I love December. It is the busiest month of the symphony season for many KSO musicians because there are a lot of opportunities to freelance outside the symphony. In December you can find KSO musicians playing at all sorts of places: in churches, shopping malls, hospitals, and, of course, at the Civic Auditorium with the KSO. Our annual Clayton Holiday Concerts are coming up later in December at the Civic, but this week we start rehearsals for the Nutcracker with the Appalachian Ballet.
This is my 10th year of Nutcrackers and my 9th season playing the viola part with the KSO. (The first year I was playing violin in a different orchestra.) I've never tried it, but I bet I could play my part from memory. Maybe even backwards. Knowing the music so well does not make things boring like one might suspect. Actually, I find playing the Nutcracker year after year quite enjoyable. It's like meeting up with an old friend. The music is difficult but after so many years all the technical kinks have been worked out. The music is in our fingers. It is nice to be able to sit back and completely enjoy making music with my colleagues.
The atmosphere during Nutcracker is different from our regular concerts. Not casual, but things are definitely more relaxed. A big part of it is that we know the music so well. Every season we have one or two Nutcracker newbies but for the most part we've all been playing it together forever. We're in the pit for the Nutcracker and people relax in the pit. Our performance is meant to support what is happening on stage. We are not the main attraction. Also, a sense of humor is essential for playing in the pit. The pit has many elements we don't have to deal with when we're on the big stage. The space can be cramped. Even when we have ample space to sit and play there is never enough room to be able to walk around comfortably. The set-up is different with the viola section on the outside (where our 2nd violins usually sit) and the woodwinds and brass separated. There is also the "zoo" factor. People like to come look at the orchestra during intermission. Nothing wrong with this, it's a great way to show kids a more up-close view of an orchestra, but it can feel a little bit like being in a zoo with so many people peering down at you. For the most part, though, the musicians deal with these minor inconveniences with grace and humor.
The Appalachian Ballet and the KSO will perform the Nutcracker at the Civic Auditorium this Saturday and Sunday, December 5th and 6th. More information can be found here.