours and can make it better by participation in the community's activities, even as you seek to create new ones for the community.

From Christina C.
Posted on March 1, 2011 at 4:49 PM


I often have the automatic up-turn of the nose reaction to the idea of playing music gigs other than classical.... I turned down requests to join the local community pops orchestra for years.... but I do love my Gilbert & Sullivan gig.  Our orchestra has a core of long-standing members consisting of both pros (some of whom sub in the city’s top professional groups)  and advanced amateurs and then we fill out the group with friends & music students. It’s an extremely fun group .... and the snacks are great too.
   Have you spoken with the saxophone player? Hope so! Are there other unfamiliar faces in the group? Given the frustrations you expressed in your last post I would think that you’ve taken advantage of this chance to network like crazy.

ps- love the Khachaturian!

From Emily Grossman
Posted on March 1, 2011 at 7:57 PM

I don't talk to people; I google-stalk them.  Just kidding--he asked for my business card because his students often ask for a piano teacher.  Of course, I don't have one!  But I chatted with him during intermission a couple of times.  I haven't found any violin/sax combos, though.  What I really want is to improve my improv.  I've always liked jazz.

The Khachaturian is wonderfully peculiar.  I hope we set a date.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on March 2, 2011 at 1:32 PM

With violin, clarinet and sax, you might want to try to adapt some Klezmer (East European Jewish) music.  Violin and clarinet are the crucial instruments for that sort of music. 

From Emily Grossman
Posted on March 2, 2011 at 7:48 PM

That would be a highly entertaining venue, but I haven't a drop of Jewish blood (okay, possibly, who knows?), so it probably wouldn't sound so hot.  Although, I've been known to really schmultz it up every once in a while.  ;)

From Tom Holzman
Posted on March 2, 2011 at 9:34 PM

Emily - the audience probably will have few Jews and will not know the difference.  I am sure there are youtubes andI know there are CDs of this sort of music.  You might enjoy playing it. It is very lively.


For some background, you might enjoy reading Michael Chabon's novel "The Yiddish Policeman's Union."  It is set in Sitka.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on March 3, 2011 at 9:03 AM

Hmm, I'll have to check that out.  Thanks!

From Tom Bop
Posted on March 3, 2011 at 4:04 PM

"Perhaps a community is not valued by what we get from it, but what we put into it."   

One of the major secrets of a happy, satisying life!  

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