Thursday, January 29, 2009

Singing Bees

Next week we start rehearsals for Knoxville Opera's production of Rigoletto. The following clip is not something you'll see in that production (I hope), but it is one of the funniest things I have seen. Ever.

Monday, January 26, 2009

No blues!

Yesterday was a big day for me. The chamber orchestra performed at the Bijou theater and for the first time in a long time I got to stand in front of the orchestra as a soloist. I had a blast. In my previous performances as a soloist I always felt a bit like the orchestra was going to sweep me away. This was not the case yesterday. I'd like to say thank you to Lucas and my colleagues for their sensitivity and good humor throughout the rehearsal and performance process. It made a huge difference in my comfort level. I'd also like to thank Jim Fellenbaum. Being heard over the orchestra is something all violists struggle with and it was nice to have a set of ears that I trust listening for balance.

Generally when I have a big performance I have a touch of the post-concert blues in the days following the concert. Today is different. Today I woke up and instead of sulking and thinking, “what's next?,” I woke up and thought, “AH! What's next?!” I'm usually pretty on-top of my schedule, but I was so focused on yesterday's performance that I really didn't look at what's coming up this week until this morning. For me, it is a week with a lot of repertoire packed into a few days. Tuesday the KSO strings will travel to Maryville to perform with the Maryville high school students, Wednesday my quartet begins our rotation in the side-by-side mentoring program at Austin East High School, and on Thursday the KSO strings will be participating in the Bijou theater's 100th anniversary celebration. For that performance, my quartet will be playing excerpts from the first movement of Barber's string quartet as well as the entire adagio from the second movement (the famous Adagio for Strings). I also have a thick stack of bowings I've neglected that desperately need attention. I am happiest when I am busy, and especially when I have something particularly juicy to practice, like the Barber quartet, so this should be a good week.

If you would like to find out more information on the KSO's performance for the Bijou Theater's 100th anniversary, you can look here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Side by Side in Maryville

Last night the string players of the KSO had our first side-by-side rehearsal with Maryville High School. The idea behind a side-by-side is to pair up professional musicians with students in a mentoring situation. The KSO currently has a long-term side-by-side program at Austin East High School where a quintet of string musicians attend their orchestra class once a week. The side-by-side at Maryville High School is different because the relationship is short-term (two rehearsals plus a concert), and more KSO players are involved.

Every time we go to Maryville High School, I'm shocked at how many students they have in their orchestra program. The room was full. Not only that, but our concert is split in two parts so that more students can participate. We rehearsed two pieces, took a break while the first group of students left and then finished up the rehearsal with the second group. These days it is unusual for schools to offer an orchestra program and very unusual for there to be as much student participation as there is in Maryville.

My favorite aspect of the side-by-side program is that when improvements are made they are very noticeable. In the day-to-day rehearsal of the KSO there is the usual tweaking of dynamics, tuning of chords, smoothing out transitions, etc, but unless we “crash and burn” (which doesn't happen often, thankfully) our first reading of a piece is generally not radically different than the eventual performance. There wasn't much crashing and burning taking place last night, although there were a few things that were a little rough around the edges. The students responded well to instruction from Lucas as well as from their KSO musician stand-partners. I was especially impressed by the wind, brass, and percussion students. I don't think they normally play in the orchestra and they all did a great job. I'm looking forward to our second rehearsal with them tonight.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Blogger's Night: The Aftermath

(From Stephanie Burdette)
Thank you to those of you who attended the KSO's Blogger's Night last night. I had a great time getting to know you and I am enjoying reading your blogs. I will post them, along with photos, on this page as they come in.

Photos (on Flickr)

Well Behaved Bloggers
Frank Murphy Dot Com

KSO Blogger Night
Half Way Through the Symphony
The Rest of the Symphony
The Round Table

Preview Blog: Soon I'll Hear a Symphony
In Perfect Tune With The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
Pattie's Pop Culture Paradise

An Evening With The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
Knoxville Tennessee Real Estate Blog

A Night At the Symphony
This Is My Real Blog

A Night With Mendelssohn, Mozart and Bach
Chris For Liberty

Cheers, Decadence, Poverty and the Littlest Pianer I Ever Seen
Two Ells

Symphony Night - Rewind
My Good Life

Music To My Ears
Shots Across the Bow

Bloggers Are Those Who ... Blog
Jason, For the Love of God...

Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Blogger Night Success!

Reality Me

KSO Blogger Night
Do Justice and Love Mercy

Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
Mark and Leigh Ann

An Evening With The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra

Rocky Top MBA

Now For Something Completely Different
Stever B

Knoxville Symphony Orchestra

Jeremi Bergman

Thursday, January 15, 2009


The art of programming a concert is more involved than you would think. In the KSO, Lucas works out programming, at least in a skeletal sense, many seasons ahead. He considers things such as important anniversaries for composers as well as the orchestra, how long it has been since the orchestra has performed a piece, and audience requests. He decides what he would like the orchestra to play and then takes his choices to a committee for suggestions.

Many times pieces are paired together on a concert because they work well together timing wise and they don't clash in tonality. There isn't usually any deeper meaning between the pairing. The concert we will perform tonight is different. The first piece on the program is Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #3. After the Mozart Piano Concerto and intermission we will play Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony. Bach and Mendelssohn are very much tied together as composers.

J.S. Bach (1678-1750) and Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) were composers during two very different eras. Bach was the king of Baroque while Mendelssohn composed during the Romantic era. During Mendelssohn's life Bach's music had fallen out of fashion and was rarely played. Never the less, Mendelssohn studied Bach's music as a student and influences can be found in his symphonic writing. His fugal passages, particularly, showcase his study of Baroque music. In 1829, Mendelssohn staged a performance of Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, a piece which hadn't been performed since before Bach's death. The success of this performance was largely responsible for reviving Bach's popularity.

I'm looking forward to tonight's concert. I like every piece we are playing on this concert series. The Italian Symphony is one of my all-time favorite pieces, Navah Perlman is playing beautifully, and the Bach Brandenburg is just fun to play.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Blogger's Night!

This Thursday is Blogger's Night at the KSO. The symphony has invited area bloggers to attend Thursday night's Masterworks performance. In exchange for blogging about their concert going experience, the KSO will provide free tickets and a will host a post-concert reception. I attended the Blogger's night reception last year and it was a blast. If you are an area blogger and have not requested tickets yet, the symphony has a few left. Contact Stephanie Burdette for more information.

Something that struck me when reading the blog posts from last year's bloggers night was the level of anxiety or intimidation that first-time symphony goers experienced. Since I expect (hope!) there will be some symphony newbies attending on Thursday, I thought I'd write a short FAQ to help first time concert-goers know what to expect.

Do I have to wear a tie / ball gown / tux?
Only if you want. Wear what you are comfortable wearing. You will see people in all kinds of attire at the concert from very formal to jeans and a teeshirt. Most people fall somewhere in the middle.

When do I clap?
Tradition says to wait until the entire piece is over before clapping. The pieces we will be playing on Thursday and Friday all have several movements within a single piece. To clap in the “right” place you can either count movements or do what I do and wait for someone else to start clapping before joining in. Even if you clap in the “wrong” place, applause is a show of appreciation and we like to hear it.

Can I take pictures of the orchestra / theater?
Yes, you can take still pictures of the orchestra and theater before the concert starts, at intermission, and at the end of the concert. When the lights go down and the concertmaster walks on stage to start the performance, we request that you stop taking any flash pictures. Video and audio recording are not permitted.

Where can I learn more about the pieces that I will hear?
The KSO posts program notes online. You can read about the pieces you will hear on Thursday here. There is also a pre-concert chat that is free to anyone who is attending the concert. These start at 7:00. I highly recommend attending. They are led by the conductor and really give you a better idea of what to listen to during the performance. When I can sneak out of the house early enough, I like to listen to the pre-concert chat. Even though I've spent the week rehearsing the music, I almost always learn something interesting. The soloist for this concert series, Navah Perlman, will also be participating in the pre-concert chat.

If you have any other questions, please post them in the comments section. I will do my best to answer them for you. I am looking forward to meeting my fellow bloggers at the reception after the concert!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Virtual Concert Hall

Now you can attend a Berlin Philharmonic concert in the comfort of your living room. For about the cost of a movie ticket you can watch the Berlin Philharmonic perform in their virtual concert hall. This blows my mind. Classical music is a field that has not been dramatically changed by technology. Yes, the internet has revolutionized marketing strategy, and recording artists have benefited from new developments, but when it comes down to the actual performance, attending a concert in 2009 is much like attending a concert in 1989. Until now if you wanted to see an orchestra outside your region you would have to travel to their home town or hope that they would tour close to your home. Tickets were bought according to travel plans, not necessarily because of the music or artist on the program.

As exciting as this technology is, a virtual concert will never be the same as physically attending a concert for the same reasons that watching a DVD is not the same as watching a movie on the big screen. Scale, ambiance, and volume are all factors, but the biggest difference is you, the audience. The collective energy of an audience is an amazing force. I have attended concerts that were an amazing experience despite a luke-warm performance because of an engaged, energetic audience. On the flip side, I have also attended tremendous concerts that fell flat because the audience was sleepy. The heart pounding drama that ensues when a soloist breaks a string, holding your breath and leaning forward to hear a particularly quiet passage, experiencing the force of sound when the whole group is playing as loud as possible: these are all things that I expect would be lost with a virtual broadcast.

Still, I plan to scout out Berlin's season and find a concert or two to virtually “attend.” Like the DVD, virtual concerts have their place, and it's a whole lot cheaper and more convenient to attend their concert in my living room that to fly to Berlin.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Holly Mulcahy of The Partial Observer recently posted a somewhat tongue-in-cheek blog entitled How to Alienate Your Audience in 10 Easy Steps: Musicians. (We are not the only ones who sin. She penned a similar post aimed at music directors. Next month she promises to take on management. Joy.) Among the sins mentioned are looking bored, never smiling, wearing soiled and wrinkled concert attire, and deflecting post-concert compliments. Ouch. She pretty much hit the nail on the head in her observations of musicians. The offensive behaviors she mentioned are present everywhere in the classical music world, and Knoxville is no exception.

If a musician went to a play where the actors glowered at the audience and chatted through the curtain call they would, rightly, be appalled and come away with a sour taste in their mouth. Somehow, though, we just don't think the same way about our performances. I've been thinking about why this is the case since I first read Mulcahy's post. I think a big part of the problem is that, despite years of intense training, musicians are rarely taught how to be performers. In music school, technical and musical perfection is the emphasis of training. Stage presence is rarely mentioned. When I was in school my instruction on stage presence was limited to my viola teacher urging me to practice in the shoes I planned to perform in, to make sure that I would “maintain my modesty” when I bowed in my somewhat low-cut recital dress, and to give me a quick lesson on the order of hand shaking / bows when I soloed with an orchestra. I was never told that it was important to wear black undergarments because stage lighting can render seemingly opaque fabric see-through, or that there are audience members equipped with binoculars so even if you sit in the very back it is important to be neatly dressed, smile and look engaged. I learned these lessons the hard way.

I don't know what it will take to solve the disconnect musicians have between performing and being performers. It would help if the art of performing were emphasized more in training, but I don't think that would cure the problem. This has been an unfortunate tradition for many, many years. My feeling is that unless the issue is appropriately and persistently addressed by management at the professional level, no amount of training in youth orchestras and colleges will make much of a dent. In my years of performing the issue of stage deportment has rarely been addressed until orchestra management or the music director is so irritated that they explode at the unsuspecting players with a rant of, “would it hurt you to smile once in awhile?!?!” Usually the rant is where the instruction ends and nothing really changes. A notable exception to this happened a few seasons ago here at the KSO. The string players were asked to turn to face the audience when we stand for applause instead of standing in front of our chairs with our profile to the audience. Did people moan and groan about it? Yes. Did we do it? Of course. I don't know any musicians who deliberately set out to be rude and disrespectful to the audience. When we are given specific direction we are willing to change (even while grumbling). Now, several seasons later, turning to face the audience during applause is something most players do automatically. Similar direction would most definitely bring the grumbling and resistance that goes on whenever a group of people is asked to change their behavior. Ultimately, though, I expect we would all toe the line and become better performers for it.