I first met Tammy Vollom-Matturro shortly after I began pursuing the violin again and had been looking for ways to get involved in the local music scene. She'd assumed the role of conducting our community musical, and after working with her for just a short while, I found out something that eventually became tried and true through the years: Tammy can make absolutely anything fun--even Sousa marches. Her excitement for music is incredibly infectious, and she can talk anyone into playing just about anything. ...Even Sousa marches. (Hey, did I mention Sousa marches?) Not only that, but she is the most gifted clarinetist I've ever met. It wasn't long after we'd been introduced that we began playing in ensembles together, taking the stage in even the most far remote places, like the Aleutian Islands. (September 2005, remember that?)
This upcoming concert lies a little closer to the house, though. The past two years, Tammy has spearheaded a program aimed at connecting children in the public schools with the orchestra. Carnegie Hall's "Link Up" program provides, at no cost, workbooks, curriculum guidebooks, and orchestral parts for a production that allows kids to join the stage with a real live orchestra. Most of the kids learn parts on the recorder to play along with classical pieces that have been selected and organized with a theme that's tied together through narration and a slide show. This year's program, "The Orchestra Moves," shows the audience how music makes you move--or sounds like movement, or takes themes, like the first four notes of Beethoven's 5th symphony, and moves it through the entire piece. What's cool is, I can also get my own beginner string students involved with parts that they can play! I can't even imagine how cool that would be to a kid to be able to play Strauss's Blue Danube or Offenbach's Can-can with a real orchestra. Yeah, my kids are in for a treat: get ready for hundreds of kids on recorders, blowing their lungs out and falling off the stage in true memory-making fashion! It's a free family concert that's not to be missed, for sure.
On the phone yesterday, I asked Tammy what provokes her to devote hundreds of hours to volunteering at the schools, conducting, meeting with organizers, and assembling slide shows. After all, she doesn't get a dime for her time. "Ha, my husband asks that, too! No really, simply put: I'm a teacher. I just love watching the kids explore music and have a good time."
I thought about this after I hung up the phone. It's true, I would not be who I am today had it not been for a visit from a local string quartet to my classroom, followed by an invitation to pick out an instrument by the public school's string program. Someone out there had to plant the seed, and the opportunity had to present itself. I fell in love with the idea of playing a stringed instrument, not by listening to a recording, but by experiencing it live and personal. Who knows who might be out in the audience--or blowing a recorder--that might be inspired to continue a life-long pursuit of music as a result of this experience?
Thanks, Tammy, for not only being an inspiration and role model to me, but for connecting me with music. Can't wait to put the Khachaturian trio together!
The sun rides low in the sky these days, and with the lifting of the persistent clouds came a predictable drop in temperatures. It shouldn't have been a shock to me to see the morning's frost still clinging to the brittle brown leaves as I stepped out with the dogs after a long day of teaching. Still, the first day of winter always catches me off guard.
Chewy is five and a half months old now and just lost his last baby tooth. Being the son of our other chocolate lab, Ben, we'd kind of expected him to take after his dad, but the two could not be more opposite in personality. Not that one is better than the other: I love them both equally. It's just fascinating to see how nature embeds these genetic codes in such a particular fashion that each living creature ends up with its own identity, regardless of environmental influence. I'm sure Ben will gladly take credit for producing such a magnificent pup, though. At 75 pounds, he has already grown taller and lankier than his pop, and his feet are still ridiculously too large for him. As we walk to the field to play fetch, he reminds me of a moose--all legs and feet and neck. People will ask if he's part great dane, but as far as I know, he's pure chocolate.
Each day brings new surprises and today, a neighbor's bulldozer rumbled next to their cabin, clearing the ground for a new addition. Having never seen such a powerful orange beast, Chewy stood on tip toes, his fur bristling defensively. Tugging at the leash for a better view, he pranced. I chuckled and watched, curiously. He's a chicken, but a brave, invincible one at that! Ben wouldn't so much as raised an eyebrow, but Chewy's protective instinct is strong, and he paused, transfixed by the way this monster chewed at the soil.
"Woof! Woof!" It was the first time he'd gotten to try out his grown-up voice, the first time I'd ever heard him bark. Well, hello, Chewy! His voice sounded nothing like Ben's. If some dogs yip or yap, and some dogs bawl, Chewy sang bass for Verdi. Deep and smooth and dark, like fudge syrup was his tone--and surprisingly out of place, coming from such a young, gangly juvenile. No, it sounded more like a tall, dark, handsome movie hero. "Get out of here, you pesky dirt-chewing scoundrel!" he threatened, "And stay away from my girl! Or else!" I felt so protected! Never mind he's missing most of his baby teeth, my boy's becoming a man!
I'd liked Chewy well enough since we'd brought him home in June. But I admit, I hadn't really felt much deep affection toward him. I guess we just hadn't really bonded until that moment when he spoke. But from that point on, I felt I knew him finally; I'm in love.
There's something wonderfully unique about the voice, and something even magical about the way it becomes song. I'm reminded of this throughout the day as each student greets me at the door. Little Eve is just three years old, too shy to speak for herself sometimes, but if I'm quiet and don't make any startling moves, she talks and sings and tells me stories using her violin. It's a very private world that she's letting me visit, but for a little space in each week, I'm getting to be a part of something unique and personal to her.
It's sad how we fall prey to this notion of conforming to some sort of perfection that doesn't exist. I well remember fourth grade, how the teacher ridiculed my handwriting, so I forged the handwriting of the girl in front of me, since she always got A's. We all wore the same clothes, liked the same boys, and turned our noses up at the school cafeteria's hamburgers. If I'd had my way, I'd have turned out exactly like all the other girls; I despised the sound of my own voice.
Thank God, we are incapable of erasing our identity. I can teach a dozen students the same piece, and they will all make it sound just a little different, regardless of bowing or tuning. And this is exactly why I will never grow tired of teaching: it never happens the same way twice!
You are irreplaceable. You don't need to be like anyone else. It's your voice, your identity. So Speak!
Back in college, it became popular amongst my dorm mates to host and attend scrap booking parties. Not bothering to fork over the cash for impractical decorative trinkets and scissors, most of my photos ended up haphazardly layered in a cardboard box in my closet; I guess I prefer to run across my memories in a more unpredictable way.
Tonight, I dug through the file cabinets. Over the years, they have become so saturated with sheet music, so overflowing with yellowing pages of possibilities, I almost forget what all existed back there. For reasons only I can say, I dug. As an archaeologist would date the chronological order by the depth of the soil, I unearthed time capsules of treasures forgotten--either ideas that came and went, or ideas that nagged at me persistently until finally, I bore their fruit, took the stage, and brought them to completion. A flood of memories from far corners greeted me with a smile and warm embrace.
Here lies the handwriting of my high school piano teacher. Unexpectedly, my parents informed me over the phone last week that she had passed away from pancreatic cancer. I expected to feel some sort of grief at the news, yet it's been over a week now, and I've felt nothing but mindful gratefulness for the presence she had in my life. It's been years since I saw her last, but she more or less has been with me every day, as I follow her teachings and pass them on to my own students. Nothing can take her spirit away from me, for she left her legacy in my fingers, and I'll always hear her voice over my shoulder when I practice. I don't feel any more lonely than before I knew of her passing. I only wish I'd gotten to see her one last time, and a pang strikes me when I think of her suffering. I flip through the used books she mailed to me from Kansas years ago when she cleaned her own file cabinets. Her stickers still make me smile.
I unearthed the Bartok I loathed in third grade, bearing the pencil markings of a girl who hadn't yet learned cursive, reminding myself of teacher's orders. Sing-song playground rhymes mocking Bartok came to mind, and I laughed: too young for Bartok! Just you wait! And this one, a Beethoven sonata, reminded me of the boy I loved in high school. What powers love inspires! I would have done anything for him. Ah, and here's the Viotti violin concerto I'd been forced to learn in college--such insipid coffee. That was the last piece I tackled before hanging up the violin on my way out the door of my music major. For a time, the file cabinet became a graveyard of buried dreams. But this one, Saint-Saëns, challenged the gods. I caught a glimpse of the re-emergent self, the one with high horses and grand delusions. I hadn't the technique to be so bold, yet I got straight to the point because I knew what it was that needed said, regardless of the words I chose to use. Ah, such ignorance... So bliss.
...Then there are the pages of music that burn with pain when you touch them--pages of ideas that simply could not be. Your heart fell in love with them, yet they lay out of reach, either because you physically were not capable, or circumstances bid them farewell. Some of those plans made it to the stage, but oh, so few. Pages and pages of crumpled heartbreak line the pockets of the dreamer. The wind pushes through the cracks of your windows and doors, and it howls. Ah, but perhaps... Who knows what the future holds? I refuse to throw anything out.
I dig through the file cabinets. I'm digging in a graveyard. Or maybe it's a garden. Plant some seeds, make some phone calls. Leave some messages with a few good friends.
"You ready for this weekend?" the barista inquired as she pulled my americano. It shouldn't be surprising at all by now, that everyone knows about our annual Evening of Classics concert, which is hosted by the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra as a fundraiser for the upcoming year's expenses. It seems like just about everyone knows everyone's business in this small town, and though this lends to a sort of fish bowl effect, you can always find a way to play this to your advantage. I don't even have to place my order at the coffee shop anymore; everyone who works there knows exactly what I drink each morning.
My first experience with performing, coming back to music after an eight year severance, happened at the Evening of Classics. At this point in my life, I hadn't begun pursuing the violin to the extent which I do today, and I chose to perform a piano solo instead. Ravel's Sonatine had always been a dream piece of mine, and I wanted to share it with the audience. The faces were much less familiar than they are now; even my pianist friend Maria, who has since joined me on so many musical adventures, was just a name I'd heard tossed around. After eight years of silence, needless to say, I was terrified to take the stage again. I chose to perform the last movement from memory, just as I had performed in high school. My hands shook so hard at the beginning that I couldn't control them and had to restart the piece after less than a measure. Luckily, I settled in, and by the last two pages, I was lost in the music. Like Icharus, I soared into the ethereal heights of expression, and for a moment, everything and everyone disappeared. Music consumed me completely. Suddenly, a voice in my head snapped my attention back to earth once more, and I became frightened. The church filled with silence as my fingers locked and stopped. Uttering a curse word, I fumbled for my sheet music, found my place, and finished the piece anyway, just like my old piano teacher taught me to do. However, she would have not been so proud of my exit: not bothering to stick around to see what they thought, I was up and running before the last chord faded from the rafters. Without so much as a nod of courtesy, I ran out the door, flinging my sheet music into the parking lot, and took off down the street weeping in disappointment. At some point, about half a mile down the road, I figured I'd have to go back and face everyone. Turning back toward the church, I felt so ashamed. But what I didn't understand at the time was, everyone in the audience had erupted with applause, and could say nothing but good things about how much they enjoyed the performance.
And that, my friends, was my musical debut in Soldotna, Alaska. It took a few years for the stage fright to come under control, but thankfully, I don't run off the stage and down the street anymore--not even on a bad day! Since then, I've learned that I'm always surrounded by friends who like me, and they want me to succeed just as much as I do.
Soldotna's Evening of Classics draws some rather amazing talent from the community, and typically packs out the church. All the proceeds benefit our community orchestra, which allows us to produce some pretty impressive local concerts. This summer, for instance, we performed Shostakovich's fifth symphony. In the fall, we participate with Carnegie Hall's Link Up program, which integrates public school kids with orchestral repertoire and gives them the opportunity to perform classical music with a real orchestra. Dr. Steve Hileman (who donated the lovely artwork for this year's poster and also plays tuba for KPO) and I had a talk one evening about what a wonderful privilege it is to be able to have access to such incredible music. And that's exactly what it is--a privilege. Our community orchestra's driving desire is this: to allow people of various ages and abilities to get busy playing music with other people. Because of its existence, Soldotna has become a thriving artistic outlet for anyone who wants to learn an instrument as a form of expression. People are so excited to get involved that they travel hundreds of miles to make rehearsals and performances possible.
Friday's performance, however, calls for just a four-mile drive from my studio. This year, I'll be performing Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So" with Garrett and a Vivaldi concerto for two violins with Sue (violin), Maria (piano), and Kent (bass). As I look out on the audience, I know I'll see many of the same faces that witnessed my electrifying (horrifying?) debut ten years ago. This time, however, I'll see not a crowd of intimidating strangers, but a warm family of encouraging people just like me, who simply enjoy supporting classical music, whether on the stage or in the audience.
If you happen to be in the area, you can join us all for an evening of classical performances by members of the community in a light-hearted, fun-filled atmosphere. Stick around, and we'll be auctioning off of the baton; the highest bidder gets to be conductor of the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra in front of a live audience. We've had anyone from a junior high boy to a 90-year-old woman win the baton, and this year is anyone's guess: who knows, could be you!
"This is the right time, and this is the right thing." – Sir Thomas Moore
The Brahms second piano concerto showed up in my Anchorage Symphony folder a few weeks ago in need of attention; we would be rounding out the program with it, alongside Symphonie Fantastique. Methodically, I checked the tempo markings and dutifully began counting and drilling the tricky sections. As the days passed and the performance date approached, I found myself slightly puzzled that this particular Brahms had not swept me off my feet yet. I didn't get it: Brahms usually is so deep and passionate, and these dotted rhythms in the last movement are just plain... silly. I'm disappointed, Brahms. But the themes and developments were not technically demanding, and I tucked them into my fingers in a tidy, orderly fashion, ready for the rehearsals.
Actually, I was completely detached all the way up until the pianist showed up. Most of my thoughts up until that point had been preoccupied with key changes, counting, and keeping my eye on the conductor. (Heaven forbid you fail to heed the conductor.) In any typical rehearsal, a hardworking violinist has plenty of mental topics to tend to, and "musical enrapture" gets shoved into the file cabinet, between "muses" and "magic." In fact, I'd been so utterly preoccupied with making music that I didn't even hear what was going on around me--that is, until the pianist came to rehearsal.
The finest recording cannot capture that living, breathing sound that occurs on the stage. Hearing the music being performed for the first time blindsided me with a sudden surge of emotion, and for a moment, I found it difficult to see the notes on the page. Briefly, I struggled to shut the floodgate of response that welled up at the summoning of Brahms. And then it occurred to me: this is it. This is the moment I live for, joining with others in creating an expression of deepest personal meaning, completely unspoiled by the past or the future. And if the music makes me cry, then so be it. It is emotion, and it is real, and I musn't be afraid of it, but embrace it fully and express it. Music tells my story, and the grief and sorrow that weave in and out of the joy and humor are just part of the universal expressions of mankind. Brahms would not be Brahms without it. (Thankfully, those silly dotted rhythms in the finale became a much needed happy ending, a bright conclusion for a passionate concerto.)
The leaves lingered green at length this fall, waiting for the frost to come and claim them. At last, the Artist took a brush to them, and they caught fire with a blaze of color. The concert is now a memory, but today's a perfect moment in and of itself. Fall found its audience awaiting with feasting eyes; I'm the wealthiest girl alive, surrounded by pots of gold that overflow and twirl their treasures at my feet like confetti. The past may be full of rain, and the future harbingers snow, but today is priceless. I'm mindful to take note.
And now, to live fully in each moment, to create the perfect expression at the perfect time for a ripened audience--this is the aim of every artist.
More entries: September 2013
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