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Karen Allendoerfer

Rising to the Occasion

December 14, 2009 at 10:57 PM

I've been playing in the Arlington Philharmonic Orchestra for almost exactly two years now, although it's been a part of 3 separate seasons, since I started in the middle of 2007-08, after I had a business trip and couldn't make the first concert.

My first rehearsal with the group was, well, a little scary.  I walked in with my (big, black, Bobelock) viola case, and the first guy I met asked me if it was a coffin.  I then fled to the back of the viola section and hid there, sitting with someone who actually knew what he was doing on the viola.  I don't think I'd even played half of the first piece before I started apologizing profusely and offering the feeble excuse that I'm really a violinist y'know, that's why I'm playing all those wrong notes.  It's not me, it's the clef.  Right.

Two years later, I am the concertmaster, and I am playing in a string quartet with coffin-guy and ex-stand-partner as the 2nd violinist and the violist.  (I mean this affectionately--no real names, this is the internet.)

How did I get here?

Well, you know . . . . Practice!  Practice!

We had our Winter Concert yesterday.  It was a big production with full chorus, the Arlington-Belmont Chorale.  We performed the Beethoven Hallelujah Chorus, Bavicchi 3 Psalms, and Schubert Messe in A-flat.  The rehearsal schedule was ambitious, and seasonal busyness and the flu depleted the ranks of the violinists.  And, there was Thanksgiving in the middle.  

And, there was the 8th-note forest.  Three pages of straight running 8th-notes in the Gloria, in E-major, with a lot of painful accidentals and no open D allowed.  The conductor described it as "violins, you are off to the races!"  The first time the challenge was just to make it to the end of the 3 pages without getting hopelessly lost.  I took a violin to my parents' with me over Thanksgiving and spent a half hour or so each day just fingering parts of the Schubert.  

I played the forest for my violin teacher about a week and a half before the concert.  It still wasn't up to tempo.  I still didn't get all the accidentals.  I still tripped and slipped on the shifts.  She said that it seemed like I "had most of the notes and the fingerings," but I'd "lost the chord structure."  Which, flatteringly, implied that there had been a time when I'd "had" the chord structure to lose.  

The principal second violinist sent around a link to a professional YouTube video.  This one, in fact.  I had actually tried to listen and follow along to a recording once before, early on in the process, and had gotten lost and distracted.  It had been too overwhelming.  But this time I was ready.  I listened to the Gloria again, and the 8th-note forest made sense now.  What had seemed like an impenetrable thicket was now something of great beauty.  I haven't had enough music theory to really understand the chord structure the way my teacher does, but I think I still "found" it anyway.  The performance was the best we'd ever played it.  The chorus always sounds good, but for the first time, during the performance, I felt like I was worthy of playing the piece with them.  

I'm not Catholic, and UU's aren't big on pageantry (we're the original cat herders).  But in music, sometimes, I feel as if I am getting some understanding of what the Latin Mass is about.  And why liturgies are sacred.  I voted "sacred" in Laurie's poll.

My stand partner for this concert was a local woman whom I met on  I invited her to join the orchestra last season, and she's going to stay.  Like me, she took a long time off from the violin, and came back to it in midlife, while working in another career.  She practiced very hard for this concert, and at the after-concert party, we were standing around with some of the choir members, discussing what had brought us to this point, to this orchestra, to this music, on this day.  None of us were superstars as kids.  In fact, a common theme of the stories was, "I just wasn't the type to practice 5 hours a day."  And, "my mother made me play the piano, and I hated it."  

So, why do we make our kids practice their instruments, even when they make it clear they'd rather be doing something else?  For days like yesterday.  When, after a good concert, and better company, we're all standing around the piano, singing Christmas Carols, in beautiful 4-part harmony.  

From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 15, 2009 at 2:03 PM

"Original cat herders", hilarious!

Keep up the good work, and keep practicing!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 15, 2009 at 2:37 PM

Your experience is an inspiration to all of us older amateurs.  Keep up the good work!

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 16, 2009 at 9:52 AM

Congratulations on your success.  You've earned it, so enjoy it.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on December 16, 2009 at 11:57 AM

Thanks, guys!  I've got the music for the next concert already . . . 

Does anyone else find it uniquely challenging to find real, solid practice time around the December holidays?

From Wiebke Nazareth
Posted on December 16, 2009 at 12:47 PM

 Thanks Karen, once again an inspiring blog!

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on December 17, 2009 at 12:06 AM

Karen, I'm sure we ALL find it especially challenging to practice around the holidays.   But going to a party is much less of a time requirement than a performance.  Kudos to you!   Every organization I belong to wants to have at least two parties this time of year.  Unfortunately, kid entertainment also comes out of my free time (as opposed to my husband's).  Selfishly, I limit the number of party invitations I accept, either on my own or on my daughter's behalf, in order to give me the time I need for my own sanity.  (It also makes me less grumpy around my family.)


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