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Don't Call Me Rusty

Karen Allendoerfer

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Published: November 22, 2014 at 4:52 PM [UTC]

Late one Friday afternoon, a friend from orchestra posts a note to her Facebook page: "Bucket List! I just sent in my application for the BSO's 'Onstage at Symphony' Program." She provides this link and tags a bunch of us in the orchestra. Suppressing my general curmudgeonly annoyance at being tagged on Facebook (by anyone, for any reason), I click on it.

"The 2014-2015 season will see the launch of the BSO's Onstage at Symphony: a program convening amateur musicians of all backgrounds from across Massachusetts for a set of rehearsal and sectional experiences culminating in a performance on Symphony Hall's stage, celebrating their talent and continued commitment to music while also providing them access to the resources of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Hall. This opportunity is intended to build long-term ownership of orchestral music and the BSO."

These musicians will also be working with the BSO's Youth and Family Concerts Conductor, Thomas Wilkins.

I'd been reading about initiatives like this in other cities--Baltimore's "Rusty Musicians," for example (which I first read about here on, or the San Francisco Symphony's "Community of Music Makers" workshops. Boston is an area with a rich, vibrant community of adult amateurs and semi-pros, music schools, concerts. I wondered why we didn't have something like this too. Well, apparently now we do. And we don't even have to be called "rusty" to participate ;-)

And, not only is this particular friend participating, a bunch of other people whom she tagged are too. Another friend from our orchestra mailed her application last week. "I'm dropping mine off in person today!" posted another. With all the time I spend on the internet, and playing music, why is this, less than an hour before the already extended deadline for receipt of applications, the first I've heard of it? Maybe I am rusty.

In the last couple of years, since I changed jobs, I'd been trying to make other changes too, such as doing fewer things at the last minute. Back then I saw myself as chronically late, always rushing to get things in under the wire. That was the way the office where I used to work had operated, and my natural tendency towards procrastination had fit right in. In my new job and new role, I had wanted to make a change, to be more intentional and less reactive about the things that I did, including music. I also had been practicing saying "no." I mean, you can't do everything cool-sounding that you read about on Facebook. Right?

My friend had their email address. And I had a printer and a scanner. I downloaded the application, filled it out by hand off the top of my head. Name, address, instrument. List your musical experiences. Why do you want to participate in this program? If I'd had a day, or a week, I would have agonized over these answers. Violin or viola? Should I include playing in church with my son? There's the old concertmaster/mistress thing. Should I mention that our string quartet has a name, or does that sound too pretentious to describe 4 players who get together a couple times a year to play at a Farmers' or Winter Market? Will they know what MITSPO is, or do I have to try to spell it out, and will that even fit in the space they give us? And then there's "being part of something larger than myself." How cornball is that? Well, if it is, too bad. That is really why I love playing in orchestras. Deadlines focus the mind. And they don't leave time for too much equivocation.

Back at my old job, another administrator and I used to trade war stories about grant submissions. He had an old one from the 1980's about driving to the airport on the last possible submission date for a big NIH grant to meet the very last Fedex pickup in the city. More recently we joked about pressing the submit button at 4:59:30. I emailed the Onstage at Symphony application at about 5:29, missing the deadline by almost a half hour.

A few weeks later, I got an email:

"Dear community musician,

On behalf of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, we are excited to announce that you have been chosen for the BSO's inaugural Onstage at Symphony program! We will be mailing parts for the pieces you will be performing directly to you in the coming weeks so that you will have ample time to practice and prepare for the event."

The program will be:
WEBER Overture to der Freischutz
VON SUPPE The Beautiful Galathea
DELIUS The Walk to the Paradise Garden
LISZT Les Preludes

I don't know, and haven't played, any of these pieces before. I suspect there will be a lot of listening and practicing needed--listening and practicing that I'm looking forward to and need in any number of ways. More intentional and less reactive.

I really have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. Lately it had been acting like a time sink, a drain down which my spare time (and not a little of my sanity and resolve) gurgle accompanied by a giant sucking sound.

But every once in a while, I find a gem that makes it all worthwhile.

From elise stanley
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 6:59 PM
Wonderful! Have a blast...
From Tom Holzman
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 7:05 PM
Karen - I had a wonderful experience with the Baltimore SO Rusty Musicians program. Watching Marin Alsop conduct us, and seeing how a really good conductor worked was huge, as was playing with the Baltimore SO's musicians. This is something you will never regret doing, so enjoy it for all it is worth!
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 9:13 PM
Thanks, Tom and Elise! Tom, I think it was your account of the Rusty Musicians experience that I read here on It sounded like great fun.

For the Boston SO, I actually didn't know of the conductor, Thomas Wilkins, before, but the more I read about him the more impressed I am. I'm excited about getting to meet and work with him!

Posted on November 23, 2014 at 12:45 AM
That's great! What an opportunity! (And I agree about the whole FB time-suck thing.)
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on November 23, 2014 at 4:04 PM
Violin or viola?

From Laurie Niles
Posted on November 24, 2014 at 11:06 PM
Congratulations, you are going to have a great time!

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on November 25, 2014 at 6:55 PM
That sounds like a truly exciting opportunity. I'd jump at it if it came my way. I did get close, though; one of the events at a regional "Culture Days" initiative was called "Orchestra Jam", where orchestral amateurs like myself were invited to gather at a local venue and play some music. We did a cold rehearsal of Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 and had a blast. The second half of the session was strings only, and we took a run at a serenade for strings by Elgar that I had never heard of but which is a beautiful piece of music.

As for time sinks, for me the answer is simple. I don't do Facebook. I don't do Twitter. I do music.

From Christina C.
Posted on November 28, 2014 at 4:40 PM
Well there goes your Christmas vacation, I guess!

Congrats! I'm wondering if any of my Boston chamber music friends tried for this... I don't suppose a list is available somewhere? Maybe closer to the concert.

Enjoy! I'd have done it just for the chance to play in Symphony Hall. Yum!

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