Thursday, April 30, 2009

We Need YOU!

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale announced his proposed budget for 2010 on Tuesday. It's not pretty. Actually, it's downright ugly. This year the symphony received over $43,000 in county funds. Next year we are slated to receive just over $6000. (No. I didn't forget a zero. I wish the problem was that easy to fix.) Our friends at Knoxville Opera and the Knoxville Museum of Art are in worse straits: neither organization will get any funding from the county if Mayor Ragsdale's budget is approved.

Here's the thing: the funds that the symphony receives from the county don't fund our subscription performances. They don't pay for guest artists. They don't go into a general slush fund. The funds that the Knoxville Symphony receives from the county go right back into the community. They pay for things such as free community concerts, sending small ensembles into the schools to expose and teach children about music, bringing children to our Young People's Concerts, sending musicians into area hospitals as part of our award-winning music and wellness program, and our long-term side by side partnership with Austin East High School and other area public schools. These are all programs that directly benefit the community that will have to be severely restricted or even cut out all together without adequate funding from the county.

For the data-minded, here are some numbers. This year:

  • 200,000 people were reached through all of the Knoxville Symphony's activities.
  • 60,000 were reached through our community outreach and education programs.
  • 10,000 children in Knox County were reached through our Young People's Concerts.
  • 5,000 children in Knox County had a KSO musician visit their classroom.
  • 1,000 preschool children in Knox County were exposed to classical music through the KSO's story time program.
  • 2,000 patients at UT hospital took part in the KSO's music and wellness program.

I love to perform, true, but in my opinion the most important work we do as musicians is community outreach. Music is for everyone, not just people who understand Webern or who can afford the best seats in the house. The idea that lack of funding could turn some of these numbers into big fat zeros is absolutely unacceptable.

The budget has not yet been approved by the board, so it's not too late. The board will meet on Monday and will vote on the budget in the next few weeks. If you are a Knox County resident, I urge you to write to your elected officials. Tell them you expect them to support the arts in our community. A trickle of dissent won't change anything. We each need to take responsibility to let the commission know how we feel. Only then can we hope to restore county funding to the arts.

To email Mayor Ragsdale, click here.

For a list of commissioners, districts, and email links, click here.

To email the Knox County Commission, click here.

I thank you in advance for your support.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Great Outdoors

Did I miss something? Spring, for instance? It seems to me that we went from unusually cold weather to temperatures in the mid-80's and skipped everything in between. Ah, well, I won't complain. The truth is, I love this time of year. It's sunny and warm, but not too warm, and everything is lush and green: perfect weather for spending time outside.

The late spring warm-up has arrived just in time for two outdoor concerts the KSO has coming up later this week. At 6:30 on Friday, May 1st, we will be playing on Market Square as part of First Friday, and at 7:30 on Saturday, May 2nd, we will be performing in Maryville at the Greenbelt Amphitheatre. Both concerts are free. The program for these concerts is a good mix of light classical pieces including a Rossini overture, a few movements from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and selections from The Sound of Music.

For the Market Square performance there are usually some chairs set up near the stage. In Maryville, you would be wise to bring your own lawn chairs or a blanket to sit on. A picnic basket full of goodies is a nice touch, too.

By the way, these are excellent concerts to bring children to because of the relaxed atmosphere. If a child gets antsy, it's very easy to get up and walk around without disturbing your fellow concert-goers. My husband has been bringing our daughter to the KSO's outdoor performances since she was an infant.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Opera Tweet

A few months back I ran into Cynthia Moxley, a long-time fan and supporter of the KSO, after a pops concert. We chatted for a few minutes and she asked me if I twittered. I have to confess that I didn't even know what that was. And, honestly, I still don't. But now I have a Twitter account because I came across an irresistible contest while reading the classical music news. Described as “the most fun opera nerds can have in 140 characters or less” the contest invites people to condense the basic plot of any opera down to a single witty tweet. Opera companies around the world have taken notice of the contest and many are offering up tickets as a prize to the winning tweet.

The winning tweet from the last contest was: “Seamstress pals around with bohemians in a December-May affair Receives muff as parting gift” Describing La Boheme.

A few of my favorites are:
“He goes thru hell to retrieve her. They say don’t look back. He does anyway. No do-overs.” (L'Orfeo)
“Naive geisha carries a tune, carries a torch, carries a child. Can’t carry on. Hari-kiris herself.” (Mme Butterfly)
“If a cigarette doesn’t kill you, the girl who made it will…” (Carmen)

The contest begins April 27th and ends on May 2nd. To give you some creative fuel for your entries, the Rossini Festival is taking place in downtown Knoxville this coming weekend. The UT Opera Theater will present Mozart's Don Giovanni, which features a talking statue, while the KSO and the Knoxville Opera Company will team up to perform Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, where all the main characters spend the second act dressed as clowns. And who said opera was boring?!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mikey Likes It!

Modern music is an acquired taste. Actually, all music is an acquired taste. I can't think of a single piece that I fell in love with the first time I listened to it whether it was Bach or Bartok. I can think of several pieces that I abhorred the first time I heard them only to really enjoy them after listening to them a few times. I wasn't wild about the Sibelius violin concerto the first time I heard a recording of it, for example, and now it is one of my favorite violin concerti. Same story with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Stravinsky's Petroushka, which are two of my “desert island” pieces.

No matter if the orchestra is playing Messiaen or Mendelssohn, there are easy things you can do to make your concert going more fulfilling. Check out the program beforehand. If there is a piece or two that you aren't familiar with, find a way to listen to them. The public library is a great source for classical music recordings as are the various online sources of MP3 files. Read the program notes either online or before the concert starts. Often times there is information about the pieces that is crucial to understanding the music. An example of this is Messiaen's Les Offrandes Oubliees, which we will be performing tonight. Messiaen wrote the piece in three distinct sections that are played without pause. The sections represent Christ's sacrifice, human sin, and the Eucharist. It is certainly possible to enjoy listening to the piece on its own, but knowing what Messiaen intended to depict adds a whole new dimension to the listening experience.

Two other ways to become familiar with the music prior to the performance is to listen to Lucas' podcast and to attend the pre-concert chat. I am a big fan of the pre-concert chat. It is free to anyone with a ticket and is held in the theater an hour before the performance. Lucas talks about the pieces we will play and often plays snippets from recordings so you know what to listen for. When we have a soloist they will sometimes join in the pre-concert chat which is a fun way to get to know more about them than what they publish in their bio.

Remember: all music was once modern music. A piece that you dislike the first time you hear it may well turn out to be a favorite after you get to know it better.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Save the Music

Behind every professional musician there is a teacher who stoked the flames. I started playing the violin in 4th grade through my elementary school. I had been asking my parents to start playing long before that, not because I had a particular love for the violin, but because I adored the school strings teacher. My sister started playing the viola the year I was born and I grew up attending her orchestra concerts. Mr. Montzka, the orchestra teacher, was patient and friendly. He was happy to talk to me and somehow always seemed to have a few spare M&M's to share. After I had played for a few years through the public school I began taking private lessons with his daughter Ann, who shares his gentle demeanor and passion for music and teaching. Without the start I had, I wouldn't be on the stage with the KSO today.

Studying music teaches people how to recognize, appreciate and create beauty. In order to play an instrument well you must have perseverance, be able to compromise, have good time management skills, be able to look at your own work with a critical eye, know how to work with a group, and be able to perform under pressure. These skills are critical to success in just about any career one could choose and they are the things music teachers teach every single day. Participation in organized sports develops some of the same skills, however, people can play their instrument or sing their entire life. It is rare to find a senior citizen volleyball league.

Public school music programs, and orchestra programs in particular, are being cut back all around the country and Knoxville is no exception. I don't envy the administrators facing budget cut-backs and hard decisions. With music teachers teaching our children such critical skills, I think the real question is how can we NOT afford to fund music in the schools?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Symphony Show House

The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra League is a group of volunteers who do a lot of fund raising for the symphony. Every year they host several programs including a ball, a series of elegant dining events, and the symphony show house, which opens tomorrow. The League features a different house each year. The best interior designers in the area collaborate to decorate and furnish the home. It's always stunning. Every year I look forward to the show house because, to be honest, interior decorating is not my strong suit. I tend to hang pictures in a straight line and hug the walls with furniture. I find it interesting to see how professionals put a house together. The ideas I've gleaned from show houses over the years have helped me fake a better sense of style.

The show house runs from tomorrow, April 10th through April 26th. There is a cafe open daily with really good food. Several string quartets from the symphony are scheduled to play at the show house, so if you time your visit right you will be treated to a feast for the ears as well as a feast for the eyes.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Being a musician is a stressful job. We don't have people's lives in our hands like heart surgeons or government officials do, but when we have a bad day it's witnessed by a hall full of people and gets written up in the newspaper. (Don't misunderstand: being a musician is also an incredibly rewarding job which makes the stress worth the pain.) Stress affects different people in different ways, however, I have noticed that musicians tend to use their creativity as a weapon against their stress. We get the musical sillies.

My first season here my viola had an unfortunate accident. We were rehearsing in the pit when something flew in from the audience side and smacked my viola while I was playing. It was quite the jolt, knocking all my strings out of tune, collapsing the bridge, and even cracking the sound post and belly of the instrument. It was horrifying. I was devastated. What did we do? We made a movie about it, of course! With a cast and crew entirely made up of KSO musicians and their families, The Brown Viola premiered that summer and made the rounds at several parties and music festivals. It's a strange experience to be in Michigan for non-musical reasons and have a complete stranger recognize you as “that girl from The Brown Viola.”

Last week was crazy for my quartet. I am exhausted today and I didn't even play on the Bernstein Trio yesterday! I can't imagine how Andy and Edward are feeling this morning. I dedicate this bit of musical silliness to my fellow quartet members. We survived, y'all!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

WDVX Performance

My quartet performed live on WDVX today. I was intimidated going in to today's radio performance. As I recently admitted, I am not very well versed in any music aside from classical music. I had never attended a Blue Plate performance and wasn't quite sure what to expect. I shouldn't have worried, because everyone was super nice and very helpful. We had a blast. The quartet started the show. We played a few selections and then Lucas and Jennifer Barnett took the stage to perform some of the songs they will play at the chamber concert on Sunday. Jennifer is an amazing soprano. She also happens to be the Director of Education and Outreach for the KSO. I especially enjoyed the song Amore by William Bolcom. Very humorous.

You can't exactly see it in this picture, but the thing that most impressed me was how many microphones we had on stage. We each had our own, plus there was another one to speak into.

Andy and I:


Thanks to Stephanie for taking pictures today!