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Emily Grossman

Evening of Classics

October 9, 2013 at 7:00 PM

"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!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on October 9, 2013 at 7:44 PM
Thanks for the invite. Sorry I will not be able to make it, and I would not want to win the auction for the baton. I have already been cursed out as an incompetent conductor in German by the virtual Vienna Philharmonic that inhabits a wonderful exhibit at the Haus der Musik in Vienna.

Your blog, as always, is inspirational. You have come a long way in eight years in so many ways. May the next eight be as rewarding for you and the orch.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 10, 2013 at 5:06 AM
I think it's great to have a story where you ran down the street -- I know I've had times when I've wanted to!
From Emily Grossman
Posted on October 10, 2013 at 5:12 PM
Well it's definitely one way to make a lasting impression! ;)

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