Thursday, December 31, 2009

Five Things I'm Looking Forward to in 2010

* Playing with Rachel Barton Pine this January. I'm an Illinois girl, I grew up about an hour from Chicago. When I was young the Chicago Symphony had a youth concerto competition and broadcast the finals on television. The first year I watched, Rachel Barton Pine was a finalist, playing Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy. At the time I had been studying the violin for two years through school and had not yet started taking private lessons. Her performance was so exciting I could hardly sit still to watch. It was pivotal in my decision to become serious about music. I can't wait to hear her play Brahms.

* Collaborating with Clarence Brown Theatre on the February Masterworks concert. I really like Mendelssohn's incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream anyway. I'm anticipating that the actors will make it even better. This is a collaboration that a lot of the orchestra is buzzing about. Before my time here there was a collaboration on another Shakespeare play (Hamlet? Macbeth?) that people are still talking about.

* Mozart Requiem in April. I LOVE this piece. I say that about most things we play, but I really, truly, adore the Mozart Requiem. For me it's up there with Beethoven's 9th Symphony (which is my absolute favorite piece of music).

* Speaking of Beethoven's 9th, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that we might be performing this next season. I don't know this for sure, but we *have* been performing a Beethoven symphony every year and next year *is* the orchestra's 75th anniversary... This is a prediction only, and like many predictions about the new year, it may not actually happen. After all, the earth hasn't imploded and we are not ruled by a population of giant ant-people. A girl can wish, though. (For Beethoven's 9th, not the giant ant-people.)

* Which leads me to the final thing I'm looking forward to about 2010: the announcement of the KSO's 2010 - 2011 75th anniversary season! I'm sure it will be a great season and will give us all wonderful things to look forward to in the second half of 2010.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Viola Jokes

Violists have varying feelings regarding viola jokes. Some are terribly offended by them. I don't mind them so much. I like a good joke, and most of the time you can substitute a different instrument into the joke (such as trombone or violin) and it still works. Besides, there is very little to no truth to them. Here are a few of my favorite viola jokes.

What is the definition of a string quartet?
A good violinist, a bad violinist, a former violinist and someone who hates violinists.

A violist and a conductor are in the street. You are driving and cannot avoid them both. Which do you hit?
The violist: business before pleasure.

What is the range of the viola?
About 30 feet if you kick it hard enough.

Why does a viola make an excellent murder weapon?
Because it's the classic blunt instrument and never has any fingerprints on it.

How was the cannon invented?
Two violists were trying to play the same passage together.

Why is the viola called "bratsche" in German?
Because that's the sound it makes when you sit on it.

One day Timmy came home from school very excited. "Mommy, Mommy, Guess what? Today in English I got all the way to the end of the alphabet, and everyone else got messed up around 'P'!"
His mother said, "Very good, dear. That's because you're a violist."
The next day, Timmy was even more excited. "Mommy, Mommy, guess what! Today in math I counted all the way to ten, but everyone else got messed up around seven!"
"Very good, dear," his mother replied. "That's because you're a violist." On the third day, Timmy was beside himself. "Mommy, Mommy, today we measured ourselves and I'm the tallest one in my class! Is that because I'm a violist?"
"No dear," she said. "That's because you're 26 years old."

Why should you never leave your viola sitting in a parked car?
A nearsighted thief may think it's a violin and break a window.

Who makes the best viola mutes?
Smith & Wesson.

Ten-year old Susie comes home from her first day of school all excited.
"Mommy, mommy; the music teacher is going to give me music lessons at school. And look, he gave me a viola to play. See? Isn't it pretty?"
"That's nice, dear."
The next day Susie comes home from school full of excitement.
"Mommy, Mr. Jackson showed me how to play 4 notes in first position on the C string!"
"That's nice, dear. Wash your hands, it's time for dinner."
And the next day Susie comes home from school, again full of excitement.
"Mommy, Mr. Jackson showed me how to play 4 more notes ... on the G string!"
"That's nice, dear. Wash your hands, it's time for dinner."
On the 4th day, by 5 o'clock Susie hasn't come home. 6 o'clock passes. 7 o'clock...
Her mother is frantic. She calls the police, Susie's friends ... no word at all.
Finally, at 11:30 Susie comes home - carrying her viola case, exhausted, with a somewhat vacant look on her face.
"Susie, where have you been? Daddy and I have been worried sick. Are you OK?"
"I'm sorry Mom. I know I should have phoned you, but I got a last minute call to sub with the Philharmonic."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Clayton Wrap-Up

Whew! What a weekend! Clayton went well. It was nice to see the house so full for all four performances. Highlights for me were hearing KnoX Brass WorkX co. perform in the lobby before the concerts (with Jim Fellenbaum dancing and playing percussion... Who knew he was so multi-talented?!), both slide shows (great job, Stephanie!), and, of course, seeing Santa Claus. He's so jolly. And so enamored with the cow bell. It was a great weekend. Now, though, I think I'll go back to bed.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Angels Among Us

Monday I promised you the inside scoop on Clayton. We had two rehearsals Tuesday, and I know more, but I'm sure there are surprises even the orchestra doesn't know about yet.

The theme of this year's Clayton Holiday Concert is "Angels Among Us." We're playing all sorts of pieces about angels: an orchestral arrangement of Trisha Yearwood's "Another Angel Gets His Wings," "The Angels," "Angels in the Snow," and, of course, "Angels Among Us." There will be a slide show during "Angels Among Us" featuring the artwork of nearly 80 Knox County school children. A few years ago the KSO performed a Young People's Concert that linked visual art with music. That concert also featured a slide show of children's artwork. It sticks in my mind because some of the artwork did an impressive job showing what was happening in the music. At our rehearsals on Tuesday the slide show was not yet up and running. I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures at tonight's dress rehearsal. What could be sweeter than the depiction of an angel through the eyes of a child?

An unusual piece we're playing this year is Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk." When I got the piece about a month ago to mark bowings, I thought it was for our January Pops concert. It is certainly not traditional holiday fare. Turns out the KSO is partnering with the Young-Williams Animal Center for this year's Clayton concert. This year has been particularly rough on all shelters with record numbers of people surrendering their pets due to financial hardship. Young-Williams is an angel in our community. The KSO will be collecting donations of items on the shelter's wish list at the concerts. Collection bins will be located in the lobby.

We have four performances of this year's Clayton Holiday Concert. Information on times and tickets can be found here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Best Week of the Season

This is my favorite week of the season. This week we begin rehearsals for the KSO's 23rd annual Clayton Holiday Concert. We don't start rehearsing until tomorrow, so I can't give you specifics yet, but here are the main reasons I love playing Clayton.

* People are happy during Clayton. The festivities along with the fact that it is the final concert before we all get a break puts everyone in a good mood.

* There is always a lot going on for this concert. Maybe not all the way to a partridge in a pear tree, but we do have dancers, two choirs, vocal soloists, and Santa for this concert. Add in the entire KSO and it's a full house on stage.

* Santa Claus will be there! This is exciting to me for a couple of reasons. It gives me tremendous leverage at home. Eventually this will change, but right now my five year old daughter is extremely impressed that I work with Santa. She even told her classmates that I fixed his pants last year. Santa is great to work with. He never throws a diva tantrum.

* The music is familiar and beloved. This holds true not only for the audience but also for the musicians. We've all played Sleigh Ride and Christmas Festival Overture too many times to count. The familiarity is comfortable. Like the Nutcracker, we know much of the music so well that we can just sit back and enjoy making music together.

* I like to watch the audience at the Clayton concerts. People are happy and excited. The children are especially sweet. The looks on their faces when Santa comes out for the first time is priceless.

I'll have more behind-the-scenes specifics for you on this years Clayton concert later this week.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Big Broccoli Ocarina

This was too bizarre not to pass on. I've seen people play with their food but I've never seen someone actually play their food. And quite beautifully, too!

If the broccoli rendition of Angels We Have Heard on High didn't get you in the holiday spirit, you should stop by the Borders on Morrell road tomorrow at 7. A string quartet from the KSO will be there playing light classics and holiday favorites. No vegetables required.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pit Problems

Even though I really enjoy working in the orchestra pit, it makes me a little bit nervous. The first year I played with the KSO we were rehearsing in the pit when someone ran past and accidentally kicked something into the pit. Now, if you haven't seen the pit at the Civic, understand that our heads are just about at the level of the auditorium floor. The UFO flew into the pit and hit my viola hard enough to crack the belly and the sound post. It happened so fast and was so unexpected that at first I had no idea what had happened. Everyone around me stopped, shocked, while the conductor yelled to keep playing (it was the last 5 minutes or so of a dress rehearsal and he thought I had just broken a string).

I have always been well aware of the hazards of playing in a pit. The next time you go to a musical, ballet, or opera with live music if you look carefully you will see nets that extend part way off the stage to the pit. Those are to catch anything that might fly off the stage and onto the musicians. That is not an altogether uncommon occurrence, either. Being hit from the audience side was something I had never thought about until it happened.

Such is the nature of the pit. The unexpected should be, well, expected. It's a different layout than we're accustomed and we're working in less space with more stuff: cases, wires, lights, risers, etc. Things happen.

And, at Saturday night's Nutcracker performance, something did happen. Earlier in the week, my stand partner Eunsoon and I had noticed the desk of our stand was a bit loose. As long as we didn't tilt it back too far it was fine and we didn't think much about it. Saturday evening we were playing along when suddenly the desk flopped completely upside-down, catapulting our music toward the first violins while blinding them with our stand lights. As is often the case when things go awry, it happened during the quietest part of the entire ballet.

We're not sure what happened. No one touched the stand, and it didn't happen right after a page turn. So we're doing what all musicians do when something bad happens that can't be explained.

We're blaming the conductor.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Concert at LMU

Tonight the KSO will travel to Lincoln Memorial University to give a concert. We will be playing holiday music as well as a few previews of things that are coming up later in the season. One piece that we'll be playing that doesn't quite fit into either of those categories is the middle movement of Vaughn-Williams' tuba concerto. In all my years of playing, I have never accompanied a tuba concerto. The tuba too often falls into the stereotype of playing oom-pahs. When it has the chance to play a melody it has a beautiful rich sound. Tonight's concert is a rare opportunity to hear the tuba featured as a solo instrument.

Other pieces we'll play include selections from the Nutcracker, a few movements from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream (which we will perform in it's entirety at the February Masterworks), Korngold's Der Schneeman (The Snowman), a sing-along of Christmas Carols, and, of course, Sleigh Ride.

This concert will take place at 7:30 tonight and is free! More information on our concert at LMU can be found here.

Monday, November 30, 2009


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.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Getting to Know James Fellenbaum

A week or so ago I had the chance to catch up with KSO's Resident Conductor, James Fellenbaum. Jim humored me and agreed to participate in the blog's "getting to know..." series. (Thanks, Jim!)

KG: You have a Bachelor's in cello performance and a dual Master's in cello performance and conducting. When did you decide that you wanted to pursue conducting full-time? What made you want to start conducting in the first place?

JF: I became very interested in conducting in high school and, if there were such a thing as a bachelor's in conducting, I would have pursued that in college instead of cello. But, I'm glad I began my serious musical training in cello...playing orchestra pieces FIRST in an orchestra was/has been extremely important in my career. And, in high school I would conduct along with John Williams soundtracks...I loved the sound, and the idea of leading people through symphonic music. He was a big influence on me as I began to develop musically.

KG: Why did you choose the cello? When did you start playing?

JF: I chose the cello for the same reason Yo-Yo Ma chose the cello: we both wanted to play the bass (the BIGGEST instrument) but were too short! (Yo-Yo and I don't know each other...I've met him once...I just know that story about him). I started playing in fourth grade, as part of the Virginia public school system that offered orchestra instruments (4th grade) and band instruments (5th grade).

KG: Who has influenced your conducting, either as a mentor or just as a conductor you admire?

JF: Victor Yampolsky was, and still is, my biggest physical influence in my conducting. As a youth, I played in a lot of orchestras with unclear conductors, and one of my mantras was to be a clear, physical communicator on the podium, to which Yampolsky's style was a beautiful example. He's also one of my biggest musical influences. I've always liked Zubin Mehta's presence and ease on the podium, and I've picked up a lot of bits and pieces from other conductors while playing cello in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago...that was a GREAT learning and playing experience for me. Learned a lot from Cliff Colnot while in Chicago, too...excellent teacher for score reading, musicality and rehearsal techniques.

KG: Do you have any disastrous moments in conducting or playing that you'd be willing to share? Have you ever had any conducting injuries: baton through the hand, tripped on the podium, etc?

JF: Well, first: no injuries to report...thank goodness! I've never had any "disastrous" moments in conducting or playing, although there have been a few times where I've come close to "failing" at a project. I remember trying to present the Mozart Horn Concerto No. 1 at a summer camp once. The horn player was superb, but the orchestra consisted of mostly 7th and 8th graders; as simple as Mozart can look sometimes, the young students just couldn't quite get it...both technically and musically. So, we ended up doing just one of the movements...I just remember, at the time, it took ALL of my being to get them to play that one movement, so it felt like I was failing.

KG: Now to the IMPORTANT questions! I know you like sci-fi shows like Star Trek, Stargate, etc. (me too!) Which is your favorite series? And, isn't it terrible that Firefly only ran one season?

JF: Yes! I like science fiction very much, and grew up in a wonderful time for it: the late 70's and 80's with Star Wars, E.T., Indiana Jones, Star Trek, etc. And, most all of them have John Williams in common which, as I said before, was one of the biggest influences on my becoming a musician (all three of my YPCs have ended with John Williams...coincidence?!?). Now, I haven't gotten into Stargate, Farscape or Firefly YET...thanks to Netflix, I'm going to, eventually, catch up on ALL of those series someday. I'm a big Star Trek The Next Generation fan, and do like the other versions of Star Trek that have come out, both in movies and TV. What I find terrible is that Fox canceled the Terminator Sarah Connor Chronicles after just a season and a half. REALLY liked that show. I'm checking out the current remake of "V" on TV right now (2 episodes, not bad so far...saw the original 80's miniseries). I like 24, Scrubs, Grey's, the Sunday night cartoon lineup on Fox (Simpsons, Family Guy, etc.), and am a big ESPN fan (PTI, First Take, Sports Reporters, Sportscenter). My wife, Sarah Chumney Fellenbaum, and I enjoy quite a few shows together, and find it a nice way to wind down in the evening. Why is my answer for this question the longest one so far?

KG: Do you have any hobbies outside of music?

JF: I like websurfing/computer things, exercising, racquetball with Lucas, TV/movies, and caring for animals: I have two kittens (I'm a dog person, but have really grown to love the kittens) and four rabbits: Tigger, Roo, Rabbit, and Mr. Bun. Dog coming soon, probably within a year.

KG: Favorite concert moment, KSO or otherwise?

JF: Boy, that's tough. Recently, with KSO, a couple of things: First - our recent Chamber Classics concert with the String Serenades...I must say there were some really special moments in that concert. Second - each time, during a Young People's Concert or a runout concert where adults and children have had a "Wow" or "I get it" or "I love it" moment. You can tangibly feel that during the concerts, and I just love that. And at UT, when we've taken on a big, challenging project and we arrive at moments where we all realize that we've achieved something higher, greater or special...Pines of Rome, Mozart Requiem, Marvin Stamm Jazz concert, last February's Voice concert...those really come to mind.

KG: What is your favorite piece to conduct? What haven't you conducted that you'd love to conduct?

JF: No favorite piece to conduct...really enjoy a lot of works. Now, works I HAVEN'T conducted that I'd like to: that's too long! Mahler Symphony No. 1, Verdi Requiem, Beethoven 3, 7, and 9, Brahms 2, Rite of Spring, the operas Tosca, La Boheme and Der Rosenkavalier, to name a few.

KG: What music are you currently listening to? Not necessarily right at this very second, but what are your go-to recordings right now, classical or otherwise?

JF: Well, right now, I'm listening to bits and pieces of small works, as I plan the LMU Holiday runout concert. In general, I'm not listening to anything right now, since I've been conducting quite a bit of music. When I do listen to recordings, it's usually something Romantic era or 20th-Century era in classical music.

KG: Anything else you'd like to share?

JF: The younger of our two kittens, Pirate (the newest member of the family) has decided he's tired of me typing, and has come over to start chewing on my foot. Typical.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Picardy is Back!

I think this has been the busiest week of the season for me. We have had rehearsals all week for our Masterworks concerts last night and tonight. Tomorrow we will have more rehearsals, this time for our first Family Concert of the season.

I'm excited. Tired, but excited.

KSO family concerts are delightful. There are all sorts of things to do before the show. The lobby and some of the dressing rooms at the Tennessee Theater are turned into a sort of musical playground for children and their parents. Kids can make crafts, see instruments close-up, pretend to run the box office or be the conductor... It's really a lot of fun. If you're heading to the concert this Sunday you should definitely come early. The concert is at 2 but the activities start at 12:45.

My favorite part of the Family concerts is not the pre-concert activities. (Possibly because the orchestra is having a sound check during that time!) My favorite thing about the Family concerts is Picardy Penguin. Picardy is an animated penguin who is projected on a large screen above the orchestra. He interacts with the orchestra and guests by singing, talking, playing instruments, and even conducting. This family concert is all about dance and dance music, so I expect we'll see Picardy dancing, too!

KSO family concerts are geared toward children between the ages of 3 and 8. The concerts are played without intermission and are just the right length for antsy kids. My daughter has been coming to the concerts since she was three. She is now five and she always enjoys them. The concerts are enjoyable for adults as well.

The first KSO family concert will take place this Sunday at 2:00 at the Tennessee Theater. Picardy's Playground will be open at 12:45.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Five Things about Tonight

* This concert is part of our celebration of Mendelssohn's 200th birthday. Sorry, no cake, just great music.

* Speaking of Mendelssohn, Benjamin Hochman's interpretation of Mendelssohn's first piano concerto is amazing. He is so much fun to watch that I missed an entrance in rehearsal because I was watching him. His playing is incredibly smooth, clear and accurate. Oh, and very exciting. That piece will make you want to get up and dance. If you want to hear a preview, we have excerpts of Hochman's playing on the KSO website.

* We're playing the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde which is one of the most romantic pieces ever written. In my opinion, the melodic theme that is heard toward the end of the piece is just as romantic as the theme from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet. I might be biased, though, because this was the piece that was playing on the radio when my husband and I had our first date.....

* When was the last time you heard the KSO play a symphony by Haydn? It's been awhile! Tonight we're playing Haydn's 16th symphony. It's an interesting piece because it sort of straddles the Baroque and Classical periods. There are elements of the Baroque era (a harpsichord, for example) mixed in with distinct elements of the Classical era.

* Anything by Strauss is a massive tour-de-force for the orchestra and Der Rosenkavalier is no exception. It's a huge wash of sound. Rosenkavalier has some of the prettiest melodies that Strauss wrote. There is a waltz that reappears throughout the piece: sometimes soft and slow, sometimes fast and raucous. Of the pieces that we're playing tonight, this is my favorite to play.

Hope to see you at the Tennessee!

Monday, November 16, 2009

KSYO Concert Tonight!

Tonight is the first Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra concert of the year. Actually, five ensembles will perform tonight: the Junior Philharmonia, the Philharmonia, the Sinfonia, the Youth Chamber Orchestra, and the Youth Symphony. The 250+ young musicians who participate in the KSO Youth Orchestra program range in age from early elementary school all the way to seniors in high school. The level of playing also varies from students who have studied just a few years to kids who plan to make music their career. The quality of the playing is high across the board, though. The younger kids always impress me just as much as the kids in the more advanced ensembles. Also at peak levels are the energy on stage and the excitement and passion these kids have for making music. It is truly something to see. The future of classical music is in great hands.

Tonight's concert starts at 7:00 and will be held at the Tennessee Theater. Seating will begin at 6:30. The concert is open to the public and is free.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting to Know Jay Oberfeitinger

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with KSO musicians. My goal is to move beyond what is published in our biographies to give you a more personal look at the musicians who make up the KSO.

Jay Oberfeitinger has been a percussionist with the KSO since 1995. I'd like to thank him for being willing to be interviewed for this blog!

KG: I feel silly asking you why you chose to pursue percussion because I think it is the coolest thing ever (besides the viola, of course) but, what drew you to percussion? Did you have a teacher who inspired you along the way?

JO: I actually started out on Trumpet. Still play, a little - along with most of the basic brass & woodwind instruments (leftover from my days as a middle- and high school band director...but I digress).....I had been playing trumpet for about 6 months when our family took a trip to the local shopping mall. Back then fully enclosed shopping malls were rare so this place was quite popular. The local regional orchestra - The Westmoreland Symphony - was giving a concert in the "public square" in the mall. We happened to come up behind the percussion section. I do not know what work they were playing, but it used a ton of percussion, and the guys in the section were scrambling around to the different instruments. I was transfixed. Once my parents were able to pry me away I declared that percussion was what I wanted to play.

As for inspiring teachers.....I have had several. My first teacher, Ray Szymarek, introduced me to the playing of the great jazzers - Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, etc. My undergraduate college teachers were huge influences on me as a musician. Both are retired from the Pittsburgh Symphony - Jerry Unger (who was associate Principal) and Stan Leonard (Principal Timpanist).

KG: How did you get the idea to start a band and orchestra program for home-schoolers?

JO: Well, I had recently moved my private lesson business out of the house into a dedicated space in downtown Kingsport. I had also left public school teaching and had begun college / university work - part time. Several home-schoolers began taking private lessons and were looking for a performance outlet. When one commented that the one thing she missed about "normal" school was having the opportunity to be in the band - forming the group was obvious. The group functions just like a school band - except they only meet once a week. They have practice chart requirements; the beginning ensemble uses standard school band method books; I give grades..The orchestra component has not really taken off though, not enough string players!..We put on at least two concerts a year. One near Christmas time and one usually in May. During the Christmas season we also go to the local hospitals and setup in the lobby and play. We also perform at several Assisted Living communities.

KG: In an average concert, how many different instruments do you play? What is the most you've ever played in a concert?

JO: Hmmm....on average, maybe two or three - cymbals, bass drum & triangle - for example. I think the most instruments I have ever played in one concert happened last week with the Symphony of the Mountains. We gave a Family concert as part of our Virginia concert series - I was the soloist in a novelty work titled "The Worried Drummer". This piece was popular back in the 50's and 60's and has been getting more play again recently. It is written for the soloist to race about the stage from instrument to instrument - just "barely making it" to play a note or two before zooming off to the next. In one 10 minute work I played: Timpani, Snare Drum, Triangle, Tambourine, Castanets, Sleigh Bells, Slap stick (whip), Bass Drum and Cymbals, Glockenspiel (bells) and Xylophone! Oh, and add Drum Set to that list for other parts of the concert! I was tired afterward!

KG: How does the percussion section decide who covers which parts? Do you ever run into each other when you're running around back there?

JO: Great questions! The "industry standard" is for the Principal of the section to make part assignments. In the KSO we generally use two methods. Most of the time the Principal (Clark or Bob, depending on the concert) will make the assignments. For Pops, things are a bit different. We usually only have 3 percussionists for pops - regardless of what forces the music actually calls for - so we have to get creative. Over the years Bob, Andy and I have worked out a system we refer to as "playing zone defense". We will group instruments together - mallets (xylophone, vibes, etc); bass drum / cymbals; snare drum plus others; hand percussion (tambourine, triangle, etc.) Each of us will cover one or more "zones" and we play as much of the parts as we can cover. This gets interesting as we really put our skills at playing multiple instruments simultaneously to the test. It is much different than most of the Masterworks repertoire - where you may only play one instrument for an entire work. That is also what makes works such as Petrushka so much fun - we all have to play several instruments in works such as that.

As for running into each other....well, it can happen, especially in pops shows at the first read-through. We sometimes have to plot out - actually choreograph what moves we will make - so everything gets covered without collisions! We have played together for so long now that it doesn't happen much....We all pretty much know how each other thinks!

KG: Do you have any hobbies outside of music that you'd like to share?

JO: I am a collector of U.S coins. I am an Assistant Scoutmaster for BSA Troop 387 here in Kingsport. Mountain and road bicycling are big favorites.....along with hiking, camping, canoeing and sailing (don't get to do that much, though). It is a bit odd, but I am also a big fan of the old, pre-computer, board-based historical simulation games, AKA wargames. These are games that re-create historic battles or even entire campaigns in a board game format. The rules are very complex, with lots of tables to consult for weather effects, combat results, etc. All are based on actual historic events and the game pieces usually represent the actual units that were involved. My two favorite games of the type are "Battle of the Bulge" which simulates the Ardennes campaign during WWII; and "Jutland" which re-creates the famous Naval battle of the first World War.

KG: What is your favorite piece to play? To listen to?

JO: OK, these are tough......I cannot pick just one favorite work to play....but some of my favorites are: Pines of Rome, Petrushka, Rite of Spring, Beethoven Symphonies - love those Timpani parts! - , Percussion music of John Cage.....I could go on.....

As for listening; my tastes are wide-ranging. When listening to music for pleasure - as opposed to listening for "work" - I tend to favor Big Band and Jazz (think Tommy Dorsey or Miles Davis) or Classic Rock (Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd). I also enjoy Frank Zappa's music, and music of the Renaissance - especially for Recorder, an instrument I like to play as a musical "hobby".

KG: Favorite KSO moment?

JO: I would have to say the Pops concerts where we did bits of movie soundtracks with the actual film clips playing on a screen over the orchestra. (KG: that was my favorite pops concert, too, and the hardest I can remember playing!) JO: One of my "Walter Middy" fantasies is to have been a member of one of the studio orchestras at MGM,Warner Bros. or the like during the golden age of Hollywood movie making.

KG: Any disasters you'd be willing to share? (the car horn that broke at the first Masterworks concert this year comes to mind!)

JO: Oh, yes...what a way to start the season! Every Percussionist's nightmare is for something to break during a performance. The main culprits are cymbal straps and the thin cord (basically like fishing line) that holds triangles. Two weeks ago during a Young Peoples concert I had a cymbal strap break on the last crash of the National Anthem! I was left with a cymbal in one hand and just the strap in the other - watching the loose cymbal falling to the stage with no way to do anything about it! What a racket! Thankfully, we had another pair of cymbals for a different work so we used them until we got to a point in the program where no percussion was needed for a little while. Zipped backstage to our storage cabinet and the spare straps! I think it was close to a record time for tying a cymbal strap.

The oddest disaster of this sort was one I was in the audience for. During my college days, I was at a Pittsburgh Symphony concert and Don Liuzzi (now Timpanist in Philadelphia) was playing a very intricate tambourine part. Right in the middle of a particularly busy section of the part the shell of the tambourine broke. Now, that may not seem too bad - but tambourines are actually under quite a bit of tension. You might say that the instrument exploded! Bits of wood and loose jingles flying about all over the stage. Don stood there for a moment, then (since we don't usually keep spare tambourines on stage) just set the remains of the tambourine down on the trap table and sat down with a little shrug to the conductor as if to say "sorry, don't know what else to do.." I'm glad it wasn't me.

KG: Anything else you'd like to share?

JO: I will be giving a solo recital on January 10, 2010 at 3:00pm in the Renaissance Center Auditorium in Kingsport, TN as part of the Art Nights, City Lights concert series. Marimba works by C. O. Musser, Solo Percussion Music of John Cage and a duo for Percussion and Trumpet by William Kraft will be featured. I hope some Knoxvillians will make the trek to the Tri-Cities for the show!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up

If you're dragging this morning like I am, this will wake you up and get you going in short order. Jazz is much better than coffee. Happy Monday!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Day in the Life

Playing in a symphony orchestra is an unusual job. It certainly does not follow the usual business format. We do not have an office to go to every day and we don't clock in and out of practice rooms. Our hours are unusual: concerts start anywhere from 9:30 AM to 8:00 PM with rehearsals scheduled from 10 AM to 8 PM. Our rehearsals are generally only 2-1/2 hours long which leads some people to wonder what we do with the rest of our day.

Well, I can't give you a schedule for every day, but I will give you a snapshot of what today will be like for me. Today is a fairly typical day. We have a rehearsal this afternoon in the Bijou for this Sunday's Chamber Classics concert.

This morning I got up at 6:45. I am not a morning person by choice. If I didn't have to take my daughter to school I would probably sleep later. On days that we rehearse until 10:30 PM or have evening concerts I try to take a nap because otherwise my focus and energy is gone by 9:30. No naps today, though.

Mondays and Thursdays I sit down and write this blog, or, if I've set something to auto-post, I log in to make sure that it posted.

After I finish this blog it will be time to practice. I have a stack of symphony music sitting by my stand that needs attention: this weeks chamber music, the November Masterworks music, Brahms 1st String Quartet, and the third Bartok String Quartet for the April chamber concert. (Yes, I'm already practicing music for April!) Today I will focus on the string serenades for this weekend's performance. I also have a stack of non-symphony music that I'm practicing. Playing for the symphony is wonderful, but it takes some of the personal creativity out of music. My job is to bring the conductor's vision of a piece to life. Even if I agree with what the conductor is asking for, its not MY interpretation. I don't have full creative reign. Practicing non-symphony music regularly gives me a creative outlet and does a lot to keep my technique up. These days I'm practicing violin quite a bit. I find it's easier on the body since it's smaller, and the technique transfers quite nicely to the viola. I'm working on the Brahms violin concerto, the third unaccompanied violin sonata by Bach, and scales. Always scales. Some days I have a stack of music to mark bowings in for the viola section to follow. Happily, I am caught up with bowings for the moment, so I won't work on any today.

A nice perk about working from home is that, well, you're home. I can take 5 minute breaks in practicing here and there to throw dinner in the crock pot, move the laundry from the washer to the dryer, etc.

When I'm done practicing it will be time for a quick lunch. Then I'll pick up my daughter from school, get her settled with the sitter and head to rehearsal. Today we only have one rehearsal. After rehearsal I'll head home and spend time with my family. I may have another look at the music depending on how rehearsal goes this afternoon just to remind myself what I need to practice tomorrow.

So, there you have a day in the life of a musician.

Monday, November 2, 2009

November in a Nutshell

There is a lot going on with the KSO in November!

Last week the KSO performed educational concerts for thousands of area school children. Beginning this week and continuing through the month, small ensembles of musicians will be touring the Knox County Public Library branches for special musical story time presentations. These are always very entertaining. I have participated in story time concerts both as a musician and as an audience member with my daughter. It's hard to say which was more fun. There are many opportunities for the children to participate, from singing along with familiar tunes to playing small percussion instruments. It is a great (and free!) way to introduce young children to live classical music. The full story time schedule can be found here.

This week is also the KSO's debut Chamber Classics Series performance of the season. Sunday afternoon's concert is a concert of string serenades by Tchaikovsky, Elgar, and Suk. Don't let the parking situation around the Bijou deter you from attending this concert. Once again the KSO will be providing a shuttle service from the State Street Garage (behind the Tennessee Theater) to the Bijou.

On the 16th the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestras will give their first performance of the season. These kids work incredibly hard and their concerts are not to be missed.

Later in the month is the November Masterwork's Concert featuring pianist Benjamin Hochman playing Mendelssohn. We'll also be playing Der Rosenkavalier Suite by Strauss, the gorgeous Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and Haydn's 16th Symphony.

Also mid-month is our first Family Concert of the season. Picardy Penguin will be back in a program entitled, "Shall we Dance?" Our family concerts are more like events than concerts. There are plenty of activities for children and their families to participate in before the actual concert. It's a nice way to spend a cold afternoon.

Finally, the end of the month brings two free community performances. On November 27th (aka, "Black Friday") at 6:00 the KSO Brass Quintet will be performing in Krutch Park near Market Square for the City of Knoxville Celebration of Lights. The next day a string quartet will be at West Town Mall playing holiday music.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Listen, If You Dare!

I am not a fan of scary movies. They, well, scare me. Actually, I don't mind watching scary movies as long as I can watch them on mute while reading the closed captions. When I turn the sound on my stomach starts to knot up. It's the mood music that does me in every time. A lot of times we don't really notice the background music in film but it's always there manipulating our emotions. The only film I know of that didn't use any music is Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, which has it's own very eerie background noise.

I do like to listen to scary music on occasion, though, when I'm not watching a movie, so in preparation for Halloween I thought I'd put together a list of my favorite spooky pieces.

Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz, (especially March to the Scaffold.)
Funeral March of a Marionette by Gounod (This was the theme to Hitchcock's television show.)
The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas
Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky
Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
Psycho: A Suite for Strings by Bernard Herrmann
Black Angels for String Quartet by George Crumb
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta by Bela Bartok (this music was in Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining.)
Requiem in D Minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (especially the Dies Irae)
Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi (especially the Dies Irae)

Monday, October 26, 2009


This week the KSO is performing a series of concerts for area school children. Young People's Concerts, or, YPC's for short, have a very special place in my heart. I love kids and I love teaching kids about music. Before they attend a YPC, most of the students have been working with a docent and have had some symphony musicians visit their classroom. The kids learn about the repertoire in advance. There are CD's for the music teachers to play for the students and sample lesson plans. The symphony members visit the class to give the kids an up-close preview of what they will hear at the concert. Before I came to Knoxville I had performed in numerous young people's concerts in other cities. I think that of all the places I've played, Knoxville has the best educational concerts. The KSO's education department and our area music teachers do a fantastic job preparing the students for the concert. The students are familiar with the music they will hear and are eagerly anticipating their favorites. They participate and are engaged. They know the basics of audience etiquette and are a joy to play for.

Aside from the kids, I love YPC's because people in the orchestra let their hair down. Not to say that the playing is sloppy, it's just that it's hard to be completely serious when you're wearing a fake mustache. Or listening to Principal Trombonist Sam Chen "talk" to long-deceased Richard Wagner on his cell phone. Or when you're keeping one eye on your music and the other on the real live donkey and praying that when it gets scared and runs off-stage it decides to run AWAY from you. People smile during YPC's. We laugh. We wear costumes that we would never be caught dead in otherwise. We dance the macarena and the can-can. And it's all in the name of education. How can you beat that?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

October Masterworks

Tonight and tomorrow night are the KSO's October Masterworks Concerts. I wish I could let you in on the backstage scoop for this concert, but really, I don't know what's been happening. I've been out sick all week with a little virus that is sweeping the country. I can tell you that this concert series is a tour de force for the orchestra. There is no soloist, but like our opening concert in September, these pieces feature a lot of different players and sections in the orchestra. Petrushka in particular is a showcase for KSO pianist Carol Zinavage. From the chatter I've seen on Facebook, everyone is excited about the concert and has been working extra-hard. (Surely there must be a law against practicing the piccolo before 9am?) Good luck to all, I'm sure it will be a wonderful concert!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Unfamiliar Works

This weeks Masterworks concert features three pieces that may be unfamiliar to listeners. Actually, the works are unfamiliar to many of the musicians as well. When I'm faced with an unfamiliar piece, I like to learn about it and listen to it. With the internet this is a lot easier to do now than it was 10 years ago!

Each of the pieces tells a story, and the program notes just happen to be on the KSO website.

The notes on Richman's An Overture to Blanche can be found here, the notes on Dvorak's The Golden Spinning Wheel are here, and the program notes on Stravinsky's Petrushka are here.

Also, you can listen to the podcast, which is located right under our sponsor for this concert, The Trust Company.

As I've mentioned before, the Knox County Public Library is a great source of classical music recordings. YouTube also has recordings of The Golden Spinning Wheel (here is part two and part three) and Petrushka (here are parts two, three, and four.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Race for the Cure

For better or worse, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra functions like one enormous extended family. People care about each other and pull together to celebrate the good times, but where this makeshift family excels is helping in times of crisis. Because of the great camaraderie amongst the players, when something terrible happens to one the impact ripples through the whole group. People come together and help each other out. This summer the symphony was dealt two blows in a very short period of time. Former KSO violinist Cate Myer died from a recurrence of breast cancer and violinist Lynn Rogers-Carl died from ovarian cancer that spread. Both women were in the prime of their life and both were mothers.

It's not fair.

There are a lot of statistics associated with breast cancer. 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer... 200,000 cases will be diagnosed this year... 40,000 of those 200,000 will die... Every THREE minutes someone is diagnosed... And every 13 minutes someone loses the battle...

But these are simply numbers. A number can shock but a number can't express how it feels not to have your mom there to walk you down the aisle, or how much you miss your best friend, or your shock at hearing the diagnosis. Numbers don't cut it. Breast cancer affects friends, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers... Take a minute to count how many people you know who have had breast cancer or who have been affected by breast cancer. I was shocked by how many I know.

The KSO has put together a team for this year's Race for the Cure in honor and memory of Cate Myer and Lynn Rogers-Carl. We would be honored to include you in our "family." Come cheer for our runners on race day, and make a donation to help us help others.

Monday, October 12, 2009


In one week we will begin rehearsals for our next Masterworks concert. I'm geeky in that I truly love 99% of all the music we play. Even pieces that I'm not enamored with on first reading usually grow on me throughout the rehearsal process. This concert, though, I have been anticipating since the '09-'10 season was announced last year. I love Petrushka. It's in my top 20 of favorite orchestral works and it's certainly my favorite piece by Stravinsky to play. I like Petrushka so much that I'm even looking forward to practicing it, and, as you know, practicing is not my favorite activity.

So why is Petrushka so great? Well, the music was actually written for the ballet, so it's programmatic. You can visualize the story when you hear the music. Petrushka is the story of three puppets who have been brought to life by magic. There is a love triangle, fighting, a death, and, ultimately Petrushka himself becomes an angry ghost. How can you NOT like a story like that?! The music itself brings the story to life. We can hear Petrushka, the bustling market square, the beautiful ballerina, and the slow but powerful Moore.

I will say that the first time I played Petrushka it was not one of my favorites. I liked it but I didn't think it was that special. It was one of those pieces that grew on me after getting to know it better. Now, obviously, I love it. This is a piece that becomes more enjoyable the more times you listen to it. Actually, I think this is true of all classical music. Listening to music is not like going to a movie. Knowing the ending already won't diminish your enjoyment of subsequent listenings. In fact, the opposite is true. Take holiday concerts, for example. Part of the reason why everyone loves them is because most of the music is very familiar. Wouldn't it make sense to heighten your enjoyment of other concerts by becoming familiar with the music in advance? The Knox County Public Library has recordings of Petrushka as well as a book analyzing the score (if you really want to get into it...). YouTube has many excerpts of Petrushka available including several performances by ballet companies. Prepare! Come! Enjoy!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mozart 40?!

I've watched this clip several times and each time come away with more questions. How (and WHY!) did this musician come up with the idea to play tuned wine bottles while roller blading? How long did it take to figure out how to tune each bottle so precisely? How long did he have to practice to keep from knocking all the bottles over like dominoes? And, did he drink all that wine himself or did he have some help?

What do you think?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Reaching Out

On the Knoxville Symphony's main web page, a calendar at the right of the screen gives you links to information about public performances in a given month. If you looked right now, you would notice that the next highlighted date is October 16th (a FREE performance at the Morrell Rd. Borders!). October 16th is nearly two weeks away, so is the orchestra on fall break?

The answer is a resounding no. Actually, the next two weeks are packed with performances, 22 in all! The KSO is dedicated to bringing music into the community. In fact, 80% of our performances every season take place OUTSIDE our Pops, Masterworks, and Chamber Classics subscription series. Musicians play in area hospitals as part of our award-winning Music and Wellness program and they also bring classical music into area schools and libraries. These performances use small groups of instrumentalists in quartets, duos, and even playing solo.

These performances don't show up on the regular calendar because, as a rule, they aren't open to the general public. (Although, if you happened to be in a hospital lobby during a Music and Wellness performance you would be welcome to sit and listen.) Despite this, these concerts are, in my opinion, some of the most important performances the KSO gives. The sick and worried are comforted. Children who have never seen a stringed instrument in person get to hear one live and ask the musicians questions about music and their life as a musician. It's important work.

If you know of a place that you think the KSO could be reaching in the community you can contact Jennifer Barnett, KSO's Director of Education and Community Partnerships.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


The month of September marked the passing of two giants in the classical music world. Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel passed away on September 1st after a brief battle with cancer. A musician to the very end, Kunzel conducted his final concert with the Cincinnati Pops exactly one month before he died.

Pianist Alicia de Laroccha died this past week in Spain at the age of 86. She was most famous for her interpretation of Spanish music, but her repertoire was vast.

Neither death received as much attention as the recent deaths of several celebrities, but they both impacted the classical music world at least as much as Michael Jackson did the world of pop.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Knoxville Jazz Orchestra

For a musician, playing an instrument is like breathing. Not meaning that it's effortless, but that to play means to live. Even in retirement it is rare for a musician to completely give up playing unless they are forced to stop for physical reasons. Playing is an emotional outlet, a way to connect with people that transcends language. The ways to express one's self through music are numerous and most musicians don't limit themselves to a single genre. I've mentioned before that many KSO musicians moonlight in other groups. Tonight the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra is giving a concert in the Bijou Theater. About half the musicians who will be on the stage also play in the KSO. Of course, the numbers are somewhat skewed because the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra is using strings for this concert. I will be playing, along with several colleagues from the KSO string section. It's rare for string players to get to play along with a jazz orchestra and we're all excited to have the opportunity. The soloist for tonight's concert is vocalist Deborah Brown. Her voice is pure and her sound is absolutely effortless. I think I could listen to her all day. I have also been awed by KSO clarinetist Mark Tucker (playing saxophone) and trombonist Tom Lundberg. The mere thought of improvising makes me break into a cold sweat. I much prefer the security of notes on a page. They make it sound easy.

This is going to be an awesome concert. (I know I always say that, but it's true!) If you plan to buy a ticket at the door I advise you to get there early because Knoxville Jazz Orchestra concerts are quite popular and often sell out.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Top 10 Reasons...

Not to Miss the Knoxville Symphony's Opening Concerts :

10. The concerts have a special 7:00 start time, so there is plenty of time to see people and socialize afterward.

9. You will hear at least one piece you have never heard before. I guarantee it. The American Scene: The South by William Grant Still has never been recorded and is rarely performed. It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear this great piece of music!

8. Maestro Richman has been after John Williams to make his music to The Reivers available for YEARS. Williams finally agreed when Maestro Richman told him he wanted to put the piece on this year's opening concert. That makes Lucas the only person other than John Williams himself to conduct this score in concert. Very exciting. (Maestro Richman interviewed John Williams for one of this concert's podcasts!)

7. Speaking of The Reivers, Bill Williams is the narrator for the piece and, as usual, does a fantastic job. His story-telling is not to be missed.

6. Have you ever heard a car horn in the middle of a symphony concert? How about a piano that has been loaded down with coat hangers on the strings? You will if you come to the concert....

5. We have some new faces on stage as well as some old friends in new places. Ellen Connors joined the symphony as principal bassoon, Calvin Smith is now sitting principal horn, Miro Hristov is back sitting associate concertmaster and Edward Pulgar is principal second violin.

4. There's a lot of people on stage and several opportunities to hear instruments that don't usually have the spotlight. There is a tuba solo in The Reivers, and there is a euphonium solo in Pictures (Bydlo, which is my absolute favorite moment in the whole piece.). Saxophone is not an instrument that is typically heard in a symphony, but Moussorgsky wrote an extensive solo for it in the second movement of Pictures.

3. We're playing a piece written about Knoxville with a local soloist! Soprano Jami Rogers has been tremendous this week in rehearsal of Barber's Knoxville, Summer of 1915.

2. The KSO brass section is on fire this week. They always sound good, but this week especially they've taken my breath away. Principal Trumpet Cathy Leach, Principal Trombone Sam Chen, Principal Horn Calvin Smith and Principal Tuba Sande MacMorran all have substantial solos this concert and they all sound amazing.

1. It's going to be a great concert!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Like Riding a Bike

Last night was the first time this season the whole orchestra rehearsed together. The first rehearsal with the entire orchestra always feels a bit foreign. We were, as we are a good deal of the time, on the stage of the Tennessee Theater. Even before we started to play, I noticed the acoustics of the hall. Has it always been that resonant? Even verbal instructions seemed to reverberate more than I remembered from last May. You could almost see the final note of our run-through of Pictures bouncing around the empty seats in the house.

I had also forgotten the sheer force of the orchestra. In loud passages you can feel the music with your entire body. Vibrations from lower instruments can be felt across the stage. There is also the sense of being swept along with the group.

At the beginning of the rehearsal it felt like everyone was remembering where they fit into the group. Even though it's awkward at first, I'm always surprised at how fast we all fall back into it. When we first started rehearsing last night I was overwhelmed by the sound. It was difficult to pick out and pay attention to the individual parts I needed to listen to in order to make my part fit in. I also noticed my bow arm was sore because I was playing too loud in order to hear myself. After the first twenty minutes of rehearsal I regained my equilibrium. From what I heard, the rest of the group had too. People were joking and happy. It was a great start to the season.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

KSO at Borders

Friday night marks another opportunity to see musicians from the KSO performing in the community. At 7:00 pm, a string quartet from the symphony will be performing at Morrell Rd. Borders. This is a free concert and will preview some of the things that are coming up this season. While you are at Borders, why not check out some music-related books? Here are a few of my favorites:

For Adults:
The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection : The 350 Essential Works by Ted Libbey
Memoirs by Georg Solti
This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sachs
Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in Pursuit of Harmony by Arnold Steinhardt
The Spanish Bow by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Body and Soul by Frank Conroy
Piano - The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand by James Barron
Edly's Music Theory for Practical People by Ed Roseman

For Children:
Mole Music by David McPhail
The Music Teacher from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler and Jared Lee
Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! by Lloyd Moss and Marjorie Priceman
The Jazz Fly by Matthew Gollub and Karen Hanke
I Know a Shy Fellow Who Swallowed a Cello by Barbara S. Garriel and John O'Brien
Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes and Karmen Thompson
The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin and Marc Simont
Tubby the Tuba by Paul Tripp and Henry Cole
The Remarkable Farkle McBride by John Lithgow and C. F. Payne

Monday, September 14, 2009


Last night the KSO played at Ijams Nature Center for the 24th annual Symphony in the Park fundraiser. It was a beautiful evening.

Cathy Leach, Principal Trumpet, warming up before the concert:
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Jill Allard, flute:
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John Michael Fox, violin:
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The KSO viola section (minus yours truly). Jen Bloch, Bill Pierce, and Eunsoon Corliss:
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A somewhat rare picture of me, courtesy of Eunsoon...
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First violinists Lisa Muci, Sean Claire, and Yin Wu:
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Timpanist Mike Combs with cellist Ihsan Kartal:
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Ijams is a beautiful place.
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Mark Tucker, our wonderful stagehand Paul, Maestro Richman, and Jennifer Barnett waiting for the concert to begin. Percussionist Clark Harrell is in the foreground looking suspicious of my picture taking...
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It was a great night and I think we're all looking forward to the 25th anniversary concert next fall!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Play Ball!

The KSO's 2009-2010 season began on Monday! It's exciting to be back. Everyone looks well-rested and ready to start the season. Our first Masterworks concerts in the Tennessee Theater are on September 24th and 25th, but in the meantime, the KSO will be out and about in the community.

Tonight at 7:30 the symphony will perform at the Maryville Greenbelt Amphitheatre. This concert is always quite popular. Our audience in Maryville is passionate about classical music. In the past we have played in thunderstorms and still had a large audience braving the elements under umbrellas. The greenbelt is a beautiful park. The concert atmosphere is relaxed with many people bringing along picnic dinners. This is a good concert to bring children to because there is plenty of space to walk around away from other concert-goers if they start to fidget. There is also a play area nearby. You would be wise to bring chairs or a large blanket. This concert is free.

Saturday at 6:00 the Knoxville Symphony Brass Quintet will perform at The Cove at Concord Park. The KSO's small ensembles allow individual musicians to really shine. The KSO Brass Quintet is not heard in the community as much as the string quartets from the KSO, so take advantage of this somewhat rare opportunity to hear some great brass music. This concert is also free.

On Sunday the KSO will present the 24th annual Symphony in the Park at Ijams Nature Center. Featured soloists will be opera singers Andrew Wentzel and Karen Nickell. The concert is only part of the festivities on Sunday. The evening also includes a silent auction and a catered dinner. For more information, click here.

I hope to see you at one of these concerts this weekend, but if you cannot attend remember that WUOT is broadcasting performances from last season every Thursday beginning at 8:00.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Finish Strong

This year was a difficult year. Too many businesses closed their doors and way too many people found themselves without work. Like everyone else, arts organizations across the country were hit hard. Many groups were forced to shorten their season, cut salaries or staff, and a few completely folded. It has been an incredibly stress-filled year for everyone involved in the arts, which makes what happened in Knoxville even more stunning.

The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra finished the 2008-2009 season in the black.

Finishing in the black is not the easiest thing for any orchestra to do under normal economic conditions. Finishing in the black under the economic conditions of 2008-09 is a monumental accomplishment. Everyone in the organization worked incredibly hard on and off the stage to make it happen. Everyone who donated made a difference, too, whether they donated ten dollars or ten thousand dollars. We all deserve a pat on the back. But, the 2008-09 season has ended, and while we ended strong, the 2009-2010 season is starting this week and we need your support. There is no such thing as a small donation. Every dollar helps keep us on the stage where we belong.

Lets make the 2009-2010 season even better than 2008-09. If you would like to donate online here is the link.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Local Musician Portrait Series

I always cringe a bit when I walk into a restaurant and see musical instruments hanging on the walls. To me instruments are meant to be played. Still, I appreciate their beauty as objects. Shiny brass instruments with their maze of tubing, the contrast of wood and metal of the woodwinds, stringed instruments polished to the point you can see your reflection: musical instruments are beautiful and intriguing to look at. They also make great subject matter for visual art.

Brian Wagner, a local artist, has been an artist-in-residence with the Art and Cultural Alliance here in Knoxville for the past six months. During his time as artist-in-residence he worked on a project called the Local Musician Portrait Series. He photographed local musicians using a photo booth and then transferred the images onto canvas. Several musicians from the Knoxville Symphony volunteered to be photographed for this project. I have seen a few of his portraits online and they are stunning. I can't wait to experience the full effect of his large prints in person. Wagner's show will open this Friday in conjunction with First Friday. The show will be at the Balcony Gallery in the Emporium Building and will run through the month after which it will move to various places throughout Knoxville.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Streetcar Named Desire

Working in a recording studio is one of my favorite things to do as a musician. It's a lot different than performing on stage, which I also enjoy. The work is fast-paced and the emphasis is on getting the job done as quickly and accurately as possible. There is a little bit more pressure to get things right the first time, but the general atmosphere is much more relaxed than it is on the concert stage. Tuxedos are not required for studio work. Neither is a serious countenance. For me this is a great relief. My poker face is non-existent. My emotions, good or bad, are written all over my face and it has gotten me into trouble a few times.

I also find the whole process of recording fascinating. Often times parts are recorded separately and then mixed together to form a full ensemble. To make sure the parts all fit together when everyone is recording separately, musicians wear headphones and listen to a click track, which is basically a metronome. Tracks can be layered so that one violinist sounds like a whole section. The end result is pieced together like a puzzle and sounds like a huge ensemble all playing in the same room together.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to work on a recording project for the Clarence Brown Theater. This week the theater will open it's season with A Streetcar Named Desire. If you have seen or read the play you know that Tennessee Williams called for many music cues. Lucas Richman actually wrote a score to go along with A Streetcar Named Desire when he was a mere teenager. His mother, actress Helen Richman, was in a production of Streetcar, came home from rehearsal one day and asked Lucas if he would write incidental music for the production. He scored the music for Dixie band and string quartet, an unlikely combination of instruments that actually works quite well to set the mood of the play. His original score was re-recorded by local musicians, many of whom are KSO members, and will be heard in this Clarence Brown Theater production.

A Streetcar Named Desire runs from September 3rd through September 20th. Information about purchasing tickets can be found here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How to Practice....

Judging by the feedback I've gotten, Monday's post about practicing struck a chord (ha!). (By the way, I love getting feedback. Sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself here. Comments are always welcome.) As the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra is gearing up to start in a few weeks I thought I would expand on how to practice well when you aren't crazy about practicing.

Practice every day. Practice every day. Practice every day. Practice every day. The repetition of daily practice creates muscle memory. It's the same process as learning to shoot free throws. The only difference is the use of fine motor skills vs gross motor skills. Muscle memory is not something you can cram at the last minute. If you wait to practice until the day before your lesson most likely you will wind up having “played it better at home.” You don't need to slave over your instrument for hours every day. On super busy days even 10 minutes of quality practicing is better than nothing. The bottom line is that you need to practice every day. You have time, trust me.

Have a plan when you practice. How long are you going to practice? What do you need to accomplish this week? How does that translate to today's practice session? When you practice without a plan you tend to wander. Things will get done but not nearly as quickly as when you have a plan. And when you are busy and don't particularly enjoy practicing, it's best to get things done as quickly and efficiently as you can. Your plan should be as specific as possible. Planning to practice your youth orchestra music is too general. Identifying the piece, section, and problem within the section that you need to practice in your youth orchestra music is much better.

Go slow and start small. I'm considering printing this on a tee shirt because this is, by far, the phrase I say to students the most. (It is also, by far, the most unpopular thing I tell my students.) Can't play a section without crashing and burning? Slow it down. Still having trouble? Identify the problem and break it down into smaller parts. Really listen and pay attention as you play. Ten minutes of concentrated work like this is tedious but at the end of the ten minutes you will be miles ahead of where you were when you started and certainly in better shape than if you had spent ten minutes muddling through.

Make the best of it. Practicing is not inherently fun because practicing is work. Realizing that playing an instrument doesn't have to be fun all the time can go a long way in reshaping your attitude toward practicing. Find ways to make it fun. When I was in college a group of us always hit the practice rooms at the same time. After awhile we would take a break, hole up in someones practice room and have tea and chocolate. We also had scale parties where everyone got together to practice scales, but that's another story... See if you can practice 100 days in a row or compete with a friend to see who can go the longest without missing a day. Record yourself playing a piece or section when you first start working on it and then record yourself playing the same thing a few weeks later. It is very motivating to hear your progress, especially if you feel like you're at a standstill. Find recordings of great artists playing your instrument and listen to them often. Attend live performances for even more motivation.

The better you practice, the better you will play and the more you will enjoy your instrument. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go practice.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Practice Only on the Days You Eat

When people find out I am a professional musician many will share that they, too played an instrument sometime. Most end by saying something along the lines of, “but I didn't like to practice.” I'm never quite sure how to respond to that because the fact is I have a secret. I don't particularly enjoy practicing either.

Playing I enjoy, and there is nothing quite like the rush from performing, but practicing? Not my favorite. I think a lot of musicians feel the same way. Practicing is a necessary task to get to do the other things we enjoy about playing an instrument. For me and many others the joy we get from playing and performing far outweigh the pain of practicing, so we do it. And it is a pain. To practice effectively you have to turn away all distractions, be incredibly critical of your work and be willing to repeat things until they are exactly right. The difference between a note being in tune and out of tune is minuscule but separates a great performance from a mediocre one.

Think of it this way: you've moved into a new house and the yard is a complete mess. The grass is overgrown, there are dead flowers and several tree stumps to get rid of. It's a daunting task. After many hours of sweat labor things look better but still aren't great. Every day you work a little more and eventually your yard is beautiful. This is a lot like practicing. Some parts of the journey are enjoyable, some aren't. The end result is completely worth it. The sense of accomplishment at being able to play a passage flawlessly that used to trip you up every time is awesome.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Red-Haired Mary

Most musicians enjoy exploring more than their chosen specialty. There are several members of the KSO who moonlight with various bands or on secondary instruments. Tomorrow KSO flutist Jill Allard will perform as a member of Red-Haired Mary on WDVX's Blue Plate Special. The concert is free and starts at noon. The WDVX studio is located downtown at the corner of Gay Street and Summit Hill. If you can't make it downtown, you can stream the concert live from the WDVX website.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Office Brass

I really liked this. It is proof that great music doesn't have to happen in a concert hall.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Glass Harmonica

My husband and I really love LP's. We love the oldness of them as well as the quirkiness of music available. Some of my favorites from our collection include Captain Kangaroo narrating Peter and the Wolf, a recording of Karajan rehearsing the Berlin Philharmonic on Beethoven's 9th Symphony, a recital by violinist Igor Oistrakh (son of David Oistrakh) of 20th century pieces, and various recordings of easy listening "jazz" from the 1950's and 60's.

Occasionally we will come across an instrument that we're not familiar with. Last weekend we picked up a record that features an ensemble of cello, viola, and glass harmonica. Surprisingly, it works quite well. Neither of us knew quite what a glass harmonica was, though, so we looked it up on Youtube.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Music: The Next Generation

Scientific American Frontiers on PBS is one of my favorite television shows. Recently I caught an episode that featured innovations in music. Children played "Beat Bugs" which are electronic bug-like instruments designed so that people with no formal musical training can pick them up and just play. I was especially excited about a music composition program called Hyperscore that transfers pictures or visual patterns into sound. At the time the show originally aired it was an open-source program. It's still around, but now you have to pay for it.

My search for Hyperscore led me to MIT's Media Lab website. Two research groups there caught my eye: Music, Mind, and Machine and Opera of the Future. There are several projects that look fascinating: MIT scientists are developing tests to identify early Alzheimer's using music, the creation of a "hyperbow" to analyze bow technique of violinists, and a program that completely visualizes the main aspects of music are just a few that caught my eye.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's the Smart Place to Be!

When a musician is completely engrossed in a piece everything around them disappears. You lose yourself in the music. It's a lot like reading a good book. You forget your surroundings and join a world that, while only words, is completely real in your mind. For this reason I have always loved reading. I also love libraries. (And librarians... I married one!) The library has always been one of my favorite places because you can walk out with a stack of books, a few CD's and a movie or two, peruse them at your leisure in the comfort of your home and then go back and repeat the procedure all for FREE.

The Knox County Public Library system is great. First of all, it's huge: in addition to the main library downtown there are 17 branches all over Knoxville. If the branch in your part of town doesn't have the materials you want, it's not a problem. You can reserve them and have them delivered to your chosen branch. If you need a book that the KCPL doesn't own they will try to get it for you from a different library system.

The library offers many programs from story time for children (including musical story time with members of the KSO!), to family game night, to computer workshops for adults. There is something going on every day at the library and the variety of programs is so wide there is something for everyone.

I am a veteran library user, but until very recently my experience with KCPL's website was limited to reserving books and checking the due dates on my books. Boy was I missing out.

The library's media collection is called Sights and Sounds. They have a sub-page online called The Music Room. It has all sorts of databases you can access online from the comfort of your home with your library card. There is a source for classical music scores, African American Song, a classical music library with audio you can listen to right at your computer, the Smithsonian Global Sound for libraries, and several others. There is a link to their collection of CD's by local artists, local music venues (including the KSO!), and a list of upcoming events by AC Entertainment. The Sights and Sounds web pages are a great way to stay on top of the Knoxville music scene.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Music of Nature

The Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University collects animal sounds from all over the world to study animal communication as well as monitor the health of certain populations. They boast the world's largest archive of animal sounds and they have made them available on their website. You can hear recordings of the American Toad, Harbor Seals, and even a yellow-tailed wooly monkey from Peru.

Happy browsing!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Getting to Know Carol Zinavage

This is the second of a series of interviews with the musicians and staff of the Knoxville Symphony. My aim for this series is to go beyond the usual of where we've played and with whom we've studied to talk about who we are outside the concert hall.

Carol Zinavage is the principal keyboard player for the KSO.

KG: Did you choose the piano or did someone "help" you make that decision? I know from your cameo at last year's July 4th concert that you also play the flute / piccolo. Which came first? Any other instruments?
CZ: My mother was a pianist. My heroes when I was a baby were Hopalong Cassidy and Liberace. I liked the piano, but my mother looms large in my legend (ha.) I started flute in the 6th grade, and shortly after that, became a Certified Band Geek. Later, in my 20's, I joined a professional rock band on electric bass, which I taught myself. I can also play Suzuki Book One on violin.

KG: Playing keyboard for the symphony can involve some waiting around while the group rehearses a piece you don't play. Usually I see you passing the time with a crossword puzzle or a book. How did you get into doing crossword puzzles? Do you like other puzzles?
CZ: I love reading and I love words. I love the gestalt of The New York Times crossword puzzle - there's a certain way of thinking about language there that I feel very in tune with. Everyone asks me if I do Sudoku, too, but I have no patience for Sudoku and numbers - I'm too interested in words.

KG: What are you reading right now? What is the best book you've read lately (or ever...)?
CZ: I am reading a ghost story called The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters, whose writing reminds me of Daphne du Maurier, one of my favorite writers. I just finished The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein and it is definitely one of the best books I've ever read.

KG: What is your favorite KSO memory / performance?
CZ: I was in awe of Henry Mancini. We shared the piano - meaning I would play and he would conduct the orchestra, and then he'd move to the piano and I would sit elsewhere, out of the way, while he performed. The orchestra played a not-so-well-known piece of his and I was one of the only ones who recognized it - there was a piano solo for me and I think he was pleased that I knew the tune and made the most of the solo, because he gave me a bow. He was rather crusty at the time, late in life, but I will always remember him smiling at me from the podium and saying, "C'mon, take a bow." Also, backing up The Moody Blues was practically a religious experience for me. My favorite classical moments have been on big Stravinsky pieces, or Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste," which just slays me.

KG: Do you have a favorite composer?
CZ: Beethoven, if I had to choose just one, largely for his sonorities. There's just no one else that makes an orchestra or piano sound like that. Others are Britten, Stravinsky, Bartok, Prokofiev - I really like 20th-century.

KG: I can't imagine having to play on different violas all the time, yet that is the plight of the pianist since you can't take your instrument with you. Is it difficult adjusting to different pianos? How long does it take you to get comfortable with a new instrument?
CZ: I've always taken a "well, this is what it is, and by golly, it's gonna sound good anyway" approach. Positive thinking can cover a lot of ills. The worst piano I ever played was at a private party. The person who hired me went on and on about how the party-giver was so proud of his "Civil War-era piano," which made me groan inwardly - pianos always get worse, never better. It was indeed a disaster - the pedals fell off while I was playing and half the keys didn't work, and that's no exaggeration.

People are always asking me about technical aspects of the workings of the piano, and about electric pianos. I have no idea. My favorite story about that is the time someone ran into Sir Paul McCartney in a music store and asked him what kind of guitar/bass strings he used. He replied, "Uh - long, shiny, silver things?" I can so relate to that.

KG: What concert or piece are you looking forward to the most this upcoming season?
CZ: PETRUSHKA!!! (KG: Me too!)

KG: Do you have any summer plans you'd be willing to share?
CZ: I'm running away to Florida next week to visit my old college roomie, and freeload off of her and her husband for as long as they'll tolerate me. When I get back, I'm taking my dog and my best friend and heading for a cabin in NC, where we plan to do nothing but float in the river with a book and eat lots of stuff that is bad for us. There will probably be some hiking, too, but mainly water/books/food.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Classical Movies

I'm not a big movie watcher, but somehow the middle of summer always seems like a good time to curl up with a few good films. Maybe it's the heat? Anyhow, here is a list of movies and documentaries that center around classical music. It is by no means a comprehensive list, and if you know of a movie / documentary I missed feel free to leave a comment and I will add it to the list.


Hilary and Jackie (cellist Jaqueline DuPre)
Immortal Beloved (Beethoven)
Amadeus (Mozart)
Shine (pianist David Helfgott)
The Piano
The Pianist (pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman)
The Red Violin
Impromptu (Chopin)
Copying Beethoven (Beethoven)
Tchaikovsky (a BBC mini series about, well, Tchaikovsky)


Solti: Orchestra! This was first aired in the US on PBS. It is an introduction to all the different sections of the orchestra, narrated by Sir Georg Solti and Dudley Moore. I saw it for the first time when I was starting to get serious about studying music and it was a huge influence on me. I highly recommend this for anyone who would like to better understand the inner workings of an orchestra.

Music From the Inside Out is a film that follows members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Through stories and interviews they try to explain why they play and what music means to them.

Keeping Score: MTT on Music. This film follows Michael Tilson Thomas (aka MTT), music director of the San Fransisco Symphony and the symphony members through the rehearsal and performance process of a Tchaikovsky symphony.

Of course, there are hundreds of operas, ballets, and symphony concerts available on DVD. I recently saw Doctor Atomic and have Wagner's Ring Cycle on my must-see list. Nothing beats the heat quite like a Wagner marathon.