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.