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Last POPS in Boston for Me

Karen Allendoerfer

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Published: June 15, 2015 at 5:04 PM [UTC]

POPS color flyer 2015
I didn’t plan to write this blog this way. When the rehearsal cycle started, I was combination-looking-forward-to-dreading POPS! the way I have come to do every year.

Looking forward because I really enjoy playing POPS music. Over the years my orchestra, the Arlington Philharmonic, has performed patriotic songs, medleys from “Titanic,” Wicked,” “West Side Story,” and “Chicago,” music of Disney movies, Leroy Anderson, Henry Mancini, and John Philip Sousa (some videos are online here). This music always has its unexpected challenges, and sometimes it has a solo for me. (I particularly remember the year I had a solo I affectionately called “Intonation is a Wish the Heart Makes.”)


When the weather cooperates (about 2/3 of the time) it really is a nice event. The strawberry and ice cream festival out in the garden near the Town Hall is fun for the whole family.

The concert concludes with a cascade of red, white, and blue balloons coming down from the balcony onto the Town Hall floor as the orchestra plays the Stars and Stripes forever.


Dread comes from anticipating the amount of work that it takes for an all-volunteer organization like the Philharmonic society of Arlington to put on a POPS concert and strawberry festival event. Tables, flowers, strawberries, hall rental, baked goods. Online publicity. A clown. This concert is a good--but not great--fundraiser for the rest of the season. I think that over the years the fundraising aspect has ceased to be the main point. The main point is tradition, and celebration.

Between our last concert and this one, however, circumstances changed to make this my last POPS—my last concert of any sort--with this group. This summer, my family is moving to California.

We weren’t sure about anything until close to the day of the concert. My husband was in Mountain View CA, talking to the people who would be on his new team at Google Headquarters. He had also been looking at houses and we had been quietly reeling from the sticker shock in what may be the one housing market in the USA that makes the Boston area look reasonable.

Back in 2008 I showed up to the first rehearsal, rushing and late because I couldn’t find parking, with my violin/viola double case. The first person I met, a violinist named Noel, asked me if the large black case was a coffin. I showed up to this POPS concert at the last minute too, after first talking to my husband over the phone and then signing, snapping pictures of, and emailing documents for a loan approval to make an offer on a house. The parking gods smiled on me this time and I was able to get a spot after someone else pulled away. As I walked in to the Town Hall, carrying the flowers for our soloist that I’d been asked to procure, I was again met by Noel. “You’re here!” he said. “You missed the picture.” He’d been taking one for the Facebook page with our new conductor.

Drop off the kids, give them money for tickets, drop off the baked goods, plan how to deliver the flowers. Set up my folding stand. Note that even though we didn’t plan it, my stand partner and I (as well as two other first violinists, both named Rebecca) are wearing matching green tops. And then it’s time to tune. One Karen (me) signals to another Karen (the oboist) for the A.


During the first third of the concert, Brahms’ Hungarian Dance #5, West Side Story, and Zigeunerweisen with the YAC winner, Caitlin Kelley, I was grateful for auto-pilot and muscle memory. The violin I orchestral part to Zigeunerweisen is a 19th-century Lumosity brain-training game: switching between pizzicato, arco, on-beats, and off-beats in a seemingly random pattern; keeping track of which sections are repeated and which are not and and which repeat you are on; staying with the soloist as she performs incredible feats of virtuosity and acrobatics inches from your music stand.

Near the end of the concert, we celebrated Snowpocalypse-Boston with a "Frozen" medley. I had a solo, "For the First Time in Forever." I had sticky fingers to go with it. That too went by fast, and unlike my previous Disney solo, my bow didn't shake. Early on I had changed a few of the printed bowings to something that made me feel more comfortable. I experimented with shifts vs. string crossings and decided that a little portamento was a benefit, not a liability, to keeping it all on the E-string. The solo comes on the heels of a particularly hair-raising part in "Let it Go," so I didn't have time to get too nervous. It was more of a relief than anything else. And the hot weather meant my vibrato didn't freeze up.

I didn’t really have time to think, and I was grateful for that. If I stopped to think too much, I might cry.

A couple of days ago I announced the move on Facebook and in my personal blog. There I framed it as a new, exciting adventure, which it is, of course. Although I won’t have time for any music groups this summer, I’ve already made inquiries into auditions for other orchestras next fall. And if anyone in the SF Bay area or Silicon Valley (Palo Alto, Mountain View, Santa Clara, San Jose) has suggestions (or would be interested in getting together for duets/chamber music), please let me know!

But I also need time and space to say goodbye and to grieve for what I’m going to lose. As my daughter’s school principal says, don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. I’ll get there. Eventually.

The Stars and Stripes Forever

POPS 2014: And here come the balloons! A celebratory end to a wonderful season!

Posted by Philharmonic Society of Arlington on Sunday, June 15, 2014

From Tom Holzman
Posted on June 16, 2015 at 12:27 AM
Karen - I am both glad and sad for you. California does open up a variety of exciting possibilities for you, but will entail a period of adjustment for both you and your family which will involve everyone grieving for what has been left behind. Your experience in the Arlington orch has obviously been enormously important to you and helpful to your development as a musician. I hope that, with the help of people you know out there and vcommer posters, you will be able to find teachers and playing opportunities which will allow you to grow more as a musician and find the kind of happiness you have known in Boston. Plus, I hope you will find some sort of work that will be as or more rewarding. Good luck. I hope you will let us know how it goes and what new and exciting opportunities present themselves.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on June 16, 2015 at 7:41 PM
Hi Tom, It hasn't completely sunk in yet, but we actually have a house now, in Mountain View.

There are at least a couple of orchestras that I'm going to check out when I get there: the Nova Vista Symphony ( and the Santa Clara University Orchestra. I've heard a rumor that there's one in Palo Alto, too. I'm thinking I want to play some more viola again. And I need to find some more chamber music partners!

Sometimes I think about Phyllis Spence, the former concertmistress of the Arlington Philharmonic, who was in the group for 77 years and was concertmistress for at least 50 of those years. Barring some really substantial advances in genetic engineering and lifespan extension, it wasn't physically possible for me to come close to her record, even if I had stayed in Boston for the rest of my life. But I still hold out hope that somehow, somewhere, I will still be playing at age 95, like she was.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on June 16, 2015 at 7:44 PM
The pictures are from this year's POPS, but the video is actually last year's POPS, not this year's (there wasn't a quick costume change). My husband was in California this year so he wasn't around to take pictures like he usually is. My daughter took this year's pictures from the balcony.
From Mendy Smith
Posted on June 17, 2015 at 12:14 AM
How exciting! I miss the Bay Area. Unfortunately when I was living there I was just starting back up again and didn't get involved in any of the community orchestras. Terez is in the area (SC Mtns), maybe she can help you get jump-started with the current Bay Area music scene.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on June 19, 2015 at 2:37 PM
What a surprise, Karen! I live in Berkeley but my company and several close friends are in Boston so I feel linked to both areas. The public schools in Silicon Valley have such a
great reputation. I'll be looking forward to hearing whether they measure up to the Boston area in terms of music education. If you were closer to Berkeley I would have suggestions for getting tied into the music community, but the South Bay is eons away thanks to the traffic.

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