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Karen Allendoerfer

Climate of Change

August 31, 2013 at 11:45 AM

There was a lot going on this spring and summer. My career change into science education was finally getting underway and I had interviews to prepare for. My kids were both leaving their old schools. With my younger child moving up to middle school, we are officially done with the elementary school for good, which is the end of an era. It was also unusually hot this year. In the past I wouldn't have minded the heat or even thought about it that much, I would have just gotten another popsicle out of the freezer, kicked off my flip-flops, and celebrated summer. But record temperatures combined with radio news of melting polar ice caps and reminiscences about the dust bowl seemed to portend something more ominous. Kids, this isn't your parents' summer anymore.

At the same time, there was something in the air, musically, something I didn't like much either. In orchestra, our conductor of 33 years conducted his last POPS concert, and our oldest living member, Phyllis, couldn't be there. Some news was announced, sadly, at a rehearsal. At 96, Phyllis was failing. Her heart was having trouble pumping, no one knew how much longer she had. She called our quartet cellist (also the longtime principal cellist, with whom she used to play quartets) to her bedside and requested Mozart and Schubert, played by a string quartet, at her memorial service.

I was invited to play with this quartet, and to make suggestions for music. Unfamiliar with too many Mozart or Schubert quartets, I asked the adult student group on Facebook, and a former member of the orchestra, now living in another state, wrote back and suggested Schubert's Rosamunde, 2nd movement. Paging through some fragile, dog-eared quartet parts that I inherited a few years ago, I found the first violin part, copied it, started to work through it and mark it up, in preparation for the day it would be needed, the day that I didn't want to arrive. We also found an easy, early Mozart: fun, and kind of rousing, even celebratory (but in a dignified way), with a fiddle-ish melody line in 6/8 and lots of major scales, up and down and back up again, in the 3rd movement. A celebration of life.

Incredibly, Phyllis made a remarkable recovery. She stopped taking some heart medication that it turned out had been making her sicker instead of better, and her heart's pumping improved. She moved to assisted living. Instead of playing at her memorial service, we set up the chairs and stands in the common room at the nursing home and played there for the residents.

Then, on the heels of these performances, my my violin teacher decided to have a recital. Longy always had a nice adult student recital, but that stopped after we left the school a few years ago. I commend my teacher, in theory, of course, for getting a recital going again, but really, ack, do I have to participate in this too? Honestly, I really don't like recitals. They're like lima beans, or beets: good for you and all, but not very tasty. And I have baggage . . . lots of baggage . . . But it's an informal thing, partnered with her daughter who also has a violin studio, and there are all ages there. I can play "Violinists Don't Stop Believin'." I met a couple of my teacher's other adult students for the first time, who didn't seem as nervous as I was, but maybe they were just better at hiding it. We were all talking and laughing a lot, that's a sign. Yep. I do, I play rock violin--and I'm not even the oldest one performing.

Not only did I have the nursing home concert, the POPS concert, and the recital, but I decided to play in a summer orchestra led by one of the new conductor candidates for the orchestra. This required an audition, and no, I could not play rock violin. An excerpt from one slow lyrical piece, and one fast technical piece. Okay. First page-and-a-half of Bloch Simchat Torah, first page-and-a-half of Bach Preludio. I love both these pieces, but geez they are hard. I didn't exactly forget how hard they are, but I didn't exactly remember, either. I tried a few times to play the Preludio at the editor's metronome marking of quarter note=120. It was fun. The first page was mostly in tune. My new bow made it easer, but it was still more of a workout than those resistance bands I have in my basement. The wheels came off the cart sometime between the two bariolage sections, and I decided that 100 is a more realistic goal. A friend pointed out that Bach didn't write that 120 marking, since metronomes hadn't even been invented yet when Bach lived. I have no idea if this is true or not but decided to believe it anyway (and put it in my blog). Despite rushing around to the audition, which was held on campus practically in the middle of graduation week, being all sweaty, parking in a 30-minute zone, and blowing more than one shift in the first violin part of Tchaikovsky 4 during the sight-reading part, I made the group. And even made it back to my car in time to not get a parking ticket.

By the end of this concert, which was a lot of fun and a lot of work at the same time, I was feeling pretty tired. This was more violin music than I'm used to playing and I needed a break. It was time to go on vacation, which I did for 3 weeks, and left my violin blissfully at home.

The fall promises to be a little slower. I'm only playing in one orchestra piece for the fall concert, Dvorak symphony #8. I have a little solo, which will make a nice project to work on. Three conductor candidates will be interviewing, each conducting one rehearsal, before our current conductor conducts his final concert in November. I'm also looking forward to playing a little viola, and a little fiddle, with friends. And sometime I will need to play Rosamunde again. But not yet. Not yet.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on August 31, 2013 at 6:59 PM
Wow, Karen. If I had a summer like that, I would need to take the Fall off from everything in life just to recuperate! I sympathize with your plight because I am not good with transitions and unexpected challenges, and you seem to have gone through a bunch at once. It was clearly quite exciting but exhausting. Now that you are on the other side, take it easy, and hopefully, the fall will go fairly smoothly for you and yours. Keep us posted. As always, it is a pleasure to hear about your adventures in the musical world.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on August 31, 2013 at 8:03 PM
Oh, I sound kind of churlish about the recital, don't I? What I mean is that I don't like *playing in* recitals. I like to go to recitals and to hear other people play in recitals. That's very tasty!
From sharelle taylor
Posted on August 31, 2013 at 10:28 PM
I admire anyone who doesn't really enjoy recitals, for getting up and doing them anyway. good on you Karen.

We have dealt with this same thing in our long lasting small group, where we have our little in house recitals. While most of us are only too happy to showcase our woefulness and we see the funny side of it, don't take it seriously - I think we can all identify with the struggle as it were, and being able to perform is part of being able to play - some of the group have a really hard time playing on her own. They would LIKE to be able, but can't make themselves. So, we have devised a number of duet / trio mixes between ourselves, so that they will play in combination with all of us. It;s turning out to be a lot of fun finding and developing a repertoire list to match our levels and physical capacity, given scoliosis, stroke, beta blockers, anti-convulsant & anxiety medications etc that seem to follow the adult learner / returner players in their 50's and over!
An emotionally lurching moment there with your colleague, I'm just glad she can participate in planning and preparing you all for what will be.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on September 1, 2013 at 1:39 AM
Karen - I am not a great fan of playing in recitals either, but I do it occasionally because it is fun and challenging and keeps me on top of my game such as it is. It also gives me a real goal and deadline. So, I do it. I admire you because you do it even more. When I retire in January, I may have a more active chamber music life than currently and perhaps do more recitals. However, I agree with you that it is more fun to be on the receiving end.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on September 1, 2013 at 3:50 AM
My best to Phyllis. My grandfather had a similar episode at age 96 or thereabouts. The doctor took away some medicine and he rallied and was with us until age 101.
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on September 1, 2013 at 5:00 AM
Hi, Karen. My daughter moved on to middle school, too. Is your daughter taking orchestra? And my violin teacher, who is 90, just told me she might need a pacemaker. She made it sound like it's the end of teaching, but I hope not.

Does your orchestra have a new conductor yet?

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 1, 2013 at 1:36 PM
Hi Fran, it's my son who is moving to middle school. Around here, middle school starts in 5th grade. He is doing orchestra (cello) and private cello lessons. My daughter is going to high school, starting 9th grade. She is also doing orchestra with the violin, and has another new idea, that she wants to learn how to play the bassoon. She met a nice teacher at music camp in the summer who has given her a couple of lessons. But we've had trouble finding an instrument that she can use long-term. The school may have one, but they are not sure, and someone else may want it, so I have to email them again next week to find out.

As for the conductor search, it's down to 3 candidates and they are auditioning in the fall season, each conducting one rehearsal that includes Dvorak #8. The concert and the rest of the rehearsals will be conducted by our current conductor. It will be his last concert.

I know one of the candidates because I played in his orchestra this past summer. Getting to know him made me feel better about the transition. While no one can fill our current conductor's shoes, this candidate is really quite wonderful in his own way. He's organized, he's funny, he's warm, he has good musical taste. He's a violinist and a scientist, by training. The only thing that I might be concerned about is that he's used to a higher level of playing than our group has. But we can rise to the occasion, and want to stretch and improve ourselves, so it might be a good match that way too. I don't know the other two candidates, but other people do and they have nothing but good things to say about them. So I'm hopeful that we will have good options.

From sharelle taylor
Posted on September 1, 2013 at 10:17 PM
Our local orchestra has shifted to having guest conductors, who may come back to fill a regular spot each year, after having had once conductor / director for nearly a decade. Its working well, we learn a lot from some extraordinary conductors, who have different personalities and areas of expertise, and they breathe a different life into the ensemble.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 2, 2013 at 12:54 PM
Sharelle, I very much like the idea of the recital with duets and chamber pieces.

My recital nightmare is that I would have to play a movement of some warhorse concerto (badly), unaccompanied or with a pianist I've only just met that afternoon. Fortunately this wasn't that.

The other adult students actually all played in groups, some classical, some fiddle. There was a little kid playing a Star Wars medley (accompanied by her teacher), and two more advanced students, a brother-sister team, playing the Handel-Halvorsen. So "Violinists Don't Stop Believin'" actually fit in just fine. It's for solo violin, but the way Adam DeGraff wrote it, you often have more than one line going at once. Now that I've done that kind of recital once, I'd actually be happy to do it again.

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